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Working the Ishapore part 5: Cosmetics

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ozzlefinch View Drop Down
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    Posted: March 09 2014 at 4:04am
Working the Ishapore part 5: Cosmetic improvements




Gentlemen! Thank you for tuning in to Part 5 of my mini series on how I improved my  Lee-Enfield 2A1 Ishapore rifle from a boat anchor into a reliable and accurate tool.  In this installment I will cover some of the cosmetic improvements I made to the rifle.

First and foremost, making any cosmetic changes is a very personal decision.  A scientific approach does not work, nor is there a tried and true methodology for determining what do do, if anything.  It's up to the individual owner of the firearm to decide what, and how far, any cosmetic changes will be made.  

Generally speaking, I have found there to be three schools of thought when it comes to a military firearm.  The first school is of True History.  This school teaches that a firearm, no matter how it looks, should be kept "as is", with all of it's scars, dings and scratches.  This is done because it represents a true story that the rifle can tell, untouched, original, knocked about in the trenches. A real war horse.

The second school is of Museum Accuracy.  This school teaches a military firearm should look as the day it was made, finished down to the last detail, documented with correct numbers and accessories according to an exact Theater of Operations.  It should be restored using authentic parts and period correct finishes and methods.  Firearms of this type are generally not used, but collected as examples for others to research.

The third school is of Free Form.  This school teaches that it's your rifle, therefore do what pleases you. Military rifles are cheap and disposable surplus, and as such they exist for the pleasure of the user.  Authentic finishes are not required, stocks may be discarded in favor of other designs or materials, barrels may be cut and modified, finishes may be of any type the user likes.

I am the Chancellor of the Board of Regents of the Third School, but I require passing exams on the First and Second school philosophies as a graduation requirement.  No single school of thought is "more correct" than another, it's all about personal preference.  For my Ishapore, I determined that I would finish it to a quasi-authentic Indian military look.  After having done all my mechanical upgrade work, I determined that the rifle really couldn't be kept as an unspoiled factory example (not that it would be worth much more or less if it was), so I used finishing methods that were "plausible" during the time this rifle was made.
    
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a professional gunsmith, I do not make any claims that my methods are the best, and any and all modifications you make to your rifle is 100% on you. This series is for informational purposes only, and I highly recommend that any work on a firearm be done by a qualified professional.

Selecting the correct man-movie to watch for this installment is a bit of a challenge.  For those that are students of the First School of rifle finishing, you are done, and I thank you for dutifully attending all classes.  Your diplomas are in the mail and your tuition is due now, in cash.  For everybody else, I hope you have an extensive collection of video eye candy.  Cosmetic work is very time consuming, there is no way to hurry it along or take short cuts.  So, for this installment I will be watching the following movies:  "Godzilla", "Platoon",  "High Plains Drifter", "Erik the Viking", "U 571", "The Day the Earth Stood Still", "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "The 5 Fingers of Death".  Yes, my good gentlemen, it will take that long, at least. 



Safety warning:
Because it ALWAYS needs to be said:  NEVER WORK ON A LOADED FIREARM!  NEVER PULL THE TRIGGER TO SEE IF THE RIFLE IS LOADED! Tired of hearing that from me? Too bad, I'm not tired of saying it.
To unload the Ishapore:
1. Pull the bolt all the way to the rear.
2. Drop the magazine and remove from the rifle
3. Observe the chamber.  Hold the muzzle to a light source and observe the reflection in the empty chamber.  If you can't see the light, then run a cleaning rod from the crown to the chamber. The rifle is clear when you see the rod in the feed ramp area.
4.  Take all of your bullets and move them to a different room in the house so you have NO temptation whatsoever of putting one in the rifle while you are working on it.  Better yet, let your significant other hold them for you.

Part A: Metal Bits

Step 1 is to take the rifle apart.  All of it.  Every last piece.  Place the metal bits into a large plastic zip-lock bag or small bucket so they don't get lost.  Put the wood to the side for now, that will be take care of later.

