BOTW: Jim's Higgins Build

Tom R
by Tom R

The 24th Installment of Build of the Week was contributed by Jim. So basically this is the Craftsman Tools of shotguns… Pretty interesting collector’s piece (with a little bit of the history), and even more interesting that Jim modded it (there is always the question of keeping it for the collector’s value or for the utility). I think this is also the first shotgun we have seen in this series! I’m not sure why there is a picture of Walter White on the wall, though…

We are doing installments 23 and 24 back to back in a shorter time window as we have a huge surprise coming up for SHOT. Voting for Set 6 will be on the 9th… Stay tuned and definitely cast your votes.

Keep the submissions coming in! We are publishing them in the order in which they were received (with the exception of a single person submitting back to back–those will get spread out).

You can submit your own build at

A friend that knew I liked shotguns offered to sell me a 1950s JC Higgins 12 gauge pump gun. Higgins was the Sears house brand in the 1950’s and this model was made by High Standard in Connecticut. The gun was well made design very similar to a Mossberg 500 with a nice walnut stock, but it had 70 years of hard use.

The original configuration was a 28” field gun with a Pachmayr Power-Pac choke tube system and a 15 inch length of pull. When I mounted. The gun it felt like holding a telephone pole. I decided to tighten it up. I took 3 1/2” out of the stock and 8 1/2 inches out of the barrel. I silver soldered and welded the Power-Pac tube on the barrel as I needed its length to stay longer than 18 inches.

I replaced all the missing parts and springs (Thank You Numrich) then sand blasted the parts and refinished them with Brownells Gun-Kote. I fitted a steel butt plate to my mahogany stained stock for a 11 1/2 inch length of pull, along with new sights and it’s ready to go.

The gun is 37” long, light and handles quickly. It reminds you that 2 3/4” 12 Gauge is a powerful round when you pull the trigger. I’m Extremely pleased with the way this project turned out.

Comment below to ask Jim questions about this build.

TFB’s BOTW Prize Packs are provided by STRIKE INDUSTRIES

Tom R
Tom R

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he teaches wilderness medicine and runs an on-demand medical staffing business. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it--he is known (in certain circles) for his curse...ahem, find the breaking point of anything.You can reach him at tom.r AT or at

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3 of 43 comments
  • WmBIII WmBIII on Jan 17, 2019

    Congratulations on your BOTW win! When I first glanced at the article’s opening photo, I said “that looks like my J. C. Higgins!” First and best bird gun I own. Lightweight, ribbed barrel with front and rear bead sights, three chokes and I’ve had it since 1967. Now I’ll have to go shopping at Numrich Arms to get those tired springs replaced. Good article and nice work!

  • KY Investor KY Investor on Jan 18, 2019

    B. O. T. W.

    Being a part of this contest is an unexpected joy, and has been a lot of fun. I enjoy reading the varied content on T. F. B. and saw a request last summer for pictures of home built guns. Having just wrapped up a project I emailed some cell phone pics. Then I immediately forgot about it.

    All of the other builders submissions look fantastic, and I expect one of those great looking AR’s will win build of the year, as they are much more popular than old Sears Shotguns.

    Since this contest has advanced (and I love talking about old guns) I’m sending the long version of the guns story if anyone cares to look.

    The original owner of this shotgun was Foster Pumphrey, a school teacher from Somerset Kentucky. I bought it from his grandson, who is the best bird hunter I have ever met, and taught me everything I know about upland hunting. I told him I was looking for a project shotgun to tinker with. He thought he had just what I was looking for, he inherited this gun from his grandfather and it had not been out of his closet in 30 years. We agreed to a fair price of $125 and he understood I would heavily modify the gun. He is not the sentimental type, his guns are tools, and he owns dozens.

    This is the gun as I received it. It is a J. C. Higgins model 20 Deluxe in 12 gauge. The Sears item number is 583.56 and it bears no individual serial numbers, so it predates the 1968 gun control act. I believe the gun dates to the early 1950’s. J.C. Higgins was a Sears house brand, as was Ranger before WWII and Ted Williams starting in the in the mid 1960’s. It was manufactured by High Standard of Hamden, Connecticut, who was better known for their excellent.22 pistols. For more information about High Standard check out John Stimson’s excellent website

    I started researching the gun and ordering parts from and supplies from I also watched Larry Potterfield videos. I have a love/hate relationship with Mr Potterfield, he is so knowledgeable and his videos are super informative, but he is such a perfectionist that it makes me feel awful when my gun is not perfect. Mark Novak also has unbelievably good content

    I tore the shotgun completely down and inspected the parts. I marked my barrel and stock for length cuts. The toughest part of this build was learning to silver solder. I had to sweat the off the Power-Pac choke, resize the barrel and re solder it back. I want to thank my friend Doyle who used to solder appliance parts for GE for his help. I got it on and correctly aligned on the third try.

