Introduction to Restoration

Smeltzerby Paul Smeltzer
Athens Gunsmith Service, Athens LA. 

This the first in a series of articles on firearms restoration of civilian and military guns, inexpensive and common guns, as well as some high dollar and somewhat rare pieces.  We will look at a variety of techniques, tools, how to’s and some interesting museum pieces.  As I sit in my office writing this there is a Boyd’s anti tank gun from the North Louisiana Military Museum on the other side of the room, not very many of those around.

To start off with I thought I would make a few comments about restorations in general.  I am sometimes concerned that when folks talk about restoring something they visualize a new pristine “out of the box” look.  While that is an expectation of some people, more often than not, that is not the case in firearms restoration, at least not in my business.  Restoration can mean anything from what I would consider a clean up/fix up project, to a full blown new everything but the receiver job.  Most of the time it is somewhere in between.  The reason being:

Lesson #1 “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  Restoration is more about the aesthetic than anything else, generally the owner has a piece that doesn’t look like what they expect it to look like.  Before we get lost in good looks let me state that functionality is also of importance to gun owners.  The thing about the mechanics of how, or if the firearm functions is that it is generally unseen more of a black and white issue, either it does or doesn’t work.  Most of the time you can’t tell which is the case by picking it up.  If there is a malfunction you repair it, repairs by themselves are a different topic to be covered elsewhere.  Although a repair might be part of a restoration, the big picture with a restoration is how does it” look”.  When the owner first picks up that restored treasure, the critical point will be how does it look.  Does it look like he or she imagined it to look like?

Lesson #2 – There is usually an emotional attachment to the firearm.  Most all of the private firearms that I have done have some story to it, some emotional attachment that the owner has to relatives or parts of their lives.  The old single shot Savage .22 may be worn and broken down and not worth the price for the parts to me and you, but to someone else it was Pap Pap’s rifle and when you were 5 he taught you how to shoot that gun.  In fact you shot your first squirrel with that rifle, your sister learned how to shoot with that rifle, it has been in the family “forever”, “sure would be nice to knock off all that rust and do something with the wood.  Would be nice to have it “looking” like it used to.  I would like to be able to pass it on to my 3 year old grandson some day.”  That is at the heart of restoration.  It is not only restoring a mechanical object, but it is restoring a time and place, it is about restoring a relationship, a connection, it pushes an emotional button.  When you are doing this kind of work, first thing you need to learn is to be respectful.


7 Responses to Introduction to Restoration

  1. Interesting and well written. Will refer to Paul’s restoration articles when the day comes for me to perform such project. Thanks for the article. Cheers.

  2. I have a 1966 Remington Model 700 BDL that came from my Father-in-law. Actually, it belongs to my Wife. Her Dad wasn’t one to take care of his things. Drove his boat until it wouldn’t run anymore than buy a new one. Needless to say his rifles got treated the same. After checking around the Internet it doesn’t seem to have much of a monetary value and looking at it, it’s pretty ugly. There are some who say I shouldn’t restore it, that it would ruin it. If it doesn’t have any value, what am I going to ruin about it? Do you have an opinion?

    • I personally would not consider a Remington 700 a collector gun even from 1966. So with that said I would restore it rather than let it lay around getting more rusty – fix it up.

  3. I believe the gun you referred to as “across the room” is a “Boys” antitank rifle not a “Boyd’s’antitank rifle.

  4. Is it fate that this article came out as I am in the middle of “restoring” (as best as I can with my limited skill set, and lack of available OEM parts) the .22 rifle with which my dad taught his six children–3 boys & 3 girls (and me the youngest of the six)–to shoot? Now there’s something you’ll never hear about in the mainstream media; i.e. a father spending quality time with his children shooting balloons, tin cans, etc. I have fond memories of the local Turkey Shoots sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Do they even have family Turkey Shoots anymore? Looking forward to the upcoming sequels to this article!

    And yes, I’ve already spent more on the restoration than the gun is worth! 🙂 And yes, it goes to my grandkid somewhere down the road.

  5. this sounds like it will be an interesting article just like the burn gun article which I am doing one of my own now. can’t wait for the next part

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