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Gun Cleaning Clinic: Make Cleaning Your AR-15 Easier

By: Steve Schmidt
After recently shooting my first three-gun match, I've come to the conclusion that the infamous black gun is my new best friend – not because I scored well in the rifle stages (my scores were a disaster), but because this little workhorse is so fast handling, wonderfully efficient and undeniably fun to shoot. What other civilian model, semi-auto rifle is so comfortable to shoot and has the versatility of the AR-15? From short to long range, slow to rapid-fire shooting -– it simply can't be beat for accuracy, reliability and affordability. I should have built one years ago!

If there were one small thing that needed improvement with the rifle, I'd have to say it has something to do with cleaning. A weapon split into two, basic parts and hinged at the lower front quadrant makes things interesting when that time comes. One benefit of owning a rifle based on the U.S. military version of 1967 is that inventive minds have had more than 30 years to make it easier for us to clean. No other weapon has generated such a mass arrival of cleaning accessories that actually work for today's tactical shooters.

If you own a lower receiver with the Colt-style pivot pin/screw, you already know what a hassle it is to remove the lower assembly before cleaning. On the flip side -– if you don't remove it – brushing the bore or mopping out the bolt carrier raceway is like trying to hold onto a greased pig at the county fair. The two halves just don't work together real well.

Somebody at Sinclair International saw this and had a good idea when they designed the AR-15 Cleaning Link. This is one of those gadgets you use for the first time and wonder how you ever lived without it. The Link is simple, easy to install and consumes very little space in your range box. Most importantly, it ends the floppy upper/lower receiver predicament when cleaning with the upper receiver attached.

Sinclair's Link is a third hand for cleaning the AR-15. It installs in seconds to immobilize the upper and lower receivers so you can effectively clean from the breech without removing the lower receiver


Good bipods are solid enough to allow cleaning from the breech when using the Link.


Sinclair designed this small, solvent-resistant, Delrin® block with a fixed, stainless steel pin that fits snugly in the takedown pin hole in the upper receiver. The lower portion of the block is drilled and offset 90°, so it aligns and drops into place at the rear of the lower receiver. This arrangement allows complete engagement of the takedown pin, which locks open both the upper and lower receivers for easy cleaning from the breech. For fast cleaning with the rifle in a gun cradle or with a bipod attached, nothing beats it.

Brownells/Peace River Lower Receiver Block makes is easy to mount the entire rifle in your shop vise for cleaning and maintenance. Use with the Link for bore cleaning.

If you're like me and don't particularly like the way your AR lays or fits in a standard gun cradle, you have other options. There are several, inexpensive cleaning/maintenance accessories that provide anyone with a heavy-duty bench vise the perfect holding fixture for the AR-15. For those who prefer to leave the lower receiver attached during barrel scrub-down, the Brownells/Peace River Lower Receiver Vise Block is perfect. The block is molded from unbreakable, non-marring urethane and fits in a mil-spec lower receiver in place of an actual magazine. Some minor fitting of the Vice Block may be required due to variances in lower receiver manufacturing tolerances.

Both the top and bottom sections of the block have a slot for the magazine catch. This design feature lets you insert either end into the magazine housing. With the catch engaged, you know with confidence the receiver is locked-in place when working your cleaning rod back and forth. Clamping the other end of the block in your vise jaws completely immobilizes the upper/lower receivers for cleaning and maintenance operations.

If it bothers you to clean the bore with the upper receiver angled downward when using Sinclair's Cleaning Link, simply compensate for it by canting the receiver block in the vise for perfect horizontal positioning of the barreled receiver. Problem solved!

The non-marring, Accu-Grip Barrel Vise jaws feature a permanently bonded, space-age, polyurethane lining for superior grip.

Next on the cool list are the Accu-Grip Barrel Vise Jaws. These massive aluminum jaws are machined to accommodate both standard and heavy contour barrels, then lined with the toughest, polyurethane elastomer I've ever seen. This lining surrounds the barrel to provide a cushion between the barrel steel and vise jaws. The result is a superior gripping action that completely immobilizes the weapon for cleaning with no chance of marring the barrel finish. A less expensive alternative is a pair of DPMS Barrel Vise Jaws. Like the Accu-Grip jaws, they offer the versatility of two grooves for standard and heavy barrel contours but without the fancy lining.

Brownells Upper Receiver Action Block secures mil-spec, flattop and carry handle uppers for cleaning and barrel work.

If you're cleaning a mil-spec flattop or A-1/A-2 receiver, Brownells Upper Receiver Action Block is also an excellent choice. This block was originally designed to provide the gunsmith a safe, effective way to tightly clamp the upper receiver in a vise for barrel installation and removal. With the upper assembly removed, it works equally well for bore cleaning. The block is supplied with a cylindrical, internal support tube to prevent damage to the receiver when torque is applied to the barrel nut. This piece can be set to the side when using the action block for cleaning. Because the block fits around the receiver, it requires the dust cover to be closed or removed. Therefore, it's best suited for use with a muzzle guard, or one of the small diameter bore guides that clear the dust cover latch. These include the Dewey AR-15 Bore Guide and C.J. Weapons Bore Stay™. The Stoney Point XL-101 Chamber-All Bore Guide with optional, XL1 1" Diameter Collar also works great, as well as their XL-303 or All-In-One™ bore guides when used with the XL3 1" Diameter Collar.

The injection molded block features an innovative hinge system to completely "sandwich" the receiver between two pieces of non-scratching Rynite. Once clam-shelled around the receiver, the lower portion can be clamped in your vise to immobilize the upper assembly for cleaning and repair.

Several options, all different, all available to you from Brownells. One of them is certain to fit your cleaning style and make the AR-15 more manageable to handle while cleaning.

If you have questions about different cleaning products or techniques you want us to test, be sure to let me know at