One Way to Bring an Old Gun Back to Life

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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.


ndemiter's picture

my dad once gave me a lesson

my dad once gave me a lesson in saving parts from things...

he gave me a royal but chewing for cleaning out one of the buildings and i burnt the trash and sorted out the recycleable metal and useable lumber into piles. and then it came down to a set of aluminum piano hinges about 5 feet long. recycleable, right? wrong! (even though he had nothing to use them on)

he yelled about those for a month.

maybe a year later, someone asked me if i had a live-trap big enough for a small bear... and wouldn't you know it, i had bought 2 earlier the year before... so i went to the barn to pull out my 2 steel trap boxes... and ... they have been recyled! $400 a pop... in the scrap yard.

i guess you'd better find a place to save stuff like that, you never know when somebody is going to need something.

Deer Slayer's picture

Great tip. You did a great

Great tip. You did a great job on the shotgun, It looks very nice. I'm not reallly much of a gun man but if I would ever happen to do this I'll remember to come back to this post for a reference. Thanks for sharing.

Rem2arms's picture

Thanks Mike, I have an older

Thanks Mike, I have an older 12 guage pump that I'd like to pass down early if you get my meaning but I'd hate to do it like it is. If the cost is reasonable then Id be all for it. It's not one that I myself would put alot of money into as the cost of brand new ones now depending on what it is is not all that much. I'd appreciate it, Thx.

groovy mike's picture


At the last couple of Saratoga Springs gun shows there were 6 or 8 side by sides with exposed hammers.  They were priced at $180-$350.  I strongly suspect that you could get one pretty close to $125, definitely for $150 if you bargained hard enough.  I was tempted....  But I managed to come home without another one - THIS time.

I don't have any experience refinishing stocks Rem2Arms.  But I have a friend who is really good at it.  Give me a shout if you need one done and I'll put you in touch with him.

It is a skill that I should pick up one of these days too....

Rem2arms's picture

Great Idea Mike and if you

Great Idea Mike and if you cant bring it back you're not out much and maybe have parts for another rifle if you come across one of the same. Either way its a win win situation. By the way, you any good at refinishing??  LOL.

ManOfTheFall's picture

Great tip. The shotgun looks

Great tip. The shotgun looks really nice. I have never seen an older gun even close to that price. I'm sure they are out there though if I would really look. The only problem is I wouldn't trust myself with trying to do something like that. I would probably just take it to a shop and spend a little more money. I'm sure at that price it would still be a great bargain.

hunter25's picture

That's a really great old

That's a really great old shotgun and a good tip on restoration. A little persistence and ingenuity goes a long way on projects like this. Although I have never gotten a deal as good as the one you got I have have had to do some major cleanup on some old firearms. Most things you can figure out on your own if you have basic firearms knowledge. For some of the tougher projects I have found that just about everything has some kind of video on you tube about it and I have used them many times for stuff like this.

I ahve an old double 16 guage with hammers that I purchased 20 years ago for 100 bucks but even at that price it was not as in good of overall shape as yours. It's pitted on the inside pretty good but still shoots great and I have used it on occasion for some rabbit hunts.

jaybe's picture

Hey, that's really great,

Hey, that's really great, Mike! My grandfather used to have two old side-by-sides and I would have loved to get one. Unfortunately, my cousin got both of them, and many years later when I asked him if he still had them around, he told me that he had given both of them away to his nephew and a friend. If I had one, it would only hang on the wall, however, because I clearly remember seeing the marks of the Damascus twists on them. My grandfather used them all the time and never had a problem, but I wouldn't want to chance it.

I have never restored an old gun, but it does sound like a lot of fun and a great hobby. I know of a gun shop that has a lot of used guns. if I ever get tired of fishing when I can't hunt, I might just give that a shot.

Thanks for the good tip. And congratulations on the nice bird!