“Long time reader, first time question-asker” RL writes. “A family member of mine has decided to try and collect all the handguns used in WW2. I don’t know why, sometimes you just have to. Anyways, due to a leaky roof and a slight bending of Newtonian physics, the crown jewel of the collection was soaked and promptly rusted. The action still works and so forth, but the bluing is less than desirable, along with a healthy side of cratering.

desantis blue logo no back 4 small“The value of the gun (or loss thereof) isn’t so much of a concern as a desire to be faithful to the original and restore it to its full glory. I’ve read up on diy restoratives: the ongoing debate of whether or not to use oil, what gauge of steel wool to use, and what bluing solution should be heated to. My conclusion is that I would invariably make things worse. My question to you and possibly the readers at large is: who does respectable restorations of firearms?”

38 Responses to DeSantis Gunhide Question of the Day: How Do You a Restore A Gun?

    • Yeah Im inclined to agree as well. If its a beater gun, have at it with the do it yourself methods. With a piece of history with collectible value, let a pro do the job.

  1. I am also in the same boat. The only difference is mine is an early 1900s double shotty with rabbit ear hammers in 16 ga. I got it without the wood, so IF I can find furniture for it, I’ll probably be sending it to the folks that know what they’re doing. I got it for free, so it’s a project much like the guy down the street restoring a 1970 Charger (except much less hands on, I aint no metal finisher) It’ll probably take years. WHEN I’m done, I’ll be a proud owner of a fine old American upland game bird gun. so, yeah……take your time, you’ll be glad you did. If it’s older than your dad, you kind of owe it to prosterity to do it right. IMHO

    • Make your own stock. It is not as hard as it seems, except for the inletting, and a lot of fun if you like woodworking.

  2. Firearms restoration is the realm of professionals and skilled amateurs. DIYers will often turn an impaired finish into a disaster.

    Spend a few bucks and you should be pleased with the outcome. A reblued or restored piece may not be worth the same as one in it’s original condition, but it will look good and be a source of pride for yet another generation.

  3. In this case I have to go with the consensus. Find someone to do it for you.

    I restored an old Turkish Mauser a few years back. Same sort of thing a water line in my Dad’s garage burst and flooded the area with his safe (Damn you Murphy!!!). The gun wasn’t in great condition from the start I bought it off a friend for like $50 when he just wanted to get rid of it. After being soaked for weeks it was pretty well screwed and I figured it was ruined so why not take a crack at it. Everything was rusted to hell and back to the point you could barely read the stamping on the receiver.

    IMHO I did a pretty good job of it but it took a long time and was very detail oriented.

    https://www.anony.ws/image/NZCO

    https://www.anony.ws/image/NZCr

    https://www.anony.ws/image/NZCx

    If you’re going to do this yourself chemistry is your friend.

    Completely disassemble the gun and clean it like normal. Then splash it with a product known as “CLR” (Calcium, Lime & Rust remover), it’s available at Home Depot, Ace and I would assume Lowe’s as well. It won’t harm the steel but will dissolve the rust. Now, for the pits you want very fine steel wool, like 000 at the max, 0000 is, like shampoo, bettah and more CLR. Dip the steel wool into the CLR and lightly rub bad rust spots. They’ll come off. Make sure to go with the original grain of the steel so it looks like the original milling and ensure that you don’t spend too much time in one spot without blending that into the rest of the steel. Otherwise you’ll end up with low spots. Don’t worry too much about stamping. Unless you’re going pneumatic with your buffing it’s pretty hard to fuck up the stamping. It can however be done if you get really overzealous. Honestly your rusting doesn’t look like anything that would take more that a couple light passes with 0000 and CLR to remove but doing this will take off your bluing.

    When that’s done, reblue as you see fit. I just used the Birchwood Casey stuff because I didn’t really care about the historical value. If you want to reblue a gun to it’s original color I suggest using Google to find someone who’s done that particular gun before.

    For wood that’s gotten messed up you want a set of detail oriented wood stripping tools (I borrowed my dad’s and his are well over 100 years old. I can’t advise you on where to obtain such tools.) and more chemistry, this time a product called “Zip Strip”. Follow the instructions on the can. This stuff will over penetrate the wood if you let it. Once the wood is completely stripped hang it up and let it dry for 48 hours. After that you can lightly sand it and stain/seal it as you see fit.

    • I have 2 s&w 357 mags I just purchased. They are stainless. I was told to try rubbing compound on some of the rougher spots. Mild pitts and discoloration. Your thoughts on this?

      • There are a few things you can try. Since I don’t know exactly where your problems are on the gun I’ll just give you the list.

        For mild discoloration there are some products on the market that seem to work alright Revere Ware Stainless Steel Cleaner is one I’m familiar with but there are others. They should deal with discoloration but of course you have to go and acquire the cleaners.

        As odd as this sounds kitchen cleaning tips are where you find most of these answers since a lot of people have stainless sinks and cookware. Cleaning them with stuff you just have lying around runs from lemon juice to lighter fluid. I’m too lazy to type that all out so I looked up a list for you.

        http://www.stylemepretty.com/living/2010/11/10/removing-rust-from-stainless-steel/

        Generally white vinegar and a soft cloth will remove the coloration and not screw up the finish of the gun. If the gun is a mirror finish rather than a brushed stainless finish you’re pretty well fucked on the pits but you can greatly lessen their appearance with cleaning of the area using vinegar or lighter fluid or whatever. If it’s a brushed finish you can remove them with a cleaner and a mild scouring pad like a ScotchBright pad. I wouldn’t recommend going past ScotchBright. When I worked as a TIG welder we’d buff the cases of our finished product with ScotchBright pads on pneumatic tools. It worked amazingly well but you had to be really careful because even ScotchBright with the proper power behind it will take off pin stamping and gouge out stainless. Just remember to go with the brush lines that are already there. In fact, they were very likely put there by something similar to ScotchBright, so you’re in good hands with one of their pads.

        If you’re gonna go the ScotchBright route do it by hand. It will take awhile but you’ll have far better control than you would with any sort of power/air tool to aid you. It usually took a week to teach someone how to properly buff a case w/o fucking it up and with our cheapest product being around $4000 you didn’t want them fucking it up. Best case you had to re pin-stamp it with it’s SN and all that junk, but if they gouged the case out well enough, which is easy to do with softer stainless alloys, the whole unit had to be scrapped.

        Oh, and one other thing. Start with vinegar and work your way up to something harsher like lighter fluid. There’s no reason to use harsh chemicals if a less active chemical will get the job done. I can’t attest to the usefulness of the lemon juice and cream of tartar thing in the list I gave you. That’s new to me so I’ve never tried it.

        • And one thing more. Apply whatever you apply with a Q-Tip or something similar and try to keep it only to the affected area. There’s no reason to get the stuff anywhere else.

          Stainless is an odd creature. Generally speaking, the softer it is the more corrosion resistance it has while the harder it is the less resistance. This is what causes making dive knives out of the stuff a bitch. You have to find a balance between holding an edge and not corroding in salt water. It’s a real pain. I don’t know how your gun was made but I’d guess it’s a fairly hard stainless, so it needs a bit more care than some other alloys of stainless might. Some of the alloys are also more prone to discoloration. So be careful about that.

          In a real pinch Sno Bol toilet cleaner works pretty well, but you want to make sure you’ve got a harder form of stainless before you go that route. Cleans up stainless dock and boat fittings really nice though.

    • I have to agree with you on Turnbull, properly restored the historical and collector’s values will be increased. But yeah it costs.

    • Was not familiar with Turnbull (mostly because Ive never been in the market to restore/refinish a gun). Looked through their before and after photos, and I have to say WOW they do great work.

  4. Turnbull Restoration and Manufacturing
    http://www.turnbullmfg.com

    They are capable of making it look like the day it left the factory. They even have most of the original roll mark dies for Colt and several others such that they can even restamp the markings on a lot of guns if necessary. You will pay for their services but, having seen their work, they are worth what they charge.

    At some point I am going to have them restore an 1851 Colt Navy that was manufactured in 1851. It was used by an ancestor who fought in one of the Texas regiments during the Civil War. It’s in rough shape with missing some internal action parts but is otherwise all the original parts.

    • Removing active rust is one thing, but there are always serious questions of loss of value when restoring antique gun such as yours. Sometimes the better course, especially for an historical arm, is a complete and thorough disassembly, cleaning and oiling, with repair or replacement of any broken parts. The action of an 1851 is an incredibly simple affair (8 screws completely disassemble the firearm), and because of the popularity of these guns, there are ready sources of all of the internal parts, which really are little more than 1) a hand with an attached spring (which likes to break), 2)the cylinder lock bolt (which rarely fails but will wear down), 3)a double leaf spring for the cylinder lock and the trigger, and 4) the trigger itself. Taylors and VTI sell replacement parts.

