Firearm Maintenance: A Few Thoughts From the Armorer’s Bench

gunsmith armorer work bench

By Larry Lamb, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Memorial Day weekend was upon us not too long ago and like many of us, I took the time to grill and chill. One thing that was bugging me, though, was that I had noticed that I neglected to clean and lube my BBQ gun after my most recent range outing. That got me to thinking about some of the things I’ve run into over the years when people work on their guns.

Nobody wants another this lube vs. that lube comparison or a discussion on the virtue of scheduled maintenance. That horse has long been beaten to death.

But as an armorer, I’ve seen and learned a few things over the years — some dos and don’ts — and some of them might be of interest. What not to do:

Some guns are a little quirky. They have their own unique characteristics that make them either character-building or just plain infuriating.

Driving the slide stop in completely as your last step to assembly, getting a trigger bar into a SIG P220, or fiddling with one or both of the grain-of-rice sized SIG P320 sear springs has driven me damn near insane in the past.

The key when working on your own guns is to know your limitations.

You don’t want to be the guy who walks into the gun store with a bag of shame, as many have done after taking a Ruger Mark II apart and not being able to get it back together.

Nor do you want to be the guy who has only one gun, has taken it down in spectacular fashion and needs a new part. Sometimes your local gun store can’t get the part you need for a week to ten days. And now you’re without a home defense gun.

Last time I checked, 100% of home invasions happen at home. If 100% of your home defense is committed to one gun, you have a problem and criminals have an opportunity.

All too often we have someone come in with a gun and they’re furious that we do not have the parts on hand. Or, if we have the parts, we don’t have the time (first come first served!) to repair their gun on the spot.

Experience has taught me that these folks have gone all-in on one gun and not having it operational opens up a series of emotions that they really weren’t prepared for. No one wants to be left defenseless.

Matt Sandy for TTAG

With Amazon, Brownells, Midway, and more handling parts warehousing and fulfillment, fewer and fewer dealers are stocking parts like they used to. That can mean bad news for someone who’s visiting their local gunsmith expecting to get a recoil spring plug for their 1911 since they launched theirs into lower earth orbit. Or they lost a detent or a spring from an AR-15 lower parts kit in the deep pile of their berber carpet, never to be found again.

Be careful when you take your guns apart, and know up front that although most professionals can fix your gun, there’s a good possibility that it will not be fixed immediately.

What to do:

Have a plan. There are lots of good and bad videos on YouTube, schematics, etc to let you get acquainted with your gun without taking it down 100%. It might be a good idea to order a few extra small parts ahead of time so when you do a detail strip and you break/lose something (it happens to all of us), you’re not left high and dry.

Part of having a plan is making sure there’s a good resource locally if things do go wrong. If you live in an area rich in deer hunters and waterfowl enthusiasts, the odds of finding someone to thread a GLOCK barrel are slim.

Conversely, if you live in an area populated with nothing but AR-15 builders pushing pins together and you need some work done on your PRS gun, you’re not going to find someone set up for bedding an action or lapping your lugs.

If you can’t fix your gun after you fixed it until it broke, you’re going to need someone who can.

Whether that someone is a five-minute drive away, a five-hour drive away or a 5 day trip to and from via Fedex or UPS, that’s another story. But identifying that resource is something to consider before you start tearing apart your prized firearm.

Aside from keeping spare parts on hand, try to work in a clean area where you can spot parts that go flying. Have a few spare clear dry cleaner plastic bags to put over your work area to keep parts from launching too far. That’s been helpful to me in the past.

Last but not least, I want to close with a tale of woe.

There’s breaking your gun and needing a few parts to making it right again, and then there are folks who get a little too far over their skis and wind up fixing a perfectly good gun until it breaks.

What my buddy Benji did goes a little past that.

He decided that after 2000 rounds of practice with his West German SIG P220, he would tear the entire gun down to the frame for a deep clean in the ultrasonic cleaner.

That’s not necessarily the worst idea, but 2000 rounds on a P220 is a rounding error and that gun can and should be shot dirty until stoppages occur, then shot some more. You spray some lube into it to get it to run again so as not to waste your range session, then clean it fully when you get home.

We talked about quirky guns in the beginning of this article, and the SIG 220 has a few unique quirks. One of them is getting the magazine release in and out of the frame.

The P220 magazine release consists of a spring-loaded detent with a ledge machined into the side of it. Successful removal of the magazine release involves pressing the detent in without turning it.

