Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Monday, February 12, 2024

Un-!@#$%^^&^-ing a Beautiful Lebeau-Courally BLE

 Here is a Lebeau-Courally BLE in 16 gauge that suffered more than a few problems.  Both hammers had failed, one completely and the other cracked completely through the pivot hole.  All of the screw slots had suffered at the hands of the last individual who had attempted repairs on the gun.  They also beat the snot out of the sear and hammer pivot pins, which originally had polished, concave ends.  After disassembly and a thorough inspection of the damage, the lengthy journey of correctly repairing everything began.  

It started with the creation of new left and right hammers made from O1.  It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to determine why either hammer failed at the points that they did.  The left hammer cracked through the pivot, the crack originating at a tool mark near the sear notch.  The right hammer failed exactly where it was (apparently) designed to, at the sharp inside corner, situated right at the point where the hammer would flex the most.  When making the new hammers, I replaced that sharp inside corner with a radius, so as to prevent a replay of previous events.

The broken right hammer was temporarily glued together so that I could trace its outline.

The "nose" (firing pin) portion of the hammers was cut on the milling machine, using a shop-made profile cutter.

The finished parts...

Obviously, fitting new hammers entails addressing things like: sear engagement, firing pin protrusion, cocking timing, overdraw, ejector function, etc. but these things aren't the most photogenic processes, which is why they are not shown.

Before the new screws can be made, there are internal repairs to the head of the stock which must be completed.


Now, on to the screws (of which there are many)...

Making the screws from 1020 (they are case hardened after engraving)

The new screws, ready for engraving.  Note the toplever lockscrew is screwed into an aluminum extension.  This is so that it can be held in my engraving vise.

All finished:

A Checkered Butt Extension for a Guerini

 A checkered but for a gun with a drawbolt-retained buttstock presents a bit of a challenge because of the need to access to that very bolt.  

The way the big manufacturers do it is, typically, to simply use a buttplate of conventional design but made of the same type of wood as the stock.  They are however, never made from the same piece, nor is the grain orientation in the same direction, which would compromise the strength of the buttplate.  Needless to say, this, combined with the presence of the buttplate screws doesn't make for a very convincing representation of a checkered butt.  It just looks like a wooden buttplate.

The other common method is to use an oval (usually more of a rectangle with rounded corners) plug of wood, also retained by two screws, inlet into the sole of the butt.  In some instances, this doesn't look too bad but the screws still spoil the look.

The drawbolt in a Guerini over/under is of the Allen (or socket) head type and is held captive by an aluminum plug pressed into the bolt bore, which not only prevents the bolt from being lost, it also acts as a guide for the Allen key, thanks to the "funnel" machined into the rear end.  The captive bolt means that the only access necessary is a 6mm hole (to comfortably accept the 5mm key).  Figuring that a single, small hole in the butt would probably look a whole lot better than two screw heads and an obvious seam, that is the direction that I took.

Since this was to be a considerable extension, the weight of the added piece had to be considered.  The gun's balance was preserved by boring multiple holes completely through the extension, which were then plugged with shallow plugs.  The plugs were turned from the same piece of walnut with the same grain orientation as the extension.

The plugs are epoxied in place, making sure that the grain followed that of the surrounding wood.  The access hole also got an aluminum "bezel" to prevent the checkering from getting beat up around the hole during future maintenance.

After the epoxy cured, the but was shaped in preparation for finishing and checkering. 

All finished.  The plugs are all but invisible.

Repairing a Colt 1849

 This one had a few issues.  The cylinder would not carry up, nor would it lock into position and, the mainspring was broken.  The carry up issue was, as expected, due to a broken hand spring (not an uncommon issue in these old Colts).  The cylinder stop malfunction was not however caused by any issue with its spring, but with the screw upon which it pivots.  It seems that the cylinder stop screw (as well as the trigger pivot screw) had, somehow, developed multiple bends.  

Obviously, these need to be replaced.

New screws were turned and threaded on the lathe (the blank for the new hand spring has also been made and fit).

Then I finished off each end of the screws and engraved them in the appropriate pattern before heat treating them.

Then, it's on to the mainspring, which is made from 1095.

Machining the thickness taper...

Heat treated and finished...

After reassembly, it functions (and looks) as it should.  Yes, the grips are factory ivory, which I find repugnant.  Sadly (and shamefully), people seem to prize ivory today just as much as they did back then.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Where Do These Ideas Come From?

 Apparently, due to the pistolsmithing (and other) work I've posted here lately, there are those who think that I'm no longer working on shotguns (doubles specifically).  I have no idea where that notion originates.  Do these people think that I've forgotten how to work on doubles because I work on something else?  Do they believe that "specializing" in one thing is the only measure of competence?  If it is the latter, have you noticed that I've got a whole blog full of posts showing the incompetence of which "trained specialists" are capable?

The facts are these:  Machines are machines and craftsmanship is craftsmanship.  If you can comprehend one mechanism, you can comprehend any mechanism and, if you're capable of craftsmanship, then it doesn't matter what you're working on, be it a pistol, a shotgun, a watch or a motorcycle.  

