Black Powder Revolver Cleaning & Maintenance Guide
It is important, when shooting any gun, but a Black Powder muzzle loading gun in particular, to clean the gun thoroughly, as Black Powder fouling is hygroscopic and will attract moisture, and therefore rust, and will over time, ruin a gun. If properly cared for, a Black Powder revolver will last a lifetime. I will also touch briefly on cleaning Black Powder substitutes such as Pyrodex near the end of this article.
Cleaning Black Powder Revolvers Revolvers
Revolvers are arguably the most complex Black Powder guns, with the most moving parts. I always try and clean the gun as soon as I get home from the range. Some do a basic clean of the barrel and cylinder at the range, but I've never much found the need to, I find that as long as the gun is cleaned as soon as you get home, this is fine. It is good to keep a cleaning cloth in your shooting box, just to wipe off the worst of the fouling at the range.
Firstly, ensure you have a good place to work, preferably with access to a kettle. I wouldn't advise doing this in the kitchen, cleaning black powder is a dirty and smelly procedure and may make you unpopular with certain other parties. A flat surface with a mat is ideal to prevent too much mess and clean up later. I would also advise wearing vinyl gloves, and a suitable apron.
Disassembling Black Powder Revolvers
The first step is to disassemble your revolver. For Colt open frame revolvers, firstly drive the wedge from the right of the gun, completely out. Next, place the gun on half cock and orient the cylinder so the rammer will fall on the metal between chambers, and apply pressure to the loading lever to lever the barrel off the cylinder & arbor. Remove the cylinder, and using a nipple key, remove the nipples. I would also advise removing the loading lever.
For Remington 1858 model revolvers, lower the loading lever about half way down, then pull the cylinder pin toward the muzzle, and out of the gun. Next, pull the hammer back slightly and remove the cylinder from the gun. Using a nipple key, remove the nipples.
Cleaning Black Powder Revolvers
The cleaning procedure is the same for both Colt and Remington revolvers. Firstly, liberally spray Black Powder Solvent down the bore, around the forcing cone, in the chambers, cylinder face and nipple holes. We unfortunately no longer stock Henry Krank Black Powder Solvent, but I find Ox-Yoke Wonder 1000 blue bore cleaner to be an excellent substitute. Next, boil a full kettle of water. You may also wish to make a cup of tea while the Black Powder solvent works on the fouling.
Take a washing up bowl or similar, and pour half the kettle in the bowl, and place the cylinder and nipples into the water, and let them soak while the barrel is attended to. The barrel is naturally the area to focus the most on, as this is where the lion's share of fouling accumulates. A good rod, and brushes is essential. I find the Pedersoli Cleaning and loading tool set for revolvers is the best way to clean revolvers, the rods are universal and will take any Pedersoli made brush, and can be extended or shortened in intervals of 12. If you have more muzzle loading guns than a revolver, I would recommend the Pedersoli Rifle Loading/Cleaning Kit, which comes with the same rods and brushes, and is more versatile for cleaning pretty much any muzzle loading gun. The rods are also steel, so there is no risk of vigorous cleaning damaging the attachment and getting lost in the barrel. That in mind, take a 12 rod with a bronze brush, and scrub out the bore, rinsing it in the water. The water will turn black quickly, but it's no matter for now, so long that the bulk of the fouling is removed from the bore. Next, chuck the filthy water away and pour the other half kettle in the bowl, and repeat. The water should be significantly less filthy at this point. Pay some attention to the cylinder, scrub the chambers with the bronze brush and push a pipe cleaner through around the nipple hole. Ensure the cylinder is clean, dab the water off with an absorbent cloth, and leave it to dry.
Next, put the mop from the Pedersoli cleaning kit on the rod, spray in black powder solvent, and scrub the bore again. It should be pretty clean at this point. Next, put the jag on the rod, and run 4x2 patches through until they come out clean. Finally, run a lightly oiled patch through. Do the same with the cylinder. I find Brunox spray works the best for all purposes, it lubricates well, but is also sufficiently thin as to not leave a thick and unpleasant residue on parts or in the barrel. It is also safe to use on wood. I would not advise using WD-40 or other automotive or general-purpose sprays, they are not designed for firearm use and do not do as good a job at lubricating and protecting the parts as does Brunox.
With a Colt revolver, wipe the exterior of the cylinder and barrel with a cloth, and pay attention to nooks where filth can accumulate, and put them to one side. Cleaning the frame is pretty much the same, though I would spray the interior surfaces (those in contact with the cylinder) with Black Powder Solvent prior to wiping, then wiping over with oil. Remington revolvers are the same, though obviously the barrel and frame are one piece. Reassemble, and wipe over the whole gun finally with a lightly oiled cloth, to identify any unclean areas, and to protect the gun until you're ready next to use it.
