Several years back I picked up an Auto Ordnance 1911 at a gun show. I'd been in the market for a government model for a while and of all the offerings in my admittedly short price range the AO seemed the best of the lot. It had a number of features that appealed to me. It was a pretty basic gun - not a whole lot of extra features, but I liked that. I liked that it had the proper vertical slide serrations, and that it had plain checkered plastic grips (Springfield Armory...looking at you here). And I liked that it just looked right. Just a parkerized base model 1911 that wasn't lugging around a billboard on the slide (a la
Springfield and Rock Island).
So I shelled out the princely sum of $325 American and went home with a new toy. There was but one issue with my new wondergun: the finish.
It sucked. I mean, we're talking Remington-870-Express-field-finish leave-rusty-fingerprints-the-day-after-the-purchase sucked
. I assumed when I bought the gun that it was parkerized because it had the correct tint. Non-reflective and gray with maybe a touch of green somewhere back in the process.
It wasn't parkerized. I have a number of guns that are. I have an M1 carbine I bought a few years prior that absolutely positive will not rust. I have a 1937 S&W Brazilian that I had parked in Austin that hasn't discolored in the least in five years. I have a 1903 Springfield arsenal rebuilt in 1944 with a finish that looks like teetotal bunk - but it's parkerized, and it too refuses to rust. Which brings us back to Auto Ordnance and their mystery mix. Which, regretably, is nowhere near as tough as the finish they put on their wooden grips, which after several painful and frustrating hours one night I decided would be one of those few things to survive a nuclear holocaust (the others being Twinkies, cockroaches, Cessna 150s, and Keith Richards).
Thus began a magical adventure in shoestring refinishing work that, unbeknownst to me, would become a yearly ritual. Usually this minor voodoo ceremony takes place in the late summer when the humidity is at its worst and those lovely rusty cancer spots start appearing with alarming frequency. Offhand, I think is the fourth year I've refinished this particular pistol. The first time wasn't pretty. Me being young and dumb and possessed of the twelve dollars needed for a Birchwood-Casey value refinishing pack, I figured this couldn't be too hard.
I flipped through the information pamphlet that came with the kit. Looked easy enough - clean and degrease, steel wool, blue and rust remover, clean and degrease, soapy water, perma blue solution, and oil bath, and and overnight setting period. I think. Pretty sure the first go-around I just looked at the pictures. Come to think of it that's probably what happened the second time, too.
At any rate I set up shop an enclosed space, popped the cap on three different chemicals (at least two of them mildly toxic) and went to work. All in all I didn't do half bad, considering. I got most of the solutions on the pistol, which I'd shown the foresight to partially disassemble, and I think they even went on in the right order. I wrapped everything up in maybe thirty minutes, cleaned up my mess, and wandered off to bed and a night's worth of sweet, sweet chemically-enhanced dreams.
In the morning I considered my handiwork by the light of day. It was a funny kind of bluing - all blotchy and uneven. Looked sort of like camouflage. Or like it'd been refinished by a moron. I chalked it up to crappy materials and that was that. Except for one small detail.
Apparently cold finishes have to be set properly. This means following the stuff in the book, rinsing the parts with water, and drowning them in oil. But not just any oil. Birchwood-Casey preservative oil! Which I didn't have. That's when I learned that if instructions call for something by name...it might be a good idea to have some on hand. A couple of shop rags later I'd wiped off most of the solution I'd put on the night before. But it quit leaving greasy tracks on my hands and it wasn't rusted so I called it good. And that was that.
A year or so later...the time came again. I bought another kit, field stripped the pistol, and went to work. The cleanup was considerably easier this time as the gun had almost zero finish. What little was left after the first escapade had been worn off, and in its place had grown more rust. But by this time I had a secret weapon: steel wool. But still in the throes of youngness and dumbness I overlooked the crucial fact that while steel wool has marvelous scouring abiliities it also had the unfortunate tendency to shed. I repeated the process and when I sealed the gun up at the end I'd almost bet it was half an ounce heavier for the steel shavings left inside. I surgeon, alas, I am not.
Me and my favorite pistol then spent a glorious year of shooting and regular cleaning. It didn't jam, I shot minute of milk jug, and together we burned through enough ammo to have furnished a tri-country crime spree and made John Dillinger proud. Every once in a while it would spit out a couple of flakes of steel dandruff and by the next annual refinish event I decided I ought to do something. I bought a can of BC's aerosol cleaner/degreaser and went to town. By the time I finished those internals were spotless. Not a speck of dust.
What I didn't realize was that cleaning and degreasing meant removing lubrication. So when I put it back together for a third time I did without putting on much in the way of oil. But the damned thing kept ticking. I shot a little less that year, sprayed it down after every range session, and let it spend most of its off time lounging on a pillow full of dessicant.
The next time I figured out that you need to clean/degrease, refinish, and oil. I probably could have gotten that sooner had I bothered with the instructions, but hey.
Which brings us to this year. After five years of pretty good service my precious was looking sort of ragged around the edges. Being marginally less young and dumb than previous, I came home last night and reached a decision. This time around it was going to be total war. No stone unturned, no part left un-retouched, and no more splotches.
And here we have the results so far. Complete disassembly (first time for that - reassembly promises quite the adventure). With any luck I'll have a couple of parts on order later today.
So that's my Auto Ordnance story. They make one hell of a gun with one terrible, terrible finish.