If you turn it, the entire magazine needs to be cut out of the pistol by a competent machinist via end mill, drill press or Dremel tool.

Benji didn’t know this, so when he called me telling me what he did and sent me pictures, I told him he was out of luck and needed to send the gun back to SIG to have them fix his little disaster.

He seemed confused. A simple turn of a screwdriver a few degrees rendered an $800 precision-made German fighting pistol nothing more than a serialized paperweight?

Yep.

Benji called for me for advice as a firearm dealer and as someone who owns, fixes and enjoys SIG products and decided to ignore my advice. He attempted to get the magazine release out himself. He broke eight tungsten carbide drill bits in the process and spent three hours doing it, but by golly he got it out!

He shipped me the frame and I installed a new magazine release out of spare parts.  When I discovered the package he sent was missing a few key internal parts (he swore he sent me everything) I replaced those as well.

The parts, shipping to me and shipping back to him set him back about $75 and I didn’t charge him any labor. Without looking at economic consequences, his gun was down and out for a week until he got it back.

That wasn’t too expensive a lesson, but it goes to show you exactly what can go wrong if you’re not careful enough or have experience on the platform.

Things could have been worse – he could have had to spend more money at SIG to get them to repair his mistake if I wasn’t his friend and didn’t know the fix and have the parts handy and was willing to work for free. But that time it all worked out and he got lucky.

Since that episode, he’s learned his lesson and resolved never to take that gun apart again. Ever.

In short, be careful, know your gun, have some spare parts, and have a plan in case things go sideways. But if you don’t have spare parts or you break your gun, call us. That’s what we’re here for.

We will fix it, take your money and tell everyone your stories. It’s what we do.

 

 

comments

  1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    let me try. my brother has a tool box.

    1. avatar Geoff “Guns. Lots of guns.” PR says:

    2. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “let me try. my brother has a tool box.”

      Now, that there is funny.

      Thanx

  2. avatar Hoddy Snitch says:

    I have a Mark III that I couldn’t get back together and did the “walk of shame” to the local gunsmith. He showed me what I was doing wrong right at the counter. It was something so easy that I couldn’t see in any YouTube videos. Now, I can take it apart and more importantly put it back together no problem. In fact, someone was recently selling their Mark III because he couldn’t get it back together. I asked the salesperson if I could try and got it back together. The guy phoned his brother saying that I did something in a few seconds that they couldn’t do in hours. I felt good and ended up purchasing his Mark III. Now that I think of it, maybe it was a sales ploy. Mmmmmmmm!

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      I have an original Mark I. Love that little plinker. Never had a problem with disassembly & reassembly, but I can imagine the world of hurt that would result from improper procedure.

      1. avatar Hoddy Snitch says:

        I have a Mark II and Mark III and passed on a Mark I because the magazines are not compatible. I refuse to get a Mark IV for the simple fact that I like the disassembly and reassembly procedure now. It was a frustrating few hours trying to get that bastard back together. I said words I didn’t know I knew.

        1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          Ha! I kinda cheated and watched a YouTube video the first time to help me through it. 🙂 That was a while ago.

          BTW, I’ve downloaded and archived maintenance vids on all makes/models I own, so I can refer to them if necessary without relying on the Internet connection always being on.

    2. avatar No one of consequence says:

      I had zero problems with my Mark II dis/reassembly until I bought my second semi-auto. Been a PITA ever since.

  3. avatar Mike J says:

    My primary gunsmithing tool is a roofer’s magnet.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Good call!
      Saves on the knees doing the “armorers crawl”.

    2. avatar possum destroyer of arachnids says:

      Thanx, duh on me. , , , , , Wife was complaining if the “smell” took the 1911 Norinco brand outside, dropped the grip screw, off the table, heard it hit the leaves. “Oh sht” make call to Brownells, just as I knew it’s metric, nope , they can get one,,,,, “Sht” , went to bed, woke up and pushed a couple’s leaves around, ” Well I’ll be damned, cool. Hey honey I found it, I’ll unchain you now and put up the whip.”, , , , , Oooh not yet she says. lol

  4. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    Umm…this is why you should have two or even three of the same make/model, in addition to parts.

    Two is one, one is none, none is dead.

  5. avatar Knute(ken) says:

    Guns are a complex mechanical object. As with all such items, if you rely upon it, have a spare.
    “Two is one, one is none”. -somebody or other

  6. avatar IAmNotTheHulk says:

    Mike J’s recommendation is on point, they pick up what the eye cannot see!

