Watch: Back From the Brink - The Gunstar Renovation Challenge - Episode 1
You may or may not have heard of Jonny Carter from the Gun Shop at Botley Mills, he seriously knows his stuff about shooting and he’s also something of a wizard in the workshop. The store, just north of Southampton, is an incredible place to take a look around, but if you can’t manage to make it down there yourself, their exceptional YouTube channel is just as fun. It’s one of the biggest shooting channels on the web right now and you’ll find videos packed with crazy and entertaining tips, tricks and trips.
We thought we’d test Jonny’s craftsmanship to the maximum, by challenging him to buy a beaten up English side by side from our site and make it capable of going on a game shoot. Can he do it? Or has Jonny bitten off more than he can chew? Take a look at episode one to find out!
Hi guys, how you doing? Welcome to The Gun Shop!
Very recently, we've been speaking to Gunstar a lot. They've actually started using some of our videos on their blog - they like what we're doing and we like them and so we've been chatting and sending a few emails back and forth about a few various things. One thing they liked particularly was our ‘Cheap to Charming’ series and apparently, the fact that we only used hand tools made it really accessible which was kind of the point. However, then over a coffee at lunch, they said to us “we dare you to do it to a game gun.”
So welcome to ‘Back From the Brink’, a series where we're going to get a gun for less than a hundred quid and try and make it as they've said “capable of going on a game shoot”.
Picking the Gun
So here we are on Gunstar trying to find our Target Gun.
There's a lot of guns on here for less than a hundred quid and it's apparent that they're all usually from the usual suspect. There's clearly some dealers who specialise in this kind of thing. There’s some English, some Spanish and I'd really like to find an English gun. I mean there's a few - I said I’d like an English gun; an English gun’s going to be absolutely nasty for less than a hundred quid. However, they probably do exist.
In reality, an AYA Yeoman would be really nice or an Ugartechea I mean that's going to be sort of the most solid. There's a lot of really uninspiring crap on here - wow a Zabala 3-inch, now you're talking my language. I’ll tell you what, the quality photo is my favourite part. I mean that's a candidate a Zabala 3-inch gun is a good gun. I Quite like this one here - 60 quid that's going to be absolutely minging isn’t it. It's got true cylinder choke in each barrel and 26-inch barrels which means somebody has probably bolted ends of the gun and then cut it down so that discounts that one.
Let's go back. A Rowe - row row row your boat. Rowe, 12-bore side by side that’s 70 quid again. There's a beauty, a bit like when you're shopping for a car on eBay - something that’s got crap photos generally means nobody's actually put the effort into advertising it. That can mean you're going to get a bit of a bargain.
I’ve no idea whether those barrels are Damascus or just silver. There's no indication of Engraving, the checkering looks worn and the stock looks like it's been chewed up by a dog. But at 60 quid or 70 quid sorry, a private sale, poor condition no box and fixed choke. If it had an original makers case that would be worth significantly more than 70 quid on its own so what else is there similar?
Denton and Kennell are a decent gun. But I mean 70 quid is probably worth a call. But actually, there's no number so I'm gonna send them an email.
The standard question is “hello is this shotgun still available? Thanks”. Which is nice because usually when these automatic things happen, they don't actually put a thank you in there. I think I'm not going to ask him any more questions because I’m not being funny but for 70 quid I don’t think you're going to want to run around for it. So I'm just gonna ask for a callback. I've also asked in there if he can provide for me his number so I can call him or whether he'd mind calling me. Oh that’s quite clever it then asks you if you want to contact some others - so actually I am. I’m going to ask the Zabala man. Because I mean, it would make a lovely little skeet gun. Actually no it's not worth it, I’m done, I'm good.
So it does ask me if I want to send some emails to others so I’ve clicked yes, and I'm going to send the same one the Zabala man, because even though it’s 26-inch and cylinder I’ll go with it and then we're going to toss a coin for who calls me first.
The call comes in
“Yeah. I just wonder if you could tell me a little bit more about it. You say it's in poor condition how poor a condition? And probably most importantly, would you mind sending it up or where are you?”
“That's really good. I must confess I actually work in a gun shop so it would be us as the company buying it from you as long as you're happy with that.”
