It was the early seventies in Anchorage, Alaska when my father had been posted to Fort Richardson. We soon discovered just how culturally unprepared we were. Expecting to be hunkering down around close fires like the frozen north of Nanook, we were shocked to find a modern city on the Pacific Ocean where everyone lives as much outdoors as indoors year round.
Despite the cold winters, the warm summer days were full of baseball games, rabbit hunting on Eagle River Flats, salmon runs on the Kenai, and clam digging on Cook Inlet. Neighbors would bring over reindeer sausage and salmon steaks and invite us out to pick low bush cranberries, gooseberries, and blueberries. Growing up in DC, LA, and even Colorado Springs, I was thrilled to be thrust into all of these amazing outdoors adventures at only thirteen.
I remember clearly our trip to JCPenney, which at the time had a surprisingly extensive hardware section, an automotive section, and an amazing sporting goods section. There were so many innovations in camping equipment, like freeze dried strawberries, Coleman stoves, and military style mummy bags; alongside old standards, still new to me, like entrenching tools, mess kits, and the first gun I ever fired. A single-shot, break-action, 12 gauge, Remington shotgun with birdshot shells.
Years later, after my father retired, he loaned me the old Remington; my mother let me know there was no hurry getting it back. After years of storage, however, it wasn’t in the same shape as that first day we met. The finish on the stock was dark, thick, and sticky, and worn or scratched through to the bare wood in spots. The metal was rusty and a little pitted.
To return it to new condition would have required professional blasting and rebluing of the steel, and stripping and refinishing the stock. This was always a plain working shotgun, not a show piece, but it was sad to see it in this condition. With the pits still small enough I could live with them, my goal was to stop any further damage and return it to a presentable condition.
Here’s how I went about fixing up the shotgun.
The barrel and receiver were easy enough. A little steel wool, followed by gun oil, or if necessary some metal polish, and a soft cloth will have most of it looking good in no time. In around the trigger and hammer were more painstaking but not particularly difficult. You’ll want to be sure to get all the rust. As far as polishes, Mother’s, Flitz, or Turtle Wax work pretty well.
The stock is where people are tempted to take too drastic measures. Sanding, even by hand, can rough up the wood, leave tiny grooves that can be difficult for an armature to overcome. Again, a soft touch is the key. There’s no need to completely strip the wood.
The finish can be lifted off a layer at a time with Murphy’s oil soap gently applied and wiped off in thin doses until the surface is clean and smooth and slightly lighter than desired. Murphy’s is strong stuff but easy to use. Still, pay close attention and don’t leave it on too long.
Once it’s dry, I recommend Minwax with polyurethane. Choose the desired hue and again apply it a little at a time, wipe it dry and repeat the process until you’re satisfied. You can put the color back a layer at a time the same way you took it off. If it’s too light just do it again. The urethane in the Minwax will make the stock resistant to the elements and leave a satin finish.
If you don’t want to go through all this effort every decade you pull your gun out of storage, be sure to touch it up often, and keep if in a good location. If it’s used from time to time, a rack will do, but if you need to store it for a long time, wrap it in cotton or a sheet or something, and put it where it will stay dry. The natural fibers breath and will draw moisture away from the wood and metal surfaces. Avoid storing it in direct contact with paper or cardboard, plastics or manmade fabrics like nylon that hold the moisture in. When you do get a chance to pull it out and use it, or pass it on, it will be ready.
by Bob Aldridge