Since I'm on the subject of craftsmanship, here are a few tips in regards to the C-word:

#1 - The most important skill to develop is the ability look at your own work objectively, as if you were looking at someone else's, and if it's not up to snuff, either make it right or pitch it and start over.  This is called being conscientious.  For those unfamiliar with that word, you can find it in a thing called a dictionary.   I realize that that can get expensive but that's good incentive to do it right the first time.  Far too many people fall in love with their own work, seemingly in direct proportion to the amount of time that they have in it.

#2 - When you start getting impressed with yourself, take a deep breath, apply the above rule and embrace reality.

#3 - Don't be in a hurry to become a "master" because it will never happen.  It matters not how long you've done anything, you'll never know it all.  No matter what you do, you're always a student.  In this business, especially, only the most arrogant dare to refer to them selves as a "master gunsmith/gunmaker".

See that?  Sometimes free advice is actually worth more than you paid for it.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Quotes Best Ignored

 I don't put too much stock in quotes.  Too often they are nothing more than platitudes, misapplied and often misattributed.  A perfect example of the latter is Einstein's "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."  

Number one, that is NOT the definition of insanity and, number two, Einstein never said it.  That quote is from a book, written in the 1980s by Rita Mae Brown, titled Sudden Death.  

Then we have the ever-popular and supremely trite "All politics is local."  The next time anyone throws that one at you, ask for an actual, coherent explanation of its meaning (um, uh, and random stuttering do NOT go toward word count).  

There are two quotes that particularly make my skin crawl though, mostly because, on a daily basis, I interact with the results of those quotes being taken to heart.  They are "Perfection is the enemy of the good." and, "Done is better than good."

These two quotes attempt to legitimize the ideology of the incompetent, the belief of the bungler, the mantra of the mediocre.  If you agree with either (or both), and have little to no mechanical comprehension and manual dexterity, combined with the know-it-all hubris of a teenager, perhaps a career in the gunsmithing field is for you.

Pursuit of Perfection by Other Means

 For those of you who might be interested in such things, I've created a separate blog to cover the watchmaking work.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Sleeving an A.A. Brown BLE

 This gun came in to repair a failed rib "tack down" job and turned out to be a shining example of the consequences of such half-assery.  At some point in the past, the Brown featured here had experienced a partial rib separation, which, to properly correct, would necessitate the complete removal of all ribs and forend lug.  It seems that whoever was responsible for this mess didn't think that all of that work (and expense) was necessary.  Their brilliant idea was to simply use lots of acidic flux to get the solder to adhere to the steel.  Clearly, our hero gun-plumber either didn't know, or care, about the consequences of leaving that acidic soup between the ribs (I'm betting that both are true) because the job was "done".

Yes, the foul stew that is American (and English) gunsmithing, which seems to consist of equal parts ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, witchcraft and hubris, has provided yet another bad example for your viewing pleasure.


After removing most of the rust:


If some of those areas of pitting look pretty deep, it's because they are.  Here is one of the tubes after cutting it off.

The mating edges of the rib also suffered.

At this point, if the title of the post wasn't enough of a clue, it's clear that sleeving is the only cost-effective route to salvation for the gun.  Here are some photos detailing the process.

 Because I do not do "TIG" sleeving, the tubes must mate perfectly to the (now "monobloc") breech, so that the seam will be invisible.  If you think that TIG sleeving is a good idea, have at it, but I prefer not to have the chamber and the rest of the tube be joined by a brittle HAZ.  There is probably a good reason that no factory monobloc designs are welded.

After the time consuming job of filing new mating surfaces on the top rib, the whole works are tinned, cleaned, rosin fluxed, fixtured and soldered into an assembly.

At this point, the barrel assembly would be cleaned and the chambers and extractor bed recut, but, we have a bit more fuckery to remedy.  You see, when the barrels were last "repaired" and reblued, our hero polished the breech faces of the barrels to the point that the barrels are now off the face.  Now, the typical jerk-off "gunsmiff" would get out their TIG torch, weld up the barrel hook with a birdshit mess of weld, then use a Dremel tool in a futile attempt to get the hook to actually fit the hinge pin, blissfully oblivious to their own idiocy.   Because the hinge pin in this gun is screwed in, I made its replacement from O1 so that it could be heat treated (through hardened and tempered).

The finished (and heat treated) pin installed:

Followed by the original outer cover screw:

Now, the barrels are blacked down and the chambers and extractor beds are cut.  Notice the red grease on the frame knuckle?  That's there because the forend iron is in place during the blacking down process.  This is because the forend iron's function is to pull the barrels tight onto the hinge pin, stabilizing the joint.  That's why one does NOT remove the forend to check if a gun is off the face.

You'd think we were near the end but, no, there is more dipshittery to correct.  Apparently, someone thought that they could make a toplever spring, in two parts, welded together.

Naturally, work of this caliber wouldn't be complete without at least one trashed screw slot.

The chokes are adjusted to the client's specifications and the barrels are polished in preparation for recutting  the engraving and rust bluing.