Building an M1897 Trench Gun
I have spent most of my life working overseas in South East Asia in very fortunate circumstances; privileges and exceptions abound in that region for Americans. There was one passion, however, I could never pursue while in these countries due to local governmental fears of the citizens becoming restless. Guns! Finally on my return after 24 years overseas, I vowed to collect, restore and "qualify" with every major rifle and carbine used in the U.S. army since we used metal cartridges. This turned out to start with the Springfield Trapdoors and end with the Colt M16 series.
My mission would be to collect these guns and restore them, but not to the fullest extent; I wanted all of these guns to look the part. Many of these guns had seen decades, in some cases a century, of use in and out of war and I wanted to maintain this look; war is hell and thus I want them to look like they have seen a bit of that. Most of these guns can be found in excellent condition for 400 to 900 dollars; all but the M14 which normally reaches around 1300 if one is patient sitting on Gunbroker. However, there was one gun that was, if an original, was between double or quadruple the prices found on the M14! It was the Winchester M1897 Trench Gun!
Now the Norinco / IAC replica may be enough for some but I wanted all my guns to be US made and as close to the original as I could get for my budget; sub $1000. For me, they just looked too new. They just didn't fit the look of a battle weary warrior that I was looking for. However with a little research and a couple of spare hours I managed to get an $800 Trench Sweeper that comes as close to the real thing as one can get! Here are the items you will need, in the order you need them, with the prices that I found:
East Taylor LLC Bayo Lug 175
East Taylor LLC Mag Plug 39
Winchester 1897 321
Transfer Fee 20
Brownells Oxpho Blue 4oz 10
Birchwood Casey Plum Brown 11
Shipping for Above 60
1 Lemon *
Double sided tape *
Steel Wool *
Small Paint Brush *
Hair dryer *
2 glass jars *
WCA Recrown Mag Plug 193
*I already had these on hand
You will want to give the East Taylor guys some lead time to manufacture the bayonet lug and mag plug; at least 2 weeks ( http://www.partsforantiqueguns.com/winreparts.html
). In the meantime you can hunt for your Winchester 1897. I lucked out and found one on Gunbroker which was a beautiful brown patina with the blue at less than 50% (http://www.gunbroker.com/
search for 1897 ). The serials on the receiver and the barrel match it up to a manufacture date of May of 1914 assuming even run rates ( http://marauder.homestead.com/Model97sn.html
). Oh did I mention the Buy It Now price was $321? I snapped it up. It needed a little love on the stock as it had been varnished; I like to strip, darken, boiled linseed oil and Howard Feed N Wax all my stocks ( Ace Hardware had all of these items ). A beautiful stock and well aged metal is the goal! A quick note on the barrels of the trench guns was that they had no choke so the mark on the barrel was CYL. I didn't realize this and I got my barrel marked as FULL meaning it had a full choke. If possible, try and look for one with CYL marked on the barrel for a wee more authenticity!
That done I looked around the web, while I waited for my East Taylor items to arrive, on how the heck was I going to antique those very items. If I couldn't make the gun and the lug match it would be like putting a carbon fiber hood on a model T!
I needed a spelled out solution but everything came in bits and pieces on the web. Guns that have a good patina on them are really guns that have been abused and then cared for repeatedly over time; the patina is actually rust! But does one achieve this over a period of a week in what should take a very full lifetime. Well it turns out I took a risk and it came out like perfection in the end. After reading a lot I came to 4 quick points of consensus on the internet on restoring and firing antique guns:
• Lemon juice and water do an excellent job accelerating the rusting process.
• Brownell's Oxpho Blue Cream formula is an excellent cold bluing formula.
• Birchwood Casey's Plum Brown Barrel Finish is an option to cold bluing if you want an antique look. ( You can order both from ( http://www.brownells.com/
• Ammo costs more than it used to.
I was going to take a chance; not being able to do anything about the cost of ammo I decided the only sane thing to do was to jump off the bridge of reason headlong into the gorge of a wild abandon. Soon the Lug and the Plug came in from East Taylor and I immediately set upon destroying these beautiful replicas.
