Can This Gun be Saved?

This classic old Colt Mustang .380, the original Colt knockoff of the Llama pocket-pistol knockoff of the 1911, has seen better days. Can it be saved? A customer brought it to a gunsmith who told the story on Reddit and Imgur (all these photos came from Imgur, and are linked in the Reddit thread).

Colt Mustang Before

The old Colt is still functional enough, but it’s fugly. The steel slide and barrel are pitted. The alloy frame is also corroded, and the trigger guard, integral to the frame, is nicked and generally chewed-up looking.  Can it look like new again? Click “more” to see!

Yes, it can be saved. Here is the “After” picture. It’s not quite “new” condition but it’s greatly improved.

Colt Mustang After

The pitting has been removed by painstaking draw filing and stoning; the pistol has been refinished with CeraKote. Here are four shots of the slide in-progress. The first shows the slide, roughly as-removed from the firearm:

Slide 1

Cutting with the file, and stoning, eliminated the small areas of corrosion, showing where the pitting is at its worst:

Slide 2

There is a slight downside to this. The hard chine between the slab side of the slide, and the slide’s rounded top, has been degraded just a little bit — not so much that one would notice unless he had a comparison pistol on hand, in new condition.

Next, bead-blasting yields a rougher surface finish, and shows just how deep the pitting in the slide really is. There’s no practical way to fill pitting like this (if the pitting is not obvious to you, click to embiggen the picture).

Slide 3

But our nameless smith wasn’t done. He kept plugging. Here is the slide, nearly ready to go.

Slide 4

This is not a perfect job, the smith admits. He was constrained by the amount of money the customer was willing to spend, and therefore, by the time he could spend on the project. He tackled the biggest jobs first and gave his customer a pistol to be proud of — and one that will hold up better for the next 30 years than it has for the last 30.

Contrary to widespread belief in the gunny community, Cerakote (the finish used on this Mustang) and similar finishes like Dura-coat don’t significantly fill pitted areas. Any surface imperfection in the firearm will show through the coating, which is only a couple of thousandths thick and leaves nothing to the imagination. The Cerakote basically lays down the color and some thin corrosion protection — so any impression you get of smooth surfaces and sharp corners represents not the coating, but the underlying benchwork.

The pitting was fixed the only way it really can be — by long hours drawing a file and using stones to restore factory looks inasmuch as possible. It’s very difficult where, as on the opposite side of the slide, markings are at risk of being cut away along with the deep pitting (the smith unfortunately didn’t catch an image of that side).

We can imagine what would have happened to this poor Mustang if, instead of this pro, it had fallen into the tentacles of Bubba. But this is what real, non-Bubba gunsmithing looks like.

13 thoughts on “Can This Gun be Saved?

  1. Bret

    There’s a product by the name of Belzona which is a metal epoxy, various types available. Once cured it is workable like the base metal. It would do the job for filling deep pitting and with proper application make a suitable substrate for the subsequent cerakote. It’s expensive but I don’t know of a next best in the same category.

    1. Miles

      “It’s expensive”
      yep, that’s the rub when it comes to any gun.
      Almost any problem with a gun is fixable. I know of some ‘smiths (Turnbull for one) who do the “NIB Condition” restorations thing…for a price.
      This gun’s owner had self restraint and al least put a $$ cap on the project. There’s some out there who haven’t the sense to do that. Is that the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy?

      1. Roadkill

        Dura Coat makes a product called Durafill. I’ve used it and it works great. Kind of like a filler primer for car body work. One or more coats to bring it up to flush, then sand down to make it all smooth. Be careful not to get it into any lettering or serial numbers. It will make those disappear.

  2. j.r. guerra in s. tx.

    These and the Iver Johnson Pony .380s are what I remember from those years. Good idea if the force of the 1911 runs in your veins. No idea how well they shot though.

  3. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    In some places, deep pits can be TIG’ed up. It takes lots of hours to get the metal worked up correctly to a point to start TIG filling the pits, then the excess needs to be worked off. Draw filing works very well. Sometimes, putting a slide like this on a surface grinder can result in miracles.

    With *Koat finishes, we can TIG up a slide without having to worry about matching the metallurgy closely enough to get the same finish in the blueing tank or process.

    The limiting factor is almost always money. Guns can be rebuilt from very little substance…. but it will cost the customer big bucks to have a gun re-built from scraps at $65 to $75/hour.

  4. S

    And how about managing the heat treatment after the TIG abuse? There’s probably an answer ready made, but I’d like to hear confirmation….

    1. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

      You make aluminum or copper heat sinks to control the heat spread. That’s been true in welding on guns for quite some time, even with gas-ox welding rigs (actually, especially with gas-ox welding rigs).

      The other thing you do is use a modern TIG welder (an inverter machine) with waveform shaping and pulse control. These modern TIG welders really control the heat-affected zone on a workpiece.

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