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.
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?
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.