How To: Clean an SKS Rifle

Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

So you went out and bought an SKS rifle...good for you. In my opinion, there are few rifles that can match the SKS as a personal weapon, whether used for hunting, recreation, or defense. Yes, some people will tell you that your SKS is a piece of outdated junk, and that their $2,000 rifle with all its fancy bells and whistles is much better, but just keep in mind that your SKS will still be functioning long after that fancy rifle has been thrown in the scrap heap. If properly maintained, an SKS will probably still be working long after its owner has died...of old age. Just ask yourself, would you rather have a pretty little show-pony, or a big, ugly workhorse that will never die?

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

These rifles are very popular, and thus can be found in any well-stocked gun store, but no gun is even worth buying if you don't plan to take care of it. I am continually surprised at the number of people who own these rifles, and yet do not even know how to disassemble them, let alone clean them properly. Some people seem to think that the SKS and the AK are so tough that they don't require cleaning, or at least that they require less cleaning. This is just nonsense, coming from people who are too lazy to clean their guns.

The fact is that gunpowder residue eats metal. It takes awhile, but gunpowder residue is slow death for every part of your gun, so always get rid of it as soon as possible! Remember that a clean gun is a long-lived gun.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Because of the fact that these are military surplus rifles, they do not usually come with an instructions book. When soldiers were issued this firearm, they had no need for an instructions book. They were taught to maintain the rifle as part of their normal training. You, on the other hand, are probably not a professional soldier, and even if you are, I doubt that anyone has issued you a weapon as old as this one.

Therefore, in this article, I (and my faithful reptilian assistant, Iggy) will show you how to disassemble, clean, and re-assemble your SKS rifle. These instructions will work for any type of SKS, regardless of its country of origin. As we go, you will also learn the names for the various parts of the rifle. It may seem really complicated at first, but after a few cleanings it will come naturally and you won't even need these instructions anymore.

You Will Need:

  1. A straight steel pin (like a pin punch, screwdriver, etc.).
  2. A cleaning kit, containing both soft and wire brushes of the appropriate size (7.62 size is ideal, but a .30-cal wire brush and a .357 soft brush will work just fine). Your kit must also include a cleaning rod.
  3. Gun oil and solvent (or a combination of the two).
  4. Scrap cloth (at least some of it needs to be white).
  5. A small piece of medium-grade sandpaper (optional, but recommended). A small handheld wire brush is just as good, but DO NOT use your bore brush. It is only meant to be used in the barrel.
  6. Q-tips (optional).
  7. A set of rubber gloves (if you are using straight acetone for a solvent).

Step 1 Make Sure the Rifle Is Unloaded

Before cleaning any firearm, you must always make sure it is unloaded. Start by releasing the magazine. There is a small button just in front of the trigger guard. Pull it back.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

If there are any bullets in the magazine, they will fall out when you hit this button. Next, pull the cocking handle all the way back and make sure that the chamber is clear. Do not proceed to the next step until you are absolutely sure the weapon is unloaded.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Step 2 Remove the Trigger Assembly and Magazine

First, make sure that your safety is on. If the safety is off, the trigger cannot be removed or re-installed. This is how it should look:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, locate the small button behind the trigger.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Use a metal pin, a screwdriver, or something similar to push this button forward rather than down. When you push it far enough, the whole trigger assembly will pop out.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, you can lift the entire trigger assembly out. Now, to remove the magazine is much simpler. At this point it is only held by the bolt catch. So, just pick up your rifle and pull the bolt back. The magazine should fall right out.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Step 3 Remove the Bolt Assembly

This set of parts includes the bolt, the bolt carrier, the main spring, and the receiver cover. Don't worry if you don't know what those things are. You will learn as we go.

The FIRST STEP is PUT YOUR BOLT FORWARD. This is very important because the bolt and its carrier are held under the tension of a very powerful spring, and you are about the take the covering off of that spring. If you forget this precaution, I will not be held responsible for any accidents or injuries that may result.

So, just pull your bolt back a tiny bit and let it go. It will shoot forward. Now you are ready to remove the receiver cover. Locate the lever on the side of the receiver cover, shown below.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Turn the lever vertical, and then pull it out, as shown below.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

The receiver cover should now slide right off:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Remember how I told you to put the bolt forward before doing this? If you didn't do it, then you are probably wondering why the receiver cover just shot off the back of the gun like a rocket. That's because, like I told you, it was under a lot of spring tension, and you just removed the only thing that was keeping the spring compressed. I hope no one was standing behind you.