Into the bayonet lug I inserted a 1/2" inch piece of dowel stock that had some double sided foam tape snaking around it to take up the space between. With a twisting motion I pushed the stock through to the top of the Lug and let it stick out about 1 inch (the red tape and dowel in the lug can be seen in Fig 4). The length of the dowel was about 38"; the approximate length of a Trench Gun. I stood in my driveway like a mad scientist straight out of the loony bin in front of all my neighbors carefully letting the Lug mated dowel stock fall randomly onto the asphalt of my driveway. I did no pushing whatsoever. I would just let go and allow the stick fall at random. Thinking back on it now I should have tied on some lead weights or used a steel rod instead of dowel to replicate the weight of the gun. Here I was just trying to reproduce the innumerous times the gun may have fallen over on the battlefield. That said doing this did produce some fantastic dents in the hand guard and put a nice pattern into the brass sight. After 5 or 6 falls my heresy was almost complete; as I walked by the basketball pole I gave the muzzle end 2 good whacks and with a beautiful hollow ping I tolled in my new project for the entire neighborhood. I removed the dowel, bent back the heavy dents in the hand guard and dumped the Lug and the Plug into 2 gallons of cold tap water mixed in with the juice of one large lemon.
I left this in the garage for about 4 days at a temperature of around 50F. Lo and behold when I yanked out the Lug and the Plug they both had some serious rust on them especially in the places where they struck the asphalt. Further the lemon acids had etched areas around the holes in bayonet lug leaving a blackish halo pattern on those areas where edges met up. Setting the lug aside, without wiping it down in any way, I assembled the rest of my materials as shown below.
I put a quarter by the brush so you can get an idea of it size which will play in important role next! I wanted some browning to happen to the gun but not a lot; it needed to match the old guns patina which was a splotchy grey and brown patina. So I knew I needed, clearly both properties of the Oxpho Blue and the Plum Brown; but would they mix? I tested one piece of bare metal with the Plum Brown and I can tell you that it is FAST acting and over powering stuff. Clearly I didn't need much. Further, I realized that the Plum Brown came in a glass container, so I made sure I didn't use a plastic mixing jar; I chose an old glazed pottery butter container. In it I gleefully poured 1 oz of Oxpho Blue and then dipped my horse hair (not plastic!) brush into the Plum Brown, soaking it and quickly shoving it into the butter jar while mixing vigorously. I mixed the two for a full minute. Oxpho Blue works really well if it is warmed up, just slightly too hot to touch so with the hair dryer on full blast (and my wife, with hands on hips, tapping her left foot in disgust) I dried the Lug and the Plug; rust and lemon black oxide and all caked on. Once the whole Lug was hot and dry I mixed the Oxpho and Plum Brown one last time and began to brush, in long even strokes, the mix all over starting from the hand guard portion and ending up at the muzzle end; knowing that the muzzle was thicker and thus would keep it's heat longer. After a full 2 minutes I ran over to my garage sink with the lug, brush and with hot water going I washed off the lug. YIKES! What had I done!? It looked a sick blue with bronze blotches everywhere! Thinking of committing ritual seppuku with the M1917 bayonet I had just bought I realized I would get blood all over the new carpet I had just laid in the house trying to get my wife's hairdryer back into her section of the bathroom in my final moments. Then I remembered you had to use the steel wool! The wool dulled and blended everything as well as doing something unexpected to the simple minded, it removed the lemon oxide and the heavy rust. I danced back to the workbench and repeated the process of painting on the mix with 2 minutes of setting time, washing with hot water and rubbing the lug down with steel wool two times. The end result was an almost perfect match with my old Winchester. The lemon oxide and rust spots got attacked and accented quickly with the aggressive Plum Brown but was toned down by the Oxpho Blue; a fantastic pattern appeared around the hand guard holes that seemed to indicate that the edges would, over time, be attacked by rust faster than the spaces in between. I covered the entire Lug and Plug in 3 in 1 oil to neutralize all the chemical reactions going on with an old tooth brush (not pictured ) and wrapped both in newspaper. In the morning the pattern had dulled and blended even more. Perfection!