Cleaning your side by side and/or over and under shotgun

People often ask me how they should clean their side by side or over and under shotgun after use, especially if it has been out in wet conditions and this is a very valid question as we invariably come across a few shotguns each year that are really suffering from corrosion as a result of moisture ingress.

I will try and avoid complex terminology for this article as I do not expect people to know the name of every part of a shotgun, especially as us Brits use different terms to people in the USA for the parts and even the tools!

During this article I do make references to gunsmiths from time. There is a subtle difference between many gun shops and gun smiths. One is going to sell you something, the other is there to assist in adjustments and repairs. I can think of at least one gun shop whose ‘workshop’ consists of a table with a Dremel tool and a handful of DIY screwdrivers. I can think of another who used an adhesive to effect a repair on a damaged thread on a rifle bolt, suffice to say it failed immediately, thankfully without injury to the owner. Not all gun shops are like this, in fact far from it however do take care when making a choice on where you take your gun to be worked on.

We see far too many pre-owned shotguns and rifles and sometimes even new that were purchased from shops and upon firing show up issues and end up coming to us for remedial work and yes, some shops will flatly refuse to do anything about the problems however they do have a duty under consumer laws and if all else fails make a mental note and never return to them.

Storage considerations: Your gun slip, regardless of time of year I always suggest you leave you slip open to allow it to dry fully. That lovely fluffy lining that protects your shotgun in transit will also hold a lot of moisture, especially if it is a natural as opposed to synthetic liner so leave it open for a day or two in a warm place to ensure it is completely dry. Hanging it zipped up in the garage is not going to do it any good, nor what is carried in it. At this point it is worth reminding you that a shotgun should never, ever be stored in a slip when you bring it home.

Storing the shotgun: Did you know a shotgun should be stored upside down? That is barrels facing downwards. OK, well this does cause issues, a shotgun stored upside down in a cabinet is somewhat precariously balanced and can easily fall out, never good for your Grade 5 stocked Sporter! You can either be careful when you open the cabinet, separate the barrels and action so they are more stable or choose a cabinet with some means of holding the gun in place. Do remember to have something soft in the bottom of your cabinet and make sure it is non-absorbent and clean and dry. An old fashioned computer mouse mat works well, or a section of soft rubber or neoprene.

(As an aside, many years ago we used to store our own rifles in a cabinet upstairs and I heard a huge crash one morning, followed by a cheery call, “It’s OK, it was only your Accuracy International!” The AI complete with its S&B PMII ‘scope is about the only rifle I have ever owned that can cope with, and is actually designed for such treatment. It is also one of the most expensive rifles I have ever owned)

Back to storing a shotgun muzzle down, why are you doing this? Well any oil in the barrel and action will run down into the front of the stock and saturate the wood, this leans to unsightly darkening of the wood at the least, and it also means your action will become clogged with oil and dirt over time leading to unnecessary wear and potential issues.

Should I have my shotgun serviced? Well I do this for a living so my view is always going to be yes, however just how often is down to what you shoot where and when you shoot, how many cartridges you put through it and how it is stored when not in use. If you purchased the gun brand new, keep it in a reasonable environment and only put 2-300 cartridges though it a year for clay shooting then a yearly service is not as advisable as if you have a gun for game shooting, take it out in all weathers and put several thousand cartridges through it.

Storing it in a cabinet in the garage or under the stairs is not ideal either. We store our guns in a heated armoury with dehumidification and inspect them monthly when not in use. This may sound extravagant however an 80 watt tube heater is around twenty five quid and a dehumidifier probably about twice that for a basic version, not much of an outlay when you consider the potential cost of your gun and indeed repairs if it has suffered from corrosion.

WD-40: This product is not acceptable for use with a shotgun in my opinion. It goes gummy when dry and does not offer corrosion protection for extended periods, yes we use it in the workshop for very specific purposes (5C collet threads on lathes) However none involve the physical application of WD-40 to a firearm.

