Restoring the Ithaca Model 37–Part 2

By David Fey
AGI Practical Gunsmithing Course Graduate, GCA Member

Ithaca 2-1

Reducing Effects Of Corrosion By Polishing

The next step after de-rusting was to reduce the effects of corrosion using an 8″ fine wire wheel on a motor at 3450 RPM. I used the lightest pressure possible, especially on the sides of the receiver, against the imprinted scenes, and the top of the receiver where the metal was checkered along its centerline. My goal was to remove as little metal as possible. I carded the barrel, receiver, magazine tube, and trigger guard and polished with a muslin wheel and fine abrasive paste.

(Editor’s Note: If you missed Part 1 of this article, CLICK HERE.)

The bulk of the really bad corrosion was located near the muzzle end of the barrel as if had been stored improperly in a gun locker. After the carding/polishing it was still very visible, so I kicked it up with an inch-wide strip of 200-grit wet-and-dry paper lubricated with turpentine and used a “shoe-polish” technique on the round parts like the barrel and magazine, and gently abraded the receiver using a white eraser as a backing. That took the metal down sufficiently.

Restore Gunmetal To A Blued Condition

Here’s my admission: “Hello, my name is Dave and I started gunsmithing at Big 5 with a bottle of Birchwood Case cold bluing.” This stuff isn’t bad but there’s better. Thinking I was a genius, I took an exponential leap by buying a bottle of Brownell’s Classic Rust Blue for a Ruger MK II project and spent days learning—the hard way—that (as Brownells clearly warns the buyer if I had bothered to read all of the instructions) this product “requires diligent metal preparation and multiple applications… ”

Just as Tennessee Tuxedo always came back to Dr. Whoopee for the rest of the story, I followed the instructions and Classic Rust Blue finally worked for me, but it was an intensive operation and I was eager to find a product and process that worked for me, my limited budget and short attention span.

AGI’s Practical Gunsmithing Course included a cold bluing chapter where Bob Dunlap advised heating the metal slightly before applying the bluing solution. The result was not as deep and use-resistant as a hot bluing, but still resulted in a decent blue.

Using one of the lessons from the last project, I degreased the parts with clean acetone-soaked rags, taking one pass and discarding the rag. I also handled the parts wearing nitrile gloves which I frequently changed at each stage. Smaller parts I soaked in the same liquids and handled them as infrequently as possible to prevent contamination.

I used Brownell’s Ox-Pho Blue cold bluing formula and prepared 0000 steel wool by cutting the pads into six pieces and washing them with lacquer thinner to remove any impurities, setting them aside to air dry. Utilizing the techniques from the cold bluing section of the Practical Gunsmithing Course, I used a butane torch to heat the metal to almost, but not quite, too hot to handle.

I dabbed the cleaned steel wool into the Ox-Pho Blue solution while the metal was very warm and using firm pressure worked a generous portion of the solution into the metal. The color change was instant, the solution hissing upon contact with the warm metal. I would frequently change the pad to work in additional solution.

Some recyclable dishes, such as the solvent-resistant polypropylene, should be kept on hand for solvents or bluing. In this case I was able to employ a wide single-serving sized poly-plate into which I poured a portion of the Ox-Pho solution and would dip into it as needed, working from the edge of the puddle to minimize contaminating the solution.

The work completed, both exterior parts and interior parts were oiled with simple gun oil and set aside. Upon inspection the next day, I was pleased with the finish but not happy with the still-visible patches of corrosion on the barrel and receiver. It was clear that I had more work to do further sanding down the corrosion. The good news is that as relatively easy as the process was, it paid to do it right by doing it over.

It took another pass with the 200- and 400- grit and turpentine to work the blemish down to an acceptable level. As a labor of love it wasn’t bad, more time on the gun: it looked better and I came to terms with the extensive corrosion that—to remove completely—would take a thousandth or more off of the gun. That was more than this old-timer should bear so I decided to call it good.

Restore Stock Checkering

The butt stock and fore end were utility-grade wood, with no figure to speak of. The checkering and recoil pad were in need of attention but the wood itself was in good condition. My first action was to strip the old finish off of the stock, using Jasco Premium Paint Remover, taking care to clean up the residue in the checkering with a stiff plastic brush.

