By Robert D. Beeman
Most recent update: 28 September 2004
Over the past quarter century, Mrs. Beeman and I have had the good fortune to work in gun collections all over the world. After these years of watching how the owners and curators of these collections protect their guns, it was apparent that we should share this knowledge. Some of this information should be useful to you, whether you own two or three guns, or two or three hundred, or many more. Most of the material would apply in some degree to any gun owner, but some of the points obviously apply more to museums or large collections.
When I mention protecting guns, the listener usually thinks of cleaning and oiling. Maybe he will think of securing them against theft. We will cover those matters, but the biggest threat to your guns (outside of the government) is fire. All museums are well aware of this. I realized that private collectors should have the same concern when Val Forgett, the founder of Navy Arms, told us that he lost his entire seven-figure weapons collection the night that his barn burned down. You can, and should, buy some insurance on your collection, but the big loss is the absolute loss of the guns themselves. If you have been collecting for awhile, you surely have some irreplaceable items, perhaps some one-of-kind irreplaceable items. It’s not just your loss, you have an obligation to future collectors and the historical record to maintain and protect these items. Rusted guns can be restored to some degree, stolen guns often are retrieved sooner or later, but burned guns are gone forever from the stream of history!
The first step in protecting a collection from fire is to do some careful thinking and planning. Try to determine, from a fire standpoint, what part of your place would be the safest for the guns. Theft security and moisture control will follow this key consideration. Remember that we mainly are thinking of fires that occur when you are not present; they are the most damaging events. Try to position the collection as far as possible from the most likely places for fires to start: the garage and the kitchen. A hot plate, electric coffeepot, or most other gas or electric devices should not be in the same room. Look around and decide what combustible items, or material, could be removed from the proximity of the guns. Don’t allow any smoking or burning materials in the collection area. If you have a small collection, which is not kept on display, you might best consider a safe(s) with a minimum one-hour fire rating. A used safe, with a good fire rating, at a wreckers or an auction yard, is a better bet than not buying an expensive, fire rated gun safe. Note that most safes are not built with an eye towards fire protection. Generally you are better off with a less secure safe that has a high fire rating.
If you are modifying or building an area within your place for guns, and other high value items, pay special attention to making that area fire resistant. Be sure the doors are fire rated for at least one hour (look for a metal rating label on the edge of the door). Existing walls should be stripped of combustible material and covered with fire-taped fire stop sheetrock and/or a covering wall of brick or concrete block. Admittedly, you probably will want to finish the inside of the room with wood, but at least you have provided fire resistant barriers almost right up to the guns themselves.
New room or divider walls should be brick or concrete or built with metal studs and firestop sheetrock on both sides. A layer of fiberglass insulation would seem to be a good idea to slow heat transfer, but tests show that fiberglass actually burns and that, at best, it only gives about two minutes protection against the transfer of heat capable of creating ignition.
The weakest points for attack by fire usually are the floors and ceiling. If the floor or ceiling can burn through, as it can in minutes in a hot fire, good walls are not much help. A collection location in a concrete basement might look pretty fire resistant until you look up at those wooden joists and floor above you. Any fireman will tell you that in the case of a strong fire, most everything will end up in the basement – and be burning very intensely there! If you are to make a ceiling fire resistant you will have to take some extreme steps, the key one being to see that the fireproof layer you are putting up above is capable of resisting great heat and great weight and powerful impacts from falling, burning building parts.
The best possible arrangement is to build or use a very secure underground room for the collection. The ceiling, walls, and floors should made of reinforced concrete. The doors, vents, and internal sources of fire and fuel must be given very special consideration. We will talk later about moisture control.
By now, many readers will realize that they cannot provide the best possible structural arrangements for fire proofing. Go as far as you can with such passive fire control, and then start thinking about active fire control. A few years ago, it was possible to install automatic fire control systems that were not highly expensive, were very effective, did not injure products such as guns, and were non-toxic. These systems utilized the automatic release of halon vapors, which would quickly seek out every tiny spot in a room, go all around things like guns without harming them, and very effectively interfere with the actual mechanism of flame production. Unfortunately, our government decided that these products could be involved with global warming. Despite shrill cries from many directions, including the infamous ecology book by Al Gore, there still isn’t good evidence that these concerns were valid. Such laws, and international sanctions, generally are not reversible, so installing halon systems now puts you on a legal footing equal to smuggling dope.
