How an agency armorer builds a cleaning kit

One may as well offer a classically trained chef a bologna sandwich than to ask a gun purest to clean a gun with a communal kit.

Discussing communal cleaning kits is not generally a sexy topic, but it is one of those issues that armorers spend a lot of time with. Of course, if an officer does not like the kit at work, he or she can spend some money and buy a personal kit. However, from both an agency’s and an armorer’s perspective, there are several elements to putting together a cleaning set for common use that will create benefits all around. Focusing on getting the job done in a simple, straight-forward way minimizes problems and removes excuses from lazy officers to not maintain their firearms.

As the armorer it has been my job to keep the communal kit clean and stocked with supplies. It sounds simple enough, but like most things in the armory it’s not as simple as it seems, and everyone has a preference and opinion. Just because you know how to shoot does not mean you’re qualified to step foot into the armory — just as watching CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” does not qualify you to process a crime scene.

Cleaning equipment and supplies make up a lot of what an armory offers to its officers, and there are many ways to approach it. Some use standard cleaning rods with brushes and patches while others use Otis kits or BoreSnakes. Each system has its pros and cons with valid arguments on both sides.

Traditional cleaning rods with screw-on brushes, jags and loops have been around for many years and are viewed as the traditional cleaning kit. Some of the brands of rods and brushes will work together and some will not. This can become a logistical nightmare for the armorer. Most rifle and handgun cleaning rods are made in 8-32 threads, including Otis Technology, Brownells, Dewey Manufacturing and Hoppe’s. Military rods use 8-36 threads. Adapters are available to convert each to the other thread pitch.

My recommendation is to stick with 8-32, as it will give you the most options. Over the years I have found that the problem with rods for a communal kit is small parts get lost, rods get bent and eventually the kit gets lost in the bottom of the box. I avoid traditional kits whenever I can. My reasons include the logistics involved, and the fact that if officers who view their guns as “just another tool on the belt” go to the communal kit and cannot locate what they need, or find it inconvenient, they tend to give up and hit the streets with a filthy firearm. If those same officers keep coming back to the kit and cannot clean their guns because parts are missing or broken, they tend to not come back to the kit. Unfortunately, easily discouraged gun upkeepers exist, and armorers have to find ways to encourage them to take care of their gear. Eliminating obstacles is a good way to do that.

Otis makes great kits, especially for personal use. But for a communal kit, I find them harder to maintain than traditional rods. This is because the Otis kits are made up of even more small parts and pieces that can get lost or broken. Otis kits are great if you wish to issue each officer a cleaning kit. They are small, compact and come in their own storage pouch. They contain everything you need to clean your firearm. The biggest downside is that Otis kits are expensive when compared to purchasing traditional cleaning supplies to outfit the agency’s in-house communal kit.

For the last six years my personal favorite solution has been the BoreSnake. I purchased two of them as an experiment when I was with the sheriff’s department and put them into the communal cleaning kit in the briefing room. I noticed the deputies liked using them, and it seemed that they were cleaning their guns more often. With time I also noticed that unlike traditional cleaning rods, parts and pieces to the cleaning kit were not getting lost or damaged. I ended up breaking the kit down for simplicity. This included a BoreSnake in each caliber of firearm, a bottle of CLP, a few M16 cleaning brushes and some cleaning rags. When I came to my current police department, I replicated this cleaning kit. We issue a .40 S&W handgun and an M4 carbine to each officer so our communal kit has .40 and .223 caliber BoreSnakes, a bottle of CLP that is used to clean and lubricate the firearms, M16 cleaning brushes and cleaning rags.

One item that I did include to address the large number of M4 carbines was a Dewey CHR cleaning rod. This 9 1/2-inch cleaning rod is set up with an M16/AR-15 chamber cleaning brush. My officers use it to clean the locking lug and chamber area that the BoreSnake does not get into very well. As the armorer you will need to check the condition of the chamber brush regularly.

There are those who expressed a dislike for our cleaning kit. One concern was that the BoreSnake would get dirty with use and that the user would keep introducing the same filth into the area to be cleaned. All I can say is that this has not been my experience. As the armorer it is my job to make sure that the BoreSnakes are clean. (See sidebar on Page 11 for the procedure.) From my experience, the BoreSnakes have given us longer service lives than I anticipated. I inspect the embedded brushes regularly and the brushes have been in service for five years. The best part is that none of our BoreSnakes have any detectable damage, nor are any parts missing.

CLP is another issue that has been criticized. I fully agree that there are other good products on the market. However, there is a major benefit to using CLP in a communal kit: officers cannot get mixed up and use the wrong liquid to perform a task. I know you’re skeptical that a mix-up like that could take place, but unfortunately, I have seen it with my own eyes. Using CLP the officers clean with the same liquid that they lube the gun with, eliminating that issue. When done in conjunction with annual inspections and deep cleaning sonic cleansers, the guns are stripped of any buildup that may occur.

From the top down my current department is made up of shooters. At first they looked at the kit as if something was missing. With time they learned how easy this set up was and have grown to appreciate the simplicity. A few have chosen to clean their guns at home with their own kits, and I have no issue with that. The point is to get officers to clean and lube their guns with as little fuss as possible. The easier armorers make it, the more likely officers will perform this necessary maintenance on a regular basis.


Dennis Haworth is a California state police officer who has been a range master and armorer for more than a decade. He has served as a police academy instructor and has taught specialized courses on several subjects. He has a bachelor’s in criminology and an MPA.