The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Cheap as chips

Diggory Hadoke looks back on some of the affordable gems he's bought over the years and restored


Diggory Hadoke looks back on some of the affordable gems he's bought over the years and lovingly restored

Gun collecting can be an expensive business. We all read the auction reports of some 1920 Woodward over-and-under selling for £35,000 or the King of Italy’s unique Holland & Holland rifle exceeding its estimate by thousands. All we can do is watch and drool. However, I have been fiddling around with old guns since I was a pre-teen (please don’t tell the 1970s police) and have had enormous amounts of fun with some very inexpensive things.

With a bit of perseverance and a sprinkling of luck, it is possible to find small projects or inexpensive little sidelines that can be fun to play with and rewarding to clean up and use. With a budget of under £200 for every purchase, a willingness to do basic stripping and cleaning and making minor adjustments, a small collection of varied and interesting guns and rifles can be built up. I began my forays into this kind of thing when I was a schoolboy. My friends would find old guns in farm buildings and give them to me. They were invariably a bit rusty and gummed up with dirt but they set me off on a journey of discovery. I recall Lincoln Jeffries, BSA and Gem air rifles, and Webley bolt-action shotguns being quite common.

One of my earliest restorations was a Webley 9mm garden gun. These are simple bolt actions with a single screw holding the stock in place. Using a bit of WD-40, my dad’s garage workbench, vice and tools, I was able to strip it down to its basic parts. With time on my hands, an inquisitive mind and few distractions, I would look at the various parts and work out what they did in relation to one another.

Once I had done that, I would work out a plan for taking each part off and remembering where it went and what connection it had to the others. That way, I learned to strip the gun. Once stripped, I would clean everything on my bedroom floor.

If something didn’t work, usually a missing, broken or worn part, I would try to see how I might be able to make it as it was and then re-assemble it. In many cases it was simply a case of stripping, cleaning and lubricating that was required to get the gun back to working order.

A gun does not have to be a pristine Boss sidelock to be interesting

Sometimes I just learned to live with a defect. I remember one 1920s BSA air rifle that had a missing spring. That spring held the trigger forward when it was cocked. So, I just held the trigger in place when I cocked it and used it as a ‘release trigger’, which wasn’t much good for live quarry but fine for plinking.

I used to like shooting old cassette boxes with it, as they smashed with a satisfying degree of drama, unlike paper targets. Small things please small minds, perhaps, but in my defence I was only about 10.

That Webley 9mm was in pretty decent mechanical order and I got some of my most memorable shots with it, including rabbits that I had to creep to within 10 yards of, behind a hedge, to get in range, then headshoot them.

I also shot a running rat as it fled the grain barn, down the stairs and out into the yard. That shot taught me that shooting moving targets requires motion, fluidity of movement and hand-eye coordination, not aiming.

The stock of that Webley was dry and the finish flaking. So, I gently sanded it back to the bare wood. It was a basic model, so the semi-pistol-grip stock had no chequer to worry about. Once the surface was smooth and blemish free, I decided to use linseed oil to finish it. I’m not sure why.

We had some, as my parents used to brush it on to the wooden beams in the house from time to time. I applied it with a cloth and rubbed it off until I got a decent sheen. It was luck really but shows how sometimes what seems right, is right, and a bit of time and attention uncovers the way to do things.

Fast-forward to 2023 and I still have that old 9mm garden gun. It has suffered from a bit of neglect since I cleaned it up, having been left largely forgotten and unattended for three decades after I left home.

However, I now have a full set of bolt-action Webleys: a .22 smooth-bore, a 9mm, a .410 and a .410 deluxe.

Those early years also ingrained in me a delight in simple pleasures. A gun does not have to be a pristine Boss sidelock to be interesting or enjoyable to learn about, restore and use.

In my current stock of single-barrel cheapies that I will clean up myself in my own time and have some fun with, I have a Lang .410 converted rook rifle, a Reilly 28-bore side hammer, a Hollis 12-bore side hammer and a Lee-Enfield sporterised .303 converted to .410. Not one of them cost more than £200. They don’t make much sense commercially but I think my inner 10-year-old would most definitely approve.