The Indian Enfields had a baked on painted finish.  It works.  It keeps the rifle from corrosion.  But it's easily damaged and just looks terrible, and I'm not so sure it doesn't interfere with the workings of the trigger and sights.  For my rifle, it had to go.  I stripped the paint using a combination of commercial paint stripper, wire tooth-brush and steel wool.  I scrubbed until the metal was clean, being sure to wear rubber gloves.  Paint stripper is very caustic and can easily burn the skin.  If you want to strip you own rifle, then take my advice and DON'T be tempted to use a rotary wire brush.  That will do more damage than good.  Take the time to use the chemical stripper and hand held wire tooth-brush.

I cleaned every part this way, the trigger bits, the sling buckles, barrel, all of it.  Then I washed  the parts in warm soapy water to remove all traces of the stripper agent. At this point any tooling marks or scars can be filed or filled to created a smooth finish.  I elected not to take the time to do so, as I didn't think the end result would be worth the work.  The Ishapore factory did a surprisingly decent job of polishing the metalwork.  This is a mystery as to why they would do this, considering they couldn't be bothered taking care of some of the parts that would actually make the rifle work.  But no matter, one less thing to worry about. 

Obviously, a new finish needed to be added right away to prevent corrosion of the raw metal.  If you strip your metal parts but aren't going to refinish right away, then it's a good idea to spray the parts down with WD-40 or similar light oil so they won't rust. The WD-40 can easily be cleaned off when it's time to refinish.



For my metal bits I used Birchwood Casey Perma Blue cold blue.  It's very easy to use, just follow the directions on the package exactly, take your time, and there is really no way to mess it up.  I used three applications of the blue to get the color density I wanted.  Easy, simple and can be done at home.  But DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING THIS ON THE KITCHEN TABLE!  No matter how careful you are, you will spill some of the chemicals, and your SWMBO will see it, and that will effectively end any further discussion of at home rifle refinishing. After the blueing was completed, I coated the metal bits thoroughly with gun oil and put them aside while working on the wood.

Part B:  Wood Bits 

Sanding, smoothing, more sanding.  Any questions?  I think you can figure this part out for yourselves.

Color (or "colour" for our Commonwealth friends).  Now there is a open ended book.  Many gun-stocks are finished with any number of commercially available stains or other colored finishes. They all work, they all do what they intend to do. I used boiled linseed oil.  I prefer the oil because it soaks deeply into the wood and darkens naturally over time.  Chips don't show, it's easily repaired.  Linseed oil preserves the wood as well as colors it, and it it compatible with my waterproofing finish.  

To apply the linseed oil, I simply used a cotton ball and rubbed the oil into the wood.  I applied one coat and hung the wood on wires to air dry.  Depending on temperature, this could take 24 to 72 hours.  I applied 4 or 5 coats of oil this way until I felt there was a good penetration of the oil into the wood.  It's almost too easy, and there is no possible way to screw it up.

Part C: Secret Ingredient

There are at least as many wood sealers and top coats on the market as there are grains of sand on the beach. Everybody swears by their favorite brand or method and it can be confusing as to which is "best".  For my Enfield, I resorted to my own concoction that has worked not only for my wood gun stocks, but for all of my wood works around the house.

The secret formula I am about to reveal to you MUST be kept absolutely secret! Tell NOBODY!  If this formula gets out then everybody will be using it and a warm, glowing wood finish won't be as mysterious as it once one.  Keep this information in the strictest confidentiality!

The purpose of a wood finish is two fold. First to seal the wood from the elements, and second to provide an appealing sheen or glow. For my Enfield I use a homemade beeswax finish formula, handed down to me from an old Amish woodworker on his death bed.  Having no son of his own, he entrusted me with his family secret formula that was lovingly handed down from father to son for 800 generations.  Or something like that.  Maybe I got the formula from a fortune cookie, I can't remember.

