Most people walk into their firearm dealer's shop and take a quick look around to see what's new and what new firearms they may want to add to their collection. They may want some old WWII firearms like an M1 Garand or they want something even more fun like a Thompson Submachine Gun, or maybe they want that pair of Colt 1911s to strap one onto each side of their shoulder holster. Then there are the new buyers. They want the power of a new Barrett M82A1 or an FN Scar 16S 5.56mm Tactical Rifle. Or maybe they are just looking for a new hunting rifle for the upcoming season. Whatever they are looking for, they usually walk right past one of the best, most fun, and at times the most frustrating firearms in the shop: the "as is" project firearms.
I have seen more and more of these popping up in the shops. They are trade-ins or come out of estate sales or auctions and the shop really does not want them in their store, so they trade them off or sell them for a very low cost.
Most people disregard these firearms because they may not have the know-how or the skills they think they need to work on one of these. But I pose the question. How do you learn without doing? Most people learn better when they are doing hands-on work and asking questions to experienced people, like the people on Firearms Talk.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. A friend knew I was looking for a new rifle I could tear apart, learn on, and teach my kids with. He pointed me to his firearms shop. I walked in and it was full of new in box semi-auto assault rifles and beautiful new in box handguns with the rare used military guns mixed in. Then off in a corner there were their "as is, please buy these fast" firearms. Any new buyer would not have even noticed them and in fact the owner didn't even know what he really had in with them. It was, to him, their jumble of scrap.
Going through them I found a Savage Stevens 87H semi-auto .22lr. In mint condition these are about $150 and in the condition this one was in I was not comfortable paying more then $50 - $60. It had a broken butt plate, was caked on with dirt, and the bolt would not pull back all the way. The rifle was simply abused. To make it worse, the amount of information on the internet for this rifle is slim to none. On the plus side, as dirty as the rifle was, rust was not able to penetrate and damage it at all. The barrel looked straight and the rifling was in good shape.
I bought the new project firearm and took it home. I went right to Firearms Talk and posted the bolt problem and asked for suggestions on how to fix it. I have never fixed or pulled apart a firearm before and really didn't know if I could fix the problems. But that's why I bought the rifle in the first place. I don't want to pull apart my Winchester 94 or my Remington 770 and not be able to get them back together, or worse; break something and pay a lot more money to have it fixed than I paid for this used rifle.
Within a few hours I had an answer to my post and went right to work fixing the rifle. Wouldn't you know, I pulled it apart, cleaned it, and then could not get it put back together. For 15 minutes I struggled to get the bolt and firing pin back into the rifle. I took it out, moved things around, then tried again. All of a sudden it just slid right into where it was supposed to be. Success! The rifle was now clean and lightly oiled, and things moved very nicely. This could have been a new rifle. But I still didn't trust firing it just yet. I grabbed a new #4 screw anchor that I use to check the firing pin and loaded it up and fired away. The strike was perfect and the extractor worked equally as well. I could not be more thrilled.
Now I have a rifle that I can work on and fire so what more can I ask for? Well, I bought this gun to learn on. The future of this rifle is uncertain, but I do know I plan on stripping down the stock and dyeing the stock blue. Why? The simple answer is, I want to learn how. Worst case scenario is an ugly looking rifle and best case scenario; I have a cool looking new stock. I will also be making a new butt plate for it and maybe even do an inlay into the bottom of the stock. Will I strip the bluing and bring out the stainless steel look of it? I don't know yet, but it would be something cool to learn how to do. But this rifle has just started its transformation and the sky is the limit.
Next time you walk into your local firearm shop, ask the employees what they may have for "as is" firearms. Maybe you'll find that diamond in the rough with that special marking making it priceless. You never know. Worst case scenario is you have a firearm to learn and hone your skills on. Even if it never works, you have a canvas to experiment on that you never would want to do to your new or collectible firearms.