TexasMac's Web Site
REPLACING CROSSHAIRS IN VINTAGE
EXTERNAL ADJUSTABLE SCOPES
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 below.

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 titled
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,
Wayne