Polishing Gun Metal

Tips to shining up an older gun and making it beautiful.

Skip Walters

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Metal polishing can be considered an art. To turn a rusty old gun into a beautifully restored piece takes time, patience and technique. I will attempt to relate that technique, but you must be willing to supply the time and patience.


The rust pits must be removed by draw filing. Draw filing consists of holding the mill file with one hand on the handle and the other hand on the top of the file. The file must be drawn toward you like a spoke shave or draw knife is used on wood. This removes a very small amount of metal with each stroke. It is important to bring an entire surface down equally to avoid dips and ripples in the final finish.


When all pits have been removed, the marks from the draw filing must be removed. This is accomplished by using a strip of 180 grit polishing cloth, backed by a piece of flat hardwood. Use the polishing cloth as you did the file on flat surfaces. On curved surfaces, use the cloth strip in a “shoe shine” fashion to avoid creating any flat areas on the curved surface. Take note that the grit lines created on the surface must run in a different direction than the draw filing marks. When the draw filing marks are gone, it is time to move to a finer 240 grit cloth to remove the 180 grit marks. As before, the 240 grit marks must run in a different direction. This process is continued until the desired polish level is achieved. I seldom go higher than 400 grit for a final polish, but I have had requests for 600 polish levels.


For unusually shaped areas, an electric hand grinder is very useful, but makes it very easy to create ripples, round off corners and “wash out” lettering. Inexpensively reblued guns are usually riddled with these flaws. There is an alternative to polishing unusually shaped areas. Make specifically shaped pieces of hardwood on which to put your polishing cloth. They can be made in shapes to follow the contours. This is the best method to help avoid polishing errors.


With a little time and patience, you’ll have people wanting to check serial numbers, because they won’t be able to believe it is their gun. I love when that happens!