Restoring my Father's Model 37

Ron Kulas

Active Member
This is the restoration of the first shotgun I ever fired. If memory serves that was when I was 9 or 10 years old. My Dad bought this Winchester model 37,single barrel, break action,shotgun used in 1958. The first owner sold it because it kicked too hard. He sold it to another guy who only briefly owned it and then sold it to my dad in 1958 for $20 because it kicked too hard. These were rugged adult males, farmers/hunters, that didn’t want the 12 Ga because of the recoil so when my dad had me and my 2 brothers shoot the gun as little boys you can imagine the result. My two older brothers (then aged 11 and 12) went first and after just one shot ran into the house crying. The end result was tears and black and blue shoulders. Over the next 56 years that old shotgun sat leaning in the corner of the farm house with very little use as everybody was to intimidated to fire it.

The Winchester model 37 was produced from 1936 to 1963. During that time slightly more than one million were made. During World War II, the National Guard soldier used Winchester Model 37, 12 gauge shotguns. When my dad bought the gun used in 1958, the shotgun sold new for $29.95. Here are some ads from the past. This first ad mentions how the light weight would make it good for women and kids and even mentions the model 37 would be a boys first love. Love? If love means getting knocked on your ass.


I doubt Santa understood the pain and terror he was placing beneath Christmas trees. Look at the words they used to describe the model 37. “hard shooting” At least this ad was factual. Santa must have fired the 37 as it looks like his right arm doesn’t work and he lost the sight in his left eye from the recoil, it appears (by the droopy mouth) that it caused a stroke and it screwed his back up so badly he cant stand upright.


Winchester did not serialize these guns so the exact date of manufacture is not known but I will assume it was made in the mid to late 1940's. During my last visit to the farm I collected the old model 37 so I could do the restoration. Like a lot of 60 and 70 year old guns, this one is in need of some TLC. The butt stock is broken as is the butt plate. The foregrip is cracked and both stocks finish is missing in some areas. There are many dings and scratches and a few burns (im guessing cigarette). Im not too concerned about the broken heel on the butt stock since Im going to shorten the stock and install a recoil pad (something this shotgun sorely needs) and the cracked wood will be easy to repair. A recoil pad should make this gun tolerable to fire.

Here is the shotgun in the condition I got it in.


The stock it chipped away and the butt plate broken. It looks like either water damage or sun (uv) damage to one side of the stock as the finish is gone and the wood is very grey.


The grip is pretty chewed up as well.


The fore grip is cracked.



And chipped away at the back end.


The metal is a bit rusted and tarnished but only a small amount of pitting. I can see there are a lot of deep oil stains (almost black looking wood) near the receiver. Not sure how to get rid of that.



My dad said a prior owner did some filing on the receiver to keep the hammer from sticking when it came forward. Its a pretty crappy file job.



This was a fun restoration because I have a history with the gun. I started with the wood and recoil pad since all the coats of tung oil take so long to dry and I can then work on the metal parts while applying the tung oil.
The first step was to spread the crack in the foregrip and syringe some titebond glue into the crack and clamp it. While that dries I can shorten the stock and install a recoil pad. Im using a Pachmayr 325 field recoil pad because I like the vented (ribbed) look vs the sims which just looks too modern for this old gun. The Pachmayr has the old school look with a white spacer so it will be more “period” looking.

The recoil pad is just over an inch thick so the stock needs to be shortened by the same amount. This solves the problem of recoil and the broken plastic butt plate and the chipped wood on the heel.


Then I drilled the holes for the screws.


Then the oversized recoil pad is screwed on so it can be ground to fit the size and slope of the stock.



The end of the stock is wrapped with two layers of painters tape to protect the wood and then the pad is ground on a belt sander to fit the stock. I start with 80 grit and then 120 grit belt and then hand sand with 220, 320 and finally 400 grit. After peeling off whats left of the tape.



The screws on this pad are hidden. The rubber is self healing after a small slot is cut to insert the wood screws. It’s a good look and will look even better once it washed and polished.


Then the foregrip is final sanded and both will get several applications of tung oil rubbed into the old wood.
This old shotgun does not have a lot of metal parts but the ones it has are in need of some TCL. Rebluing parts isn’t hard and doesn’t take long. What take the most time (and its time well spent) is cleaning and polishing the parts. With a good polish comes a good looking blue. For those that are afraid of cold bluing because they heard of bad results or that cold blues are streaky or blotchy are from people who are doing it wrong. Cold bluing can look like a factory hot blue but you have to put forth the effort.