Cleaning products: You will need a good cleaning rod. Two piece wooden rods were the traditional choice however they have a tendency to unscrew and wobble around and the cheaper versions invariably end up breaking or the brass connecting ferules loosen up so I always say buy yourself a one piece cleaning rod, it can either be of aluminium or stainless steel construction and make sure it is threaded for your choice of brushes and jags as they will wear out and it is really annoying to find the rod you use has a non-standard thread in the end.

Make sure your cleaning rod and make sure it is long enough for your barrels, I suggest at least 34” from the handle or you will end up smacking your hand on the ejectors and that hurts, plus a 34” will enable you to clean anything from 24” to 32” barrel without too many issues.

You will need a good phosphor bronze brush or even better a couple as they do wear out. You can add a chamber brush as well however the chamber does not suffer from the same degree of fouling as the barrels so this is something you can always add later.

The size and make of brush is a personal thing, I use 10 bore and 12 bore brushes on a 12 bore shotgun. The 12 bore brush can be used in a scrubbing motion whereas the 10 bore brush has to be pushed in one direction, at least when new.

A jag to hold patches, you can buy twisted wire type with a loop on the end to pass a piece of cloth through, or nylon jags with a slot in, I always use the latter.

A woollen mop: Always buy good quality shotgun cleaning products. I am always amazed at how people will spend £1500.00 or more on a gun, then buy a universal gun cleaning kit from a well-known auction site. If you only have a 12 bore that is the only cleaning kit you need right now.

A good quality gun oil: Napier springs to mind, I personally use Browning Legia spray, go for the new improved version and I also use Remington gun oil however 3-1 or a similar light machine oil will work. You will also need some grease, I use DSX fluoropolymer and TW25B Mil-Comm greases, these are both light greases white in colour and need to be used sparingly which is good as they are hideously expensive. Other light greases for gun applications are available.

Tip – buy a small syringe body from Amazon or wherever and use this for applying the grease to the places that need it, this saves you getting it all over the gun, your fingers and anything else that will not benefit from its application such as the workshop Labradors.

Some kitchen roll, avoid toilet paper as it is designed to break up when it is wet, not what you need.

Some suitably sized patches or Forbytoo (4×2 Roll cleaning cloth) alternatively, can also use cut up pieces of an old clean flannelette sheet. You will need some scissors to cut the 4×2 into suitably sized pieces.

Tip – if you have not used 4×2 before start with a smaller piece and experiment until you have determined the optimum sized patch as it easy to jam a cleaning rod and jag as you transition from chamber to barrel if you are not careful.

Something to work on: We have carpeted benches however a mat or table cloth on top of a table is absolutely fine. Remember, you are protecting the gun as much as the table or work surface, plus the gun probably cost more than the table.

Find a suitable sized box to put your cleaning kit in, the idea is to keep it to hand and clean and I always recommend wiping your cleaning kit over when you have finished using it, the last thing you need is to drag grit down your bore with a contaminated wool mop although the good news is you can wash your mops out, I do this by hand with warm soapy water, the leave them to dry out for a few days before using them again.

Some Paraffin or White spirit is handy as well, avoid Acetone as it will strip an oiled finish quicker than it took to write this.

What about the pull through Bore snake and magic wand stick type cleaners? They are great for removing dust and un-burnt powder particles however that is about all. They offer no significant mechanical advantage when it comes to cleaning a barrel bore as far as I am concerned.

Power tools: You had to ask? There are jobs that require power on a shotgun however I would not recommend one for cleaning, regardless of what you have read or been told.

Choke key, if you have a multi-choke keep that choke key handy and remove the chokes after every outing.

Some cotton buds, super cheap to buy they are essential to cleaning however they can usually be raided from other parts of the house.

A short length of 2”x1” wood or similar for compressing and removing some types of ejectors and for testing firing pin operation.

Possibly a couple of correctly fitting screw drivers.

