How to CLEAN Black Powder Pistols

Believe it or not, soapy water is the best cleaner to use on Black Powder and substitutes. The advanced gun cleaning products are really made for smokeless power that is not corrosive. There is no guarantee that a cleaner or oil will deactivate the acids in black powder fouling, but soap does.

I guess I should have kind of done this first, because if you went out and shot your guns already, you may have some rusty guns by now lol. Well not lol really. Rusty guns are a tragedy.

It is absolutely imperative that you clean your black powder guns the day you shoot them. Plan ahead for the time that it takes, which can be a half our or so for each one. If you don’t clean them, the acids that occur in black powder fouling will begin to eat away at your surfaces, and this oxidizes into rust, even pitting.

Pyrodex, Triple Se7en, and all the other black powder substitutes will rust your guns. Don’t think you get a pass because you are shooting a modern product. This is not smokeless powder.

There is a video here to watch, and it’s kind of like watching paint dry I know. I cut out another half hour of my ramblings, but I’ll try to get some of the points in here. Don’t take my methodology as something that should be cannonized into a religion. If you are a white glove type, you’ll want to remove your nipples, and probably even take apart the gun. I am a utility guy. For me, good enough is good enough. This methodology has always worked for me.

Before we get onto cleaning, we have to start at the range, or the match, or wherever you are shooting these awesome guns.

While you are shooting the gun, make sure to clean the fouling off the cylinder face. Otherwise the gun will get harder to cock, and eventually you will break the internal parts. Crud builds up on the face and catches on the forcing cone, and it has to be cleaned periodically. With heavily lubed paper cartridges I have seen this to not be as much of a problem.

Black powder creates something called fouling. It is a hard and crusty bit of nastiness than can really screw up your gun if you are not careful. The first place it causes a problem is in your cylinder gap. As you are shooting, you may notice that it gets harder and harder to cock it. This is bad. It means that black powder fouling has built up on the face of the cylinder, and it is now dragging on your forcing cone.

If you feel it getting harder to cock, take a wet rag, or patches if that is all you have, and wipe down your cylinder face right away. Don’t fight the difficulty, because you are putting unnecessary wear and tear on your gun. You don’t need to remove the cylinder really (that that it is hard if you are shooting Remmies), but make sure you tilt it sideways so you can see that you got rid of the build up crud.

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Some of the BP substitutes don’t do that at all. You can shoot Triple Se7en all day and you most likely will not have a problem. I did experience this problem a few times with Pyrodex though. I have a pair of open top cartridge conversions, and they can’t get through three rounds of even Pyrodex without them getting more difficult to cock. So I shoot smokeless in them. Haven’t made any rounds for them since Triple Se7en existed. Maybe someday.

Heavy lube with black powder can also make this problem not as much of a problem. Since I found the paper cartridge kits at cartridgekits.com, I have really been shooting almost exclusively those. When you have a heavy lube jacket on the front like that, the fouling stays soft and greasy, so it doesn’t bind your cylinders at all. I had always used Wonder Wads, and always had to deal with hard fouling. The paper cartidges really changed everything.

Taking Apart Colts

To start you have to remove your barrel from the frame. On a Remington that’s easy. You drop your loading lever and pull your cylinder pin out. The cylinder drops out.

On a Colt, it’s not as easy. You have to remove the wedge, and that means backing out the wedge screw.

Before you begin, make sure you have a set of gunsmithing screwdrivers. I got my set on Ebay, and Amazon has them as well. Brownells also sets of them, but you will most likely pay a lot more. A gunsmithing set has a number of sizes and thicknesses, so you can match the slot exactly.

Push down hard while you turn the screw, and 90% of the time you won’t booger it. Maybe 85%. Ok maybe a majority of the time would be a better approach. It’s a common screw to booger, especially if you bought a used gun and that screw hasn’t been out for decades.

You should purchase gunsmithing screwdrivers before removing your wedge screw. Otherwise you will most likely booger the slot.

Removing the wedge can also be testy on some guns. When you understand the engineering of the gun, you will understand that the barrel is essentially jammed to the frame with a peg that gets knocked in and out. There is also a spring catch on the end of that peg, and you have to push down on the spring while knocking it out.

A wedge tool of some kind will help you a lot if you find that your wedge is stuck. Don’t use steel because it will bend the steel on the front of the wedge. The wedge has to be fairly soft steel. I used to have a brass tool my father made for me, but I lost it at some point when I had abandoned these guns for a decade or so. Recently I found an actual product for sale that is essentially the same thing, and they sell it at cartridgekits.com. It also has a nipple pick.

To remove the barrel from the frame, put the gun on half cock so you can spin the cylinder. Then put the cylinder so that it is between chambers, and use your loading lever to separate the two pieces.

I personally do not take the gun down further than that for cleaning. The screws on these guns are very soft, and very easily boogered. I don’t like the look of boogered screws. And in all my years of shooting these guns, including leaving them for decades in a safe, I have never had a gun break due to rusted internal parts. And that was using Rem-Oil. With Corrosion X, I strongly doubt there is a likelihood that any adverse effects will occur at all.

Cleaning Kits and Components

As I said in the video, the gun I cleaned had been cleaned about a week ago, and I blew some caps and a cylinder of BP through it to kind of dirty it a bit.

