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Old 03-19-2017, 02:11 PM
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Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson?  
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Default Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson?

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.
  1. 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?).
  2. 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.
  3. All parts of given revolver were blued together at the same time.
  4. This method produced an exceptional and consistent finish.
  5. S&W made their own huge polishing wheels out of walrus hide and wood (imaging the outcry if that practice was pursued today).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Thanks much,
Charlie

Last edited by LongColt45; 03-19-2017 at 06:40 PM.
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Old 03-19-2017, 02:27 PM
gmborkovic gmborkovic is offline
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Hello Mr. 45, please no steel wool or re-finish, an oily cotton rag and a little rubbing. Others will follow with suggestions of polish and wax, yea go ahead. Dont make it a gun that use to be original. Best
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Old 03-19-2017, 02:30 PM
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Almost everyone on this forum will tell you to leave it as is ,and for good reason.However if bringing back the gun to perfect condition finish wise will make you cherish this gun even more, then you should do so.At this point you should send it off to Ford's refinishing in Fl.
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Old 03-19-2017, 02:50 PM
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I've had a couple guns reblued and otherwise "refinished" over the years. Have never been satisfied with the results and have generally been sorry that I had it done. Never sent one to Ford's though, so maybe that would have a different (although costlier) result. I too have a pre 29 with a little blue wear but there's no way it is going out for a reblue. Good luck.

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Old 03-19-2017, 02:59 PM
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I wouldn't consider it unless the blueing is less than 25%. A cheap refinish will make the gun worth less. An expensive refinish might bring the value of the gun up a little but the money you spent on the refinish will basically be wasted if viewed as an investment.
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:26 PM
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Have to agree whole hardheadedly. Never seen a customer satisfied with a re-finish. I have never done one.
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:41 PM
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The refinish or no refinish debate has been discussed here ad nauseam.

The bottom line is that it is your gun and therefore your choice. If you are looking for help to make your decision I would offer the following.

If you are doing it for yourself and cost is not an issue then there is no decision to make.

If you are doing it with hopes that the guns value will increase with a new paint job, then there are 2 answers.

Purist collectors won't touch the gun in most instances.

Shooters and non purist collectors won't mind or will maybe only take a small deduction for the refinish.

So basically that is it.


As for steel wool, NEVER use it on a gun. It is too harsh and steel rusts. When steel wool is used it tends to leave small particles behind and little particles of rusting steel are not what you want on your blue finish. I don't even like brass or copper wool unless the rust is very thick.

Try a rag with oil and rub the rust flecks gently. A finger nail works well with oil also. Remember that bluing finish on a gun is a form of rusting and is only skin deep. This is why a leather holster is able to remove the bluing from the tip of the barrel.

Over rubbing of any manner will remove the bluing. So good luck and make sure to post before and after photos. We all love gun porn.
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:52 PM
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I would recommend in your endeavor to remove the minor rust to use bronze wool as opposed to steel wool. It takes additional effort but is less aggressive. I have ordered it from Amazon. com in the past, but there are probably other sources.
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:56 PM
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The days are long gone where S&W would "refurbish" (meaning restore to "as new" condition) which ceased sometime in the 1970s as far as I could trace. Even in the 1970's S&W's in house work on older guns started to get sloppy, likely because of the WWII Craftsmen, retiring out, which is my opinion alone with no supporting facts other than my 30 years of collecting old S&W's.

Shortly after S&W stopped repairing and / or refurbishing older guns they excllusively referred Dave Chicoine, who (unfortunately) can no longer do these restorations or Charles Duffy ... a master gunsmith "par excellence" who's standard refinish was someone else's restoration. Sadly, Charles Duffy passed on a few years back.

Over the years I have never passed a nice deal on a S&W "Factory" refurbished Model 3 which strongly depended upon "when" the repair or refurbish was done (prior to the 1970s, OK. 1960s better, 1950s and back even better than that). Further, the examination of the refinished or refurbished piece to determine if there had been excessive pitting or was in excellent conditions prior to the repair / refurbish .... actually examining the gun "through" the repair / refinish / refurbishment.

Factory S&W refurbished guns usually hold a higher regard and respect by collectors than others that were repaired or refinished by some unknown.

Purists of the time, would not even consider a refinished "collectible" gun while the going trend seems to show a wider approval for S&W Factory repaired / refinished / refurbished guns.

