Artisanal Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Yet Another Tired Myth

 Here's one that anybody in this business has heard countless times from the American doublegun crowd whenever anything about their chosen brand of gun is called into question:

"Well, they must have made them pretty good for them to still be around a hundred years later."

There are minor variations but that's the basic idea of it.  I'd even agree with it if all of those Smiths, Ithacas and whatever else, had actually stood up to 100 (or more) years of actual use while remaining in good serviceable condition.  The trouble is that when a little logic is applied, the above cliche doesn't hold up.  It is almost a guarantee that when one encounters an American double from the "classic era" that is in high original condition, it very likely spent most of those years between its manufacture and today, sitting in a safe, closet or gun cabinet.  These tend to be higher grade guns, purchased out of want, rather than need.

Lower, "field" grade guns at the time were more likely purchased because of a real need, such as to put meat on the table.  These guns obviously did see regular use and often a lot of it.  The results of this use can be seen in any example of this type of gun encountered today.  Many of these guns exhibit every malady known to doubles, things like failed stocks, loose actions, broken springs, etcetera.  

But even these guns were not in constant use during the decades between then and now.  Consider the following: Among the "better off" sportsmen, the repeating and semi-auto guns almost totally supplanted the double, even before world war two.  After the war, a double probably couldn't be given away.  Indeed, most makers either quit making them or went under entirely.  Even those who depended upon a gun to literally be able to eat, eventually passed on, and many of their heirs would be in a better position than the preceding generation, so they wouldn't need a gun to feed their family.  Then, there were the "expert" gunwriters of the day, who made it their personal crusade to convince shooters that all damascus-barreled doubles were looked upon as ticking time bombs that were best hung on the wall, or even thrown into a lake (literally).

So, realistically, how many years of continual use did most of these guns really see?  A decade or possibly two, before being retired to the closet?  Was that decade or two of use trouble-free?  Probably not.  Based upon the number of these guns I've worked on that exhibit "period" repairs, I'm betting on probably not.

A gun's age and its actual "mileage" rarely correlate.

To quote Carl Sagan: It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A New Grip Cap for a Purdey

 A client brought a Purdey pigeon gun in for some work, part of which was replacing the home made grip cap that was on the gun.  One doesn't simply ring up Purdey and order a grip cap for a pigeon gun that was made sixty years ago, and none commercially available are big enough.  Making one from scratch was the only option.

The cap and screw were blanked from 1018.

 The periphery was filed to shape, then the "dome" and shoulder positions were scribed.

 All shaping was filed by hand.

The top (or bottom, if we're being pedantic) was domed and a shadow line was filed in around the periphery.

 While the cap was being engraved by Geoffroy Gournet, I refinished the butt and forend and recut the checkering.  When the parts arrived from Geoffroy, I charcoal blued the cap and nitre blued the screw.

Friday, February 19, 2021

What The Actual F**k?

 Believe it or not, there are some that would consider this gun to be in "pretty good shape" and some hacks who might even call it a "restoration".  The nicest thing I could call it would be a train wreck, and that would be being kind.  What it is, shamefully, is an all too common example of typical American gunsmithing.  It is a gun that has so much wrong with it, it makes no sense to expend any further effort upon it.  It is beyond saving.

 The customer wanted the forend lug replaced because the not-really-original had failed.  I say not-really-original because some spawn of sibling-parents saw fit to modify it after discovering that the latch would no longer properly engage.  Why would the latch not engage properly?, the more astute reader might wonder.  Well, because the inletting of the forend latch and iron into the forend wood was done with a Dremel tool, by an individual whose understanding of the gun's mechanics was about on par with his level of craftsmanship.  Due to the latch being set so deeply into the wood (which raises it vertically), the bite on the new forend lug would have to be filed as thin as the failed part.  Correcting the latch placement would have meant new forend wood, along with repair of the forend iron to correct its fit against the frame knuckle, which couldn't (and shouldn't) be done until the barrels were correctly rejointed and so on, down the line of issues, of which there are many.  Unfortunately, that was not the extent of the dipshit-induced damage to the gun, none of which I knew about until the gun arrived and I started looking it over.  Unsurprisingly, the more I looked, the more I found.  

