Basic Gunsmithing:

Checking-In On Checkering

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

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.

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.