I can’t stress how important it is to keep your bolt and action clean. Shooters use a lot of grease and oil on their bolts to reduce friction and to prevent wear to the bearing surfaces. Unfortunately, both of these compounds attract grit, powder residue, primer residue, etc.
Cleaning your receiver is especially critical in maintaining custom actions where the fit between the action and bolt is held to very tight tolerances. Routine cleaning of the action will prevent unnecessary wear on the bolt body, locking lugs, and the action raceways/guide rails. Frequent action cleaning is also essential to keeping the trigger area free of debris which can cause trigger hang-ups and failures. Cleaning rifle actions is one of the most neglected chores of rifle maintenance, but a task that only takes a few minutes. It should be done at least every time you put your rifle away after a shooting session.
Before cleaning the action, the bolt should be removed from the action. I recommend that you clean the bore first, clean the action second, and then care for the exterior surfaces of your firearm and scope/sights.
Cleaning the Chamber
The first step is to clean the chamber. This can be done in several ways using a threaded chamber rod (8-32 female threads).
1) Install a clean cotton mop of the correct size on the end of a chamber rod and insert the mop into the chamber. Rotate the mop several times to remove any brush bristles left behind and any excess solvent that was between the rod guide snout and the end of the chamber. Make sure the chamber is dry. Prior to storing a rifle you can oil the chamber but make sure the oil is removed prior to firing the rifle.
2) Another method to clean the chamber is to install an old bore brush on a chamber rod, overlap a couple of patches on the brush bristles, and wrap them around the brush completely encapsulating the brush. Then insert the patch covered brush into the chamber while rotating it to remove the excess solvent and debris. Push it firmly into the neck area of the chamber. A similar method is to pierce a large patch on the end of the brush loop and insert it into the action, again rotating the brush as you push the patch up against the breech.
Cleaning the Lug Recess Area
The next step is to clean the action lug recess area, which is one of the dirtiest places on a bolt-action rifle. Use a lug recess cleaning tool such as the Sinclair lug recess tool to properly clean this area.
1) Insert a cotton roll or cleaning felt into your lug recess cleaning tool and wet both ends and the face of the cotton roll/felt with solvent.
2) Insert the tool into the action and push it forward until it is positioned fully in the lug recess area and rotate the tool head several times. Then reverse the rotation for another few turns. While rotating the tool move it slightly in and out to cover the entire recess area and to also clean the breech face.
3) Remove the tool from the action and inspect the surface of the felt or cotton roll. If there is quite a bit of residue on both sides of the felt/roll, then repeat with another wet felt/roll.
4) When you feel the recess area is completely clean, insert a dry cotton roll into the tool and rotate the tool head to remove any remaining solvent and debris. If necessary, use a second dry cotton roll.
5) You can follow this step up with another pass of a mop or patches into the chamber to get any debris or solvent that pushed forward out of the lug recess area.
Cleaning the Action Body
To clean the remainder of the action, just take some patches and solvent and thoroughly scrub all the surfaces of the action. You can use inexpensive cotton swabs (get the long double-ended ones) to clean the raceways and areas you can’t reach. I use a large bottle style brush with a half sheet of a good quality paper towel (blue shop paper towel works great) wrapped around the brush to clean most of the interior body of the action. I use a towel damp with solvent and then follow-up with a dry towel.
Cleaning the Bolt - Routine/Basic Cleaning
When the action itself is clean, turn your attention to the bolt. For routine cleaning, I clean the bolt intact without disassembling it.
1) Degrease the bolt with any gun degreaser like Shooter’s Choice Quickscrub or Gunscrub. I spray mine down over a catch pan (I keep a turkey roasting pan in my shop to catch the spray).
2) Use a brush (Utility brush, GI brush, or old toothbrush) with degreaser sprayed on the bristles to clean the lugs, bolt face, bolt body, and the rear of the bolt. Use cotton swabs to clean the very corners of the bolt face.
3) Flush the bolt again with degreaser until it is visibly clean of old grease and residue.
4) Lightly lubricate the rear side of the locking lugs and the contact surfaces of the bolt shroud with a quality bolt grease. A light (very light) film of oil or lube can be applied to the length of the bolt body with particular attention to any guide rails on the bolt body. I prefer to use a treated rag like a Birchwood Casey Gun Cloth or a Sentry Tuf-Cloth, especially in the field. Lately I have been using a lubricant called Bolt Magic. I just take a drop and rub it all over the surface of the bolt body. It really makes your bolt work very smoothly.
Cleaning the Inside of the Bolt Body
Occasionally, you should partially disassemble the bolt with a bolt disassembly tool and clean out the inside of the bolt body with a degreaser. Some bolts can be disassembled without any specialized tools, while bolts such as Remington’s are more easily taken apart using a firing pin removal tool like a Sinclair Firing Pin Removal Tool.
1) Remove the complete firing pin assembly from the bolt body. Using an aerosol degreaser flush out any old grease and primer residue from the bolt body. A bottle brush can be used to clean the interior if you have one available.
2) Spray down the firing pin assembly with the aerosol degreaser and use a brush if necessary. There is no need to remove the firing pin spring from the firing pin to clean it properly. Disassembly is usually only necessary if you need to replace a spring, a shroud, or firing pin. This usually requires having a special firing pin spring removal tool to control the energy of the spring. The layman with the right tool can do this task easily. Sinclair and Brownell’s both make tools for this job.
3) Apply a good bolt grease to the firing pin spring. Run a thin string of grease down the length of the spring, then use your finger or an applicator to lightly coat the entire surface of the spring. It is a good idea to know the operating temperature of the grease or oil you are using. In extreme cold weather, it may be preferable to use a light oil versus the grease you would use in normal weather. Don’t use a gob of grease; a light film is sufficient.
4) Re-assemble the firing pin assembly and bolt body. Re-lube the bolt as described above.
With a good action cleaning routine, your bolt will cycle and operate much smoother and your action will wear less. It only takes a few minutes but the benefits are definitely worth the time and effort.