By Ralph M. Lermayer
Forgotten for a few days on a four-wheeler, this rifle showed surface rust and mild pitting, but was fixable.
Sooner or later, it happens to most of us: ghastly rust spots on a prized firearm. We try to baby our guns, but sometimes we mess up and forget to wipe them down after a stormy hunt, leave moisture in a case we didn’t notice, or fail to wipe off fingerprints. Any number of things can cause rust.
If it’s really bad and rust spots have pitted the metal, buffing and rebluing by a competent gunsmith is the only answer. But for the minor stuff, especially on hard-working firearms, it’s a relatively easy fix. Most of the neglect rust stays off the metal surface. Rust in the bore can affect accuracy and will require relapping or, in the worst case, a new barrel. However, surface rust spots can be easily removed and the metal reblued to pristine condition by anyone with little or no gunsmithing experience.
If you spot rust on the outside of your barrel or receiver, it should be a red light that you need to inspect those areas hidden by the stock that can’t be readily seen. Completely remove the stock from the barreled receiver, or in the case of a shotgun, the fore-end and buttstock. There is no sense doing half the job.
STEP 1: Start with 00 (fine) or 000 (extra-fine) steel wool to remove all of the rust spots. You can pick up steel wool at any hardware store or even most discount stores. You may have to look in the furniture refinishing or paint sections. Only go to a courser grade (0 medium) if you absolutely must, but stay away from emery cloth. It will scratch the metal polish. Steel wool can be used dry, but if the rust is really stubborn, add a drop or two of Ballistol, let it stand on the rust for a few hours, and buff again. All signs of surface rust must be completely removed before you continue. The bluing will come off during this part of the process (you must get down to bare metal), but don’t panic; we’ll fix that next.
STEP 2: Use alcohol and a clean swab or cloth to completely clean away any dirt, oil or steel wool residue. Concentrate on any area that has been steel-wooled. Let the metal dry until all alcohol has evaporated. Take pains not to touch the treated area with bare hands.
STEP 3: Let the barrel warm to room temperature. The bluing takes better if the metal is warm. Slightly warming with a light bulb or hair dryer will help. With a clean cloth (cleaning patches work, as do cotton balls), begin to wipe the area with Birchwood Casey’s Cold Blue. Apply several coats until you match the bluing on the original metal. Stroke the bluing liquid on in one direction, and replenish your cloth fluid frequently.
STEP 4: Now, look it over. If the match isn’t perfect, clean with alcohol and repeat the bluing wipe until it’s right. Sometimes it takes several coats. When you think it’s a match, quickly coat with good-grade gun oil. The oil is what stops the bluing process. That’s all there is - you’re done.
The cold blue should last as long as the original blue, but in areas of hard use (muzzle, trigger, etc.) it may wear off. No problem, just touch it up again.
If you hunt hard, rust happens. A little time and a few easily available supplies, and it’s an easy fix.
Reprinted from the August 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine