I am frequently asked how often you should get your gun cleaned and serviced? It is not as simple as a car service which is either after 10,000 miles or when the red service indicator lights illuminates in the dashboard. We might be a little alarmed if whilst out in the field, quietly waiting for the birds to fly overhead, to have our barrels start flashing bright red to advise us a service was due!!
The answer to how often a service or a professional clean is required depends not only on how many times you use your gun in a season or out summer clay shooting BUT what were the weather conditions like when you were out shooting? We go out in rain, sleet, snow, mist, wind and that’s just in the summer!! No seriously we do all expect much of our guns, which are out in all weathers getting cold and soaked and then hot in use. Just think of the condensation taking place inside the guns action and locks.
When a gun comes in for service and before being stripped down the barrels are checked for bore diameter measurement, proof status, barrel wall thickness, barrel dents or distortion and the barrels ribs and forend loop are tested to ensure that they are still water tight.
The gun is then shot to test detonation, ejection and trigger pull pressures. If all good the guns action is checked for tightness on the barrel steels and for its fit onto the action face. There should not be any gaps of more than .002 thou between the action and barrel face.
Our modern day nitro shotgun cartridges are described as clean and smokeless, just fire a couple shots through both barrels and then look up the bores and you will see the amount of debris and un-burnt gunpowder residue left. Powder residue also finds its way into your guns action and locks via the firing pin holes courtesy of the cartridge priming cap. I strip some guns and find the internal parts covered in what looks like soot but it is in fact powder residue which is a corrosive force and if left will start to eat into the steel! After a seasons use have a look under the barrels extractors and you will find powder residue and if not removed this will a) start to rust and b) cause your guns extractors to shoot loose and more importantly your guns action itself will start to shoot loose. All this caused by a few grains of powder!
The average sidelock shotgun, either side by side or over and under, has approximately 85 parts and if a gun is to be stripped and cleaned correctly the gun needs to be stripped right down and all steel parts boiled off in soda to kill corrosion and oxidisation that will be taking place due to condensation and powder residues. After boiling off, all parts are air dried and hand burnished or polished on a revolving mop this seals the pores in the metal, all parts are then greased and re-assembled. The stock and forend wood are checked for cracks, splits or elongated screw holes before being re-fitted.
Once the gun is back together it is then again tested for detonation, ejection and trigger pull pressures before being wiped over with an oily rag to remove finger marks and lovingly returned to its case or gun slip ready for collection.
If your gun is not going to be used for a few weeks or months do NOT keep it in its case or slip as they will attract moisture. Your gun is best kept in your gun security cabinet BARRELS DOWN so any moisture that may materialise will run down the barrels and away from the guns action.
A shotgun is a delicate piece of sporting equipment and can be damaged very easily some times without the user even being aware of the damage that they have caused. Barrels can get knocked against car doors, car boot lids, gate posts etc etc and what many do not understand is that the average shotgun barrels twelve inches from the muzzle are only .028 thou thick â€“ the thickness of a post card! Many are just .018 thou thick! Every time you fire your gun the cartridge is developing up to 3.5 tons per square inch pressure (6613 lbs or 3000 Kg). A pair of barrels with a dent or slight obstruction can blow and I have seen many such examples and the horrors inflicted upon the users.
My advice is to please have your gun serviced at least every three years and every year if you use it in all weathers. Please check the bores for obstruction before loading and re-loading. Let us all stay safe and enjoy our countryside and Sport and the relative small cost of servicing your gun is I think a small price to pay to complete the circle.