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Dealing With Water Damage

By Steve Ostrem

It seems that lately we’ve seeing more and more firearms requiring immediate help because they have been exposed to excessive moisture. We’re not just talking about floods and hurricanes here, but also broken hot water heaters, neglect, and gun cases that trap moisture and transfer it to the metal. It also seems that a lot more hunting is being done in adverse conditions, and as a result, gunsmiths are seeing a major influx of water-damaged guns. Sometimes the numbers can be overwhelming, as salvaging a rusted firearm can be extremely labor intensive. Fortunately, Brownells has a number of time-tested products as well as some proven shop strategies that can streamline the process and make it possible for the gunsmith or the owner to do the best job possible in the least amount of time.

Step 1: First Aid
The first thing to do upon receiving a water-damaged firearm is to remove all traces of moisture from the weapon. Brownells Water Displacing Oil (#082-057-032) is an incredibly efficient way to do this, particularly when a large number of guns are involved. Originally designed and marketed as an after bluing treatment, this specially formulated blend penetrates every nook and cranny of the mechanism and pushes out every trace of harmful water within seconds. It also has the added benefit of being able to neutralize salts and acids at the same time. This can be doubly important when dealing with guns near the coast or those that have been exposed to corrosive salts like those found in sweat and blood.

The best way to use this oil is to simply submerge the gun in it for a few minutes and allow it to do its work. All stocks and grips should be removed first, of course, as well as any optics, slings, or other accessories that could be damaged by a petroleum product. Further disassembly is not necessary if the gun is not be refinished or repaired right away, and many firearms can be processed in a fairly short amount of time. Brownells has a fiberglass tank that works beautifully for this that in most cases will allow the entire mechanism to be under the oil at the same time. This is the same set up that many gunsmiths use in their bluing process to remove all traces of water and caustic bluing solution from freshly blued guns. A quick dunk in the Water Displacing Oil will keep any corrosion from spreading and allow the weapon to be set aside until the job can be completed at some later time. The penetrating action of this oil can also be a great help in freeing up rusted parts when it comes time to take the gun apart.

Speaking of rusted parts, one of the best ways to break the stubborn grip of corrosion is to use Kroil (#471-100-008) on anything that doesn’t want to move. When it comes to rusted-in screws or barrel threads, this stuff is worth its weight in gold. Many gunsmiths will routinely put a few drops on an old Mauser or other old piece before attempting to remove the barrel or action screws. The Kroil seems to get into every possible place, and it doesn’t take much to get the job done. It’s amazing what just a few drops of it will do, and the more time it has to soak in the better it works. If you have a gun that you can’t get to right away, the application of a little Kroil before putting it into the gun safe can pay big dividends down the road. It’s a lot like having an extra helper working on the problem while you’re doing other things. Like many other oils or cleaners, it’s best to keep it off of the stock since it can darken the wood. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy stuff to work with: just squirt a little on the rusted area and leave it alone while it works.

Step 2: Exploratory Surgery
Another thing to consider when working on rusted actions is having the proper disassembly manuals and tools to get the job done. Some guns are difficult to take apart under normal conditions, and it pays to be sure of the takedown sequence before starting. That way, if the part you’re trying to remove won’t budge, you can be sure that it’s the rust holding it in place and not something you’re doing wrong. The proper wrenches, screwdriver bits, and punches will also insure that the minimum amount of force needed to do the job is transferred efficiently to the part being loosened. This is very important to avoid inflicting further damage and making more work for yourself. Having the right tools and knowledge make the whole process much easier.

Step 3: Repair or Replace
With the gun taken apart, it’s highly likely that some of the parts and assemblies will be in pretty bad shape and may be in need of replacement. Brownells has many factory parts for currently produced firearms from many of the major factories in our schematics section. Browning, Winchester, Remington, and Ruger are just a few of the firearms manufacturers that supply us with factory parts for their guns. Before spending a great deal of time trying to refurbish a rusted part it pays to check with us to see if it might not be more cost efficient to replace the part with a new one. Remember, time is money and spending all day trying to salvage a $20 part just doesn’t make any sense.

