Sunday, March 24, 2013

Restoring The Thompson Center Arms .54 Caliber Cap Lock Rifle

I finally set out on a project that's been on my mind for a long time: restoring my Dad's .54 cal TC Arms muzzle loader.

1st. I am a novice gunsmith at best, but I do have some background in machine work.  2nd, I discovered a wonderful product a few years ago called "Evapo Rust" and it saved some nice tools I had that had gotten rusty.

This gun is in rough shape, but I hope salvageable.  More than anything, it holds vast sentimental value for me, as it was my Dad's.  I watched him shoot this gun at 110 grains of black powder about a dozen times one day.  The next day, I saw him with his shirt off, and his entire shoulder was blue.  He never complained.

I was with him when he took down some big game with this gun.

Appearance: I'm not sure how some will take what he did to it, but you have to know my Dad: he was very utilitarian.  He hunted to hunt.  He didn't hang out at camps and drink beer and talk to guys and brag.  When he hunted, he was in the woods at the stand before light, and he didn't leave it until after light.  From a young age he drug me into the mountains and ridges and hollows to get big game, and he was serious about it.

This gun he "tricked out" to hunt with.  He covered all shiny brass, he mounted a scope on it, and he secured the scope with clamps, then covered that with black tape.  It makes perfect sense if you just want to use it to hunt.  "But why do that to an ancient-style gun?"  Well, let's just look at it like buying sprem in World of Tanks <-- he wanted an advantage.

I was a teen, asleep, and was awoken by a thunderous crack -- this gun could crack.  Dad never just jumped up, but sat and waited.  He taught me not waiting would scare off a wounded deer.  Some half hour later, he comes walking up to me carefully.  "Did you shoot?" (I wasn't sure if I dreamed it).  "Yes," he said.

We walk over and he had gotten it right in the chest.  Field dressing it showed he got it right in the heart.

"but fkd, why did you let this gun get in such bad shape?"
In my defense, I got this gun from family who stored it stupidly out in their horribad shed where they kept their lawn mower, with dirt floor.  It suffered the elements.  Realizing it wasn't worth tons, they gave it to me as they knew I wanted it.  I now have it.  I now hope to save it.

This is what I hope to be the first of several posts covering the restoration.  It will also mark my continuing efforts in learning gun smithing as a novice.  Bluing, wood work, the mechanism -- I hope to shoot it in the end -- should all come to play.

Wish me luck and root me on.

Work Dossier:
Break down:

I spent approx 2 hours tonight on it.  I had to cut the tape but it came off without much problem.  The clamps too.  Getting both of these off I could see why this was done: the scope carriage -- though fully functional and mounting the scope nicely, had a tad of play in it.  The clamps surely stabilized this.  Plus, Dad planned for everything, including any accidents, or even using it as a club (yes, he was that kinda guy.  These old 'solid-state' muzzle loaders made for hella clubs back in the day.)

The scope was held to the mounting carriage with allen screws. It took me longer than it should have to find the right allen wrench, but after denting my thumb with a bit of pain, the first screw gave and came out.  The second followed, and the scope slide out nicely.

Next, 2 tiny screws mounted the carriage to the barrel.  I saw red paint over the entire inner carriage and screws, and also, one of the screws (straight heads) were broken, with half of the head gone, making removal impossible.  I'm now having thoughts of having to do stuff I've not done since working in a machine shop, such as drilling out and tapping the screw internally and do an "ease out" on it and/or, having to retap the hole period for bigger screw.  (I am not certain the purpose of the paint -- quite possibly rust prevention?  I know Dad was very careful about preventing rust, and the area beneath the scope would have been hard to clean without removing the scope).

Trying to remove the good screw (1 of 2) it, too, broke!  I am now left with 2 bad screws and no hope of removing either (I had hoped that removing the one would allow me to use the carriage itself as a type of wrench to get the bad one out sans screw driver).

Since they are obviously breaking easily, I went ahead and grabbed a countersink and hammer, and lightly tapped the 1st bad screw, hoping to break the rest of the head off.  A few taps and the entire screw came out.  It was a shallow screw, probably only holding on the first row of threads, and I surely stripped these, but it _was_ now out.  This indeed enabled me to use the carriage as a wrench -- applying upward stress as I turned it -- to remove the last screw.  In all, I may have just one partially bad screw hole that might be fine.

The second screw came out, and I immediately could see liquid in the hole -- a tiny hole.  Touching the screw to my finger, this liquid came off.  I blew on it, to see if water or oil.  I'm 99.9% sure it was water.  It evaporated without much question, leaving rusty dirt behind.

The pin holding stock and barrel was loose, and came out without much force at all.  I then tried to remove a same-sized screw from the ignition housing (as was holding scope carriage in place).  This screw too chipped a bit.  I tried a bit more, even lightly tapping it, trying to work it back and forth, but it would not budge.  I decided to soak silicon or oil on it later and try another time.

Now, I began on what is surely to be one of the longer parts of the job: removing the ancient camo tape. This tape is old, brittle, gluey, sticky and does not in any shape or form want to keep itself together.  I am lucky to get an inch of it off at a time.  I am down to literally using my knife, to carefully remove it, with care as to not damage the wood.  This is where I stopped.

I did locate my Evapo Rust, but will wait to apply.

I am wondering about how to apply to inside of barrel: pour in and let it fill to barrel end and sit, then dump out and dry?  Or should I try to clean with rod afterwards?


Thompson Center Arms Cap & Flintlock Muzzle Loading Rifles

Go here for Part 2


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