Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chasing away the rust weasels.......


Most gunnies have run across them from time to time. Older firearms, usually cheap even when new, that have been neglected. Perhaps a single barrel shotgun, once a young persons joy and happiness, now relegated to garden shed duty. Maybe an elderly .22 that's been stashed at the back of a closet for a generation, forgotten. In this case, an inexpensive old bolt action shotgun, considered inelegant even when brand new. It was cheap then, it's even cheaper now, and few people give them much regard at all.

This old shotgun came to Carteach's hands in a way that was sad, but necessary. It belonged to an old gentleman, a friend of many years. The old man had suffered yet another loss inevitable in a long life, and was more than a little depressed. Not too far gone to realize his condition, he offered to sell my his firearms, such as they were. None were on my 'buy someday' list, and most were of the same type and quality as the old Mossberg shotgun which this post centers on. Yes.... they were purchased... not because they were especially wanted, but more to make sure they were not used to make a tough situation worse.

That's how Carteach ended up with a rusty old $50 bolt action 20 gauge shotgun.

Now, just because it's a cheap and ugly old shootin iron doesn't mean it should be left to the Rust Weasels as a snack. That would be disrespectful, and poor stewardship. No, it's not much of a shotgun to me, but one day it might make a fine gift to a young man just learning the niceties of carrying arms in the field..... or a giveaway gun for someone who needs to defend their home right now, with anything they can get.... even if it is an inelegant old bolt action shottie.

The shotgun in question had quite a bit of surface rust after years of indifferent care and storage in damp areas. Not terribly deep, nor pitted, but pervasive and unattractive.

It was determined that clean up was in order.... so off to the Carteach secret bunker, reloading den, and cigar emporium we went!

When I had my first professional massage, the good lady told me to 'Strip to my comfort level and get on the table', and then she left the room. That shook me up nearly as much as the first time I ever tore down an old gun I had never seen before, and it's the phrase that came back to me as the old Mossberg was pulled apart.

Step one in this kind of cleanup is a tear down. Take the weapon apart to your comfort level, defined as the point at which you are still sure you can it back together and safely operational again. If this isn't something you are sure about, getting a diagram first is a good idea. If it's still not something you are sure and comfortable doing, then perhaps the clean up is a job left to a firearm professional.

For a simple case like this, we are only going after the surface rust, and perhaps a few generations of gunk left in the internal nooks and crannies. This is a simple job, and the only thing past normal gun cleaning supplies is a pack of four-O (OOOO) steel wool and a can of good penetrant/lube, such as CLP or WD-40.

Working with one piece at a time, soak a pad of the very fine steel wool with the penetrant and begin lightly scrubbing the component. Don't dig away, but use just enough force to dislodge the rust. Turn the pad often, as the loosened rust will embed in the wool pad, and the rust itself can scratch the remaining finish on the firearm.

Be certain NOT to use a regular steel wool pad. It must be the super fine OOOO pad that's found in the paint prep department of most home supply and hardware stores. Using a regular steel wool pad will scratch the finish to the point of ruining whatever finish is left.

Do not assume that surface rust means there is no finish left on the gun. That's is usually not the case. Even a very rough looking old beater can come back to life in an amazing fashion with a little effort.

Turn the pad often, and keep it well soaked with penetrating oil. It should be wet enough that it's necessary to keep paper towels or newspaper under the weapon, on the table or work area. Drippy wet..... and don't hesitate to wipe the whole works down with paper towels often. In fact, it's best just to plan on using the whole pack of steel wool, and a whole roll of paper towels. As an area begins to come clean, with the oil showing a rusty color, wipe it down with a clean towel and turn the pad to a freshly lubed area.

Take the time to do each and every component, and even the screws and pins. Leave no spot untouched. Butt plates and trigger guards, even the plastic ones, should not be left off the menu.

Once done the rust removal, clean the components one last time with paper towels and give them a final lube with CLP or good gun oil. Internal parts may require a paper thin coating of light gun grease.

Reassemble the weapon, give it a final wipe down.... and stand back to admire your work!

Remember.... work slowly and lightly. Don't be overly aggressive, and always trade time and care for fast and rough. Don't neglect the stock, and the same process can often rejuvenate a poly finish on an old 'hardwood' stock. A coat of hard paste wax can do a stock quite a bit of good as well.

There you have it. A short and simple way to chase away the rust weasels and bring an old garden gun or truck beater back from the brink of junkhood.


Shepherd K said...

Ah, the memories. My grandfather sent me squirrel hunting once upon a time with that very model of Mossberg. His advice: "Aim for the head." Sad to say, but the one you have is in much better shape than granddad's.

Carteach0 said...

Those are the things I think about when I pick up an old firearm, especially a cheap old beater like this.

Who was the first buyer? Was it some kids first shotgun? Was it picked up by some guy who needed to hunt up extra meat to feed his family?

My own history with it.... it's the shotgun I handed the neighbor kid to use on a huge snake in our backyard, not long after we moved in. It's a story we still tell.

Maybe it will find some more stories as we go along.

DaddyBear said...

Just a quick question: What do you suggest for cleaning up a wooden stock, other than adding a good layer of wax? Any particular detergents you prefer?

Carteach0 said...

Daddy Bear, that would depend on a few things. What kind of wood, what kind of finish on it, and most importantly the age and historical value of the piece.

The last factor.... I can't judge without seeing it, but I would warn against overactive cleaning on any firearms of collector or historical value.

On a regular firearm....

If it had an old style rubbed oil finish, I would clean with a soft cloth sprayed with a mild detergent cleaner. After that, I would rub in more oil, depending on what it appeared like after cleaning.

If it has a poly finish, and just needed some cleanup, I might use a gentle rub down with the 0000 steel wool, and a buff with a wool pad and stock rubbing compound. Follow that up with wax if you want a real high gloss.

Of particular worry is checkering or sharp, defined edges. Real care needs to be taken there.

Stock finishing is an art and a science, together. There's a lot to it.

Butch Cassidy said...

Timing really is everything.

Just last week, I did exactly this with an old Mossberg-made Western Field bolt-action 410 and gave it to a recently divorced young woman. I've never seen such a smile on her face as there was when she touched it off for the first time.

I have a soft spot in my heart for single-shot and bolt-action shotguns. Every now and then I will buy one, clean it up as needed and send it away to someone in need of a serviceable long gun. I enjoy the process, my community becomes better armed, and old shotguns continue service. I'm glad to see I am not the only one who thinks along such lines.

And yes, tucked in my safe is an old J.C. Higgins bolt-action 16 gauge given to me by my father years ago. During bird season, it is often carried afield in preference to my Stevens 620 or Ithaca 37. The old thing just screams, "working gun", to me.

Old NFO said...

Very nicely done Sir! And thanks for taking the time bring that old timer back to 'life'...

Firehand said...

One of the sadder moments I've known was when a woman I was dating mentioned she had 'her father's gun' still and I asked to see it. It was a Remington bolt-action .22 that was getting rusty in places, and I mentioned I could bring some stuff over to clean it; and she asked why?

Never occurred to her that it would be good to maintain it, that her grandsons might someday be thrilled to shoot great-grandpa's rifle; it just meant nothing to her except that her father used to own it.

Taurus7272 said...

Thanks for a great post. One more quesion if I may: Is fine bronze wool too soft for this purpose? It would be less aggressive on the remaining finish if it could be used. Might give a little more "margin of error" against rubbing too hard, even if it takes a little longer.

Carteach said...


I have never tried bronze wool. I imagine it will work fine, and I understand it is less abrasive and milder.

Give it a try and let us know!