Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Sunday, June 5, 2022

A Neglected Prussian Daly

 This Daly had clearly sat unused, and apparently uncared for, for quite some time.  The forend tip and grip cap were missing, it was coated in rust and caked-on dirt and it didn't "present well".  The client was willing to bet that this gun was a diamond in the rough so he sent it here to be properly cleaned and have it gone over and through.

The before and after condition is fairly startling, and highlights the importance of employing proper methods of cleaning, in order to preserve any original finish that may remain, as well as any patina that the gun has acquired over the decades.

I know, everybody thinks that cleaning a gun is a "piece of cake", "it's easy", "we'll shine that right up".   Well, I've too often seen the results of well-meaning but ill-informed attempts at cleaning vintage guns and it's often not very pretty.  Here's a hint, wire wheels and wire brushes are never the answer.  Neither is any sort of abrasive compound like Flitz or Simichrome.  That kind of treatment may well get the gun "clean" but its value (and looks) will surely suffer for it.


After consulting with the client, it was decided that the missing forend and grip cap would be made in ebony.


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Training vs. Education

 In the gun world, much stock is put into being "English-trained" by both those that practice gunsmithing and by those who employ the services of a gunsmith.  I've often been asked "where I trained" or, "who I apprenticed under". The answer to both is the same:  No one.  I, much like my beloved dogs, am not "trained" at all, nor would I have wished to be so.  I am self-educated* in all things that interest me, including gunmaking.  

Training and education are not the same thing, regardless of the fact that many use the terms interchangeably.  Training to do a task is to learn a sequence of steps necessary in order to complete that particular task in a prescribed manner.  Almost anyone can be trained to do almost any one thing, as the military has proven for decades.  Let us take an example from the English gun trade, the barrel maker.  This individual is trained in the steps necessary to take a pair of tubes, a blank for the forend lug and some rib stock and turn this collection of material into a rough assembly, ready for the actioner to take and make into a jointed action.  After the gun is finished, the barrel maker may, or may not, see that set of barrels again for choking, chambering or whatever else, depending upon the particular manufacturer's protocol.  He would train his apprentice to do the job in the same way he was taught as an apprentice.  He was not educated in other aspects of gunmaking because there was no need for him to be, since the company had trained individuals for each aspect of making the gun.  The truth is that, at least in the English trade, the only person who understood more than one aspect of gunmaking was most likely the finisher, because it is this individual that has to take everyone else's work and make it all function as a whole.

 Being "trained" is to be conditioned to think "inside the box".  To learn how but not necessarily why.  To do as you're told (trained) to do.  Sit, speak, roll over.  There is no room for imagination or improvisation, nor is there any need, because there is no perceived need to comprehend the work in any greater context. 

 "Do it this way because this is the way it's done."  Why (assuming the critical thinking skills to even ask)?  "Because that's the way it's always been done."  

Being educated is precisely to understand the greater context, to gain broader knowledge, to understand the "why" and let that drive the "how".  In gunmaking, it is to understand the entire gun as the system that it actually is.  It is to not only understand the function but also the materials used in each and every part.  

It is this very lack of understanding that is at the root of the widespread incompetence in this industry.

Training discourages furthering one's knowledge, understanding and abilities.  It is also finite, once you're trained, that's it.  Education encourages furthering all of those areas and it goes on for life.


 *Given the choice between credentials and competence, I'll take competence every time.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Leather Covered Recoil Pads Gallery

A sampling of leather covered recoil pads I've done, showing different hides, colors and styles.

Dakota Model 10
Kangaroo hide over Silver's base

Parker Repro
Pig hide over Silver's base
Pig hide over Pachmayr base
Pig hide over Silver's base
Pig hide over Silver's base
Pig hide over Silver's base
Caesar Guerini
Pig hide over Silver's base
Beretta DT-10
Goat hide over Pachmayr base
Pig hide over Pachmayr base

Hand made 28 GA
Kangaroo hide over custom base

Custom Fox
Kangaroo hide over Silver's base

Friday, May 6, 2022

More Stupid Forum Shit

1. Checking for "off the face":

 Why does anyone believe that any break action gun needs to have the forend removed before checking to see if the barrels are off the face?  

The forend iron in all conventionally designed break action guns serves multiple purposes.  The most obvious purpose is as a place to attach the forend wood.  Another purpose is to serve a place to either house, or in some instances, to attach, the ejector mechanism but the primary purpose of the forend iron (in a conventional design) is to stabilize the joint/pivot.  It does this by pulling the barrels forward, thus ensuring full contact of the hook's concave face against the hinge pin's mating convex surface.  This is what provides primary lateral support to the barrels, not the fit of the lump to the frame slot, as is commonly believed. 

 How does the forend pull the barrels forward you wonder?  It does this by spanning the distance between the action knuckle and the barrel's forend lug with what amounts to a very slight interference fit.  The forend is braced against the action knuckle and rotated into position against its ramped lug, thus putting forward pressure on the barrels as the forend seats.  This is precisely why the forend iron should be in place when checking for an off-face condition.  This is also why the forend iron is in place when the barrels are "blacked down" (mated to the standing breech) during the making of the gun.  

Here's a scenario to ponder:  The gun's barrels appear to be tight on face with the forend removed but when the forend is installed, light suddenly appears between the barrels and standing breech.  Is this gun off the face?  Yes it is, and it means absolutely nothing that the gap closes up when the forend is removed because the forend is a structural part of the mechanism.  There are those that may want to repeat that latter part to themselves, alot.

Scenario two:  The barrels are tight on face with the forend in place but there is vertical movement at the rear, where the barrels meet the standing breech.  Is this gun off the face?  No, the bolting mechanism is either worn or not engaging completely.