Along with the metal pieces there is also the matter of damage to the stock or grips. Here again, we need to look at the cost of replacement verses refinishing. Brownells has a fantastic assortment of products to make it easy to put a beat up stock back into service. However, if the damage is too extensive, a replacement stock can be fitted with a minimum of fuss for most currently manufactured firearms. If the weapon is to see more hard use in the future, perhaps it’s time to go with synthetic furniture. That way you can avoid the whole refinishing issue now and later on down the road. With more and more people hunting in all kinds of extreme weather, synthetic stocks have exploded in popularity, and for good reason. They’re not affected by fog and rain; therefore they don’t cause the gun to lose its zero in humid situations like wood stocks are prone to do. There are synthetic stocks available for many of the modern rifles and shotguns today from several makers. The selection has never been better, so take a look at the offerings we have from HS Precision, Ramline, Bell and Carlson, and others, including some of the firearms manufacturers themselves. If you want to stick with wood, you can take advantage of the many finishes and tools we offer to refinish stocks. As a last step towards further protection, give it a good coat of stock wax to keep the water off the surface. Remember to apply finish, or better yet, Acra Glas (#081-003-002) to the barrel channel and the rest of the inletting to seal the wood from the elements. Don’t forget the end grain under the recoil pad or butt plate. This area can soak up a great deal of moisture and is easily sealed by painting on a little Acra Glas or a few coats of finish. A stock sealed against the elements in this manner will hold up well under severe conditions and give a lifetime of service.

Step 4: Come Up With A System
With all of the above in mind, let’s suppose that someone walks into your shop with a dozen or so guns that have spent a couple of weeks in a flooded basement while the owners were on vacation. Looking at all that red rust you wonder what you should do first. Well, step one would be to try and remove all stocks and grips. If the screws will not budge on some guns get some Kroil on them and set them aside for the time being. Once the stocks are removed, each gun should be submerged in Water Displacing Oil for a few minutes and then set aside to drain. The next day most of the oil should have drained off, so now is a great time to put Kroil anywhere you suspect there may be a problem getting something apart. Some guns can be started right away but you can’t do all of them at the same time. The Water Displacing Oil and Kroil will still be working while you do other things if you apply them at the beginning. If it’s going to be a long time until you can actually work on the guns, they can be sprayed with Brownells Hold (#082-023-128) as well. Hold is a super rust preventative that can prevent the spread of existing corrosion for months if need be, allowing you to do other jobs without having to worry about the guns getting any rustier while they are “on Hold”. This time delay gives the penetrants time to work and should actually make your job easier when the time for disassembly comes around. It also means that it’s not necessary to hurry and allows the proper time and care to be taken with each individual weapon. Once the gun is polished, bead blasted, or otherwise prepared for refinishing, it can be sprayed again with Hold to keep the metal protected and set aside until a finish can be applied. By processing guns in batches you can save a lot of time and money in the process. The more guns that you can blue, Parkerize, or paint at one time, the more productive the operation becomes.

Step 5: Triage
To carry on with this theme, some hard decisions need to be made about the refinishing of each weapon in order to determine how much work needs to be done and the amount of time that will need to be set aside for it. The rough looking, thoroughly pitted guns will be good candidates for bead blasting and Parkerizing, bluing, or painting. As a rule, these can be run through the process fairly quickly depending on the ease of disassembly and assembly, and a large number of guns can be blued or “Parked” in a single day, especially if one person is bead blasting and the other is Parkerizing (#082-200-000) the guns as they become ready. Painting requires a little more time, either for baking the finish in an oven or allowing a week for the air-curing types to completely cure. The advantage to the paints is color selection and the ability to do aluminum parts and have all the parts on the gun match perfectly. Plus, a camouflage paint job on a badly pitted shotgun or rifle will do wonders for the appearance. In this manner almost any gun can be made to look presentable in a short period of time. For the ultimate in protection, applying paint over Parkerizing is the most durable finish we have found. Gun Kote (#083-051-001), Teflon Moly (#083-048-801), Aluma Hyde II (#083-002-012), and Baking Lacquer (#083-046-801) can all provide this extra layer of protection when applied on top of the Parkerizing. For law enforcement and military type weapons or even a waterfowlers shotgun, it’s truly a superior finish.

