Yet Another Successful Rescue !

It always pleases me when a customer brings me a family heirloom to be restored…. there’s something kind of magical about a grandfather’s rifle that evokes special memories, so this “rescue” – like all the others – had special meaning for its owner. The old Marlin Model 80 was a mess, with a pitted, rusty barrel, and globs of shellac masking the 80-year old walnut. The original rear peep sight was gone, and the (brass) front blade sight painted a ghastly orange. I certainly had my work cut out for me.rusty barrel

I got busy stripping the walnut stock using several applications of Citri-Strip, each coat scrubbed with a 3M pad to hasten the process. Once stripped, I lightly sanded the old walnut, leaving the small gouges and marks that gave it character. No stain was needed – a couple of coats of tung oil applied over 48 hours brought out the beauty of the wood. A final coat of Tru-Oil gave it a nice sheen for many more years of enjoyment in the field.

stripping walnut stock

The key to my success has been taking the time to do the needed prep work. Of course, no rescue would be complete without cutting a new target crown, so I got busy with my Manson Precision crown cutting kit ! First, I removed the old sights. After cutting the new crown, I spent 2-3 hours just polishing the barrel with emery cloth. By hand. Next,I applied about 8 coats of Oxpho-Blue, burnishing each successive coat with 0000 steel wool. By hand. After applying a light coat oil, I then hung the entire receiver/barrel assembly to “cure” for about 48 hours….for some reason, this seems to help give the bluing a “deeper” look.

new muzzle crown

Hard to argue with results, especially when the finished product looks like THIS ! The hand-rubbed tung oil finish, hardened with Tru-Oil, gave the wood a warm, red glow that almost took my breath away.

Close Up View - Finished Product

New Marlin Butt Pad

Like I said, it’s hard to argue with these kind of results.

Finally, the day came when I had to deliver the customer his grandfather’s rifle. I carefully wrapped the rifle in a new Bore-Store sleeve, and waited for him to unveil it. The reaction was predictable – this big, tough State Trooper welled up with tears, and, right then, I knew I had exceeded his expectations. His grandfather’s old Marlin .22 rifle would live on for several more generations. Yeah, getting paid to perform these transformations is nice, but hearing the customer tell me how he would present this rifle to his eldest son made my heart swell with pride.

Do YOU have a ridfle that needs to be rescued ?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Marlin Model 80 DL – Rescued

Word of mouth advertising is almost always the best kind, no matter your business model. When a fellow spotted an old Winchester I’d just restored he sent me this Marlin Model 80 to be refurbished.

I got to work, and first stripped the walnut stock to reveal what was underneath that old Marlin factory finish. After filling some gouges, the wood was sanded smooth and lightly stained, then finished off with my proprietary elixir of Tru-Oil and a drying agent to give it a rock-hard sheen that’ll last for decades.

Marlin Model 80 Deluxe

Next, the metal was smoothed and blued, the OEM screws were refurbished, and a new crown cut at the muzzle. Before reinstalling the front sight ramp, I polished the gold bead to a brilliant shine. The rear peep sight was disassembled and some minor surface rust removed. The bolt was examined for functionality and polished before lubrication applied.

This was a relatively easy “rescue” for me, but my efforts will be remembered long after I’m gone. The customer has his grandfather’s rifle back, and (with proper care), it should be a “shooter” for several more generations. And that’s what it’s all about folks.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Crowning Touch

When it comes to rifle restoration and custom gunsmith work, there’s no substitute for having the right tools for the job. Often, old rifles come to me with gouged and banged-up barrels, and a new crown cut into the muzzle can help restore accuracy and give the weapon a custom look usually seen on more expensive rifles. I recently learned about a product – made right here in Michigan – that cuts a new crown on a barrel without the need for a lathe. At first, it sounded too good to be true, so I contacted Dave Manson directly about his muzzle crowning kits. Dave was most gracious and offered to demonstrate his product on an old barrel I was working on. It worked so well I bought one of his kits on the spot, and will likely buy more of Manson Reamers products in the future. Want to see how well this works ?

I’ve used this kit several times already, and the simplicity of design makes it one of the handiest tools on my bench. With this kit, I can cut custom crowns all day long, and do it very economically – a great value for my customers !

For more information, visit or contact them directly :

Manson Precision Reamers, 8200 Embry Road, Grand Blanc MI 48439 – or you can call Dave directly at (810) 953-0732.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Next Up – the Winchester Model 67

It was 1934 when Winchester Repeating Arms introduced the Model 67, a bolt action, single shot .22 caliber rifle. Not long ago, a good friend presented me with an old rifle and a familiar story.

His grandfather had taught him how to shoot with the old Winchester from an early age. The child grew into a man, and went on to become a decorated Marine Corp sniper and avid outdoorsman. That beat-up old Winchester 67 came to him after his grandfather’s passing, and now he was trusting me to refurbish it. I was honored to accept the challenge.

