A useful – and very cheap – firearms accessory

If one uses one’s noggin, one can come up with some very low-cost alternatives to products sold by gun stores at a considerable markup.  For example, some time back I pointed out that #4 drywall anchors made very good .22 rimfire snap caps, at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

Here’s another helpful hint for those wanting to buy chamber flags – those red, orange or yellow plastic bars or flags that you insert into a semi-auto pistol or rifle chamber, to indicate that there’s no cartridge inside.  They cost one to two dollars apiece when you buy the custom-made variety;  but there’s a much cheaper solution – cable ties, like these 8″ ones that I use.

They’re available in several colors.  I prefer fluorescent orange, because it’s a widely recognized safety signal, but you can use all the colors of the rainbow, if you wish.  (That also helps to distinguish between guns owned by different people, if they’re stored in the same gun safe:  each person can choose a color for their cable ties, for instant differentiation, even if they own visually identical firearms.  For example, in my gun safe, Miss D.‘s firearms are marked with purple cable ties, as it’s one of her favorite colors.)  At only $6.99 per 100, these cable ties are very affordable.  If you lose or break one, it’s no problem to replace it.  At 8″ long, in most pistols they protrude from both the ejection port and the end of the barrel, providing a double visual indication that the firearm is unloaded.  (If you want to use them in a rifle or shotgun, you can get white heavy-duty cable ties from 9″ to 36″ long – just cut the longer ones to the length you want, and apply a little paint to the ends if you wish.)

For revolvers, it’s just as easy.  Simply buy orange drinking straws like these (or whatever color you choose).  They’re 0.21″ in diameter, which is small enough to fit into any barrel from .22 upwards, although they’re a tight fit in the smallest ones.  Slide them in from the muzzle, all the way down through the barrel into the chamber.  If they fit loosely, they can fall out, of course;  but if you handle the gun with due care and attention, that’s not a problem – or you can tape them in place, or wrap paper or cloth around the muzzle end to fit more tightly.  As long as they’re there, they provide a visual indication that the firearm isn’t loaded.  (If your gun’s barrel is too long for them, simply insert one straw into another, or tape them together, to double their length.)

Another idea:  for cheap cleaning cloths and patches, retain old underwear and T-shirts after they wear out, and get too many holes or tears or marks to be worn any longer.  Cut them into patch-size squares to use with your cleaning rod, or into larger cloths for wiping down your guns.  You’ll also find them useful if you store a firearm in a case with exposed foam pressed against the metal.  The foam can mark the gun over time, and perhaps even become glued to it, through interaction with cleaning solvents, etc.  To guard against this, wrap the gun in a single thickness of clean cloth from an old T-shirt, to separate it from the foam.

If anyone else has useful money-saving ideas like this, please let us know in Comments.  I’m sure we’ll all be grateful.



  1. I use a doubled length of weed-whacker filament as a chamber flag. Same idea as cable ties with any length desired. At ~$3 for 40 ft of line the price is right too.

    It does double duty as my 'dry fire safe' indicator. In the muzzle and out the bottom of the mag well means no way to load a live round when I cycle the slide. My XDs will fire and manually reset just fine with it in place.

  2. At walmart you can get a dozen campfire roasting sticks for $0.88 that are exactly right for a .22 cleaning rod. In the craft section you can get an assortment of 12 in dowel rods for about $1. These work for all common pistol / revolver sizes. I always have a set to cleear jams at the range.

  3. Remove the floorplates from two 10-rd AR magazines. Clamp them together butt to butt and heel to toe. Match drill to accommodate 2 small machine screws. Now fasten the floorplates together, separated by thin washers. You can now reassemble the mags as a duplex unit.
    Am inexpensive mod, and easily reversed if you don't like it.


    Instead of oils, wipes etc. I have been experimenting with the use of automotive finish products to protect my firearms. I find Meguiars Ultimate liquid synthetic wax works well on stainless, blued, anodized and parkerized weapons. It does not smudge or attract dust, makes cleaning easier, and appears to be adequately heat resistant. In addition it is odorless and seems compatible with gun lube.

    Note: this is a protectant, NOT a cleaner wax or polish. Do not use polishing compounds on your vintage mirror-blued weapons!

    Others have recommended Museum Wax as an alternative product.


  4. I'm kinda glad I'm not the only one using worn out t-shirts, underwear and socks as gun cleaning patches and wipers. I've had several guys tell me they use 0w-40 Mobile 1 synthetic motor oil as gun lubricant. Back when ammo was cheap enough to shoot an entire case or two on a range outing I'll admit to hosing down my AK and AR with brake cleaner and lubing them with automatic transmission fluid.

  5. I like the string trimmer line for chamber flags, although the cable ties work just as well.

    For cleaning patches, I buy white cottton flannel for about $3/ sq. yd. and cut my own with a rotary cutter.

  6. I guess it's been too long since I've been to a "formal" range. The only time I've even wished that I had an empty chamber indicator is at one range where the range officer made me take my J.C. Higgins .22 rifle off the line and put it in my vehicle — said it wasn't allowed on his range because the bolt wouldn't lock back. Actually, I had a makeshift indicator made from a clothespin that held the bolt open about 1/2", but that wasn't good enough for him. (Other range masters had been fine with it.)

    About 40 years ago, I joined the SWPL and learned Col. Cooper's ways. Since then, I practice them and teach them to anyone who shoots with me.

    If it is a firearm, it IS loaded — until you personally have cleared it. If you hand it to me, I clear it again. If I hand it to someone else, I insist that they clear it.

    Even after it is cleared, I insist that it be treated as loaded — no sweeping of anyone with the muzzle. It has to become a habit. It also has to become a habit to insist that others around me be just as scrupulous in their gun handling.


  7. One significant danger, to be aware of, however. My shooting range gives a chamber flag to everyone when they pay their dues. I used mine on my AR. One time when I removed it, it seemed shorter. I looked in the barrel and a piece had been cut off by the bolt shearing it against the end of the receiver. If I had fired a round, it could have been a disaster. The chamber flag was fairly stout plastic. Many of the items you mention here are much flimsier and would be cut more easily.

  8. "At only $6.99 per 100,"

    Eh? Keep shopping, you should be able to find them way cheaper than that. And you'll find lots of other uses for the zip ties.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *