Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cleaning Gunstocks and Wood Furniture

To make a simple, effective, and inexpensive cleaner for wood--furniture, gunstocks, axe handles, what have you--simply pour some boiled linseed oil into a container and add the same amount of turpentine or mineral spirits (I use odorless mineral spirits).  Dip some 0000 (pronounced "4 Ought") steel wool into the mix, squeeze out most of the liquid, and gently rub with the grain of the wood.  Then wipe off with an old cloth.  Twenty-four hours later, wipe dry again.  Simple, right?

This cleaner works because the turpentine or mineral spirits dissolves wax, grease, and residue from fingerprints, as well as those small paint flecks from repainting a room with a roller.  The linseed oil restores some color to the wood and appears to revive the existing finish. 0000 steel wood is the finest grade, so it cleans without scratching.

Here are Before and After photos of a neglected walnut stock from a U.S. 1898 Krag carbine. As found, before cleaning:
Some original finish can be seen, but it's gone from most of the stock.  Water has stained the butt end,and, unfortunately, this cleaner can do nothing about that.
After cleaning with the linseed oil and mineral spirits applied with 0000 steel wool: 

Obviously, the cleaning has evened out the color of the stock.  Perhaps that should be qualified:  evened out the color of the wood--if you look closely an inch or so away from the butt plate, you can see lighter spots where someone filled some holes with plastic wood.  But now the stock no longer looks neglected.

Some notes on useBoiled linseed oil, not raw.

Linseed oil can spontaneously combust, so dispose of the steel wool and rags carefully.  I wet them with water and then put them in a plastic bag.

Don't slop it on:  the mixture can stain upholstery or your clothes or carpeting.

Don't take this mixture internally:  it's bad for your health.

Use the steel wool with a light touch:  you're not trying to get down to bare wood but to clean the finish.  Two light goings-over are far better than one heavy-handed one.

Don't skip the twenty-four hours later wipe-down.  If you missed some areas, the mineral spirits will evaporate, but the linseed oil will remain sticky and collect dust before it dries.

If you want to wax the piece, wait until you can't smell the linseed oil any more.

Finally, three "If's":  If the wood is antique cherry, test on an area you can't see.  Some old cherry was stained but never given a finish coat, and this mix can dissolve the stain.  If you're not sure what the wood is, test it where you can't see it.

If you have a funky painted piece with the paint going chalky, don't mess with it.  That patinated surface is part of its interest.  As John T. Kirk has commented in his excellent Impecunious Collector's Guide to American Antiques, "buy it ratty and leave it alone."

If the piece of furniture (or gun) is museum quality, don't touch it.  I've read statements by curators saying that this mix will blacken wood.  I've used this mix for fifty years on walnut and mahogany and haven't seen that happen.  But don't gamble:  get in touch with a local museum and ask for guidance.  The museum people will bless you for it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Deciphering Belgian Proof Marks

A reader has asked me to say something about Belgian proof marks.  I've owned two Belgian side by sides and two Browning Superposed, so I guess I can say that I have some acquaintance with twentieth century ones, but unlike my posts on antique English shotguns I don't have an antique Belgian one at hand to describe.  I'll restrict myself therefore to saying something about gun making in Belgium and offering some proof marks.  To my knowledge, there isn't a book out that covers European proof marks:  If someone knows about such a book, please add a comment with that information.  [Later note:  Gerhard Wirnsberger has written The Standard Directory of Proof Marks, translated byR. A. Steindler; it is available from Blacksmith Publishers Corporation.]

Because of its deposits of coal and iron ore, industrialization took place early in Belgium.  That, plus its skilled work force and their comparatively low wages, quickly made Liège a center for gun making.  Belgian firms could produce whatever was wanted at whatever price point, and the wage structure made their prices lower than their competitors.  As you might imagine, many, many Belgian guns were exported to other countries for resale.  