Automatic carbon dioxide systems are still legal in some areas and they can be very effective, although considerably more expensive than the halon systems. A pure atmosphere of carbon dioxide, as in a room where automatic CO2 fire suppression has occurred, can be lethal in a couple of minutes. Therefore, great care, usually expensive professional care, must be taken in the installation of such systems.
That leads us to consider automatic water fire sprinklers. You may be hesitant to install water sprinklers over your guns. However, the choice between the desirability of cleaning up your wet guns vs. raking up the burned debris of them would seem to be fairly simple.
There is a compromise way around all of this. First, do everything necessary to almost guarantee that a fire could not start in your collection area. Then set up active barriers to prevent fire from getting near the area of the collection. That is, set up active automatic wet pipe sprinkler protection in wide vertical and horizontal zones around the outside of your fire resistant collection area. Now, we have another legal/political correctness problem. Generally, local codes and building regulations require that fire sprinkler systems be installed only by very expensive, licensed installers and that the systems meet certain standards for the entire structure. There is no provision for protecting just certain zones around a special area. Ironically, you are not allowed to increase your fire resistance unless you do it for the whole building and do that under certain special, expensive conditions. You may well decide to install such zone protection yourself, or with the help of friendly, but competent, helpers. The building code, the web (esp. try entering "copper pipe fire sprinklers" into www.Google.com and print out the free installation booklets on residential fire sprinkler installation), construction books, and local buildings themselves will tell you about sprinkler spacing and the proper kinds of pipes. Your biggest problem then will be to obtain sprinkler heads (and special fire-resistant plastic pipes, if desired), which generally are sold only through certain wholesale distributors to licensed installers. You can see their legal liability problem but perhaps you, and your computer, can find a sensible solution. (And actually, easy-to-install type M copper pipe, available at any home improvement store, is better than the special plastic pipe.). Of course, if you are building a new home, you should insist on installing a sprinkler system then. The cost is not prohibitive when done in new construction. Or you may decide on a collection location inside a sprinkler protected commercial building.
Do have hand-held fire extinguishers, but remember that the most damaging fires occur when no one is present. Be sure to have fire detectors at more than the minimum number of spots. You should have ionization type units, which respond best to raging fires, and especially photoelectric units, which respond best to slow smoldering fires. These detection units should be placed within the collection areas and in at least the nearby areas. They should be connected to a loud siren outside of the building and, if possible, to a central alarm station (you usually can add fire monitoring to your intrusion monitoring contract at little, or no, extra cost).
Finally, go through your place and try to eliminate fire hazards wherever you find them. Consider how fire hazards from the neighbors could be reduced. If you live in a rural or suburban area, clean a firebreak around your house and remove trees that could carry fire to your house. And, be ready to fight fires effectively.
If you have done a good job in setting up a fire resistant area for your collection you may have also increased its security from theft.. Try to select a window free area for the collection and be sure that doors (solid, one-hour fire resistant doors) do not have their hinge pins on the outside where they are easily removed. If the pins must be outside, then open the door, remove a screw from each facing side of each hinge and replace the screw on one side with a heavy nail cut off about a quarter of an inch above the surface of the hinge. When the door is closed the protruding nail shaft will enter the open screw hole on the other side of the hinge and prevent the door from being lifted off, even if the hinge pins are removed.
One of the least expensive, and most effective, steps that you can take to prevent burglary is to install outdoor lights with passive infrared sensors. These units are now available at most hardware and home supply stores; select ones of the best quality that you can afford – the small difference in cost is good insurance. The “All-Metal” JourneyMan Series by Heath (distributed in the U.S.A. by Home Depot) and Night Guardian Series made by Steinel of Germany (distributed in the U.S.A. by Yardbirds) are excellent. Putting these units all around your place is a very effective protection against unwanted intruders. These devices were developed during the Vietnam conflict to provide security around military locations. The sensors turn on the lights when they detect the moving warmth of a human body. The sudden lighting of a dark area is most disconcerting to an intruder and the sudden appearance of the light also attracts attention from nearby persons. Floodlights that are just left on do not attract that kind of attention and are far more costly to operate. Passive infrared lighting also provides good illumination if you have a CCTV system. And, these automatic lights are a great convenience to the residents and their guests.
