Airguns of the American West Part 7
So, you hate the finish on the standard Schofield airgun?
Here’s how to make your own antiqued model like the author’s.
By Dennis Adler
Like many Western airgun enthusiasts, I was thrilled to see a Schofield model introduced this year. When I received the first one I was immediately taken with the accuracy of the gun to an original. I made comparisons, and the job done by Bear River is exemplary. And I see no reason why they had to opt for an incorrect finish on what was a remarkably close copy (save for the manual safety behind the hammer) of the S&W Schofield military revolver. Finish aside, it feels very much like a real Schofield in the hand; the hammer and trigger pull are close, the grip design excellent. The top latch is a little light on resistance and you can inadvertently open the gun if you over reach when cocking the hammer (harmless but embarrassing), and the shortened travel of the extractor is a good choice to prevent those re-loadable BB cartridges from flying out. It is a job well done. And Bear River quickly came to market with a nickel plated version for those who found the charcoal black finish unappealing. But for those of us who already have the charcoal black guns, and a couple of days to devote to refinishing it, you can make it into an even more authentic looking gun than the nickel version, just like the example pictured above!
The charcoal black finish has the look and feel of old time Parkerizing, which as noted in the last Airgun Experience is a phosphate process used on steel to resist rusting and corrosion. While the process did exist in the 1870s (actually as early as the 1850s), it was not used on handguns. And even modern Parkerizing would not work on the Schofield airgun, or the vast majority of air pistols, since nearly all of their parts are cast aluminum alloy; the phosphate process only works on steel. The finish on the standard Schofield airgun is actually similar to those used on more contemporary airgun models like the Umarex S&W Model TRR8, and some of the WWII era air pistols, like the P.08 Luger, only on the Schofield it is a lighter shade. Pleasing to the eye, but still wrong for the period of the gun. The Bear River Schofield’s finish is also very resilient and doesn’t scratch or wear easily like some airguns with a flat matte black finish, in fact, it is actually harder to remove than most finishes, but underneath it, is a clean, easy to polish alloy frame, barrel and cylinder, that make this airgun look even more realistic than the nickel plated model.
Things you will need
I can tell you from experience, having antiqued many reproduction black powder western handguns to use in articles for Guns of the Old West magazine, that this is not an easy job. It is labor intensive, and you need strong hands to do the job, and your hands will be sore when you’re done. This is not to discourage anyone, but to encourage the effort and the time and patience necessary to do a good job. Is it harder to do than ordering a nickel plated gun? Absolutely, but what you will have when you are done, is a one-off pistol you can call your own. It’s hard to put a price on that.
You will need a package of Grade #0000 steel wool. This usually has nine of the final finish super fine pads in the package. You’ll need at least half of them to do one gun. You can also get a package of the green 3M scrubbing pads. This is an optional item for breaking down the outer finish. Next some quality gun oil like Hoppe’s No. 9 lubricating oil, a Gesswein jewelry polishing cloth for the final polish of the gun’s finish, and a can of compressed air like Dust Off. Last, a supply of nitrile rubber gloves. You should double glove when working with the steel wool. This is dirty job.
The first steps
First off, this is a “non-disassembly” project; we’re not taking the gun apart, in fact, the only thing that has to be removed is the grips. You need to unscrew the right grip panel. The left comes off easily since that is the panel removed for inserting the CO2 cartridge.
As shown in photo 1, the grips have been removed and the supplies laid out for the initial polishing off of the charcoal black finish. Work on one side of the gun at a time. I did a finish removing test on the left side of the barrel using the steel wool and the 3M pad. The green scrubber helps break down the outer surface which turns to a faded gray. Always use straight back and forth movements, never polish in a circle. After deciding to use the 3M pads to break down the initial surface layer, I switched to the Grade #0000 steel wool to polish off the finish to bare metal surface, as shown in photo 2 below.
I started with the frame and triggerguard on the right side and then the barrel. The cylinder shows what the finish is like if you only take it down to the faded gray look. I opted to keep the cylinder at a slightly darker level of finish and only polished it lightly in later steps. One of the things you will encounter is polishing off the Op Ed written on the right side of the frame that covers everything (including the right side of the frame), from the standard airgun warnings about misuse, reading the owner’s manual before use, to the manufacturer’s name, product copyright and even website address. All of this is also repeated in the owner’s manual. It is mandatory for it to be on the gun, but once you buy it, not mandatory to leave it. It’s the mattress label of firearms: “Do not remove by penalty of law.”
In photo 2 you can also see that the steel wool is showing use, as are the 3M pads. The more charcoal black finish you remove, the more the gun begins to look like a real S&W .45 Schofield revolver. After the initial polishing off of the frame and barrel on the right side, I set the gun aside to review my work and decided that when I pick it up next I would continue with the barrel and work my way back to the frame, which takes far more effort than the barrel. Your hands will begin to feel a little tired by now, too.
In photo 3, I am working on the left side of the barrel with the steel wool. Notice the double gloves on my right hand; this is necessary because you will be applying enough pressure with your thumb and index finger when polishing that it is easy to wear through the rubber gloves. In fact, I wore through them anyway and ended up with gray-stained fingers that looked like I just worked on a car engine.
One of the things you should do as you continue to go over your polished areas with the steel wool is to add a few drops of the gun oil to the surface. This makes the second polishing easier and less abrasive when working on the bare alloy finish.
In the next steps you begin to detail by polishing off the top of the latch, sides of the hammer, and the recoil shield. This is harder to do because you are working in small areas and the recoil shield is curved. You have to work in straight lines rolling up into the recoil shield over and over and resisting the temptation to polish it in a circular motion.
By day 2, I had polished off all of the charcoal gray finish leaving the cylinder and the center line of the barrel (you’ll see this in later photos) a little darker. Some areas are really hard to reach and you can leave them a little dark as well. Why? This is supposed to be a polished out gun that was once a blued gun. The finish on western guns that saw a lot of use varied in wear, and in corners, edges and parts that were not rubbed by holsters, the finish was not as worn away over time. These are known as protected areas. Common were the cylinder flutes, inside the triggerguard, the forcing cone behind the barrel, and deeper ridges, like the aforementioned channel along the top of the barrel.
After you have come this far, you are ready to start giving the gun a brighter polish using oiled Grade #0000 steel wool as shown in photo 6. Again slow, straight lines to minimize scratches, but in reality a polished out gun has scratches and wear marks, so don’t get overly involved. Just make the surface look nice. It’s supposed to be a gun that has seen years of use in the field and has a worn off finish. When real 19th century single action black powder revolvers or cartridge models turn up for sale with all, or most of the original finish gone, no rust and in good working order (what the Blue Book of Gun Values photo percentage grading scale classifies as 30% condition) they are often simply referred to as gray guns. Of course, if you artificially achieve this on a real gun (by upgrading a gun in lesser condition) the value actually goes down, aesthetics notwithstanding. For the Schofield airgun, (and any number of modern black powder and SAA reproductions), it is actually a more interesting alternative.
After the last polishing with oiled steel wool, the gun needs to be wiped cleaned of any excess oil residue. Remember the Dust Off? Along the way as you are polishing off the charcoal black finish, you are creating dust and steel wool particles (grit and grime) and this needs to be wiped off every time you stop. Additionally, you want to avoid any of this from getting into the internal parts of the gun. Using a small patch and .177 cleaning rod, push the patch into the barrel to plug it up at the breech. This prevents anything from getting into the barrel. You want to blow any debris out of the cylinder chambers, the ejector rod channel in the cylinder, trigger area, hammer channel, and be sure to protect the CO2 channel from dirt that can get into the seals. Be especially careful not to get any gun oil on the CO2 seal at the top of the chamber. It isn’t difficult, just work slowly and keep cleaning as you go.
In photo 7, we have reached the post cleaning stage and are ready for the first polish with the Gesswein jeweler’s polishing cloth. This is the same cloth used by engraves for polishing guns, so it’s the right choice. You can get them online. Start with the red (polishing rouge side) of the cloth and bring the metal to a bright polish, then use the yellow side to remove any of the rouge and give the finish it brightest luster. But we are not done. The final touches, faux case coloring and the last polishing will be covered in Part 8.