DIY: How to Resurrect Old Guns

Uberti Stallion .22 LR revolver with replacement part pack

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.

Lucas Oil CLP, Metal Polish, COntact Cleaner, Bore Solvent, Gun oil, and Gun Grease
The author uses Lucas Oil Products for all his gun cleaning needs.

Getting Started

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.

Stock refinishing and bluing products from Birchwood Casey
The author found that Birchwood Casey’s products for cold re-bluing and stock refinishing were easy to use, readily available, and inexpensive.


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.

Bottle of Liquid Lanolin emollient oil
Lanolin does a good job of removing rust.

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.

J.C. Higgins Model 31 receiver with the disconnector removed for replacement
This action from a J.C. Higgins Model 31 (made by High Standard) required replacing the disconnector because of a broken spring (new part on the bottom).

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.

Refinished wood stock for a Remington 514 .22 LR rifle
The author totally refinished the stocks on his Marlin 80 and Remington 514.

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.

Other Projects

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.

Remington 514 .22 LR rifle with the bolt, ejector pin and ejector spring removed
The Remington 514, a $4 purchase, requires an ejector and ejector pin spring replacement in addition to refinishing the stock and re-bluing the barrel and action.

Final Thoughts

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.

Have you ever resurrected any old guns? Which products did you use? Any tricks? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Uberti Stallion .22 LR revolver with replacement part pack
  • Refinished wood stock for a Remington 514 .22 LR rifle
  • Winchester Model 67A .22 LR after the metal parts were reblued and the stock refinished
  • Receiver and trigger assembly for a Marlin 80 .22 LR rifle
  • J.C. Higgins Model 31 receiver with the disconnector removed for replacement
  • Bolt and extractor for a Marlin 80 .22 LR rifle
  • Bottle of Liquid Lanolin emollient oil
  • Stock refinishing and bluing products from Birchwood Casey
  • Lucas Oil CLP, Metal Polish, COntact Cleaner, Bore Solvent, Gun oil, and Gun Grease
  • Remington 514 .22 LR rifle with the bolt, ejector pin and ejector spring removed

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (14)

  1. I have just recently completely refinished a stock on a Parker Hale 1200 varmint 243. I bought it in an online auction and it was damaged in shipping. I had to repair the stock before refinishing it. I soaked it in mineral spirits then completely stripped it. I let it dry out before I epoxied the broken piece and the cracks back together. I used the Birchwood Casey kit but ended up wanting a high gloss finish. I sanded it again and used minwood wipe on polyurethane to finish it. It is now a work of art. by doing this I have figured I can buy old beat up guns and make them new again. It’s always funny when articles come out about the things you are currently doing.

  2. Hi David, thanks for sharing the fact that Failure To Eject, can simply be the result of a dirty chamber. I learned this a few years ago, and highly recommend using CHAMBER BRUSHES which are sized like bore brushes, but slightly larger, and many times are in Stainless Steel, for easy recognition. For the smaller part of necked rifle cartridge chambers, I recommend stepping up a bore size or two in respective calibre, like say a .270 or .280 brush for cleaning the small chamber area of an AR in 5.56, where the popular star/chamber brush totally neglects this part of the chamber. Also on an old Colt New Frontier, with a buggered up screw head for the trigger, it was nice to find a brand new, old stock, screw on ebay. I am thinking this would not count as a “restored” but rather repaired old classic.

  3. To clean old military rifle stocks, Easy Off oven cleaner works really well on getting the old oil and crud out. Disassemble the rifle, remove ALL metal parts from the wood (it will turn Parkerized metal orange and tears up blueing or blacking), spray on, let sit a few minutes then rinse off with water. Let the wood dry and start refinishing. Also, wear gloves when using Easy Off, it’s hard on skin.

  4. If you want to refinish the stock on old military rifles, Easy-Off oven cleaner works really well getting the old oil & crud off. You disassemble the rifle, then remove ALL metal parts from the wood (it will turn Parkerized metal orange and it tears up blued or blacked finishes), spray it on, let sit for a few minutes then rinse off with water. Let the wood dry then sand & refinish.

