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Step by step: Check an old gun for wear and tear

Thinking about buying a gun second-hand? Run through these checks to see if it's really a bargain or a worn out piece of junk.


The best way to make a first foray into gunsmithing is to start by working on an old, low-value gun

It’s always worthwhile to take the time to check an old gun thoroughly. You want to make sure that it is safe and if you’re buying it second-hand, you want to make sure that it doesn’t need a lot of expensive repairs. (Read our piece on gun stock shine – how to restore it and repair scratches.)

How to check an old gun for wear

When break-loading shotguns are closed, the barrels should fit tightly to the action. After extensive use, they may become loose, so that old classic you have your eye on may need a lot of work.

The principles are the same with side-by-sides and over-unders.

checking an old gun

1. To test for looseness, remove the fore-end, hold the gun on the grip and the action between the thumb and forefinger and shake it from side to side.

old repair on gun

2. Examine the lumps for signs of damage or repair. This gun shows an old repair with a dovetail of steel fitted into the hook.

breech ends

3. The breech ends of the barrels should be clean and free from damage. Dust staining (see above) is not important, but look for dents and burrs.

checking an old gun

4. The face of the standing breech should be clean and not corroded around the striker holes. Check for any burrs or dents around the top and sides of the breech.

This piece was originally published in 2010 and has been updated.