Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaning, Part One

How this time-saving tool works and its evolution to firearms cleaning.

by Richard MacLean

Even a novice gunsmith recognizes the damage that can be done to an expensive firearm with an ordinary screwdriver. They also know exactly why a correctly sized hollow-ground screwdriver is so effective at preventing damage when extracting hard-to-remove screws. Ultrasonic cleaners are another variety of tool that is gaining in popularity among gunsmiths, now that these devices have become more affordable. But just as the wrong screwdriver can ruin a firearm, so too can an ultrasonic cleaner if used improperly.

There is surprisingly little detailed, credible information on this subject and the classic gunsmithing books were written long before the invention of ultrasonic cleaning. These cleaning units can be a tremendous time saver for a gunsmith. They can perform certain operations that are all but impossible using solvents and manual brushing but they also come with potential issues. Many of the key warnings and relevant instructions are either absent from the manufacturer’s literature or mentioned briefly. Just as significant, the reasons behind certain precautions are rarely explained and these warnings are soon forgotten. Compound this dearth of information with the ego factor (“I’m smart and only need to glance at the manual”) and you have a recipe for disaster.

In this series, we’ll explore all of the relevant dimensions of ultrasonic cleaning in the context of gunsmithing. There are hundreds of opinions about ultrasonic cleaning on various firearm forums. They cover the spectrum from favorable to very negative and from sensible precautions to absurd recommendations. Although they provide an initial framework to guide our investigation, we’ll rely on the experts to get the facts straight; the manufacturers of the units, firearm finishers, product suppliers, and leading manufacturers of weapons and accessories, such as tritium night sights. We’ll provide direct quotes from the early developers of ultrasonics for firearms and national experts on what ultrasonics can and cannot do and why. A draft of this article has been reviewed and scrutinized by numerous specialists—even Glock’s U.S. legal department had a look.

Download Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaning Tables by Richard MacLean

Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaning Tables by Richard MacLean

Read more in our January 2014 issue. Back issues are available.

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