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Advice Request: Cleaning Tips for vintage Mod 1861 Musket

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing and Repairs' started by Scout.308, Jun 14, 2003.

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  1. Scout.308

    Scout.308 Member

    Mar 8, 2003
    Can anybody give me advise, and/or refer me to a good detailed guide (human, book, web) regarding how to cleaning my treasured antique Springfield Model 1861 rifle.

    I'm also interested in learning about common pitfalls that may bedevil newbies trying to maintain Civil War era muskets. Learning any tricks that might reduce time and improve the quality of my work would of course be appreciated.

    I'm worried about doing possible damage or reducing value, on this venerable old warhorse. It's all original and matching, and I want to get it cleaned, protected, and ready for display, again.

    Thank you.
  2. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Since nobody else has leaped in...............

    First, stupid as it sounds, make sure it's not LOADED. People are amazed at the numbers of old muzzle-loaders that turn up with a load still in the barrel. They are even more amazed at the times that load will still fire.

    To clean it up, DO NOT DISTURB THE PATINA. People regularly destroy the value of antiques by "cleaning" them up, the wrong way. This means no polishing, shining, or sanding.

    Basically what you want to do is to preserve it without disturbing the patina left by 150 years of aging. What doesn't belong is dirt, grit, dried grease, and corrosion.

    If you can dismount the lock without damaging it, the screws, or the stock, remove it and clean it out with solvent.

    Remove the nipple and any clean-out screw IF POSSIBLE. You may need to soak them for a few days with a GOOD penetrating fluid like Kroil. If they don't seem to want to come out, better to leave them alone, than to twist one off, or strip a threaded hole.

    If you can remove the barrel from the stock without damaging or "dinking" anything, do so.

    Clean the bore with brush, breech face scraper, and solvents.

    Disassemble the butt plate and remove any other metal from the stock that you can, again without damaging or marring anything.

    Clean the metal with a mild solvent and a soft toothbrush.

    I think that other than light wiping with a cloth and a toothbrush, you probably don't want to do anything to the wood.

    Coat everything with a good preservative and reassemble.

    On the subject of preservation, you might want to ask around, since I'm not up on the preservation of antique arms.
    I do know that museums don't use oils or greases because they dry out or soak into the wood. They seem to use specialty waxes to preserve antique guns.

    A likely source of info on preservation of old guns would be Dixie Gun Works in Union City, Tenn. They sell lots of books on blackpowder guns, and probably have some advice or source of info.

    The bottom line is, your gun has survived since 1861. The idea is to prevent further deterioration, not to alter or damage it further.
  3. Traveler

    Traveler Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    The old NRA Gunsmithing Guide has pages of information detailing just what you need. These are articles from the 1950's when this type of work was seen more frequently.

    Flayderman's Guide used to also have a section dealing with such work, but it has been some time since I looked through one, and I am currently a long ways from my library.

    You might also want to contact Dixie Gun Works regarding anything you need, including information. They are one of the premier houses still dealing in guns of that period.

    Personally I would recommend you not do anything to the gun, but have all the cleaning done by a knowledgable professional. The price you pay will easily be offset by the value you retain by not "mucking it up" yourself.
  4. Bottom Gun

    Bottom Gun Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Elgin, Arizona
    I still shoot my 1864 Springfield and the best way I've found to check the bore is with one of those tiny mag lites which use one AAA battery. I tie a cord to it, light it, and drop it down the bore. The cord allows you to move it up and down the bore to inspect different areas.
    It works great.
  5. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 19, 2002
    The NRA Museum website has a crash course on conservation work. It's only one page long and well worth reading.

    BTW, you may want to get the British Museum developed Rennaisance Wax to coat your metal & wood with (it comes in various viscousities). Store in a place with consistent humidity & temperature. Drastic changes may affect the wood (causing warping, cracks, etc.).
  6. Jim K

    Jim K Member

    Dec 31, 2002
    "First, stupid as it sounds, make sure it's not LOADED."

    A note on how might be in order. First, DON'T just put a cap on and fire the gun.

    Drop the ramrod into the barrel. If there is a clear ring of metal against metal, the gun is likely not loaded. If there is a duller sound, there is something in there, a load, debris, marbles dropped in by children playing soldier, etc.

    Use the ramrod or a dowel, and insert it into the barrel. Mark the rod at the muzzle, then lay it against the outside of the barrel with the mark at the muzzle. If there is over an inch between the bolster (where the nipple screws in) and the end of the rod, assume the gun is loaded.

    Obtain a worm for your ramrod (Dixie has them), and also a ball screw. The first looks like two "snakes" curling around each other and is sharp to dig into a ball (bullet) or other stuff. A ball screw is just a screw made to fit the end of the ramrod; it screws into the ball or other stuff also.

    DON'T try to remove the breech plug (that screws into the back of the barrel). Most are rusted in and are very tight; you can easily ruin the plug or break it off. To remove the nipple, use the proper size wrench. If it does not come easily after soaking in a penetrant, leave it alone.

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