How to Clean Your Revolver

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If you were to count every revolver model and variant on the market, the running tally would climb into the hundreds. For example, depending on production year and model, your revolver might have three, four or five screws. You’ll quickly discover how many yours has when it comes time to clean your revolver.

Today, most revolvers incorporate three screws, although there are still some models utilizing the classic five-screw design. So, how do you clean your revolver? As you’ll find below, basic revolver cleaning is quite simple. Remember, manuals and properly executed revolver books are your friends.

Clear the Revolver

Before cleaning any gun, you must clear it. When you clear your revolver, take care to follow the four universal safety rules:

  • All guns are always loaded.
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  • Always be sure of your target (and what is beyond).
A stainless-steel Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus, seven-shot .357 magnum revolver field stripped to its component parts for cleaning

The Smith and Wesson 686 Plus ready to be cleaned. Photo by Kat Ainsworth.

Release the cylinder latch to swing the cylinder out away from the frame. Taking care to aim the gun in a safe direction, rotate the gun muzzle-up and push the ejector rod to empty the chambers. Now check every chamber of the cylinder by sight and touch to be confident there are no obstructions. It might seem excessive, but you can never be too safe. Accidents happen when we skip steps.

Here’s the catch: You will continue to treat the revolver as if it were loaded. Sticking to these practices turns them into a habit, and safety is the greatest habit you can hone as a gun owner.

The Takedown

When you’re only doing a basic cleaning, there is not much involved with prep work: Swing the cylinder open and get to cleaning. In this case, let’s assume you want to do a basic cleaning plus a little extra … but not a full inspection. As a general rule, you only need to perform in-depth field-stripping and inspection once a year.

1. Verify your revolver is empty, as outlined above.

2. Remove the grip panels or sleeve. If one of the grip panels sticks and you’re sure the screws are completely loosened, use the tip of your finger to carefully nudge the panel free of the frame. Don’t pry at the edges of the panel with tools because you might scratch or gouge the panel or the frame beneath it.

 • You should use gunsmith-specific screwdrivers rather than whatever is in your household toolbox. When screwdriver bits don’t fit precisely, they can slip and permanently damage the gun. For example, if they’re too large, the overhang can scrape and gouge your revolver’s frame. Also, oversized bits will not fit if the screw is recessed.

The silver shaft of a BROWNELLS gunsmithing screwdriver has been inserted into the grip screw of a Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus .357 Magnum revolver as the gun lies on a white drop cloth beside an orange BROWNELLS box

Only use screwdriver bits that precisely fit the screws on your revolver. The Brownells Magna-Tip Super-Set is fantastic for working on your guns. Photo by Kat Ainsworth.

• For basic cleaning, there is no need to remove the side plate. This also means you will not be separating the cylinder from the frame.

• Separated from the frame or not, do not attempt to disassemble the cylinder. You can easily clean the cylinder and related parts without separating them from one another.

• Do NOT try to remove the barrel shroud and barrel from the frame. It is not necessary for cleaning and should only be done by a qualified gunsmith.

3. Release the cylinder latch and swing the cylinder out to be cleaned.

4. Your revolver is now ready to be cleaned. (Note: If you have a solid-frame, gate-loaded revolver, you will forego the third step and rotate the cylinder by hand — just as you would when loading or unloading — to access each chamber.)

Cleaning Your Revolver

You have endless options when it comes to cleaning products. I usually use SEAL 1, but I also have a bin of random cleaning products. Some work better than others, and some are meant for more specific uses. Find one you like and don’t stress over what is considered best by social media “experts.”

Close-up of the loading gate in a filigreed black Traditions 1873 Liberty single-action revolver. The brass base and primer of a SIG .45 Long Colt round can be seen in the exposed chamber. The barrel loses focus as it points at the bright green grass in the background.

Solid-frame, gate-loaded revolvers like this Traditions 1873 Liberty can be cleaned by manually rotating the cylinder to clean each chamber exactly as you would to load and unload. Photo by Kat Ainsworth.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll outline the cleaning process using SEAL 1, a non-toxic, environmentally friendly and multi-purpose cleaner designed to cut through carbon build-up while also lubricating and protecting.

In addition to cleaning after use, Smith & Wesson recommends cleaning and lubricating your revolver every time it is exposed to sand, dust, extreme humidity or water. The company also warns against excessive ultrasonic cleaning and prolonged immersion in solvents. Ammoniated or alkaline solvents should not be used ever. Use cleaning and lubricating products specifically designed for firearms.

1. Begin with the barrel. Saturate an appropriately sized brass bore brush with SEAL 1 CLP Plus Liquid. Move the bore brush through vigorously, pausing to re-apply your cleaning agent at least once. Using a bore brush will scrub the bore and loosen build-up, simplifying the next step. (Note: Always clean the barrel from the chamber end, not the muzzle end.)

2. Switch to a cleaning rod with a jag on the end and slip a SEAL Skinz through the jag. Skinz are pre-saturated, but if you use a dry patch, saturate it with SEAL 1 CLP Plus Liquid or another cleaning liquid. Run multiple patches through the barrel until they come out clean. When you’re satisfied, run one final saturated patch through the barrel.

3. Move on to the cylinder. Again, you’ll be using a properly fitted brass bore brush saturated with SEAL 1 CLP Plus Liquid. Run the bore brush through each chamber of the cylinder.

4. When you’ve thoroughly scrubbed each chamber, switch to the cleaning rod with the jag attached. Slip a saturated patch through the jag and run it through each chamber. Do this until every chamber is clean. Once they are all clean, run a final patch through each to lightly lubricate them.

5. Using a soft rag dampened with lubricant, wipe dirt off the frame. Pay attention to the area beneath the grips; dirt and dust tend to accumulate there.

The stainless-steel frame and cylinder of a stripped Smith & Wesson 686 Plus seven-shot .357 Magnum revolver lying with its cylinder swung open on a white drop cloth.

Do not disassemble the cylinder. Your revolver can be cleaned while the cylinder is still on the frame and the cylinder’s various components rarely need to be taken apart. Photo by Kat Ainsworth.

6. When you are done, use the same soft rag to lightly coat the revolver with lubricant. Wipe excess fluid from the chambers and bore using a clean, dry patch on a cleaning jag.

7. Reassemble your revolver.

Cleaning your revolver is a relatively simple process. Whether you use your gun for self-defense, hunting or plinking at the range, you should maintain it lovingly.

Specs:

Smith & Wesson 686 Plus

Caliber: .357 Magnum Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
Capacity: 7 Action: Double-Action/Single-Action
Frame Material: Stainless Steel Barrel Length: 4.125 inches
Frame Finish: Satin Stainless Overall Length: 9.6 inches
Grip: Black Synthetic Overall Weight: 39.0 ounces, empty
Cylinder Material: Stainless Steel

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