Much has been said on the subject of firearms cleaning: when to do it, how often to do it, how to do it. I’m not going to revisit all of that here. Today, I just wanted to give you a few tips I use that make my life easier while cleaning my firearms.

Set Up Your Area and Supplies

Gun Cleaning Tools
Having an area set up with all your tools for gun cleaning at your fingertips is a great way to make sure you actually stay on top of your cleaning. (Photo: Don Summers/

It’s best to have a dedicated area set aside for cleaning. It’s such a convenience to have all your tools and supplies out and at your fingertips. It also makes it much more likely that you will actually do the cleaning if everything is ready to go, as opposed to having to lug out all your supplies. 

If you do have a dedicated area, make sure you never keep any ammunition near this area – it is safe zone. Of course, I didn’t always have the space to do this, so I used a simple toolbox to carry all my gear. I still keep my toolbox as a portable kit for when I need to clean on the range.

The next important element to your cleaning setup is adequate light. The more light, the better, so you can actually see what you are doing. This makes disassembly and finding small lost parts much easier. One of my tricks is to use a headlamp to get light into those small spaces where I really need it. Any simple headlamp will work.

Head Lamp Light
Light is key, so I like to also keep a headlamp handy for detail work. (Photo: Don Summers/
Cleaning Glasses
A cheap pair of 1x reading glasses is nice for getting a better view and protecting your eyes. (Photo: Don Summers/

A safely tip is to always use eye protection in case some chemicals splash back at your face. What I use is a set of cheap 1x reading glass. You get the protection, but you also get a little bit of magnification for the detail work.

Your cleaning surface is also important. Working on a hard surface inevitably allows cylindrical pins to roll off the table. I use a large, fancy gun cleaning mat from TekMat. The padded, grippy surface reduces bounding and rolling. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it is black, which makes dark parts difficult to see. Therefore, I usually put down a towel or rag. I’ve also got a bin of rags always on hand.

Backing Sheet
A simple baking sheet can help keep your parts from rolling away on you. (Photo: Don Summers/
A man cleans a pistol in a pillow case
And a pillow case is handy to takedown guns that have parts that might want to jump away. (Photo: Don Summers/

Another tip is to use an old baking sheet. The edges keep small parts contained and the metal surface is impervious to cleaning solvents, allowing for easy clean up. Just make sure you clearly mark gun your cleaning baking sheets and ask your spouse first.

I also like to keep several containers within easy reach. I particularly like ceramic bowls that wipe up very easily. Mine are old CorningWare cereal bowls. In addition, I keep a few different-sized old Tupperware containers around to keep parts together during cleaning. Whenever I lose a lid to a food storage container, it gets relegated to the workshop. Another trick I use to reduce the possibility of spring loss is to take guns apart in an old pillowcase.

Real Avid Action Block
Action blacks also make it easier to drive out pins and other parts without damaging the gun. (Photo: Don Summers/

Action blocks are a nice accessory to make taking guns apart easier. Basically, action blocks are polymer blocks with cutouts designed to hold firearm parts in place so they don’t slide around during takedown. They also have drilled holes to allow pins to be driven through them while supporting the rest of the gun. 

Every gun has a specific action block made for it, but I just us one action block for everything. I’d recommend getting the action block of your most-used/cleaned firearm and using that for everything. They also make universal action blocks. But you don’t really need to buy something. I also have a wood block with some holes drilled in it, which works fine. You can customize as you like.

Tools: It’s an Investment

Brownells Gun Tools
Personally, I recommend investing in a good set of tools. They will last you for a very long time and protect your guns as you clean over time. (Photo: Don Summers/

I highly recommend investing a good set of dedicated gunsmithing tools. Firearms use small and sometimes very specific types of screws. Generic household tools may not grab parts perfectly and can lead to marring, chipping, or scratching. It’s also necessary to have a properly fitting tool in order to provide the necessary torque to ensure good lockup. Good tools also last longer. I’ve been using a set of Brownells Magna Tip drivers for over 20 years, and they are still holding up strong. For hex wrenches, I use Bondhus keys with ball heads. 

Steel Punches
Brass punches are great for a lot of work and protect the gun, but sometimes you need something stronger that wont bend to get a stubborn pin started. (Photo: Don Summers/

Punches are also critical tools to have when taking apart guns. I would suggest getting both brass and steel punches. Brass should be used when close to the firearm surface to avoid dinging the finish. However, if a pin is stubborn, you may bend the brass punch, which is when you need to move to a steel punch. Starrett makes excellent punches in general. As a gunsmithing tool company, Real Avid also has very well engineered stuff.

You don’t need to go crazy on cleaning brushes. I mostly use old toothbrushes. However, gun-specific brushes are nice. Real Avid also makes a great set that includes both nylon and brass bristles. Dental picks can really be helpful to get into those hard-to-reach areas. Nylon and brass are my go-to choices. Be careful with steel picks.

Gun Cleaning Brush
Toothbrushes are a cheap option that works, but there are also custom brushes for detailed cleaning. I use both, but there's no need to go all-out on brushes. (Photo: Don Summers/
Gun Cleaning Picks
Careful with steel picks because they can damage the finish, but picks are also very helpful for getting into tiny spaces while cleaning. (Photo: Don Summers/

Paper products are a must have. I always have a roll of paper towels to scrub and wipe things down. When paper towels are not substantial enough. That’s when I turn to patches. The cloth-like material of patches holds together much better. In addition to using them as they were meant and pushing them down barrels, I’ll also wrap brushes, picks, and golf tees with patches. 

This allows me to get the patch into hard-to-reach areas to soak up gunk, and it preserves the life of the brush. To save money, I only buy 12-gauge shotgun patches and cut them down to size for all my other calibers.

Pick Your Chemicals


Gun Oil Bottle
You don't need powerful aerosols that blow gunk everywhere. A simple dropper will handle most things fine. (Photo: Don Summers/

Before I get into the actual products I use, I want to recommend some delivery devices. While aerosol cans are great for blasting out gunk, they can blow debris all over the place. One-ounce spray bottles and needle oil bottles are super useful in delivering your cleaning product or lubricant to exactly where you want it.

My favorite brand of cleaning products is Slip 2000. It was recommended to me by the late and great gun trainer, Pat Rogers. If it worked for Pat and all the elite troops he trained, it will work for you. I use the all-purpose Gun Lube CLP, degreaser, EWL, and grease. 

Gun Cleaning Oils and Grease
Most cleaning and lubricating can be done with simple CLPs, but there are plenty of other options if you need something stronger or more tailored to your firearm. (Photo: Don Summers/

CLPs – or clean, lubricant, and protectant – gun oils are all you really need to maintain most firearms. They do exactly what they say and can do all three jobs relatively well. There are times, though, when a little more aggressive solvents are needed. I then turn to the tried-and-true Hoppe’s No. 9 bore cleaner.

The last few things to have on hand are some kind of thread locker to keep screws from walking out while shooting, anti-seize to prevent galling, alcohol for general cleaning purposes, and a compressed gas duster can for blowing things out when you don’t have access to an air compressor.