When I cleaned it, I didn’t clean it where I normally do, and at home I realized that I had no cleaning kit. So that gun, and several others, were cleaned with a steel rod, pieces of t-shirt, and soapy water. Ultimately, in my experience, that is all you need.

It is a good idea to invest in a good steel range rod that has a brass guard to protect the crown of your barrel. But any rod will work with T-shirt patches, which are my preferred material. I used a Hoppes Walmart kit for the video. A smaller diameter brush keeps the patch solid. It is my preferred method for cleaning.

For the video I bought a Hoppes cleaning kit at Walmart, just so it looked more legit to what you might expect, but I didn’t use much of anything in it. Hoppes does make a black powder solvent, but I don’t use it. Dish soap and water works just fine. And even though I am a big fan of Hoppes for cleaning smokeless powder guns, I don’t use it at when cleaning black powder. Soap makes black powder fouling inert, so it’s just carbon. That’s all you need besides a good oil, and maybe a little grease for the cylinder pin. I used Rem-Oil for decades, but since I discovered Corrosion X I don’t use anything else on guns and knives.

Let’s Get Cleaning!

You are going to clean your guns at the sink. Take a jag or ideally a brush that is a couple sizes too small for your bore, and use that to grab your patches. I make my patches out of old t-shirts. The ones in the Hoppes kit are some kind of plastic and work great on tiny AR barrels, but I don’t find them useful for BP.

Center the brush in the patch, dip it in soapy water, and start by sloshing out the chambers of your cylinder. There will be a lot of black stuff, not what you see in the video, or even close. I usually wash the patch after every cylinder, because there is crusty fouling that comes out. Again, it isn’t as much since I started using lubed paper cartridges.

I start by cleaning my chambers with a soapy wet patch double wrapped. Just a long 22 brush works great.

I don’t really use any fresh patch until the gun is almost clean. I just keep washing it out in the soapy water, and that water gets really black.

The back of the cylinder with the nippes is a tough area to get clean, so I use a toothbrush dipped in the soapy water. I personally do not unscrew the nipples, and in all my years of BP shooting, I think I have only had to take a nipple off once, and it came off easy cleaning the guns the way you see me do it now. So I don’t know if there is a benefit or not.

Then I run the cylinder under water, and swab the chambers out with a clean wet patch. Usually there is very little left, and I can tell you that what there is is just inert carbon, and will not harm your guns. I have never seen the need for any kind of brush inside the chambers.

The same goes for the barrel. I have shot Walkers and Dragoons full snot at 1,000 feet per second or more, and I have never had any leading of the barrel. That would be the only reason to use a brush, and even a brush doesn’t work that good on leading.

For the video I did an obligatory brush of the barrel, but I have never seen a need for it with black powder revolvers. Even with heavy bullets in the 1,000 feet per second range, I have experienced no leading.

My method is to run a soapy wet folded patch on the same cleaning brush. For 44s you can use a .38 brush, and on 36s you can use a 22 brush. Just make a tight fit with the patch by folding it as much as you have to so that the rod turns as it travels down the rifling.

When all the crud is out, run it under water, and put a fresh patch down to make sure it’s all out. You can use the same one you used on the chambers.

For the frame, I use my soapy toothbrush on the cylinder face, the bottom where the cylinder stop is, and on Remingtons, the top strap and around the forcing cone. Then I usually wipe it all down with a clean wet patch. I don’t intentionally pour any water through the action, but I’m sure some gets in.

Then I let the gun dry. There was a time when I would put the guns into a warm oven, but I haven’t done that for years. The reason you would do that is so that surface rust does not form inside the barrel, and as you can see in my video, it did in the hour or so that I left it to dry.

I use Corrosion X liberally before putting the guns away.

After the gun is dried, I put it back together and oil it heavily with Corrosion X. I didn’t show it in the video, but I usually make sure it is drooling out through the trigger guard. When I am done, my hands and the gun are usually covered in Corrosion X, and I put it into it’s sock like that. I store these guns in socks to avoid safe booboos.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • BRUCE May 19, 2021, 2:23 pm

    I’ve been using American Pioneer Powder for many years, It is a black powder substitute. This powder does not contain sulfur as do all other substitutes. And because of no sulfur, the residues are not corrosive. I have left my fired cap & ball pistols and muzzle loading rifle for weeks after shooting, no rust or corrosion. Cleans with water and dish soap. I rinse with hot water, blow dry with compressed air and apply oil. A local gun shop owner who is also a Black powder hunter, convinced me to try it. Great stuff!! FFFg for pistols, FFg for the rifle

  • Philip May 17, 2021, 1:05 pm

    I have a single shot BP pistol with an absolutely ruined rifled barrel (not by me thankfully as it is a in the family hand-me-down). Wondering if you might offer advice on how to clean such a unit? I must assume the rifled barrel condition is result of poor or no cleaning.
    This pistol came with a second smooth bore barrel that has not been used apparently as it is in perfect condition. As with BP rifles, other than removing the nipples I see no practical method of being certain all the BP residue has been removed during cleaning.

    • Paul Helinski May 18, 2021, 9:17 pm

      You can tell by the patch coming out cleaner. If there is heavy pitting, I saw a methodology of plugging the hole and filling the barrel with 8:1 diluted molasses and water, and leaving it for a day. It will also destroy any blueing so be careful with it.

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