Some older collectors and gun owners would simply send their favorite baby to the factory for a refinish if she started to show thinning blue, SOLELY with the highest regards and respect to keep their cherished S&Ws in fine tune and maintenance. Back then many of those guns had not yet become "collectible" or scarce.

The choice is yours alone.

But, as they Knight in Guard of the Holy Grail would advise: "Choose wisely".
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:02 PM
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1. "Vintage" often is used as a generic term. So it's like saying my barrel is inches long, it's meaningless w/o specificity.

So one must specify the vintage one is referring to. You picked pre 1958 vintage. That's good and clear to anyone.

2. It's too easy to generalize the finish over a long period of time but not accurately because over your chosen vintage period, the finish/process changed several times, can be different by model, and particularly for the 10 years following each world war when the satin finish was standard unless special ordered.

3. I would never get a 're-blue or refinish' and that's not what you want. You actually want a "finish restoration" which also implies factory matching prep and polishing techniques. That's a big difference! To do or not is a personal decision but if you do, forget about collector value, period.

And yes Ford's is considered excellent by most, you must specify the finish you want and price will be commensurate with your choice.

Ford’s Guns
http://www.fordsguns.com/
The master Horace Ford in Florida:
Ford’s work in post 32 is a $400 job on 6/26/13, and some other examples are in other posts in this thread:
Relieved & Non Relieved Grips? Help Pls
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:28 PM
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Lets consider the statement that it is your gun, do what you want. Really.
We are the custodians, assigned to care for them, we are not suppose to screw them up for future owners. I sell and trade like all of us. The good stuff goes to my two boys. Re-fins and diddled with guns bring me no joy.
There are no more artisans. They are gone. Best
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:29 PM
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One minor, yet very significant addition to your excellent description of the finishing process----very significant because it accounts for S&W's heretofore excellent polishing: The leather polishing wheels were formed----formed to fit (exactly) the particular surface at hand----flat/round/concave/convex----you name it, they had it (with back-up).

If you browse around in older issues of the Gun Digest(??) (late 50's-early 60's is my best recollection/guess) you will find a pictorial essay of S&W's manufacturing process---start to finish. Therein you will find at least one, if not several photos of these polishing wheels-----gazillions of them piled high on racks.

Bottom Line: If you have a surface on ANY S&W (from back in the good old days) they had a wheel (or six or eight) to fit it----exactly. And given even a cursory examination of any high condition older gun, you will come to believe the lads knew how to use them----AND took great pride in their work.

Them there was the good old days----------long gone, but not forgotten----simply lamented.

Ralph Tremaine

Given an unwise, yet overwhelming desire to have your gun refinished, send it to Fords. The primary reason is because they polish by hand---and the results are spectacular. Your gun will not look as it did when it came out of the box----it'll be better (very noticeable higher polish, slightly darker color). Their "Master Blue" is what you're after. Your instructions to them to produce these results go like this: Please assign this to your very best craftsman----and I don't care how much it costs. The bad news is you will never again be able to use this gun----it's too pretty------goes on the shelf----occasional fondling is permitted.

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Old 03-19-2017, 04:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LongColt45 View Post
[*]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 . . .

It is my newly acquired 1957 Pre-Model 29 .44 Magnum . . . 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 an $1100 gun . . .
As noted above, there were several different finishes for S&W revolvers in the Twentieth century, and not all "premium" S&Ws were gloss finished. Arguably, the finest revolvers ever made were the late 1940s & early 1950s were the Masterpiece line. They had a matte finish for several years.

My suggestion would be to sell that one to someone who will appreciate it as is. Take your sale money and what you would spend at Ford's and buy one in better condition that you would be happy with owning. In a decade you will be glad you have an original 44 Mag, since the value will continue to grow . . . unless it is refinished.
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Old 03-19-2017, 05:03 PM
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Fords. Fords. Fords. Are they the be all and end all re-fin guys?
I have seen a lot of their work, not impressed. I guess it is OK work, if that is what you want. If you want something better, go buy it.
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Old 03-19-2017, 05:19 PM
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If the blued finish is worn, but not rusted or damaged, it is possible to have it re-blued without polishing, and it turns out well, at least it has on the ones I have personally done that way. But I agree with everyone else in advising against any type of complete re-finishing for yours. Applying some cold blue on the worn areas won't hurt if it makes you feel better. But it's not a permanent fix.

