Restoring the Ithaca Model 37–Part 1

By David Fey
AGI Practical Gunsmithing Course Graduate, GCA Member

AGI videos have been instrumental in my extensive restoration of an Ithaca Model 37 shotgun. Restoration included an assessment of the gun’s current and potential value, removal of existing active rust and corrosion, restoration of stock checkering, restoration of gunmetal bluing, recoil pad replacement, and refinishing wood.

Ithaca Gun Company Model 37 28 Gauge Featherlight

Ithaca Gun Company Model 37 28 Gauge Featherlight

 “Comrade General,” the senior sergeant said suddenly, “What qualities in your opinion are necessary for a designer-gunsmith?”

Degtyarev turned toward him. “A gunsmith? Ah then, have you been chosen as a gunsmith, Kalashnikov?”

“Gunsmiths are made of the same clay as everyone else. So let’s simply say: what qualities does a gunsmith need. I think that first of all it’s a love of work and persistence. I have spoken more than once of creative fiber. I’ll say this to you now: this fiber is a love of invention which gives a man no rest. Even in your sleep you see your machine as it would be if it were manufactured real…”

Where this story starts…

The Details of My Purchase

Being a southpaw, I was looking for a shotgun that catered to my shooting style. Specifically, I wanted a gun that didn’t force me to contort myself to reload, didn’t launch hulls or sparks in the direction of my fair face, and so forth. More to the point, I was also looking for a project that would challenge me and my growing gunsmithing skill set.

While mulling my options, I came across an article on the new Ithaca Model 37 in the October, 2010, edition of Outdoor Life—with a centerfold! There, spread across two pages, was the photograph of a sculpted classic shotgun in 28 gauge, its lines accented by satin reflections off of the blued gunmetal and walnut furniture. Thinks me: I want one! And, as both loading and unloading were accomplished from the bottom rather than sides of the receiver, it was left-hander friendly. Who would have thunk that within a few months the chance to buy a Model 37 would plop into my lap when a friend made me an offer?

Being unfamiliar with shotguns in general, AGI’s course Buying And Collecting Used Guns Without Getting Burned helped me to evaluate the gun’s condition and make my friend a reasonable offer. After test-driving it at the local range, I assessed this formative project. First, a function check prior to shooting confirmed that all parts and functions were working. In contrast, the overall condition spoke of lack of use (the internal components were in good shape) but also of basic care: any original bluing was gone, and the remaining real estate was an archipelago of corrosion islands and bare metal. The receiver’s classic imprinted hunting scenes were so abused by rust that one of the retrievers appeared to be lifting its leg in despair. The red recoil pad was checkered and oxidized to a point that approached Rockwell hardness. The checkering on the stock’s grip was a mere vestige of once sharp diamonds. This was the project gun I was looking for.

Unrestored Model 37 Ithaca Shotgun--left side

Unrestored Model 37 Ithaca Shotgun–left side

Making The Decision to Restore

Before I bought the gun, and spent any time or funds on restoration, I needed to assess its potential market value, including how its condition affected the value. This is a serious subject among collectors as a weapon’s condition can have a direct effect on its value. Clean up and restore the wrong firearm and you might as well have thrown it away. An M1 Garand restoration article I wrote for the December, 2006 Journal of the Garand Collectors Association, that included my process for assessment of value, was deemed controversial enough to warrant an editor’s note of the same subject at the beginning of the story.

The 37s serial number was in the range of 27XXXX, which, according to the resources on the Ithaca website, meant that it was manufactured in 1949. Serial numbers on the barrel and stock were identical. I checked several firearms websites to determine the market value of similar shotguns and deter-mined that I paid slightly below the market value and that in spite of favorable comments on the model, shotgun literature suggested that overall the gun/model was neither especially sought after nor remarkable.

My resources at the time were humble, but growing. At the same time I started this project I also started AGI’s Practical Gunsmithing Course. I had also accumulated a few other AGI courses, and had developed a small personal library of additional resource materials. My projects to date have been on my own firearms and those of friends. Based on these resources and my success at simple projects, I considered my skill-set to be transitioning from the upper limits of hobby-tinkering toward gunsmithing.

Unrestored Model 37 Ithaca Shotgun--right side

Unrestored Model 37 Ithaca Shotgun–right side

Condition of The Gun — Disassembly and Mechanical Assessment

In the meantime, I purchased AGI’s Disassembly/Reassembly of the Ithaca Model 37 Pump Shotgun and got to work. Ken Brooks’ excellent instruction made quick work of the relatively simple fire control mechanism. In spite of the signs of neglect on the outside of the gun, the condition of the internals was very good: the parts were complete, rust free, sharp corners remained sharp, bearing surfaces were free from excessive wear. The barrel was in relatively good shape as, while there was a small patch of pitting, there were no bulges.