Certainly you should have an intrusion alarm. It is best if you stick to hard wired alarm sensors, such as door and window sensors, pressure sensors under rugs, etc. rather than motion detectors. This will almost eliminate false alarms, the bane of alarm systems. In addition to putting a loud siren on the outside of the house, and connecting to a central alarm station, install a very loud siren, at a point where it is not easily shut off or covered, within the collection area. The numbing sound of such an internal siren is going to make it very difficult for a thief to stay focused on his work. A flashing strobe light outside the house, and in the collection area, adds to the attention-getting factor for neighbors and the thief.
Museums and serious collectors with large collections really should have a recording, closed circuit television system (CCTV). These systems are a big plus for any home or business. Cameras should be placed at key access points and at least at two or three points inside the collection area (at least some hidden and at high points, not easily noticed or covered). There are great new systems that can feed the signals from four to eight cameras into an inexpensive computer memory bank. Images from these cameras is kept in digital memory only when motion is taking place in certain specified areas of each camera’s view. The signals are simultaneously recorded from all cameras so there is no lost imaging due to the obsolete technique of recording rotation. A three-gigabyte memory will record all eight cameras for up to 40 days! Every scene is time stamped and playback even shows the scene a few minutes before recording was triggered by motion in a given camera (done by continual recording with a erase period triggered by time and lack of motion). CCTV provides real time security monitoring and is a powerful deterrent to criminal activity at all times. And, to answer the criticism that CCTV only records that you were robbed, it is now possible for an alarm to call you, or have you called, at a remote phone. You can use any computer to view what is happening on any of your CCTV cameras. You can do this easily at your office and even via a cell phone and a laptop when you are in a vehicle hundreds of miles away. Then, when you are taking the alarm call from the central monitor station, or the police, you can tell them if there is a real live burglary going on, or a fire, and give them some critical details. You can also call in anytime and see what is happening in real time. Imagine monitoring your collection from your office or even while you are traveling to a far off gun show! Such CCTV systems used to cost tens of thousands of dollars and were not nearly as good. The new systems presently run from a few hundred dollars to about two thousand dollars and are dropping in price. Flash note added Dec. 2002: video security has just taken a quantum leap forward and a huge drop in cost. We are now integrating our old, but excellent analog CCTV cameras with the new "network cameras" that work together with a transfer device which sends all of their messages, updated 30 times a second, to our computer network for recording on hard-drive. These signals may be monitored with a call-up image or on a separate monitor(s) (now you know what to do with those old monitors!) and you can be alerted to motion occurring in one of the fields of camera view. These devices are now beginning to appear in such main line catalogs as pcconnection.com and microwarehouse.com. Like DLP projection video, I predict that these systems will be widely available, at quite reasonable prices, in 2003-4. October 2003 note: These new cameras have really become better, simpler to use, and cheaper. A camera that would have cost you $1500 just five years ago will now sell for under $300 and the new camera can have its own IP address so that it can go anywhere, wireless, that your computer's server can go - and these new units can be panned or zoomed from your computer! Click on the Tom's Hardware article: LAN Camera Technology Offers New View at http://www6.tomshardware.com/network/20020923/index.html to get an introduction at the 2002 level. Then click on http://www6.tomshardware.com/network/20030320/index.html to come up to the year 2003 for what I think is the best security camera available, as of Oct. 2003 in this fast developing field, the Axis 2130 PTZ Network Camera. You can program this delightful unit, which can function at high resolution in extremely low light levels, to give you up to 30 images a minute, via password, from any computer in the world, desktop or your laptop, or even on the screen of a network connected cell phone!!. Connect it to a time lapse recorder for a long term record - but do program it so that it only records when there is motion in view - otherwise you will waste a lot of review time and recording capacity. For an even less expensive, super easy solution, consider the new Axia 205 network camera. Click on to www.Axis.com for a further peek at these systems - they are a huge step up and since they use existing home computer network systems (wired and/or wireless), they are so much faster, easier, and cheaper to install. The camera information even goes to the internet - you can view your collection and even pan and zoom your cameras while sitting on the deck of cruise ship in the South Pacific or in the bleachers of your favorite sports arena- at prices that most collectors can afford! (No, I don't even get a discount from Axis, or anyone else, for these plugs - should, but don't!). The EchoVue 4 or 8 channel digital video recorder has its own 80GB internal memory. It will record what your cameras see for 4-8 weeks and then start over - you can review only the time sections which had motion - even remotely. It really beats the VCR recorders on which we depended for so many years- not only is it better, but it is cheaper!
