The information below describes, shows, and compares four methods for cleaning guns. Roc Wilson, son of the late Zane Wilson, provided the following highly appreciated input regarding gun cleaning:"At Zanes Gun Rack we've always been guided by either the actual value, or the anticipated value of the item needing cleaning. If it is in nice condition with an "honestly earned" patina, we left it be. The patina adds character to an antique weapon. If on the other hand it was really "doggy" or a beater, and the current market value is low with no anticipated increase of value in the future (not a good brand name, not a rare caliber or gauge, not a military version or model, not owned by a famous or infamous person or department or agency, etc.), then it's okay to perform clean up on. Just be aware that any significant clean up operations done on an antique weapon will lower it's collectability and worth, possibly quite severely in some cases. On the other hand, cleaning up a beater that has no significant appreciation ahead of it in an effort to make it look nicer for display purposes won't hurt it much if any value wise, and may even increase it's value to somebody looking for a good appearance ready to go "wall hanger." The other rule is to use the least invasive cleaning methods possible when spiffing up an old timer, basically just knocking off the loose scale and crud."
A Word Of Caution
When cleaning guns, don't be too surprised of what you may find. While cleaning the barrel of a Flint Miquelet to Percussion Conversion Shotgun, the author discovered that the gun was still loaded. The photograph below shows the wadding and shot removed:
The gunpowder had turned to a hard paste that can be flushed out after soaking in Powder Solvent or WD-40.
The four cleaning methods used by the author follow:
The sections that follow include the following for each cleaning method:
3. Thorough (Partial Refinishing)
4. Total (Total Refinishing)
It is acceptable to perform differing cleaning methods on various parts of the gun. For example, wood versus metal, lock versus barrel, etc.. In any case, the work performed should be adequately and permanently documented for future reference and for future generations and/or archeologists. The Snaphaunce, Flintlock, and Pinfire guns are from Zane Wilson's Collection.
1. Under what conditions the cleaning method should be considered
2. Photo before cleaning
3. Brief description of cleaning procedure
4. Photo after cleaning
A brief description of each cleaning method is given in the sections that follow.
Minimal Cleaning is usually performed when the finish that exists is believed to have been acquired through actual aging, use, cleaning, and preservation.
The photo below shows a North African Snaphaunce Rifle of the 1700's or 1800's before Minimal Cleaning:
A brief description of the cleaning procedure follows:
1. Carefully disassemble components that can be removed without adverse affect to any fastener or component. Be sure to photograph all parts before disassembly for proper assembly. 2. Clean all surfaces with soft cloth dampened with Mineral Spirits. Any lubricants that are believed to be original may remain.
3. Rusted metal is cleaned as described at: Gun Rusted Metal Cleaning.
4. Preserve all metal by wiping surfaces with soft cloth dampened with oil.
5. For Oil Finished wood, preserve by wiping surfaces with soft cloth dampened with 50/50 mixture of original oil type (e.g. Boiled Linseed Oil, Pure Tung Oil, etc.)/Mineral Spirits.
6. Carefully assemble.
The photo below shows the results after Minimal Cleaning:
Normal Cleaning is usually performed when the finish that exists includes residues, including green oxidation on brass, that is a result of relatively recent (approximately 50 percent of current age) neglect. This method is also usually performed when the condition of the item suggests that it may have had care that would have prevented the accumulation of such residues.
The photo below shows a Kentucky Flintlock Rifle of the 1700's or 1800's before Normal Cleaning:
Normal Cleaning procedure consists of the Minimal Cleaning procedure with the following additions:
1. Metal is cleaned with harsher chemicals such as Engine Degreaser, Carburator Cleaner, etc.. 2. Brass metal is cleaned as described at: Gun Brass Metal Cleaning.
The photo below shows the results after Normal Cleaning:
See cleaning reasoning and details at: Gun Patina.
Thorough Cleaning (Partial Refinishing)
Thorough Cleaning is usually performed when the finish that exists is not as the factory original finish and the value of item will not be degraded by partial refinishing.
The photo below shows a Winchester Model 37A Shotgun (1974-1980) with serial number C523878 before Thorough Cleaning:
Thorough Cleaning procedure consists of the Normal Cleaning procedure with the following additions:
1. Blued metal is cleaned and blued over existing blueing as described at: Gun Blued Metal Cleaning.
2. Wood sections are refinished to match the factory finish as described at: Gun Stock Finish Matching.
The photo below shows the results after Thorough Cleaning:
Total Cleaning (Total Refinishing)
Total Cleaning is usually performed when the original finish has been destroyed and any possible markings are completely obliterated by earlier poorly applied finishes and/or severe corrosion.
The photo below shows a French Pinfire Shotgun of 1857 before Total Cleaning:
Total Cleaning procedure consists of the Thorough Cleaning procedure with the following additions:
1. Metal rust and blueing is removed by Rust and Blue Remover or by gently and thoroughly sandblasting and then blueing. 2. Wood is stripped as described at: Gun Stock Stripping and finished as described at: Gun Stock Oil Finishing.
The photo below shows the results after Total Cleaning:
See cleaning reasoning and details at: Gun Patina.