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Refinishing a 100 Year Old Winchester 97 Shotgun
by Roy Seifert

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Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.


I recently modified a 100 year old Winchester model 1897 for competition (refer to my article Modifying a Winchester 97 for Competition).  This gun was originally built in 1907 which made it over 100 years old, and functioned flawlessly during a Wild Bunch Match.  Some people may balk at the fact that I made changes to this old gun, but for me this is a shooter, not a collectable wall-hanger, so I had no problem making those changes. 

As with many original Winchester 97’s that I’ve seen, most of the bluing had worn off and whatever was left had taken on a brown patina.  Also, due to years of poor care, the exterior metal was pitted from rust.  I decided I wanted to refinish this old gun and make it look as close to brand new as I could get.  Re-bluing the metal will also protect it from further corrosion.

Refinishing Plan
This was probably my most ambitious project to date.  I have refinished stocks (refer to my article Modernizing a Winchester 37) and cold-blued receivers (refer to my article Restoring a Ted Williams Model 100 .30-30), and I have Parkerized complete guns (refer to my article Reactivating a Springfield 1903-A3 Drill Rifle), but this will be the first time I refinish an entire blued gun.  My refinishing plan was as follows:

  • Remove all the old external bluing

  • Polish the metal

  • Re-blue the exterior metal surfaces with Dicropan IM®

  • Strip the wood

  • Cover the gray epoxy seam where I repaired the stock and action slide handle

  • Finish the wood with Birchwood Casey® Tru-Oil®

Dicropan IM® is the same bluing process I used to refinish a Ruger .45 ACP cylinder (refer to my article Refinishing a .45 ACP Conversion Cylinder with Brownells Dicropan IM®).  It is a rust bluing process which is much more durable than cold bluing and when done correctly the results are beautiful.

Before working on the gun itself I practiced on the piece I had left over from shortening the barrel.  Since this piece of barrel had the same finish problems as the rest of the gun I could work out my metal refinishing process.


I first polished the barrel with 220-grit wet/dry sand paper.  This removed the old bluing but left behind pits that I couldn’t remove as you can see from the above photo.  I used a small wire brush and my Dremel tool to remove the corrosion buried in the pits.  I then polished with 320-grit paper, then finished with 400-grit paper.  I final polished with 400-grit Polish-O-Ray I purchased from Brownells #080-505-400 and a felt buffing wheel attached to a hand drill.  The Dicropan IM® instructions recommend this as the final polish prior to bluing.


I performed the Dicropan IM® process 5 times to get the darkness of bluing I wanted.  The barrel section came out looking beautiful and the bluing was nice and even.  The above photo appears to have streaks, but this was caused by the lighting I used for the photo. 

Although time-consuming, the Dicropan IM® bluing process is pretty easy, and as mentioned before, the results are beautiful and durable (the following steps are a summary; refer to the Dicropan IM® instructions for the complete process):

Step 1.           
Polish the metal
Step 2.            Degrease with acetone or Brownells TCE
Step 3.           
Immerse in boiling water for 5-minutes
Step 4.           
Card off any rust
Step 5.           
Apply coat of Dicropan IM® for 60-seconds; throw away the applicator
Step 6.           
Immerse in boiling water for 15-minutes
Step 7.           
Remove from water and allow to dry
Step 8.           
Card off any rust; throw away the degreased steel wool used for carding
Step 9.           
Apply coat of Dicropan IM® for 60-seconds
Step 10.       
Immerse in boiling water for 5-minutes
Step 11.       
Remove from water and allow to dry
Step 12.       
Card off any rust with a second piece of degreased steel wool
Step 13.       
Repeat Steps 9-12 until desired color is achieved
Step 14.       
Coat with a water-displacing oil

Refinishing the Metal
I completely disassembled the shotgun into its major components.  I unscrewed the action slide sleeve screw cap with a special spanner wrench I purchased from Brownells #080-548-012 and removed the action slide handle from the action slide.


I started with the magazine tube and action slide.  I performed the metal preparation as described in the practice section above.  I did not refinish the entire action slide; only the arm that engages the carrier.  The arm has the Winchester name and model stamped into the metal and is the only part of the action slide that is visible.  I taped a wooden plug into the threaded end of the magazine tube, and a rubber cork into the plug end.  The wooden plug was long enough so I could use it as a handle and not touch the metal.  After the parts were blued I thoroughly cleaned and oiled the insides to remove any rust that had formed from immersing them in the hot water.  The inside of the magazine tube was already rusted and pitted when I first purchased the gun so I didn’t want any additional rust to form.

The magazine tube was too long to fit into any of the pots we had in the kitchen so I purchased a black iron bluing tank from Brownells #082-003-664.  This tank was so long that I had to set it diagonally across the right-rear and front-left burners of my gas stove.  The stove was just barely hot enough to bring the water up to a slow boil, but that was enough to refinish the metal parts.  For the smaller parts I used a regular stainless-steel pot.

