Not all storage containers are created equal. Although there are many storage containers on the market that can be used in a variety of applications, most have some type of limitation.
If you have finished hunting for the season, do not just put your rifle in the gun safe until next year without treating it first. Without preparing your rifle for storage properly, you may damage it. In nine easy steps, you can preserve your gun for the months it sits, untouched, until the next hunting season begins.
Camo cloth Tape has it naysayers, most of which have never used it. I started using camo tape in the ’80s when all bows came with high-gloss wood or painted finishes. A few years ago, I used a roll on a test gun that had seen better days. Once a year, I pull it out to remove the old tape, check the status and apply a new roll. So far, the tape has not caused it to rust or pit, but let’s look at a few criticisms.
The Military SKS-AK Scabbard is an item I recently took a chance on purchasing. If you are expecting a top of the line, grade A, leather-bound scabbard this is not for you. For the price though, I thought it would at least be a great pouch for my tactical Mossberg 500 shotgun that is leaning behind my bedroom door, to keep the dust off and provide easy access if needed.
Many of our customers have very old firearms that they inherit from loved ones. A common question we get is, “How do I care for my antique firearm?” Our interview with John Gangel last week was quite enlightening, and he shared with us some fantastic tips on storing and caring for antique firearms.
We also found a fantastic guide to firearm preservation from the Springfield National Historic Site and National Park Service (courtesy of Say Uncle) that has a very good overview on caring for your antique firearm.
Preserving Your Antique Arms Collection
The following are very conservative guidelines to help you care for a collection that you wish to preserve for as long as possible and will never be fired. Methods recommended here may not be the most efficient. What may work beautifully in one situation can be a disaster in another. The following advice is limited in scope and cannot cover every possible situation.
A. Preventive Care
1. Environment ·
- Avoid dramatic swings in relative humidity (RH). Try to keep stable between 40 and 50%.
- Consistency is more important than precise maintenance of a specific RH reading.
- RH control is most critical because of an unusual physical property of wood called anisotropy. Wood cells expand or contract very differently in response to changes in relative humidity — depending on their specific grain orientation (axial, transverse, or radial) in the log from which they came. Large swings in RH can result in cracks caused by compression-set shrinkage.
- If humidity remains fairly constant, changes in temperature make little difference to either metal or wood – better to concentrate on controlling relative humidity. A rapid rise in indoor temperature can pull the moisture out of the environment (including your artifact), causing a drop in RH. Cell shrinkage and cracking or splitting can occur.
- Wear gloves when handling your collection. No protective coating – appropriate for conserving an artifact — (see below) can stand up for long against repeated bare-handed handling. Best thing is to always wear gloves. Nitrile examination gloves are recommended when cleaning and coating your collection. Once an item has been coated, wear plain cotton gloves.
- Keep dust-free. Dust can trap moisture increasing the likelihood of corrosion occurring.
- Do not use commercial dust cloths. They often leave an oil film behind. Oil films trap dust. Dust traps and collects water vapor in the air.
- When dusting, use a soft cotton cloth very lightly dampened with water
- Without moisture, dust merely gets shoved around and will not be picked up.
- Do not use alcohol of any kind when dusting or cleaning a stock. It can skin or strip an historic finish.
- Dry immediately with a clean cloth.
- Never use liquid or spray dusting products. Most leave mineral oil behind, which traps dust. Dust traps and collects moisture. Starting to see a pattern?
4. Storage / Display
- Narrow hooks or loops of wire should not be used to support collection pieces either in storage or on display. The weight of most long arms on such devices is sufficient to result in indentations in their stock at the points of contact.
- Use broad, padded supports. We use thin sheets of a closed-cell Polyethylene foam material to pad our display fixtures.
- To avoid mold and mildew during long-term storage — avoid at least two of the three conditions known to promote bloom outbreaks:
- elevated temperature
- still air, and
- elevated humidity.
B. Cleaning and Coating Historic Firearms
1. Cleaning Wood Stocks
- Separate wooden and metal parts. They are cleaned and coated differently.
- Unless absolutely necessary, leave unfinished interior wooden surfaces alone.
