Should you clean a new airgun barrel?
by B.B. Pelletier
We got this question from DOT in response to last week's article about cleaning airgun barrels: "What about newly purchased rifles? What kind, if any, cleaning should be done on those? I have heard that some manufacturers apply some grease or something as some sort of preservative. Maybe these are foreign manufacturers whose airguns are imported. Should the barrel of a new rifle be cleaned?" Excellent question!
Are new barrels dirty?
You wouldn't think the barrel of a brand new airgun would be dirty, would you? Doesn't the factory clean the barrel before they ship the gun? The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. On guns with brass barrels, there really isn't any need to clean, because they don't corrode fast enough to warrant it. Steel barrels are a different issue. They corrode fast and need to be cleaned.
I've seen the Daisy assembly line in Neosho, Missouri, and I didn't see anyone cleaning barrels. They assemble hundreds of guns every day on each one of their assembly lines, and every step is calculated to produce a fine finished product. Of course, they don't make the barrels there, they just assemble them into guns. Maybe the barrels are cleaned where they are made.
Rust is the number one problem
Airgun barrels don't get dirty by shooting pellets. They get rusty! Perhaps 30 percent of all new steel airgun barrels have an appreciable amount of rust in them. If the new owner shoots a lot, the pellets will take care of all but the very worst problems, so we don't notice it that much, but it is there.
The Brits may brag about their quality, but they ship rusty barrels!
Every airgun dealer knows that the factories ship barrels with a little rust in them. In a moment, I'll explain why, but for now reflect on this - it is not uncommon for the barrel of a $1,000 PCP airgun to have rust in it! Not every gun is rusty, but enough are that cleaning the barrel right away makes good sense. In fact, the rust is often not just confined to the inside of the barrel. The outside of the gun can have it, too.
Why the rust?
Bluing causes the rust. I once saw a $3,000 custom air rifle that rusted over its entire blued surface in less than 24 hours. That was an exceptional situation in which the gun was in a foam-lined hard case (the absolute worst for promoting rust!) and the gun had been in a misting rain. The foam in those cases soaks up moisture like a sponge. In this case, it completely rusted every surface of the gun in one day! A dark blue gun became bright orange! So, get your guns out of those foam-padded cases when they aren't being transported.
Bluing is rust!
The term bluing is really incorrect for the finish on modern guns. In most cases, it's really black oxide - and you know what oxide is! It's rust! After a barrel is blued, the manufacturer has to clean it thoroughly to remove the last vestiges of bluing salts. If any salts remain in the barrel, they continue to rust until they are depleted. Once rust starts, it has a life of its own, and the barrel continues rusting until something is done. When a pellet goes down the bore it scrapes out some of the rust. If enough pellets are shot, the rust will completely leave the bore - unless it has formed a deep pit in the metal. A pitted barrel will continue to rust in the pits while being shot. You have to aggressively deal with the rust on guns with pitted barrels.
Rifled barrels are the worst
Conventional rifled barrels are the worst for retaining rust, because it's so difficult to get it all out of the crevices of the rifling. Smoothbores are much easier to clean. Hexagonal rifling, found in many of the guns that shoot both BBs and pellets, is pretty easy, too. So, you should be most concerned about steel barrels with conventional lands and grooves.
Ballistol oil defeats rust and protects steel against further rusting.
How to protect your bore
After you clean your bore the way I recommended in the article on bore cleaning, protect it with Ballistol, a product I discussed back in August 2005 in a blog about protecting and restoring a blued finish. Not only will Ballistol protect the newly cleaned steel surface, it also soaks into any remaining rust and neutralizes it, which is why it is used as a gun lubricant by many armies around the world!
So, DOT, you asked a good question. I hope all of our readers take this message to heart.