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Rebuilding a Winchester Model 61

By Mark Hudson, Brownells Gun Tech

For this article we’re going to take an old Winchester Model 61 I picked up at John's Sport Center in Pittsburg Kansas, and do a re-blue without the use of too many power tools and too much money spent. It will require the use of a set of hot blue tanks however. If you don’t have access to the tanks, see if your local gunsmith would dip your personal project for a fair price.

It’s not a bad idea when starting with an unknown gun to take it out and check it for function and accuracy before beginning to make sure everything is working correctly. If it’s not, now is the time to do any repairs if needed. This one is just fine. The first thing is to establish what you want the finished project to look like. In this case, I just want to put a nice factory style polish on the metal and a decent oil style finish on the stock. My brother will more than likely use this as his camp gun for plinking and varmint control.

You might be able to see that there is a fair amount of pitting, surface rust, stock imperfections etc. The front sight is broken off where the bead should be and the remainder is painted white. The stock is oil soaked at the juncture between the receiver and butt, there are numerous dings, dents, scratches, gouges. The receiver itself has some pretty good pits, quite a bit of surface rust in the usual handling areas as shown in photos below.

 

 

 

 

 

The first real step was to disassemble the gun, give a cursory inspection.

After that was done, I re-assembled the stock to the receiver. Using the Heller American Pattern hand file (#651-000-002) in second cut I evened the juncture between the receiver and the buttstock. I like to do this with the two pieces together in order to keep them smooth and even, it allows you to do it with out “rolling” the edges of the receiver or the stock. I’m sure you have seen guns after a re-blue that have a very pronounced gap. This way you can use a file and then different grades of wet or dry sand paper and keep the edges square and even. It makes for a much nicer finished job. Be careful when doing this as the soft stock material will come off much easier than the steel of the receiver so file control is essential. While doing this I paid close attention to the joint at the top of the receiver and the portion of the receiver that stays with the stock since this is a take down style rifle. It is a good time to clean up the joint and make it nice and smooth so you barely see it when the rifle is put together. While I was at it I went ahead and removed some of the deeper pits that were on the top of the receiver and started to square up the corner on both sides of the receiver. This is another area where you should pay particular attention to detail, sharp corners and edges are the sign of a nice machine or hand polish when you are done.

Since I was done with the first quick “clean up” it was time to give all the metal parts that are going to be hot blued a good cleaning and a bath in Rust and Blue Remover (#082-054-032). After that was done, I took the checkered steel buttplate, the butt stock screw, and the barreled action to the bead blaster. I wanted to bead blast the butt plate because it had some serious rust and minor pitting. On an item like this I will bead blast it to remove all traces of rust, then using a fairly fine wire wheel like the Carding Wheel (#671-230-500) or my favorite Brushing Wheel (#360-164-631). More about this wheel later in the article. Using the fine wheel I will go over the butt plate to “blend" the finish and leave it as is. This leaves it with a somewhat factory original look and finish. Since the draw bolt won’t be seen, I just left it as it came out of the blast cabinet and put it aside until I am ready for the bluing tanks. With the barreled action in the blast cabinet I lightly blast the lettering to remove any rust or original bluing from the inside of the factory lettering, being VERY careful not to remove any more material than absolutely necessary but still get it perfectly clean throughout. I also blasted the safety at this point. On the 61, they came from the factory “in-the-white” or unblued. I used the beads to clean up the checkering on this, paying close attention not to let the beads hit anything but the checkered ends of the safety. I will also repaint the slot that holds the red paint to show the user the gun it is on or off later in the project.

Now we are ready to start some serious file work. I decided that most of the polishing will be done by hand as this is a small firearm, I really want it to have that “somewhat original” look to it when done.

Before I begin I take everything to the Fine Brushing Wheel (#360-164-631). Here on out I’m just going to refer to this as “the wire wheel” since it is the one wheel I use more than any other. Anyway, I take all the metal parts that will be re-blued to the wheel to remove any etching that may have occurred during the soak in the rust remover and just give everything a good brush to smooth and blend the finish. It’s also a good time to make sure all the original finish is gone and inspect everything one more time. The internal parts that do not require polishing are checked and put in a container to prevent loss and keep them together.

The parts that will require no polishing and no bluing are put in a separate container. You notice that I said no polishing in the previous sentence, which is because there are parts that will require polishing yet will not be blued such as the breech block. Now that we have segregated the parts for polishing, it’s time to get to work. We are going to re-assemble the receiver and trigger group to keep all the surfaces even and the polishing lines unidirectional.