- Clean exterior of stock as follows:
- Use a few drops of a mild detergent in a gallon of warm, distilled water, applied with a slightly damp soft cloth, and rinsed with clean cloths dampened with distilled water.
- Dry with soft cloths immediately after rinsing.
- Clean again with mineral spirits, using a soft cloth to apply. Work in fresh air or a well-ventilated area.
- Avoid using “oil soaps” as they can becaustic and may damage an historic oiled surface.
2. Cleaning Barrels and Other Metal Parts. Please note: It is essential to practice any new technique on a sacrificial piece first, before applying it to something irreplaceable.
- Use nylon or animal-bristle bore brushes. Wherever possible, avoid using brass or steel brushes. Such hard materials can scratch, but also might (under certain conditions) cause galvanic (bi-metallic) corrosion (specifically when using a copper-alloy brush on ferrous metals) by leaving a slight metallic smear behind.
- Use mineral spirits to soften accretions. Work in fresh air or well-ventilated area. Are there other solvents that are “stronger”? Yes, but they are difficult to work with safely.
- Swab clean with a cloth patch.
- Use only extremely fine abrasives such as oil-free 0000 steel wool . Use only if absolutely necessary to remove stubborn rust deposits or other accretions. Work slowly and watch constantly for any changes to the surface. There is always an element of risk in such work. If you are at all uncertain, hire a conservator before causing irreversible damage.
- When cleaning brass parts, never use products that contain ammonia. Ammonia can damage old copper alloy materials by corroding them from the inside out. In addition, such products may include abrasives which may prove too harsh. Elbow grease and mineral spirits should be tried first. If something slightly stronger is needed, try applying small amounts of wet tooth powder with a cotton swab and rinse with water.
- A general comment about commercial rust removers. The problem is that most rust removers can’t tell the difference between iron oxide and iron metal, and will leave an etched surface even where there is no rust. Some products seem to come close. Often they require extremely close attention and precision – too much for most of us.
- Most surface rust can be removed by first lubricating the area with a light penetrating oil and cleaving it off with a sharp scalpel held at a very low angle to the metal. It requires close attention, a steady hand, and some patience, but if you are careful, you will probably get most – if not all – of the surface rust off without leaving a scratch. There is always an element of risk in such work. If you are at all uncertain, hire a conservator before causing irreversible damage. When done, remove any remaining oil with mineral spirits.
3. Disassembly and Reassembly
- If you are organized and systematic — you should be able to safely disassemble and reassemble most firearms successfully.
- Probe the floor of every external screw slot with a sharp point held at a very low angle. It’s amazing how much dirt can be packed into a “clean-looking” slot. All foreign matter must be removed for the screwdriver to do its best, safest work. .
- A good selection of screwdrivers is a must. Their tips must be matched perfectly to each slot in order to maximize the area of mechanical contact. Taking this precaution will minimize slippage and the scratching and scarring that can result. The internal shapes of screw slots have changed a lot since their invention and screwdriver tips often have to be ground or filed in order to get a good match. Keep this in mind when regrinding a screwdriver’s tip.
- There are many publications that offer exploded drawings and disassembly/reassembly tips.
4. Coating Stocks
- Wood is neither thirsty nor hungry. It is usually covered by a finish which may have become corrupted in some way, making it look “dry.” The wood beneath the finish does not need to be “fed”, (despite what wood-care product commercials may claim).
- Never put oil of any kind on an historic finish. There may well be unintended but permanently damaging consequences to ignoring this advice.
- A cautionary word about linseed oil.
- Linseed oil takes forever to dry and will trap dust. (It will not stop water penetration either).
- When linseed oil oxidizes, its molecules cross-link with one another, making it increasingly more difficult to remove as time passes.
- Oxidized linseed oil (linoleic acid) eventually becomes linoxin, better-known commercially as Linoleum! Repeated, or seasonal, applications eventually develop into a surface that can look like very dark brown alligator skin, and can become almost impossible to remove.
