View Full Version : Conserving a Napoleonic Wars French Pistol

Bob Smalser
20th Sep 2013, 03:17 AM

The Pistolet modèle An XIII in .69 caliber represents the service pistol of choice during the Napoleonic era, and was fielded by French cavalry as well as other army units and also naval personnel. Approximately 300,000 were manufactured at the Royal Armories of St. Etienne, Maubeuge, and Charleville between 1806 and 1814. It was kept in service well into the 1840s when many were converted to percussion.


This rusty relic was made in Liege ca1810 and was in service with a unit I have yet to identify. My initial guess is Company E, 2d Battalion of the 2d Cavalry or Cuirassiers, but I have queries out with era historians to refine that.


The drill with valuable artifacts is to dismantle them with minimal or no damage so the active rust can be removed, and to conserve the parts in a manner that prevents further deterioration without altering the original finish. Putting them back into service is another matter, requiring removal of the breach plug to insure remaining barrel wall thickness is adequate, and to protect the existing finish from further ravages of corrosive black powder. As this model of pistol remains relatively plentiful and it passed the breach plug and barrel-wall inspections, I took the extra steps necessary so this pistol can be fired.


Wood loses lignin with sunlight and age and becomes brittle. It also expands and contracts seasonally around the metal furniture, and when combined with rust literally welds wood and metal together. So to dismantle the piece, it was soaked for a week in Kroil before attempting disassembly, and evident are the large selection of parallel-blade screwdriver tips to obtain perfect fits before applying torque. Screwdriver bits are fitted to include grinding special bits if necessary, and are tapped into the screw slots using a brass hammer to break the rust bond before applying torque. Only then is the assembly secured in a padded vise and torque applied carefully while watching and feeling for evidence that the screw head is breaking. Those that break have to be drilled out, the threads recut and a new screw fabricated. But this one came apart without damage.

After disassembly, the rust was removed using brass brushes, the ironwork soaked in a mild phosphoric acid solution (there are several sold as "metal preps", in paint and hardware stores), then washed in a mixture of baking soda and hot water to remove the black oxide residue that results. The phosphoric acid fills the pits with phosphate salts that will prevent further rust using normal care.


The Kroil was removed from the wood using trichloroethylene solvent (available at hardware stores as "safety solvent"), the wood dried, and a thin coat of wiping varnish (Truoil or Linspeed) applied as a sealer. When dry, this was rubbed out using #0000 steel wool lubricated with a hard paste wax, and the entire piece coated with Renaissance Wax after assembly.

The ramrod was fabricated from a scrap of bronze rod and old lamp filial, and aged by soaking in a hot mixture of chlorine bleach, lemon juice and salt, followed by a commercial brass black and buffing out with #0000 steel wool.

A new flint lined with a lead washer hammered out and trimmed from a musket ball, and perfect sparking was achieved without having to retemper or remake the springs and reharden the frizzen, both more involved processes that I'll discuss here. This old pistol was exceptionally well designed and well made, and fortunately was stored most of its life with its springs uncompressed.

20th Sep 2013, 09:35 AM
Bob, another great read. She ended up the belle of the ball!

25th Sep 2013, 12:26 AM
Wow what a fantastic piece of restoration, very sympathetic, she looks beautiful and i'd be proud to have something like that in my possession.