Take your file and get to it! Start taking metal off all the surfaces, paying attention to where the high and low spots are. The high spots are going to be moved by the file and the low spots will show as being untouched.

I like to keep the file at a 45 degree angle to the piece of work as I find it helps to keep the file from loading up and creating more work for myself.

When I refer to a file loading up, I mean that as you use a file, it will sometimes become clogged with metal that has been removed and not cleared from the cutting teeth. It will usually look like a solid piece of metal that has become lodged in the teeth. You can use a File Cleaner (#537-020-002) to remove the chunk. You can also use File Chalk (#080-705-006) to help keep it in check. As I file I like to tap the very end of the file on the bench or vise to keep it clear. NEVER tap the file on any of the cutting surfaces as it will dull your file, and as expensive as good quality files are, it pays to take as good of care of them as you can.

Keeping an eye on everything just get to it. File the flats on the side of the receiver to sharpen up the edges, even the surface, and remove all the deep pitting. The same goes for the top and bottom. On this particular gun the top of the receiver has a radius surface, so be very careful as you remove metal to erase the imperfections, to keep the radius even and prevent creating a flat section on the radius. The easiest way is to remove metal evenly from the entire surface of the radius, bringing it down in a universal fashion. In other words, if you have one area that is deeply pitted, you are going to have to remove the metal evenly from the entire area so where the deep pitting was will not be lower that the rest of the top.

Once you have the deep pits and rust removed and the entire surface has been evened, you can graduate to wet or dry sandpaper such as Adalox No-Fil or Durite in gradually finer grades. The photo below shows the side of the receiver after draw filing has been completed.

You can notice how almost all of the surface is even, the corners and edges are sharp and square. Please keep in mind that you are going to be doing the same process on all the parts, and other than a few tips on specific areas, we will graduate to the next step and assume that you have done all the surfaces in the same fashion before moving to the next grip of paper.

The bottom of this receiver is very worn where it was carried in the field and extra care should be given this area. The inside of the trigger guard and each side of the receiver in the same area were not as finely polished from the factory so we will do the same on the re-do. I use a wooden dowel that has had a slice made in the end so I can use a piece of Metalite inserted and wrapped around it. You can also use another one of my favorites, the Cylinder Rolls (#591-801-060) or the Falcon Tool MX Finishing Wheels (#084-000-022). They will all work quite well. I will use these on the inside of the trigger guard, in front of the trigger guard, the radiused portion of the bottom of the receiver just in front of where the serial number is, and other areas where you have a curve and need to polish.

Another little trick is to pay very careful attention to the direction and degree of polishing that was used at the factory. If your memory is anything like mine, you may even want to make a drawing of the parts on a piece of scratch paper as a reference. Before moving to wet or dry sand paper for the rest of our polishing, let’s take a look at the barrel. Remember that we gave the factory model and caliber stampings on the barrel a light blasting to remove any rust or pits that may have been in the lettering.

Now, let’s very carefully inspect to make sure there is no residual rust left. If there is, remove it, that is where the rust will return if it has not been thoroughly removed. Using the file, remove any pits from the rest of the barrel keeping your strokes light and long to prevent from creating flats and visible low spots on the round surface of the barrel. Pay attention not to gouge the areas around where the magazine tube retainers were removed and the front sight dovetail as well. Don’t forget to inspect the crown for dings and dents as well. This would be the time to correct them if are there any. Where the factory stamping is on the barrel, be VERY careful not to remove any more material than is absolutely necessary. This is one of the areas people will look at first to see what quality of polishing job was done. I would rather leave a few imperfections than erase lettering. Now, all the pits and deep surface rust has been removed start polishing with wet or dry paper. I started with 180 grit and removed all file marks from all surfaces keeping my strokes going the exact same direction. That way, when I move on to the next finer grit, I can change the direction about forty five degrees and when all the marks from the previous grit have disappeared, I am sure that they will not show up as I continue to graduate to finer and finer grits. On the radiused surfaces and the round barrel repeat polishing the same way you did earlier, just graduate to finer paper as you have the flats. Continue to graduate with finer paper and if you haven’t removed all the scratches, it will become very apparent when you move to the next finer grit of paper. Try to stop and back up if you continue to see scratches where they should not be. It will be much faster to back up get them cleaned up correctly, than to try and erase them using a grit that is too fine. Your metal work should really be starting to look like something nice now. As you approach the 320 paper, your piece should look like it did as it was coming down the assembly line, a nice, uniform degree of polish on all surfaces.