That's pretty much everything you must do as regards cleaning, this should be done as soon as is practical after every time the gun is used.
Longer Term Maintenance
They say an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, which can be applied to Black Powder revolvers as readily as anything. The bore and cylinder of the gun can be as clean as the day it was made, but the internals also need periodic attention. When the gun is fired, smoke (and therefore fouling and debris) makes itself known in every part of the gun, including those not directly in front of the cylinder.
Firstly, disassemble the gun as if it was to be cleaned. Once you've the frame, sans cylinder (or barrel if a Colt), remove the grips. Always use a proper sized screwdriver, too many people hack away at small revolver screws with any old size they have, and it makes them difficult to extract in future, not to mention ruins the look of the gun. is particularly good, with interchangeable magnetic bits for every size you could need.
Cleaning Black Powder Revolver Internals
For Colt guns, first, take a small tin such as a tobacco tin, and fill it about half an inch deep with Black Powder solvent. Remove the screw at the base of the grip, and the two screws at the rear of the revolver either side of the hammer, and the back strap and grips will come off. Next, slacken off and remove the mainspring, drop it in to the tin of solvent. Next, remove the hammer screw and hammer, the hand will come with it. Remove the trigger and bolt spring, then the trigger and bolt. Drop all internal parts and their screws into the solvent in the tin. Give them a bit of a shake to dislodge particularly large parts of fouling. You may find, as you disassemble the gun, shards of percussion cap. This is normal, particularly on Colt's revolvers. A good many jams are caused by stuck caps fouling the internal moving parts, and it's so simple to limit it.
For Remingtons, the process is very much the same. Remove cylinder and pin, then grips, followed by the mainspring, which may need to be knocked out, hammer and hand, trigger guard, and internals. Remingtons are less susceptible to being jammed by caps than Colts, as their frame is not as open, and shards are less likely to find their way into the mechanism. Fouling will still accumulate inside the frame however, and if left unchecked, can build and compound to jam the gun. With the parts, as with the Colt, put the internals into the tin of solvent.
Let the parts sit in the Black Powder solvent a while. Now is the time to clean the frame. Colts are marginally easier than Remingtons. For both guns, spray all surfaces with black powder solvent, and allow it a minute to soak. Next, scrub liberally with a brush, removing all visible fouling. Run a pipe cleaner down through the hole in the frame for the hand and ensure this is clear. Next, spray with firearm cleaner, the high-pressure jet of isopropyl alcohol will clear all the remaining residue. Wipe the parts over with gun oil. Returning to the internal components in the tin, pour the black powder solvent away and rinse the parts with regular water. Next, spray the parts liberally with firearm cleaning spray, leaving some sitting in the tin. Take each part and wipe with a cloth, and remove any fouling in screw holes etc. using a small brush and pick. Next, rinse with regular water, and dry with a different cloth, wiping over with a small amount of gun oil after cleaning for protection against rust and light lubrication.
Reassembling is exactly the opposite of removal. For Colt guns, replace the hand and hammer first, then the bolt and trigger, and finally the trigger and bolt spring. Attach the trigger guard next, leaving it slightly loose, then loosely fit the mainspring underneath the hammer. Tighten the trigger guard, then the mainspring. Place a tiny dab of anti-seize lubricant on the nipple threads, then screw them back into the cylinder. The gun should work now, re fit the cylinder and barrel, and test it at this point to ensure it times correctly and nothing is out of place. Once you're satisfied it works, fit the grips and back strap.
For Remingtons, fit the hammer and hand first followed by all other internals. Fit the mainspring underneath the hammer, and using pliers, bend it into its housing at the base of the grip. Tighten the mainspring screw if necessary, fit the cylinder, and test for function. If all is well, fit the trigger guard and grips.
Proper maintenance is essential to any gun, but storage in the correct conditions is important to ensure the gun does not rust, or suffer knocks when stored. Ideally, two revolver gloves will be used, which come in a variety of sizes; a dirty one, and a clean one. Dirty would be used for transportation to and from the range, and will get mucky over time as fouling rubs off on the glove's interior. The clean one is used for storage, and will contain some silica packs to prevent moisture damage.
Black Powder Substitutes
The method for cleaning Black Powder substitutes, such as Pyrodex or Triple Seven is the same. I would pay the most attention to cleaning these substances, and thoroughly function checking the gun afterwards, as the use of these powders is not recommended by the pistol manufacturers. Other than that, all materials required for cleaning remains the same.
Black Powder revolvers, when properly maintained, will last a lifetime. I regularly come across second (or probably third or fourth) hand Black Powder revolvers, made in the 1960s, that have been well looked after and are in just as good order as a gun made yesterday. As the old saying goes, a night of rust is worth ten years of shooting, so the small expense and time to really maintain your gun is always worth it.