Refinishing and Restoring an Old Rifle

Second hand firearms can be a great platform as a project for restoration that can be both inexpensive and fun. However, many older or well used firearms can show use, neglect, or age that would need to be repaired. With great attention to detail and knowledge of the inspection of old firearms they can be a great candidate as a shooter.

One must take care to not “bubba” a firearm. “Bubba” can describe someone who tries to “improve” firearms, often historical, and would think they are increasing the value or usability of the firearm but somehow ends up ruining the functionality, collectability, or historical significance of an otherwise perfectly good firearm. Many surplus and historical firearms have fallen victim to Bubba, and while they could be inexpensive candidates to restore to original military or factory condition they could also be unsalvageable projects if carelessness is involved by whomever currently is or in the past was attempting to improve it.

Bubbafied Mosin Nagant. Cut stock, cut bolt, cut barrel, and questionable optics mount. A ruined firearm. Probably unsalvageable.

When restoring firearms, it’s generally best to use period-correct techniques and procedures if a much older firearm is to be used as a shooter. When accounting for historical surplus firearms, it’s best to leave in original condition if not sporterized or to have it be restored to original military configuration and to replicate refurbishing as close to original arsenal refinishing if possible. On a factory original sporting rifle, one shouldn’t mess with the factory checkering on the stock, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to refinish the stock to original factory specifications to preserve the stock for use in the future, instead of subjecting it to warping, cracking, and other premature wear.

For example, it doesn’t make sense to bubba a perfectly fine Mosin Nagant, and one shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken in the first place. However, a Sweaty Ben $100 special wouldn’t be a bad candidate for restoration to simply keep the rifle from rusting or disintegrating away or to have the overall condition be improved to be a decent shooter.

Severe overall damage, stock cracking, and pitting of the action make it a prime candidate for restoration

This Remington 510 Targetmaster Single Shot 22 caliber rifle was acquired very inexpensively and would be a good candidate for repair and restoration. However, it is in very rough, albeit functional condition. The action and barrel show very light surface rust above the stock. The bluing is worn into the bare metal externally and would easily be affected by corrosion if not oiled frequently. The stock, while crack free, shows severe wear on the finish with the polyurethane finish bubbling up and appearing to be melting in an ugly manner. The buttplate is damaged and needs replacement.


An old Remington 510 Targetmaster 22 caliber Rifle

The materials used to restore the stock of the rifle were; various grits of sandpaper from 100 grit to 3200  grit, steel wool, a sanding block, a clean lint-free cloth, a file, and boiled linseed oil. A 22 caliber cleaning kit with CLP and Hoppes No. 9 Solvent is used to clean the firearm. A Birchwood Casey liquid gun blue cold blue kit was also used, as well as Brownell’s Oxpho-Blue cold blue liquid. Rubber gloves, eye protection, and a well-ventilated area was used to safely do work on the rifle.

The materials used to refinish the rifle stock


The rifle was field stripped by having the stock removed from the action. From there all hardware was removed from the stock. The inside of the stock, where the action and barrel sit inside was left untouched. As that portion of the stock’s finish was still in good condition and messing with that certain area would cause problems with the fitment of the stock to the action.

The Old and Damaged Finish of the Stock, with Wear Clearly Visible

100 grit sandpaper was used to remove all of the old finish by hand. For hard to reach areas like the bolt channel, sandpaper wrapped around a wooden dowel was used. Once all of the old finish was removed 220 grit sandpaper, then 280 grit sandpaper, then 320 grit sandpaper was used. After that steel wool was used to polish the bare wood stock. From there a dry, lint-free cloth was used to clean the sawdust from the stock before a finish was added.

The Old Finish Sanded Down to the Bare Wood

Boiled linseed oil is used to restore and finish this stock, as it is often used for many firearms built in this time period. For this rifle staining would be unnecessary, and the boiled linseed oil can bring out the natural luster of the wood in a simple, yet elegant manner. A small amount of oil is applied and hand-rubbed with several thin and uniform layers into the stock, allowing oil to soak into the wood and dry before more layers are added.

Boiled Linseed Oil Shows a Simple and Easy to Maintain, yet Elegant Finish that Brings out the Qualities of the Wood

Boiled linseed oil has a spontaneous combustion hazard. Don’t leave oiled soaked rags in the open as they might ignite and combust. Dispose of them by placing them in a sealed metal container.

The rifle was then detail stripped with the small components and screws stored in a neat and organized manner. The action was then cleaned thoroughly with Hoppes 9 Solvent. The rifle then is refinished using cold-bluing methods.

Cold bluing isn’t as elegant or durable as hot bluing, nor is it true to factory specification. It is an inexpensive substitute that is functionally and aesthetically better than leaving the firearm as is. It is a more-period correct finish than modern finishes, such as duracoat or cerakote. For an older firearm, duracoat or cerakote would look more bubba, and that is something to be avoided when restoring this rifle.

After the action and barrel has been degreased and cleaned with the Birchwood Casey Cleaner and Degreaser (or common dish soap), it was then rinsed with water. Then Birchwood Casey Blue and Rust Remover were used and applied with cotton balls. Afterwards the finish was cleaned and degreased again and the action and barrel were rinsed.

Brownells Oxpho-Blue was then applied evenly and let sit for a couple minutes. Afterwards a cotton rag soaked in warm water was used to clean off excess cold blue liquid, from there a thin coat of CLP (gun oil) was rubbed into the surface of the action and barrel. From a short distance it did look much better than it was before, yet when it was seen up close there were streaks and bits of inconsistencies present. For a more professional finish hot bluing is preferred, however overall it is an improvement to the condition of the rifle.

Rifle Mostly Reassembled Sans Buttplate

For finishing touches red enamel paint is used to mark the safety and the bolt as if it was before it wore off. A reproduction Remington buttplate was then used to replace the previously broken one. This replicates the original factory configuration and condition.

Remington 510 Buttpads

The reproduction buttplate however wasn’t a perfect fit. When it was installed as-is there was roughly a 1/8 inch of overhang that appeared over the lower part of the stock. This overhang was then measured, outlined, and filed down. Then smoothed out with 600, 1200, and 3200 grit sandpaper. This gave the buttpad a clean look when it was reinstalled to the rifle.

Rifle Fully Reassembled and Ready for Test Fire

The rifle was then test fired. This manually cycled rifle could also accept 22 short, 22 long, and 22 long rifle. Aguila 22 Colibri rounds were used to test fire.

Even with Low-Powered Aguila Colibri Rounds the Rifle is a Decent Shooter

Old and worn firearms can be used to practice skills as an armorer or gunsmith to turn a worn-out firearm into a decent shooter and could bring new life into a damaged or worn out firearm.


Contributor with experience as a handgun instructor and US Army armorer. Fueled by meme magic.

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2 Responses

  1. Rakesh says:

    Hi, I really enjoy your rifle discussions, I learn something new every time! 😃 Keep posting like this. Thanks again, have a beautiful day.

  2. Glen says:

    When re-bluing do you also apply that to the other hardware, like trigger guard, sights, etc.?

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