      As an aside, Turnbull does not have original stamps and roll marks; they made their own and have an extensive collection of numerical stamps to match the stamp styles used by various manufacturers.

  5. I would give strong consideration to leaving it be and documenting what happened for the next curator of the gun. That aside I would hire a pro in this case. I have a few very old guns I’m working on rebluing myself, but they are not worth much of anything so I don’t really care I’m in it more for the value of the project than the gun.

  6. You know I wanted to do that myself once. There’s a lot of neat handguns that came out during WW2. X3

    But on leaning: My Sig got that bad on my while I was an OTR trucker thanks to a little brother that decided to leave a window open while I was away. I ended up just using 0000 steel wool to pull the surface rush off best i could before retreating the cleaned surface with good penetrating oil to make sure it didn’t rust any further.

  7. I will agree to disagree with others, but I am a firm believer in the school of “You can’t.” A beater commercial gun without provenance? Reblue and stain away, but historic guns, NEVER. A great example of where this goes wrong is the saga of Russian capture K98k’s, the ones with the ugly red shellac. Many owners sought to return them to “original” condition by stripping this, which in turn destroyed what little original German finish was left. Then we get people arguing over formulas, trying to “replicate” what the Germans did to their stocks, which varied as much as Panzer modifications from year to year.

    The majority of people who tried this got it very very wrong because they were lazy and bought whatever “looked close enough” from Bob’s Hardware. Today you’ll be hard pressed to find an RC Mauser for sale that still has the shellac and purple-looking extractor. While ugly, it was still their historic “original condition” and now it’s practically gone from the market. I will concede that the folks at Turnbull do not merely restore, as their level of quality and craftsmanship is more of an art form. Hopefully those who go on to resell a Turnbull piece will advertise it as such, but I’ve run into too many unscrupulous and just plain stupid sellers to keep my hopes up.

  8. If the picture accompanying the article is of the actual firearm, I would strongly advise against any refinishing, because it’s not in bad enough condition to justify the loss of value. I have some old guns that seem to get more valuable as the years go by, and as I get older myself I realize that someday in the not-too-distant future they will become the property of my children, and I want to leave them as valuable a collection as possible.

    As far as cleaning it up, a little bit of elbow grease and the right tools/materials can go a long way. There is a great debate over the use of steel wool to clean up rust and pitting. I am of the opinion that it should not be used as it is too easy to damage the original finish. Use brass or bronze wool (or a true copper penny if need be as Nattleby recommends) and some light oil, either mineral or synthetic. The secret is patience and a light touch. Be prepared to spend a few hours or so just on the area shown in the picture. Wipe down and inspect often – it’s quite possible that rust like that is completely removable. I have cleaned up guns that are worse than the one shown in the picture, and most have turned out looking almost as good as new.

  9. I would think hard about restoring because as the car guys say “it’s only original once”. If you do decide to do something beyond a careful cleanup, Tin Can Bandit’s blog is a great reference for amateur gunsmithing, this page covers hot bluing http://tincanbandit.blogspot.com/2014/08/how-i-blue-guns.html?m=0 and he just had a guest post on rust bluing a 45.
    On the other hand, seeing the work and the hot toxic chemicals might be enough to make you want to hire a professional.

  10. OK, I’ll toss in my two copper-plated zinc discs worth of opinion on this:

    1. Before you do anything to a gun, you really must understand:
    1a) what is the gun worth in the current condition?
    1b) what could the gun be worth in a “restored” condition?
    1c) how much might it cost to do a competent restoration?
    1d) Is ((1b) = (1a) > (1c))? Well then, it might be useful to proceed, unless this is an “emotional attachment” gun, in which case…
    1e) what is the most you want to spend to do the restoration?

    (1a) and (1b) can only be determined with the help of people who see plenty of the type of gun we’re talking about; ie, the Blue Book folks, auctioneers, etc. I refuse to offer anything more than quotes out of the Blue Book to my customers – I honestly don’t know what a gun can truly bring in the market. The people who do know that don’t fix guns – they evaluate and sell guns – and they’re often very good at what they do.

    OK, so let’s say you want to restore a gun; how does one proceed with restoration?