Strip, wash with denatured alcohol, a light sanding and now it was time to refresh the checkering. I invested in Brownells’ Master Checkering Set and chased the original checkering back to crisp diamonds.

Removal And Replacement of The Recoil Pad

Recall that the serial numbers on the receiver and barrel and stock all matched. At one point I considered glass-bedding the stock but decided against that since that would obscure the stock’s matching SN and the fit and appearance were both tight.

Because the originally brick-red white line pad was long past its usefulness and as hard as a rock, I carved the old pad away and tossed the whole affair. Guided by Outdoor Life’s article, an up-to-date look would be a black, grind-to-fit Hiviz Xcoil Recoil Pad from… wait for it… Brownells! I have already used AGI’s Recoil Pad Installation Course to help me grind to fit a similar pad to my father-in-law’s custom .270 Mauser and though having access to the various grinding jigs I resolved to take the road less travelled and grind-to-fit by hand/eye. This method is akin to working without a net: the chance for error is so great and the margin so slim, that it must be seen as a test of skill because not only is the pad being ground to fit, it’s attached to the stock at the time. That close to a fast-moving abrasive belt you are just asking for trouble! Bob Dunlap’s advice to have several layers of different tapes on the stock is the secret to keeping you out of trouble!

Ithaca 2-2

Rust removed, effects of corrosion reduced, checkering restored, stock restained and refinished, recoil pad replaced and ground to fit. Not a bad deal!

Staining And Refinishing The Stock

Using Brownells’ Vanderhave Formula XIII alcohol-based stain because I’m partial to a dark red walnut color and prefer the aggressiveness of alcohol-based stains over water-based stains, especially if there’s the possibility of oil or other contaminants left in the stock, I applied the stain to the stock and grip, wiped them off with a clean paper towel, then let dry.

I followed up with Chem-Pak’s satin Gun Sav’R Custom Oil Gunstock Finish, a product that came with AGI’s Stock Refinishing Course. Between the time I used it a few years ago and when I reached for it for this project, ol’ Murphy had gummed up the works, but there was plenty of product remaining in the aerosol can. Using a church key (a beer can opener to you of a younger generation) at the top of the can, I made the smallest of holes in the skin and released the pressure ever so slowly without losing the product. Once the pressure was equalized with my atmosphere, I fully opened the can and poured the product into a clean glass jar.

Following Gene Shuey’s advice, I rubbed on the first two coats of finish, sparing the checkering and let it dry, rubbing with 0000 steel wool between coats. Then I applied finish to the checkering with a clean tooth brush, and then chased the checkering with another clean toothbrush, let dry and repeated. All wood had two coats of hand rubbed finish and, when the last coat was dry, I took a pad of 0000 steel wool over the entire affair to dull to a satin finish.

Experiences Along The Way

Preparation is everything, and the instructions of all reputable products must be read. Even so, it took me several projects to fully understand the mindset needed to prepare everything: the work piece, the workspace, the tools and mental picture of moving through each step.

Cold blue works, whether my technique (hotter than Bob’s warm) is an improvement remains to be seen. It saved me an investment in hot bluing but at some point it will be worth the leap to a higher plateau and blue with hot salts.


There are three things that have proven very effective and useful in this project. First, the AGI videos were instrumental in providing me a platform of knowledge for the spectrum of gunsmithing that this project required: recoil pad, bluing, stock work, and function (disassembly/reassembly). Given their price, their value is enormous and worth the expense.

Second, my local library has a plethora of resources that I used to understand metal, rust, wood, and the myriad of the interactions of these on the other.


Experience is a b****, but there’s no better teacher.

5 Responses to Restoring the Ithaca Model 37–Part 2


  2. Great article and advice. I recently repaired a model 37 in 20 ga. for a friend. While it was in great shape other wise, looking like it had very little use, the action bar had become disconnected from the forend tube assembly. With the stress caused by only one action bar it broke at the spot welds. This caused it to not eject and pierced the primer. Not having access to a welder, or someone with the knowledge of trying to weld thin tubing to thick bar stock, I sent the tube and bar to Ken at Pisco. He welded it back in place and I did all the refinishing. It came out great! I love that Featherweight, and luckily my wife has her Dads Featherweight in 12 ga. Thanks again Ken, and thanks again Dave for the great info!

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