If you live in a rural area, or are in a commercial building complex, a security gate, tied into the CCTV system, is a good idea. The Crown Jewel system by Sentex will allow you great flexibility, such as programming to allow certain parties, like meter readers or delivery services, to enter with their own codes only during certain hours, specified for each of them, and will give you a running record of who entered and when for the last 500 gate openings. It is not imperative to couple these entry systems to a computer, but doing so will add a great deal of flexibility and be much easier for use - entering operational codes by touchtone phone is not my idea of an exciting afternoon. There is even a operational program now available for Windows XP (P.S. After years of crashes and frustration with several Mac and various PC Windows programs, I can't get over how great, and how easy, the new Windows XP programs are!!).
Locks are of course, mandatory. There should be deadbolt locks with a one-inch throw on each door of the house and collection area. If possible, apply pry and saw blade resistant guards - available at good locksmith shops.
Of course, you are very unlikely to be robbed by someone looking for your rare airguns (after all, most airgun collectors are nice guys!). More likely, it will be some airhead, or youth, that needs dope money. Before we hardened the security system at a remote location and added recording CCTV, we always left a semi-auto Thompson .45 carbine, with the big drum magazine made famous by Hollywood, as a decoy in our collection room. Surely this is what the airhead is going to run off with instead of some silly thing like a first or second model Daisy. (The position of the decoy gun was carefully marked. We noticed that it was this “Tommy gun”, and not any airgun, that officers responding to an alarm handled! This also served to let us know if the responding officers actually had done a building sweep and not just a “drive-by” check.)
Earthquakes and Hurricanes-
Even those collectors in major earthquake zones often often overlook the danger of earthquakes to their collection. Of course, the most serious effect of earthquakes, just as in the 1906 San Francisco quake, is the production of fire. Having already considered fire, you should consider what a serious shake would do to valuable guns perched on racks, esp. horizontal racks well above the floor. Simply using L-shaped gun supports instead of straight support pins could help a great deal in preventing your lovely items from leaping to the hard floor and on top of each other. Most museums provide removable restraining bars for items likely to be shaken from racks and shelves. Spend some time developing simple, but effective, restraints for your specimens if you live in an area which is ever visited by earth tremors. And, remember, damage due to earthquakes rarely is covered by insurance.
Some advance thinking is also needed of any gun collector living in hurricane areas. Plan on how you are going to prevent building collapse and flooding into your collection area. For smaller collections, some very rugged waterproof containers - preferably looter resistant, are in order.
Insurance and Organization:
You may wish to have an insurance policy rider on your guns; this will depend to a large degree on your location, your insurance company, and your ability to accept risk. It is possible that the cost may be prohibitive; but don't give up until you have really shopped around - making it clear that you are willing to accept a large deductible. You probably will find that your standard homeowner’s insurance policy excludes guns, sets special limits, or otherwise does not meet a collector’s needs. You will have a far easier time getting a satisfactory settlement after a loss from a collection if you have photographic and written records. A digital camera is almost a must for this. Take a picture of every item in the collection, using the digital preview screen on your camera to see that you have satisfactory images. Then feed the digital images into the computer, put them up on pages in a program like Adobe PageMaker and add a caption to each. Use autopage numbering, auto indexing and the auto table of contents to make up an illustrated catalog of all your items, sorted for you. Keep an electronic copy and a hard copy at another address. (You may decide that excellent security, professional training [Front Sight Firearms Training in Nevada is the best! Check them out on the web at www.Frontsight.com ] with .40" caliber Glock pistols and 12 gauge shotguns, motion-activated lights and CCTV, etc. are the cheapest and most effective insurance.)
Another system for keeping track of your collection is a software program, available for only $12.95 at www.treasureware.com . This provides for putting in pictures, values, model names and numbers, your collection numbers, and a lot of other extra data. You can print various reports of your collection, do searches, reorganize the data in various ways, etc. I used this program for awhile but found it to be quite limited. I now use My Data Base from My Software programs. It requires a little more learning time, but is vastly more useful. BTW, I understand from other collectors that they have used Microsoft Excel, which comes bundled with a lot of computers these days, to catalog their collection. Most users are not aware that you can enter a thumbnail pic of each gun into one of the Excel columns! Again, be sure to keep a very current backup copy of your collection data base in a location away from the building in which the original copy is maintained. Don't even go away for a weekend without shuttling a backup copy off to the separate building (or perhaps your office?). Of course, you always backup your computer records on a regular basis for the day(s) when your computer WILL crash, don't you? A good way, to do that, for souls who are as lazy and/or busy as I am, is to connect a Maxtor automatic backup device to your computer and let it backup absolutely everything (we have the huge 250 GB memory one - but only because we like to backup multiple copies of everything from our 80 GB Dell computer memories) automatically every day or every Sunday, or whatever, at some time like 3AM in the morning when it will not interfere with you. Just deciding what to backup used to keep me from doing it as often as I should.