To paraphrase one earlier posting, if you want a gun which looks like new, you should buy a new gun.

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Old 03-19-2017, 05:37 PM
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I've done a lit'l work on my own S&Ws, including a finish change or
a new polish and blue job......


Having used Ford's several times and after as many return parts for
quality issues, they are now very last on my list of outside sources.


I'd clean that 44 up with a lit'l RIG and an old soft wool sock and then wax it a bit.




.
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Old 03-19-2017, 10:57 PM
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I read a lot of high praise for Fords but it's possible they're not what they use to be. Check out this refinish on the Colt forum in 2016.

I can no longer recommend Ford's Refinishing
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Old 03-19-2017, 11:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmborkovic View Post
Lets consider the statement that it is your gun, do what you want. Really.
We are the custodians, assigned to care for them, we are not suppose to screw them up for future owners. I sell and trade like all of us. The good stuff goes to my two boys. Re-fins and diddled with guns bring me no joy.
There are no more artisans. They are gone. Best
I was going to say "that's a bit dramatic"...but just earlier today I posted that "every time somebody refinishes a pinned and recessed Smith, a puppy gets cancer." So, I am probably not in the best position to talk.
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Old 03-19-2017, 11:40 PM
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my gun smith ,also a good friend spoke highly of this business:Home - ACCURATE PLATING AND WEAPONRY
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Old 03-20-2017, 07:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsfricks View Post
I read a lot of high praise for Fords but it's possible they're not what they use to be. Check out this refinish on the Colt forum in 2016.

I can no longer recommend Ford's Refinishing
Good Lord - I don't know if I can eat breakfast after seeing what happened to that Colt.....
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Old 03-20-2017, 08:42 AM
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I always read these discussions with keen interest. I have a K32 that has considerable finish wear and a bubba ground front sight. I have a replacement sight, and have debated having this gun restored,. I have a K22 and. K38, both in very good condition, and I'd like the K32 to look the same. Now to those who say sell it and buy a better one, have you looked at K32 prices lately?. I have $1150 in my K32. If I spent $600 to have it restored, I have a hard time believing I couldn't sell that piece for $2000, when good original ones are selling for twice that .. I know it won't be original, but in the current condition, it will never be a true collector piece, now will it? And since selling it will be my son's concern, why do I care.

If I was confident I could get a Turnbull type restoration, I would do so. Based on some of the changes I've heard about at Ford's I'm not sure about using them. So for now, my K32 stays ugly.
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Old 03-20-2017, 09:18 AM
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I agree with those that mention polishing as highly important.

Another is finish before it ever touches a polisher.

I have done high polish knife blades. If there is a small scratch it doesn't polish out as much as polishing gives you a polished scratch. Polishing is really just high grit sanding. If your using 4000 grid polish it will take forever to remove a 400 grit scratch. Plus, it is very difficult to get a smooth even polish without slightly messing up the contour and making surface wavy. Power buffing also can kind of smear metal. The guys that do blades with differential HT and clay to develop a Hamon will not use a power buffer because it will blend the steel in the hamon area and it will never be as good as hand sanded to very high grit and hand buffed.

The guys who did the sanding and ran the buffers for S&W were highly skilled craftsmen on the same level or possibly a higher level than the guys who hand fit them.
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Old 03-20-2017, 09:41 AM
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I have one I struggle with. It is a 38/44 HD from 1936 that went to the Amsterdam, NY police department (from a Jinks letter).

Some previous owner thought it would look better if they stripped the blue off. They must have taken naval jelly or something and they stripped every bit of blue off of it. No marks or scratches - never been buffed. Really beautiful condition. But zero finish.

It's no longer original...and I am really tempted to have it reblued. It looks almost like it could be degreased and dropped in the tank.
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Old 03-20-2017, 10:05 AM
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Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson? Re-Bluing a Vintage Smith & Wesson?  
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It occurs to me those who have experienced unsatisfactory results from Fords have made an unwise detour along the way----cost consideration--and its inevitable consequences. Without belaboring the point unnecessarily, you get what you are willing to pay for.