The next level of refinishing is for the ones that are not badly pitted and could be polished out to a nice smooth surface. This is where the traditional polishing wheels coated with Polish O Ray (#080-505-140) really shine. With the proper buffers and a series of wheels loaded with progressively finer polishing grits, an experienced gunsmith can polish an entire long gun in 30 minutes and give it the equivalent of a factory finish. Taking just a few minutes more with the finest grits, he can take it to an even finer finish. Gunsmith Kinks (#108-001-001) is a great source for information on polishing and bluing. For the customer who wants the gun to look like it came from the factory, this is normally the best way to get there. Refinishing guns this way has always been a moneymaker for those gunsmiths who understand how to use the equipment and how to organize their refinishing schedule to allow large batches to be done. Most will polish enough firearms so there is a full days worth of bluing waiting to be done. The reason bluing is still in such demand is that for many customers it is the most beautiful finish that can be applied to gunmetal. For the beginning gunsmith, Brownells has complete starter sets for bluing (#082-005-007) that can get you off to a fast start. We also have the best technical support staff in the trade that can answer your questions about any aspect of gunsmithing.

The third category, and perhaps the most dangerous one, is total restoration of fine or rare guns. This is where anything and everything that is needed to restore the piece to original condition will be done. The thing to remember is that time is indeed money, and it is extremely easy to underestimate the amount of work that will be needed to do a complete job. Most experienced gunsmiths who do this type of work for a living will not commit to a fixed price but rather bill the customer a standard rate for all the hours that go into the project. This means some guns, although rare, are simply not worth restoring because the cost can exceed the worth of an original specimen in similar condition. Sometimes the sentimental value of a piece will over rule this and the customer will say, “I don’t care what it costs, just make it look new.” In this case the customer is right, but try to give him or her a good idea of what the final tab might be. Customers like that are worth holding on to.

Step 6: Preventive Measures
Once the gun is brought back from the brink of destruction, it might be a good idea to take some precautions to avoid similar damage in the future. One way is to acknowledge that the gun will be abused in the field and opt for synthetic stocks and a Parkerized and painted finish. Another way is to protect the bluing and wood with products like Rust Preventive #2 (#083-019-016) and Stock Wax (#346-036-002). A good gun vault or room with anti-moisture devices like a Golden Rod (#111-002-024) or other dehumidifier will help take care of things at home when the weapon is not is use. Try to avoid storing anything in gun cases for extended periods of time unless you are completely sure they, (the cases and the guns), are totally dry. Most cases are able to absorb a good deal of moisture and can cause rust to form on metal in a very short time. If hunting or shooting in bad weather allow the gun to sit out where the air can circulate around it for a day or two to allow any water in it or on it to evaporate. Also try to avoid bringing a cold gun into a warm house any more than necessary while hunting, as the moisture in the air will condense on the cold metal and seep into the wood and mechanism where it can cause problems down the road. A better plan is to bring your weapon indoors while still in the case, and remove it later after it has come up to room temperature. This way the gun stays dry the whole time.

For long-term storage, a little more effort is required to prevent rust from forming. RIG Rust Preventative (#756-010-001) has long been a favorite with gun collectors and shooters alike. For really serious applications, we also carry the original Cosmoline that meets the military’s specifications for rust prevention. Brownells also has some great Storage Kits (#083-000-003) that have bags in which the gun may be sealed along with Rust Blox Vapor Tabs (#084-058-012) that emit a rust-inhibiting vapor over time that protects the contents of the bag. Another mil spec product is Brownells Gunwrap Paper (#084-031-010), which is simply wrapped around the gun before being put away in a container for up to 15 years of protection. All of these products work great for tools or any other steel items that need to be stored for long periods of time, and like they say: an ounce of prevention…