Basic Gunsmithing:

Checking-In On Checkering

By Roy Huntington

It seems we struck a chord when we published that Insider on how to fix buggered-up screws (Insider, May/June 2017) and you guys reached out to me wanting more. So, since I’m at my own bench several evenings a week, I figured I’d take some pictures and write-up things I’m working on. It’s sort of “real-world” hobby gunsmithing, not made-up stuff, and the vast majority of the things I get involved in are things many of you can do too if you have basic tool skills and a few tools. We gun-people love to putter with our guns so you may find some fun projects down the road.

Not long ago I stumbled onto a fairly rough S&W Third Model Hand Ejector in .32-20. Oddly enough I had been looking for one to match-up with a recently acquired Low-Wall in .32-20 I’ve fallen for. And sure enough, walking into Brandon’s here in Joplin, there sat a svelte S&W calling my name softly. Brandon said, “Oh, Roy, I was going to call you. I have a broken, old S&W in a weird caliber and I figured you’d want it.” Am I really that transparent? But this time he was spot-on, and home it went. The action was rough, but once disassembled and cleaned up, I tweaked a few things and got it to run and time nicely. Some shooting with Black Hills “Cowboy” .32-20 ammo showed the gun shot just fine, but hit about one foot left and about one foot high at 20 yards. Interestingly, that’s about par for many of these early small-caliber Smiths and I don’t know why.

Home-checkering job (left) and original botched-up grip.

A few Dem-Bart checkering tools and one home-made tool did
the trick. Note “custom” handle.

Lay out your basic lines first. Note over-runs, mistakes and shoddy
craftsmanship from His Editorship. Most of that can be fixed with
the single “V” cutter later.

I figured I’d mess with the sights (weld up the front to lower the impact point since this was no pristine collectible) and maybe widen the right side of the rear notch a bit to push the sight picture to the right some. But that was for later and, as it turns out, ended up being a grand adventure you’ll hear about in another Insider. Rest easy, things worked out for the little Smith, but it was touch and go for a while.

The thing needing attention right off were the hatchet-job grips. There was a penciled serial number on the back of the grips showing they were original to the gun (made around 1914) so I didn’t want to swap out grips. But not only were the checkering diamonds rounded and smooth, some nimrod decided taking a punch and putting deep dents all over them would be a really good idea. It wasn’t, and I was stumped on what to do to save ’em. Then I remembered my adventures in checking when I was in my late teens.

I bought a basic set of good old Dem-Bart checkering tools (musta’ given my old ones away since I couldn’t find ’em). Checkering tools come in all sorts of styles so look at them hard before you buy. I got a single “V” cutter (to finish-cut the lines), and one with a double head. One cuts while the adjacent smooth one rides in the previous line you cut, keeping things parallel. Get it? Like plowing one row at a time. The tough part is to get your first basic lines straight and orderly. Once that’s done, it’s just a matter of moving across the surface one line at a time with the double-head tool. Once you’re finished with that, use the single cutter to even things out, deepen lines, sharpen diamond points, etc. I made a sharp cutter (from a piece of scrap steel) to re-cut the line around the edge.

Patience with the single cutter can clean-up lines, deepen them, sharpen
diamonds and otherwise make you look smarter than you really are.

Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil, that miracle wood finish for gunsmiths the world over,
was the final step. I also use it in my wood shop for furniture. No, really.

Ta-Da! If you squint a bit, they don’t look too bad. Gun has original nickel
finish and just enough patina to match the “rustic” grips.

It’s not even close to perfect, but it’s a heck of a better look than the original mess. A touch of trusty Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil using a toothbrush and I was finished. If you look carefully, you can see over-runs and glitches all over, but the re-cutting got rid of the nasty divots and I’m darn pleased with the results. What a fun job, and the total time invested was about four hours or so. I call it quality time at the bench, so who’s in a hurry anyway?

Next up, I’ll tell the sad tale of how the milling machine won the first round during my front sight re-do. Lessons? Make sure your barrel “fixture” really does fix the barrel in the vise! Oops.


Degreezer

Ted Werner, Hyskore’s owner/boss, always comes up with simple solutions to problems shooters have. This nifty cleaning station called the “Degreezer” is one of those. At around the $20 mark, it’s a great way to use spray cleaners, liquid solvents (especially water-based ones), and allows you to make your mess cleaning in one spot. The little white basket lets you soak small parts and the lid means you can keep solvent in the kit and use it again and again. This has immediately found a place on my gun bench. www.hyskore.com, email: info@nullhyskore.com, Ph: (631) 673-5975.


HST .38 Spec. Micro

This load from Federal harkens to the old hollow base wadcutter loaded backwards. But using modern jacketed HP technology (HST bullets) the gaping HP is in actuality a sort of “regular” 130-gr. HST bullet loaded deeply into the case to take up air space. Federal says it’s more consistent and offers great performance for small (micro) revolvers. I chronographed it and found it to average about 780 fps from a 1960’s vintage S&W Model 36 2″ J-frame. With Federal’s high quality and demonstrated performance of the HST bullet, I don’t see why this won’t work just fine. Recoil was very manageable. https://americanhandgunner.com/company/federal-premium-ammunition/


Springfield Hammer XD-E

Hot off the presses (and standby for a review later) is the XD-E from Springfield Armory, featuring an external hammer, ambi-safety, low effort slide, DA trigger, GripZone Texture and only 1″ wide. At about 23 ounces, it’s an 8+1 load with the standard mag and has a 3.3″ barrel in the 9mm initial offering. Stay tuned for more later when Mas Ayoob gets his for review. For more info: https://americanhandgunner.com/company/springfield-armory//, email: sales@nullspringfield-armory.com, Ph: (800) 617-6751.


