New Life for an Old Plinker: One man’s journey in restoring an old rifle

So your child is at that age when he or she is old enough to attend hunter’s safety. Up until now you have been showing your child all that you know to prepare them. You’ve taken them to the range, allowed them to shoot your .22-caliber rifle. Now you’re thinking about buying them their first gun.

Wait one minute. Unless you plan on giving them a rifle that has been passed down through the family, why not take a look at some of the cheap, older .22 caliber rifles that are collecting dust and cobwebs in a gun shop or maybe a friend’s closet?

Most of these might cost you in the range of $50 to $100. With a little work and a thorough inspection you can present your child with a gift he or she will keep and treasure. You may even want to take the old plinker your grandfather gave to you and clean it up. I bet your child will want a family heirloom just as much as a brand new out of the box rifle.

Glenfield Model 75

A Glenfield Model 75 before restoration. (Photo credit: Mark Adams)

Now before you roll your eyes and say, “I don’t know enough to work on a firearm.” Let’s just take it a step at a time.

Step 1: Safety first

Safety should be the first thing on your mind. Check that rifle several times to ensure it’s unloaded. Unless you have firsthand knowledge of the condition of the rifle I suggest you have it inspected by a competent gunsmith to ensure it is safe to shoot as well.

Glenfield Model 75

The Glenfield Model 75 broken down into it’s major components. (Photo credit: Mark Adams)

Keep in mind these are the same things you want to know when you are haggling over the price if you buy a used firearm. If it has been sitting for a long time — really long — chances are the action will not function smoothly, if at all.  Many of the semi-auto .22 rifles are notorious for failing to function due to neglect or improper cleaning.  A little bit of work on your part might fix the problem.

Once you have inspected the rifle, break it down to its major components — notice I said major components. Unless you are mechanically inclined and/or have a manual that walks you through the process, I would stay away from tearing down the trigger group and bolt assembly. There are some great manuals available to assist with just about any make and model of rifles. You can also use the web to track down and order any minor parts you may need to get an old rifle shooting again.

Step 2: Finish

No, no. We’re not done yet, in fact, we’re still getting started. So you have removed the stock, scope and action. You should be looking at the stock first. Chances are you have a one-piece wooden stock. Inspect it and note the dings and scratches. What type of finish is on it? Remember this rifle may be from the 1960s, 70s or older. A lot of these rifles were mass-produced and the finish was a quick dip in a stain and then dipped in a lacquer.

Glenfield Model 75

The pre-finished stock of the Glenfield Model 75 sanded down. (Photo credit: Mark Adams)

Underneath that finish you may have a diamond in the rough. You may have to use a stripper to remove the finish. Once stripped, use multiple grits of sandpaper to remove the dings and scratches. Start out with 80 grit sandpaper and finish with 200 grit. The more time and attention you spend on the stock the better the finish will turn out. This is the hard part and will take the most time.

Pick a color of stain that suits you and highlights the wood grain. I have found the lighter color of a wood stock calls for a lighter color of stain, but that is based on my tastes. I recently refinished an old Glenfield semiauto that belonged to my brother until his death. After removing the factory stain I found what appeared to be an ash or light oak wood stock. I used golden oak stain on it and had my wife put an inscription on the stock using a permanent marker. I then applied six coats of Tru-Oil, (Birchwood Casey). The stock and inscription should last a long time. I presented the rifle to my youngest daughter, so she now has something special to remember her favorite uncle.

Glenfield Model 75

The stock of the Glenfield Model 75 with a tribute to “Joe.” (Photo credit: Mark Adams)

If your child is just starting out learning how to handle and shoot a rifle, I recommend you set that old scope aside and first teach them to shoot open sights. By teaching to shoot with open sights you are teaching your child sight alignment along with trigger control. Later when you are teaching them to shoot a handgun they will understand the concept. Next turn your attention to the action.

Step 3: Go where the action is

If it is a bolt action and you can remove the bolt, give it a good cleaning. You may want to let the bolt sit for a day in gun cleaning oil to remove caked on grit and dry grease. There are many products out there that you can purchase to assist you.

If the action and barrel are badly rusted or pitted you may consider finding someone who recoats with Duracoat or your standard finishing. Duracoat is a type of gun finish that can be applied to any type of surface — it’s darn near indestructible. However, this will add to your cost and may create a huge time delay for completing your project, not to mention you may bring the value of the firearm down. But remember theoretically you bought this rifle for less than $100.

Semiautos are just as easy to clean but may require a little bit more knowledge when taken apart. A repair manual is worth it weight in gold.

Glenfield Model 75

The finished product. (Photo credit: Mark Adams)

Step 4: Make sure it works

Last and but not least, once your restoration is complete and the rifle has been put back together don’t forget to take it to the range and test fire it. Many of us have been in the terrible position of watching our child open a gift only to discover the darn thing does not work.

When all is said and done, you will have given new life and purpose to an old rifle and your child has something he or she will treasure.