What I first look for are the marks indicating country of origin.  The US never had a proof house, of course, so you have to rely on maker's names--which may well be deceptive versions of famous makers  (Purdie for Purdey, for example)--and addresses (sometimes deceptive, as well).  But if the gun is a British or Continental breechloader, it should have proof marks on the water table of the receiver and on the barrel flats near the breech.

Here's an illustration of early twentieth century Belgian proofs from W. W. Greener's The Gun and Its Development, 9th edition (1910):

The first on the left and the fourth (the one that resembles a candlestick) indicate provisional proof.  The second and third indicate it was proofed at Liège.  The one on the far right is the definite proof for nitro, or smokeless powder.

Lee Kennett did a fine survey, "A History of Proof Marks:  Gun Proof in Belgium," that was published in The Gun Digest (1978).  I've reproduced Kennett's numbers in the complete list at the end of this post:

Other important marks give information about the barrels:

"70" is the metric equivalent of our 2 3/4" chamber length; many older guns of course will have some metric number like 65, equivalent to 2 1/2" or 2 9/16".  The gauge or bore is typically indicated by a "12" or "16," often accompanied by the chamber length (see Kennett's no. 33 below).

Choke is so indicated in English (why, I don't know), and it can be an indication of date:

Here is Lee Kennett's complete listing of Belgian proof marks in his "A History of Proof Marks:  Gun Proof in Belgium," published in the 32nd edition of The Gun Digest (1978), 129-138.

No small part of the Belgians' remarkable ability to meet the demands of a wide variety of firms trading all over the world was their willingness to go on producing type of guns that were obsolete.  Flintlock fowling pieces and rifles were made for the Northwest Indian trade until the early twentieth century; so, too, percussion long guns for sale in Africa.  Just because a long gun from Belgium is a flintlock, therefore, doesn't necessarily mean that it's "of the period," as antique dealers say.  It could be of relatively recent manufacture.  Caveat emptor!  Check the proof marks! 

If you are considering buying a Belgian gun, look long and hard at its quality.   Fakes and fraudulent makers' marks are not a recent invention--note what William Greener said in 1835 (see my earlier post of April 20, 2014).  If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.  As the old saying has it, "The buyer needs a thousand eyes; the seller, only one."  The other side of the coin is that quality can indeed be there in Belgian guns:  The Belgian Browning Superposed were all fine guns, while firms like Francotte, Dumoulin, or Lebeau-Courally could make guns of very high quality indeed.  


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Girl Hunter, by Georgia Pellegrini

Georgia Pellegrini's Girl Hunter:  Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time (Da Capo, 2011) recounts a year's road trip devoted to eating only the meat that she herself had hunted and killed.  She is quite clear that her path may not be for everyone:  when people tell her that they don't think they could hunt, she tells them, "If you want to feel what it is like to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once."  Her reason?  The understanding of that experience will change how you interact with the world and thus affect who you are and what you eat.

Pellegrini's purpose, in short, was to discover what it means to be a responsible, ethical omnivore in today's world.  To this end, abetted by friends and their friends, she learns how to use both a shotgun and a rifle.  She then hunts, dresses, and cooks game ranging from wild turkeys, javelin, grouse, chukars, doves and ducks to wild boar, deer, and squirrels (this last, in fact, affords one of her best chapters).

She is candid about her own inadequacies, forthright about her mistakes, and she bears up under some trying conditions and one absolutely appalling host (see the chapter "Calamity Jane").  She takes the bloody bits in stride, neither pretending they don't exist nor being appalled by them. 

And my, oh my, the recipes she provides!  I made a note to myself to try three of them:  "Whiskey-Glazed Turkey Breast"; a Provencal version of "Pheasant Tagine"; and "Braised Rabbit with Olives and Preserved Lemon." 

My only negative reaction concerns Georgia Pellegrini's title: Girl Hunter?  Give me a break!  As an older white male, I can only deplore any term that trivializes women, no matter how replete with ironic emphasis that term may be currently. That aside, this book is a keeper.