    1. If you’re a DIY gunsmith, don’t use power tools. You probably don’t know what you’re doing, you almost certainly don’t have the correct tool and you’ll likely make a bad situation worse by using power tools.

    eg: using a buffing wheel to remove rust. I’ve seen more guns ruined with buffing wheels than you care to imagine. Buffing wheels, in amateur hands, tend to remove edges, round off features, wash out rollmarks, etc. Most people are using the wrong type of wheel, the wrong abrasive, too much pressure, etc.

    Dremel tools on guns: There should be a special circle of hell reserved for hacks with Dremel tools.

    You need to study up on finishes, both on the wood and one the steel. For blueing, 100+ years ago, there were several other techniques in common use other than hot salt blueing.

    re: Hot salt blueing. If you’re not going to set up a proper blueing station (with a vent hood, emergency shower/eyewash station/etc), don’t mess with hot blueing, period. Hot blue salts can blind you in seconds, cause chemical/thermal burns of very painful intensity, ruin your clothes, etc. The #1 way you hurt yourself with hot blue salts is when you add water to the blueing salt tank. The salts will be over 285F, and water boils at 212 (or lower) temps – so when you’re adding water to the tank, lots of the water you’re adding flashes to steam immediately, blowing salt solution out of the tank.

    Since the water is always boiling out of a blueing salt tank at operating temperature, you’ll have to be adding water on a regular basis. There’s lots of opportunity for injury here, in other words.

    If you’ve never seen hot blueing done, don’t mess with hot blueing salts. Really, I mean it.

    2) For a high-value piece that needs extensive restoration, consider experts such as Doug Turnbull. Stock/wood work can be done by many more gunsmiths.

    On older guns such as double shotguns, double rifles, drillings, old Colt SAA’s, etc – you need to retain the services of someone who knows how those guns were put together, lest you get a bigger mess than you started with. eg, when I see a classic double gun that has been hot blued, I know there’s a bigger mess that’s been created than solved. The bottom ribs of double guns used to have one or two vent/drain holes in the bottom rib. When someone hot blues a set of double gun barrels, the hot blue solution gets into the inter-rib space. This then needs to be drained and the salt (lye) residue flushed out of the inter-rib space.

    Well, guess what? That’s nearly impossible to do. I’ve opened up more than a handful of double gun tube sets that have been hot blued and years later, they had salts still packed between the ribs/barrels in the 3″ behind the muzzle – just sitting there, eating away at the tubes and the ribs.

    Double guns or any guns with soft solder on them need to be rust blued, period. If you’re taking a gun into a ‘smith for ‘restoration’, you might want to interview him to see if he really knows what was involved in making the gun originally.

    3. The worst guns for restoration are the ones that are middle-grade, 70 to 80% condition guns – eg, a field grade AH Fox or Parker VH in 80% condition. Why? Because there’s no way that you’ll ever recover the amount of money you put into a restoration of that gun – and there’s plenty of guns in that condition in the market. Yet there are enough of those guns still around in 90%+ condition to make your 80% gun worth lots less than the well-preserved guns. You’re stuck between the condition of the gun and the cost of labor to restore it.

    I tell my customers that, from a financial perspective, they’re better buying & restoring a field grade gun that’s been really abused and they acquired it for nearly nothing, or buying a higher grade gun in 90%+ condition that will appreciate.

    4. The “emotional attachment” guns are the worst, IMO. People want to fix great-granddad’s old gun into working condition, but they really have no clue how much money and effort it really costs to do this work – never mind a restoration. I’ve had customers come into me with old “farmer” double guns that are worth about $125, and they want them not even restored, but fixed into shooting condition. In one case, the $125 to $200 gun had loose ribs. The customer asked “Can you fix the ribs?”

    “Yup. It will cost at least $600, and probably more like $800, for me to strip the ribs, clean up the barrels & ribs, polish out the barrels, re-tin the barrels and ribs, re-lay the ribs (one at a time) with soft solder, then clean up the excess solder, treat the solder to black it, then rust blue (or express blue) the barrels.”

    “Gulp.”

    This is a full day’s work – like 10+ hours – and that’s JUST fixing the ribs on the tube set so the barrels stay together. That doesn’t deal with the problems with the wood, the jumpy trigger, the stripped screws, the missing butt plate, the cracked wrist, etc.

    Then this customer asked “what would it be worth in repaired condition?” I reckoned only about $$250 – if that. This is because all I’ve quoted him is repairing the tube set, not “restoring” the gun. He could not believe how little it would be worth. Well, it was a “farmer’s gun,” an off-brand made of cheap components, a side-door tube set from Belgium, and sold for something like $10 in hardware stores 100 years ago.

