Part of the mystique surrounding vintage Smith and Wesson revolvers by collectors in this country appears to be the quality of their blued finish. My own personal definition of vintage, which may not have a consensus here, is prior to circa 1958 when S&W started using model numbers instead of names and began instituting their design and engineering changes often for economic reasons. Having just received the excellent 4th edition of the SCSW, I found no definition of "vintage" so I decide to make up my own.
Having previously wondered about Smith's bluing process, I researched this online. The best information came from this forum (no surprise there), although it took quite a while to assemble a cohesive picture from the many threads and posts.
Below is a synopsis of what I found. Please note that I cannot vouch for the veracity of this data, which I am sure many of you either know by heart, or have differing views as to the details.
- During this "vintage era", their premium revolvers were highly polished by skilled craftsmen and all parts of each individual gun were blued together using Smith’s proprietary Carbonia oil / bone charcoal mixture in a gas furnace. After cooling the blued parts were immersed in whale oil, probably sperm whale oil (a modern day ethical violation?).
- The Carbonia oil was a proprietary mixture of a pine-tar-like oil provided by the American Gas Furnace Company along with other ingredients, the formula for which is now lost to posterity. The heating temperatures and durations are also not precisely known.
- All parts of given revolver were blued together at the same time.
- This method produced an exceptional and consistent finish.
- S&W made their own huge polishing wheels out of walrus hide and wood (imaging the outcry if that practice was pursued today).
- After 1958, parts were (over time) polished less highly and the parts of the guns were blued separately: the frames in one batch, another batch for the cylinders, barrels in a separate batch, etc.). Consistency of the blue using this approach was not quite optimal.
- The excellent Carbonia bluing process was abandoned in 1978.
All this is a preamble to The Real Question:
When, if ever, should a vintage S&W revolver be refinished? Some folks consider such a notion total anathema, never to be contemplated. Others are of the opinion that if the piece is a real beater of little relative value, then little is lost (either monetarily or historically) by re-bluing the gun in as period correct a manner as possible.
Incidetally, S&W told me over the phone last week that they will no longer re-finish any firearm manufactured prior to 1960. The reason given was, to paraphrase, "because of the unavailability of replacement parts and changes to 'manufacturing processes'".
My dilemma is with a revolver which lies somewhere in the middle. It is my newly acquired 1957 Pre-Model 29 .44 Magnum: CLICK HERE FOR THIS RECENT THREAD
. The polish of the metal is mostly really good, with some bluing wear at the muzzle and on the cylinder, and there are no dings or significant scratches. However, the bluing has a few blemishes to the color and there are a couple of tiny rust spots hidden under the stocks. This is a $1100 gun.
My initial feeling is that I should simply mitigate the hidden rust with careful application of extra fine 0000 steel wool and light machine oil, then thoroughly but gently clean the blued surfaces and perhaps apply Renaissance wax. However, am open to all opinions on what you guys believe is the best way to proceed.