It puts me in mind mind of my favorite engine builder during my somewhat adventurous youth. A very prominent sign in the shop area went something like this: SPEED COSTS MONEY---HOW FAST DO YOU WANT TO GO? (Actually it didn't go something like that, it went EXACTLY like that-----an object lesson for those at the back of the pack.)

And to definitely belabor the point, "You get what you pay for."

And to belabor another point, whoever opined the best way to make a silk purse from a sow's ear is to first sell the sow's ear, then save up the necessary extra funds to buy the silk purse is right on target-----works every time.

Ralph Tremaine

As an aside, I have never had a gun refinished by Fords (or anybody else besides two from the factory). I have seen several from Fords---both blue ("Master Blue") and nickel. They were, without exception, flawless. Some of those had been EXTENSIVELY "restored"----which is to say both some lettering AND the S&W logo had been re cut---flawlessly.

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Old 03-20-2017, 12:45 PM
lonegunman762x51 lonegunman762x51 is offline
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I have a pre-war KCPD non-registered Magnum from 1940. It was ruined when I found it from a previous re-blue and awful trigger job that left the gun with "push-off" and some other issues that made it unsafe to shoot. It was for all intents and purposes headed for the scrap yard. There are also only 1100 or so of them and that means very few are left. There is a difference between a "re-blue" and a restoration to factory condition. I opted to go for a full restoration to as nice a condition as possible.

I sent it off to Dave Chiccone, Old West Gunsmiths. He has since died and I think the company is out of business. He did a beautiful job with the gun and it looks like it did the day it left the factory. I replaced the Hogue grip with a proper set of Keith Brown stocks with original prewar medallions.

According to some folks here, I'm sure it is all but worthless, especially if they are offering to buy it. But, it is now alive and fully functional and back in it's original shape. I look at it as money well spent to save a piece of history.

The choice is up to you. If it is from the Custer battlefield or once owned by J.Edgar Hoover, then you might want to leave it in original condition. I made my choice based on the condition and history of the gun and it was worth it to me to save this gun from the scrap heap.

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Old 03-20-2017, 02:51 PM
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Default A vintage S&W Factory Refurbished Schofield.

This is one of Dad's.

It is S&W Factory Refurbished 1st Schofield with premium blue, performed "back in the day" when craftsmen were king.

This guy is sporting a Huey Case with Sterling Silver oil bottle and custom hollow ground screwdriver which is correct to the gun, and a period cleaning rod.
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Rangeline9 View Post
This is one of Dad's.

It is S&W Factory Refurbished 1st Schofield with premium blue, performed "back in the day" when craftsmen were king.

This guy is sporting a Huey Case with Sterling Silver oil bottle and custom hollow ground screwdriver which is correct to the gun, and a period cleaning rod.
Hmmmm ... I thought that looked familiar !

PS: you are NOT allowed to fire THAT Schofield. Use one of the other Schofields if you must but use only the ammo that I loaded for it.
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Old 03-20-2017, 06:38 PM
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I've had three guns refinished by this firm in Glenrock WY. It's within a couple hours of my residence. They've done excellent work, but as someone noted, you get what you pay for and their top tier re-blue is spendy. One of the firearms they did for me was Model 15-6 with a lot of holster wear. I was very happy with the results, but it cost as much as the gun and I understand I will never recoup that investment.
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Old 03-20-2017, 07:13 PM
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I've had three guns refinished by this firm in Glenrock WY. It's within a couple hours of my residence. They've done excellent work, but as someone noted, you get what you pay for and their top tier re-blue is spendy. One of the firearms they did for me was Model 15-6 with a lot of holster wear. I was very happy with the results, but it cost as much as the gun and I understand I will never recoup that investment.
Glenrock Blue
I'm impressed!!

That which impressed me the most is the price difference between Factory, Deluxe, and Master blue----knowing full well the difference has not the first thing to do with the bluing---but with the preparation. Clearly they know it too!!

Here's how to grade preparation: Some's good, more's better-----and too much is just right!! (Same goes for horsepower and money.)

Were I to consider a refinish, I would be more than comfortable shipping it off to these folks-----and I'll bet I wouldn't be disappointed.