Now then, that big spring you see there is not attached to anything. Just pull it out. Now you can pull the bolt and bolt carrier back, and lift both of them out of the receiver.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Step 4 Remove the Sling and Stock

Removing your sling is a simple task, but of course every sling or strap is different, so you're just going to have to figure that one out on your own. If you have the standard military issue strap, it has a button that you can unclasp.

As for the stock, at this point it is only being held on by the bayonet. Extend your bayonet and the firearm can be easily lifted out of the stock. If you don't know how to extend your bayonet, grab it by the "handle" portion and pull towards yourself. This should free the bayonet, allowing you to swing it up into the extended position, where it will lock in place.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Warning

  • It's really easy to get your fingers caught in the bayonet lug. Be careful of this; it hurts a lot.

Step 5 Remove the Gas System

This set of parts consists of the gas tube, gas piston, and a spring pin. Again, if you don't yet know what these parts are, you will soon.

The SKS, like its cousin the AK-47, is a gas-operated weapon. This means that it reloads itself by recycling some of the hot gases that are released when the bullet goes off. This transfers the force of a small explosion to the bolt, pushing it back, so that the main spring can send it forward again. This process of energy transference occurs inside of the gas system, which we are about to remove.

First, locate the small lever beside your rear sights.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

This lever is what locks the gas system in place.

Warning

  • Needless to say, it is a BAD idea to operate this rifle without the switch in the proper position. The position shown above is where it should usually be.

To remove the gas system, you will need to turn the lever up to this position:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

The lever is a little hard to turn, especially if it hasn't been turned in awhile, so you may need a steel pin. You can put it in the little hole in the lever.

Now, tilt the gun forward, smack it (this is to move the gas piston forward, and thus, out of the way), and lift the gas tube off. Jiggle the lever if you have any problems.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

  Once the tube is removed, the gas piston will fall right out.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now to remove the spring pin. This is the intermediary pin that transfers force from the gas piston to the bolt carrier. It is located just behind the gas tube that you just removed. You can see the top of it in the picture below (the round thing).

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

This is another one of those pieces that will shoot out like a rocket if you don't remove it properly. First, put your thumb over the top of the pin and hold securely.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now turn the lever up a little further, and the spring pin will pop out. Use your thumb to make it come out slowly.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

True story: I once knew a very stupid man who didn't put his thumb over the pin before removing it. The result was that it shot out and hit him right in-between the eyes. Needless to say, it was very funny for me, but not so funny at all for him. 

The rifle is now ready for cleaning. No further disassembly is needed or recommended.

Step 6 Clean Everything Except the Gas Tube, Gas Piston, and Barrel

First, a word about oils and solvents: Oils lubricate your gun. Solvents dissolve gunpowder residue. Many gun-cleaning products, such as Rem Oil, are both solvent and oil. These are without a doubt the easiest to use. most likely, this is what you will use.

However, I find that I can do a better job by using straight gun oil and straight acetone. Acetone is a chemical, commonly found in nail polish removers, which is very good for dissolving gunpowder residue. I do not recommend using actual nail polish remover, because it has other things in it. I have used nail polish remover, but it's a last resort. Acetone can be dangerous if used improperly, so pay heed to the warnings below:

Warnings About Acetone:

  • When using acetone as your solvent, be sure to wear your gloves. It won't burn your skin or anything, but acetone is a little rough on the skin. its touch feels like sticking your hand in a freezer, and as such it will chap your hands. This is due to its high nitrogen content.
  • Never breathe acetone fumes directly. They will burn your nose. If you use just a little at a time (dabbed on a towel) and keep the bottle capped when not in use, it shouldn't be a problem.
  • When using acetone, keep your bottle capped when not in use. Acetone evaporates very quickly, and its fumes are not pleasant to breathe. Besides this, the fumes are very flammable. So let me simplify it for you-never leave the cap off longer than you have to!
  • NEVER SMOKE WHEN WORKING WITH ACETONE! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER! I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH! I have never had an accident, but I also don't smoke, so it's not much of a danger for me. Acetone vapors are flammable, and I mean REAL flammable. If you are a smoker, and you ignore this warning, you might not have to worry about dying of lung cancer...because you won't live long enough.

Okay, onto business. You have a pile of parts in front of you, and you should more or less know what they are called by now. Pick up your gas tube and gas piston and set them aside for now. Don't worry about the inside of the barrel just now, either. We will get to these things shortly.