- Applying a modern finish over an equivalent historic finish can forever confuse the finish “history” of a stock by making it difficult, if not impossible, to tell what (if anything) is original, and what is a restoration material – even with an analytical microscope. Therefore, you would not want to touch up, say, a shellac finish with shellac. Use paste waxes only: i.e., carnauba-based furniture waxes on wood stocks. Avoid wax mixtures which include a high percentage of bee’s wax. They are not especially harmful, but are relatively soft (fingerprint easily) and can be slightly acidic.
5. Coating Metals (this advice is strictly for guns which have been “retired” from use and will never be fired.)
- Avoid using oils. They are not the best material for long-term protection of collection pieces as they trap dust and dirt, eventually break down and have to be periodically replaced. A high-quality light oil is fine for maintaining a gun you still shoot, though.
- Use a microcrystalline wax as a protective coating. They are practically inert, remaining stable for a very long time. Apply and buff out with a soft cloth or brush – inside and out.
- Brass parts can also be coated with wax such as an acrylic spray lacquer because it is easily removed with solvents but bonds especially well to copper-alloy metals, and will withstand more abuse and last longer than wax.
6. Minor Stock Repairs
- If a split or detached piece of a stock must be repaired, use an adhesive that is both strong and reversible (i.e. can be safely removed at any time in the future). There is only one: traditional hide glue.
- Do not proceed if there is evidence that the damaged site has been previously repaired. In this case, consult a conservator.
- Unless you work with hide glue every day – make it up fresh in small amounts as needed. It doesn’t take long to prepare and it will do a better job than using old glue. Hot hide glue is preferable to liquid hide glue as it is less affected by humidity.
- Dampen the area to be glued with hot water. Blot the area and wait a few minutes. Then apply hot glue to both surfaces with a brush and clamp immediately. An appropriate clamp can be as simple as a few pieces of masking tape, rubber bands, bicycle tire strips, or small padded weights. Use the least force needed to do the job.
- Clamps can usually be removed in a few hours, but it takes at least 24 hours for the repair to fully harden. · Excess glue can be removed with a lint-free cloth dampened with hot water. The best time to do this is usually right after removing clamps.
7. If you still need help
- Seek the services of a professional conservator.
- Contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC) for a referral.
- There are few, if any, conservators who treat nothing but firearms. Look for an “Objects” Conservator with experience working with metal and the other materials (wood, celluloid, leather, etc.) that are part of your artifact.
Originally published in Insights, NRA’s magazine for young shooters.
What in the world could make a gun worth more than a new car? Or more than a new house for that matter? In most cases, when a gun is hammered “sold” for five or six figures at one of the high-end auction houses, part of the answer is “engraving”. If that’s the case, how come that engraved commemorative you saw at the last gun show was offered for less than a standard model? To explain this situation, let’s take a look at the history of firearms engraving, and the market for old and new engraved guns today.
Origins of engraving – The origin of decorated arms is lost in the mists of pre-history. The role of man’s earliest weapons in providing food and insuring his survival made them some of the earliest and most important tools. The impulse to decorate and personalize them must have accounted for some of humankind’s first artistic endeavors.
As societies and technology evolved, the bond between art and arms logically continued. Whether for king or tribal chieftain, weaponry represented the means to acquiring and holding political power, and the enhancement of these to suit the status of the owner was a given. What are a scepter and crown, if not vestigial arm and armor?
Whatever the origins, by the time the first firearms were developed, the tradition of decorating arms had long been established. The earliest matchlocks were mostly more or less issue military tools, and hence not often decorated. However as wheellocks and then flintlocks evolved some of the best artistic efforts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were applied to them. A strong firearms engraving tradition grew in Europe, with German, French and British styles evolving. The French engraved arms of the Louis XIII and XIV era are still justly famous as masterpieces.
Before the industrial revolution and efficient mass production utilizing interchangeable parts, each gun was hand made individually. During this flintlock and early percussion era, the vast majority of firearms included some sort of decoration. Usually this took the form of engraving designs, patterns, or images directly on the metal of the lock, barrel and hardware, along with carving and possibly inlaying the wood of the stock. Only military issue weapons of the era tended to lack this type of embellishment, and even these can often be found with an individuals initials carved into the stock or scratched into the metal, probably during the long nights encamped.
In America of the 1800′s the production of firearms represented the cutting edge of evolving technology and art. As Eli Whitney introduced mass production techniques, Whitney firearms were among the first products so made.
