Grandpa’s Gun: Refinishing vs. Restoring

Sitting in my safe downstairs I have my grandpa’s .30-30, on temporary loan from my dad; a Winchester Model 94(1894) manufactured in 1959. The rifle remains 100% original but not in 100% condition; there is a difference. The rifle shows years of use, honest wear from the field.  Over the years I have witnessed numerous guns get handed down through various families, many are quickly traded away for a few bucks or, what I consider a worse fate, re-blued.


I am very happy to say that this particular rifle still has all the screws in pristine condition, not damaged by ill-fitting screwdrivers or defiled by some bozo with a file.

Once a firearm has been re-blued it has lost its originality and what is known as “collector appeal” and, subsequently, a considerable amount of its value. There may always be some interest by purists looking for a hunting rifle. I have seen so many good-quality, once-collectable, Winchesters absolutely destroyed by garage gunsmiths, drilling holes, mounting scopes and sights and even re-chambering.


A lot of people confuse the terms refinishing and restoration, there is a big difference!  A re-blued rifle will generally show all the tell tale signs of bad polishing and dishing of holes, usually a couple hundred bucks spent that will ultimately drive the guns value (to a purist collector) down two-fold. Alternatively, a restoration by a competent gunsmith will run over $3500 (based on Winchester 1894) for metal and wood. A properly restored  firearm will come back like the day it left the factory, completely re-stored with the era-correct methods used by the original manufacturer.  Now this won’t increase the value of the firearm, but at least it will look to be correct!

That being said, in my  gun safe, all the character marks on Grandpa’s 94 will remain as they are. This rifle will never see a polishing wheel or a bluing tank as long as it remains in my family. When it is time to be passed down again, my next generation will be taught the importance of its originality: a lesson many families seem to miss.


If you get a family possession handed down to you, regardless whether it is a firearm or not, you owe it to yourself and family to have it appraised/verified by a trained and ethical source prior to making decision on what you plan to do with it. Believe me it is worth your time. Just a few things to keep in mind, just because it is old or obsolete doesn’t mean it worth a lot of money and just because it appears old and is covered in dust doesn’t make it worthless either. Invest the time to find the true value, it is worth it. I have seen far too many unique collectable firearms worth thousands reduced to a few hundred dollars by well-meaning but ill-informed family members.