Put a light coat of oil or HOLD (#082-023-128) on all the bare metal parts between polishing sessions to prevent the perspiration from your hands, humidity, or anything else from causing your work piece to rust between polishing sessions.

On the barrel, you can use a polishing wheel such as a Baldor or simply use a shoe shine motion if you don’t have a buffer. Since I started this project, I had it in mind that I wanted to do the metal work using mostly hand tools and a simple wire wheel to show that it can be done without going to the expense of all the normal buffers if you are only doing a gun every now and then.

A few words on my polishing techniques. After I have gone from the file to paper, I will use my file as a block for polishing the flat areas. Not only does it continue to keep the surfaces perfectly flat, it is easy to move the paper on and keep a fresh cutting surface of the paper. It also allows me to back up and re-use an area of the paper, to make a transition to the next grade of paper. As an example, I will use a worn piece of 320 as my final polish before using the blending wheel.

Another note is that I used a rubber sanding block to do the top of the receiver to prevent any flat spots, plus you can be very careful and still keep your edges sharp and clean, keeping the polishing strokes going across the top instead of in line with the sights which may promote glare.

Put the stock back on the receiver to do the final metal polish to prevent the rounding as discussed earlier. I am not all that excited about refinishing wood so I did not spend a whole lot of time on it, besides, if you look at a new in the box gun from this vintage you can find factory sanding marks etc. I installed the butt plate back on the stock with it already attached to the receiver to prevent rolling, remember? Then I gave everything a quick sanding up to 240 or 320, whichever you like. On the forearm, I used the action bar as a handle, and as a way to put it in the vise using our soft jaws (#852-002-100). I sanded it the same as I did the butt stock. On the forearm there were grooves that needed to be cleaned out. For this I simply used a Round Jewelers File (#360-339-731). It left them pretty smooth, but just for shuck’s and giggles I gave them a quick lick with 240 grit wrapped around the same file. It did the trick just fine.

I had seen a stock that Dave Bennetts had refinished using the African Express Finish (#100-002-184). It is a nice oil style finish and is very easy to use. Normally I opt for the Gun Sav’R Custom Oil Gunstock Finish (#209-101-014) because it is an aerosol that is dead nuts easy to use, dries in no time flat and always works. Heck, I’ve used it on everything from stocks to doors.

Anyway, I thought this would be a good chance to try a new product and the finish that Dave got with it was beautiful. I followed the directions for all the different steps, grain and pore filling, oil finish, cleaning and maintenance oil, and conditioning wax. It came out pretty good considering that it was the first time I had used it. When I use it again, I believe I will use the sealer for a couple of coats as I kept going through the oil finish back to the sealer and pore filler. Next time!

The metal was all polished and ready for “blending” before going into the bluing tanks. I am not sure what other people call this step but it is the last thing I do before going into the salts. I take all the polished parts and follow the direction of the last grit of paper or polish that I used, and go over them with the Magic Wheel (#360-164-631). What I do is use this wheel to put a nice even “fishing touch” on the steel. For the top of the receiver I start on the off side just up from the clean edge and run it over past the edge and repeat the process from the other side. For the flat sided receiver I start on the bottom edge and go to where the wheel just passed the edge but does not mark the top, and on the bottom I repeat the same procedure I used on the top. For the barrel I just give everything a quick once over to even everything up.

When I started this project I wanted to show how you could do a nice job on a nice old gun. It would be a shame to put a sub par finish on all that steel you just busted your butt to look nice. Speak to your local gunsmith or whoever has a set of bluing tanks and ask what he would charge you to run your parts in his tanks the next time he’s doing a batch. Make it as easy for him as possible. Have all your parts pre-wired. What this entails is to have all your small parts wound with black iron wire (#038-018-003) so can just run them through his cleaning tank and put them directly in his salts. It will make it easier for him and it will insure that all your parts stay together. On the larger parts such as the barreled receiver and trigger guard, wire them up so he can have enough wire to hang over the edge of his tanks.

When he has them done, very carefully re-assemble the rifle, oil it up, take it out and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The pictures of the finished project show how a little extra effort and attention to detail pay dividends. They also show that you need to check the Goldenrod in your safe every now and then to make sure that its working. I had forgotten to get pictures of the rifle before I delivered it to my brother, so I had him send me some.

Lo and behold I noticed that the rifle was developing some surface rust on the left side of the receiver and butt plate. After screaming at him for neglecting the rifle I had just slicked up for him, he checked the heater in his safe and it was cold as a mackerel. I’ll have a replacement in the mail to him shortly.