When Samuel Colt introduced the first perfected repeating firearms, his percussion revolvers, he also continued the tradition of decorated arms by rolling various scenes onto the cylinders, including a dragoon battle, a naval engagement, and a stagecoach holdup son various models. In addition to these standard mass produced scenes, Colt also offered individually engraved pieces, either custom ordered or made by Colt for presentation to prominent individuals to promote the firm’s wares.
Golden age – The second half of the 19th century, from just before the Civil War to the turn of the century, is considered the “Golden Age” of firearms engraving. During this period, nearly all the major gun manufacturers offered fancy engraved firearms for their well-heeled or more discerning customers, with Colt, Winchester, and Smith & Wesson particularly utilizing the services of the great master engravers of the era.
This is when the distinctly American style of engraving came into it’s own. It evolved from the Germanic vine scroll style brought to this country by the great masters of the era — Louis D. Nimschke, Gustave Young (Jung), and Conrad Ulrich. The style incorporated larger, more flowing scrollwork, and came to be most associated with Nimschke. Today, it is often called “Nimschke style” or “New York style” engraving. The next generation of great engravers included the sons of Young, the sons and grandsons of Ulrich, and Cuno Helfricht, along with many other master engravers.
Some of the driving forces behind this artistic explosion were the practice of giving “presentation” arms, and the great national and international expositions of the era. During and after the Civil War, it was customary to express appreciation to civic or military leaders, or to a valued business associate or loved family member, by giving a specially prepared firearm. While this often involved a simple inscription of the recipient’s and possibly giver’s names, it sometimes included extensive decoration. The great expositions were “fairs” where various manufacturers would display their wares, and the arms makers vied with each other to produce the most strikingly eye-catching artworks.
Recent history – Firearms engraving declined during the first half of the 20th century, although it was kept alive by such great engravers as R.J. Kornbrath. However, the years following WWII saw a resurgence of the interest in engraving — both contemporary work and collectible classic firearms art.
In the 1960′s and 70′s, there was a trend of mass-produced decorated firearms, probably most notably the many “commemoratives” marketed by Colt and Winchester. Rather than individual hand-crafted pieces, thousands of identically decorated guns would be sold commemorating an individual, event, or even a general “concept”, such as “Antlered Game”. During this period, various organizations such as Ducks Unlimited or various law enforcement agencies would also commission special limited runs of mass produced decorated firearms.
The 80′s and 90′s has seen a resurgence of truly exceptional engraving work. The custom departments at Smith & Wesson and Colt, along with several gifted engravers in America and Europe are currently producing pieces that rival and possibly surpass the “Golden Age” masterpieces.
Engraved Firearms Today – Given this rich history, and the undeniable timeless appeal of decorated arms, how does one establish a value for an engraved gun? Let’s take a look at some of the choices.
Commemoratives — These tend to be valued for their scarcity as collectibles or for their general eye appeal. If individual hand engraved guns are considered and evaluated as unique works of art, these mass produced pieces are perhaps more similar to limited edition prints of artwork or other items intentionally made to be collectibles, such as limited edition Christmas ornaments. The various price guides such as Blue Book of Gun Values or Standard Catalog of Firearms provide a good indication of the retail price of these arms. Generally, the fewer produced, the older the commemorative, and the more attractive the decoration, the greater the value.
To command close to full “book” value, a commemorative type arm must be in “new in the box” condition — definitely unfired and preferably without the action having ever been worked. (Due to manufacturing tolerances, such actions as rotating the cylinder of a revolver or working the lever of a rifle can create minute scratches in the finish that will reduce the desirability of a collectible commemorative). Once a commemorative has been fired, it’s value begins to rapidly decline towards that of a standard non-decorated example of the same model. A commemorative that shows extensive wear will often actually bring less than a plain model with similar wear.
Although the interest in this commemoratives declined in the 1970′s and 1980′s, probably due to over-production, the market shows some signs of renewed interest.
Inscribed pieces — A gun which has no decoration other than an individual’s name or other inscription may bring more or less than a similar gun without any special marking. There are two factors that will determine the value — historical significance and authenticity.