Guns are not easy to photograph well. Your insurance claim will be much more credible if each gun in your collection is well photographed and you may be able to share details and exchange with others, via the web and publications. Start by getting the best digital still camera that you can afford - and you can afford more and more each month - prices are plummeting and features are soaring! An excellent introduction to gun photography is available from a master photographer, Doug Box. His kit to teach you easy, excellent gun photography consists of a 37 page booklet and a 90 minute video tape. The grammar is not the greatest, but he knows his gun photography and presents a system that can cost very little and be very effective in teaching you to produce excellent gun photos easily and quickly. Good photos, especially digital photos, also make it much easier to sell your surplus airguns on the web. Contact photographer Doug at www.free-info-4-u.com. (However, this good stuff is not free). Larger specimens, like most large or antique air rifles, will require large soft light systems and a supply of reflective white panels.
It is just a crying shame that many collectors have not gone the extra step to having good pictures of their collection and items from other collections. While making up the Blue Book of Airgun books, I have received many email pics and CDs of digital pics and many prints and slides. Unfortunately for everyone, about 95% of these pics are useless for publication. Almost any digital camera, or scanner, can produce a picture which can look great on the web or via email and so the photographers are led to think that their pictures could be great in publications also. Tom Gaylord has provided some excellent guidelines to making suitable pictures of guns in his instructions to authors at www.airgunillustrated.com. You only need a picture with 75 ppi (pixels per inch) resolution to look great on the web, but about 300 ppi is needed for publication use. Your digital camera or scanner will tell you how large a file is represented by each of your pictures. To see how big a picture your picture file will produce, just divide the file width, say 680 pixels by the needed resolution, say 75 ppi or 300 ppi. This would show you that such a photo file would produce a maximum suitable picture of a nice 9.0" width on the web or email, but only 2.2" wide in a publication!! The important note here is to take a picture with a fairly large file, as allowed on digital cameras with a resolution over 5.0 megapixels (such cameras are getting cheaper every minute). Then just download it into a computer file just as it is. Then use only copies of that master item to retouch or change resolution size - i.e. you will want to make 75 ppi pics for the web, minimum 300 ppi for publications, etc.- and keep the original virginal!
If you aren't able, or willing, to go to a really good digital camera, then stick with good film cameras - which are now available used for a song because so many folks have gone digital. If you actually want good digital pictures don't consider anything less than the Nikon CoolPix 5400 camera with viewfinder (much harder to use at close ranges than a single lens reflex), w/ 5.1 megapixel resolution, which will cost under $800 complete. (A used Nikon CoolPix, excellent, but with only about 3.0 megapixel resolution, can be found for as little as $300). Latest Flash: The Nikon CoolPix 5400 is neat, but it isn't nearly the value of the Sony digital single lens reflex: If you don't have/need a closet full of Canon lenses and related Canon EOS equipment, then don't even bother to shop around: Go directly to the super new Sony DSC-F828 Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera, just introduced in August 2003, with 8 Megapixel resolution (up to 3360 x 2460 pixel images!!(don't pay any attention to mechanical zoom numbers, try are just cropping your pictures!), and macro focus down to 5/8 of an inch! At your local store this amazing camera will be less than $1200 complete with optical zoom 18-55 mm macro lens (combined cost only about $950 on the web). For under a $1000, your best bet is the Canon EOS Digital Rebel, 6.3 megapixel resolution, single lens reflex at less than $1000 with a 18-55 mm (35 mm equiv. of 28-90 mm) lens. A Canon 10D digital single lens reflex camera, at 6.3 megapixel resolution, originally about $1200 to $1500, camera only, can now be found as used items for half of that!. For a real bargain, find a good used Canon D60 with the same resolution and just a tad few bells and whistles for perhaps 60% of that! (In fact, I'll sell you mine- because I found that I had to move up to the Canon 1Ds with 11.2 megapixel resolution to do a proper job of photographing long, thin rifles for publication - rifles need more pixels across their thin axis than most cameras can provide for really good resolution.). As of October 2004, your very best buy is the Canon 20D at 8.2 megapixels for under $1500 with lens. Add a very wide angle zoom lens (I have the Canon EF 16-35 mm f2.8 lens, listing for about $1500) and a macro100 mm lens for about $500 to $900. This will also allow you to use Canon's great around-the-lens ring flash, which I find invaluable for airgun detail and legal evidence photos and Canon's incredible closeup lens, which can take super closeup shots at 5 times magnification! At above 6 megapixel resolution, digital really is much better and so much more flexible to use than film - esp. when coupled with a good imaging program like the inexpensive (often bundled free!) Adobe Photoshop Elements. A good flatbed scanner can be a great accessory - as of 2003, I recommend the Epson Perfection 2450 Photo model, which has a cult like following, for about $350 - and it also can scan into digital memory such things as all my old 35mm color slides, 35 mm B&W and color negs, paper photos, etc. And, since you didn't ask, I'll tell you that the printer that I use the most is our HP PSC 950 - it can scan too, but not like the Epson 2450!!
