Cleaning and restoring fire damaged firearms


May 14, 2004, 12:07 PM
Hi, Many of you may know of Labgrade's untimely passing in a fire at his home. (

His wife Crystal has asked me to help in the identification and salvaging of his gun collection. His firearms were mostly contained in two gun safes. I have not been able to get closer that 25 yards to look at them so far. Now that the sheriff, fire department and insurance inspections are over we are going to go and salvage what we can.

One safe appears to be partially opened and the other is still intact and closed. My question is what is the best method to clean smoke damaged firearms?
I have been told that kerosene may be the first thing to try to get rid of the soot.

I would like to salvage whatever I can and maybe have some of them restored. He had sevearl guns that held setimental value like his .243 he had since childhood.

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May 14, 2004, 12:16 PM
this post was removed as it was posted in the wrong tread.

Jim Watson
May 14, 2004, 01:16 PM
I am not an expert, but a local shop did a lot of work on salvaging guns from house fires and one of our engineers did his own. They got some amazing recoveries, some marred but usable guns, and some wrecks.

House fire smoke is acidic, and they put fires out with water which hits hot surfaces and steams. Depending on the penetration of fumes and steam into the safes, you may find anything from discoloration to heavy rust and complete loss of wood finish.

Until a real expert shows up...
Guns should be dismantled and cleaned as soon as possible. If I were doing it I would try to line up the use of a rebluing shop and get the parts into boiling detergent solution followed by warm oil. Absent that, detail strip and clean normally but very thoroughly. Take no chances with nooks and crannies, they should come all the way apart. Kerosine is probably ok, it is cheap and you are going to need a lot of something. I would lightly water rinse and gently dry stocks that showed any sign of damage.

The rule of thumb for salvageability is the springs. If they are collapsed, it may be assumed that the heat treat of the gun is damaged. If they have normal or even somewhat reduced "twang" the structure is probably ok.

After that, it depends on how bad the condition is and how much trouble and expense you want to go to, salvage or restoration.

Keep us up to date.

Larry Ashcraft
May 14, 2004, 04:38 PM
Well, I'm certainly no expert. ;) I've been told by a customer that one of the teachers at Trinidad State Junior College is an expert firearms restorer. I'll try to find out more.

Also, there is a gunsmith here in Pueblo (Jack Bayuk) who specializes in hot bluing. He is a good friend of mine. Since Al was a friend, I will offer to pull in a few favors and also pay for anything that needs to be done. He can probably also check for heat damage. As Jack says "My specialty is fixing broken junk". :D

Let me know if I can help.

May 14, 2004, 08:18 PM
The biggest problem will be with internal parts on the weapons that have been in direct contact with the fire as the heat will anneal them. The springs, sears, transfer bars, etc will have lost their tensile strength and will have to be replaced. There is a chance that the barrels of long guns may be warped.

If the safes are "fireproof" and have the moisture purge lining, the firearms inside will be intact, undamaged, but rusty. The surface rust will be from the high heat in an extremely humid atmosphere. The internals parts will not be damaged and the firearms will have to be cleaned and lubed immediately.

Jim K
May 14, 2004, 11:04 PM
I have been involved several times in that situation, and here are some general observations.

If the gun was in the fire, forget it; it is junk. The wood is burned off, alloy and plastic parts are melted, and steel parts have lost all temper. At worst, the whole gun is an unrecognizable hunk of slag.

If the gun was only smoke damaged, it can usually be returned to use by simple cleaning. This will mean detail stripping, as the smoke will have premeated everything.

Guns in safes are a somewhat different situation. If the safe is fire resistant and the resistance period/temperature has not been exceeded, the guns can be salvaged, as there will have been little damage. But no safe is truly "fire proof", only fire and heat resistant (check your safe label for specific information). If the fire is hot enough for long enough, the guns will be destroyed, safe or no safe.

Even where the safe has provided sufficient resistance to fire, the inside of the safe may have become very hot. Again, insulation does not prevent heat buildup, it only delays it. I saw one situation where a safe had become very hot, and was then opened. The oxygen completed the destruction job the heat had started, and nothing inside was salvageable.

If water was poured into or onto the safe, it is also likely to have both caused rusting and removed the heat treatment of the guns; the guns will be ruined.

Sorry if this sounds bad, but the fact is that uncontrolled fire is not good for guns or people.

Another hazard for reloaders is powder. Ideally, smokeless powder should be stored in the original containers, with containers separated by fire resistant partitions. The smaller the containers the better; eight one pound cans going at intervals will not be as damaging as one eight pound can going off. Black powder should be kept in very small quantities (not over a pound) in the living area. If anything over 5 pounds of smokeless or one pound of black powder is kept, an outside magazine (an old refrigerator makes a good magazine) should be used.

Ammunition is less hazardous than often thought, though the sound of ammo popping will often keep firefighters away and also lead to horrible newspaper stories of the "bullets flying for miles, wiping out whole blocks and killing thousands" type.

It behooves all of us to assess our homes for fire hazards and to take measures, both to prevent fires and to warn if one breaks out. Smoke detectors are a minimum; CO detectors another good step. Look at your house for hazardous heaters, electrical hazards, and damaged or leaking gas or oil lines. Leaking chimneys or vent pipes can also be both a fire hazard and a source of CO, which kills less spectacularly but just as surely. Make sure flammable material is away from heaters or stoves. One of the fires mentioned above started when a curtain blew into a kerosene heater.

Talk to your local fire department about hazards. For obvious reasons, many of us don't want to ask for a home inspection, but there are good pamphlets describing how to reduce fire risks.


May 14, 2004, 11:39 PM
edited, due to this was not a high road responsed, but very dissappointed in the responses that one did not get.


May 15, 2004, 12:31 AM
Thanks folks for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I think CRystal will have to be content with the insurance compensation. She did tell me that her insurance agent heard us taking about Al on American Freedom Network on the Saturday after the fire. He did not put two and two together until he got the call to investigate the fire. It turns out that he is a freedom loving insurance agent, so maybe he will help her out some.

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