Guest Post: Restoring Classic Double Barreled Shotguns

The following was sent to me by Chris Wooldridge of Swamp Fox Custom Rifle Works, a regular and welcome contributor on the site. This article is written in his words, with as little editing as possible to preserve the writer's style. 

This article has some great examples of true classical gunsmithing, from slow rust bluing and stock repair to acid etching damascus. If you are interested in having this type of work done, contact information for the author is available at the bottom of the post. 

The Double Barrel Shotgun Projects

The Savage Fox Model B 

The year was 1940. My Father wasn’t even born yet. My Grandpa and Grandma, along with my very young Aunt Eugena owned a farm in a very small community in Marion County, Georgia called Pineville. That year Grandpa bought a new Savage Fox Model B Double Barrel shotgun in .410 bore. Grandma and Grandpa, although they lived in the 20 th century, like many, if not most rural Georgians at the time lived in a manner not too far removed from 1890. They had no running water, but Grandma did have a hand pump that brought water from the well in to the house. They used coal oil lamps instead of electric lights. Since they didn’t have electricity, they didn’t have refrigeration. That is why that little shotgun was so important to the family, and it would remain an indispensable tool for many years to come.
Every November, my Grandpa would butcher and cure several hogs. He used several methods for curing his hogs including salt curing, sugar curing, and smoking. But as my father said on many occasions, cured meat gets old after several months and one begins to crave fresh meat. So, Grandpa used this gun to supplement the family’s table fare by shooting squirrels and rabbits. My Grandmother often told me how much she loved fried rabbit and Grandpa kept her well supplied! Between Grandpa, my Daddy, and me I can’t begin to guess how many squirrels and rabbits have met their end at the hands of that little gun!

I often wondered though, why Grandpa didn’t get a 12 gauge! Unfortunately, he passed before I
had a chance to ask him, but I have an idea. Back then all that was pretty much available was small game and a .410 is great for that type of hunting. I inherited this shotgun on my twelfth birthday and it has never been far from me, whether I was hunting those bushy tails in the mountains of North Carolina, the hard wood forest of southwest Georgia, or the river banks in central Texas.

Related: My Experience Going to School for Gunsmithing

Fast forward 38 years and I am attending gunsmithing school in Greenwood, SC and I am in the shop that one of the instructors owns, talking about one of my projects. Lo and behold, what do I see on a rack next to the door but a Fox Model B in 12 gauge. It had a walnut stock, 26 inch barrels (one full choke and one modified), and a raised rib. Based off the characteristics of this gun I know that it is about twenty years younger than the .410 passed down to me but it looked almost identical. I snatched it up for less than $400.00!

My plan for this gun was to leave it as it was as the metal and the wood had the same patina as
the .410. However, after a close inspection, I noticed a crack in the stock at the wrist. The crack was not one that rendered the stock unsafe, but it needed to be fixed. I decided then to go ahead and do a complete restoration. The barrels were originally slow rust blued and they retained about 85% of the original finish. The stock was of select walnut, but, along with the crack in the wrist, close inspection revealed the finish was wearing thin and in some places the varnish was actually flaking. The Box Lock receiver had been color cased at the factory and still retained about 60% coloration. The old girl presented me with a great canvas to work with and I was excited to get started.

The restoration plan was as follows:

  1. Strip completely and inspect every part and order replacements as necessary. The Savage-
    Stevens Model 311 is merely a budget version of the Model B so parts are plentiful.
  2. Check the rib to ensure the barrels and rib were still tight.
  3. Refinish the stock to what I call our Gunsmith Deluxe Finish.
  4. Reblue the barrels and trigger guard using the slow rust blue method.
The Savage Fox Model B stripped to its bare components

The Savage Fox Model B stripped to its bare components

I started by stripping the action down to the last spring and pin. I inspected each part, and
everything looked good so no parts had to be ordered. We checked the ribs and found that they, thankfully, were still tight. I coated each spring, pin, plunger, and guide in oil, grouped them by
component and placed them in plastic bags for storage. I removed the two beads and the rib shroud, and turned the barrels over to Cody Thompson, the shop’s other gunsmith and fellow PTC classmate, for rust bluing. I started on the stock.