Winchester Model 67

Model 67 barrel

This was going to take some time. I knew nothing of this particular rifle, so I began my research and carefully disassembled it. The stock looked as if used for batting practice – multiple cracks, gouges, notches, and marks from handling were evident.

Damaged stock

Damaged stock

With new walnut on order, I turned my attention to the long-neglected metal. It was nearly as rough as the stock – gouges, scrapes, and dimples stared back at me through the faded bluing.

Old Barrel

Old Barrel

After many hours of gentle filing and sanding, the metal fairly gleamed. I left a couple of little “scars” on the metal that help show its age and travels, but the barrel was finally ready for bluing. I selected a product called “Oxpho-Blue” from Brownells for its superior results, and got busy. After six coats of the cold blue elixir and much burnishing with steel wool, the barrel and receiver looked almost new again.

New Blue Barrel

Freshly Blued Barrel

Still, the barrel needed that little something extra….but what ? I mulled it over, did some more research, and got inspired. The OEM sights were utilitarian, to say the least, so they were replaced with (Michigan made) Marble’s sights. The rear sight is adjustable, the front sight a gold bead. But what this baby really needed was a freshly-cut crown on the old muzzle !

Fresh Cut Crown

After more searching and reading, I decided this was a job that I could easily do myself. The difficult part was determining the right method that would achieve the desired result. I consulted with Dave Manson, President of Manson Precision Reamers (link) in nearby Grand Blanc, Michigan. Dave was a most gracious host, and invited me to his shop to demonstrate their unique method of cutting a new crown using simple hand tools. After seeing their Muzzle Crown Cutter in action on this old barrel, I was so impressed that I bought one on the spot.

With that done, I’m turning attention back to the walnut stock and the smaller pieces that must be polished and re-blued. Any metal part that could be polished with Dremel tool and Flitz polishing compound got the treatment. Small screws were even refinished – peened flat again, their heads polished smooth, and new slots cut and filed sharp. In my next post I’ll demonstrate my work on the walnut stock, and all that it entails.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the finest custom leather craftsmen in the country, Marty Overstreet of Circle Bar T Leatherworks. Much like myself, Marty is a one-man shop catering to a specific need, and he’s always a pleasure to talk to. I can also tell my readers that Marty is a man of his word that gladly accepts projects with just a handshake or a phone call – a rarity in today’s business climate. Perhaps it is his gentlemanly manner or the way he engages his customers…..whatever the case, Mr. Overstreet can work magic with leather when no one else can.

The subject of “passion” for our chosen craft came up in discussion, and we talked at length about what it’s like to have a real desire to outperform customer’s expectations. I told Marty I enjoyed the “Wow !” factor – hearing that surprised expression when a customer sees a finished project for the first time. This is what we both strive for, day in and day out. It is the passion for our craft that drives us both to excel.

I’ve come to know this fellow pretty well over the past few months, as we are kindred spirits. Yet, I was somewhat surprised and flattered by some comments he made to me that day.

He said, “John, I’ve done a lot of custom leather work for good folks all over the country, and I’ve been privileged to have some big names in the firearms business as my friends. Out of all the people I’ve encountered over the years, I’d say there maybe twenty or twenty five that really impressed me with their passion for their work, and I gotta tell you that you’re one of them. I’ve seen the pictures of your work and followed your progress, and I can tell that you put 110% of yourself into every project. A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist….. you, sir, are an artist.”

Folks, this is what it’s all about. I have a passion to excel, and I will always strive to exceed your expectations. Got a rifle in need of rescue ? I hope you’ll consider entrusting it to my care.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How To Dress Up A Rifle Stock

Since the rimfire community has been so good to me, I wanted to “give back” a little by sharing my method for dressing up a rifle stock with a polymer spacer. Doing so gives the rifle a touch of class and a custom look that is fairly easy to achieve.

What You’ll Need : Ivory or colored polymer butt-pad spacer, masking tape, both medium and fine grit sanding blocks, Dremel (optional, but handy), and a bit of patience.

The first photo shows my Boyd’s featherweight thumb-hole stock, rough sanded but not yet finished. The ivory spacer was obtained from Tombstone Grips, and they’re available in a variety of colors and even pearls. For this project, I chose a gold pearl with a cool swirl pattern to accentuate the grain of the Royal Jacaranda stock.

Why use a sanding “block” instead of just a strip of plain old sandpaper ? The sanding block (or in my case, the 3M “SandBlaster” tool), gives you a firm, straight edge to work with, lessening the chances of getting ridges or lumps on the finished product. These simple tools allow a better grip and, thus, better control over your work. They are inexpensive and can be used many, many times without wearing out. You can use whatever is at hand for a sanding “block” – a wooden dowel wrapped in sandpaper is great for working in the barrel channels and rounded areas.