Lighting and sharpness are the other most important factors of a good gun picture. Unless you are willing to invest in, and experiment with, good soft lights for indoor shooting, your best bet is shooting outdoors on a hazy day. It is almost always imperative to use a tripod and a cable or timed shutter release to get that sharpness and detail needed for even a fairly good gun picture. (If possible, set the camera to lift the viewing mirror when the delay time starts - the lack of shutter vibration will sharpen your images.) Try to shoot with a lens opening of f/11 or smaller (i.e. larger f number, like f/16) to get good depth of field. Please use a neutral background, like a non-reflective beige cloth, as a background - for good contrast and to make it easy to drop out the background with a picture editing program.
As a side note to the above organizing, your collection will be better off, and you will be kept closer to sanity if you number all of your specimens. After trying various methods, I think that one of the best ways is with numbered brass tags secured to the gun with a lead-sealed wire. I would recommend the #10 round (7/8” = 22 mm diameter) brass tags from Ketchum Manufacturing, Ottawa, Canada (613.722.3451 or ketchum@sympatico or www.ketchum.on.ca). Your main cost will be getting set up with a seal press, with your three initials, and a supply of #25 wired lead seals. (Please note that the prices will be quoted in Canadian dollars; the cost in U.S. dollars will be much lower. Forget currency exchange problems by charging them on a Visa or MasterCharge card.) The tags are consecutively numbered and also can bear 3 lines of 10 to12 characters each. Protect the guns by covering the attachment wires with flexible, clear plastic tubing just large enough to slip over the wire before securing the lead seal. If you display some of your boxed specimens separate from the box, be sure to ID the box well and discretely. A small, neat number tag on the upper right corner of the label end of the box is the way a museum would do it. That box can also store any literature or accessories which came with the gun, if they are not on display. Please DO THIS! I know that you expect to live forever, if for no other reason than to not be separated from your guns, but there are too many collection pieces which have been separated from their boxes and associated items just because someone wasn't around when it finally came time to try to match up the items! That "run over by truck" remark is realistic and not funny.
For those who really want to mark their collection items in the very best and least harmful ways, you should read how the real museums mark their specimens. You should obtain: Buck, Rebecca A. and Jean A. Gilmore, 1998. The New Museum Registration Methods. American Association of Museums, 1575 Eye St., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005, USA.
It is also good insurance to provide a means of identifying guns, especially regular production models, so that your ownership can be proved after a theft. An address label hidden between the metal and wood or under the buttplate, etc. will suffice. But, PLEASE don’t follow the example of one mentally challenged collector who put his social security number on all of his guns with a vibro-tool!
All of your guns should be wiped at regular intervals, the interval depends on your local humidity and other conditions, with a top grade polarizing oil. A polarizing oil is one made up of polarized molecules. That is, one end of the molecule seeks metal (metalophilic) and avoids water. Thus, when placed on top of an invisible film of moisture on metal, such molecules will move through the water film and cling to the metal, forming a tight layer between the water and the metal. There are several polarizing gun oils on the market. I recommend Beeman’s MP-5 metalophilic oil, not because I have any connection with the Beeman company now (I don’t), but because I personally tested all the polarizing oils that I could find by coating metal plates exposed for months on the top of our commercial building. In these tests, MP-5 surpassed all other products, easily beating those well-known products found in every hardware or gun store.
