First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 3

First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 3

A little more aging

By Dennis Adler

Old blued guns that have aged with time (as opposed to those meticulously preserved) usually end up with gray finishes (often referred to in auction catalogs as “an attractive silver-gray patina” or “smooth blue gray patina” and occasionally “mixed gunmetal appearance”) along with traces of deeper bluing and case colors, if they originally had any color casehardened parts. Some old finishes also turn dark or brownish (plum). It all depends upon the original bluing process or the conditions under which the gun was kept, but the majority of 19th century revolvers that have lost their finish over time do not look like the aged finishes used on CO2 air pistols and that is really the point.

Let’s jump to the end, the finished gun has been wiped down and wrapped up in an old oiled rag like it was going to be stored away. Fast forward 100 years, and you unwrap your heirloom S&W handed down from your great grandfather; and since we’re making this up, your great grandfather who was a Deputy U.S. Marshal. (I’m sure there are a few readers out there descended from 19th century lawmen, so this really isn’t that much of a tall tale). How did we get to this point? Read on.
If you need an idea what an aged gun looks like, here is a great example of a 5-1/2 inch Colt owned by famed Texas Ranger W.W. Sterling, who rose through the ranks from private to the highest position in the Texas Rangers, Adjutant General. This gun served him for decades and shows the wear. The faded finish was to be my guide for the Schofield project. (Gun courtesy of Kurt House Collection, photos by Paul Goodwin Creative Services)

The Colt 5-1/2 inch smokeless powder frame Peacemaker pictured, engraved and fitted with rough checkered one-piece ivory grips, was carried by Texas Ranger Captain and later Adjutant General W. W. Sterling, the only Ranger to serve in all ranks from Private to commanding officer of the Texas Rangers. The case colors are faint, the bluing on the barrel and triggerguard faded in places, darker in others, and the ejector all but rubbed to the metal.

We start with the aged Barra Schofield, which has a decent finish but could use a little added aging and the elimination of the distracting white lettering under the barrel and on the left side of the gun. What you will need is Grade #0000 steel wool, a green 3M scrubber, and a bottle of Birchwood Casey Aluminum Black.

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Interestingly, Smith & Wesson models from around the turn of the century often show a darker appearance compared to Colts, as shown in the Blue Book of Gun Values Photo Percentage Grading Scale (PPGS). The Sterling gun would be about 60% to 70% on the scale. The finish on the Barra Schofield would be about 90% if it were a real S&W. When I aged and distressed one of the Colt CO2 models earlier this year I was aiming for about a 30% finish with a little stronger than usual case colors. I think I came pretty close but it is not an attractive looking gun. Nor was it intended to be. For the Barra Schofield I am going to take more of the finish away; it will still be a pretty decent looking gun, but a little more realistic in its intended aged appearance. This is also a process that is easy to do without fretting over ruining the gun’s general look.

The W.W. Sterling gun was also my inspiration for the refinish on the Umarex Colt Peacemaker earlier this year which pulled out all the stops with faux color casehardening and a well worn blued finish. This is a lot of work! What I am going to do with the Barra Schofield is an afternoon’s work just adding a little more aging to the finish.

Here’s the rub…

The idea was not to remove the entire finish to the white metal, but rather rub out the white lettering….but this white lettering goes all the way through the finish and you end up at white metal and the lettering is still faintly there. I don’t want to polish out this entire gun like I did with the Umarex Colt Peacemaker, so it seems some experimentation is next.

While the Barra aged finish is nice, it is still burdened with the requisite warnings, etc. in white lettering, which has been moved to the underside of the barrel. My initial intent was to rub this out without going all the way through the finish to bare metal. It didn’t work. The lettering goes all the way through the finish to the metal.
To break through the lettering you need to rub completely through the aged finish to the metal. This leads to using the Aluminum Black to retouch the finish and fade it out to look more authentic.
I removed the finish to the point where the lettering was no longer visible, though it is still there even in the white metal. This section needs to re refinished with the Aluminum Black and then worked down to an aged look.

I’ll save you the trials and tell you that for this job with this aged finish, all you need is Birchwood Casey Aluminum Black, which takes to the alloy used for the Schofield, mattes down, and polishes out almost to match, but of course, you don’t want to match, you want to age more and wear off more finish around the edges, barrel, and cylinder but not leave too much bare metal. I used the finish on the Sterling SAA as a rough guide. I wanted the Schofield to look well worn but not as worn as the Umarex Peacemaker I had done before.

The 0000 steel wool will remove finish down to metal with some vigorous pressure and that was needed to remove the white lettering from under the barrel and from the left side of the gun, leaving only the serial number in tact. The 3M pad lightly applied will not remove finish but smooth it out along with a few thicknesses of cloth cleaning patches as a second polish to just clean up the finish and remove dirt and residue.

I used a Q-tip for the application on the Aluminum Black. Be sure to use this product in a well ventilated area and either keep it off your hands or wear rubber gloves. After applying the Aluminum Black I used the steel wool to blend it in and add some more distress to the barrel’s overall finish.