  5. Nice article, David. I’ve got my brother’s Stevens Favorite chambered in .22lr mfgd. around early-ish to mid 1894. At some point for whatever unknown reason someone silver soldered a piece of copper tubing to the underside of the top tang. Of course this prevented the long flat hammer spring from bowing up when trying to drop the lever or cocking the hammer, of course the hammer spring had been broken because of this. I have no idea why this was done. Removed it, replaced the hammer spring with a repop one. That was one problem solved. Next was when shooting, the back of the case next to the rim would blow out and it was almost impossible to extract the cartridge. The chamber and extracter were EXTREMLEY worn. Black powder of the day and what seemed to be absolutely ZERO cleaning over the years really did a number on it. Don’t laugh at this but it worked, I took a 3/8″ bit, drilled the chamber, then took 2 steel casings of a .223 Rem. Cut necks off and used them. Epoxied them into the chamber one on top of the other essentially making a sleeved chamber, then rewelded, shaped, and rehardend the extractor. Now it loads, fires, and extracts like it should. It’s a numbers matching piece (barrel and receiver). It has what is not really a rust finish but more of a patina. Decided to use #0000 steel wool and Rem oil on it and leave it be. The wood is dented but decided to leave it be as well, the finish itself is still in surprisingly decent shape. Although this rifle could be restored to a better looking condition in tip top A1 condition it’d only be worth about $300 and neither I nor my brother ever plan on selling it so it’s really a moot point. The way it is gives it more character. But it was interesting working on it and brining it back to operational status.

  6. Removing pins on a Meriden model 06 boys rifle proved to be a challenge. Until I read somewhere online that freezing the receiver and thawing it before taping the pins with punches will provide the necessary clearance from contracting and expanding for pins that has been in place for 110 years to slide out easier. It took three good thawing and freezing cycles but it worked beautifully.

  7. Very insightful and interesting article. Im having trouble finding parts for a vintage S&aw .38 revolver, specifically cylinder assembly, ejector and rod. Mfg 1947 ish, N frame. Would appreciate any recommendations for source for parts.
    Thank You in advance.

  8. If you have a gun that is covered with rust, possibly heavy rust, I use Evaporust available from Harbor Freight and O’Reilly Auto Parts. I have restored several rusty guns and parts that looked like junk. One of the first was a percussion double rifle shotgun barrel dug up in the BadLands of South Dakota. It miraculously was not heavily pitted and came out in fireable condition. Just last week I picked up an Iversen Johnson M 1900 .22 nickeled revolver covered with rust blotches. It looked rough so I got it for pocket change. Over night in Evaporust and it looks quite good. The missing nickel hardly shows. You will need a plastic container to immerse your parts in. PVC pipe with a cap works for barrels and for a barrel with just a rusty bore plug the chamber end with molding clay. Note that Evaporust also removes all blue so use it accordingly.

  9. I used Howard Feed-n-Wax on old stocks. Apply and let it sit overnight and wipe off next morning. It will penetrate into the wood and leaves a nice finish.

  10. I recently did a Remington model 24.I did a hot blue on a hot plate and pan and diy steamer in my garage. It turned out amazing. I need to find another project.

  11. If you enjoy tinkering, old guns are fun tinkering with. What I find interesting, is how people solved mechanical problems. Also, how primitive guns function just efficiently as new ones. No one machine is perfect. some are better than others with their design. Anything that functions well is fun to use.

  12. A good penetrating oil like Kroil is invaluable for separating parts that have seized together from rust.

    Invest in several sets of good punches, too. Not just flat ones. Cupped and nubbed ones for roll pins. Concave ones for pins with rounded ends. And ones made of non-marring materials where appropriate. Using the right punch for the job makes disassembly/reassembly faster and easier and minimizes the risk of damage to parts.

    Get a good variety of screwdrivers for the same reason, to match the driver to the screwhead and prevent gouging.

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