When handling collectible firearms, the first rule of thumb is that whatever you do will be questioned by half the people you tell. Even cleaning a collectible involves considerable anguish in some quarters.
Preventive Care Environment
Avoid dramatic swings in relative humidity (RH). Try to keep the humidity stable and between 40 and 50 percent. Consistency is more important than precise maintenance of a specific RH reading, though RH control is critical because of an unusual physical property of wood called anisotropy. Wood cells expand or contract very differently in response to changes in relative humidity – depending on their specific grain orientation (axial, transverse or radial) in the log from which they came.
Large swings in RH can result in cracks caused by compression-set shrinkage. If the humidity remains fairly constant, changes in temperature make little difference to either metal or wood. A rapid rise in temperature, though, can pull the moisture out of the environment (including your artifact), causing a sudden drop in RH. Cell shrinkage and cracking or splitting can then occur.
Wear gloves when handling your collection. No protective coating can stand up for long against repeated barehanded handling. Best to always wear gloves and I recommend Nitrile examination gloves when cleaning and coating your collection. Once an item has been coated, wear plain cotton gloves.
Keep your firearms dust-free. Dust can trap moisture increasing the likelihood of corrosion occurring.
Don’t use commercial dust cloths, though. They often leave an oil film behind which traps dust and dust traps water vapor from the air. When dusting, use either a vacumn with a soft brush or a soft cotton cloth very lightly dampened with water. Without moisture, dust merely gets shoved around and will not be picked up. Dry the gun immediately with a clean cloth.
Don’t use alcohol of any kind when dusting or cleaning a firearm stock. It can skin or strip an historic finish. Never use liquid or spray dusting products, either, because most of them leave mineral oil behind, which traps dust. Remember that dust traps and collects moisture.
Narrow hooks or loops of wire should not be used to support collection pieces either in storage, transport or on display. The weight of most long arms on such devices is sufficient to cause indentations in their stock at the points of contact. Instead, use broad, padded supports.
We use thin sheets of a closed-cell polyethylene foam material to pad our display fixtures. To avoid mold and mildew during long-term storage, avoid at least two of the three conditions known to promote bloom outbreaks: elevated temperature, still air and elevated humidity.
Cleaning and Coating: Cleaning Wood Stocks
First, separate the wooden parts from the metal parts. They are cleaned and coated differently. Unless it should become absolutely necessary, leave the unfinished interior wooden surfaces alone.
Clean the exterior of the stock by placing a few drops of a mild detergent in a gallon of warm distilled water. Apply with a slightly damp soft cloth and rinse with clean cloths dampened with distilled water. Dry with soft cloths immediately after rinsing.
This gun collecting series brought to you by NM Collector Software.