Gunning Iron Or Cabinet Queen

How Much Should You Invest In An Old Gun?
; .

The 12-gauge Fox Sterlingworth was in rough shape, with two major pins in the stock.

After a restoration, the Fox Sterlingworth looks almost too good to shoot.

Winter is a great time to search for a vintage shotgun and the odds are good you’ll fall in love in a gun shop, at a gun show, or even on the online listing pages. There is a thought process ahead of the mechanical process and here’s what two of the country’s top gunsmiths have to say about repairs and restoration.

Can you really put a price tag on the girl of your dreams? Absolutely, says Woodstock, Vermont’s Dan Morgan of Daniel T. Morgan Fine Firearms Restoration. Morgan works on over 300 shotguns per year with a specialty in British models. He says not only can you place a value on a repair or restoration but that you absolutely should.


Building a new stock using the tools and techniques similar to
those used by the original craftsmen is a time-honored tradition.

Prepping the Parker DHE 12-gauge barrels for brown. Unless you’re a professional,
it’s best not to try this at home. After the Parker DHE 12-gauge barrels have been
browned, they look as they did the day they left the Meriden, Conn. factory.

A Choice To Make

“The first question is whether or not an owner should have any work done at all,” Morgan said. “There is a saying that ‘a gun is only original once,’ and it’s true. Unless its brand new, I don’t like looking at perfect shotguns. I believe they should be used, and there is a tremendous difference between ‘used’ and ‘abused.’ A used shotgun will have dings in the stock, the lightening of barrel black or brown, or a fading of case colors. An abused shotgun is one that hasn’t been properly cared for. When I see a shotgun that has earmarks of normal wear, I smile. My expectations rise when I see a shotgun that looks perfect. If that’s the case I expect it to be 100% original.”

Morgan says to think long and hard before beginning a project. “There is a difference between ‘repair’ and ‘restore,’” he said. “A repair is to fix something that is broken, like doubling firing pins or a cracked stock. A restoration is trying to make an old gun look the way it did when it left the factory. The only time I believe that is acceptable is if sentimentality is associated with the shotgun. Restoring your father or grandfather’s shotgun is a fine and noble project. But, putting $5,000 worth of restoration work into a shotgun valued at $2,500 makes zero sense to me. Ultimately, it’s the owner’s decision. I routinely see customers spend more on work than the gun is worth, even if they have no personal connection.”

Morgan advises customers to think carefully on the restoration work as some processes might negatively impact a shotgun’s functionality. He uses the color-case hardening process as an example. “The wonderful colors on a receiver come from bone charcoal that is applied to metal,” he said. “After application, the metal is baked in an oven for three hours at 1,600 degrees. After that, it’s immediately removed and dumped into an ice bath. Most of the time the metal is left with beautiful and unique colors. But in some instances, those aggressive conditions can cause the metal to warp. The point is to carefully think through the proposed work and to be realistic in expectations. There is a lot of science to the process just as there is a high degree of art.”


There are a number of different tools of the trade. Many are originals
made over a century ago for use building new shotguns.

More Questions

To restore or not to restore, are there any other questions? There sure are, says Doug Turnbull of Turnbull Restoration Company in Bloomfield, NY, a classic American shotgun, rifle and pistol specialist. “We’ve been restoring firearms for nearly a half century and that’s our customers’ most common question,” he said. Here are their views:

• Rare and Unique. “If the shotgun or firearm is rare and unique but has incorrect or altered parts, then the shotgun should be repaired. If it’s worn but intact, then it’s best to leave it alone.”

• Historically significant. “If there is proof the shotgun is historically significant then it’s probably best to leave it alone.”

• Condition. “Shotguns in very good condition probably don’t need work. If they are not functioning properly then they should be returned to safe and functional condition.”

• Investment or sentiment. “If the repair cost exceeds the shotgun’s value then it’s best to hold off. If there is a personal provenance to the firearm, then cost probably isn’t a factor. If future generations will shoot the firearm, then it should be safe and functional.”

Turnbull has many customers who simply want their shotguns to look as they did when they left the factory. “When it comes to making stocks, for example, our master woodworkers start by researching the period-perfect buttstocks and fore ends from our unmatched reference library. Depending on the shotgun, we’ll select the proper grade of English Walnut or American Black Walnut. Once the blank has been selected, the new stock is rough cut on a duplicator, and meticulously finished with files and sandpaper.“

“We’ll slowly shape and sand until the new buttstock and forend are a perfect fit to your shotgun. Once the shaping is completed, the stocks are handed off for numerous coats of period-correct hand rubbed finish. The checkering is hand-cut either to the original manufacturer’s specification or to yours. With a closer look at the stock work, customers can see how restoration costs can exceed the shotgun’s value.”

There is a saying that “life’s too short to hunt with an ugly gun,” but it doesn’t mean you should break the bank to get there. Advanced planning combined with the advice of industry experts like Morgan and Turnbull help pave the way toward success.

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine March 2023 Issue Now!



Mossberg 940 Pro

Competition betters the breed. This has been common knowledge since the halcyon race days of the ’60s when the automaker’s slogan “win on Sunday, sell...
Read Full Article
All Choked Up

I only had a second to admire Cider’s point near the alders. I figured he nailed a woodcock and loaded for that small bird but the explosive whirring of...
Read Full Article
Before The...

Is shotgun cleaning more fun than hunting or shooting clays? Not for me, but a clean gun is a happy gun. I clean, oil and repair on a regular basis. Hunting...
Read Full Article