Now pick up the rest of the parts and clean them one by one. For each part, follow this process:

1. Dab some solvent on a cloth and use it to rub the entire piece down. Try to get into every nook and cranny and remove all the dirt and residue you can see. Some Q-tips might be helpful for those hard-to-reach places. You will have to re-dab your cloth every once in awhile. Don't forget to cap the acetone bottle between uses. Keep this up until the part looks clean.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

2. Wipe the part off with a dry piece of cloth, again getting into every nook, notch, and cranny. Look it over and, if you see any dirt or residue you have missed, apply some solvent and get rid of it. Don't be too lazy to take your time and do it right. Most people are sloppy about this, but I want you to do it correctly.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

3. Apply a thin coating of oil on the part. Remember, the key word here is THIN. In other words, Don't just slop a whole bunch of oil on there, thinking that it will lubricate your gun better. The truth is that too much lubricant will hinder the working of your gun, or even jam it up entirely. 

4. Apply the "White Glove Test". This just means that you take a piece of clean white cloth and rub the part down completely. Then, you look at the cloth. If any marks have been left, the part is not yet clean. This test is the best way to ensure complete cleanliness of every part.

Warnings

There are two areas of the gun that you never oil. These are:

  • The inside of the gas tube
  • The gas piston

This is why I told you to set those pieces aside.

Clean the gas tube and gas piston.

Step 7 Clean the Gas Tube and Gas Piston

Okay, now every piece should be clean except for the gas tube, the gas piston, and the inside of the barrel. Let's start with the gas piston. Begin by taking some solvent on a cloth and rubbing the piston down, removing the black residue completely. The shaft of the piston should clean easily, but the tip end of the piston will be much harder. This is always the dirtiest part on the gun. I use a little bit of sandpaper to get the tip end, because otherwise it will take forever. use plenty of oil and solvent to get rid of that gunk a little easier.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

For the gas tube, All you have to do is work a cloth through it, and then "floss" the tube. Use plenty of solvent on the cloth.

Warning

  • After putting solvent in the gas tube and on the gas piston, allow them to air-dry before going any further. Gunpowder solvents like acetone will evaporate quickly. If you don't do this, the result could be a pocket of flammable vapor inside of a firearm, which doesn't sound too safe to me. I have never had this happen to me, but it never hurts to be careful.

Finally, we come to the barrel. Begin by taking out your cleaning rod and attaching its handle.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now attach a wire brush of the appropriate size (7.62mm or .30 Cal) to the other end of the rod, and put it down the end of the barrel like so:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Push it down until it comes out the other side. Now pull it back out.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Repeat this process two or three more times. Now attach your soft brush to the cleaning rod, and repeat the process again.

Of course, your soft brush is going to be filthy when it comes back out...this is no good, because you need to use it again. So, take a piece of cloth in your hand, put some solvent on it, and then "roll" the brush in the cloth as shown below:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

As you can see, I have wiped my brush so much that it is almost white again. You don't really have to be that thorough on every single pass, though.

Keep repeating this process: Soft-brush the barrel, clean the brush, soft-brush the barrel again. Eventually, when you feel that the barrel is clean enough, use the "White Glove Test" again by pushing a piece of clean white cloth down the barrel. Push it all the way out the other end. If the cloth is dirty, the barrel is not yet clean. When you can push a piece of white cloth down the barrel, and have it come out clean on the other side, your barrel is completely clean. 

Step 8 Reattach the Stock and Sling

Okay, we should have a pile of clean parts. Now, we just have to turn this pile of parts back into a working firearm. Start by extending your bayonet (if it isn't extended already). Now, fit the stock into the lip underneath the barrel as shown in this picture:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, you should be able to push the firearm back down into the stock, the same way that it came out:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now all you have to do is close the bayonet, and the stock is held in place. It will be a little loose right now, but don't worry about that. After all, we're not done yet.

To reattach your sling, which is the next step, should be an easy task. Again, it is hard for me to give specific instructions here because every sling is different. Just re-attach yours in whatever way is correct.

Step 9 Reinstall the Trigger Assembly and Magazine

This is the part that most beginners have trouble with. You will probably have to spend a little time fumbling with the parts before you get them together just right, but be patient and remember: DO NOT FORCE IT! Remember, you invested a reasonable sum of money in this gun! Don't break it with impatience, or you will feel and look very stupid. 

