Restoring an old dusty 1861 springfield


August 27, 2006, 02:55 AM
My fiance showed me a rifle that's been in her attic for many years. It turned out to be an 1861 Springfield in very good condition (no rust, just a bit dusty). The only thing that appears to be "wrong" is a missing hammer, all that's left is a square looking stub. I suppose the hammer was removed somehow.

According to what I was told, her father used to have dozens of these rifles in the attic of their house in upstate NY and gave them away one-by-one to anyone who expressed any interest in the 60's and 70's. :eek:

Here's the questions:

1) I am curious if I could actually shoot this old war horse with mild loads using black powder (I'll reserve the Pyrodex for the modern replicas of mine).
Is it common for folks to fire these rifles if in good shape? If so, what kind of loads using Goex would be considered mildly safe? Do I use minni ball? Patch and ball?

2) What "reconditioning" can I do that will preserve any collector's value this may have, while improving its "I've-been-in-an-old-dusty-attic-for-150 years" looks? I don't ever plan to sell it, but I'd like to keep from being the next "Bubba". The world surely doesn't need any more of them.

3) What, if any, collectors value does might this rifle have? I am going to offer to purchase this rifle from him "to keep in the family" and would like to give him a fair deal. He might simply give it to us, but I'm not going to assume anything.

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August 27, 2006, 07:59 AM
Afor ya go shootin er polishin on that, tha barrel needs pro inspection. All them old scars marks an such ya DONT try an polish, jus any obvious rust.

Get er checked, clean REAL careful oil an patches nothin with ANY grit.

Cant help ya much with tha value thing, should be kinda low witha missin hammer.

August 27, 2006, 08:30 AM
Before yo do anything run the ram rod down the barrel, I keep coming across storise about guns that have been loaded and forgot about. I think Dixie has your hammer, probably an original too.

bigger jon
August 27, 2006, 12:16 PM
I was a friend of Sam Flowers in Orange Ca after he died the shop put everything on sale I missed the 1863 spring by a couple minuites,Later i find out the new owner was cleaning it and found out it was loaded:what:
After carefully removing the bullet he discovered it was wraped in news paper, news paper from the civil war?

August 27, 2006, 12:58 PM
Yeah, back when those guns were in general use, it was common practice to keep them loaded in case they were needed. Loading them took a bit more than just shoving a magazine in and chambering the 1st round. If you had to have a gun RIGHT NOW it better be loaded, or you wouldn't need a gun, but a grave.

4v50 Gary
August 27, 2006, 02:25 PM
After ensuring that it isn't loaded (check above post), you want to remove the rust. Use an old copper penny (1983 or earlier). Apply a bit of oil, scrape with penny. Wipe dry.

You'll need a replacement hammer and a hammer screw to secure it with.

If the gun isn't for shooting, might I suggest a coat of Rennaisance Wax after "cleaning." Cleaning should be no more than removing the rust and wiping it down to remove the dirt. Don't refinish it as it ruins the value. After it is cleaned, apply the wax (available from Woodcraft stores) and then rub it in. It's PH neutral, microcystalline and will seal the pores to prevent rust and staining on exposed metal surfaces. You may also apply it to the wood and leather sling (if any). Remember to use cotton gloves with in handling it.

August 27, 2006, 03:45 PM
Try for parts.

August 29, 2006, 11:56 AM
Those guns sell for a good chunk of change at the antique gun shows that I've gone to. Of course, how much all depends on condition.

Cap n Ball
August 29, 2006, 12:23 PM
Have a gunsmith check the breech with a borescope. I've seen many old rifles that look fine but have some serious pitting in the breech.You didn't say if it was flint or cap but most of those rifles were converted. If its cap I'd remove and replace the nipple. This requires a musket tool thats not hard to find new. Even if pitted it would be OK to shoot it as reenactors do with just paperwad and powder but if its pitted under no circumstances fire it with ball. The pressure upon firing could cause the old metal to crack and you might get a real nasty burn or worse. The breeches on those old guns are fairly thick but to be safe have it checked. What Gary said as to cleaning and polishing is spot on. I'd take it down completely to work on the wood. They dismantle pretty easy. In the old days soldiers would rub the wood with a fresh chicken bone and the natural grease in the bone would help seal up the pores in the wood and give it a bit of shine. Sounds like what you've got is a real nice old rifle. Can you post a pic for us? Replacing the hammer shouldn't be too difficult. Until you do you might want to remove the lock and check it out. Does it have two or three bands on the forearm? Is there a patch or grease box in the butt? Does it still have the ramrod? As for value that will depend on its overall condition and if it can be traced through serial numbers and arsenal stamps to some person or outfit. Its rare but sometimes there is a paper trail. Sometimes soldiers would put their initials in the wood under the buttplate. I love it when old stuff like this turns up! Wish it could talk.

4v50 Gary
August 29, 2006, 09:45 PM
It's one thing to remove surface rust and another to polish. I recommmend the former but not the latter. Museums today only seek to preserve, not restore. A lot of collectors tend to feel the same way too and removing the original finish can actually devalue the gun.

So, limit yourself to judicious cleaning and conservation work. No buffing of metal removing of the old stain to recoat. Arrest any further oxidizing of metal parts with Rennaisance Wax.

1911 guy
September 7, 2006, 08:39 PM
Being an 1861, it's a percussion. Have a gunsmith who knows BP check the breech, barrel and snail/drum for corrosion and structural weakness. Hammers are available at DGW, as Chawbaccer said, probably be able to get an original for it.

4v50 Gary is also right. Don't go "reconditioning" the blasted thing, just conserve it. Knock the crud off and stop the rust. Don't ruin 150 years of character and soul. You've got one of a dwindling breed.

It may well be loaded. Lay the ramrod along the barrel, one end against the breech plug. Note how much rod extends past the muzzle. Now put the rod in the barrel. If the difference is much, it's probably loaded. Some originals have gone generations between loading and firing, so don't assume it's a "dead" load.

As for shooting it, a lot of folks shoot originals. Just get it checked before you do.

September 8, 2006, 04:53 AM
Thanks for the replies!

I had a chance to look at it again yesterday and noticed 1864 is stamped on the side. The replacement hammer is of modern make, but at least looks of the same era (it's antique "looking").
It doesn't fit exactly on the square notch, but it's awful close, so a little fitting (to the hammer) should do the trick.

Thanks again!

4v50 Gary
September 9, 2006, 07:18 PM
Don't refit or replace anything. Unless you do the research and visit museums and study books, leave it as is.

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