One Way to Bring an Old Gun Back to Life
I have always looked for ways to save money and gain skills. I have the firearms basics covered so I rarely buy firearms these days. But I do watch for bargains. Sometimes a little TLC with simple tools will let you bring an old gun back to life without investing a lot of money. One such find was a side by side 12 gauge marked “W. Richards” It is not from the fine English gun maker Wesley Richards, it is a cheap knock off copy probably made in Belgium about a hundred years ago. What attracted me were the exposed hammers and the $75 price tag. I had been looking for an exposed hammer side by side for some time. New ones are priced in the $350 range. This example was clean, unpitted by rust inside or out. The action was reasonably tight, the stock has been knocked around but is complete, and the hammers fired. The barrels had not been bulged or bent. But I did find a broken firing pin on the left side. I pointed that out to the owner who had it up for sale (who didn’t seem to know much about the piece) and brought it home for $50.
I took the old pins out with the aid of a small screw driver (just unscrew the retaining screw and push the pins back toward the hammers until they come out) and found that they were an unmatched pair. At least one of the pins had already been replaced with an imperfect match. The left one was broken off short, the right appeared the have a broken tip – probably from the action being closed with the firing pins extended
The pins were not straight pins such as could be replaced with a nail. They are made from a narrow rod that strikes the primer attached to a larger cylinder which the hammer strikes to drive the whole pin forward. The larger cylinder has a rectangular cut out that the tip of the retaining screw fits in preventing the pin from falling out of the shotgun. The pins could be recreated easily enough but the cut out was not something easily accomplished with hand tools so I was now in the market for a pair of firing pins.
I looked online and came up empty. But a local gunsmith thought he might have something that would fit. A few minutes looking over his box of odd pins salvaged from innumerable repair projects turned up just one pin that almost matched. It was the right shape but the diameter was too large. He gave it to me gratis. Yes, I’ll go back and do more business there for sure. This is also a lesson in saving parts from other things.
Back at home I secured the replacement pin in my electric drill chuck and worked it carefully back and forth on its side against a flat file gradually decreasing the diameter of the cylinder. When it fit the recess, I reversed the pin in the chuck and repeated the process reducing the diameter of the small rod until it too fit the firing pin hole. Yippee! I now had one replacement pin.
I then took the old pin with the broken tip and using the flat file worked around the base of the narrow rod filing off the larger cylinder face around the base of the small rod to make the narrow rod longer as the larger cylinder grew shorter. I then elongated the retaining pin cut out. The combined effect allowed the now longer narrow rod to advance farther forward. The old pin was the same length that I started with, but the hammer strike would now move it farther forward. The rod striking the primer was now longer and seated farther forward thus serving the same purpose as adding length to the overall pin. As long as the over all length was still sufficient to transfer impact from the hammer to the primer it would work.
I took the old girl out to the far side of the garden and put in a couple of shells of bird shot. My standard practice for an untested firearm is to hug a tree. That way if some portion of receiver, stock, or hammer comes back at me, I have at least a decent chance of the tree taking the impact instead of my face. NOTE that old shotguns in general should not be loaded with high pressure loads even if the barrels are not of Damascus steel.
BOOM, BOOM – both barrels fired fine. I put few more through her to familiarize myself with the pattern thrown and for a grand total of $50 (and a couple hours with a file) I had a working exposed hammer side by side that put a bird on the table the next day.