John Suttie Project Gun: Colt 1903 Resto-Mod

Morning Robert- Just finished this up this weekend: Colt 1903 picked up locally as a $75 “parts gun.” Someone long ago had taken it apart then couldn’t get it back together. The Colt sat in a drawer for years, losing all the internal parts. The slide was stuck to the frame; they somehow managed to get the recoil spring plug wedged between the barrel and the recoil spring. Took almost four hours to figure it out. I used a dental pick to pull the end of the recoil spring through the recoil plug hole, then needle-nose pliers to pull as much of the spring out as I could before it broke off. I deployed a wood dowel and a “BFH” to drive the slide off. I was able to get the internal parts from a Gunbroker auction (ended up with a very nice extra 1936 slide, which I’ll sell back on Gunbroker). I should end up into this thing for about $165, and my time, of course. And then . . .

There was quite a bit of pitting and corrosion. I was able to preserve the lettering nicely- The Colt Pony on the left rear of the slide was pretty much gone, so I ground another dental pick to a chisel point and went over the pony using a magnifier. It came back pretty nice. Not as crisp as the original factory strike, but pretty good considering the corrosion. Re-finished the gun using Oxpho-Blue—this does a good job at replicating the old Colt “Bone” bluing.

Interestingly, this gun was made in 1920—the slide is numbered to the frame—but seems to have had a period conversion to .380. The sights are from a 1908. The .380 bore looks like new. The .380 magazine slides right in (tightly) and can’t tell if the mag well has been modified or not.

White box .380 ran flawlessly. The recoil is sharp, but not as bad as say, a Walther PPK. After a couple weeks playing with this fine little pistol, a 1911 seems HUGE!

Thanks,
John D (Suttie)

comments

  1. avatar Martin Albright says:

    John: That's gorgeous! It looks new. I know hardcore collectors get the vapors at the mere thought of refinishing an antique gun, but as your example demonstrates, not all guns are collector-grade antiques (also, I have a strong personal dislike of "wall hangers" or "never been touched/fired" collector type guns because, really, what is the point?) Just as a car or motorcycle is meant to be driven, a gun is meant to be fired, and your restoration makes for a great shooter.

    Can you explain the bluing process to those of us who aren't familiar with it? My understanding of "hot bluing" is that it requires tanks of extremely nasty chemicals and is somewhat dangerous, but I confess that it's all 2nd hand.

  2. avatar John Suttie says:

    Martin: Thanks for the kind comments. Unfortunately, I didn't get "before" pics. Suffice to say, $75 was a gamble!

    Oxpho-Blue is a Brownell's product. I've used it for 20 years. It is a cold-blue product- no toxic fumes. Brownell's web site has a lot of info on application.

    I first prep the metal- for undamaged surfaces fine steel wool works well. A first coat is applied using latex gloves and massaged into the surface- I rub it in until dry. Next, the surface is polished using steel wool- this will even out the coloring- it will appear as if all the coating has been nearly removed. I then take patches of paper towel just dampened with the solution and lightly rub this in- this will deepen the color- if it gets patchy, lightly polish again with the wool. I will do this repeatedly over several days or even weeks.

    Once satisfied with the color, I will lightly polish with a paper towel, and then rub in a good coat of oil. Over the years I've found this to be a very durable finish, easy to touch-up if needed.

    The process sounds fussier than it really is- the subsequent coatings I rub in as I watch tv – with no fumes it bothers no one. Just always remember to use the gloves – it doesn't cause any harm but will leave a metallic stench on your skin for days!

    Check it out at Brownell's!

  3. avatar dan says:

    John, I have 2 of these. One is a 380, another is a 32. Both were my fathers and he gave them to me a while back. The 380 is in great shape, and my father has had it since 1935, when he won it in a 10 cent pin raffle at the age of 5! The 32 he bought later in parts, and just never got around to rebuilding it. I have it all cleaned up and only need a couple of more parts, which Numrich says they have in stock. So hopefully I can have a working 32 and 380 1903 pistols soon. My problem is the pits from the rust. I was wondering what you did for the rust pits in the slide and frame before bluing it ? Or did you just remove as much as you could and left the small ones in? I cant see any in the photos. Yours looks fantastic though. Bravo on a job well done.

  4. avatar Eric H. says:

    Hi John,

    Fabulous write up with an exquisite end result. If you are able to provide info on how to prep metal that has some erosion and light to moderate pitting, I’d love to take a shot at this with a 1903 I picked up at an auction.

    I got the gun as a shooter only but the thought of having a shooter that also loks fabulous is inviting.

    thank you and I hope resurrecting this review 4 years later is A-OK!

    Eric

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