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Cleaning a Rifle Bolt

Cleaning a Rifle Bolt

Don’t let an improperly maintained bolt cost you a trophy.

By Richard Mann

Too many hunters neglect the primary moving part of their bolt-action rifle: the bolt. That’s a mistake, because a malfunctioning bolt is one of the chief causes of rifle failure, especially in freezing weather.

If you want your rifle to go boom instead of click at the moment of truth, you need to do more than squirt some protective lubricant on the exterior of the bolt every now and then.

Breaking Down a Bolt

Proper bolt care starts with disassembly, not a bath in gun oil. To remove the bolt from a Mauser-type or Winchester Model 70 action with a three-position safety, close the bolt on an empty chamber, place the safety in the middle position, and remove the bolt. Next, depress the cocking piece lock button and unscrew the firing pin/cocking piece assembly.

Breaking down a Remington 700 bolt is a bit more involved, but not difficult. The easiest way is to use the Kleinendorst Bolt Disassembly Tool, available from Brownells ( Priced under $30, this tool simplifies removing the cocking piece, firing pin and spring from the bolt body.

Remington suggests pulling the Model 700 bolt’s firing pin extension to the rear and inserting a coin in the exposed slot to hold the spring compressed. This method works, but if you drop the firing pin assembly and the coin pops out, reassembly can be as hard as tying a shoe with one hand.

A more foolproof method is to clamp the bolt sear or bolt sear lug in a vise and pull on the bolt to compress the firing-pin spring. When the firing-pin extension protrudes past the cocking piece, insert a punch and push out the firing-pin retaining pin enough so it protrudes from its hole. This holds the spring compressed, even if you drop the firing pin assembly. Now, release the spring compression and unscrew the firing-pin assembly from the bolt. Assemble in reverse order, remembering to push the firing-pin retaining pin back in place.

This is also a good time to inspect the extractor and ejector. In Winchester bolt rifles, the ejector is fixed to the action and travels inside the bolt through a raceway as the bolt is pulled to the rear. In Remington 700, the ejector is a plunger-type affair fitted into the bolt face.

Cleaning a Rifle BoltTo clean the Winchester ejector, wipe away any grit or grime and inspect the end of the ejector for chips or cracks. With a Remington, wipe away the brass particles that accumulate near the plunger and make sure it moves in and out of the bolt freely.

You should inspect the extractor on the bolt as well. Ejectors on Pre-’64 Winchester Model 70s run parallel to the bolt body. Rotate it around the bolt and clean away all debris. You can remove the extractor if you like, but without bolt extractor pliers, it can seem like a three-handed operation. For the newer control-round, push-feed Winchester actions, there is a hole in the center of the extractor into which the end of a spring-loaded retaining pin fits. Depress this pin with a sharp tool and slide the extractor out, being careful to not let the spring shoot out of the bolt.

Remington Model 700 extractors are a different story. Those on rifles chambered for non-magnum cartridges can be removed with a sharp set of needle nose pliers. Extractors on magnum bolts should be taken to a competent gunsmith. Remington 700 extractors are easily bent beyond repair, so the best advice is to not remove them unless they’re not working and need to be replaced. In all cases, examine the claw or tooth of the extractor (the part that fits over the case rim) for any chips, dings 
or cracks.


Cleaning a rifle is not something to be done at the end or the beginning of a hunting season. It’s important to perform periodic cleaning operations throughout the season and especially after your rifle has been exposed to harsh elements. Once while hunting in Africa, my rifle became so clogged with dust that the bolt became almost impossible to open. The problem was not a poorly designed rifle. I did two things wrong: I left too much lubricant on the action to collect dust, and I failed to clean the rifle two evenings in a row.

Cleaning a Rifle BoltIt’s important to remove all powder residue and dirt that accumulates in and on the bolt. Simply wipe the bolt with a rag sprayed with WD-40 or some other lubricant/rust preventative. Use a small brush to get into the tight corners or recessed areas. Make sure all brass chips or flakes that could interfere with extraction or ejection are removed from around the bolt face.

You should also clean the interior of the bolt body. One of the best tools I’ve found for this is the Brownells’ Bolt Cleaning Brush. With this brush, you can scrub out the inside of most any bolt body in just a few seconds. Afterwards, take a large patch and swab the inside of the bolt to remove any debris loosened up by the brush.

Finally, keep in mind that some manufacturers heavily coat the bolt and its working parts with thick grease prior to shipment because they have no idea how long a rifle may remain in a box or on a shelf before it sells. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to clean the bolt of a new rifle just like a used one.


As mentioned, too much lubrication can be a bad thing. When liberally coated with oil, some bolts may seem to function as smooth as a slick-talking politician, but excessive oil can leach into improperly sealed wood stocks and weaken them. Too much oil also attracts dust and grime.

Lubrication is simple. Just lightly dampen a rag with WD-40 or your favorite gun juice and rub it over every part. This will provide the rust protection you need, and it will allow the parts to work together without binding.

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One of the handiest gun cleaning tools I use is an air compressor. It is especially helpful when trying to remove the dirt and debris that accumulates inside a rifle action, especially at the point where the bolt’s locking lugs slip into their recesses. I have a small air compressor in my workshop. When cleaning a firearm, I run the pressure up to about 60 psi to blow off parts before, during and after the disassembly, cleaning and reassembly process.

If you don’t have access to a compressor, buy a can of compressed air used for cleaning computer keyboards. Although they operate at low pressure, they can be helpful for ejecting dirt and debris from inside and around the working parts of a firearm.

Don’t be afraid to attempt bolt disassembly. It is not that complex and is an important step in maintaining a bolt-action rifle.

Reprinted from the December 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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