In my formative years, I regarded every gun as a work in progress. Only after my genius and a gunsmith’s skills were brought to bear on the “problem” would a rifle perform to its peak level. Now I’m a little more selective about what I do and, as a result, am able to buy food, gasoline, and other frivolities that I could not previously afford. Before you go charging off to the gunsmith, here are a few guidelines to consider as to which sort of modifications make sense and which don’t.
Small jobs are usually a good idea. By this I mean work that ordinarily costs under $200, and often under $100. This includes a thorough cleaning for semiautos, replacing rocklike recoil pads with ones that actually take up recoil, shortening or lengthening stocks, and adjusting (or replacing) triggers. You really can’t go too wrong here.
Extensive work on firearms, particularly older ones, should be thought out very carefully. If a rifle is inaccurate, working on it may not make it a shooter. With so many incredibly accurate guns available right out of the box, my attitude these days is that if it doesn’t shoot, sell it.
Most old guns are not worth redoing. Leave them alone and accept their scars and dings as badges of honor. That said, you may own guns that have a sentimental value and wish to improve their appearance. Such work does not increase the gun’s worth to a collector, but nonetheless enhances the owning experience to you. If that’s the case, go right ahead. In 1972, my uncle left me a sadly neglected 1930s Pigeon Grade Browning Superposed. I had the barrels reblued, the stock refinished, the checkering recut, and the recoil pad replaced because it was a fine old gun and I couldn’t leave it looking like hell. I might have cost myself some money by diminishing its value to a collector, but I couldn’t care less.
In 1978, I took a very fancy Griffin & Howe rifle to Africa and it came back looking as if it had been left in the path of the annual Serengeti wildebeest migration. The restoration work was $500, but afterward the rifle looked like new.
Aside from a complete overhaul, you can spend money on specifics and be glad you did. Back in the 1980s I owned a very handsome side-by-side Beretta that was in fine shape except for the checkering, which had not been well done in the first place and was badly worn down. It was very fine (in lines per inch, not quality)–something like 28 lpi, and recutting diamonds this small is not something every gunsmith can handle. I gave the Beretta to a very talented smith named Charles Yellott, and he did a magnificent job.
One of the more useful rifles I own is a .25/06 Savage Model 110 Tactical Rifle. Though very accurate, it was so ugly that people would toss their okra at the sight of it. In addition to a horrible, cheap-looking black stock, it had the horrible old-style Savage trigger, which I had gotten down to a usable weight by Unauthorized Meddling with its guts.
I took it to John Blauvelt, my gunsmith, and we ordered a McMillan fiberglass stock and a Rifle Basix trigger. Those two components, plus the incidental gunsmithing, cost $670, which is probably a bit more than I paid for the gun in 1996. But it now has an excellent trigger, and people no longer hurl when I take it out of the case. And it still shoots like the very devil.
Think before you spend, and listen to your gunsmith. You’ll smile at the results.