Jonathan Young takes on a tricky restoration project to bring an airgun back from the edge – the edge of reason!
Getting out and about looking for a new permission is all part of airgunning. Back garden shooting is great, but not everyone has a long garden.
Even if you don’t shoot bunnies, a big perm is always good to have. No, I don’t mean some 1980s hairdo, just somewhere decent to get out and shoot! So I approached one particular farmer to see if I could land myself a new permission.
During our conversation he told me he owned an old air rifle that was lying around somewhere in the barn. Crikey, that was unexpected! He tried to describe it – badly – and my imagination ran wild, eventually arriving at some classy HW fixed-barrel underlever in rare .25 calibre, because he kept mentioning that the rifle needed big pellets.
Hoping it could make securing my permission easier, I offered to clean it up for him. So later on in the barn, from under an old tarpaulin he pulled out this monstrosity.
It was so rusty I thought I was going to need a tetanus shot. The painted stock was almost as dazzling as the flaking red rust. So it was a Chinese fixed-barrel underlever in .22 rather than a Weihrauch.
And as for my hopes of a .25 calibre? Well it seems he had only ever used .177, so to him .22 was big!
I was just about to ask if it had come out of the silage pit when he told me he’d paid money for it. I was so glad I bit my tongue and also felt obliged to fulfil my offer.
In for a penny in for a pound, nothing ventured, nothing gained, that sort of thing. But I’m just not the sharpest tool in the box as I walked away thinking: “What I have I got myself into this time?”
Back home I tested it and, unbelievably, it worked. Off came the stock, revealing blued steel underneath. The internals showed plenty of grease too.
So despite my initial misgivings it seemed this air rifle rescue was pretty much just a cosmetic job – and I couldn’t make it look any worse than it did already.
The loose crud and cobwebs came off revealing a surface like nothing I have ever seen before on a gun. It was a typical shed gun too, as one side was noticeably worse than the other. No oily wire wool would be needed here – this was ideally an angle-grinder job.
Oddly I’d never thought to buy a grinder for airgun restoration, so instead I found some rough 60 grit belt sanding strips. I had no worries about scratching the metal too harshly here. The smaller parts, such as the trigger guard, foresight, barrel catch and the sling swivel, were all removed after a decent squirt of oil.
After locking the action in a vice, the sanding strip was grasped at both ends and run over the barrel up and down. The action was rotated in the vice and the process repeated.
I proceeded to work my way along the barrel in several stages, making sure not to linger too long over any one spot to avoid leaving any visible ridges. Then the action itself was tackled – and this was a lot more difficult, with many welded-on parts being tricky to work around. I treated the muzzle more gently to preserve what was left of any barrel crown.
All this work resulted in a clean, but badly pitted surface. So it was time for some more sanding, and then some more, and then even more, until finally it had a smoother and less-pitted surface.
Everything was then degreased using solvent and allowed to dry. When working with chemicals, do follow their instructions for use. In this case new rust had appeared overnight, making more work for me.
I had plenty of black aerosol paint, but decided to use some bluing solution instead following a second clean-up. Two coats were wiped over, and when these were dry I applied some oil to seal the surface. The small parts of the rifle were also treated before I fitted them back onto the action.
Any normal person would now have been running with the thing back to its owner, but I began looking at the stock. Under what looked like industrial floor paint there was some nice Indonesian rubberwood.
Sanding stocks is very time-consuming, so I used a Stanley blade held at a sharp angle to the surface to gently scrape away the old paint. Drawing it back and forth literally ploughs away the finish.
It still took me some time though, was hard on the fingers, and occasionally the blade dug in and I gouged away some skin – but it was worth it. Afterwards a light sanding with some wet and dry paper in a medium grit finished off the wood.
After a wipe-down, some wood dye was applied. After it had dried it was sealed with some water-based gloss varnish – it was all that was to hand. As I’d half-expected it looked worse than a badger’s behind, so this was then rubbed back with some wire wool. A second coat was applied and again rubbed back, this time leaving a much smoother, satin surface.
Back at the farm the air rifle was revealed to the farmer. Stunned he was! But after all that effort I still didn’t get myself that permission, because the farmer said he wanted to try for the rabbits himself with his ‘new’ gun! At least I learned a few things along the way.