One of the most common reasons for gas-operated AR15 malfunctions is a dirty weapon and, specifically, a dirty bolt and bolt carrier is one of the worst and most common culprits when it comes to weapons failures. This is probably because the space around the tip of the bolt is a tough place to clean and precisely why a couple of AR bolt cleaning tools recently piqued my interest: Combat Application Tools’ CAT M4, Brownells AR-15/M-16 Bolt Radius Scraper and Botach Tactical KZ M4CRST Carbon Removal Super Tool.
I tested all three of these bolt cleaning tools, right out of the box on three different AR15s. Each of the three rifles had been cleaned and lubed (proper lubing is essential—all over the bolt, bolt carrier, cam pin and so forth) prior to shooting and each of the three had had the about the same amount of ammo shot through it. No carbon remover or degreasing products were used prior to the experiment. And, since I’m not a scientist, there was nothing scientific about this; I just wanted to see what worked best:
Combat Application Tools’ (CAT) M4/AR15
The Combat Application Tool performed the best by far on the bolt itself. The tolerances are tight and the design made it work wonderfully. Inside the bolt carrier the CAT worked okay. The firing pin cleaner was so-so.
It was the “C.A.T.’s” unique name that grabbed my attention; the CAT M4 tool was developed by two skilled and knowledgeable shooters out of Wyoming. Their website cites long careers in military, tactical training and LEO capacities, and call me biased but this speaks volumes to me. My experience getting this product was very professional and the company seemed to be on top of their game in terms of filling orders and customer service from what I could gather.
Botach Tactical KZ M4CRST Carbon Removal Super Tool
The Botach Tactical tool performed a bit less effective than the CAT but better than the Brownells tool on the bolt itself. It worked so-so on the firing pin, the same as the CAT; but it worked the best of all three products on the inside of the bolt carrier. Surprisingly well, in fact.
Botach Tactical is an Israeli based company out of Los Angeles but the products they personally make (i.e. the KZ line), are made in the USA. Botach has good reseller pricing as well as product pricing. They also have a huge selection of products, but unfortunately they have one of the worst customer service programs I’ve ever experienced, so keep that in mind if you’re unsure about your purchase.
Brownells AR-15/M-16 Bolt Radius Scraper
The Brownells bolt radius scraper has looser tolerances than the other two and did not perform as well as a result. I experienced nothing while using this tool on the bolt carrier, because it’s obviously not meant for that.
The AR-15/M16 Bolt Carrier Carbon Scraper looks like the same design as the bolt carrier on the KZ/Botach tool above (which, as you read, worked very well). Neither of these tools have any firing pin cleaning applicability, but the other two didn’t work that well cleaning the firing pin carbon build up anyway.
The one thing this tool has going for it is the name. Brownells has been around for years and they are a truly professional organization with a plethora of tools and renowned customer service. Their return policy is also very nice. From the company website:
Return Policies: Brownells guarantees 100% satisfaction on every item you purchase. If you buy a product from Brownells and decide you don’t need it, don’t want it, or just don’t like it, we’ll take it back any time; no questions asked. We guarantee your satisfaction 100% forever.
And guess what? Brownells also sells the CAT M4 and the Botach Tactical AR-15/M16 Bolt Carrier Carbon Scraper, so if you bought one of Brownell’s AR Scrapers you can trade it in and try out of the other models.
In sum, whether you experience an immediate or remedial malfunction, if you want to survive and get back “runnin’ and gunnin’ ”, you’ve got to keep your head in the game. Keeping your head in the game means being prepared, and being prepared means proper maintenance and lubing of your weapon before you get into a firefight. Cleaning and lubing your weapon is absolutely essential. Your life depends on your weapon working and a clean gun is a happy gun.
Bolt cleaning tools are an interesting concept, given the serious nature of cleaning the bolt and it’s possible implications on the outcome of a gunfight. But when you get down to it, all you really need is a little time, the right cleaning product and a little elbow grease to scratch off any carbon build up from both the bolt or the bolt carrier. A Scotch-Brite pad does wonders and cost about a quarter. Truth be told, a handheld carbon cutter has never worked that well for me. You don’t need any of these aforementioned products, but they sure can help.
Use what works for you. The bottom line is, you don’t want to have a malfunction due to a dirty weapon, that’s for sure. Until next time, continue to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.