Prices on S&W revolvers have been climbing for years, with many models well out of my price range. I love their revolvers, so what’s a poor knife-maker to do? Look for guns others have given up on, of course. The ones that aren’t pretty, aren’t collectible. If you are willing to lower the bar enough you can always afford something.
In that spirit Linda bought me the gun above for my Birthday. It’s a S&W m1902 M&P that has been… uh… let’s be charitable and call it ‘refinished.’ It looked like it had been bead-blasted before blueing. It sports a 6-1/2″ barrel and some seriously large Pachmyers. Neither the grips nor the finish suit the character of the gun, which was made in about 1909.
The thing is the bore and chambers are excellent and the double-action trigger pull is maybe the finest I’ve ever felt on a revolver. It shoots very, very well, and since the crude refinish ‘ruined it’ for collectors it was available for less than the price of some Model 10 Police trade-ins. So, what to do with an ugly gun? Refinish it, of course.
As an experiment I cleaned and polished the barrel, which was more of a job than anticipated because the gun had not been bead-blasted, but rather had apparently been ‘pickled’ in a caustic chemical. I re-blued the barrel with Van’s Instant Blue and checked the results, which were pretty nice if I do say so myself.
So I started by detail-stripping the gun. I do this over a terry-cloth towel so that small parts and screws are less likely to bounce, roll or otherwise escape. First things first as I removed all of the ancient crud from the mechanism. Presumably they at least partly dismantled the gun when they refinished it so the crud was probably not original, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Next i removed the blueing by buffing it with a sisal-wheel and Stainless Steel Back rouge. This gave me a good look at the surface finish of the gun for the first time. Ugh… covered with a fine network of pitting. I went to work with the polishing wheel, 400 grit sandpaper and several dowels wrapped in sandpaper. Once things were looking reasonably good it was back to the buffer.
This machine mounts two 14″ Sisal wheels and it’s aggressive as hell. Exceptional care needs to be taken to avoid washing-out lines and blurring edges. It’s also important to do this step with the side plate in place so that you don’t ‘roll’ the edges of the side plate. I made no effort to entirely remove all the pitting, especially in highly detailed areas like the crane. After a few hours work the gun was ‘in the white’ and looking pretty good. Mind you I wasn’t going for a ‘like-new’ finish; more like ‘cherished antique.’ What might be referred to in automotive circles as a ‘sympathetic’ restoration.
After I had the look I desired I de-greased all the parts and washed them in acetone. I applied a coat of blueing, buffed it with 0000 steel wool, then rinse-and-repeat. I originally intended to go for a deep, rich blue but after a couple of coats of blueing I’d achieved a sort of antique-gray finish that I really liked, so I stopped there.
It was almost physically painful to put those neoprene grips back on so after a few days I hunted up some scrap walnut and made a new set of grips. Well… two sets, actually. The first ones didn’t work out well. The grips eventually came out pretty nice, and I decorated them with hand-cut square-top checkering. I wanted it to look DIY, and since that’s about the best I can manage at this point that worked out well.
The finished gun no has a very pleasing vintage appearance that I am quite happy with. I’m not entirely finished; after shooting it yesterday I think I would really like a T-grip style grip adapter. I really want to maintain a vintage appearance, and a t-grip does that a lot better than a modern-style target grip. I’m also on the lookout for a suitable piece of antler; I think it would look terrific with stag grips.
It’s very satisfying to restore an old gun like this. It allows me own guns I could not normally afford and it’s fun to give an old gun new life. With care this one could easily go another century…
Now it needs a proper holster…
PS: A little more work on the checkering and a grip-adapter. Much improved!
–Michael Tinker Pearce, 6 March, 2017