    But because it was a family gun… it has emotional attachment far beyond the Blue Book value. Now the bargaining and pleading starts… and this is the point where I start to hate my job. I don’t want to denigrate their ancestor’s choice in guns, but it is what it is. Great-grandad was buying the 1910 version of today’s “truck gun,” and that’s what the customer has.

    100 to 250 years from now, some youngster will be showing up on a gunsmith’s floor, asking “Can you restore this Glock?” and that gunsmith will heave a heavy sigh and have to explain the same sort of thing to that person: “The Glock was a no-frills gun with no aesthetic value whatsoever, made in the millions, with no appreciable increase in the value for restoring the Tenifer case hardening and putting an original set of sights back onto it. Sorry kid.”

    “But it was my great-grandfather’s gun, and he used it to stop The Turnip Twaddler Gang…”

    “Well, then, get the paperwork in order, go find some newspaper clippings or video files, put it into a case and call it done.”

    • Ok, you’ve never dremelled a Glock? I’ve done that to a Gen 3 G35 mag release which protruded so far it cut my thumb.

      Anyways, DG’s got it. I did some surface and internal work on an Ithaca 16 gauge pump but couldn’t remove all of the rust without damaging the finish. It’s in better shape than it started, though. Definitely no power tools on that gun.

  11. Sad but once they are pitted grinding off the pitting changes the contour or width of the gun and then the original lettering must be re-stamped which will give it away as a restored job to even an amateur.

    I had a Beretta .25 auto redone and the place that did it were real pros but the pitting on the forward part of the frame was so bad they could only plate over the top of the pitting. The frame was aluminum and the former owner never bothered to use a pocket holster or put any rust inhibiting oil or grease on the gun. To him it was just another tool to use and annihilate. The problem is such fine guns like this are not being made anymore and have been replaced with modern el-junko plasticky frames and parts to make gun companies big obscene profits. Few gun owners ever bother to take care of their firearms and buying a can of good gun grease like “Rig” might actually cost them a dollar or two. Far better to save the money and ruin an expensive gun. Its the Jethro Bodine way of living. Everything including guns are disposable to Jethro.

  12. Man I miss Bill Adair. He did some amazing restorations (even a Singer which was recently auctioned by Rock Island Auctions) at very reasonable prices. I had a 1942 Colt M1911A1 fully restored by him for $500 several year ago (just before his unfortunate passing) Besides Mr. Adair, Turnbull is the only other restorer I know that does M1911/M1911A1’s correctly but their prices are completely ridiculous. I would only go to Turnbull if I had a Singer to restore.

  13. What once was iron is now iron oxide.
    This is not a process that can be reversed.
    The gun will never be what it once was.

    You can make a bad gun better. I have taken badly neglected, thoroughly rusted guns and made them look nice. However,
    1) The time and money required far exceeds the value of the finished product. You can do it for sentimental reasons, or as a fun learning experience, but not for economical reasons.
    2) They still don’t look like “new.”

  14. When I was a kid, I left fingerprints on the barrel of my dad’s side-by-side shotgun, which I think is a Savage Stevens Model 311. The prints rusted lightly. By this time, my dad never used the gun anymore, and it stayed perpetually in a case in a closet, except when I took it out to fondle it.

    I had little idea how to go about it right, and this was before the Internet, but I was determined to try in order to win forgiveness. I used fine steal wool and solvent to strip the entire outside of the barrels. Then I set the barrels on the deck for awhile in the sun to warm it up, and wiped it down multiple times with some kind of cold blue product, which I think was from Birchwood Casey. The following day, I did a lot of polishing with a clean white t-shirt. It actually turned out looking great, I thought. About 20 years later I asked him if I could take a look at the gun, which I don’t think had been fired in all that time, and the barrel still looked nice. No trace of finger prints or rust anywhere. I don’t know how well my bluing job would have held up to the elements if this had been a working hunting gun, but for a house gun kept mainly for sentimental reasons, it did the trick.

  15. Had a gunsmith reblue the 1974 Israeli turn in FN Hi Power I bought from Buds. Guy did a great job, nice deep blue, though I hate the Cylinder and Slide safety. Browning’s ambi has been sold out forever.

  16. Historical value aside a newly available product called “Evapo Rust” uses a chelating agent to remove iron oxide but will not etch iron or steel. That would of course take off blueing as well.

    For a gentle abrasive a sponge with a scotch brite pad on one side is good for light surface rust.

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