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Old November 19, 2009, 12:25 AM   #1
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Polish an old muzzle loader, or leave it alone?

A friend at work has what he says is an 1860's Springfield muzzle loading rifle recently given to him by his father. I haven't seen it, and he doesn't know much about guns, so that's all the info I have on the rifle. He does say it has brass parts, and he wants to know if it diminishes the value if he polishes those parts up with some Brass-o or Fitz. Says it's in beautiful shape, just the brass is tarnished.

Assuming it's the age he thinks it is, yay or nay? He's not talking about having the steel blued or anything, just polishing the brass parts.

I'm in over my head with it, antiques and mil-surps are not in my realm of experience. I'd appreciate any guidance to pass on to him.
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Old November 19, 2009, 05:39 AM   #2
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I can't think what brass an 1860's Springfield would have. Regardless, no polishing! A gentle oiling would be about all I would do.
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Old November 19, 2009, 05:53 AM   #3
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It is an understatement to say that "cleaning up" an old gun would diminish the value.
It is the worst thing he could do.
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Old November 19, 2009, 04:02 PM   #4
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Clean up or anything to preserve, is fine. Polishing is a different story on the old guys. I personally like the "Patination" on old copper and brass or even german silver.
Take a good look at it and let the piece talk to you...
I have a couple of older brass flasks for pocket pistols and showed them to a collector. Could have shot him when he started rubbing his thumb over the surface and he knew better ....

Be Safe !!!
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Old November 19, 2009, 04:47 PM   #5
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Thanks for the advice everyone. I'll let him know to leave it alone, that's the easiest course of action anyway!
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Old November 19, 2009, 05:26 PM   #6
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If your friend's dad gets stubborn about it (sometimes people say things like "I don't care about the value, I just think it would look nice"...),tell him that commercial cleaners are very damaging to old brass. They generally contain ammonia and other caustic chemicals, which will attack the surface, and in extreme cases can lead to something called "stress corrosion cracking," which is just as nasty as it sounds.

From a conservation point of view (leaving aside considerations of taste such as wanting to leave an object in "as found" condition), it's OK to clean, as opposed to polish, brass, if it can easily be removed and replaced (cleaning it removes stuff that causes corrosion, so it's actually a good idea, now and then). A 1:1 solution of acetone and denatured alcohol in a glass pan big enough to hold the brass hardware, a soft brush, and a lint-free cloth for drying will do all that's needed. Do not try to do this with the brass in place, as the alcohol/acetone solution will remove wood finish, and may damage other surfaces.

It's then possible to polish the brass using a slurry of alcohol and jeweler's tripoli or very fine auto body polishing compound, but that's where taste, and preserving the value of the object, comes in. Collectors like the original, unpolished surface, and they're probably right.

But mainly... please, no Brasso, Flitz, etc. Too many nasty chemicals. And no messing with brass that's still attached to the object, as anything used to clean or polish will likely damage adjacent surfaces.
Never let anything mechanical know you're in a hurry.
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Old November 19, 2009, 05:30 PM   #7
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It's not a springfield with brass on it, maybe an enfield.
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Old November 20, 2009, 12:53 PM   #8
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For the sake and respect of that old war wagon, please dont scrub it up and polish it down. Let her wear her age with respect.
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Old November 23, 2009, 09:56 PM   #9
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You should clean the bore and chamber like any rifle, the rest, just wipe off the grime and leave the patina intact. You can rub the wood with a wood polish or oil, but no sanding. Don't muck around with the screw heads or anything, they are usually softer steel than modern screwdrivers and will damage easily.
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