Like the linseed oil, the beeswax finish will, over time, absorb deeper and deeper into the wood providing an every increasing level of protection.  And unlike modern hard she!! finishes, the beeswax can be reapplied and renewed at any time, and can be easily repaired if scratched without destroying the protection of the wood or the looks.  A repaired area cannot be seen, it blends in perfectly.  It can be applied without worry of runs or color mismatches and old and new finishes will blend without any chemical reaction or peeling.   Unlike modern hard finishes, the beeswax gives the wood a warm, natural and "living" glow that really stands out in a crowd, and it can also be used on the metal parts as well.

To make the secret formula, I got an old mason jar ($ .50 at a jumble sale) a block of beeswax from the craft supply store, quart of linseed oil and a quart of turpentine.  I chopped the beeswax into little pieces about the size of a fingernail to make it easy to measure. The formula (which you MUST keep secret) is to mix the components in a 1/3 proportion.  1/3 turpentine, 1/3 linseed oil, 1/3 beeswax.  I dumped it all in the mason jar, swirled it around with a stick and let it sit overnight. The next morning I had a jar full of high quality wood wax paste.




To apply the paste I simply dabbed a little on an old cloth and rubbed it into the wood.  A little goes a long way, not too thick, just a thin layer.  Buffing the wax with the cloth helps to warm the paste and helps it to soak into the wood.  I let the first application dry for a few hours, and applied a little more.  The wax can be used on the metal parts as well, and since I started using this formula 10 years ago, I've never had any rust, water swelling, or other issues whatsoever.  And I still have my original jar of mix.  About once or twice a year I reapply a little wax on the wood to keep it fresh.

Part D: Accessories

It's so important to accessorize!  For my Enfield, I got the sling, carry case, bayonet with frog, scope rail, cleaning kit, and specialty tools.  Sure is fun looking for that little bit of kit for the rifle!  I  have a mix of surplus and reproduction parts, not all are accurate to the Ishapore, but they give an "authentic flavor" to the ensemble. Only a purist would know the difference. You can do whatever you like: inlay the stock, engrave the receiver, fuzzy dice, whatever suits your fancy.  
Have fun with this!



Part E: Conclusion

The finish of a rifle does exactly zero for it's functionality or accuracy. Take a look at any Soviet made firearm and you can see that concept played out on a national level.  The finish of a rifle sometimes increases the value, oftentimes not.  It's a zero sum game at the end of the day.  Cosmetics does make a rifle more appealing, and a good finish will protect the rifle from corrosion and moisture better than an ugly, scratched and chipped one will. 

I am very happy with the way my Ishapore turned out.  It looks to me more like a "real" rifle now than in it's original crappy Indian finish.  The wood work feels warm and smooth, the metal is clean, dark and business like.  The entire rifle looks like it can do whatever job is asked of it.  It looks like a proper soldier instead of a sad sack.  

So I know what you are thinking right now.  "Hey Ozzlefinch, that's a lot of words, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating!"  I agree.  Note figure 1.   This was  at 100 yards. The left target circle was the first volley.  A little high and to the left, but notice the 3 shot group flowers (yellow circle).  The right target circle was after a slight front sight post adjustment and adjusted point of aim which resulted in a zero/zero hit.  As you can see, except for the two flyer shots (or my bad shooting skills), I got about a 4" to 4.5" group, centers of which are indicated by stars.  I used crappy Russian made bottom shelf ammo (on clearance at the gun shop).  With better ammo and better skills, more is possible I'm sure. 

Figure 1  


Remember at the start of the series I warned everybody to temper expectations? That I said the Enfield is a mass produced military issue weapon and not a high end custom sniper rifle? Well for a reality check, notice figure 2.  I am holding the target on my midsection.  ANY of the shots I took would clearly have been fatal on man or beast.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I expect my Enfield to be able to do.  

100 yards, iron sights.  Lee Enfield Ishapore 2A1 in 7.62 NATO. QED.


Figure 2


That's the end of the rifle improvements and the end of my information series.  At some point you have to look at a project and say "good enough".  For the time being, I only want to enjoy my 2A1 and have fun shooting at the range and going on hunts with my friends.  Perhaps, in another 20 years, I will look at it with fresh eyes and see a new direction with which I want to take the project.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Until then, peace be with you, and happy shooting!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote A square 10 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 09 2014 at 11:03am
thank you , a very informative series , great addition to the archives 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zed Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 10 2014 at 5:22am
thank you Ozzelfinch. It has been a pleasure to read your series on improvements to your rifle. It's got me thinking about the metal finish on one of my No8 rifles; which was repainted prior to my purchase and the finish is poor quality, flaking off at the lightest knock. Blueing is not original for the No8, but seeing as the original finish has gone it may be an option. i do not know what paint would be similar to the original

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ozzlefinch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 10 2014 at 6:15am
I generally don't like the painted or bonded finishes on a firearm.  For my purposes they are easily chipped and to me they look kind of cheap.  I prefer the blued (or browned for muzzle loaders) because it's longer lasting and looks better, at least in my eyes.  I've had some firearms that were parkerized and that finish is fine for what it is, but it's hard to repair when it gets damaged or worn.  I have a CZ 82 that I carry every day that has a baked on painted finish.  I don't know what those zany commies did, but that finish is nuclear bomb proof!  For my CZ, I like the paint and I will keep it until it's so worn and chipped that it no longer protects the pistol.  The RFI used a supposed baked paint also, but it seems to be more of a brush painted thick stove paint more than anything else, and it doesn't even work well. 

Bluing can be done at home if you are on the cheap like me, but the best thing to do is take it to a gunsmith and have them hot blue it.  The pro finish is darker, deeper and longer lasting than anything you can do at home, but it comes with a higher price of course. 

At the end of all discussions, it remains your rifle and therefore it's your decision as to what is best to do for the finish work.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Jon287 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 14 2014 at 2:54pm
What is the advantage of using the BLO + wax + turpentine  mixture as opposed to just BLO?? Interesting, thanks for posting.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ozzlefinch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 14 2014 at 11:20pm
Good question Jon287.  The best answer I can give is that the BLO is a thin, messy liquid that takes 24 hours to dry, whereas the wax mix dries within minutes.  The wax mix, being thicker, provides a gap filling ability and better sealing of the wood against moisture, and being a paste and not a liquid, it is less messy to apply and easier to work.  The wax paste also has a far longer shelf life- it does not tend to dry out in the container like straight oil would.

The wax mix is like a home made furniture polish, it gives protection and luster to the wood, whereas the BLO only is more or less an industrial type of wood finish.  Using the wax paste lessens the frequency in which you have to retreat the wood for protection.

Probably the best argument for the wax paste is that you can add lavender or lemon scent to it and use it in the house as a furniture polish.  Doing such will endear you to you SWMBO and she will not have any complaints about you spending all your time with that stupid gun.  It has been known to save marriages, lower cholesterol, and regrow hair as well.  Well, not really, I just made that last part up.  But it does work well as a general wood polish for any use- furniture, yard tools, whatever is made of wood.

Photos really don't show it, but you can definitely see a difference between a BLO only and the wax paste finish.  Some shooters I know don't like the idea of BLO or anything like it because they don't want a finish that needs to be reapplied every year.  They prefer the modern enameled type of finishes that are "one and done".  There is nothing wrong with that, but as I stated before, if it gets damaged then it is hard to repair.  From my  point of view, since I clean all my guns twice a year whether or not they are used, applying a new wax coat is not a big deal.  In fact, I look forward to it as a sort of ritual. 

All I can say is that you have nothing to lose by mixing a small batch for yourself and seeing if you like it.  The ingredients are cheap, and it takes only minutes to mix it up.  When it's first mixed the wax will be in chunks floating around in the jar, don't worry about that.  Let it sit overnight and the next day it will be a uniform mixture like in the photo above.
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