 Cleaning regime after every outing: Make sure you have clean hands and a clear flat space to work on, gun cleaning does require a reasonable amount of working space for the gun and the tools you are going to use.

Having ensured your shotgun is unloaded close and open the gun a couple of times to check the operation of the safety catch. You may have a manual or auto safety on your gun. I have both on mine and automatically push the safety forward before I take a shot and conversely pull the safety back if the shot is not taken.  For me it is just a force of habit like breaking a gun as it comes out of the slip and closing it only when I am about to shoot or it is returned to the slip. I even do this on game shoots. Obviously this does not apply to a gun that I know is unloaded and I am in the process of cleaning and even then it is never pointed at a person regardless of condition.

Now break the gun and remove the fore end and place everything on your flat clean surface.

Wipe any dirt or water from the gun with a soft dry cloth. I am a game shooter as well as clays so I spend time walking across muddy fields and through woods so my gun can come home with traces of mud on it, I use a dampened cloth to soften and remove the mud first, then wipe the whole gun over to ensure it is dry and ready to be worked on.

Whilst you have that dampened cloth in your hands give the outside of your gun slip a wipe over as well and check inside before placing it somewhere to dry inside and out.

Visually inspect the gun, you are looking for bumps and dents in the wood and the barrels, make sure the rib is flat and straight and the sight beads if fitted are still in place, if not now is the chance to order a replacement or make a visit to your local gunsmith. Run your hands along the barrels, if you feel any roughness this could be the start of external rusting so take a closer look.

Start by cleaning the action: You can probably see the firing pins sitting in their disks or holes, take a torch and look at the end that hits the cartridge primer, is it intact and nicely rounded? If not you are going to need some new firing pins at some point in the near future. Whilst I am on the subject of firing pins, when you pick your fired cartridges up take a look at the primer where it was struck, if it is pierced (blackened with a hole in it) You either have a problem with your cartridges or firing pins that needs checking now. The gases vented back when a primer is pierced go straight into the action and can gas cut or burn the pin end and blow contamination into the action.

Wipe the inside of the shotgun action over with a soft cloth with some light oil on it, a kitchen tissue is also good for this purpose as it is easily discarded in a bin and any dirt or excess of oil will show on the tissue. It also means you are not pushing dirt onto the surface if you are re-using the same cloth time after time. Use cotton buds to get into the corners, an old knitting needle or maybe a chop stick with tissue wrapped around the end also works well.

Tip – Do not spray oil onto the breech face as the oil will be blasted into the firing pin holes and allow dust and dirt to adhere to the internal surfaces.

Onto the barrels: First job is to give the external surfaces a thorough cleaning. Kitchen tissue is ideal for this job as it is discarded after each use so preventing dirt and grit being rubbed into the blued surfaces on a second pass. If it is heavily soiled some Paraffin on a couple of wadded sheets of kitchen tissue paper does the trick however do take care to dispose of them safely. Ensure the lumps and hook (Sticky out bits underneath) are spotlessly clean. Make sure the ejectors are clean and get into the undersides with a cotton bud or similar.

Cleaning the bores: I only ever clean from the chambers forward as this is the widest part of the bore.

Start by passing a cleaning rod with a nylon slotted jag through the barrel a couple of times with a piece of folded tissue on the end, discard the tissue and repeat. At this stage we are removing the loose surface fouling only.

Now onto a good fitting Phosphor Bronze brush. I add a light wrap of 4X2 around the brush, add some solvent and scrub the brush backwards and forwards through the bore, top first and I discard the piece of 4X2 and use a new piece for the bottom.

OK, now before you throw your arms up in despair at such a terrible trick let me explain why.

The bore has already been cleaned of light surface fouling, the 4×2 holds the solvent nicely without filling the brush up with the solvent so giving something for dirt and dust to adhere to. The ends of the brush will push through the 4×2 as it is only a light wrap and abrade the plastic and lead fouling if it exists and the 4×2 holds the majority of the fouling so when discarded your brush is still in reasonable condition.

