There’s more than sentiment to be considered when restoring your old shotgun, says Michael Yardley
Restoring your old shotgun is not the easy business it used to be. Michael Yardley investigates what the process involves and asks that difficult question: sentiment aside, is restoring your old shotgun really worth it?
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RESTORING YOUR OLD SHOTGUN
There was a time when “doing-up” a cherished old gun was not that big a deal. There were plenty of good, bench-trained craftsmen around, costs were acceptable and the amount of effort required by the owner to achieve a competent restoration was not that great. You gave a good man or firm your gun and it came back in pristine condition without too much of a dent in the wallet. But things have changed and restoring your old shotgun is not so easy anymore. There are not as many competent tradesmen as there were, fewer still who can handle all aspects of restoration, and costs and job times for restoring your old shotgun have risen considerably.
All this means that restoring your old shotgun must begin with research and realistic assessment. Instead of spending a thousand or two on grandpa’s old firestick, would you, for example, be financially and practically better off finding something similar second hand at a dealer’s or at auction? Sentiment apart, it might be in better condition and require less expensive handwork. There is also the option of purchasing a new gun of superior specification at reasonable cost. Machine-made guns have never been better value or better made; excellent guns can now bought for between £1,500 and £3,000.
The difficulty with restoring your old shotgun, of course, is in the heart. How important is that old gun to you? The great problem is that it costs much the same today to work on a cheaper boxlock as on a sidelock of the highest grade. Continually, one must ask: is restoring your old shotgun worth the expense and bother? Sometimes, in rational terms, it won’t be. Happily, we are not all rationalists and occasionally it will be worth restoring a gun that you have shot since childhood, or one that Great Uncle Fred took down the Orinoco in the dug-out or that Cousin Jasper used in Tanganyika for the spurwing.
Enough of romance, it is time to get practical. There is a wide range of options for restoring your old shotgun. Let us consider a few. Old guns in essentially good mechanical condition may require little more than servicing and superficial re-finishing. These are the projects where the numbers may work even for those who are hard-hearted. Polish the bores – assuming that they are well in proof – strike off and re-black, re-chequer and oil the stock, adjust it as required for modern physique. Replace pins, springs and strikers as necessary. You’re back in business for £500 to £1,500 with a gun that you may use with pride and which may be passed on as an heirloom with confidence.
Then, you might come across a gun in apparently good condition but which has been allowed to languish in less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps the barrels are badly dented and/or pitted, possibly the action face is eroded (nil desperandum, you would be amazed at what a combination of striking off and modern “cold” welding can do). Here the key decision may be whether to lap out the barrel pitting and have it re-proofed, re-sleeved or re-barrelled by the maker or another. The cost for restoring your old shotgun, however, might range from £500 to £20,000. So, much thought will be required in such circumstances.
A gun that is re-sleeved may be subjected to a fairly agricultural process at around the £1,000 mark or something more sophisticated where the original shapes are returned to the new tubes (or even better) and improved handling qualities with them. This superior job might cost £2,000-plus (and it will be worth every penny if the gun is to be used seriously). New barrels might begin around £4,000 and rise up to £6,000 or more by a London man (who may be an outworker for a great London name). New London barrels by the makers will cost £10,000-plus.
In a case of sleeving or replacement, consider re-barrelling to a length that may improve handling or be preferred by the market; 30in barrels are trendier than shorter lengths now and may increase pointability. You may also want to change the choking or fit Teague-type interchangeable chokes when restoring your old shotgun. One additional point: if your barrel maker has worked for one of the great houses you may have, “Barrels by AN Other formerly of Best & Co” on the finished job. These will not be as valuable as maker’s barrels but may be more valuable than anonymous replacements.
What about stock replacement? Restocking a boxlock might cost a couple of thousand pounds but to restock a sidelock would be more expensive. An independent craftsman would probably charge in the range of £3,000 to £7,000; a London maker, £10,000 up-wards. And, be warned, fore-ends are almost as expensive to replace as butts. Again, one must ask whether the game is worth the candle when restoring your old shotgun. If I were buying a gun to keep and, especially, one to pass on, I would not get neurotic about wood figure. I would want some but strength and potential longevity would be the primary concerns (old wood is rarely over-figured). I would also want to make sure that the stock was replaced in the precise maker’s style of the original as far as comb, grip shape and general form were concerned.
THE COSTS OF RESTORATION
Extensive restoration will not be cheap. If in doubt about overall restoration cost with a capital gun, seek advice from an expert as to what the completed gun might be worth. I asked Paul Roberts of J Roberts & Son, a man who has probably restored as many old guns as anyone alive (including a few of mine), for his opinions on restoration: “We work on a lot of older guns. Often, we have a situation where a client might spend the best part of £1,000. The work might include dent raising and re-blacking, rejoining barrels to action, and stock oiling and chequering as well as alterations. If the gun were resold in auction, especially a boxlock, it is unlikely that a profit would be realised. But there are other factors to consider… sentiment, of course, but also that you may have created a gun at relatively modest cost that now suits your requirements better and will give good service for many years to come. So, at that level, it may be cost effective. Also, you are dealing with a gun you know.”
Roberts also notes regarding proof when restoring your old shotgun, “Some people have guns which do not need much more than re-proving, but the requirements of the proof houses have become more rigorous in recent years with regard to preparation. Barrels have to be free of all dents and deep pitting. Chambers have to be correctly and precisely dimensioned. The gun must be properly jointed, too. Any movement at the face at proof will disqualify the gun from passing. So, to present the gun to the required standard is more costly than previously. And the risks of the CIP proof test itself have increased with a gun being subjected to two charges.”
There is another important consideration when restoring your old shotgun: if you give a gun to a gunsmith for work and he discovers it is out of proof, he cannot legally return it to you unless it is in proof. This means risk of failure in the proof test.
All old guns must be considered methodically – lock, stock and barrel – before embarking on a restoration venture. There are questions to be answered which may dictate the best course to be taken. If you do not feel qualified to ask them, find someone you trust who is. Possibly he may be entrusted with the work as well.