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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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 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.