  7. avatar Robb says:

    If a functional adult walks into a LGS and gets pissed they don’t have the part needed in stock, especially if it’s a specialty part, they should probably re-evaluate their life.

    Same applies to auto parts, home repair parts that aren’t normally available at the local BORG, and Best Buy.

    Need a new magazine for your AR? LGS better have something. New recoil spring for your Star 30M? Get over yourself.

    1. avatar SoCalJack says:

      Speaking of Star, my Firestar 9mm is the cleanest gun in my safe, probably because it’s my first handgun. Unfortunately, I am bad about keeping the others clean.

  8. avatar Sam I Am says:

    More articles like these.

    Thanx !

    1. avatar b says:

      Runs circles around an Elaine D. article!

      1. avatar Big Bill says:

        You just don’t appreciate good, unintentional (I assume) humor.

      2. avatar Someone says:

        That is really low bar to measure against. Lame turtle can run circles around her.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Lame turtle can run circles around her. [Elaine.D]”

          Understand your desire to bash her, but she is being paid to write stuff here; we are not. Don’t really know where that puts “us” in the scheme of things, but we spend a lot of time producing free copy, while she spends much less time making money producing copy.

          (The above is definitely not a defense/endorsement; just an observation of the way of things)

  9. avatar Donald Rump says:

    This is just another bunch of left wing B.S. trying to distract your attention away from the fact that as you clean your poor little dirty wirty gun, the Anarchists are assembling their resources and staging their war for absolute control of our rights. Don’t be distracted by someone who doesn’t even know you, telling you that your gun is to dirty to use. If a projectile accelerating at 2000 FPS can shatter bone and vaporize internal organs to a semi-gelatinous mass, then a little spec of dirt certainly isn’t going to impede the bullets own desire to perform molecular degeneration. “Hoppes” cleaner may start with an H, but so does Hilary so it is easy to sniff out this subliminal attempt to catch us off balance with our guard down and a cleaning patch wedged deep in our barrels. WE all know it is going to be a dirty fight ahead.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Huh?

      1. avatar Dani in WA says:

        “Huh” also starts with an “H”!!!

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Huh” also starts with an “H”!!!

          HUH? Is my favorite acronym

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      Semi-gelatinous vapor… you might have outdone Vlad.

  10. avatar Mark N. says:

    Hmm, I think I’ve been down that road, but no walk of shame to date. Fortunately, Colt revolvers are extraordinarily simple machines, as are, pretty much, ARs. I don’t dare trying to detail strip a 1911 (but I’ve watched the videos). The only thing I can’t seem to “fix” (or bubba as the case may be) is the extremely heavy trigger pull on my 1892 Winchester. Unfortunately, it is one of the newer rebounding hammer type. and hammer springs (which are the root of the problem) for the older originals do not fit, nor springs from a Rossi. Which means chopping one down. I never knew it could be so hard to cut a spring! (But at least I ordered a replacement spring and kept the original, well, original.)
    I was talking one day to an armorer who related that his test ws to take down and put back together a Remington Nylon 66. Talk about a rifle with too many fiddly parts?

    1. avatar dph says:

      Fiddly parts, try a Marlin Model 60. I didn’t know you could put that many e-clips in a firearm.

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Springs are made from hardened, high-carbon steel (at the very least) or tool steel, or silicon chrome steel (for modern springs). The hardness of these spring steels will typically be at least Rockwell C scale 48 or higher, perhaps as high as 55 to 56. This is almost as hard as high speed steel tooling.

      The only way you’ll cut most springs in their hardened state is with an abrasive tool – like a cut-off wheel or diamond-coated tooling.

  11. avatar former water walker says:

    Meh…I jammed a shotgun up good. My favorite gunshop guy unjamed it without charge-after 20 minutes. Never asked for advice or help on a handgun. My AR15 otoh😄😊😏

  12. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

    “That’s not necessarily the worst idea, but 2000 rounds on a P220 is a rounding error and that gun can and should be shot dirty until stoppages occur, then shot some more. You spray some lube into it to get it to run again so as not to waste your range session, then clean it fully when you get home.”

