Gun ownership is a pastime of pride and dedication and nothing is more discerning then discovering rust on our most valued possessions. Whether you are a hunter or a collector taking care of your guns is important both to retain value and to ensure it can be safely operated. Unfortunately many accidents related to guns are due to a lack of attention to proper gun maintenance or simply firing off a completely rusted gun.
Since the bullet must travel down the shaft of the barrel almost any obstacle can cause a plethora of unwanted results. As a gun owner myself I cringe at the mere thought of any gun that has been left to the elements, but if your gun has rust I am here to tell you there is still hope!
Restoring any firearm can either be simple or painstakingly gruesome, but like my dad always liked to remind me, "With out effort there is little reward"! So if one of your beloved guns has been wrought with rust, or if you found a antique that needs a lot of work be prepared for some hard work. I myself came across my own hidden treasure after spending an afternoon poking around my grandfather's barn. To make a long story short; I latched my hot little hands onto a very weathered 1964 12-gauge Browning Superposed skeet gun. At first I was unaware about antique guns or the value of the treasure I had acquired, but thanks to the years of my dad preaching about gun care I was able to restore this classic to its former glory.
Rust simply put is like cancer for metal and steel. In the beginning stages it may or may not be visible to the naked eye, but once it begins it can spread like a plague. To explain exactly what rust is there is the scientific explanation of chemical compositions and various formulas, but quite simply it is a chemical reaction.
The term rust is used to describe a group of iron oxides, commonly associated with red oxides, which are the result of what happens when iron is introduced to elements like oxygen and water. These oxides rapidly begin corroding surrounding surfaces, which can be detrimental to the solidarity of the original product. Rust can be distinguished as a orange/red discoloring which over an extended period of time can entirely disintegrate a given mass.
Corrosion is commonly associated with rust and rightfully so since they both are forms of metallurgy breakdown of iron alloys such as steel. Since almost all gun parts are made of iron alloys, ranging from the gun barrel, butt-plate, trigger and various other critical components, they are all potential candidates for rust.
Although rust can form with the introduction of water, iron and oxygen the process can become advanced when the presence of salt is introduced. Saltwater rusting is likely to have a higher potential for complete composite breakdown, which means the alloy is near the point of disintegration. Most rust is only at first surface rust, which is like a passive layer that can be removed before it becomes permeated. Once surface rust settles the underlying layer becomes deeply embedded, which can now affect the inner core of the material being affected.
How to get rust off a gun:
There are a few ways to remove rust and restore a firearm such as bringing it to a gunsmith to have it properly cared for. Personally I like the hands on approach, since it is more rewarding and it can save you a considerable amount of money.
Before we begin breaking down the process I must digress to the most important fundamentals regarding guns; safety. Once rust has been discovered whether it be minor or extreme it is important to remember safety. An important part of gun ownership is knowing when even a hint of suspicion that a gun may be unsafe it should absolutely never be fired.
Step one: Spread out some newspaper or an old dirty sheet and begin disassembling the gun. If you are not familiar with dismantling a gun there are many publications that can explain the process since each manufacture and type can require specific steps or tools. Another good idea is just search on "google", since many videos or documents can be found on a plethora of different firearms.
Step two: Once you have completely dismantled your weapon you can begin to properly assess the amount of damage. Some internal parts may be absent of rust, like the firing mechanism or the bolt. Place any non-rusted parts into a vat or dish containing cleaning solvent. Once you have separated the affected parts (commonly barrel, trigger, mounting, butt-plate and other exposed surfaces, you can start getting to work.
Step three: Gun oil can be one of the most important tools in caring for guns, and the same goes for rust removal. Liberally apply gun oil to the surface of the affected area, and with a dry rag try to remove some of the surface rust. What ever remains will be apart of the next few steps.
Step four: Ensure you have plenty of very fine graded steel wool; never use sandpaper or other abrasive products that can harm the surface. I usually dip the wool into some gun oil and begin gently rubbing the surface area. This can take hours, days or even weeks depending on how deep the rust has become.
Step five: After working on a specific area it is a good idea to take a break to check your progress. Using a cloth or rag wipe the area again liberally applying more gun oil, which will reveal how much rust you have removed.
Step six: Repeat, repeat and repeat. Don't give up take a break if you are starting to feel frustrated. Unfortunately it is going to take some considerable amount of time, especially in deeply embedded rust. My Browning took almost a full year of daily sessions, which at some times felt I would never finish.
Step seven: After successfully removing all surface rust you can use a rag and oil method to sufficiently oil down the metal, which is essential to prevent rust from returning.
There are a few electric tools that can be used like a buffer or other rotary tool, but just be sure that nothing too abrasive is being used, and never work a particular area for an extended period of time without oiling.
Surface rust is probably the most difficult part of removing rust, but it is vital that the barrel has no rust inside.
Step one: Using a standard gun kit, take the rod assembly and with the steel brush attachment begin working the inside of the barrel.
Step two: After you feel that the barrel has been sufficiently scraped with the brush attachment you may want to run it through with the rag strip attachment and again plenty of oil. Once there is next to no rust particles or dust you can move to the next level of rust removal.
Step three: Dip some of your fine grade steel wool in a solvent solution such as "Scotch-brite", and begin working the rod assembly pushing the wad of steel wool down to the breach of the barrel.
Step four: Yes, once again repeat while frequently switching to rag and gun oil until there is no rust indication present. Personally, because the barrel is the most important component I will usually keep a very clean rag aside so once I think it is free of rust I can insert the perfectly white rag. If no rust is present by the time it is pulled through the rag should have no red or orange discoloring. If even a faint trace is present it is back to the drawing board, so to speak!
Step five: Even after you have the gun essentially rust free, it is important to have it inspected by a gunsmith before firing. At the same time you can request an estimation to have the firearm re-blued, which is the last step in gun restoration.
What to do after the rust:
Gun care is primary when you want your guns to last. Regular oiling and cleaning is almost a necessity to ensure your firearm has an excellent longevity. After dealing with a rusted weapon it is recommended to oil it about once a week for the first few months, and thereafter at least once a month.
There are kits for spot bluing, and although I don't recommend it, you can completely re-blue your gun with an over the counter cold-blue kit. Most gun owners will tell you that spot bluing is specifically for touching up worn spots, and that you can't achieve a professional looking job with any available kits.
Basically gun rust is not easy to deal with and you have few choices to resolve the problem. Cost is usually an important factor because even though it is more rewarding to do the work yourself it is still much more simpler to have it done by someone else.
By the way, my old Browning that was left abandoned to rust in a barn! I got it appraised after months of hard work and perseverance and even after I was only able to restore it to a good to fair condition it was still appraised at over ten thousand dollars! Not bad for something that took less than a year to restore. So the next time you see a really old firearm, and despite the rust encrusted exterior there still could be hidden gem beneath the rust!