This has been the year of “Topper” shotguns for me. Fairly recently I’ve restored, or brought back to life, four variations of the Topper shotgun. Harrington & Richardson owns the license for this wonderfully simple single shot, pivot barrel shotgun which was first built in 1893. Many companies have built this model shotgun, with slight variations. The 20 gauge shotgun I just finished working on was manufactured by Riverside Arms Co., and was a “hardware store shotgun” produced in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.
Riverside Arms was bought by Stevens Arms sometime before World War I. At some point, Savage bought Stevens, so there is a connection to a long line of manufacturing prowess behind this shotgun. This shotgun has a top lever rather than a side lever release to break the action open. I think the top lever is much classier.
My latest project was more of an assignment rather than a fun project. I did however, thoroughly enjoy every moment I spent working on this firearm.
I had been looking at this rather bulbous walnut stock over at Bob Dunlap’s place for a while, until one day he asked me if I would fit the stock for him. Bob slapped some cash on the bench and said it was mine when I finished the job. I told him with great confidence I was bound to screw something up, but would be glad to do it! The shotgun sat around for a few weeks until I felt guilty that it was just sitting in the workshop staring back at me every day. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and told the Riverside Arms shotgun I would clean him up and start inletting his stock. Well, once I picked up the wood, I couldn’t put it down until it was finished. I did manage to get some sleep and eat a few times and now I am looking for another piece of walnut to carve up! Until then, I will tell you what I did to the Topper.
The first thing I had to do was make a stop at the hardware store to pick up a replacement stock bolt for the inletting process. I cut the head of the bolt off with a hacksaw and screwed it into the receiver to replace the original bolt. The headless bolt allowed me to slip the buttstock on and off easily and it guides the stock into its resting spot on the rear of the frame. I used lipstick to spot in the areas that needed to be carved away from the stock to get a precise fit of wood to steel. I used a rasp and then needle files to carve the wood away. The final shaping of the stock was done with finer and finer grades of sandpaper, finishing with 320 grit paper. I used a sanding block on the butt of the stock to get the butt plate to fit flush with the wood. Once I finished inletting the stock, I used epoxy to bed the stock to the receiver. This will ensure the stock will not crack under recoil. I have been trying different brands of epoxy and also trying to mix various types of stains to give me the ability to fill larger gaps that might be visible to the shooter/owner.
My favorite finish to bring out the natural beauty of the wood is Tung Oil. A crazy thing has been occurring with me recently, it seems I am planning better and working smarter. This goes a long way in making a job or hobby fun and not a complete pain in the butt. I first staged the area where the forend and stock would dry, thus making it easier to not smudge my protective finish. Another thing I use now is latex gloves. This enables me to do a hand rubbed finish and simply peel my “skin” off when finished with each application. Pouring a small amount of finish (or stain) into a small shallow dish allows you to dip into the oil with your finger tips and control the amount of Tung Oil you are working with.
The forend would barely stay on the barrel and the spring was so tweaked out of shape that you had to flick the forend up to get the latch in the correct place to touch the barrel lug when putting the gun back together. To make the forend latch longer, I took the forend iron out of the wood and used a large punch and a hammer to lengthen the steel latch. I pounded on the underside of the latch so that marks from my pounding were not visible.
I used a couple of pliers to adjust the spring so the latch would be more erect and have proper tension. This made the forend easier to put back on the gun and kept it from falling off when you shot the gun!
The butt plate had some type of clay or dirt that had to be picked out with the help of a pointy tool and some Ballistol gun oil. I decided to do a massive amount of cold blue touch up on the gun, as I had to do a lot of sanding on the metal to get the rust and corrosion off the frame and barrel.
I am happy with the work I did on this firearm. It challenged my skill set, which I think is what Bob intended. I now have more confidence, which will help with future projects I want to tackle. Once again, I see areas where I need vast improvement, but I guess that will always be so and that’s a good thing!