E-Mail 'Home Repair of Pre-1899 Guns - Part 1, by SwampFox' To A Friend

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  1. With many guns of that era, even some name brand guns, it is impossible to verify the exact date of manufacture. Use caution if you are purchasing one just because you are told it is pre-1899.
    Personally I have found that many of the aftermarket parts available to be awful and sometimes unusable no matter how much work you put into them. I quit ordering most of those and instead just made my own which resulted in fewer man-hours spent.
    The article is correct about parts for new replica guns being your best source for repair parts for originals if it is model that a replica is made.
    Also know that many times these guns require many replacement parts due simply to wear. The part that you replace might not work due to other connecting parts being worn and those too have to be replaced to get the firearm back to good operating condition. Many times these parts are not at all simple to manufacture.

    Original parts are often available on sites such as ebay but the prices are scary. Often owners take apart complete guns and sell the parts all separately to dramatically increase their profit.
    Know that guns from that era are way different than what is produced today.

  2. Firearms made before the widespread availability of smokeless ammunition will require handloaded black powder cartridges. Stock up on brass, primers and tools.

    In my experience Harrington & Richardson and Iver Johnson revolvers are the easiest to work on, and, having been produced in the millions, are easier to find parts for than, say Hopkins & Allen or Forehand & Wadsworth. Wolff still produces many of the correct springs. Replacement grips are expensive. Sometimes currently made Pachmayr grips can be fitted. They last longer and will reduce recoil.

    Old double barrel shotguns are usually loose and parts availability almost nil.

    Not much experience with rifles. Many old European military rifles will have the year of manufacture stamped on the receiver.

    Mandatory background checks are simply a way of shutting down gun shows. Hard to enforce among buyers and sellers who already know each other. Unless the feds decide to show more enthusiasm and competence than they do in enforcing the marijuana and immigration laws.

  3. What part of a pre-1899 firearm sets the date?

    Is it the frame, especially if it carries a serial number?

    Or is the aggregate age of the preponderance of the parts?

    How seriously can you restore and/or rework a pre-1899 firearm without bringing its date into question?

    Say could a pre-1899 revolver barrel be sleeved and the cylinder reworked to say 22LR while maintaining its status as a pre-1899 firearm?

    Just asking for a friend…

    1. The frame or receiver itself constitutes the gun, per Federal law. ALL other parts are completely unrestricted, except for barrel length and overall length on rifles and shotguns. Per the NFA, pre-1899 full autos are also restricted. There is a letter from the ATF included in my pre-1899 FAQ that confirms that rebarreling, rechambering, refinishing, and sporterizing does NOT effect the full exemption forpre-1899 antiques. (This differs considerably from the law on Curios & Relics.)

    2. Often, pre-1899 guns won’t have a serial number. One of my first was an 1875 Remington. I thought it was an abused replica, until I noticed the lack of serial number. A lot of the time, you can find a patent date on the frame, or on the barrel. Combine that with a serial number (if present) and some checking, and you can figure out if the gun is pre-1899 or not. It is up to you to do the homework. When in doubt, don’t assume. As JWR advises, the frame is the part that is considered a firearm or not, no matter what else is attached to it.

  4. I have to say, my opinion on pre 1899 firearms has always been kinda “meh”. For the premium charged for them, I could always purchase a modern firearm that would likely function more reliably and give me a punchers chance in a modern firefight. That said, I am very impressed by this article thus far! Very well-written and not full of technical minutiae that tends to make my eyes glaze over (no offense to anyone who enjoys that aspect of firearms, but it is not my thing, toneach their own). Looking forward to part 2 tomorrow!

    1. While pre-1899 guns are different and not as quick-firing as modern guns, don’t let that convince you that they are not effective. Especially when fitted with a modern scope, an 1895 Mauser is quite deadly. Back when I was buying them, they could be shipped to your door for $200. Definitely worth it, and quite reliable. Other things…it depends on your skill, the condition of the gun, etc… Any gun is better than no gun. There’s always the barter value of having an extra gun around as well.

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