Cleaning airgun barrels - the stuff you need to know!
by B.B. Pelletier
This one is for JW, who read the posting on cleaning airgun barrels and asked, "Okay B.B. You're sure this is safe? My RWS owner's manual says not to use brushes, but I'm assuming since I'm only doing it this once, it will not harm anything. By the way, I bought some cleaning pellets and shot a few through my RWS 34. I was amazed at how black they were. I've only shot about 250 pellets through it since I bought it new, so I'm assuming that it came from the factory like this. Is this typical for a new gun?"
Airgun barrels are made from soft steel or brass!
Soft steel abrades very fast, and brass abrades even faster. Incidentally, some of the airgun forums are talking about phosphor bronze barrels right now. The last use of phosphor bronze (and any other kind of bronze) was on the Sheridan Supergrade, whose production ended in 1954.
When you clean the bore of a gun, the cleaning rod can rub against the bore at the point where it enters the barrel. It will wear the barrel if it does rub. That's why you are warned to clean a barrel from the breech, if possible, so you don't wear the rifling at the muzzle.
To overcome this potential problem, cleaning rods are now sometimes rubber-coated for bore protection. The point is...don't let the rod wear the bore by rubbing.
Flexible cleaning rods!
Some guns are constructed in such a way that a flexible cleaning rod or cable is the only way you can clean it from the breech. I use one when needed, but I'm very careful! Some of these flexible systems are potentially very hazardous to rifle barrels!
Several years ago, an airgun hobbyist was selling cleaning systems made from monofilament fishing line. The line was passed through the muzzle and out the breech of guns with sliding compression chambers, like the Diana RWS 52. It was looped to grab a cleaning patch and pull it back through the bore from breech to muzzle - just like the experts tell us. What they didn't tell anyone was that if you got lazy and pulled from the side of the muzzle instead of straight, the monofilament line would cut through the steel on your barrel! If any of you are lapidaries, you can back me up on this. Don't jade carvers use monofilament line coated with diamond dust to carve jade?
This same hobbyist was also selling green ScotchBrite scratch pad material as a bore cleaner! Folks, green ScotchBrite is so abrasive that it can remove the rifling from a steel barrel in a very short time. Many airgun manufacturers use it for final detail finishing before sending their parts out for bluing, annodizing or plating!
Use a brush that is softer than the barrel
I suspect that RWS warns against using brushes to clean their barrels because so many shooters are careless when they clean. If you do use a brush, use one made of a material that's softer than the barrel of your airgun. For steel barrels, a bronze brush is fine. For brass barrels, there are nylon brushes, though I feel you should stay out of a brass barrel altogether unless there is a real problem.
The cleaning procedure I outlined in the linked article is recognized by all the major firearm and airgun manufacturers in the world. You only do it when there is a problem with accuracy - not after every firing.
Felt cleaning pellets
Felt cleaning pellets should not be used in a spring-piston gun. They do not cushion the piston sufficiently, and it is akin to dry-firing. You can use them in just about every other powerplant. If you do use them, pack in enough pellets to provide some resistance when the piston comes forward. For a gun with the power of a Diana RWS 34, perhaps five cleaning pellets in a row might be enough to cushion the piston.
The black stuff JW mentions seeing on his felt cleaning pellets is the graphite anti-oxidant coating found on some pellets so they don't turn into white dust in six months. It does not harm the gun, and it keeps getting removed and redeposited as you continue to shoot.
If I make it sound as though the barrel on you airgun is fragile, don't fret. It really isn't that bad. With a little common sense, you can keep an airgun barrel working well for longer than a lifetime.