    It took two weeks of filling dents and polishing parts before I sand blasted all my metal parts. Then I realized I’m an idiot for polishing then sandblasting. I try to paint asap before I have any surface rust. I have used Brownells Gunkote on three or four guns in the past and been very happy with the results and durability. This time I went from using rattle cans to buying it by the pint. GunKote requires you to spray then bake the part at 325F. if you watch it closely it gives off a light smoke when it reaches temperature.

    To prep my bare metal parts for paint I hung all the parts on little paint racks I made, then I spray them with brake cleaner. Before I paint each individual piece I warm it up with a torch, then give it one more shot of break cleaner. I filled my siphon paint gun with matte black base coat, got my air flow just right, and that’s when the trouble started. With only a pint of paint in my gun the siphon was to short and it kept sucking up air with the paint. It came out is spurts and spits instead of an even spray. I ran the paint gun smoothly down the barrel and it looked like it was hit with 4 or 5 paintballs. I had to make an emergency run into town late on a Sunday afternoon to get a gravity feed gun. I found a very nice Ingersoll-Rand at Tractor Supply and it cost more than the shotgun. After a few test passes it did a beautiful job. I rushed the painted parts to my kitchen and threw them in the oven for an hour. They didn’t look very good. Splotches and runs from the first paint gun had time to set. I spent the next week repolishing the gun mostly with 0000 steel wool and a cloth wheel on my bench grinder. I repeated my prep then internal pieces such as the bolt and fire control I resprayed black. The rest of the gun was resprayed Olive Drab. When I paint I use light coats again and again and again. Parts went back in the oven, smoked rolled and they were done. They came out very nice this time, even color and the gunkote smooths out the rough sandblasted finish during the baking.

    The wrist of the stock had a hairline crack so I drilled out pockets and ran two 3 1/2” deck screws from the receiver face straight back to the pistol grip then glassed them in. I hand sanded down my walnut stock and fore-end up to 800 grit. Then I hit it with the cloth wheel.

    The old Soviet AKs with reddish wood furniture always looked so distinctive that I wanted to try to replicate that color on this gun. I stained it with several rubbings of a mahogany stain by Behlen. I wanted it to really pop so then I wiped the stock and fore end with coat of gloss polyurethane. Bad idea. It was full of bubbles and runs......I knew what I had to do and out came the 80 grit paper to take the plastic off the stock and fore end. Then resand and restain.

    My original plan was to use the section of stock I had removed to cast a thick Brass butplate on this gun. I spent a whole weekend trying to smelt the brass then sand cast them. A large propane torch was all I had. The brass melted but I couldn’t superheat it to liquefy it to pour the casting. I gave up and slowly fit a widows peak rifle butt plate painted OD on the the stock. The stock was bedded with Acra-Glass to the receiver and butt plate.

    I had to order a kit to drill and tap new sights. That went well, with a brass mid bead and a Tru Glow front sight, but I took my time. I was going to fit this crazy Lyman target sight filed to fit you can see in a couple pictures, but decided to was too oddball looking.

    At this point you look at your gun and realize that it’s just 6 Pounds of Pennsylvania Steel and two pounds of American Walnut, designed and shaped by outstanding craftsman 70 years ago that made a product that was much more than just the sum of its parts.

    Finally came reassembly, and she looked good and felt great. I have never felt a pump shotgun action shuck open and closed like this on does. It’s a buttery heavy feel that ends with that bank vault sound. You really have to feel the action yourself to understand.

    The build took 6 weeks. The gun came out better than I had hoped. The Power-Pac choke devise is the first thing everyone notices and gives the petite 12 gauge a powerful look. The OD gun with reddish walnut furniture really worked. I refurbished another gun in gunmetal blue with light honey colored walnut and it’s not even close to being the eye catcher this one is. I love being able to concentrate on a project and learn new skills. This gun taught me a lot about metal working.

    Thanks again for all the interest in my gun and a big thanks to Tom at T. F. B for putting this content online. Good luck to the other builders, they all look so impressive. My hope is that seeing all the submissions inspires someone else to say “that looks like fun I’m going to try it. “

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