I am able to repair or conserve most muzzle loading firearms. For valuable antiques, I will confine my efforts to conservation; only repairing enough to ensure the preservation of the firearm. How much is returned to near original condition will be determined by a discussion between myself and the owner. As a general rule, I will do as little as possible to ensure the firearms will continue to be treasured. Full photographic and written documentation will be provided for all conservation work. Also, as much as is possible, I will use reversible techniques, and techniques that might have been employed during the active life of the gun.
All repair and conservation work is done on a time and materials basis. I will provide an estimate for all work; but in the case of work on old guns, the estimate is just that, an estimate. A part replacement or other repair work on a contemporary firearm is probably going to be straight forward and the estimate will most likely be the final cost. However, as you start working on old guns, as with any old item, you can run into one unexpected problem after another. Also, the repair and replacement of damaged old parts is not necessarily a straight forward process. Consequently, I can keep you informed of the issues as they arise, but it is impossible to give you a guaranteed price on restoration or conservation work. It is one of those things that takes what it takes. I charge $15/hr for all repair and restoration work; there is a minimum one hour charge, and a $100 materials charge to cover miscellaneous raw materials and supplies. I only apply the materials charge when a significant amount of raw materials and supplies are used.
I want to point out that the contract for repair and conservation work will require you, the client, to assume all liability for loss (fire, theft, wind, water, etc…) while the gun is in my custody. I will do the utmost to protect and secure your firearm, but the cost of insurance on my end, such that it is available, is prohibitive. You might find that the cost of insurance on your end is more affordable. However, you need to make sure the insurance covers the gun while it is out of your custody.
English Naval Blunderbuss Conservation
Below are some photos from a pretty straight forward conservation of a plain, and rather common, English naval blunderbuss with a split and broken forearm. A split forearm is pretty common and is generally stabilized by gluing in a linen strip with hide glue. This is a traditional repair method and can be seen in very old repairs.
The linen strip is necessary in a case like this because the splits and breakage were caused by shrinkage. As such, all the parts cannot be glued back together and accommodate the barrel and mountings. Some gaps must remain. The problem was made worse in this case by the barrel being inlet too tightly in one spot.
Actually, it really wasn’t inlet properly at all; but this was a mass produced gun intended for use aboard ship. It probably wasn’t intended to last as long as it did. My job was to make it worth someone holding on to the gun a while longer. That is the goal of conservation. Otherwise, this gun would have probably just been parted out.
You can see where someone tried to just fill the cracks with white glue. I have done that before….when I was a kid. I know better now. More glue is rarely better, and it generally doesn’t have much strength by itself. Glue joints must be tight to be effective. If that can’t be accomplished, then you have to reinforce the joint in some other way such as a linen strip or a metal pin or screw.
The occasional exception to this rule is epoxy. Epoxy can fill a small gap and retain some strength. For me, epoxy is a last resort in conservation or restoration efforts.
In this case, all the repair work was done with hide glue and a linen strip. It will all come apart with hot water or vinegar. I actually use a vinegar based gel product called De-Glue Goo® to remove water based glues. It will even dissolve Titebond® III which is supposed to be waterproof. Actually, I guess it is, just not vinegar proof.
You have to take everything apart and clean off all the old glue before you can put it back together better with new glue.
Gonter Rifle Project
Below are some before and after photos of a 19th century Lancaster, PA rifle (attributed to Gonter) that I was asked to conserve. It had a number of previous repairs of poor quality, some that had failed, that I was asked to repair again. Early repairs to the toe and butt stock had come loose due to the hide glue crystallizing. There were screw holes and damage to the lock mortice just filled with wax. The trigger guard and rear thimble had been repaired with lead solder and needed to be repaired with silver solder. Worst of all, numerous cracks in the forearm and the break through the lock mortice had been poorly repaired with copious amounts of cyanoacrylate (CA) (Super) glue.
This rifle had been originally flint; then converted to percussion; and then very badly reconverted to flint. The flint lock in the gun was not original to the gun and was a very poor fit. As the owner had limited funds, I didn’t attempt to address the poor flint conversion other than file the bolster down to better fit the lock in the mortice. I just did what I needed to do to fix the previous repairs and ensure, as best I could, that the gun would hold together for another generation. The main problem with the gun was that the stock was not well dried before it was inlet; and the stock had dried out over the years, shrinking and self destructing. As best as I could determine. all the breaks were due to shrinkage. None of the breaks lined up correctly. I just had to do the best I could to match everything up.
I had to put a steel rod in the wrist and music wire pins in the lock mortice area in order to hold everything together; even with the T-88 epoxy that I used in those areas. There was extremely little wood to glue back together through the lock mortice. It had been badly stabilized with lots of CA. and it took a lot of tedious work to remove all the CA and then put everything back together properly with epoxy.
Normally, I would use hide glue in an antique conservation/restoration; but in this case, I didn’t think it would work. There was little wood to join, and large gaps to fill due to shrinkage. I felt I must use the strongest epoxy I could find in these places. The epoxy can be removed with acetone without damaging what is left of the original finish. Cracks and split-outs in the forearm were repaired with CA. I also removed some of the old excess CA in this area. In case you were wondering, I used nitro methane (yes, the stuff used in top fuel dragsters) to remove all the offending CA. I also used just about an entire package of Q-tips with acetone and nitro methane taking everything apart. I wasn’t sure I could do it when I first looked at it, but it just took time and patience.
Below are photos of the rifle once it was disassembled and cleaned. I had started some re-assembly such as inserting the rod in the wrist.
Just as something of a side note, this rifle was a fascinating study in mass production of fancy rifles. As you can see, this rifle had all the bells and whistles in that it was carved, engraved, had silver inlays, a fluted nose piece, a pierced patchbox, a fancy recessed patchbox release, and everything was well executed. The thing is that it was marked number XIII (13) on the stock under the side plate and on the bottom of the barrel. It was number 13 of who knows how many rifles were in production in the shop at the time. Everything was so well done (without doing more than was necessary) that there must have been several specialists doing single tasks such as making/finishing mounts and other miscellaneous parts, stocking, carving, and engraving. You just don’t see both carving and engraving of this quality (good but not great) on antique guns being done by one person. It is not uncommon these days, but not on antiques.
Work was reduced by casting the fancy parts and using what must have been stock parts. In addition to the butt piece and trigger guard, parts of the patch box and the nose piece were also cast. The patchbox lid catch/release was highly engineered such that it only needed to be attached with a single screw and used a tapered push rod that fit into the catch. These parts almost certainly were stock parts; they had the look of being mass produced and could have been adapted to many different types of guns.
Here are photos of the finished rifle after I re-assembled it.
Photos Copyright 2015 Mark E. Elliott, All Rights Reserved, and published with the permission of the firearm owner. Please do not duplicate without permission.
Remember that I do firearms photography for others. I usually setup for photography at the shows I attend and you can always bring or send me something to photograph.