Of these, authenticity of the inscription will make or break the piece. Unfortunately, out and out fraudulent inscribed guns are not that uncommon. Often, the documentation accompanying the piece and providing some “provenance” of the authenticity of the inscription will be a deciding factor.
Once determined to be authentic, the premium that an inscribed piece brings will be determined by it’s historical significance. As can be imagined a modern gun that just has “someone else’s name” on it will generally be less desirable for a shooter than a plain one, and may be worth less because of the inscription. On the other hand, authentic inscribed guns which can be proven to have been owned by a famous individual can bring astronomical prices for the history they embody.
Any authentic inscription over 100 years old will generally add some interest and value to a gun.
Modern engraved guns — Engraved firearms have to be evaluated as individual works of art. Some of the factors that must be considered include skill of workmanship, extent of coverage, artistic appeal, and uniqueness. Factory engraving will bring a premium over engraving of unknown origin. Sparse coverage brings less than full coverage.
For example, S&W offers three standard levels of engraving – “C” is 1/3 coverage, with recent pricing ranging in the $800 to $1250 range, depending on the size of the gun (this is the engraving charge, which does not include the base price of the gun). “B” engraving is 2/3 coverage and runs in the $1300 to $1500 range, while full coverage “A” engraving runs around $1,400 to $1,900.
Colt’s custom engraving runs the other way – “A” engraving is the least coverage, running up to “D” grade full coverage. Colt also offers varying qualities of engraving – Standard, Expert, and Master. According to Blue Book of Gun Values, recent pricing for top of the line “Master” grade engraving, signed by the master engraver, on a Colt Single Action Army was $1,163 for A; $2,324 for B; $3,487 for C; and $4,647 for D.
These values are for standard scrollwork patterns. Special jobs requiring artistic talent in the development of a unique design can run considerably more.
A major determining factor on non-factory engraved guns is the reputation and skill of the engraver. As with other artists, the acknowledged masters of the form will bring substantial premiums over unknown engravers. When dealing with an unknown engraver, the quality of the work will determine value. Finest engraving is always done with hand tools — chisel and hammer. Crudely done engraving can actually lessen the value of a firearm.
Antique engraving – Older engraving is valued in a similar way to modern engraving — the artistic quality, extent of coverage, and the reputation of the engraver are of most importance. However, most 19th century engraving was not signed by the engraver, and attribution to a particular hand is much more art than science, and that art mastered by only a few.
Fortunately, factory records for firms such as Winchester, Colt, and S&W are intact and originality of engraving on a particular serial numbered gun can often be determined by a search of the records. On the other hand, much 19th century engraving was ordered by the distributors, such as giant M.W. Robinson, rather than the manufacturers. Sometimes, a factory notation that a gun was shipped to a distributor “soft” or “in the white” indicates that the gun was intended to be engraved. Some of the finest engraved guns were commissioned by distributors or even individual owners. When considering paying a premium for old engraving, it’s a good idea to get an expert opinion on the authenticity and quality.
Ultimately, it comes down to individual taste. Most shooters and firearms enthusists find that sooner or later they get the hankering for a “fancy” gun. Even individuals who may not be interested in guns can appreciate the artistry of a beautifully engraved guns.
More information — The recently published book Steel Canvas by R. L. Wilson features an outstanding and interesting discussion of arms engraving along with beautiful photographs of some of the finest firearms ever made. Earlier works by the same author include Winchester Engraving, Colt Engraving, and Nimschke’s pattern book published as L.D. Nimschke, Firearms Engraver. Firearms Engraving as Decorative Art by Frederic Harris provides an interesting discussion of the origins of engraving motif’s in oriental art along with a theory of identifying individual engravers by a detailed study of their cutting style.
We all know that firearms require maintenance and cleaning, but how often should you clean your firearms? Some insist that firearms should be cleaned every time they are fired as well as every few months whether they’ve been used or not. Others insist that it is fine to leave your rifle or pistol uncleaned even after multiple trips to the range. Who’s right? The answer is that it depends on the type of firearm, what it is primarily used for, and what ammunition and elements it has been exposed to.