Restoration Goal

Making a project happen is a product of both ambition and desire, but good planning is essential for the end state to match the original goal. I started a written plan and imagined working through the steps, how much time they would take, what parts or supplies I would need to progress from one step to another, and what physical resources and products the job would require. After organizing these notes, my goal was clear – to restore the gun’s appearance to a higher standard. I would do this by:

  • Removing active rust
  • Reducing effects of corrosion by polishing
  • Restoring the gunmetal to a blued condition
  • Removing and replacing the recoil pad
  • Restoring the stock’s checkering and
  • Re-staining and refinishing the stock

Removing Active Rust

The rust deposit is really incidental to the damage caused by loss of iron—a chemical insult added to the original injury.

Like skinning the proverbial cat, there are different ways to remove rust but they all come down to either mechanical or chemical methods. Mechanically, there is the wire brush and coated abrasives like emery cloth and wet-n-dry paper.

Budget guided my approach. Brownell’s Steel White had given me good results removing old bluing and rust but the barrel length would require creating a hot solution and essentially boiling the parts in tanks I didn’t have. Reid Coffield’s recent series in Shotgun News about restoring a Winchester Model 12 recommended Naval Jelly to remove rust and old bluing, but a trip to the hardware store produced two products that met my budget and logistics needs.

Evapo-Rust

Evapo-Rust

The first was Evapo-Rust by Harris International Laboratories, a room-temperature rust removing chemical that’s safe on the user, safe on plastics and other metals, non-hazardous and easy to use. This required that the gun parts be immersed in the product for up to 30 minutes, so I needed a deep and long tray. Thus, the second product was a simple rectangular black plastic container used in the wallpapering process. Not cheap but reusable and washable.

All gun parts but the barrel fit in the container and could be easily immersed in the Evapo-Rust. The barrel just barely fit diagonally but because the bottom of the tub was narrower than its opening, this part could not be completely immersed by the one gallon of Evapo-Rust I had on hand. Rather than buying another gallon to cover the barrel, I placed clean glass jars full of water into the voids in the tub to take up volume and raised the level of the liquid sufficiently to cover the part.

After 30 minutes the de-rusting was complete. Following Evapo-Rust directions, I poured the liquid back into the bottle for reuse. A convenient feature of this product is that it can be used to prevent flash rusting: after the part’s removal from the initial de-rusting, the user is advised to dip the item back into the solution, then allow it to air dry. This will prevent rust for up to two weeks.

Because my day job required that I actually be at work during the week (the nerve!) the gun parts, now all in the white, needed to be cared for to prevent rusting. I followed their instructions and can testify that Evapo-Rust prevented re-rusting for the week this project took. A simple rinse with water and thorough drying was all that was needed to start bluing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article. 


8 Responses to Restoring the Ithaca Model 37–Part 1

  1. Awesome article and well written David. Good info. Looking forward to the following articles. Thanks for sharing!
    Cheers

  2. Timing is incredible. I just restored the mod 37 for a relative and liked it so much I bot one on gunbroker. just got it apart except for the magazine tube and the forend nut which appear to be rusted tight. My goal is to put a 20″ barrel and 8 rd mag on this one. my project is a circa 1956 manufacture. any suggestions concerning the above would be greatly appreciated. I will follow with great interest, thanks.

  3. David, that was a very nice article yours is a story I can relate to very well. I am continuing to restore my own guns becoming a while helping friends with their cleaning needs.
    If you are heading towards becoming a craftsman then it sounds like you have a good start.

  4. I own two Ithacas, both 12 ga. One is the basic model found in Viet Nam,the other is amore classy version found on the pheasant huts with a ribbed barrel and gold tipped triggers.

    The first one, the more vintage is in excellent shape though Ii do plan to have it refinished, possible by an outsider. I do not have the facilities to clean the gun as advised.

    Despite the limitation of a remodel, the guns work well for all the of hunting and trap shooting. Beat the heck out of a Benelli!!!!!

  5. Thanks for the compliments. Reading the article again reminds me how much fun that project was, and being of a certain age, I can’t wait to read the next installment to see how it turned out!

  6. When needing to use a chemical striper on a barreled receiver, I use a piece of PVC pipe with one end cap. Currently in my shop are pipe diameters in 2, 4, and 6″ and up to 40″ length. Have not found a firearm yet I could not fit.

    • Bruce, that’s an awesome solution! Rigid PVC should resist most solvents/strippers. Can’t speak to what you are stripping and what you need to do with the solvent and/or what you stripped off (varnish, cosmoline…),but for EvapoRust if you cap the pipe and keep it upright you can also use it to store the stuff.

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