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What do I need to make this '73 right?
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June 15, 2023 - 8:53 pm
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I’m trying to decide how to proceed with this ’73 in 32 w.c.f. SN 485204B

You can read the rather long story below, but to make a long story short,

No finish. Chopped barrel. Incorrect front sight. Monkeyed(?) rear sight. Ugly bore. 

1. Did I ruin anything by cleaning or working on the wood? I used Murphys oil soap to get the grime off, then gave it 10-12 coats of Boiled Linseed Oil while working the oil in with 0000 fine steel wool. No sanding, no noticeable reduction in wood height.

2. The original front sight was removed. I know the one I stuck on there isn’t correct but its what I had on hand to get it somewhat functional again. What would the correct front sight be?

3. What is the original rear sight? I still have the one that came on it and the plastic front sight.

4. Would you recommend a reline? Who’s the guy for Winchester relines if so? Or should I just get a new barrel and find an original magazine of the original length?

 

Anyways, to elaborate;

I bought it for I think a good price at an LGS for about half of what an Italian gun would cost, with the shop owner disclosing that the barrel had been cut down at some point, and it was pretty beat up and dirty with a pretty bad bore. I managed to sweet talk my local gunsmith out of some handloads with a mild charge of 4227 and soft .312 swaged bullets. (The only guy who’s reloads I’d trust. He has and reloads for many of these vintage rifles) and they printed decently, 2″ or so at 40 yards with no keyholing. My own loads with commercially cast are probably alloyed too hard and ran about double that size.

The picture immediately below is of the rifle after I swapped the sights, but before I cleaned and worked on the wood.

1873 as foundImage Enlarger

40 yard group, 1873, swaged .312 90grImage Enlarger

1873 boreImage Enlarger

I kept it original for a while, then started looking around at others and realized that with the barrel cut, there was no collectors interest, so I decided to improve its remaining main strength, that of visual appeal. 

The front sight was homespun, I do believe. feels like a piece of plastic wedged into the remains of an original front sight.

original front sightImage Enlarger

The rear sight didn’t look right to me, the slot cut on the right side of it looked like the remnants of a screw hole…it has the remnants of threads… and poking around I came to the conclusion it must have been a semi buckhorn sight with and adjustment screw that had been ground down for some reason.

original rear sightImage Enlarger

So I swapped this sight on, which I think is correct,

new rear sight 1873Image Enlarger

And this front sight on which I know isn’t correct but it was on hand and got the gun running until I could find an original

new front sight 1873Image Enlarger

Then here is where I need the opinion of some experts before I go and ruin something thats not chopped, beat up, and shot out.

The wood was bugging me. It was so grimy with crusty hand grease it was sticky and coming off onto my hands when I shot it. I made the decision to clean god knows how many years of fine antique crud off of it. You couldn’t even see the grain of the wood, it was so bad.

First off I used warm water with a mild mix of Murphys Oil Soap on it, working it with a mild plastic dish scrubber. I got it much cleaner with just soap and water.

left stock cleaned not workedImage Enlarger

stock left side cleaned not workedImage Enlarger

Now at this point my instincts would be on a dirty but original rifle with real collectors value is to stop here. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going any further than a cleaning….Or would it be wrong to go even that far, even with the grime covering up the wood grain? Do collectors want to see the dirt and grime on an original rifle?

At this point I could see figure, and I made the decision to do some work on the wood. I didn’t want to remove any wood, so I didn’t use any form of sandpaper, no chemicals, no mineral oil. I did use boiled linseed oil, applied in multiple coats, while lightly working the oil in with fine 0000 steel wool then wiping off to dry between coats. 

Would this be considered a refinish? I thought at the time that the original finish of the stock was boiled linseed oil, so I saw it as a refresh or restoration of the original finish rather than an outright refinish, and I’d like to be set straight before I find another gun and decide to do the same thing in error, and I don’t want to represent what i’ve done incorrectly. 

The more I worked on it, the more coats, the better it looked. To me anyways. 

stock reworked leftImage Enlarger

butt left sideImage Enlarger

full right sideImage Enlarger

 

So do tell, how should I approach dirty antiques in the future to avoid harming any collectability or condition? I do like working on guns like that to restore their visual appeal but don’t want to ruin something. 

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June 15, 2023 - 9:49 pm
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Nothing you did was detrimental, considering the overall condition.  I might have stopped with only one light coat of the linseed oil, simply because the better you make the stock look, the greater the contrast is between wood & the very worn metal.  If you wanted a shooter, I’d rather have this one at an affordable price than the same gun with a full-length brl for a good deal more.