“I suspect your email. Cheers, mate!”
So about six minutes on the phone. I don't think the guy actually knows particularly what it is and doesn't know a huge amount about it. The guy is happy to send this to us on an RFD to RFD transfer. It's not worth negotiating over 70 quid even though it goes against all my base principles for 70 quid - that’s a lot of gun for 70 quid. The only downside is maybe if the barrels aren't in great condition or if the joints a bit knackered, but you know what we'll have a look at that when it arrives potentially.
Anyway, I’ve got to get on and do some more work and hopefully we'll see it when it arrives.
So it took 10 days of back and forth for this to actually arrive and now it has. We had to pay for a case for it to go in from the other gun shop, which I'm quite happy with because the last thing I want is for this to be more damaged potentially in transit. The other guys have already opened this up and booked it in as is legally required.
It is Damascus. I mean that's that's something it is Damascus. It is not particularly exotic Damascus. It has got plenty of rust, the rib has been relayed to a fairly low standard at some point over its lifetime. It is Rusty. It does operate, sort of, in terms of opening and closing. The action is also Rusty and what should be colour-hardened is not so the chances are we're probably going to end up polishing that. The floor plate that should be black is not. In fact, everything that should be free-flowing is not.
The woodwork actually isn't int as bad a condition as I thought it would be but we got some serious staining here. We got scratches, gouges and altogether just a bit nasty. The fore end is a push button, which is something that I was worried it wouldn't be - I thought it might be a snap fit and actually, out of everything, the fore end is in best condition.
The checkering was probably at some point, well definitely was flat point and it's not in too bad a condition. However, you’ve got a cracked stock, but for 70 quid is not like you want to call them up and complain. Anyway, let's go to the workshop, have a look over and make a plan.
Right, so this is realtime planning now - the first proper look at this gun as to what we're going to do. First things first - and it's not original - I’m going to polish the action. The action is just a bit rancid looking and old, it just doesn't look right. So we're going to polish the actual main body of the action. It's going to be something because we've been told we can't do anything too professional and I don't hot-blue on-site, I'm not going to send the bits away to be hot blued, but I am for the first time in a very long time going to try and cold-blue major components, namely the top lever. However, actually, I take all that back. They might look, definitely the floor plate there that needs doing. The top lever might actually look quite nice next to the action once it's been published up a bit and a little bit cleaner. The problem is there are some parts of this action that actually is still quite nice. It's a difficult one, you know what we could do? We could almost fake colour harden it. I don't know how I actually feel about that. We might give it a go; fake colour hardening by using a mixture of cold bluing compounds and a few other bits to actually add the patina of something that’s potentially colour hardened. It's a little bit against my belief system but you know, it would look pretty, sort of, apart from looking particularly fake.
We're also going to cold brown the barrels because that's just going to make them look that little bit better. I'm not talking about a full dip or any light because we’re not going to re-etch them or anything, so I'm not looking to take off too much, but just enough just to add that sort of nice copper colour back on top of the silver.
Woodwork wise, I think we're going to re-checker it and we're going to chase out some of the lines. At least the border just to add some life back into it. Obviously, polish up that oval and try and get some of the marks and nastiness out of this stock; try and give it a bit of life. I mean, there's no point in trying to go original with this - the beauty of it is that the bores aren't too bad, and the joint isn't too bad and more importantly it's choked, choke and none so it’s a nice end. I'm definitely going to polish the end off of that because this is all beat to hell. I’ve no idea what they were doing with that. Just trying to give it a slightly different lease of life, but first things first - I’m going to strip the action and give it a clean because it's filthy and I can't imagine it ’s any better on the inside.
Getting to work
The first part of this project is a metalwork clean up. So what we’re going to have to do is strip the action and go from there.
This thing is about the worst thing - we should have bought that Zabala.
Okay, so from the very off this is looking really bad. This is looking like it's actually going to be a significant amount more work than I did at first judge. For one, my blood pressure is coming through the roof after one screw. I’m already starting to regret this project, but it's gonna be great.