To prepare the receiver I first removed all of the small parts and placed them in plastic bags labeled “L” or “R” so I wouldn’t get them mixed up.  I used a 10-inch mill bastard file to draw-file the flats to remove most of the pits and scratches.  I then wrapped various grits of wet/dry sand paper around the file to remove the filing marks and polish the metal.  I started with 220-grit, then 320-grit, then finished with 400-grit.  The rounded areas of the receiver I shoe-shined with strips of wet/dry sand paper starting with the 220-grit and finishing with the 400-grit.  I had to be very careful not to damage the serial number on the receiver.  Damaging or altering the serial number is illegal.  Fortunately the serial number and inspector’s mark were stamped deeper than the pits so they were still clearly visible.  I finished polishing with the 400-grit Polish-O-Ray and a felt buffing wheel.

The rear of the receiver that mated with the butt stock had the deepest pits.  This seems to make sense to me since the shooter’s hand would constantly be in contact with that part of the receiver leaving body oil behind and causing rust.


You can see in the above photos that I didn’t remove all of the pits.  Some of them were very deep and I didn’t want to weaken the receiver by removing too much metal.


Next I refinished some of the smaller parts:

  • Magazine Band

  • Magazine Plug

  • Trigger Guard Bow

As before I couldn’t remove all of the pits but the Dicropan IM® bluing process comes out beautifully dark and even.


Finally I refinished the barrel assembly.  I prepared the metal as mentioned before.  I wore a filter over my nose and mouth so I wouldn’t get metal and sandpaper bits in my nose and lungs.  I removed the brass bead for polishing, then replaced it for bluing. 


I plugged the breech and muzzle with wooden dowels, and again used my long iron bluing tank on my kitchen stove for the heated water.  The Dicropan IM® instructions say to apply the solution in a “slurry” which seems to give the most even result.  I used cotton balls stuffed into the toe of a nylon stocking and liberally applied the Dicropan IM®.  The barrel came out dark and even after only five applications.


For small parts such as pins and screws, the trigger, hammer, and top of the carrier I cold-blued with Birchwood Casey® Perma Blue®.  I cleaned the part with acetone then suspended it in the cold-blue solution for just a couple of seconds.  I didn’t have to remove the old bluing as the Perma Blue® left a deep blue/black finish right over the old bluing. 

Stripping the Wood

While the gun was completely disassembled I used Klean-Strip® KS-3 premium stripper I purchased from my local home improvement store to remove the old oil and finish from the butt stock and action slide handle.  I applied three coats of stripper and let each coat stand for 15-minutes before removing.  As you can see from the above photo there are still a couple of dark areas on the wrist and action slide handle that still have oil from years of handling.  I applied two additional coats of stripper, then scrubbed the wood with a scrubbing pad and mineral spirits.


After stripping the wood I steamed out as many dents as I could by laying a wet towel on the wood and pressing a hot iron to the towel.  I went over the entire butt stock, but couldn’t remove all of the dents or scratches.  Everyone tells me this gives the stock character!  After the wood dried I sanded it with 600-grit sand paper to remove any “feathers” raised by the steaming process.


I applied three coats of Birchwood Casey® Tru-Oil® allowing each coat to dry for six hours.  I have always liked the smooth, semi-glossy finish Tru-Oil imparts to the wood as you can see from the above photo.  As mentioned before you can still see some dents, gouges, and scratches but what do you expect from a 100-year old stock?

Replacing the Action Slide Stop

About 2 1/2-inches from the end of the magazine tube was a small piece of metal with two screws.  This piece of metal prevented the magazine tube from coming out of the barrel assembly too far.  My gun had one screw missing so I decided to replace the entire slide stop.  I removed the single screw and slide stop, drilled out the two holes in the magazine tube with a #43 drill bit, then tapped each hole with a 4-40 tap.   


I took two 4-40 hex-head screws and cut the head in half then used a Dremel cutoff wheel to cut a notch in the top of the head.  I had to cut the heads in half so they would pass under the barrel when the magazine tube was rotated for disassembly.  I then cut the threaded part so only 1 1/2-threads were left.  I then installed them in the magazine tube holes with Loctite blue.  I tested my fix by loading six dummy shells in the magazine tube to ensure nothing was binding on the ends of the screws.  This was a very elegant fix; the screws do not contact the barrel when rotating the magazine tube, and the magazine tube does not come out too far when disassembling the shotgun.


Above is a photo of the completed restoration project, but it really doesn’t show the proper beauty of the gun.  The metal parts still have many pits leftover from years of neglect and rust, but the new bluing will help prevent any additional rust or corrosion from forming, and it really does make the gun look beautiful again.  A couple of my shooting buddies asked if it was a Chinese copy, but I told them it was a restored original Winchester ’97 built in 1907.  The bluing should last for many years and many matches and I can be proud to show off the work I did to restore this old gun.

I discovered after some trial and error that the first application of Dicropan IM® seems to be the most important.  The trick is to use a large applicator and apply a lot of solution.  I tried using large gun cleaning swabs but they didn’t apply enough solution to get the bluing even.  Eventually I used cotton balls stuffed down into the toe of a nylon stocking and tied off and cut the top off of the stocking so I had a nice large swab.  This applied a large amount of bluing solution during the initial application which meant I only needed to perform the apply/boil/card process 5 times.


   © Copyright 2015 Roy Seifert.