Old Dog, New Tricks

I love old guns; I don’t think that’s much of a secret. I’m particularly fond of old Smith & Wesson top-breaks, not the least because they are still relatively inexpensive. They have other advantages though; they were the highest-quality guns of their type made in America, they have lovely, smooth double action triggers and a high level of detail and finish. They were also, most of them, ‘Drawer guns-‘ shot very little and consigned to a drawer so they tend to be in good mechanical condition. Unfortunately this ‘benign neglect’ means that finishes, particularly nickel, suffer.


One problem- the stock grip is so small the gun is basically un-shootable in my big mitt.

This Smith & Wesson .32 Double Action (4th Model) had a nickel finish that was pretty far gone and a semi-competantly shortened barrel. After shortening the barrel further and re-crowning it, a new front sight and custom grips it needed refinishing. I stripped the gun and ‘slicked’ the frame (ground all the pins flush) then went to work.

The bulk of the stripping was done with 800 grit sandpaper and a hand-held electric sander. I’m sure that fine gunsmiths the world over are turning over in their graves, but this cleared off the old nickel in record time. Then I went after it with needle-files and more sandpaper to get at the nooks and creases. This is a bit problematic because bare metal looks a lot like nickel. A touch of cold-blue here and there quickly reveals any spots that need more work.

The next step was a sisal buffing wheel with Stainless Steel Black rouge. Sisal is super-aggressive, so never buff across a crease or ridge or it will be gone- buff with the direction of the ridge or crease. Just kiss the parts with he wheel and let the speed and rouge do the work- too much pressure will erode the parts. Don’t be skimpy with the rouge either, or be tempted to substitute pressure for time.

A tip- buff the frame with the side-plate in place; one of the tell-tales of a badly refinished guns is rounding the edges on this plate. By buffing it flush with the frame you avoid this.

Parts were then cleaned and degreased and immersed in Van’s Instant Blue for several minutes, then soaked with WD40. You can see the results in the photos-

The end result is a gun not much bigger than a .22 or .25 ACP pocket-gun. .32 ACP is pretty anemic, but out of this short a gun it’s at least the equal of most such guns, and a whole lot more fun and interesting.

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