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By Wayne McLerran
Posted 3/11/19

I’m a very active large bore black powder cartridge rifle silhouette
(BPCRS) and
.22 BPCR silhouette rifle shooter with aging eyes forcing
me to use a riflescope which must have external adjustments per the
match requirements.  After researching the various scopes available,
rather than spend $1,000 plus for modern copies of external adjustable
scopes, I settled on J.W. Fecker vintage scopes which can be found in
great shape for $500 to $600.  “Fecker’s” were made from the early
1920’s to the 1950’s, but most of the ones I’ve run across and
purchased were from the late 1920’s to mid 1930’s.  Around the same
time period, there were several other manufacturers of similar scopes,
Stevens, Winchester, Unertl, Litschert and Lyman to name a few of the
better known brands.  Besides standard crosshairs, examples of other
configurations included reticles with tapered or vertical post topped
with a horizontal crosshair and crosshairs with one or more dots added.
The vintage scopes have reticles with crosshairs made from fine wire,
hair or even spider web.  I remember reading about an old scope and
transit repair guy that kept a few black widow spiders in separate jars
in his shop.  When replacing crosshairs he’d open a jar and, using a
card with a hole in the center larger than the reticle, entice the
spider to crawl onto the card; then gently shake it off so that it hung
on its web.  He’d roll the card a couple of times so that the web
crossed the hole then drop the spider back into the jar.  If a thicker
crosshair was required the card was rolled additional times and two or
more of the silk webs were combined with tweezers.  I assume the
card with the hole was gently positioned over the reticle and the web
strands glued in place.

Over many decades, the fragile crosshairs can become dirty or
damaged due to rough use.  Damage can also result from removing the
eyepiece (ocular) housing to clean the inside of the ocular lens or
attempting to clean the crosshairs.  It’s also somewhat common for
the crosshairs to be destroyed while removing the reticle housing
because one or both of the small reticle locking screws were stripped
due to overzealous tightening after adjustment.  The reticle housing is
typically made of brass and has thin walls so it doesn’t take much
torque to strip the threads.  If the eyepiece and objective housings
are never removed than its unlikely the crosshairs can become dirty.  
When the eyepiece housing is removed on some scopes, Fecker’s for
example, the reticle is exposed at the end of the scope tube and there’
s no protection for the extremely delicate crosshairs.  See the photo

For various reasons I’ve replaced the crosshairs in several Fecker’s, a
couple of Unertl’s and one Lyman.  Two scopes were purchased for a
very good price knowing the crosshairs were damaged.  Some arrived
with usable but dirty crosshairs, two of which I broke while attempting
to clean them.  One had both
of the reticle locking screws stripped
and required repairs, and another had a wide vertical post I replaced
with a wire.  It’s a delicate process and requires patience when
handling the extremely fine wire which is thinner than a human hair
and hard to see even with the aid of a magnifying glass.

Several years ago there was a fellow on eBay that replaced crosshairs
if you removed and sent the reticle housing.  But he’s no long offering
the service.  So you have three options depending on the situation.  
Crosshairs that have accumulated lint or dust can be very irritating to
the viewer and may be cleaned if absolutely necessary, see the article
Wm Malcolm Style Scope Adjustments and Repairs.  As noted
earlier, I’ve broken a couple during cleaning.  Therefore, if the
crosshairs are dirty but usable consider leaving well enough alone and
live with it.  If they must be replaced there are companies that
specialize in vintage scope repairs including crosshair replacements,
but the complete scope must be shipped to them and most have
substantial backlogs.  The remaining option is to do it yourself, which
brings me to the subject of this article.

If you’ve decided to attempt replacing the crosshairs yourself, where
do you start?  What size wire is required and where can you buy it?  
Since I’d rather not experiment with black widow spiders, I’ve
purchased 3ft lengths of tungsten crosshair wire from a fellow on eBay
with the “handle” of “lostabundle”.  Search for “crosshair wire”.  He
describes his fine wire as having a diameter of 0.0005” and medium as
0.0015” diameter.  For target shooting or match competition I prefer
the 0.0005” diameter wire which I consider very fine.  The 0.0015”
wire will also work.  So as not to lose the crosshair in the image
background, medium or thicker crosshairs are a better solution for
hunting.  Other sources of crosshair material include dental floss,
human or animal hair.  Human hair ranges from 0.0015” to 0.004”
thick.  Dental floss is made up of many very thin strands which are
strong and around 0.0008” to 0.0010” thick and, if installed correctly,
can result in a nice durable crosshair.

“Speaking” of using Dental floss, there is a YouTube video that details
the process of using un-waxed dental floss to replace crosshairs.  The
link is
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65Q-2E6Tz7M.  The video
assumes the reticle housing is removed from the scope.  Due to the
likelihood of damaging the crosshairs when reinstalling the reticle
housing in Fecker scopes, I recommend leaving it in the scope tube
while replacing the crosshairs, which may not be possible with some
scopes such as Lyman’s and Unertl’s.  If the crosshairs can be replaced
without removing the housing, wrap the tube to protect it and clamp
it in a vice as displayed in the following photo of Fecker crosshairs I
recently replaced.  In the following photo the 0.0005” crosshairs are
quite hard to see and portions appear to be slightly dirty or dusty due
to the reflected light, but they are very clean.
If the Fecker reticle housing must be removed, 1st completely
unscrew the eyepiece housing and set it aside.  Now remove the two
opposing screws in the external knurled reticle alignment ring.  Using
a hooked tool of some type, gently hook the front edge of the reticle
housing and pull it out.  Some come out easily and others can be
tough to remove.  There are four very small screws evenly spaced
around the edge of the reticle housing which are used to hold the
crosshair wires in place.  I prefer to use the screws as intended if
they can be loosened, but the wires may be cemented in place if the
screws cannot be loosened with the correct size jeweler’s
screwdriver.  You may find the screws missing if the reticles were
previously replaced.  If not some may still find it easier to remove the
screws and glue the wire in place (centered) over the holes.  If I
remember correctly, Lyman has a ring that holds the crosshairs which
are glued in place.  The ring is attached to the reticle housing with
two screws.  Similar to Fecker’s, the complete reticle housing can be
remove or just the ring when replacing crosshairs.
By the way, at this point you will need a magnifying head set or desk-
mounted magnification lamp.

When wrapping the wires or floss around the screws, wrap in opposite
directions which positions the crossing point of the crosshairs in the
center of the scope tube.  I.e. wrap clockwise around one screw and
counterclockwise around the opposite screw.  If gluing, use a similar
technique covered in the YouTube video but position the crosshair on
the left side of one screw and on the right side of the opposite screw,
or remove the screws and glue the wire in place over the center of
the holes as mentioned earlier.

The above comments are based on my limited experiences replacing a
few scope crosshairs and I have no interest or desire to work on
scopes or replace crosshairs for others.  Therefore you’ll have to
tackle the job yourself or send the scope to a reputable scope repair
company.  I hope my comments have provided some insight on the
process of crosshair replacement.

Wishing you great shooting,