Look to yourself on the matter of corrosion. Some persons are known as “rusters” because they can cause a rusty fingerprint on just about any steel surface that they touch. Others can handle guns with much less hazard. It may be a matter of natural selection, but most gun collectors seem to be “non-rusters”. The problem with being a non-ruster is that you forget to be careful when others are handling your guns. Adopt the habit of museum curators, always wear thin white cotton gloves when handling collection materials. Keep extra pairs of the gloves handy and religiously insist that visitors wear them when handling your guns. Wash them regularly with detergent. Also consider that, reportedly, the residue of tobacco smoke increases corrosion of steel surfaces (to say nothing of the fact that the tobacco smoke makes gun truly stink! I can tell, as soon as the box is opened, when I have been shipped a gun by a smoker!).
In Copenhagen the humidity is frequently high and the Royal Danish Arsenal (Tøjhusmuseum) is not well suited to humidity control. The late curator Arne Hoff introduced me to Frigilene, a special air-drying lacquer that they apply to the well-cleaned surfaces of their metallic specimens. First they separate the metal from the wood parts and then remove all corrosion from the steel and iron surfaces ONLY by electrolysis – a very gentle technique which now is easily adopted by individual collectors. (See the websites at www.oldengine.org/members/billd/electrol.htm and http://nautarch.tamu.edu/class/anth605/File10a.htm.). Some of the electrolysis techniques used for old engines are a bit crude for good guns. One helpful reader has suggested that, instead of tap water, you should use only distilled water (available at low cost at the supermarket) and, instead of rebar, you should use unplated (weldable) mild steel mesh from Lowes or other such firm. He has also found that voltages that are too high tend to discolor the metal, so start easy and work up to higher power. For steel we just remove all loose rust, perhaps cleaning very carefully, and very little, with 0000 steel fur oiled with a top rust resisting compound such as Beeman MP-5 (WD-40 is only a fairly good substitute. BTW, I no longer make any profit from sales of any Beeman products! But, I personally tested all the rust preventives on bare steel samples on the roof of our former commercial building and found MP-5 to be MUCH better than the other such products) and then thoroughly degrease the metal. For brass and bronze specimens we very carefully clean the surfaces with Brasso (available at hardware stores) on soft cotton rags and then degrease. (Once again, be sure that you are not cleaning off a factory finish – like the factory black finish on Benjamin airguns.) The warm varnish is then applied with a fine brush or by dipping. The resulting clear, protective coating is virtually undetectable. Its very best use is on brass and bronze surfaces that would otherwise become dull and dark – a condition certainly not intended by the maker. Of course, the very worst thing that you can do to ANY gun, no matter how corroded it is, is to apply a wire brush or wire wheel. If you insist on using a wire wheel on a gun, please use it to thoroughly polish your fingernails, eyelids, and nose first!
If you have selected an underground area or basement for the collection, you must prevent very much moisture from entering the collection area. Obviously you should be selecting an earthen area with as good drainage as possible and you must have a drainage bed leading to an automatic sump pump with an emergency power failure backup and a water level alarm. (See the Grainger catalog or website (www.grainger.com) for some excellent automatic sump pump packages.) If possible coat the inner and outer surface of concrete walls with a high quality waterseal. Actually, concrete sealing materials, such as Thoroseal, can be so effective that two well-applied coats on the inside generally will do the trick. An elastomeric flexible barrier material is much better as it won't crack like Thoroseal. The floor concrete should be poured over a strong plastic moisture barrier on top of drain rock and then sealed with an elastomeric waterproofing. If you have to accept an existing concrete floor, heavily coat it with a floor or roof sealant. Select a material that will accept floor tiles or (better) solid vinyl floor covering.
It is best, and perhaps essential, to control the humidity of the collection area. I remember sadly walking away from the sale of a big airgun collection that had been kept on an above-ground concrete block wall The back of each gun was solid rust and some really rare guns actually were stuck to the wall. Good humidity control generally means having doors (and windows, if present) that have good weather stripping and not having forced air heat, or other ducts, leading into the area. The drier it is the better for metal surfaces, but if it is too dry there will be cracking of wood parts. Most museums have determined that 50% humidity is about the right compromise for wood and steel. Humidity is relative to temperature, but the temperature, within a reasonably comfortable range, is not very critical as long as the humidity remains at 50%. We maintain a balance of 50% humidity and 70 degrees F. Excellent, inexpensive digital humidity/temperature meters are now available. You should make it a habit to check the readings at least once a week, or to have a remote readout that is checked weekly. You will need a dehumidifier with an adjustable humidistat to remove the inevitable excess moisture from the air. You must empty its water tank manually or find a way to run a drain line out. Since you will be holding the temperature around 70 degrees F, you do not need an expensive low temperature dehumidifier. Check the floor area of the room housing the collection and determine the humidity of your locality to establish what size dehumidifier you will need. A small electric heater with a thermostat may be necessary, but it must be located and watched as a fire hazard. A tip-over shut-off is mandatory for the heater. Again, the Grainger catalog or website is a good source of this equipment.
If guns are to be stored, they, and their containers, must be completely dry and of equal temperature before the guns are enclosed. Allow at least 24 hours for the guns and cases to equalize. Cold guns in a warm case are a sure combination for rusting. And remember that cold guns, even inside cases, will cause moisture to condense on their surfaces when taken into a warmer area. This is of special importance when transporting the guns, as to a gun show. Guns must be evenly coated with metalophilic oil. Cases must have sulfur free linings. The stretch-on GunSocks or Sack-Ups with silicone impregnation are an excellent choice. Their form fitting nature allows many guns to be closely stacked without the guns blemishing each other.
Desiccants and Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors (VCIs) are quite effective in helping prevent corrosion, but they generally are not prime choices for even fairly good-sized collections. They both require well-sealed containers of small size to be effective and they usually are not cost effective for large collections (a VCI bag to protect one pistol costs $20.00!). And, too many users of these products tend to put them in with guns and then forget them – until their effectiveness is long gone!
You can minimize damage when shipping guns by being sure that the guns are so firmly packed and wrapped that they cannot move, especially toward their muzzles. Rifle barrels can act as pointed battering rams so effectively that the gun may arrive at its destination with the muzzle protruding from the package, sometimes by as much as a foot! It is so important that the package, especially if it contains only one rifle, cannot bend that experienced gun shippers sometimes pack a board along side the well-padded gun or ship the gun in a wooden case. If a long delicate barrel can be easily removed from the gun, an excellent way to pack it is to encase it in a piece of PVC or ABS plastic pipe, suitably packed with tightly wadded papers, and sealed at the ends with a plastic pipe cap or fiberglass tape. Each individual gun should be firmly “mummy-wrapped” with several sections of newspapers, well taped all around the papers – preferably with fiberglass strapping tape or fiber reinforced packing tape. Do not allow any packing tapes or “bubble-wrap” to touch any part of the gun; I have received guns which had a permanent print of the bubble-wrap design over the stock work and metal finish!. Plastic air bags and foam pebbles generally are worse than terrible as gun packing material - guns simply move through such material with ease and are soon poking out into the cruel world. Overlap bands of fiber reinforced tape around the outside of the box in every direction. Do not apply any labels, even peel-off labels, directly to the gun. I have a wonderful, very valuable Giffard CO2 rifle from the 1800’s which reminds me of this every time I see the circular blemish on the stock where the seller had applied an adhesive price tag.
When shipping a gun, never give any external clue as to the contents. The Acme Gun Repair Service should give the sender’s name as the AGRS Company and provide similar gun-free, brand-free naming for the recipient. Marking the outside as “Fragile – Pneumatic Device” may reduce interest in a rifle-sized box. Of course, you may have to tell the shipper of the true contents, but U.S. law no longer requires external identification of gun bearing packages, even on the airlines. When asked if it is a firearm, firmly tell the shipper, very truthfully, that it is NOT a firearm, that it is “just”a “BB gun” or a “pellet gun” – preferably a non-functional one. Or avoid the "G word" completely and refer to it as a "pneumatic projector". Generally one should not use U.S. Postal Services when shipping guns, especially to a rural destination. Air pistols are not allowed in the mails and the USPS may leave a shipped gun in a remote mailbox or on a doorstep. UPS, Airborne Express, and FedEx generally will take the package directly to the door, even a very remote rural door, and require a signature from an adult. After the 9/11 event, many carriers started to refuse shipments containing guns, even airguns. Note that it is not illegal to do something, like ship an airgun (except an air pistol by US Postal Service); it is just against the carrier's policy. One service that still accepts guns is UPS Ground and their rates generally are lower than any other carrier including the US Post Office.