Before cleaning it you must know how to safely dismantle a handgun. Always make certain that the gun is completely unloaded before you begin. Practice safe gun handling at all times.
This article will address the two most popular types of handguns: the revolver and the semi-automatic. There are many brands in each category, and each has its own quirks, but basically the following procedures will work for most brands.
Dismantling a Revolver
A revolver's main components are the barrel, the action - which includes the cylinder, and the receiver/frame.
The barrel is self-explanatory—it’s where the bullet is projected.
The action includes the cylinder—where you load your ammunition, the trigger, and the hammer.
The receiver/frame is pretty much everything else—think of it as the central housing that ties everything together.
Look for a release button on either side of the frame, close to the barrel, which allows the cylinder to drop out as though you were reloading. At this point, it should suffice for adequate cleaning since you have access to both the cylinder and the barrel. Removing the entire cylinder allows for greater in-depth cleaning but this is usually not necessary. You can proceed with the cleaning now that both the cylinder and barrel are exposed.
Dismantling a Semi-Automatic
This process is a bit trickier since a semi-automatic has more moving parts. The major components, however—the barrel, the action, and the receiver/frame are still similar to the revolver. Before proceeding make a mental note about the parts during the dismantling procedure, to ensure proper reassembly after the gun has been cleaned.
The first step is to gain access to the barrel, which is housed in the slide. The slide is the top of the gun that moves forward and back very rapidly as a round is fired and automatically loads a new round. This part of the housing contains a recoil spring that has a lot of tension, which will want to snap the slide back into position, so be careful with your fingers.
On the side of the gun frame is a slide lock, which looks like a little lever. Usually, it’s on the left side of the handgun. Its function is to stop the slide as it recoils during firing. On the opposite side of the frame is a small button which is actually the other side of the slide lock. Pressing this button will push the slide lockout and will release the slide.
Pull back on the slide gradually to release the pressure on the slide lock, while continually pressing the button. You will eventually find the slot where the button can be pushed through, and the slide lock will pop out a bit on the opposite side. This is a two-handed process and will require some practice. If this is your first time doing this, remember to be patient. Pushing the button partially through from one side of the frame to the other side releases the slide lock, and the slide should come right off.
The slide will contain the recoil spring, the spring guide and the spring stop or plug, which all work together. At this point, the barrel will easily come out to facilitate its cleaning. Remember that all of these parts are under high tension due to the recoil spring, so if at first, you don’t get the hang of it, keep trying. Don’t force anything and keep your fingers and the web of skin between your thumb and forefinger clear of any moving parts, since the recoil spring might cause the slide to snap back rapidly.
Reverse the procedure for assembly after cleaning, and you should be set for the firing range.