Dismiss from further consideration either a replacement brl or a lining job!!!  Remember what they say about silk purses & sow’s ears?  You have a “good old ’73,” used pretty hard but not stupidly abused, so just enjoy shooting it.  2″ at 50 yds would be close to average even with a better bore.  Might shoot a bit better using jacketed bullets, or it might not, but worth trying. 

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June 16, 2023 - 10:38 am
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I’m in agreement with Clarence.

Changing a couple sights to help make it period correct is one thing as we’re talking about an Antique Rifle.

A little wood clean up didn’t hurt it as it’s important not to over due it and get carried away.

Enjoy the Winchester Classic.Smile

Antonio

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June 16, 2023 - 12:42 pm
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I agree with the others if you want a shooter you have one. I guess what might nag at me if I owned the rifle was the condition of the barrel’s bore being a shooter that is. If you reload like others said try some jacketed bullets I have done that in the past with some success with rifles with poor bores.  If you got it for a good price and can “fix’ a few minor things to get it running you did good. If there were a ready source for a replacement barrel in the same caliber I might consider changing it out if it didn’t cost too much. I have seen 73 barrels at gun shows occasionally Homestead Parts sometimes has barrels for sale. There are lots of rifles out there and available if you look. I might use the one you have and then keep an eye out for one in better condition down the road.

I have been on the road you are on with your rifle a few times before. I recently bought an 1886 in 38-56 that had been “restored” it was done well the rifle dated from 1905. I have a Cody letter that shows the rifle configured the way the rifle is with the exception of the barrel length which is not stated in the letter. The barrel had been cut down to 21 1/2″ from the breach it had been done on a lathe, done right, and the front sight was set about 3/4″ back from the muzzle. I had to fix the mag tube issue which was minor and I took the action down to inspect the internals and everything was clean. I reformed some new Starline 45-70 brass that I annealed first and was able to shoot the rifle and found that it is very accurate.  I got this rifle on an auction and for a  very good price less than what it would cost to buy an Italian replica. The present length of the barrel as it is makes for a nice rifle to carry in hand or in a saddle scabbard. When I got this rifle I was thinking of either reboring it to 45-70 or finding another barrel for it in 45-70 and keeping the original barrel. Instead I found an 1886 takedown in 45-70 that is in good shape with a bore around 7+ and letters as configured. Its date of manufacture is also 1905 and having shot it found it is pretty accurate with what I have available out to 100 yards. I haven’t had the time yet to develop a load for it yet. Now for the 1886 38-56 I haven’t figured on anything beyond keeping it the way it it. I don’t have a lot of money in it and now that I have 1886 in 45-70 I don’t think I will re-bore it at this point. I have considered maybe buying a full length barrel in 38-56 either an original or maybe one from Winchester barrels to put it back to the way it was but as the rifle stands it has no collector value its value to me is as a shooter and that is what I like about it.

Good luck,

Rob

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June 16, 2023 - 1:19 pm
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Robert Drummond Jr said
I agree with the others if you want a shooter you have one. I guess what might nag at me if I owned the rifle was the condition of the barrel’s bore being a shooter that is. If you reload like others said try some jacketed bullets I have done that in the past with some success with rifles with poor bores.  If you got it for a good price and can “fix’ a few minor things to get it running you did good. If there were a ready source for a replacement barrel in the same caliber I might consider changing it out if it didn’t cost too much. I have seen 73 barrels at gun shows occasionally Homestead Parts sometimes has barrels for sale. There are lots of rifles out there and available if you look. I might use the one you have and then keep an eye out for one in better condition down the road.

I have been on the road you are on with your rifle a few times before. I recently bought an 1886 in 38-56 that had been “restored” it was done well the rifle dated from 1905. I have a Cody letter that shows the rifle configured the way the rifle is with the exception of the barrel length which is not stated in the letter. The barrel had been cut down to 21 1/2″ from the breach it had been done on a lathe, done right, and the front sight was set about 3/4″ back from the muzzle. I had to fix the mag tube issue which was minor and I took the action down to inspect the internals and everything was clean. I reformed some new Starline 45-70 brass that I annealed first and was able to shoot the rifle and found that it is very accurate.  I got this rifle on an auction and for a  very good price less than what it would cost to buy an Italian replica. The present length of the barrel as it is makes for a nice rifle to carry in hand or in a saddle scabbard. When I got this rifle I was thinking of either reboring it to 45-70 or finding another barrel for it in 45-70 and keeping the original barrel. Instead I found an 1886 takedown in 45-70 that is in good shape with a bore around 7+ and letters as configured. Its date of manufacture is also 1905 and having shot it found it is pretty accurate with what I have available out to 100 yards. I haven’t had the time yet to develop a load for it yet. Now for the 1886 38-56 I haven’t figured on anything beyond keeping it the way it it. I don’t have a lot of money in it and now that I have 1886 in 45-70 I don’t think I will re-bore it at this point. I have considered maybe buying a full length barrel in 38-56 either an original or maybe one from Winchester barrels to put it back to the way it was but as the rifle stands it has no collector value its value to me is as a shooter and that is what I like about it.

