by 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.