The nickel finish on a 61 year-old gun can be delicate. The very last thing you ever want to do is use any form or method of cleaning that will be abrasive. My Rule #1 is, use the right products, and Rule #2 is, employ the right methods in cleaning an old gun. I have lots of cleaning and polishing experience with my old Harley Davidson motorcycle.
In my example today: This 61 year-old gun I recently purchased at auction. The seller surely could have realized $100 to $300 more for this gun, had he taken the time to carefully clean the gun prior to taking the photos for the auction listing. That third photo is the one that would have scared off many potential buyers.
When I undertake a project like this, I don't get in a hurry. I'm very patient and take my time. After about an hour of cleaning, I wiped the gun down with a silicone cloth and put it back in the gun cabinet. I noticed the humidity level in my cabinet rose by one percentage point, so I removed it and placed it on top of the ammo cabinet.
Auction Photos Showing Rust Stain
The most common culprit is moisture, whether it was from rain, sweat or humidity in the storage environment. Secondly, it could have developed from old ammunition (remember, this gun is 61 years old), whose primers contained potassium chlorate or sodium perchlorate which will leave the gun coated in salts after firing. Failure to properly clean the firearm after firing such ammo is a very bad thing, especially if moisture then gets to the gun before it is properly cleaned.
Lastly, these stains could have been inflicted by a well-intentioned previous owner. There are many ways this could happen and I won't go into them other than to say, see my Rules #1 and #2.
What has changed more than guns in the last 61 years? Products that are used to clean and care for guns have changed more.
Coincidentally, it was 1961, the same year this gun was made, that a new consumer product was launched. This 1961 product acts as a lubricant, rust preventative, penetrant and moisture displacer. Odds are very good that you have an aerosol can of this stuff in your household. I'm not going to start a war of words on my Facebook page by going into it, other than to say, it is not what I use to clean and lubricate my guns.
Barricade® rust protection rapidly drives out moisture from metal pores and deposits a transparent protective coating which seals the surface. It’s the best way to protect your firearms from rust. Withstands 500 hours in astm humidity test and 96 hours in astm salt spray test. Barricade® rust protection is also an excellent penetrant for loosening rusty or frozen parts, as well as a good lubricant and an effective bore cleaner.
The nickel finish on my 1970s lightweight Colt Cobras are very delicate. I've seen many examples of these type guns over the years that have thousands of tiny scratch marks from being wiped with the wrong kind of cloth, or a dirty cloth. The Flitz MC200 Thick 'n Thirsty 16" x 16" Silver Microfiber Polishing Cloth that I always use on all of my guns religously, is washable up to 500 times.
After letting the gun sit on top of my ammo cabinet for 48 hours, allowing it to completely dry, I revisited my job. Upon inspection, I could see faint evidence of the stain reappearing in three places. This time I did not remove the grips. I simply used Q-Tips to apply more of the Flitz wax to the affected areas. After gently massaging the wax for 5 to 10 minutes, I allowed it to dry.
After wiping the dried wax off, I took these photos. Anything in the photos that appears dirty is only shadows. The gun looks great and I'm really pleased with my purchase. It is important to note that had the rust penetrated the finish, there would have been a different outcome to this story.
No elbow grease was used in cleaning this gun. In fact, I was extremely gentle, using only Q-Tips and two varieties of cleaning cloths (no brushes). I sprayed it with Barricade, wiped it with Flitz cloth, applied Flitz polish with Q-Tip, wiped again with Flitz cloth, applied Flitz wax with Q-Tip, wiped with Flitz cloth, and gave it a final wipe down with silicone cloth.
All of the products used in my project were less than $50 combined, and will last for many other guns. I have to thank Benny, my FFL guy for his guidance on just the right stuff to use. Don't be tempted to grab the nearest rag and cleaner you have that are intended for home, shop or automotive use.
Products Used (with links)
My MOS when I served in the United States Army was 76Y. For you non-military readers, the Military Occupational Specialty of 76 Yankee means that I was a Unit Armorer. While on REFORGER 85, I trained with German Paratroopers and qualified as "Expert" with the German G-3 rifle, the Israeli Uzi 9mm sub-machinegun and the 9mm handgun.