To Refinish or Not to Refinish, that is the Question.

On my page about Firearms Finishes, a question popped in from one of The Horde.

For those new here, The Horde are like minded Readers of – and by extension as some have said, members of  I’ll leave that up to you to self-identify as you wish.   

Question:  “Enjoyed the article on the different firearm finishes. I do have a question to ask….
I have come across an old Colt 1911 made in 1913. The seller states it has been refinished with the NP3 finish. Even though it appears to be a professional job, I’m concern that it defaces the value of the gun. Does anyone know if this devaluated the firearm any? I appreciate your responses.”

That’s a great question and an interesting topic.   Here’s the Short Answer:  Yes. Unfortunately any time you refinish a gun, you basically ruin it. Investment wise. Pure collector value issue. However for a working gun, it’s just the opposite. It restores and protects, and in the case of a finish like NP3 – enhances it.  So it really comes down to what you want the gun for.

The long answer:  We also have to take into account the value and condition of the firearm, as well as it’s individual history.  Let me explain.  Let’s say you have a Winchester 94 that your Pops got you when you were a Wee Lad.  It’s your working gun, your truck gun, your ever year deer getting gun…   It’s worn and getting corroded and could use some help.  This gun might be a “Pre-64” example…. So off the cuff one would say, “No, don’t refinish it!”  However you have a lot of personal history with this gun and you want your kid to enjoy it too… and his kid.   Well, just the old Rub Down With Oil treatment isn’t going to cut it and that gun would get retired quick…. So maybe this example would be a good candidate to get a good refinish done.  Black-T or a good semi-gloss black Cerakote would be good choice for this.  Or, have a good gunsmith do a refinish with a Hot Blueing after some polishing up… So you can keep using it as you have been.

Okay, now say that same gun was your great grandfathers, well cared for, and is in really good condition…  It’s vintage was a lot older.  Well, in that case, it’s value could be quite high and such a vintage gun should be left as it is, or if you want to use it… Here, the decision is yours.

Now let’s say your great grandfather rode with Butch Cassidy and this rifle was own by one of Butch’s boys… or rode with Sheriff John Pope and ended would of Butch’s boys with that rifle.  Well, that gives that gun a much higher value than Book Value.  Of course – such value requires documentation to substantiate the history.  But let’s say you have that.   That changes things…. Refinishing that gun?  HELL NO.  That’s American History and should be preserved.   There will be Collectors looking for that gun.

Now there is another collector type out there… Blood Guns.  Weapons used by murderers.  I’m not going to go into that stuff… but those collectors?  They don’t even want you to clean it, so no refinishing for those guns.

Most modern guns though, mass produced, common types that are still in production… Refinish it however you like.  Really the skirmish line comes down to if it’s in production or not.   If it’s no longer in production – take a moment to think about getting it refinished or not.

10 thoughts on “To Refinish or Not to Refinish, that is the Question.”

  1. I’ve often thought about this myself. Especially when I stumbled across a chewed up Colt 1911 in a pawn shop once for $300. She was in horrible shape. I had originally intended to just clean it to clean and patch it up. Up until I decided to check the serial and found out it was made in 1944. I ended up just selling her to a Colt fan at the next show as I was more interested in something to ‘play’ with rather than a collectors item. Made a tidy profit too.

    1. Your logic is flawed: The gun you once received as a wee lad (scenario 1) could evolve into grandpas gun (scenario 2). If you refinish it prior to reaching grandpa status, you blow scenario 2. I say if you want to refinish a gun, refinish it…..don’t worry about its value.

  2. My father inherited a pre 64 winchester model 70 in .270. He used it for years as his hunting rifle, but as he got older, he went less and less. After putting it in a soft gun case, he stored it in a closet, and forgot about it for years. Finally one day my brother was borrowing it to go hunting, and pulled it out of the case. It was terrible. The gun must have been wet when it was stored, and the rust was pitting, and even the wooden stock was green from mold. There was no question about not refinishing it. I don’t think we would be concerned about the collector value anyway, it’s a family heirloom, not an investment.

    1. Storing a gun in a soft case, or even a hard case w/foam inserts, is a terrible idea. The foam & cloth in the case attracts moisture and when a firearm is inside the foam is in direct contact with the metal and wood and that’s how the damage happens. Even some desiccant in the case won’t be enough as the case isn’t air tight and will continue to pull in moisture. Any long term storage should be thought out well enough to ensure that prevent irreversible damage, especially to a vintage or heirloom piece.

      George, I suggest that you do a piece on proper long-term storage of firearms as I’m sure there are a good number people who just don’t know how do it or even prepare a gun for storage.

    2. This is an example of that old working gun… get a new finish on it thats going to protect it under some good use.

  3. If its a tool, refinish it as you see fit to maintain or enhance its function. If its an investment, do what is necessary to maintain or enhance its value. If its an heirloom, treat it as you would a museum exhibit because that is what it will become eventually.

    On older guns – especially ones where pitting is evident and polishing is not really going to fix it, I favor parkerizing. It is fairly tough and durable considering its cost and the finish tends to hold a waterproof coating in place pretty well over time.

    Re-blueing is another good option but only if the original blueing is pretty well shot and there is not a significant amount of corrosion. Hard to argue with a well done blued finish.

    If its a tool, Cerakote it and be done with it.

  4. George is right in his analysis. Ultimately it does come down to making a knowing choice based on the individual situation. Two different guns in my own collection come to mind. One is my grandfather’s very worn and well-used Remington 11 12 gauge. It is the original Browning hump back Auto 5 before JMB worked out his deal with FN. That shotgun has a lot of family history associated with it that I want to preserve. Every nick, every scratch, every dent, all mean something to someone in the family. It’s been passed down intact. I will keep it that way, never fire it and pass it along.

    Another is my own little Remington Model 514 single shot .22LR that my dad gave to me when I was 11-12 years old and the gun I learned to shoot with (excluding playing with BB guns. He bought it used. I’ve kept it all these years and want to pass it on to my grandchild. I’m as the person with all the family history made a decision to lovingly restore it to almost like new condition. That involved stripping the stock, filling in much of the dings, but not all (for a personal reason), and having the barrel, action and trigger guard polished and reblued. It looks fantastic and will be loved by my grand daughter not only because it was given to me by her great grand father, but because I kept it all these years and then lovingly made it very nice for her.

    In neither instance did either gun have any collector’s value, but for totally different reasons one was left just like it is and the other was restored.

    I have other guns in my collection that do have real collector’s value. They will NOT have anything done to them other than routine cleaning and maintenance to prevent a decline in existing condition. Nothing more.

    And I have shooters that I will do anything I damn want to do with them, altering them to my heart’s content.

  5. I might add one other factor to the calculus of whether to refinish:

    How many are there?

    Let’s say we’re talking a Remington 870… fine gun, it may even be a family heirloom because the last three generations of men have used it to put dinner on the table. But no single 870 is likely to ever become a collector’s item unless it has a significant historical role (one used by a President might mean more than one used by a car dealer). There’s millions of 870s out there, there’s going to be millions more by the time Remington quits production of the things. So yeah, no problems refinishing that one.

    But, let’s say, a gun that might be a special edition. There may only be a thousand of them in existence, and even if there isn’t a big collector’s value to it now, there may well be one time in the future. You can never be sure what will tickle the fancy of a collector but rarity is usually a good indicator. That gun I’d probably not refinish- even if you’d prefer a good corrosion resistant finish so you can use the thing out in the elements (and it’s not worth anything significant at the moment). Maybe better to use something else.

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