Oh, and finally I probably clean many more shotguns than you do and this is what works best for me.

Repeat this process as many times as it takes to bring the barrel clean. Discard the 4×2 every time, you have a huge roll of it so may as well use it. The good news is the effort at this point will make future cleaning a lot easier unless you are in the habit of only cleaning every 2-3000 shots and if that is the case you are probably not reading this article.

Tip – Use scissors to cut your 4×2, yes it can be torn by hand however it seldom tears in the right place and leaves long straggly threads that get caught behind the ejectors.

Pass a jag with some clean tissue through each bore to dry them and look through them against a bright surface, you are looking for stubborn traces of dirt however if you have a regular cleaning regime the bores should be looking good now, even after a couple of hundred clays. View the bores from both ends, they should be super clean and shiny.

If the barrels are not spotless go back to the PB brush and solvent stage and repeat until they are spotless.

If you see any traces of shadows or light rounded imperfections in the bore or chambers (The part the cartridge is placed into) this could be the start of pitting, ask a gunsmith to take a look.

See note 1 at the end of this article.

If you see concentric rings in the chambers this was part of the machining process and although not ideal is a fact of life on some of the lower end guns. If this is a new Browning or Beretta speak to the shop it came from, and no, they should not look like that.

Now it is time to look at the chokes if fitted.

Cleaning your chokes: Remove the chokes with a correctly sized key and clean them both internally and externally paying attention to the threads, Paraffin is great for this as it does have some lubrication and corrosion preventing characteristics. The good news is they were cleaned at the same time as the barrels, however it is worth taking a closer look at the choke restriction as this is where plastic fouling can build up.

Again, clean the internal threads in the end of the barrel, short length of wooden dowel with a piece of 4×2 wrapped around the end works well. I cut a slot in the end of the dowel and pass one end of the patch through it to prevent it twisting out, I then wet it with a solvent and clean by screwing it in and out of the threads, do this a couple of times to make sure it is clean and take care you do not leave any bits of rag or tissue inside the barrel threads as they may prevent the choke from being fully screwed into place or cause the choke to jam up. A torch is handy for checking this.

Apply a small amount of lubricant to the outer surface of the choke and screw it back in finger tight. I only ever use a key to remove chokes and use the pad of my thumb to tighten them, which is all that is needed.

Back to the barrels, pass the woollen mop through the bore, followed by the jag with a piece of oiled 4×2, right now your barrel bore should be spotlessly clean and devoid of oils so time to get oil in there to act as preservative until the gun is next used.

I tend to leave the injectors in as I see no point in removing them after every outing, plus some ejectors are not particularly easy to remove (See the section on annual cleaning)

Insect and wipe over the fore end with a soft cloth if you have not done so, a light wipe of oil on the iron (The metal part) will keep corrosion at bay.

At this stage I spray some Browning Legia oil onto a cloth and wipe the whole gun over. Place a small wipe of grease on the wear points of the barrel to receiver fit.

The area you are looking at are the hook on the underside of the barrel that holds the fore end in place. The bites and lumps, these are the bits on the underside of the barrel and action that lock together once the barrel is closed. I add a wipe of light grease to the hinge pins and trunnions which are the pivot points of the barrel to action and finally the knuckle which is the rounded front part of the action that the fore end iron (metal bit) pivots around.

Make sure you have put a light wipe of oil on the ejectors and breech face, this is to prevent corrosion and need only be the lightest of wipes. Far too many guns coming in literally dripping with oil in this area and I am starting to think people only do it so I think they look after their guns!

Finally re-assemble the shotgun, remember to give the barrels a wipe over with your oiled cloth before you fit the fore end. I always tell people to treat the final assembly as a class in not leaving any finger prints. Fingers have all sorts of acids and contaminants on them and I have seen beautifully engraved actions with a dark and perfect fingerprint on the underside on more than one occasion. It does not look nice and such marks can be a pig to remove.