Ralph Tremaine
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Old Yesterday, 08:44 AM
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I've had three guns refinished by this firm in Glenrock WY. It's within a couple hours of my residence. They've done excellent work, but as someone noted, you get what you pay for and their top tier re-blue is spendy. One of the firearms they did for me was Model 15-6 with a lot of holster wear. I was very happy with the results, but it cost as much as the gun and I understand I will never recoup that investment.
Glenrock Blue
As a retired automotive restoration shop owner, the rule mostly applies as: " you get what you pay for" ... providing the shop is not a crook.

One less than perfect job from my shop would have put me out of business, while every perfect job out the door brought me 2 new customers and 10x the great verbal or "clique" approval of the major auto collectors.

I had turned down more jobs than I accepted, though. Once something is past the point of no return ... you must shock the owner into reality by refusing his money ... no matter how much he offers.
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Old Yesterday, 04:06 PM
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I have one I struggle with. It is a 38/44 HD from 1936 that went to the Amsterdam, NY police department (from a Jinks letter).

Some previous owner thought it would look better if they stripped the blue off. They must have taken naval jelly or something and they stripped every bit of blue off of it. No marks or scratches - never been buffed. Really beautiful condition. But zero finish.

It's no longer original...and I am really tempted to have it reblued. It looks almost like it could be degreased and dropped in the tank.
Ouch.....given what has been done to it, I'd probably nickel plate the gun and shoot the heck out of it....btw, is that a humpback hammer? If so, double ouch!!
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Thanks, everyone, for the excellent feedback. You have taken of your time to respond to me, now I will return the favor.

gmborkovic, JSR III and lamarw: You’ve provided sound advice for dealing with the rust spots. Because those spots are hidden under the grips, my primary concern is not so much their total removal but rather preventing any further spreading. I’ll forgo the steel wool and use less aggressive methods.

rct269: Thanks for the significant addition to my bluing process description.

model3sw: I appreciate your well-articulated perspective on this topic. Really good information there.

hondo44: Sounds like you totally get me. Excellent point about the variations to the finishes over time and across models as well.

My thinking has always been that were I to have this .44 re-blued it would have to be a “restoration” to as original a condition as currently possible, and I would be happy to pay the premium for that. That’s why my first choice was the S&W factory. As an aside, last year I had one of my Pythons restored by Colt, and the result was a finish identical to that of my other pristine original.

Fords and Glenrock have been on my radar for a few years now as a result of my interest in collecting custom 1911s. Both have solid reputations in that arena, but modern high-end 1911s aren’t vintage revolvers – there’s a heck of difference. I have had single action revolvers refinished by Turnbull in charcoal blue with case colors, but they are not specialists in high polish, bright blue double action revolver restorations.

I am a bit leery of a complete re-polish, unless performed by a consummate professional. I have seen total mirror finish bluing on 1911s from the likes of Baron, etc. While they were visually stunning, upon close inspection the sharp edges can easily be lost and the roll marks and stampings can be softened. I was thinking more along the lines of correcting any surface blemishes and then a period correct re-blue. I have learned here that there are problems and variables in trying to get that accomplished.

My goal is to have at least one really bitchin’ looking Pre-Model 29. I don’t mind paying the going rate for a 98+% one either, because that is the price of playing this game right now. I would also pay the fat premium to get a “factory original restoration”, if there were a shop that everyone agrees could guarantee me that.

A lot of you have made the point that if my gun were in worse condition than it is, then little would be lost, historically speaking, with a re-finish. But my .44 is not that bad ... and some of you are wrestling with this same conundrum.

As I re-read all of your advice (and it is all really good), there are now too many posts to respond to each one. I was just too slow! As I suspected, the opinions on whether or not to re-finish my vintage Pre-Model 29 have run the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other - from “heaven forbid” to “if it will give you pleasure, go for it”.

But it is the detailed rationale behind your opinions, which most of you have provided, that has proven most valuable to me. What emerges from this discussion is a deeper level of understanding of the consequences of my taking either path.

I pick up the gun on Thursday. I am going to shoot it, off-hand and with my Ransom Rest, then tear it completely down and clean it up as best I can. We’ll see how it looks then. At this point, after absorbing your comments, I am reluctant to refinish it without much very considered thought.

I must say that I very much appreciate the helpfulness of this online community. Taken as a collective, there is a depth of experience, knowledge and consequent wisdom that would be difficult to duplicate in other venues. The level of maturity on this sub-forum I also find refreshing. So thanks again.
Charlie
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