Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Restoring an 1887 Scott Shotgun Stock

Having successfully browned the Damascus barrels of this 1887 Scott hammer gun (see my previous post), it's now time to restore its stock.  To say this, however, is immediately to raise the question of what "restore" means.  These days, it is often understood to mean "make like new again."  In the antique furniture trade in the 1920's and '30's, all traces of age were removed to make the piece look brand new.  This process was known in the antiques trade as "skinning," and its widespread practice eventually made pieces that still retained their original finish much scarcer and therefore more valuable.  To me, over-restoration is as wrong-headed as a lovely woman in her later years resorting to Botox to replicate her youthful appearance.  As John Donne declared almost three hundred years ago, "Neither Spring nor Summer Beauty hath such grace / As I have seen in one Autumnal face."  The aim of restoration should not be to make an old gun look new again, but to bring back the grace of its autumnal beauty.

This particular hammer gun has decent walnut and some engraving, but it left its Birmingham factory in 1887 as one of the "plain" guns offered by W. & C. Scott and Sun (the Scott 1872 catalog shows a similar model but with the earlier, higher hammers).  In contrast to today, engraving was relatively inexpensive in the 1880's.  It probably never was stored in a trunk case, which would have protected its finish, and it was used hard.  Compared to the interior wood of the fore end that's protected by the barrels, the color of the wood has faded, much as if it had been bleached by the sun.  Its original checkering survives only in a few place, having been replaced by much coarser lines outlined by deep grooves.  The border grooves remain, but the gun has been used so hard that even the second set of checkered lines is worn away.

In these circumstances, what sort of restoration is possible?   I am going to remove what remains of an earlier refinishing.   (How do I know it's not original?  No original finish would show brush marks!)  I'll do as little as possible to make it look well cared for:  gently remove the sloppy finish with stripper and steel wool (which, unlike sandpaper, doesn't destroy the patina), apply some coats of alkanet oil, then a sealer coat of spar varnish, and follow that with some coats of TruOil.  Finally, I'll dull the finish slightly and top coat with alkanet oil, slowly replicating a London (or, for this gun, a Birmingham) oil finish.

What to do about restoring the checkering is a problem.  Removing the second checkering's grooved borders would remove far too much wood in the wrist--and that is already perilously slim.  It is thus impractical to attempt to get back to its original look.  Is some checkering better than none, even if it is from a later, crude refurbishing?  Or is it better to leave the wood alone and have its "checkered history" (forgive me) evident?  Food for thought.

Ideally, I first would separate metal action and trigger guard and plate from the wooden stock before working on the wood, but someone earlier buggered up the action screw so badly that I can't budge it and don't want to take the risk of making things worse.  I'm just going to have to be very, very careful finishing the wood around the fences.

Here's a shot of the butt and the horn-tipped fore end after stripping off the old finish:

I managed to raise one dent and lessen the depth of another by applying a steam iron to a damp rag held against the wood.

It then was time to rub in alkanet oil.  Three coats later, with several days between each coat, the wood has regained some color and its figure is more pronounced:

Next came a coat of spar varnish, rubbed down with 0000 steel wool.  The satin spar varnish was followed by sanding in TruOil:  I applied two coats of TruOil and then a third sanded in with 400 grit paper moistened with more TruOil.  After the sanded-in coat dried, I rubbed that down with 0000 steel wool, burned off the steel wool particles over a gas range, and then applied two more coats of TruOil, sanding in the third.  I did this a total of three times.  I then applied a coat of TruOil and rubbed it down with auto rubbing compound.  Another coat of alkanet oil followed, again rubbed down with the auto rubbing compound.

The old saying about applying an oil finish goes, Rub in linseed oil once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for year, and once a year forever.  The spar varnish and TruOil have accelerated this process, so I'll just rub in alkanet oil once a month for a year.  The stock now has partially but not completely filled pores.  The wood no longer looks ravaged, but relatively well cared for.

This Scott shotgun has had a hard life, but with its barrels browned (and then rubbed back) and with its wood refinished, it looks now as if it has aged with some degree of grace:


1 comment:

  1. good one, this shotgun is really good and its design is made really good.