The stock was taken down to the bare wood. I started with 220 grit and worked my way up to
400 grit, whiskering thoroughly between each successive grit. After the initial sanding with 400 grit, I did a mud rub using a Tung oil blend that my family uses on antique furniture, and then dropped back down to 325 grit, then back to 400. I inspected the stock again looking for any pores that remained unfilled. To no surprise, I found some, so I did another mud rub. All in all, I did four mud rubs, dropping back down to 325 grit and working my way back to 400 after each one. After all pores were filled, I began working my way from 400 grit all the way to 1500 grit. The result was a beautiful stock with no visible pores that was as smooth as glass. I then began applying thin coats of the Tung Oil blend. As successive coats of oil were applied, rough areas had begun to develop. After the fifth coat I began to buff the stock with 0000 steel wool to smooth out the finish. I did this after every two coats. I applied fifteen coats of Tung Oil
and the result is a stock with a deep lustrous traditional oil finish that I am very proud of. The stock refinish took about a week and a half.

Related: What is Gun Bluing? 

Butt stock and forend near completion. The white streak is where the Tung Oil blend began to build up unevenly. Once the build up was taken down, another coat or two of oil on that spot brought the finish back.

Butt stock and forend near completion. The white streak is where the Tung Oil blend began to build up unevenly. Once the build up was taken down, another coat or two of oil on that spot brought the finish back.

Cody is in the process finishing his Machine Tool AAS at Augusta Tech, so he is only in the shop
two to three hours a day so the rust bluing took a little longer that it normally would have, although the process is, by its very nature, slow. That’s why they call it SLOW rust bluing! The process begins like any other metal finishing method. First you must remove the old finish, polish the metal to the desired level (in the case of slow rust bluing, 325 grit), and then thoroughly clean. You then heat the metal. To heat we use a heat gun and we are very careful not to over heat the metal. While the metal is still warm, we apply the rust blue solution. We really like Brownells Classic Rust Blue. This solution is somewhat expensive, but the results are worth the expense. When applying the solution care must be taken to apply in thin, even coats. When applying the solution care must also be taken to apply the solution in continuous, even strokes to avoid streaking, paying particular attention to the muzzle. The metal is then steamed for ten minutes. Once the barrels are taken out of the steamer, the barrels are carded to get the rust that developed during the steaming process off. When the barrels are removed from the steamer they are red with rust. To the novice, this is alarming! This rusting, however, is a normal part of the process, and as stated earlier only needs to be carded off. Once this surface rust is carded off you will see the metal has stared to turn a satin blue. This process is repeated until you get the depth of color you desire. The last step, and this step must be done each time you stop for the day, is to cure the barrels in a vat of Kerosene. The Kerosene does two things. It stops the rusting process and cures the blue that is there. We cure overnight, remove, clean, and inspect. If we don’t like the color, we continue the process until we do.

The last thing that must happen to complete this restoration is to re-color case the receiver. This
will be done by three classmates of ours who will specialize in this process. They have mastered the color casing process and produce beautiful results. As soon as they give me to Ok to endorse them I will pass that information on to all of you.

Top: Chris' Grandfather's Savage Fox Model B in .410   Bottom: Restored Savage Fox Model B in 12 Gauge

Top: Chris' Grandfather's Savage Fox Model B in .410

Bottom: Restored Savage Fox Model B in 12 Gauge

The Ithaca Flues 

Another fine old double gun we have restored is a 1914 vintage Ithica Flues. This shotgun is
somewhat special in that it has Damascus barrels! The stock is of high grade walnut and the forend on this shotgun is of the splinter type as opposed to the beavertail type on the Savage Fox guns discussed above. The splinter type of forend is common on English doubles and many of the higher end early American companies, such as Parker, A.H. Fox, and Ithica, used them. The splinter forend is beautiful; long, thin, and slender. As a result, they are weaker than the predominant American beavertail type, so the collector will find many that have, indeed, splintered at the front end and must be replaced. That was not the case with this old Ithica. While the wood on this gun was black from years of handling, the stock and forend were free of major damage other than the expected scratches and dents. The finish on the barrels had turned brown hiding the beauty underneath. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even realize the barrels were Damascus until Cody go the brown patina off!

