The Browning A5 12 Gauge: Resurrecting a Legend, Part 2

   04.24.14

The Browning A5 12 Gauge: Resurrecting a Legend, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I updated my 1920s vintage Browning A5 with the Browning Speed-feed capability for faster and smoother reloads and cycling, and I added some magazine capacity in the form of a Nordic Components MXT tube extension for a 9 +1 total capacity. All the upgrades tested out perfectly, but I knew there was more that could be done to update the nearly century old Browning.

For this next upgrade phase, I decided to update the front sight bead to a high viz model and update the steel and metal finishes to upgrade the looks and improve durability for another 100 years. Part 3 will cover tackling the stock finish or making a decision to update to something new.

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Sight Update

These days, a fiber optic sight has become standard equipement on most sporting shotguns. I elected to get all crazy, loosen up the purse strings, and add a $7.19 Marbles Expert Shotgun Red Fiber Optic Sight.

This metal housing sight is well constructed, but extremely affordable. The Marbles Expert Shotgun Red Fiber optic sight threaded right into my Lyman Adjustable choke, and it gives me something to stare at and mentally reflect on after I miss all the clays that were just thrown for me. I know some are not big fans of even using the front bead, but I have found that if you are shooting at really close static clay pigeons, as is the case in many competitions these days, it can be a handy reference point. For under $10 it was a worthwhile investment, and it improved my hit ratio a bit.

Choke Tube

Now that I was considering the WMD NiB-X coating, I stared at the uber ugly corn cob Lyman adjustable choke and then stared at it some more. I must have gone back and forth at least a dozen times on whether to convert to screw-in chokes after completing Part 1 of the updates, going so far as to break out the torch only to put it away before desoldering the choke.

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In the end, I kept it for reasons I mentioned in Part 1. With the WMD NiBx coating, the once-ugly choke actually looks pretty steampunk cool now. I am thrilled with the looks and the NiB-X actually improved the patterns on the choke. I could not be happier and I have something unique that no one else has.

Refinish and Finish

Like most affordable Browning A5 12 Gauge shotguns, this auction find picked up for $200 had finish issues — a little surface rust here and there, some ugly spots, and a lot of areas which really necessitated the A5 getting a full re-blueing. I had done this task with my old Browning Sweet 16, the A5 12 gauge’s little brother, and was not in the mood to do it again, especially for a working shotgun.

Spending $200 on the WMD NiB-X coating seemed like a huge time saver that offered a permanent solution to rust and corrosion and added operational lubricity as well. I was sold on the WMD finish after my purchase of the MarineCoat Barnes Precision AR-15, but any firearm can benefit from the coating, even this old Browning A5. It was the right decision.

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The biggest update to looks, durability, operation, and reliability was definitely sending almost all the metal parts off to WMD Guns for their NiB-X coating. Actually, the only metal parts that did not get coated were the small pins, screws, and the bolt assembly, simply because I could not get it fully disassembled as is required for the treatment.

Even after bending three punches, I could not get a couple of the pins to budge on the bolt, so a portion of the bolt was the only metal left untreated. I dark blued the bolt and reblued the screws and pins to add a nice color contrast against the Nib-X coating.

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The WMD Guns NiB-X finish is roughly similar to NP3 or Nickel-Boron (Ni-Bo) finishes, but WMD’s proprietary Nickel-Boron finish adds a huge amount of lubricity and ups the durability as well. This was a $200 upgrade. Disassemble all the parts, package them up and send them off to WMD for coating. In about 60 days, you will have all your parts back fully NiB-X coated. They treat both aluminum and steel the same, so even if you have steel gun parts and an aluminum extension tube, they come out the exactly the same finish. In this case, the parts came out unbelievable.

Honestly the most difficult part was not the disassembly, but the re-assembly. I must have watched the disassembly video linked in the previous article fifty times to get all the pieces back into the A5 and working correctly.

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For this resurrection of a firearm nearly a century old, the silver/grey finish was a huge update to looks, but the WMD treatment does so much more. NiB-X finish will resist scuffs, wear, and moisture, minimize cleaning and lube requirements, and give your action a noticeably smoother feel.

The net result of the treatment was a gorgeous, factory-new-looking Browning A5 that anyone could swear just rolled out of a high tech 1920’s factory in Belgium. The finish is amazing, eye-catching, and very, very slick. I would say that the newly treated parts are nearly twice as slick as they were previously, and tuning of extra-light, medium, and heavy loads with the friction ring juggle was far less sensitive and required less lube for reliable operation. All around this was much more than just a pretty finish upgrade.

Final Thoughts

I was thrilled to be able to breath new life into this nearly 100-year-old but fully functional gun with a little TLC and a few upgrades.

I have run around five boxes of 2 3/4″ shells through the updated A5, and it seems to be much faster cycling after the NiB-X treatment than before and is certainly exponentially smoother cycling. The coating of the Lyman variable choke also seems to have tightened my patterns a bit as well, perhaps because it smoothed and slicked up the choke.

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Of note, there are three different tuning positions in which the recoil and friction rings can be placed for different load powers. The lower power clay loads used extensively in clays, 3Gun competitions, and upland game hunting were very reliable with my previous “medium” tuning spring setting, but lubricity of the WMD NIB-X finish definitely provides a wider reliability range on each tuning stage without running the spring really wet with lube.

The WMD NiB-X finish is top notch and consistent, even among aluminum and steel parts, and my little fiber optic Marbles sight has really helped my clay busting game. The only update that is left are the worn stocks, which either need a finish refresh or new stocks completely. Stay tuned.

This A5 is set to deliver another 100-years hunting and clay shooting. After all, given the technology John Browning used on this original design, I am sure he would celebrate these high tech upgrades to a classic.

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