Right, actually as the dirt’s coming out here I could probably afford a slightly wider fit. All right, so I have allotted an hour to take this action part and give it a fair clean, and I’ve just wasted 15 minutes on two goddamn screws! Now we’re going to be very careful with what we do here because chances are this is probably bonded in there and broken and you can see the rust is actually growing out the side and pushing the stock away. There’s a screw in there somewhere. There it is. Oh my God. Needless to say, this was a mistake. I mean look at that. It’s really bad.
It's possible that my generation has a unique perspective on lube, but the generation who last served with this gun did not understand.
First glimpse inside and actually it's not too bad, is it? It's not too bad. The inside is still blacked, maybe we should just turn it upside down. No, I don't that’s quite going to cut the mustard. Oh well, next!
Okay. So I just turned the gun upside-down for the first time and the sear spring is snapped. It's going to be the biggest waste of 70 quid anybody ever had.
Well, that came out again significantly easier than I thought it would!
This was a mistake. The first thing anybody should always remember when buying cheap and buying a side-by-side, buy Spanish. Yes, you're actually not going to get something that’s completely rotten all to hell.
So far this project is going pretty badly to say the least. I've got a gun with a broken sear spring, a cracked stock, that took me 20 minutes to remove this goddamn screw just because A) it was soft and B) it was rusted in place. I had to drill and fit a bit, stand and everything and blah blah blah just to be able to get it out. I'm almost losing it over this gun in terms of patience and we haven't even started so…
Hey, all right. So push the safety off. I'm going to punch that out. This screw represents 25 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. It also represents that I've got to make a new screw.
This gun’s rotten. I mean this gun is just rotten. I think this task is a little bit more epic than perhaps I realised it was going to be. Not that there's a big problem there. Certainly, my enthusiasm is not broken. I mean Christ, look at that trigger unit all along the inside of that stock edges is I mean completely rotten, the oval has almost fallen out just then. I'm not feeling inspired, that’s the best way to put it. But regardless let's get it cleaned, shall we?
I'm going to start with this. Please look beforehand for a wonderful before and after shot and we are, remember, going to go polished with this gun. The skill, even it takes just to make a little spring like this. It’s a thing of beauty in it’s own little way. Anyway, put in there and we'll clean that up.
Let’s pull these triggers out. Actually, this isn’t a bad-looking gun. We’re going to start with some light wire wool. Herein lies the problem though is that actually underneath all of that to me, looks lovely. It really does, you’ve still got a lot the nice patina in there, a bit of colour hardening on there. It feels to me rash to polish it off. It feels silly to polish it off, but makes me feel significantly better - look at the pitting around that back end there where that screw was forged in, bastard thing. I suppose the real thing here is, I'm just going to put a little oil on the action give the action a little go-over with wire wool and see how much of that corrosion comes off on their and see what that looks like underneath. I have a horrible feeling - well it's not a horrible feeling. The answer is the action is just going to need to be polished to get any sense out of it because it is that horrible matte micro-pitting sort of feel.
As such, and it's not original and it does hurt me to polish an action as It’s not supposed to be polished. Like I said we might fake colour harden it. But I'm gonna polish this floor plate. Essentially that’s what I'm saying; I'm going to push the floor plate and it goes against everything I believe in but it’is a large aesthetic difference that might make me forget how much this gun hurt my soul in this last hour.
All right, we now have our polished section and our unpolished section. I might take a little bit of emery to this back a little bit of wet and dry and just take a little bit of this pitting out, but that's actually, to be completely honest, going to be hidden by the trigger guard. I said that's not the point is it so we’re giving it a little bit of love and boom boom.
I am fully aware by the way of the hate that the traditionalists are going to give me for polishing a side-by-side, but I do promise that are my purest Brethren that A) this doesn't float my boat that much although it’s still gonna look nice and B) I promise to do a full refurb. at some point in the next couple of years.
I usually wouldn’t use sandpaper but there was a significant amount of rust along the ends of these trigger springs here, and now we shall just give this a clean as well. God is disgusting, isn’t it?
Two bits left, three bits including this last screw. As you can see these are vile so I will start with the wire wool as always. All right, and there we have the shiny edition of the trigger. It's currently quite dry, but at least it operates now and it's significantly less cruddy, than it was so there we go.
We're back with part two next week, where we going to polish the action and start on the woodwork.
Be sure to tune in again next week to see if Jonny can turn this nightmare project back around!