As with the Fox above, Cody’s plan was to strip the gun down to the last part, inspect, repair and
replace as needed. We found rib to barrel fit was loose, so before he could start the finishing process he had to re-lay the rib, which is a topic for a future article. He would then acid etch the barrels and rust blue. After the acid etching and rust bluing he would refinish the wood. The final step in this restoration would, once again, be re-color casing the receiver.

Ithaca Flues with acid-etched damascus barrels 

Ithaca Flues with acid-etched damascus barrels 

The process for finishing the Damascus barrels is the same as the slow rust process discussed
earlier in this article but with the added steps of acid etching. The metal is heated, the rust blue solution is applied then the barrels are steamed. After ten minutes in the steamer, the barrels are carded, and then the barrels are submerged in a vat of Ferric Chloride solution (60% Ferric Chloride and 40% white vinegar). The bluing and etching process is repeated until the depth of blue and the corresponding contrast of the layered steel is achieved. Working eight to nine hours a day, three days a week for two weeks, Cody finally achieved the finish he was after!

Gallery: The refinished wood on the Ithaca Flues. Beautifully figured walnut! 

This past March we were finally able to refinish the stock and forend. That job was left to me. I
stripped the stock to the bare wood, revealing a stock of high grade walnut with beautiful figure!
Starting with 220 grit I began sanding the stock on my way to 400 grit, whiskering between each grit. At 400 grit I did a mud rub, then back to 320 grit. Once the sludge was off and I was back to the wood I moved up to 400 grit and inspected the stock for open pores. Finding some, I did another mud rub, repeating the process. This stock only required two mud rubs and I was able to do a final sanding at 800 grit. I applied fifteen coats of Tung Oil buffing between every two coats with 0000 steel wool. The results were - well - I’ll let you be the judge!

The two refinished shotguns, side by side. Ithaca on top and Savage on bottom. 

The two refinished shotguns, side by side. Ithaca on top and Savage on bottom. 

A Note from Chris 

The double barreled shotgun for many years reigned supreme. It was THE shotgun and,
especially here in the South, it was found in almost every household, whether in town or on the farm as was the case with that little Savage Fox .410 of my Grandfather’s. As a matter of fact, it remained popular well into the latter half of the 20 th Century. But alas, changes in shooters' taste brought on by wartime experiences with pump actions (although pumps had been around since the late 1800’s), the evolution of semi-auto actions, and soaring manufacturing cost have all but relegated these beautiful, soulful examples of craftsmanship to the annals of firearm history. In the early days (through the late ‘30’s up to WWII) a utility double gun could be had for $15 or $20, with higher end guns reaching upwards to $500 and higher, A.H. Fox’s F Grade guns being one of many examples. Today, there are very few newly manufactured utility double guns being built. CZ, and Charles Daley make affordable double guns today, their cost ranging from $900 to $1000 (MSRP). There are also companies that make replicas of the “coach gun” marketed to the Cowboy Action Shooting world. Today the double shotgun market is largely targeted on the well-to-do. The Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company owns the A.H. Fox name and is producing high grade guns under that moniker, with prices ranging from $19,000 to well over $30,000. Savage is set to bring back their Savage Fox Model B with prices starting at $5000 (MSRP). For us normal people, we must rely on the used market. Some of these used guns are in great shape, while some show a lot of use. But, unless the gun has been abused, it should be in fine working order, especially the Box Lock guns, as they were built like tanks by talented craftsmen! The main point of concern regarding these older guns is barrel to rib fit but this is fixable. Another thing I would caution you on is you should be aware of the year of manufacture. Guns manufactured prior to the end of WWI should be purchased with the knowledge that you will only be able to shoot low pressure loads in most of these early guns. There are companies out there that specialize in low pressure loads for these vintage guns. Guns manufactured after WWI handle todays loads just fine. Also, if you are looking at a gun manufactured before the mid-1920’s, check the chamber depth, because you will find that some of these guns have chambers too short for modern shells. This issue, from all that I’ve read seems to be isolated to 16 and 20 gauge guns. This problem is easily fixed though, and it can be used as a bargaining point.

If you would like to get in touch with Chris or his shop, you can find his information below. If you like reading his work and input on classical traditions in gunsmithing, also check out his guest post on why serious utility rifles need metallic sights. 

Contact Information:
Swamp Fox Custom Rifle Works and General Gunsmithing
Attn: Chris Wooldridge or Cody Thompson
4408 Brothersville Road
Hephzibah, GA 30815