Anything discussed in this article can be applied to guns of all calibers, but the relatively low cost of .22 rifles and handguns makes them more available for tinkering. I’ve had opportunities to acquire and work with non-firing or just ratty-looking .22s as a result of them being cast aside by people who perceived them as having no worth.
As with so many things among collectors, worth is often in the eye of the beholder. No question, a rusty Colt Single Action Army from around 1873 could be worth thousands of dollars, and its value diminished by trying to restore it. However, a .22 rifle branded for Sears, rusty and non-firing, not so much.
I acquired a couple of low-dollar bolt-action .22 rifles from my Boy Scout camp as a kid. I didn’t shoot them much back then because they were single-shot bolt actions. I had other guns to shoot. It wasn’t until I became immersed in the gun business later in life that I looked at them as opportunities to teach my grandchildren about guns and shooting.
When I dug them out, it was obvious they needed some attention. The stocks were dinged up and the bluing needed work. Although both would fire, neither would eject. One of them was a single shot, only because its magazine had been lost somewhere along the way.
I started by working on the action problems. One of the rifles was a Remington 514, the other a Marlin 80. Parts for these rifles are plentiful and easy to replace — if you know where to look. I found a magazine for the Marlin at Numrich Gun Parts. Although Numrich had numerous other parts listed for the Marlin, many were out of stock. Among those was the extractor.
I found an extractor on eBay. After replacing the extractor, the rifle easily extracted and ejected unfired cartridges, but empties would not extract. The solution for that involved attaching a bronze .22 cleaning brush and rod to my electric drill, saturating it in Lucas Oil Bore Solvent, and running it back and forth through the chamber area.
I followed that up by saturating a cleaning mop with Lucas Oil Gun Metal Polish and running that through the chamber with the drill. Problem solved. Replacing the extractor and extractor spring solved the Remington 514’s problem.
I turned to Birchwood Casey products to restore the appearance of both these firearms. The cold bluing kit is perfect for restoring the finish on old guns like this, and the stock refinishing kit allows you to put a nice, almost factory, appearance on the stock after some preparation to remove dents and scratches. Following a tip that I learned from a gunsmithing course I took a few years back, I removed a few small dents using an electric iron and a wet cloth. Placing the wet cloth over the dent and running the tip of the hot iron over it a few times will generally raise small dents in the wood. Doing this before sanding makes the sanding a lot more successful. It won’t work with scratches. They’ll need to be sanded out, or if deep, filled with putty. Min-Wax makes a Gun Stock Walnut wood filler putty that may match your stock.
I’ve done a decent cold bluing process on numerous old firearms with Birchwood Casey’s cold bluing kit. You start with Rust and Blue Remover, followed by Cleaner/Degreaser. Once you’ve completed these steps, sometimes more than once, it’s time to apply the bluing compound.
You let the chemical work for 30 seconds or so, then rinse in cold water and apply Birchwood Casey Barricade to arrest the process. A friend who works over old guns told me he skips the water and goes right to the Barricade. I tried that on my most recent bluing project and liked how it works.
If your firearm has rust or the bluing is gone, it’s important to follow the directions in the Birchwood Casey kits without taking any shortcuts. I wound up with some nice-looking rifles that work very well.
I added an inexpensive scope to the Marlin because it already had mounting holes to fit a side-mount scope mount. That rifle is very accurate in spite of its age. The Remington 514 is also squirrel-killing-accurate with iron sights.
Following the experience with these two rifles, I was not at all hesitant to take on some additional minor restoration jobs, and it just so happened that several of these have come my way. A friend I knew from work was given a couple of firearms by his neighbor who was cleaning out some of her departed husband’s things. The two guns had been in the back of a closet and were quite rusted.
One was a .22 caliber Marlin 39A. Upon examination, I determined the inner workings of the gun were fine. I doubt the gun had been used much, if at all. But externally there were quite a bit of rust spots marring the finish. I used Lucas Oil CLP and lanolin to clean off the rust and thoroughly oil the gun. A couple of hours of scrubbing and the gun cleaned up nicely.
Another friend brought me a couple of rifles he’d been given by a cousin to see what I could do in the way of cleaning them up. One of the guns turned out to be a Savage Arms Model 29B Slide-Action .22 manufactured in 1962. The other was a Stevens Model 87A .22 LR.
Neither rifle showed wear inside, but both were rusty outside. The same treatment with CLP and lanolin resulted in two rifles so clean my friend now displays them on a gun rack on his wall. The value of either one of these rifles would not exceed $150, but they made nice guns when cleaned up.
More recently, a friend gave me a J.C. Higgins Model 30 semi-automatic .22 LR. He said it didn’t work and he was moving, so he just gave it to me. I wasn’t familiar with the rifle, but with a little online research, I discovered it was a High Standard rifle branded for Sears. The rifle is very clean with no rust and no scratches — almost like it’s never been carried afield.
These rifles apparently sold for around $150 new. As far as not working, I took it apart and gave the action a thorough cleaning, checked the condition of all parts, and found the extractor didn’t match what I saw in a parts diagram I found online. Again, I found this part on eBay. None of the parts I’ve needed for these rifles were expensive, varying in price from around $10 to maybe $30.
Another nice gun I’ve restored is a Winchester bolt action Model 62A that I picked up from the consignment rack at my local gun store at a very reasonable price. The gun worked fine but showed signs of neglect. Using Birchwood Casey products, I turned it into an almost new .22 rifle that will make one of the grandkids happy.
So far, I’ve only mentioned rifles, but one of my most interesting projects concerned a Uberti 1873 Cattleman 10-shot .22 revolver it calls the Stallion. It’s a beautiful gun, but from day one the cylinder wouldn’t rotate whenever it was loaded with cartridges. Not being an expert with single-action revolvers, I first thought it was an issue with the hand that rotates the cylinder, or the bolt which locks it up when it’s in position but moves out of the way in order for the cylinder to rotate between shots.
Taylor’s & Company sells Uberti parts, so I got a complete spring kit and replaced the springs that operate those two components. The problem wasn’t solved. Since the cylinder would rotate part of the way, but not all the way, I figured something had to be rubbing. I did some measuring with a feeler gauge and a micrometer and discovered the cylinder varied in length, instead of being the same length all the way around. A new cylinder almost solved the problem. When a new cylinder pin was added, the problem was totally solved. That was a strange one, but I learned a lot while working on it.
If you make it known among your friends that you’re interested in any old guns they might have around, chances are at least one of them will have a .22 rifle they’re willing to give up. Do a good job of refurbishing one or two, and word will get around that you are handy with firearms. You may have a steady supply of old guns to work on.
If that doesn’t happen, cruise the gun stores and pawn shops in your area looking for anything cheap and beat-up looking. It’s a rewarding way to build a modest gun collection without shelling out a lot of bucks. You don’t need a degree in gunsmithing, just the ability to read a parts diagram and be patient when working with your hands. That patience part is something I’m always working on.