Letter Re: Smoke Damaged Firearms

In January, our home burned down. The family made it out safely thanks to our dog waking us up. The fire started outside and once it entered the house it was engulfed in minutes.

My question is how to restore books, firearms, et cetera that have been damaged by smoke and fire. Since getting burned out is a possibility in survival times this information could be quite handy. BTW Smoke eats the finish on guns. My Mini-14 got eaten up pretty badly, but the CETME in the rack next to it came out just fine. I guess they used a different type of bluing. Thanks, – Chad

JWR Replies: Let me start by encouraging all SurvivalBlog readers to carry both fire and theft insurance. A house fire can be a very traumatic event, but they are even more so if you are uninsured or underinsured. Note that many insurance policies have specific limits on firearms, often absurdly low dollar figures unless you get a separate “rider ” to your policy, at additional cost. If you aren’t sure about your coverage, then pull out your policy and read through it in detail. Second, I encourage all of you to get a gun vault. Not only will it deter 98% of burglars, but it will also usually prevent the sort of damage that Chad described. (Unless of course, the house burns to the ground, and even then a “fireproof” vault may not save your guns.) I also recommend taking a list of serial numbers and detailed descriptions of each gun. (OBTW, I have found that using 3″x5″ index cards is convenient for updates, since your collection will change over time. Also take a few detailed photos of each gun. Store the 3″x5″ index cards and hard copy pictures annotated with each gun’s serial number in a vault belonging to a relative or a trusted friend, and offer to do likewise for them.

Now on to the repairing the damage: I’ve seen lots of smoke and fire damaged guns at gun shows over the years, and it is never a pretty sight. If a fire is intense enough to burn the stock or grips off of a gun, then it is generally beyond salvageability. This, among other things, is because springs lose their temper and actions can warp and bind. If there is only smoke damage, then they can definitely be salvaged. It is important to immediately 1.) Photograph each gun in detail to support your insurance claim. then 2.) Grease the gun from stem to stern (and down he bore) with rust inhibitive grease (RIG). This will protect any remaining finish from corrosion. Depending on how your insurance agency handles paying your claim, you may end up salvaging your smoke-damaged guns yourself. I recommend sending them off for bead blasting and an exotic coating such as NP3 or METACOL. This will leave them better than new, since they’ll have a more durable finish that their original bluing or parkerizing. There are now a wide range of exotic materials such as Teflon and Zylan are frequently used as “after-market” gun finishes. The Robar Company uses a nickel/Teflon composite that they call NP3. My personal favorite of the exotic finishes is called METACOL (METAl COLor), which is offered in a wide variety of colors by Arizona Response Systems Exotic material finishes offer rust protection that is exceeded only by stainless steel. They are quite durable. Parenthetically, for anyone that that dislikes the highly reflective surface of stainless steel, it too can be coated with one of the exotic materials such as green Teflon, with a matte texture. If you have wood gun stocks that have had their lacquer go “bubbly” or smoke darkened, you can either refinish the stocks (which takes about 30 to 50 minutes each), or better yet replace them with fiberglass or Kevlar-graphites stocks from a vendor like Choate, Brown Precision, or H-S Precision.

As for your books, check first with your insurance agent. If your policy covers “full replacement cost”, then it is probably best to just buy replacement copies of each book. This is fairly quick and easy, using Amazon.com’s “One Click” purchase option. If your policy only covers part of the loss, or if you have any rare, memento, or otherwise irreplaceable books/albums, then consult with a restoration service such as Serv-Pro. (They specialize in restoring books and artwork that have been smoke and/or water damaged.) BTW Chad, if your loss included a copy or two of any the books that I authored and the insurance company doesn’t cover replacing them, just let me know and I will send you complimentary replacement copies. May God bless you in the rebuilding process.