This article is written to help people who suffered from the recent floods to deal with the firearms and ammunition which have been damaged by the water. It is important to know how to properly restore, salvage or dispose of firearms and ammunition because unlike other items they can be dangerous if not taken care properly. Hopefully, this article will be helpful to avoid possible dangerous consequences or simply to save a piece of property and in some cases even a piece of history.
When doing my research, I was looking for reliable sources that could provide professional and official guidance. This is a very sensitive matter and it wouldn’t be correct to base it on my opinion only. The first source that I came across are instructions published by SAAMI. As many of you know, SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) develops and publishes standards, drawings and guidelines for the firearms industry. SAAMI has two guidance documents concerning the subject of this article. Below are the titles of those instructions which link to the actual SAAMI documents (.pdf):
I’ll briefly describe the contents of these guidances to give you a general idea about them. However, if you are going to deal with your firearms and ammunition that have suffered the flood, read the original SAAMI documents and precisely follow their steps. My explanation is just a brief description and should not be used as a guide to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation.
In these instructions, SAAMI points out that there are two main issues. First is that some gun parts are susceptible and sensitive to water exposure alone. That refers to metal, wood, optics, and electronics that can be damaged only by being exposed to water. The second concern is clogging the firearm parts (actions, mechanisms, barrels etc.) with contaminants found in the flood water (dirt, debris etc.). SAAMI also notes that in some cases, even the materials which are considered to be water resistant (various polymers, corrosion resistant metals etc.) may still be damaged by the flood. So it worths to at least examine those too.
Before even starting the cleaning and restoration process, don’t forget about the safety rules. Always make sure that the firearms are unloaded and wear safety glasses. After that, the first thing to do is to separate the stocks, grips and other parts from corrodible metal parts. I would say that a complete disassembly would be a better idea. If that process requires more than field stripping and you are not familiar with the further disassembly, better don’t risk and take the firearms to a local gunsmith who can do it for you.
Next process is to dry all the parts with towels and cloths. Pay close attention when drying the optics lenses, because if there are particles of debris on the lenses they can scratch the lense’s surface and damage it or make inconvenient for further use. Also, make sure that the optics still retain their hermetic seal.
Once the parts are dried, SAAMI recommends to thoroughly apply moisture-displacing lubricants to remove any remnants of moisture. Read the lubricant’s instructions first to make sure it is not dangerous for certain materials and finishes. The SAAMI recommended moisture-displacing lubricants are Birchwood-Casey Barricade, Hoppes #9 MDL, Mil-Tec 1 and Brownells LP-2. They also say that some other more commonly found oils can be used too including products like WD-40, Liquid Wrench, CRC, Blaster Corrosion Stop and Boeshield T-9. After wiping the first coat of moisture-displacing lubricant, you might need to repeat the process depending on the condition of your particular firearm.
When it comes to taking care of wooden parts, you should remember that wood keeps moisture for a longer period of time and dries much slower. If not properly dried before reassembly, wooden parts can trap some moisture and keep corroding the metal parts they are contacting. Wood should be allowed to air dry. Accelerating that process by applying heat might damage the wood itself by cracking it.
Even after you’ve properly done these “first aid” procedures, SAAMI still recommends having your firearms inspected by the manufacturer or a certified gunsmith.
In the second document, SAAMI addresses the issue of dealing with the ammunition that has been submerged. First, you need to know that rimfire ammunition is less protected than centerfire. Most of the modern centerfire small arms cartridges can easily withstand small amounts of water exposure. So one aspect to consider is the type of the ammunition. However, there are many other variables too. There are a number of questions that should be answered: “if the ammunition has been completely submerged?”, if yes, then “how long was it submerged?” or “was it submerged in clean water or flood water with all kinds of contaminants and substances solved in it?” or “if the primers and bullets are sealed?”. As you can see there are too many questions that probably can’t be precisely answered in many cases. That is probably why SAAMI doesn’t recommend to use, restore or salvage any of the ammunition that has been submerged. SAAMI recommends disposing of such ammunition by contacting your local law enforcement agency to receive proper disposal instructions.
Although in some cases you’ll be disposing of undamaged ammunition, I still think SAAMI does right by recommending that. By doing so, they probably want to make sure that no accidents will happen because of user failure to determine if the ammunition is damaged by water or not.
One can think how wet ammunition can even be dangerous? Isn’t the worst thing that can happen a misfire? Well, that’s not quite so. Water exposure doesn’t necessarily have to soak the powder wet. It can cause serious problems by only increasing the humidity level of the powder and priming compound. Theoretically, it can cause hang fires (delayed ignition of the powder) or can even cause squib loads (bullet stuck in the bore) due to partial ignition of the powder. In any case, you’d better follow SAAMI guidance.
Another source that I think is trustful and highly professional is the American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI). AGI has recently released an instructional video where Gene Kelly, the president of AGI, tells how to clean your firearms that have suffered from flood.
There is also an article by Brownells, which worth reading too. You can find it by clicking here.
I hope this article was helpful for people who have encountered a problem of dealing with their firearms that have suffered from flood damage.