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The ”Henry” rifle

The first heirloom rifle of the series: The "Henry” rifle awaits delivery.

“How do you want to be remembered by your grandchildren?” This question crossed my mind recently as I was both chasing and running away from some of my grandchildren at my eldest daughter’s home the other day. I also considered the question, “What gift would I like to leave behind to spark those memories within my grandkids as the years passed and their busy lives moved onward in my absence?”

I’ve always believed that the greatest gifts that we can bestow upon one another are not materialistic in nature, but rather a true sharing of “who” we are personally and connecting with “who” they truly and genuinely are personally. This, according to my way of thinking, always involves sharing a personally appropriate measure of our time, love, attention, and personal care. It will be this personal revelation of “who we really are,” not any particular material gifts, that they will carry with them throughout their lives. It will be this essence of who we are and were that they will readily share with their children and loved one; this is our true and priceless legacy.

The current world-wide trend for searching out one’s genealogical roots and re-connecting with lost family members offers ample proof for this universal human desire to establish links with our genetic and spiritual family and is part of what being human means to many of us.

Hand-in-hand with this personal connection, many people also love to hold close objects that once belonged to a loved one. I’ll always treasure my paternal grandfather’s A.E.F. service medal that he earned for his WWI service in France in 1917-18. I’ll pick it up from time to time and remember him playing with us or peacefully snoring away in his favorite rocking chair in the corner of my aunt’s home, as we lay on the floor watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

To spark my grandchildren’s recollections of me, I decided to craft an object that would reflect, in part, a reminder of “who I am” and “what I loved.” The object of my deliberations would be a hand-customized .22 LR beginner’s rifle. The .22 would be presented to the child on his/her 12th birthday and conditional upon the completion of either a hunter education or a basic shooting safety class, which I would hopefully complete with them. If the parents do not allow firearms in their home (which none do at this time) or the parent or child choose not to be involved with firearms, then an alternate personal gift will be presented.

Today’s column is based on an inexpensive Sears Model 41 (which is the generic version of the manufacturer’s Marlin Model 10) .22LR single shot rifle that I purchased from a close friend for $12 back when I was in junior high. That gun traversed many miles on my bicycle handle bars on expeditions to and from my favorite central Maine woodland haunts. Despite its indifferent care and the many thousands of short, long, and long rifle rounds that have spiraled down its barrel over the years, its bore still gleams like a new penny and is finely accurate.

With its crudely fashioned, poorly finished hardwood stock and work-worn barrel exterior, mostly bereft of its original bluing, the gun certainly wasn’t a looker. But with lots of loving attention to detail, some judicious handwork, and the application of readily available gunsmithing supplies, the little rimfire has been resurrected into a gun that my elder grandson, Henry, will — I believe — be proud to own and take afield one day.

Work began in earnest by addressing the crudely cobbled stock. Since this particular .22 was designed as a “youth gun” the (LOP) length of pull was right on for the average 12 year old. The bulky, blocky pistol grip, however, demanded to be culled with a wood rasp, and an assortment of files and chisels. The result: a narrow, svelte handle and sculpted comb custom made for a small hand to grasp, while pulling the butt into the shoulder.

Next, I put the files to work on the overly full forearm of the stock. When sufficient wood was removed to provide a comfortable hold, I grabbed my Brownell barrel channel rasp to correct the improperly milled, misaligned stock channel. A half-hour of judicious scraping allowed the barreled action to bottom out in the stock channel, with equal clearance on either side of the barrel. Next, I used a sharp, narrow chisel to hog out an 8-inch trough at the bottom of the channel to accept a pre-cut piece of threaded steel rod. Seated in a bed of 2-part Locktite epoxy, the steel rod will help to counteract any tendency of the wooden stock’s fore end to warp when exposed to varying temperatures and humidity over the years.

With all the rough shaping completed, it was time to give the birch stock a finely sanded finish. After “raising” some serious dents in the handle by repeatedly soaking those areas with water and raising the compressed fibers with a heat gun, the stock was ready for finish sanding. Lots of elbow grease and the use of progressively finer grits of Wet/Dry paper (from 220-550) produced a silky smooth wooden surface.

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To add contrast to the plain, rather featureless birch, I applied some MinWax Pre-Stain to help the bland handle reveal its subtle figure when the MinWax Red Oak stain was applied. Highlighted by several coats of tough, waterproof MinWax Spar Urethane, a bit of contrasting fiddle back made its appearance, enhancing the attractiveness of the utilitarian stock. A coat of Johnson Paste Wax completed the woodwork.

Though well used, the metalwork was free of rust. Hand sanding the receiver and barrel with various grades of sandpaper (400-1200) produced a bright polished surface. After degreasing the metal with acetone, I heated the barreled action with the electric heat gun until the metal was uncomfortable to the touch. Then, I rubbed on liberal amounts of Brownell’s Oxpho Blue, my favorite chemical cold bluing solution for touchup or complete bluing jobs at home. As the illustration shows, this formulation produces an attractive and durable blue-black, streak-free finish.

Because of its age and hard service, I chose to replace the single shot’s worn firing pin, sticker, cocking, and sear springs. Numrich Arms (www.gunpartscorp.com) had all the parts that I needed for the rebuild at their usual affordable prices. Within no time, the replacement parts were installed and the gun was back to performing as it had when we were both in our younger days.

That’s the story of Henry’s rifle. It promises to be the first in a series of refurbished .22s that will make the transition from Grandpa Rich’s shop to the waiting hands of my grandchildren. Some day when Henry’s sitting quietly outside of a ground squirrel colony or edging up on a cottontail nestled into a basalt cleft, I hope that he’ll work his hand lovingly over the stock and think back on me and how much we love each other.

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