You have been warned.

 Annually: This is very similar to the cleaning process after every outing however there is some inspection work to do and a bit more dismantling. Everything listed below is done in conjunction with the cleaning detailed previously.

Drop the butt stock off, to do this on something like a Boxlock, remove the two screws from the butt pad, if the screws are of the hidden type a wipe of Vaseline over the screw holes will prevent the screwdriver tearing the holes. You can also add a small amount of Vaseline to the wood screws before replacing them.

A Beretta stock bolt that has got rather wet at some stage of its life.


With the pad removed look into the hole in the butt stock and you will see either a screw head, or a bolt head or a cap-head dependant on the manufacturer. Many European shotguns require an 11mm socket, I use a ¼” drive set with a deep socket and a long extension bar. Beretta use a 6mm hex key and some will have a slot for a screwdriver so you are going to need a long and substantial screwdriver for this type.

Slacken the screw off 4 or 5 turns, then give the screwdriver or socket wrench a smart whack with the palm of your hand, this pushes the action forward from the stock and means you do not have to wiggle and tug the stock to remove it once the screw has been removed.

Side locks are different in that the two lock plates are held in place by screws with the plate usually held in place at the front by a tongue. Yes you can do this yourself however you are probably dealing with a high quality shotgun and will need correctly sized and shaped screw drivers (Turn screws) My advice is stop now unless you really understand what you are doing and have the utmost confidence in your work. I have even seen a Purdey with marred screws come in for a service so someone had opened it with the incorrectly sized blade and tidying screws marred in such a way is time consuming and can be costly.

Firstly, an image of a less than pristine Beretta.

Hopefully, with the butt removed you can see and marvel at the pristine condition of the inner workings of your shotgun, or cut your fingers dependant on the maker!

I do not recommend dismantling the action any further at this stage as they can be interesting to put back together unless you have worked on them before and I have memorably seen a couple of guns shipped to us as boxes of bits within the last couple of months with a message of “please mend it and put it back together”…

The inside of the action should be reasonably clean as it is protected by the stock so you are looking for corrosion and that is about it at this stage. Take care that nothing falls out! I have known dowel pins just drop out as I have walked across the workshop with a shotgun action, you only do this once however once is enough. There are some usual suspects when it comes to gun makers and they are not necessarily the cheaper end of the spectrum.

You can now check the operation of the gun, make sure the firing pins (Strikers) are free to move with the hammers back and look for any signs of wear. Things like cracked hammers are not usually apparent however you can make sure the hammers (The things that hit the firing pins when the trigger is pulled) are correctly held back by the sears.  You can wipe the externals with a cloth to remove any visible dirt and possible excess of lubricant from a previous owner. A shotgun requires remarkably little in the way of lubrication with only the pivot points of the hammers and possibly the trigger to worry about. I know some people give the internals a blast with a brake cleaner or similar however I hate the stuff and you need to take care you are not blowing dirt deeper into the moving parts. Realistically this is an inspection as much as a clean and think this is far enough, or possibly too far for the majority of shooters.

Clean the inside of the action where the barrel sits, cotton buds are great for this and really spend some time on this job getting into all of the hard to reach corners. Pay attention to the area around the pivot point of the top lever and give the extreals a wipe over.

You can replace the butt stock at this point. I add a wipe of anti-seize compound to the stock screw thread however a drop of oil will suffice. Make sure the stock bolt is nice and tight and replace the butt pad and screws. Final job for the back end is either wipe it over or a light application of a suitable oil dependant on the finish. The Legia spray oil is quite safe on wood finishes however I would avoid putting it near a best gun finish. Avoid getting oil near the chequering as it can gum the finish up with time. I also avoid silicon furniture sprays on shotgun woodwork.