Good luck,

Rob

  

I think a lot of these rifles – like the .38-56 described above – are best left as they sit.  A person can put a lot of money into something and not end up with anything better (i.e. a collector item).  If you are starting out with a refinished/altered rifle, then you have at best, a shooter.  Depending on bore condition of course.  As has been stated here many times, sometimes bad-looking bores end up shooting favorably (often with jacketed bullets).  Sometimes not.  Unless the rifle has sentimental value I think often the best solution is to simply send the rifle down the line. 

Most the time, these rifles are purchased because the price is found to be favorable – too good to pass up – a great deal. If that’s the case, usually the outlay can be easily recouped.  Recouping the cost and putting the money toward a superior piece has logic (i.e. non-emotional thought) behind it.  There’s a lot of rifles in the sea out there. Smile

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June 16, 2023 - 1:49 pm
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If there were a ready source for a replacement barrel in the same caliber I might consider changing it out if it didn’t cost too much. I have seen 73 barrels at gun shows occasionally Homestead Parts sometimes has barrels for sale.Robert Drummond Jr said

Problem with replacing any part, does it match wear & patina on other parts?  If not, you have turned an original cond gun into an obviously non-original “problem” gun.  If he could find an original brl with a better bore that exactly matched the external cond of the rcvr & mag tube, that would be great; what are the odds (& cost, including installation) of doing that?  Would it shoot significantly better?  Maybe, maybe not–about a 50/50 chance either way, I’d guess.

If you equip it with a Lyman #1 tang sight & a better front sight (a sharp post or bead), you might find that it shoots better than you think.

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June 16, 2023 - 2:58 pm
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Thank you everyone for your replies,

I do like the rifle as it sits and am satisfied with the results. It was very dirty and the action was very sluggish until I took it apart and cleaned it completely. Now it is much smoother.

I haven’t had a problem cleaning blued metal, If the finish is still intact under freckled or powder rust, oil and a fine copper brush works, and for anything worse the oil-and-penny trick works to get the crust off and stop the rusting process. I’m not a cold blue kind of guy so I don’t attempt to mess with or improve the appearance of the bluing itself other than cleaning the original bluing and stopping whatever rust is going on.

I’ve cleaned painted on varnish off of guns with acetone without harming the bluing at all, and so far none of the bluing I’ve used it on has showed any effects other than being much cleaner and shinier. 

I guess my biggest concern is the wood. A varnished finish can be cleaned with fine steel wool and mineral oil. Don’t strip or harm the varnish and you’ve still got the original finish, if that’s what you started with. 

The oil finishes are trickier and thats what I’m trying to figure out, how to clean, restore, and preserve an original oil finish, without going so far as to call it refinished or changing its dimensions in any way related to fitment.

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June 16, 2023 - 3:11 pm
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safestuffer said
The oil finishes are trickier and thats what I’m trying to figure out, how to clean, restore, and preserve an original oil finish, without going so far as to call it refinished or changing its dimensions in any way related to fitment.

  

If you mean a linseed oil finish, that’s the easiest kind to restore or refresh because there’s no exterior coating on the surface as with varnish, lacquer, etc.  The latter never wear evenly, with the result that protected areas may have full coverage, but bare wood in the most worn areas.

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June 17, 2023 - 9:22 pm
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Good job! It will never be original again but it’s functional and you’re happy with it, that’s all that counts. A wood stock that is used needs a bit of maintenance over several decade’s time and the oil finish has likely been refreshed a time or two over its lifetime. Apparently you have enough rifling to stabilize a lead bullet but a jacketed bullet intended for this cartridge may indeed bump up to better engage the remaining rifling and shoot acceptably with less bore fouling. Looks like a very attractive shooter and that’s exactly what I’d do with it. 32WCF is a great little plinking round!

 

Mike

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June 28, 2023 - 3:09 am
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You are very fortunate if it shot lead bullets that well.  Ergo, leave the barrel alone.  I have no problem with what you have done so far.  Old and well used `73s and `92s rarely shoot lead bullets without keyholing.  They will usually shoot jacketed bullets however.  The rub currently is that suitable jacketed bullets are impossible to find as is brass.  Be alert to scammers on brass….if they have any at a reasonable price I promise you it is a scam, especially if they want payment by Paypal, Zelle, or Bitcoins.  Wormey

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