With the gun disassembled and all the parts tagged and bagged I can get to work.


I'll start with the trigger guard. It’s a little dinged and dented and there are some knicks in the edge and there is overall surface rust. If I were to hit it with some sandpaper or steel wool and then try to blue it I would end up with a crappy finish. Extra time spent polishing pays off in great end results.



Several grades of sandpaper, then steel wool and some time on the flannel buffing wheel and you can get a mirror finish. IF you dont have a bench grinder that you can mount a buffing wheel, you can substitute a drill or drill press with a flannel wheel. The finish work you put into the part shows up through the blue. The bluing doesn’t hide anything, in fact it exposes defects in finish. Spend the time polishing.


I use Dicropan cold blue. Its inexpensive and easy to apply (in this case I used a Qtip). I blue 5 times using 0000 steel wool to buff the part after each application. Steel wool wont remove the blue. It actually makes it shine. The final application of the cold blue is aplied with steel wool.


Before and after.



Then its onto the action latch.




After bluing



Other small parts.








Even the tiniest of screws (like these that hold on the trigger guard) that can be seen on the outside of the gun get the treatment.


Interior parts that cant be seen dont get polished. They simply get cleaned and reblued if they were once blued or they stay unblued if thats how they were on the gun originally.

These many pictures are not really for this blog. there is another reason I take this many photos. Its a tip I will pass along. My eyesight is not that great so I will photograph the parts after polishing and then view the parts on my computer at 10 times their actual scale. It helps me find even the slightest blemish allowing me to see it and correct it. The same thing after blueing. The jumbo sized computer images really help me see the parts and blemishes better. The pictures that make it here are only 2 or 3 times larger than actual scale. Also, you are only seeing a fraction of the pictures I take.
The receiver is a real mess. Lots of surface rust but only a little pitting




The main problem here is that somebody did a real doozy of a file job on the tang of the receiver where the cocking lever slides forward.


I cant put the metal back but I can clean up and finish the job somebody else started. Fast forward after lots of time cleaning up the receiver and polishing it and then brushing it with 0000 steel wool and this is what is looks like.

**Disclaimer*** Photographing polished metal means the metal will look like whatever your shirt looks like and your hand and your camera are going to reflect back at you.



And that nasty filing job is all cleaned up.


To get a better look at the polished receiver I have a video where unlike the stills you can see the pitting.

Then it was onto bluing. The same procedure except I use a cotton ball (several of them) to apply the dicropan. The receiver was blued 7 times and steel wooled after each application.





Here is a video of the blued recevier that shows it a little better.

Then it was time to reassemble all the metal parts.





And a video of the assembled receiver.

The barrel is the last item to be restored.
The next step is restoring the barrel. Most of the rust is surface rust but there are a few areas with pitting. Deep pits can't be done away with as it would remove too much metal. Some pits will remain, its just a fact of life.



Before I submerge the barrel in naval jelly I Use a lot of 320 grit and steel wool then the barrel spent a half hour in the jelly. Once the barrel is rinsed under hot water I use 400 and then 600 grit and 0000 steel wool to clean it up. Lastly I polish the barrel on a flannel buffing wheel with red rouge. The results are a real improvement.



This video does a better job of showing the polish job on the barrel.

The next step is bluing the barrel. I start by plugging both ends of the barrel with wood plugs that act as handles. Then the barrel is scrubbed with acetone to remove any oils that would prevent the blue from taking. I used Dicropan cold bluing. Here are results.




Here is a video of the blued barrel.

Even though there are still at least 3 more applications of tung oil for the wood, I think its time to put the entire gun together and take some pics and video of the restoration so far. I can always take it apart to finish the finish.








And here are some videos of the gun.

Right side

Left side

After 2 or 3 more applications of tung oil I will buff the finish to a glass-like smoothness and give it a few coats of paste wax and this gun should be good for a few more decades and with a lot less kick. When the weather improves I will give it a shot to see if it still makes me cry like it did 45 years ago.
After I finally got the final coat of tung oil on my dads Winchester, I took a video of it. It turned out like glass.

Then I added some “poor mans” gold inlay to the lettering on the barrel. Fingernail polish and then buff the barrel leaving the gold in the recesses of the letters.


I have the same model in a 16 ga. Quite the restoration there, now I'd like to see you put a box of high brass through it!
Your ability in restoring your Winchester is only surpassed by your thorough step by step description of the restoration process.
This is a masterpiece IMO.