It is worth noting that I have a Miroku 6000 that I purchased new back in 1994 and it has had Legia applied to its oiled stock all of its life and looks good for it. No, Browning are not paying me for this either, I buy mine just like everyone else!

Ejectors: These should be removed and cleaned thoroughly. You will need to check on the method of removal for your specific shotgun as it varies considerably. Some lift out when partly compressed, some are retained by small tabs held in place with grub screws and some are held in place by a tab with a small spring and plunger, beware this type as they can fly out and disappear into the darkest corner of the room.

With ejectors removed, drop out the ejector springs and plungers if fitted and clean everything thoroughly. Paraffin and a small brush in a plastic tray is ideal for this. Inspect the springs for shiny surfaces on the outside, these are wear points and mean the spring has started to buckle and needs replacing.

Barrels: Clean as you would after every outing however as you have the ejectors out you can get into the recess where the ejector sits and the holes the spring and plunger sit in. Some makers use a couple of small locking lugs that engage into holes on both sides of the barrel so make sure these are clean and without obstruction. Look for shiny marks as this is an indication of wear.

With the barrels thoroughly cleaned and the ejectors still removed fit the barrels to the action and close. Without the fore end fitted point the barrels down, and hold the shotgun by the wrist and give it a shake, if you can hear or feel any movement it is worth speaking to a gunsmith as it make be starting to loosen up or come off the face which is potentially unsafe.

Remove the barrels and fit the ejectors in the reverse manner you removed them. A light oiling of the springs and plungers does no harm and I use a light wipe of grease behind the sliding surface of the ejectors. This needs to be kept to a minimum as grease is a great way of sticking dirt and grit to your gun in exactly the wrong places and can lead to excessive wear. I have come across so many shotguns that have been over lubricated.

A dab of grease on the fore end loop (The part the fore end latches onto) is a good idea at this point and everyone forgets it!

Finally add a tiny amount of grease to the surfaces that pivot or engage in the action other than the ejector faces.

Fore end: I would not recommend dismantling the fore end however you can inspect and clean it. I add a very light wipe of grease where the iron (metal part) contacts the knuckle of the action.

If storing in one piece use snap caps and fire the gun against the caps to take the pressure off the firing pin springs. It should go without saying that you only use snap caps for this purpose. Never ever place a live cartridge in your gun unless you are going to shoot it.

If storing in two parts, attach the fore end to the barrel and release the top lever released to remove tension from the top spring. You can dry fire the gun to release the pressure from the firing pins. I use a softwood block held firmly against the back face of the shotgun.

Note 1: Pitting in the barrels: People ask what is pitting and what it looks like, in fact I am often asked what caused the pitting and the easy answer is moisture is the primary culprit.

A clean dry patch after cleaning is the best way to show marginal pitting as a light oiling tends to obscure the evidence of pitting when the barrel bores are viewed against a light source, so if you are looking at a used shotgun in a shop and the bores are well oiled ask them to put a patch or two down the bores to remove the protective layer. Another thing to test at the same time is the timing and operation of the ejectors so ask for a couple of snap caps, fire the gun on both barrels and then slowly break the gun, the snap caps should eject just before the barrels are fully open. Even better ask if you can test the shotgun before buying it.

Removing pitting: No doubt the internet is full of descriptions on how to remove pits with a variety of tools and methods. This is a specialised job and you will need honing stones, the correct honing oil, a barrel thickness gauge and a bore gauge at the least and the shotgun may have to be re-submitted for proof so leave this job well alone unless you can afford to scrap off the barrels. If in doubt find a suitably competent gunsmith and ask him to measure the wall thickness, bores and give you an opinion on the bores condition. We will usually offer this service free of charge and you might even get a cup of coffee if you catch us at the right time. Others gunsmiths might not be as friendly.


Finally, yes I know it took a while if you read it all, imagine how long it took me to write it.

Also available as a Pdf if you fancy saving and printing this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

337,631 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments