Brownells 75th Anniversary - A Shooting Heritage

Gun Cleaning Clinic: Easy Bore Cleaning For The Gadget-Inclined - Part II

By: Steve Schmidt

Where We Left Off…
If you read last month's Cleaning Clinic, you'll recall that Gun Tech Dave Bennetts donated his AR-15 barreled receiver for an experiment in electrochemical bore cleaning with the Outers® Foul Out® III (#674-000-001) system. Dave figured he'd put over 1,000 rounds of FMJ through the bore since its last cleaning, so I was optimistic about getting some great photographs of copper electroplated onto the stainless steel, electrode rod supplied in the kit.

Because the AR-15 is gas-operated, it's not an ideal candidate for Foul Out III technology. I struggled for quite some time trying to seal up all the potential leakage points so that when I filled up the bore with Cop Out Plus™ solution, it wouldn't run out the ported muzzle brake or gas tube. I finally settled on plugging the end of the gas tube at the receiver end and cleaning with the muzzle facing up.

If you like hi-tech gadgetry that actually works, Foul Out III is an affordable and effective system for removing copper and lead without harming your barrels.

When we left off, I had just plugged-in the control unit and the yellow, CLEANING LED came on, indicating the unit was fired up and cleaning was underway. This month, we'll take a look at what you need to do from this point forward to ensure a safe and effective cleaning cycle. We'll also take a look at how well the system worked on Dave's AR-15 barrel.

Watching The Clock
You're probably wondering just how long it takes to clean a fouled bore using the reverse electroplating process. Well, Outers is pretty generous in their estimates at 2 to 10 hours for copper, possibly longer for those who like to visit the prairie dog towns, and from 30 minutes to 5 hours for lead buildup. This might sound like an all day affair to you, but keep in mind that electrochemical cleaning doesn't rely on harsh solvents and aggressive scrubbing, which can really tear up and wear down those delicate bore surfaces. If you're offering electrochemical cleaning as a service to your customers, the number of minutes or hours it takes to remove the fouling isn't really relevant. What is relevant is giving back to your customer a barrel that shoots accurately again and looks "factory-new" inside. This can make you some serious brownie points.

Monitoring the cleaning cycle is a no-brainer. The control unit is equipped with three, easy-to-see LED's that indicate when the system is CLEANING, when an OVERLOAD condition exists, and when the bore is finally CLEAN.

Lights, Camera, Action
When you look at the control unit, you'll see three, clearly marked LED's that allow the operator to monitor the cleaning cycle. The yellow, CLEANING LED should illuminate immediately after you connect the control unit to a 120VAC power source, and it should remain lit throughout the cleaning cycle unless there's a loss of power or excessive accumulation of fouling on the electrode. A red, OVERLOAD light in the center of the control unit indicates problems such as too much fouling buildup on the electrode, direct contact of the electrode with the bore surfaces, or contaminated cleaning solution that prevents the electrode from functioning properly. In any case, this LED is your signal to shutdown the unit, drain the bore and replenish it with fresh cleaning solution. The green, CLEAN LED illuminates when the control unit senses a change in resistance that indicates the electroplating action has ceased, and the bore is completely free of copper or lead residue.

One important note about removing lead is it produces a dramatic growth of metal on the electrode rod in as little as 10 minutes. Because of its weight, some lead will drop off the rod and settle above the breech plug. If it piles too high and makes contact with the electrode rod and the walls of the bore, the rod will ground out and activate the OVERLOAD LED. When this happens, simply unplug the control unit, carefully withdraw the electrode rod and wipe it clean with a fresh patch. Only if the control unit fails to return to CLEANING mode is it necessary to pull the breech plug and dispose of the accumulated lead and sand down and degrease the electrode rod again.

Checking For Rust
When cleaning a firearm for the first time with the Foul Out III system, Outers recommends shutting down the unit after the first 30 minutes of operation to check the condition of the cleaning solution. Because the reverse plating action not only removes fouling, but also strips corrosion and bluing from inside the bore, any rust formation will cause a visible color change in the cleaning solution. Allowing ferric oxides to remain swimming in the solution during cleaning could literally pull iron molecules from the bore surface causing irreversible damage not covered by Outers.

Therefore, don't ignore the solution if it's taken on a green, yellow, or orange tinge. These colors signal that the electroplating process has broken through the first layer of lead or copper buildup and is working on removing some corrosion underneath. If this occurs, it's imperative you drain the bore, brush it with a good solvent to remove as much corrosion as possible, and degrease and dry it again before replenishing it with fresh solution. You'll want to repeat the inspection of the solution every 30 minutes to an hour throughout the entire cleaning cycle for barrels that haven't been electrochemically cleaned before.

I was pretty confident there wasn't any rust in the bore of Dave's AR-15 barrel, but I figured I'd better heed the directions and check the Cop Out Plus solution anyway. So, after the first half hour into the cleaning cycle, I unplugged the power adapter from the control unit, disconnected the red, anode lead from the front sight housing, and lifted the electrode rod carefully out of the bore. When doing this, you'll want to place the electrode rod in a clean, dust-free area to prevent lint and other debris from settling onto it. Also, don't touch the rod portion that resides in the bore. Skin oils on the rod can reduce the effectiveness of the reverse plating action and could put the electrode into an overload condition.

Instead of removing the barreled receiver from the vise and trying to dump out some of the solution, I inserted a Cotton-Tipped Applicator (#885-861-500) into the muzzle to get a reading on the color. It still looked nice and blue, so I knew everything was a-okay as far as the quality of the solution was concerned.

Trickle Time
By this time, I noticed some minor leakage of solution from the front sight housing. Quite honestly, I was surprised I hadn't experienced a gusher by now. But, apparently, the fit of the gas tube was pretty snug, or there was enough carbon buildup around the connection point to limit leakage to an occasional drip. Nonetheless, it was enough leakage that I needed to add about half an ounce more solution to bring its level back up even with the muzzle face. I was too far into it to back out now, so I crossed my fingers and kept on going.

The biggest problem with trying to clean gas-operated, semi-auto firearms with Foul Out III is sealing up all the areas that are potential leak points. Shown here is evidence of the Cop Out Plus solution seeping out where the gas tube enters the front sight housing.

Thirty minutes of electrochemical cleaning was enough to produce a significant buildup of copper on the electrode rod.

The Evidence
I also made a point to inspect the electrode rod, and noticed a light bronze hue forming in various areas along its length. This was evidence that the reverse electroplating process was beginning to pull the remnants of copper jacket fouling from the rifling and plating them onto the electrode – pretty cool stuff! Using a clean paper towel, I wiped off some of the residue to help give the electrode a head start when I powered-up the control unit again.

After reinstalling the electrode rod and making the appropriate connections, the system was back in action. I allowed the unit to run another hour before repeating the solution check. Again, it was nice and blue with no sign of rust contamination. I'd gotten a late start setting up the system; so after another hour, I shut it down to give myself some time to cleanup for the day.

Cop Out and Lead Out are water-based solutions, so you'll want to be certain to remove them from the bore as soon as you've stopped current flow through the electrode rod. Also, remember that Outers doesn't recommend reusing either of these solutions, so discard what's in the bore, and start fresh next time you clean with the unit.

After I emptied the bore for the evening, I pulled the breech plugs and ran several dry patches through it to remove as much solution as possible, flushed it with Brownells TCE Cleaner Degreaser (#083-060-024) to ensure all solution was gone, then made a single stroke with a patch soaked with Brownells Rust Preventive No. 2™ (#083-019-016). There are a lot of good oils available that do a fair to excellent job of preventing rust, but I prefer RP2 for long-term storage or any application like this where extra moisture displacement is highly advisable.

With 2-1/2 hours into the cleaning process, the electrode had taken on some obvious copper residue. However, I didn't want to clean it off quite yet in case the bore was approaching the final stages of cleanup. So, I placed the electrode rod in a safe location until morning.

Day Two
Right away the following day, I looked inside the barrel with a bore light and noticed quite a bit of powder fouling hanging along the edges of the lands and grooves. The reverse plating action had loosened quite a bit of the embedded crud, and the overnight soaking in RP2 had lifted much of it off the barrel steel. Powder buildup between the layers of metal fouling can really delay the process of getting a bore clean with Foul Out III, so don't think you can totally abort traditional scrubbing with a bore brush. Occasionally, it's necessary to get back to the basics and brush out some powder.

I ran a couple dry patches down the bore to get rid of the loose stuff, then made a few passes with a .22 caliber, Brownells Nylon Bore Brush (#084-420-003) soaked in solvent. For typical powder fouling, I usually don't stray too far from my old reliable, Hoppe's No. 9 Nitro Powder Solvent (#699-000-005). But, since there was a bottle of Brownells "Ed's Red" Bore Cleaner (#083-150-001) within arms reach, I went that route instead. Several of the Brownells Gun Techs have touted it as a very effective powder solvent – I, too, found this to be the case.
Once I felt satisfied the bore was free of powder, I repeated the routine of degreasing the barrel with TCE and set up the electrochemical cleaner again. Another 45 minutes passed, and the CLEAN LED lit up. With just over 3 hours into the electrochemical cleaning process, the control unit indicated all copper had been removed from Dave's AR-15 barrel.

The Proof Is In The Pudding
That doesn't mean I wasn't skeptical. With over 1,000 rounds of copper jacketed ammunition through Dave's rifle, I had a hard time accepting all copper was gone. So, I doused a clean patch with Sweet's 7.62 Solvent (#100-000-001), wrapped it around a nylon bore brush, and gave the bore a last few strokes to check for blue/green streaks on the patch. Surprisingly, I got nothing! After removing the Sweet's, I finished up Dave's barrel with a thin application of RP2 to coat the bore surfaces and gave it final peek. It looked clean as a whistle.

The electrode rod, on the other hand, looked pretty darn nasty. You could easily identify the dark bands of copper plating, which corresponded with those areas in the bore that were most infected with bullet jacket buildup. It seemed that Foul Out III had the "stuff" and could restore the usefulness of the most fouled barrel.

Clearly visible is the buildup of copper plating on the electrode rod after 3 hours of cleaning.

I was impressed with the Foul Out III technology, but I don't think it's for everyone. If results are what count, it does what it's supposed to do, and in a manner that won't take out your rifling ahead of schedule. On the flip side, there's a short learning curve and some extra fiddling around required to get it setup and running (especially with a gas-operated firearm). Where it does shine is in the niche of extremely neglected barrels – ones that just don't seem to shoot like they used to due to heavy copper or lead buildup. And, for that unique breed of shooter who pursues tiny targets at long distances, it fits the bill to get back down to bare metal after a day or two on a hot, prairie dog town.