There are some times when you should clean your gun every time immediately after use. If you are shooting corrosive ammunition, or if the firearm is exposed to water, moisture, or other damaging elements you should always clean your gun as soon as possible. Corrosive ammunition, water, salts, dust and dirt can all lead to rust, corrosion, excess wear and tear and eventually the early failure of the rifle or pistol.
For example, last week I went out hunting with my trusty Remington 700 in 30-06. It’s not a fancy rifle with a synthetic stock and factory blued barrel topped with a Nikon ProStaff 4-12x40mm scope. The weather was cold and damp, and I didn’t see any of the wild hogs I was hunting for, but it was rainy and drizzling lightly off and on so, even though I didn’t fire a shot, I still cleaned my rifle when I got home. Why? Moisture in the barrel could lead to pitting and premature barrel wear. I also made sure to run a lightly oiled cloth between the barrel and the stock bed to clear out any trapped moisture or dirt and oil the barrel in that ares as well.
“But,” you say “I’ve got a stainless steel barrel and receiver. I don’t need to worry about moisture.” To a certain extent, that is true. Stainless steel components do help slow down corrosion and the effects of the elements that cause it, but such parts are more susceptible to excess wear from dirt, dust, and fouling. Stainless steel is softer than other steel used in firearms and as such can experience faster wear.
If you’ve got a gun that is only used for plinking, target clays, or punching holes in paper, it’s probably OK to let a few months and 3-4 trips to the range lapse before doing an in depth cleaning. You should still be aware that semi-automatics and rimfire firearms may begin to show performance and reliability issues with excessive fouling. My Walther G22, my favorite semiautomatic plinker, tends to run fine for about 500 rounds before it begins to have problems cycling dirty .22 rimfire ammunition. Because of this, I like to keep a bore snake, some CLP and a brush in my range bag to give the action a quick once-over should it start to hiccup. Even so, it sometimes makes it through a couple of bricks of Federal .22 LR before it sees a good scrubbing.
On the other hand, if you’re shooting a match gun or a firearm that is relied upon for personal defense, you should always keep it clean, oiled, and ready to go. As mentioned above, fouling, dirt and dust can cause reliability issues in semiautomatic firearms. Any primary defensive firearm should, in this writer’s opinion, be kept clean and well oiled at all times. Revolvers are not immune to fouling either: carbon build up on the cylinder can make a double action trigger nearly impossible to pull as the cylinder gap becomes clogged. For match guns, most semiautomatics run more accurate and more reliably when clean. Bolt action rifles on the other hand often require a fouling shot for the best consistency out of a cold bore. For this reason, it is sometimes easier to clean these rifles at the range where you can then fire a fouling shot (from non-corrosive ammunition) so that the bore is ready to go. Some ranges won’t allow you to clean a gun at the range, and that’s fine, you can clean it at home and store it without a fouling shot, just remember that your bore will need a fouling shot to prep the bore prior to competition.
Depending on how often they are used, all firearms should periodically undergo a professional detailed cleaning where the firearm is torn down and thoroughly cleaned, oiled and reassembled. How often this is necessary depends on the number of rounds fired through the gun and the role it typically is used for, but I like to detail strip and clean all of my firearms at least once a year regardless of whether or not they ever made it out of the gun safe at all. On firearms that are just being stored in a safe ambient moisture in the air, humidity, can cause some small rust spots to show up. Dessicants such as Hyskore drying silica gel will help reduce the humidity in your safe and cut down on rust caused by this moisture in the air. An annual cleaning not only makes sure that all of your guns are clean and stored properly, but also gives you the chance to inspect each firearm for problems that you may not normally notice. While you’ve got the gun broken down, look for cracks, rust and corrosion, erosion, or other signs that a part may need replacing. More than once while detail stripping my firearms I’ve found pins, springs, and other small parts that were wearing and could soon fail. By replacing them early an unexpected failure was prevented.
Always make sure to wear the proper safety gear when cleaning your firearms, and always clean in a well lit and well ventilated area. Some chemicals and solvents are dangerous and have fumes that can be unsafe to breathe. Proper eye-protection, gloves and a respirator are always recommended when working with gun cleaning chemicals.