    That has to be the dumbest advise I have read in years. The real facts are the original German made Sig P220 slide had a very soft stamped sheet metal slide, the newer U.S. guns have bar stock slides. Either way acculturated burnt power, dust and dirty lube will wear out a gun prematurely and its hard on every part in the gun. I suggest you take some burnt powder some time and rub it between your fingers if you think burnt powder is not abrasive. Partially burnt powder also gets dumped into a hand gun as well as not all ammo is equal and not all ammo has the same brand of powder in it or to make things worse shooting ones reloads with “the powder of the moment” you bought in bulk because you got it on a clearance sale can dump some really serious abrasive burnt powder into the action. Mixing all this crap with gun oil and grease and range dust makes the scenario even far worse.

    I clean my guns every time I shoot them even if I only have shot a half a box through them. They then are oiled with a good lubricant designed for the gun industry not some hill jack 3 in 1 oil purchased at the discount store to save a few pennies. Don’t laugh you would not believe how often I get told on forums that 3 in 1 oil is all you ever need. I then lube all pressure points with good gun grease. Not many gun-owners even know what a pressure point is and the few that do believe that even a smidgen of grease will cause a gun to go nuclear and they will disappear in a red puff of mist. After all it was uncle Jed that told them so and who would or could ever question ones ancestors who knew far less than they do. To finish off my cleaning since I live in a humid state more humid than the Amazon Jungle my guns get an outside coating of rig gun grease. And before you scream your too cheap to buy a can of it just think how much it will cost you to refinish a gun that ended up with rust and pitting on it. If you live in the middle of the Mojavi Desert you may not need any outside gun grease and if you do not shoot it no inside lube either but chances are you have never been there and never will.

    I quote a gunsmith on another forum long ago and he said “Use some damn grease”.

    1. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

      And damn the non edit button I meant to type Advice not advise.

      1. avatar possum destroyer of arachnids says:

        You make some good points but please learn to spell gunm.

  13. avatar TxDoc says:

    Step 1- mag out, slide locked open, inspect to verify empty chamber.
    Step 2- Repeat step 1.
    Step 3- Spray with degreaser. (Don’t get this stuff in your eyes. Don’t ask how I know this.)
    Step 4- Bore snake a few times.
    Step 5- Spray innards with Remington oil until it drips off.
    Step 6- Blast excess with compressed air.
    Step 7- Wipe down and your done.

  14. avatar Slow Joe Crow says:

    The AR detent spring problem is easily remedied by getting a “lost parts kit” before you open it up so you have a baggie of detents, springs and firing pin retainers. As for more complex stuff, know your limits. So far I haven’t detail stripped anything, but the magazine catch on a Star BM was a learning experience. Fortunately a long hard look at the exploded view explained what the screwdriver slot really did. Also as with AR detents, plan ahead and have some spares on hand.

  15. avatar Southern Cross says:

    Only the Germans will make something unnecessarily fragile and complicated. Why? To prove they can.

    The Swiss are the Germans on steroids. The Italians aspire to be like the Germans at least once.

    1. avatar Snake Plisskin says:

      “Only the Germans will make something unnecessarily fragile and complicated. Why? To prove they can.”

      Maybe these days they do, but the WW2 era – P.38s and later P1’s seem to be built like Panzer tanks…..

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        But the late war German super tanks were plagued by reliability issues. On the day of the D-Day invasion, all 24 Tiger tanks in the 1st SS Panzer Corp (1st and 21st SS Divisions, Liebstandarte and Hitler Jugend) were in the repair shop for various issues. The Tiger II had the same engine and drivetrain as the Panther, and the Panther weighed 20+ tonnes less. Even the Panther was known for gearbox problems needing repair or replacement every time the fuel tanks were filled. The Germans would constantly tinker with their designs to the point that parts in the early production of a series would not fit or work in the later vehicles of the same model and series. An issue that is known to plague BMW and Mercedes-Benz today.

  16. avatar possum destroyer of arachnids says:

    And He knew the limits of man and proclaimest, , ,” Thou shalt beat thy gunms into plow shears, and from those plow shears shall ariseth Meat Cleaver’s”

  17. avatar Joseph says:

    I own several Sigs and several Glocks, so no fanboy of either. A friend of mine attended a Glock armorer’s school, and later a Sig armorer’s school. After the latter he decided not to renew his Sig certificate when the time came. He said the Sig is just too damn complicated while the Glock is easy. Just from watching videos on the two, I think he’s right.

  18. avatar Jawjuh says:

    “Only the Germans will make something unnecessarily fragile and complicated. Why? To prove they can.” Like the damnable iDrive on any BMW…
    Snake’s right about the P-38 though.

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