The Aluminum Black will fill in dark. Try to minimize any contact with the rest of the finish. I used Q-tips to apply the Aluminum Black in straight lines to the areas that were down to bare metal. Once applied, I let it dry for a few minutes and then went over it lightly with the 0000 steel wool to rub it out to a lighter color. It is trial and error and I redid this a few times in places to get the finish I wanted. You can use the semi-dried out Q-top for touch up as the Aluminum Black still has some coloring properties as it sets on the cotton swab, and actually goes on in small areas quite easily allowing a quick follow up with steel wool.

The same process is required for the left side to eliminate the caliber markings and proof mark. I am going to leave the serial number on the frame.
Another hard rubbing out of the finish eliminates the white lettering.
Application of the Aluminum Black goes pretty fast. It takes a few coats and a little drying time. It won’t look right and will contrast against the barrel, but a polishing out with steel wool will bring it all back to where you want it for an aged finish.
A little white metal showing is good as it would be where the finish has completely been worn off over time. The high edges would also show wear over the years from rubbing in the holster.

Small details

It took about two hours to rub out and refinish the barrel which has all the white letters that need to be removed. I then used the steel wool to rub over the muzzle, along the barrel, into the frame, backstrap (remove the left grip panel to do this and be careful not to rub the edge of the right panel as you go), and triggerguard to bring up some of the white metal beneath to create minor finish wear on the edges. Last, I went over the cylinder lightly with the steel wool (and used caned air to blow off debris), until there is a lighter hue to the finish and edge wear around the flutes. Last, I carefully rubbed inside the cylinder flutes to add a little aging because the cylinder really needs it.

A littler added polishing out of the Barra finish along edges adds to the look of the gun and also helps to blend in other areas such as the barrel. The cylinder also needs to have some finish wear and the steel wool does the job perfectly.
The steel wool will remove the darkest parts of the Barra finish and give the gun a more time worn look. This has to be done carefully and to your personal preferences. I like to go pretty extreme, even here where I want to retain a lot of the gun’s overall factory aged finish.
A few cotton patches can be used to rub out the finish and remove a lot of the fine surface residue from the steel wool and Aluminum Black.
You can use the steel wool to lighten the edges of the triggerguard and underside of the frame. These exposed areas would normally get more wear over time.

I blew off any debris on the outer surfaces then opened the gun and blew out the inside of the frame, cylinder and down the barrel. I did all the work on this gun with a CO2 cartridge inserted to help protect the seals and CO2 channel and, except for the backstrap polishing, kept the grips on the gun the entire time.

This is pretty much what I was looking for in terms of wear. A little touchup with the Aluminum Black can be done to create more definition among parts and surfaces.

This is a quick job compared to the Colt or a total finish removal and refinish, and there is no need to tape things off. A few hours work and a little patience with the process (a few hours for me having done this a few times already might mean an hour or two more if this is your first try at refinishing).

The cylinder needed to have all the sides and flutes aged with the steel wool to more closely match the rest of the gun. This is an important step to making the overall look of an aged finish. The cylinder gets a lot of wear but the flutes not nearly as much and they will often be darker than the rest of the cylinder. But they need to be rubbed out a little just the same.
And you unwrap the old gun in the oiled cloth to reveal a well worn but still visually appealing old S&W topbreak. Worn to perfection by time…or a little steel wood and Aluminum Black.
In comparison to the week long project refinishing the Umarex Colt Peacemaker (what I call a labor of love because it was really a lot of time and effort), to an afternoon’s work to distress the Schofield gives two very different outcomes. Both, in their own way, are better looking guns if you prefer an aged finish that looks more like a real old firearm from the American West.

And the unwrapping

For the final touchup I wiped the gun down with an old oiled rag that has wiped down countless guns over the years, and then wrapped the refinished Schofield in the rag like it was going to be stored away. Fast forward 100 years and you unwrap your heirloom S&W handed down from your great grandfather; and since we’re making this up, your great grandfather who was a Deputy U.S. Marshal. (I’m sure there are a few readers out there descended from 19th century lawmen so this isn’t really that much of a tall tale). The added aging to the Barra Schofield gives it a more authentic old gun look and the wear along the barrel and high edges is appropriate. It is aged but not to a great extreme.

The rubbed out finish and rubbed out to white on high edges lends the look of authenticity. Now the grips look a little too good, but the excellent aged wood grain in the composite panels is still impressive.
So, this is where we started with the gun at top, and several hours later where we ended up with the gun at the bottom; from aged to well-aged in a day.

The end result is a better version of the Barra aged finish without going overboard. Now load up that old S&W smokewagon and go to town.

Time to get back in the saddle and put some more wear on the action!

2 thoughts on “First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 3”

  1. Nice job. The Schofield starts out with a better more uniform finish than the Peacemaker. Now we need the nickel finish as well as a high polish blue , with proper case hardened hammer and trigger guard.

  2. Nice job x2.
    Coincidentally very timely as I was considering the Barra Schofield ‘aged finish’ as my next purchase but really turned off with the white lettering. Now you have shown how to accomplish a very convincing ‘disappearing act’ on those. Thanks.
    Now, could you share where the floral designed leather Cross Draw holster is from ?

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