Anyway, the first thing is to take the magazine in hand, and locate the notch in the front. My index fingernail is pointing to this notch in the picture below.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now you need to fit that notch with the tab, as in the picture below.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

In case you are confused, I am talking about the large rectangular piece with the numbers written on it. You can slide the magazine notch right under it like this:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, once the magazine is fully in place, use your hand to push down the magazine and hold it like this:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

If you look, you can see that there are two little hooks behind the magazine. Here is a close-up of them, without the magazine in place:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

These hooks are what will hold your trigger assembly in place. The trigger assembly has a pin in the front that sticks out on both sides. Here is a close-up of the trigger assembly, with my finger pointing to the pin:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

So, now you just need to stick both ends of that pin under the hooks like this while continuing to hold the magazine down:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

And it should slide right in. It will not completely lock in place, yet, however. That spring, as you can see, is still keeping the trigger assembly from going back in all the way.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

To finish the job, put the rifle across your lap and slap the trigger with a good solid whack. This should knock the trigger assembly down into place. I recommend using the heel of your palm. It might take you a few tries to get it.

Tip

  • If you are really having a hard time with this step, it might be because you haven't braced the rifle against your leg well enough. If it hurts you to use your leg, use a table. It's flatter anyway.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Step 10 Reinstall the Gas System

Start by replacing the spring pin.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

It goes back in pretty much the exact same way it came out. Push the pin into place with your thumb, and then turn the lever down until it is locked in place.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Okay, the next thing you must do is drop your gas piston back into your gas tube. It will stick out the back like this:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

As you can now see, this is why you tip the gun forward when removing or re-installing the gas tube. If you don't tip the gun forward, this piston will get in the way and prevent any possibility of removal or installation. Tipping the gun forward makes the piston go all the way forward, so that its butt end is out of the way. 

Take the gas tube and piston and put it back on the gun. Be sure to tilt the gun forward.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

If you have any problems pushing the gas tube in place, remember, DON'T FORCE IT. First, try slapping the gun, so that the piston will go forward if it isn't there already. Then, if that doesn't work, jiggle the lever until you can push it down into place like this:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Turn the lever down to the position shown to lock the gas tube in place. Tug upward on the gas tube just a little bit, to make sure it is securely locked in place.

Step 11 Reinstall the Bolt and Bolt Carrier

Start by taking the bolt and bolt carrier and fitting them together like this:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Drop both of these pieces down into the receiver of the gun. make sure they are still fitted together properly after you drop them in.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, in order to slide the bolt forward along its tracks, you will need to release the magazine so that its catch does not get in the way.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Now, snap the magazine back into place and move on to the next step.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Step 12 Reinstall the Main Spring and Receiver Cover

To reinstall the main spring, you just stick it CURLY END FIRST into the hole in the back of the bolt carrier. See below:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Put it in there as far as you can. Now, do you see that lever on the side of the receiver? The same one you used to remove the receiver cover? Once again, turn it vertical and then pull it out.

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

now the receiver cover should slide right on like so:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

Push the lever back in and flip it back down to lock it in place:

How to Clean an SKS Rifle

And that's all there is to it. As with any firearm, the SKS can seem very complicated the first time you take it apart. However, it is actually one of the simplest-designed firearms that I know of, which is why it is so durable. A simpler design means less that can go wrong. Once mastered, the process of taking the rifle apart should only take you about one minute. The process of putting it back together only needs about two minutes, often less. The cleaning itself takes far longer than the rest of the steps combined. 

If you follow these instructions to the letter, you will have a rifle that will still be working long after you are dead. Therefore, you should keep this rifle in perfect order, not just because it will serve you better, but because you never know who might be using it after you're gone. With most guns manufactured today, that is not a concern because the guns will not last that long without regular repair. The SKS, on the other hand, is a perfect example of the old adage: "They just don't make 'em like they used to".

10 Comments

Thanks a lot. This was very helpful for my first breakdown, Had a few hiccups but I got it done!

you're welcome. Glad I could help.

Hay friend, I want to thank you for your GREAT step by step breakdown and cleaning of the SKS, It was dummy proof, very detailed as well. I was able to break down and clean my gun with confidence. Great job sir, Thank you!!

Thank you kindly, great post

Thank you so much for your detailed instructions,made me understand how the sks rifle functioned!

Just curious if you would use brake cleaner to remove the cosmoline in the barrel

I am having problems removing my air tube it moves about an eighth of an inch and won't move any further and yes I did move the lock out of position any suggestions?

Tony Bukta was having problems getting air /gas tube out of his SKS..

I noticed the same issue. I solved it by pulling the bolt back into the locked open position,
it seemed the bolt was pushing the unlock pin forward and that was catching on the bottom edge of the gas tube.

See if that works.

Cheers Cal

Good write up, but never clean your gun from muzzle to breach, especially how many times you have to clean your SKS. Gun cleaning 101, and it doesnt change from rifle to rifle.

I dont think you covered the importance of cleaning the bolt and firing pin making sure it slides in and out easily failure to do this will result in the pin rusting and causing slam fires if rusted in the forward position.

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