Most surplus guns, especially those from former countries of the Eastern Bloc, Soviet Union and China, tend to be heavily coated with cosmoline, a waxy grease used for long term storage of metal components to avoid rust. If you have ever bought a surplus Mosin or SKS you know what I am talking about here. After the "Great Patriotic War" and the advent of the SKS and AK the Ruskies took all of their Mosins that they could muster (after upgrading their standing Army and disarming formerly armed partisans and peasants....can't rule an armed populace...take note) and cleaned them up and slathered them with cosmoline to be put in storage for the next "great war". The idea being that if they ever faced another advancing enemy on the Motherland that they would break them out and issue to every able bodied citizen to help fight back the invaders. Well, decades later we (for now) get to buy these historic pieces or world history to enjoy if we are willing to do a little work to get them cleaned up.
|You may remember this pic of my Nagant 1895 revolver that I got...thats all cosmoline...|
This past weekend I decided to clean up a couple of M14 mags for my M1A that I had bought a while ago (before the current panic buying craze hit) for less than $10 a piece. Sorry folks, they don't have any more left so don't bother asking. The mags both came in wax paper with a whole mess of cosmoline on the inside and outside.
|Again, not my pic but this is the same type of mag I was working on...|
The first thing I did was to remove the wax paper and take some paper shop towels and wipe off the exterior cosmoline the best I could. I could tell on both of them that it was a mess on the inside of the mag bodies as well just be depressing the followers a bit and seeing how it oozed from around them as they moved. (Sorry folks, did not have the presence of mind to document all of this with pics at the time, you'll just have to take my word on it).
Next I gave the magazines a bath in mineral spirits (paint thinner). Acetone or other more volatile chemicals will work much better, but paint thinner is easier to work with and safer overall. I used the "green" version available which is milky white as compared to regular mineral spirits. It does not work as well as the regular, still, after a hour or so soaking in the stuff the surface was coated with a nice brown scum and gently shaking the magazines upside down over the tub caused yet more brown stuff to trickle out of the innards. Less effective than regular spirits or not, it didn't matter much after the next step.
Back when I was overseas I asked my wife to send me a hot pot to boil water to make instant noodles and such during times that I might be up and the DINFAC was closed or simply didn't feel like walking to chow. She sent me a unit similar to this...
It has a wide base and narrows towards the top. I can boil 1.5 liters of water in about 3 minutes. Since I got home its gotten sporadic use in the kitchen, but now I found a chore that it will surely get a yeoman's share of the duty with...
I took the magazines, now coated with a milky white residue and wiped them down again with shop towels. I then used a pair of pliers to hold them (we are talking hot stuff here) and poured boiling water over them slowly. Cosmoline has a melting temperature of around 120 degrees, so boiling water will both melt it and flush it away at the same time. The outside was easy enough to do. For the inside I slowly poured water on the top of the follower and tilting the magazines toward each side to make sure the water had a chance to hit each internal wall of the magazine. At first I was treated to more brown sludge dripping out of the hole at the bottom of the mag, but soon the brown liquid was replaces with just more clear, hot water coming out of the bottom of the mag. Perfect!
I then used my $79 Sears air compressor to blow out any excess water from the inside of the mags the best I could. The nice part about using boiling water on metal is that it will keep evaporate more quickly than room temp water. Now being that these are steel mags and I just used water on them...I took a couple of patches and soaked them with CLP. I pushed down the follower the best I could and allowed the patches to do their best to get the sides of the mag lightly covered with the stuff. I then applied a light coat to the outside of the mags. I then had 2 practically brand new M14 mags at my disposal.
While cosmoline is truly a pain in the butt, its preservative properties allows us to enjoy old firearms and accessories many years after the people that made them ever assumed or foresaw their use. Now that I have another tool in my arsenal to use against it, it should be a lot more fun to collect these classic arms knowing I have more time to admire them and less to clean them.