Para-Claw

Okay, I think this has real potential. If you need to cut something, you need to have a knife. With the Outdoor Edge Para-Claw you always have a knife, even if you carry a second bigger one. Lose one, you still have the other. With the buckle/sheath turned under your wrist, it just looks like any other paracord bracelet so popular these days. Wrist-sized for small, medium and large and with a few color options, at $29.95 it’s cheap insurance. www.outdooredge.com, Ph: (800) 447-3343.


Plastic Moon Clips

My fingers seem to always get sore loading and unloading revolver clips, even with tools. Beckham Product Design handily solves that with these flexible plastic moon clips, available to fit a wide variety of guns and calibers. You can load and unload them with just finger pressure, and they work fine. I shoot my favorite custom 625 (done-up by SDM Fabricating and members of the Pistolsmiths Guild) much more often now. Keep in mind if you drop one, or squeeze one into a pocket, rounds can come loose easily so they’re for fun, not defense. Beckham also makes that orange “magazine” which can show at a glance your mag is out, and also works as a bushing wrench. www.beckhamdesign.com, Ph: (866) 726-2658.


Chambered Reference

The ability to check prepped cases and loaded rounds to assure function is important, especially if you’re buying bulk ammo. These checkers from Auskur Firearms & Munitions are a first-class proposition. Of the absolute highest quality, they allow chamber depth checks and rim and concentricity condition checks (using the side fixture). I can’t say too much about the sheer beauty of these things. Look for a complete review in the next issue in the Handloading column by John Taffin (Hint: He loved ’em!). They’re $29.99 for handgun, $34.99 for rifle calibers. www.askurfirearms.com, email: info@nullauskurfirearms.com, Ph: (208) 602-6578.


Ranger Colt

Honoring an original run of Colt Texas Ranger Commemorative single actions from the late 1960’s, Master Engraver Weldon Lister created this over-the-top Number 1 Grade Colt. His father, who Weldon apprenticed under for 26 years, engraved 186 of those original Colts. Weldon told me, “Thanks to a great client I had the opportunity to select the embellishment on this most special piece, choosing a style and amount of coverage that will definitely place it as a grade one and also remain true to the style of engraving originally chosen for the original special run of Colts!” To me, this is more metal carving than simple engraving, and Weldon is, indeed, a master of the craft. Start your own dream at: www.weldonlister.com, Ph: (210) 269-0102


Comfort Cling Holster

With the zillion new guns out, it’s often tough to get a correct holster fit. Clinger is an innovative, family-owned company who came up with this idea. It’s a clip-less holster with a gel-like core softening the sharp edges on a gun. The generic shape means it fits virtually any single stack auto and many double-stack guns. Some fits (Browning Hi-Power, 5″ 1911’s, etc.) may protrude from the bottom a bit. You can use it as an IWB, pocket rig or to store the gun in your glove compartment, etc. At $19.99, it’s a lot of versatility, and their stuff comes with a bumper-to-bumper warranty. Find them at: www.clingerholsters.com, email: CS@nullclingerholsters.com.


Slickbald Customs

Chris “Slickbald” Andre has worked in leather since he was six. After his stint in the Marine Corps Chris went full-time into leather in 2011. He now specializes in teaching the craft and works way outside the guns and gear envelope too, including doing custom leather auto panels, decorator work for homes, motorcycle seats and bag panels and more. His “cowboy” work is award winning, and he was recently voted into the American Pistolsmith’s Guild as only their second leather craftsman. If you’re looking for something truly “out there” or different, Slickbald is the guy! He’s as colorful in person as his work is, and a nice gentleman to boot. Learn more: www.slickbald.com, Ph: (303) 641-0861, email: slickbald@nullslickbald.com.


ODT Flipper

David Curtiss makes the Original Dog Tag (ODT) and it’s unique in the extreme. The 1″x1″ blade, rugged liner lock build and 2″ closed-length makes it palm-sized but tough enough to handle any common cutting chore. The frame is titanium, the blade runs on caged bearings, has a shouldered stand-off and a stop pin so it runs smooth as silk as a mini-flipper. The ODT fits perfectly in the watch pocket of your jeans so there’s no clip to clutter things up. That’s a .45 ACP in the picture for scale. At about $295 it’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. This is 100 percent made in the USA by David himself. Watch for a feature on him in a future issue. www.curtissknives.com, Ph: (574) 651-2158.


Nighthawk Double Stack

Our friends at NHC are now offering a double stack configuration as an upgrade option for all of their 1911 Government 9mm builds. Each one is built by hand, by one gunsmith and the option can be had for an additional $650, which seems pretty darn fair if you ask me. All the usual options are available so you can now get a high-cap 9mm 1911 on one of NHC’s hand-fitted builds. For more info: www.nighthawkcustom.com, email: info@nullnighthawkcustom.com, Ph: (877) 423-4867

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