Short of black powder rifles, direct gas impingement M16/AR-15 rifles are the dirtiest-shooting rifles on the planet. This is because the direct gas impingement system essentially blows hot gases and unburnt powder directly into the chamber area to cycle the action.
While a system like this sounds like a poor design, it is actually quite ingenious. Eugene Stoner, of the original Armalite Corporation, was tasked by the U.S. Air Force with developing a lightweight and hard-hitting rifle from modern materials for use by security officers who guarded the air bases in South Vietnam. The rifle needed to have an easily controlled, fully automatic firing capability — something the U.S. M14 rifle lacked — while packing a longer-range punch than the M1 and M2 carbines that were then in use. Weight of this new rifle was to be 6 pounds, making it easy to shoulder for hours on end in the hot and humid jungle conditions of South Vietnam.
In order to save weight, Stoner adopted the direct gas impingement system for his new rifle, the Armalite 15 (AR-15, not to be confused with automatic rifle in this case). By using this system, Stoner saved one pound compared to the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine and M14. As a side benefit, the AR-15’s direct gas system provides a higher level of accuracy than gas piston guns because it has no moving parts in the vicinity of the barrel during firing, which creates vibration.
When this gun first hit the battlefield, however, reliability issues abounded. Some thought of the gun as “self-cleaning,” but it wasn’t. The Birchwood Casey 1-2-3 Aerosol Gun Cleaning Products Value Pack would have been the perfect solution. It just so happened that I had a dirty M1A1 AR-15 rifle on hand to test that theory out.
If there is any firearm that would benefit from aerosol-propelled cleaners and lubricants, it’s the AR-15. Having cleaners and solvents blasted through the long narrow extension tubes that are included with Birchwood Casey aerosols goes a long way toward getting the dirt and crud out of the operating system.
The pack contains three 10-ounce cans of different Birchwood Casey Products: Bore Scrubber, Gun Scrubber and Barrier, each with its own separate cleaning mission.
Bore Scrubber, the kit’s starting point, is an ammonia-based product designed to clean copper fouling and residue left behind from firing. Use Gun Scrubber to clean out dissolved material; once the metal parts in question are clean and dry, apply the Barricade Spray to lubricate and protect the metal parts.
After I field-stripped my AR-15 down to the basic working components of carrier, bolt and charging handle, I used the spray can of Bore Scrubber on the working parts, including the firing pin. Bore Scrubber isn’t just for cleaning the bore of the gun. After disassembly of the bolt and carrier, I sprayed Bore Scrubber on the bolt, firing pin, cam pin and cotter pin and let them soak for a while. I paid particular attention to the gas rings of the bolt and the area around it — where the firing pin enters the bolt — since that area is particularly prone to carbon buildup and fouling.
I then wiped off the excess Bore Scrubber, which had removed a lot of the fouling, and applied a generous amount of Gun Scrubber to finish the job. Gun Scrubber blows out the dislodged crud and dries quickly, so there’s no soaking like with the Bore Scrubber. Using a high-pressure aerosol spray really helps in clearing the fouling. I followed the same procedure with the firing pin and other parts. The carbon was wiped away without excessive effort, and the firing pin was returned to its original brightness.
After that, I used Bore Scrubber to clean out the bore, combining it with standard patches to satisfactorily clean the fouling from the bore and the chamber area/action. I then wiped out the interior with Bore Scrubber and finished it off with Gun Scrubber.
After everything was sufficiently clean and dry, it was time to apply the Barricade Spray. Barricade Spray not only protects from rust — and yes, Parkerized finishes can rust — but also provides lubrication. According to the label, Barricade Spray “deposits a soft, thin anti-rust film which finds all hidden crevices, displaces moisture, lubricates and penetrates.”
After I reassembled the rifle, the action cycled smoothly thanks to the Barricade and its complete coverage of all the surfaces. All of this took only half an hour, and that includes reading the directions. Short of spending a couple of hours in extreme detail cleaning, my M1A1 AR-15 was more than clean enough (and well-lubricated).
Speaking of ARs and lubrication, you should know that they don’t like to run dry. If your AR has been sitting in the safe for a while before you take it out to shoot, check the action and make sure there is still lubrication there, regardless of the type you use. You might save yourself a lot of aggravation at the range, and if your AR is a defensive or duty gun, you may save yourself injury or worse when the balloon goes up.
The Birchwood Casey 1-2-3 Value Pack is an excellent one-stop shop for your firearms maintenance needs, and aerosol cleaning is truly the way to go for all firearms. It would be great in particular for cleaning firearms that don’t lend themselves to easy disassembly, such as lever-actions, where the extended nozzles can reach deep into the inner workings. The same would hold true for difficult-to-disassemble handguns.
The Birchwood Casey 1-2-3 Value Pack is truly a great deal. The MSRP is $24.99. If you are looking to try some new gun cleaning products — especially for difficult-to-clean arms — check out Birchwood Casey’s whole line of extensive cleaning products at www.birchwoodcasey.com.