It's really that simple.  In a conventionally designed break action gun, the forend iron is integral to the joint's structural integrity.  The mating surfaces of the hook and pin, and the mating surfaces of the action knuckle and forend iron shoe are circle segments with different radii but they share a common axis.  Anything that causes any of these to deviate from that axis (like removing the forend), even by .0005 of an inch will cause perceptible movement.  This is why welding and attempting to refit the hook to a worn hinge pin that isn't round any longer is a fool's errand but I've covered that elsewhere on this blog.

If as many "experts" on forums really knew as much as they think they do (about seemingly everything), there would probably be far fewer f***ed up guns floating around.

2. Shotshell pressures (Again):

I've said it here before but it apparently bears repeating:  There is absolutely zero difference in average or maximum pressures between 2 3/4" and 3" shells, be they 12 or 20 gauge.  Both shell lengths operate at the same pressure levels in their appropriate, or longer, length chambers.

This means that a 3" shell averages 11.5KPSI when fired in a 3 inch chamber, as does a 2 3/4" shell when fired in either a 3 inch or 2 3/4 inch chamber.  These numbers apply to 12 and 20 gauge.

Firing a 3" shell in a too-short chamber will cause an increase in chamber pressure because the hull is opening into the forcing cone.  This would seem obvious, since shell length refers to the FIRED length, NOT the loaded length (another point worth repeating).  The extent to which the pressure will increase over normal is dependent upon certain factors, such as hull material and thickness, forcing cone angle, payload weight and shot size and powder burn rate.

"But, muh 3" shells urr magnums!", you say?  No, Cooter, they're not.  Your 2 3/4 and 3 inch "magnum" shotshells operate at no greater pressure than any other shotshell.  It's called marketing, the same force that is responsible for the very existence of the abominations known as 3 inch shotshells.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Bugatti Inspired Fox

 This one started as a Philly-era Sterlingworth in 16 gauge with 30 inch barrels.  The client commissioned it as a gift for his son's graduation from West Point.  Being a perfectly normal young man, the son's interests include, among other things, exotic cars.  One exotic car in particular would figure heavily in the aesthetics of this gun, that being the 2015 Bugatti Atlantic.  For those not familiar, some photos are shown below.  Of note are the bright-trimmed crease that runs along the car's centerline and the similarly trimmed Bugatti-signature "coves" around the doors.  This isn't going to be the typical "me too" custom gun.

As stated previously, the gun that I started with is a Philadelphia-made Sterlingworth, 16 gauge with 30 inch barrels.  As always, the most important criteria for a gun that will serve as a base, is excellent, unaltered bores.  It seems most of the guns that meet this criteria are also in pretty good condition overall, and this one was no exception.  The gun, as received, is pictured below.  I'm sure that the collector types will have a fit over the fact that I "ruined another one" but that isn't my concern.

Making a custom gun is about far more than simply good looks and pretty wood.  Those things are actually incidental.  The real motivation is to make it as close to perfect as can be and, believe me, when you're starting with a production American double, that is a long journey.  There is a commonly held belief that Philadelphia-made small-frame Fox guns are somehow "better" than those that were later made in Utica.  This is nonsense.  Externally, the Philly guns may have been slightly better finished and there are some parts of those guns that might have slightly more pleasing shapes, but internally, where it counts, they're just as crude as any Utica gun.  That being so, the first order of business on any custom Fox project, after disassembly and annealing, is to make the frame flat and standing breech surfaces smooth and actually flat.  These surfaces are never either of those things as they came from the factory, usually looking like they were finished with a clogged-up bastard file.  The reason that this is the first operation is that once this is done, the action must be rejointed so that the barrels meet the frame as they should have when they were built.  Is all of this really necessary?  Not if you're a hack that cares not for quality in craftsmanship.  Poorly finished surfaces anywhere, internal or external, are inexcusable on a custom gun.

Fitting the new hinge pin and hinge pin lock pins.  Note the bevel around the barrel lug slot and the radiused corners.   Beside looking good, this also serves to eliminate stress raisers in that area.

Here are a couple of photos of the bolt bore area.  Tell me more about Philadelphia "quality".

With the barrels and frame rejointed, refitting and shaping the forend iron was next.  But before that, the internal finish of the forend iron needed to be addressed, since the sides of the forend iron looked like they were cut on a table saw with a dull blade.



The iron was refit and the "shoe" area was reshaped using chisels and scrapers.

The forend gap cover and its associated parts were made and fit.

Blanking out the new toplever

I made a new top rib that is flat on its top surface and narrower than original.  This was done so that the portion of the stub rib that meets coves around the fences could be used as a styling element.  With the barrels closed the coves appear to actually extend over the barrels.

 The forend tip blanked out

 And finished

I did not photograph many of the other parts as I made them because it would be redundant.  The making of triggers, triggerguards, safety slides, etcetera, has all been covered here before.  

Here is the gun wearing its pattern stock and forend.  In keeping with the automotive styling theme, there are no exposed screws on the gun.  The triggerplate screw is hidden under a cover that is retained by the triggerguard, there are no triggerguard screws (no, I'm not showing how I did it), and the breechscrew is hidden by the toplever.  The hole for the hand screw is welded shut and there is a threaded lug on the tang to receive the screw.  The added hand screw lug also creates a much larger bearing surface in an area of the inletting where this is sorely lacking.

The recoil pad is covered in black kangaroo and hand-stitched around its periphery, using a modified saddle stitch.  The contrasting thread color was chosen to key to the color of the Turkish walnut blank with which I will stock the gun.   Yes, the stock's crease continues into the rubber of the pad and yes, it was a bastard to do.

Here is the blank I will be using to stock the gun.