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Powell Restored

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Part of the fun of involvement in the world of old English guns is the resurrection of the basket case. This kind of venture can be a minefield to walk into but restoring, apparently useless, guns can be very satisfying, if you pull it off.  I was given a William Powell 16-bore by a local man for a nominal sum. He had, in his youth, smashed the stock by bashing a wounded rabbit with it during a rough shooting expedition. It had been crudely pegged and glued but not in any useful way and had, therefore, been relegated to the cabinet for fifty, dormant, years.

The gun was nice but re-stocking was not a viable option, as the work would cost more than the finished gun would command. Yet, the 28” damascus barrels measured perfectly; as new, in fact. The action had shed any case colours that were once there but the engraving was still sharp. The forend tip had been lost and replaced at some point but remained un-engraved. The stock was a mess, the forend wood split; but mechanically it looked in decent order, with snap under-lever action and Deeley-type ejectors.

First off, after stripping it fully and inspecting carefully for any hidden problems, of which there were none, I gave the stock to ‘Mr Fixit’, John. He had a hunch he might be able to save it, despite the horrible condition it appeared to be in. I have to admit to be ing somewhat sceptical. 

A few weeks later it was done – taken apart, glued and screwed and as good a fit as you could hope for. Modern glues are very strong indeed and I’m optimistic it will hold. John has disguised the damage extremely well and it takes an educated eye to discern the repaired cracks. One old dowel peg, which had been fitted before, remains visible but it is the only obvious give-away. Barrels were polished and re-browned, the mechanisms serviced and anything loose tightened up. The stock may be functional now, but what of the hideous, perished , ventilated recoil pad? That had to go. So, Dave took over and prepared a black spacer and a rubber pad, which was filed to shape and covered in leather, then fitted to the butt to achieve the desired 14 3/4” length of pull. The slight split along the grain in the forend was glued and pegged and the chequer re-cut to hand and forend.

The metal finial was a replacement looked rather out of place as it had no engraving, so I had Sam re-engrave it to match the scrolls on the iron. All that was now required was to re- finish the woodwork. Dents were steamed out, scratches papered out and the old finish removed carefully. Once the wood was prepared, in went some red oil and the finishing process began. 

Multiple coats of finishing oil, rubbed off as each goes sticky, with rubbing oil, and then buffed with a cloth. The process is repeated until the finish sufficiently deep. Then allow it to set for as long as you can before taking it out in a thunder storm! I don’t want to over-state this but I see so many customers pick up a gun that was finished yesterday and immediately take it out on a damp or wet shoot day and then complain that the finish loses some of its sheen. 

Traditional oils leave a soft finish, but one that will wear for years; and do so with grace, unlike the scratches and chips that hard finishes suffer. See the previous issue of Sporting Shooter for my oil recipe.

Taking a  step back to admire the finished rescue job, I’m very pleased. The original plan had been simply to find a way of returning to service a gun that looked like it might be destined for the scrap heap. Little by little, we have managed to go beyond that aim and re-create a lovely looking, well sorted 16-bore that should give many more years of sporting action. 

I look forward to shooting some Shropshire pheasants with it this season coming. I had no intention of selling this gun, I’m uncomfortable selling something with such a major repair to the wood ‘just in case’. However, as often happens when I have a gun I intend to keep and use, a number of regular clients are nudging me to come up with a price and let them have it. Either way, I’m delighted that William Powell’s 1903 side-lock has been rescued from oblivion.

William Powell 10634

Made in 1903 as No.2 of a pair

28” damascus barrels.

Game rib with ‘doll’s head’.

Snap-under-lever action

Bar action side-locks

Purdey bolt locking.

Straight hand stock.

Rose & Scroll engraving.

Weight 6lbs 4oz.

I like the 16-bore as a general game gun. It handles an ounce of shot very nicely; achieving the ideal ‘square load’ and throwing optimal patterns. While 6lbs 4oz is not super-light, it enables a gun firing an ounce to be made light by 12-bore standards without suffering the strength issues of a lightweight 12-bore frame and barrels. A 16-bore of this weight is comfortable in its skin and robust in every detail.

The first real test came when Sporting Shooter and Roxtons put on a simulated game shoot and invited me along. I put a lot of shells through the old Powell in quick succession; in the grouse butts and on the pheasant stands. The fixes all held tight and the detonation and ejection faultless, bar three misfires – probably due to hard caps in the cartridges, as the dents were solid enough. So, I’m pretty confident the future is bright. The little gun handles very well; fast, responsive and instinctive to shoot. It would be a perfect grouse gun.