Firearm Repair and Conservation


A pair of antique Twigg flintlock pocket pistols
A pair of antique Twigg pocket pistols restored to full operation
I am able to repair or conserve most muzzle loading firearms, and I only work on muzzle loading firearms. Please don’t contact me about anything made after 1898 or that uses commercially available ammunition. I am not licensed to do such work and am not interested in it.

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.

A reproduction Queen Anne screw barrel pistol for which I made a new grip and repaired the sliding trigger guard safety.
A reproduction Queen Anne screw barrel pistol for which I made a new grip and repaired the sliding trigger guard safety.
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 $30/hr for all repair and restoration work and there is a minimum one hour charge with all additional labor charged in 15 minute increments. Where there are significant materials and supplies used, a charge will be added to cover those expenses. There is, of course, the cost of parts to be added to the charges. I generally charge my cost for the parts which includes any shipping or tax that applies. If I am making parts, then VA Sales tax will be collected on the labor and materials.

Lastly, keep in mind that I live in the Richmond, VA area and shipping to and from will apply to all repair and conservation work. This should include a proper shipping container. I use wood shipping crates for rifles that weigh 28lbs by themselves. The cost of shipping can be significant. Just keep that in mind.

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.

To discuss a project and get a quote use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. I will follow up with a phone call. See FAQ for more information.

Lock Work

I like to do lock work the old fashioned way by forging and filing parts. There isn’t much opportunity for people to pay me to do this work, but occasionally, it is the only way to get a replacement part. Shown here is a replacement tumbler I made for an antique percussion lock. The original tumbler had cracked behind the pin point for the stirrup. I forged the replacement tumbler from wrought iron using the die shown. I then turned the axles on a lathe, and filed the rest of the tumbler to shape. In the 18th or 19th century, a tumbler mill would have been used to true up the tumbler disc with the axles. A proper 18th century tumbler mill is still on my To Do list. I did polish and case harden the tumbler before letting the lock out of the shop. I also had to make a new main spring as the original was missing. The replacement shown here was forged and filed.

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.

A conserved bluderbuss before conservation.
A conserved bluderbuss before conservation.

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.

A conserved bluderbuss before conservation.

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.





Gonter long rifle conservation in progress

Gonter long rifle conservation in progress

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.









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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.

2 thoughts on “Firearm Repair and Conservation”

  1. I have two rifles that I have an interest in repairing. One more than the other. The first is a muzzle loading long rifle with everything gone. The barrel and stock are there, but none of the working parts. Is it worth working on?

    2. My little 22 rifle. it is a, I think they call it, a rolling block. You pull one hammer back, then the other, load one 22 shell, then close the first hammer and then you can shoot. The gun is all there, I think. The stock is cracked and wobbly. The springs all seem to be gone on the hammer. My nephews got hold of it while my Dad was still alive and almost ruined it. It was the one I used growing up (almost 70 years ago) and I would love to see it restored, but do not have that large an income being retired. Are you still working on guns and could I send photos for a possible quote?

    704-864-0798 Gene Ratchford Gastonia, NC

  2. Gene,

    Thanks for your inquiry. I am still working on guns, muzzle loaders, that is. You have to have a federal license to work on anything that shoots commercially available ammo, and I don’t have one. That means that i can’t touch the 22, but I know somebody who might be able and want to work on it.

    As to whether the muzzle loader is worth repairing, i don’t know. I would have to, at the very least, see some pictures so that I can get a feel for what it is worth and how much it would cost to fix it. I charge $30/hr. plus parts, plus a $100 shop charge to cover misc. supplies, for repair and restoration work. It is hard to imagine any restoration work coming in under $2000, but I really don’t know until I have the gun in hand and have had some time to study it. Keep in mind that I can’t really make a new gun for less than $5000 and a restoration is harder. However, you rarely need to build a whole new gun with a restoration.

    At the very least, send me some pictures, so that I have a better idea what you have. It might take less than we think to conserve it. A conservation is doing just what is necessary to make sure the gun survives.

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