A Pocket-size Musket Cleaning Kit.

Throw away that farby plastic tackle box! Retire your take-apart aluminum cleaning rod! Leave your silicone spray at home! You have no use for them anymore! This handy little device is perfect for servicing your musket when "on campaign". It contains everything you need for cleaning your gun, yet it easily fits in your pocket, knapsack, cartridge pouch, or hunting bag. This kit is not documentable, but is comprised of authentic gun cleaning parts and completely comprised of period-available materials.

First off, a word about musket cleaning: Dozens of articles have been written about the "easiest" way to clean a musket. Face it folks, there IS no easy way to clean a musket! All the solvents, special brushes, and fancy gun oils in the world don't make it any easier, and I have resigned myself to the fact that the only way to do a good job is to do it just like "they" did:

cleaning kit
Build this handy little cleaning kit -- it contains everything you need to clean your musket!
"To clean the Barrel. After every firing day the barrel is to be washed, by taking it out of the stock, and putting the breech into water, leaving the touch-hole open; then with an iron ramrod and worm, with a piece of toe [sic] or rag, draw up and down the barrel till it becomes quite clean; when dry, rub it with another piece of rag, and the outside of the barrel with buff leather. The lock need not be taken to pieces, but when necessity requires it, and that is, when the trigger or hammer goes stiff or unpleasant."1

Now, on to the matter at hand.

The first thing you will need is one of those small, square tea tins usually available around this time of the year. Dump the tea into another container and burn off the brightly-colored lacquer coating. Use some superfine steel wool and lightly buff the tin to a smooth finish, paying special attention that the outer rim and inside of the lid are smooth and free of debris.

Believe it or not, everything you need to clean your musket in the field can be fit into this container2. Your cleaning supplies will consist of a worm and a "pump" (optional) threaded to fit your ramrod. These can be had for $5.00 or $10.00 each from several sources.3 The worm-and-tow arrangement described by Simes creates enough of a vacuum to pull water through the touch-hole up into the bore, but a brass pump is easier to use and saves you quite a few patches. For drying-out and greasing the bore, cut some 2 X 2 inch patches out of old canvas, scraps of linen, or heavy cotton. Again, you can also use the raw tow if you prefer.4

To remove the barrel, you will need a pin-punch (unless you shoot a Charleville or Spanish musket, in which case your task is much easier). I don't recommend using the pin-punch on your three-pronged musket tool -- most are the wrong shape and will soon work the pin-holes in your stock too large. It is better to buy a machinist's pin punch of the correct size (Davies 1/16" or 3/32") at a hardware store. You'll probably need to grind it down a bit (from the back-side) so it will fit inside your tin.

If you choose not to pull the barrel each time you clean, an adequate job can be done by simply plugging the touch-hole. Make a vent-hole plug by putting a piece of 1/8" dowel in a pencil sharpener to put a taper on it, then cut it off at about 1/2" or 3/4" long. You might as well make a bunch of these, as you will loose or break plenty of them over the course of a season.

As mentioned by Simes, a piece of buff leather works well for polishing out any light rust. For "fuzzier" rust, scrubbing the affected area with a section of dry twig will usually take care of it. Wood ash from your firepit on a dampened patch also makes a great metal polish.

For the final rustproofing stage, a single grease-soaked patch is all you need in your kit, but you may want to pack a small container for your oil or grease.5 A 1-1/2" diameter, #11 percussion cap tin with the paint burned off makes an excellent grease tin. These are only about $3.50 full of caps, and if you don't shoot percussion I'm sure you could make your hunting buddy's day by giving him the caps.6

As previously stated, all of these cleaning supplies fit neatly inside the tea tin: The grease tin fits diagonally across the tin, forming two triangular compartments. The pump goes in one compartment, the worm in the other, and everything else tucks in around them. The only other items you might want along are a small hammer or a pliers to assist in pulling the barrel pins (unless you opt to plug the vent instead).

With this cleaning set, you'll have more room in your kit for other stuff and you will no longer need to hide in the back of camp to clean your musket!

NOTES:

1) Simes, Thomas, A Military Course for the Government and Conduct of a Battalion, London, 1777, page 216. A tin kettle or a large tin cup is just big enough to immerse the breech. Don't worry too much about the barrel pins becoming loose from repeatedly removing the barrel. Use the correct tools and a little care and it won't be a problem.

2) If you can't find one of these tea tins, make a small (about 2-1/2" wide X 3" tall) deer or elk-skin bag with a drawstring top.

3) If you have trouble finding these parts, try contacting G. Gedney Godwin; (610) 783-0670, or Smiling Fox Forge (419) 334-8180.

4) The term "tow" most often refers to the coarse, fibrous by-product of the linen-making process. It can also refer to a crude fabric woven from this leftover fiber, i.e. tow linen or tow cloth. (Oxford English Dictionary).

5) Use a good penetrating oil. WD-40 is NOT a good oil to use on firearms -- it is not designed to penetrate and in fact evaporates in a short period of time leaving your firearm unprotected and vulnerable to rust!

6) Gun grease can often be found in small tins at Army Surplus stores. Beef tallow (available at your butcher shop) is probably the most authentic rust preventative, and this or any other natural lubricant (like Thompson Center's Natural Lube 1000 Plus Bore Butter), will eventually "season" the bore -- making your gun easier to clean in the future!