The Fine Art of the Pull-Through

The old and the new: Would that we could find pull-throughs like the one on the left — a 12-gauge multi-tool from England, made many years ago. On the right: A Wieland-made pull-through for an 11mm rifle. Not elegant, but it’s handy and it works well.

by Terry Wieland

This is a short course on how to produce eminently usable pull-throughs, custom fitted to (almost) any caliber or gauge.

For those who might not be familiar with them — and let’s face it, the Golden Age of the Pull-Through was more than a century ago — they are an eminently handy little item for cleaning bores, small and compact enough to tuck in your pocket.  The modern “Bore Snake,” a Hoppe’s development from a couple of decades ago, is a modern, multi-task version that works quite well but has some drawbacks — the main ones being bulk, and their specialized-to-caliber/gauge nature.

In its purest form, a pull-through is a length of cord with a weight on one end and a loop on the other.  You put a patch through the loop, drop the weight down the bore from the breech, grab the cord at the muzzle, and pull the patch through.  For a century, every recruit in every army was taught to use the pull-through.  Many military rifles had storage compartments for them built into the stock, and they were the mainstay of any cleaning kit.

Simple as they are, however, they are not easy to find today in their simplest form.  Everyone wants to improve on something that really needs no improvement.  As is, they will look after 90 per cent of your bore-cleaning needs.  Modifying them to accept brushes, jags, and other gadgets simply complicates things.

One area where a pull-through is a God-send is in shooting black-powder guns, and needing to swab the grime out periodically as you are shooting.  It’s messy, and no one wants to unlimber a whole cleaning kit on the firing line.  A pull-through and a container of wet patches, however, and you’re away.

Part of the (growing) cord collection, which is becoming yet another obsession. Natural fibers are vastly preferable for a multitude of uses, on top of which they are aesthetically pleasing. Be kind: Call it an eccentricity rather than madness.

Some old rifles demand pull-throughs because the action does not allow the use of a rod except from the muzzle.  The Martini is like that, as are some American single-shots, and military oldies like the Werndl, Snider-Enfield, and trap-door Springfield.  In each of those cases, it is far better to pull the grime from the breech and out through the muzzle than to push it back into the action, and for that you need a pull-through.

You would think making a pull-through would be easy:  A length of cord and a weight, right?  With larger bores, say .45 to .577, it is certainly easier, but making a weight that is heavy enough to drop down a .30-caliber bore or smaller, and not get hung up with knots, is tricky.

My method is to take a cartridge case small enough to pass through the bore easily and drill out the flash hole to make it just large enough for a cord to pass through.  You tie a knot in the end and pull this back down into the case.  It’s then a simple matter to seat a lead bullet in the case, and crimp with pliers, to give it enough weight.

On the other end you can have something as simple as a loop, or make a jag out of another cartridge case.

Not surprisingly, the most beautifully made pull-throughs originated in Britain around 1900, and you can still find these occasionally, complete in their little leather pouches.  They usually have a bronze weight like a miniature plumb bob, and the cord is of a type that’s difficult to find these days.

Modern synthetic string or cord does not work very well, being prone to crimp and curl, as well as having too much memory, but you can find various strengths and thicknesses of jute, sisal, or cotton cord that is (or becomes) suitably limp.  Obviously, a pull-through for a 12-gauge shotgun can accommodate a much thicker cord than a .40-caliber rifle, and in the course of searching for the perfect cord, I’ve accumulated quite a good selection.  Old-fashioned binder or baler twine works reasonably well for some gauges and larger calibers, but the synthetic twines they use now do not — on top of which, they offend my sense of aesthetics.

I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine natural fibers withstand oils and chemical action better than do synthetics.  Someday when I really have too much time on my hands, I’ll undertake a comparison test.  Meanwhile, I think natural fibers work better for the same reason pure cotton patches far out-perform synthetics:  They just do.


Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland is convinced he will have to make everything he needs himself, or else become far less picky. The latter is unlikely.