For starters, lay your recoil pad on top of the spacer, check the spacing around it, and use an awl or punch to tap a couple of pilot holes in your spacer. Next, drill two holes just slightly larger than the screws used to attach the recoil pad. The polymer material is fairly soft and drills easily. I like to give myself some “wiggle room” while drilling these mounting holes in case the spacer needs to be shifted one way or another for optimum overlap. Notice the rubber recoil pad has been masked to prevent removing excess material during sanding & shaping. I use two layers of tape in case I hit it with the Dremel (don’t ask how I figured that out). You can see the overlap at the top of the recoil pad – this is what you want to remove. We’ll work on the rubber pad later in this process. The following photo also shows an extra ivory polymer spacers against the stock.

The photo above illustrates how I masked the rubber recoil pad prior to shaping. I want to begin sanding from wood toward the rubber without altering the shape of the recoil pad.

Now the fun begins ! Mask off the wood portion of your stock with two or more layers of tape, until it looks like the example below. At this point in the process, we only want to remove the excess polymer material from that area. Once your satisfied with the masking, it should look look something like the photo below. Take your time and mask carefully – you’ll appreciate the effort later. The only thing showing should be spacer material.

To begin, I use my Dremel with sanding drum attached to remove a lot of the excess material quickly. Lower speed and long, sweeping motions work best for me. When I can see (or feel) that I’m getting close to the wood surface of the stock, I stop and check my progress. If I get a little over-zealous with the Dremel, the masking tape will “save my bacon”. A soft bristle brush helps clear the dust so I can visually check my progress.

The photo below helps illustrates my point about the masking tape – you can see where the tape has been chewed up a bit by the Dremel. This reminds me to switch over to another, gentler method for removing the rest of the polymer so it lays flush to the wood.

With the masking tape removed and a bit of mineral spirits to enhance the photo, you can see just how nice this is going to look when finished. But we’re not quite done yet – there’s a bit of hand sanding to do.

So far so good, right ? We’ve got the excess material removed and we’ve moved on to the final steps. Next, remove the masking tape from the stock portion to expose the wood. Now, mask off the rubber recoil pad one more time using at least two layers of tape. This allows you to carefully sand the polymer material flush to the rifle stock. Get your medium grit sanding block or pad and finish removing the excess material a little at a time. Gentle sanding from wood toward rubber gives you a smooth transition from wood to polymer to rubber, without bumps or ridges. Once you are satisfied with that, move on to the finer grit and keep sanding until it’s about as smooth as you can make it. I like to sand [I]toward[/I] the rubber (again). Use a bright work light to check your progress – better to take off too little than too much at this point. The objective is to make this appear as “seamless” as possible. As your work progresses, you’ll be able to both see and feel how the polymer material is being fitted to the stock.

Keep sanding until you cannot feel any bumps or ridges. Sanding across the “grain” of the polymer is good for removing material, sanding with the grain (long strokes along the length of the spacer) works to smooth the surface for final finishing. By using progressively finer grits, you can make these polymer spacers go from a dull matte to a finely polished sheen.

Last step – mask off the wood of the butt-stock with fresh tape, being careful to make it butt right up to the polymer spacer, leaving the recoil pad exposed. Using your fine grit sanding block, put the final touches on your gorgeous new spacer by sanding gently to blend the area where the spacer meets the rubber. I use long, flowing strokes, going in a circle around the entire area, being careful to check my progress as I go. By masking the wood and not the rubber recoil pad, you won’t risk any sanding marks on your stocks as you sand across the grain of the wood because it is protected by the masking tape. Got it so far ? Great !

There you have it ! In just a couple of hours, you’ve gone from “stock” to “wow – what a stock !”. With the wide array of colors and pearls at your disposal, it’s easy to turn your own stock into a real head-turner. I’ll finish this one off with a bit of rouge and a felt polishing wheel on my Dremel to bring it to a high gloss.

You’re gonna love the look of your new “custom” rifle stock, and you did it for about $20 or so. I get a LOT of compliments on this mod, and you will, too !  Hope you’ve enjoyed this little tutorial as much as I’ve enjoyed producing it. Now, go get some spacers and get busy !



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Custom Marlin Model 60

Custom Marlin Model 60This older Marlin rifle came to me from a relative’s estate, and I’ve worked hard to give it new life. The plain birch stock was replaced, the action tuned, and I added the scope.  That fancy jeweling on the bolt face was performed by my new friend, “Que” of Que’s Custom Bolt Work – one of the best in the business. The “ivory” spacer is nothing more than a piece of plastic fashioned from an old 5-gallon bucket, but it sure dresses up the stock ! She gets a lot of looks and compliments at the range, with good reason. Have an older Marlin rifle collecting dust around your home ? Contact me and let’s talk about a “rifle rescue”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment