Airguns of the American West Part 7

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 

The standard finish Schofield airgun has a slightly reflective charcoal gray finish that is far more modern than the gun’s 1870’s design. Bear River also offers a nickel version, but the gun pictured above is not nickel, but a polished out standard model with a few features that are more akin to the original design of the civilian model Schofields.

The standard Schofield airgun has a slightly reflective charcoal gray finish that’s far more modern than the gun’s 1870’s design. Bear River also has a nickel version, but the gun pictured above is not nickel, it’s a polished out standard model with a few features that are more akin to the original civilian model Schofields. Also, note the lengthy manufacturer’s info on the right side of the frame. This is also polished off with the finish.

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 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, more gray than black, and with a slightly more reflective satin-like shine.

The finish on the Schofield 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, but in a lighter shade of charcoal black with more reflectivity than solid matte black.

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.

In Photo 1 you can see all of the basic materials needed to begin stripping the hard finish off the standard model Schofield airgun.

In Photo 1 you can see all of the basic materials needed to begin stripping the hard finish off the standard model Schofield airgun.

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.

Using a 3M scrubber and Grade #0000 steel wool, the finish is slowly and cleanly removed to reveal the alloy frame and barrel beneath.

Using a 3M scrubber and Grade #0000 steel wool, the finish is slowly removed to reveal the alloy frame and barrel beneath. It takes two to three hours to polish out one side.  

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.

Rubber gloves are best worn to keep the polished off finish and steel wool from getting on your hands. Don’t worry if you do, it all washes off with a good hand cleaner. The gloves really help to avoid small steel wool fragments from getting under your skin.

Rubber gloves are best worn to keep the polished off finish and steel wool from getting on your hands. Don’t worry if you do, it all washes off with a good hand cleaner. The gloves really help to avoid small steel wool fragments from getting under your skin.

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.

Always polish off the finish by moving in a straight back and forth direction, never in circles. Any surface scratches, and there will be surface scratched should all be linear. Polishing off the finish on the back of the recoil shield requires a lot of thumb pressure and again, polishing in a straight line from the base of the recoil shield to the outer edges.

Polish off the charcoal black finish by moving in a straight back and forth direction, never in circles. Any surface scratches, and there will be surface scratches, should all be linear. Polishing off the finish on the back of the recoil shield requires a lot of thumb pressure and again, polishing in a straight line from the base of the recoil shield to its outer edges.

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.

The finish has been polished bright after two days of work. Best to do one side per day and work slowly to give your hands a break, it is all hand strength and particularly the thumb and index finger that do the majority of the work.

The finish has been polished bright after two days of work. Best to do one side per day and work slowly to give your hands a break, it is all hand strength and particularly the thumb and index finger that do the majority of the work.

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 initial polishing off of the charcoal black finish, the gun needs to be polished again with the Grade #0000 steel wool and good quality gun oil. This polish preps the pistol for a final polish with a jeweler’s rouge cloth.

After the initial polishing off of the charcoal black finish, the gun needs to be polished again with the Grade #0000 steel wool and good quality gun oil. This polish preps the pistol for a final polish with a jeweler’s rouge cloth.

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.

One of the best choices in a jeweler’s polishing is the same one used by many gun engravers. It is made by Gesswein and can be purchased online. In the next part we pick up after this polishing to do a few more detail steps that will give the airgun an even more authentic look.

One of the best choices in a jeweler’s polishing cloth is the one used by many gun engravers. Made by Gesswein, it can be purchased online. In the next part, we pick up after this polishing to do a few more detail steps that will give the airgun an even more authentic look.

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.

 

6 thoughts on “Airguns of the American West Part 7

  1. it looks very nice Dennis, but I wonder why you could not use a paint remover product to remove the black coating ? I realize you would not want to get it on any of the CO2 seals. Your finished project sure looks like a labor of love.
    Harvey


    • Harvey, that was my first thought when I planned on refinishing the Bear River Schofield but the charcoal black is an anodized finish, it can’t be taken off with Birchwood Casey blue and rust remover, it has to be polished off. It is a lot of work but if you like the results, it is worth the time and effort.

      Dennis


  2. Very nice .A nice looking finish . If Bear River polished the alloy finish and put on a nice polished blue , it would be a nice looking revolver as well . Losing the warning certainly makes for a much more realistic revolver.


    • Can’t agree more about losing the warning info, takes up too much real estate on the side of the frame. Needs to be simple like the info on the Umarex Colts. I think bluing the gun (or polished dark blue black anodizing, like that used on the Umarex Walther P.38, would be good, but you really can’t beat the nickel finished Schofiled for best looks. The antiqued gun like I did would be too costly to make in that finish, they could, I would think, do an antiqued version like the antiqued (worn finish) Duke SAA models. That would look better than an attempt at a blued gun. Lots of possibilities.

      Dennis Adler


  3. Agree antiqued would look better than parkerizing. Like the pseudo casehardening,looks like the cyanide top of a Colt 2 tone magazine. Have you tried it on the frame of a blued Umarex Peacemaker?



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