I won't be repairing this one because, as I've already stated, it's beyond any cost-effective reclamation.  It would be best broken for what few salvageable parts remain, or thrown into a deep, deep lake.


The stellar gunsmiffing on the forend

 The forend lug, Ugh!

 Naturally, it was "put back on face" by the improper method of welding and "refitting" the hook.

Oh yeah, that looks round.

 Does it make full contact?  Not even close.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Handmade Unique Guns

 The guns featured here are of my own design and manufacture.  They are completely handmade, in-house, by me.  From the frames and barrels, to the smallest spring, pin and screw, the entire gun is my work.  No computer-aided anything, no CNC, EDM, castings, rough parts or sub-contractors are employed.  They're made entirely from raw material.  Each and every part, no matter how small, is made from the material most appropriate, then heat-treated for proper function and maximum service-life and, finally, finished to the highest standards, mine.

28 gauge, rising bite, bar-in-wood, sidelock, sidelever side-by-side:  Construction details here:


.30 W.C.F. (7.62x51R), rising bite, bar-in-wood, inboard-mounted and unitized sidelocks, leverless side-by-side:  Construction details here:

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Alien Sightings...

 What do those things have to do with the gun world, you ask?  Well, the answer is simple: Like certain things in the gun world, they don't exist, yet people swear that they have seen them.  

One common example of the gun world equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting is the "16 gauge built on a 20 gauge frame".  Now, almost everyone who has ever spent any amount of time around doublegun guys of a certain age has heard someone brag about their gun that has the above-mentioned configuration, or some variant thereof, like a 20 on a 28 frame, etcetera.  The thing is, there is no such thing.  That's right, there is no such thing as a 12 on a 16 frame, a 16 on a 20 frame, a 20 on a 28 frame or an anything-else on an any-other frame.  

This is because there is not now, nor has there ever been, an industry standard for frame sizes of any gauge, for any break-action gun.  There have been manufacturers that have made use of different frame sizes for different gauges but in the case of American makers, usually there was one size.  Often, the only difference between a 12 gauge and a smaller-bore frame was the bore-center spacing and the corresponding size of the fences, with the actual bar of the frame remaining the same size.  These are not small frames because the entire frame was not scaled down proportionately for the smaller-gauge applications. 

The standout exception to the above rule is the Fox gun.  Fox made two frame sizes (not counting the Super): large and small. The large frames were all twelves, while the sixteens and twenties shared the same small frame, which was scaled down in all dimensions.  Some owners of Fox sixteens will brag to all who will listen that their guns are really built on "20-gauge" frames, because a well-known gunwriter once wrote this entirely subjective opinion in his book on the Fox.  If that's what they want to believe, more power to them but it doesn't make it true.  It could just as easily, and no less accurately, be said that the Fox twenty is built on a sixteen gauge frame but no one will ever say that because it doesn't sound "cool".  Where the Fox is concerned, there are twelves and small frames, period.

There were Parkers made in 12 gauge on their #1 frame.  Does that make it a 12 on a 16 (or 20) frame?  No, it makes it a 12 gauge on a #1 frame, in exactly the same way that a 12gauge Parker on a #3 frame isn't a 12 gauge on a 10 gauge frame.  It's just a 12 on a #3 frame.

Where a manufacturer actually does make a frame that is specifically scaled to each caliber, things are still not definitive, because one maker's idea of a scaled frame may not be the same as another maker's, for the same caliber.

Another entertaining (or annoying, depending upon one's mood) bit of nonsense is hearing descriptions of the "grade" of walnut that a gun wears.  One will hear terms like AA, AAA, AAAA, Triple X, Exhibition-grade, ad nauseum.  This is also high-grade hogwash for the same reason.  There is no industry standard for grading wood.  Anyone can call any piece of walnut anything that they want, it's completely subjective.

Some more "pulled-from-the-ass wisdom" is that if a shotgun's barrels don't actually meet at  the muzzle, then they have definitively been cut.  The rationale behind this is usually along the line of  "the factory wouldn't let something like that go out the door".  Yeah, OK, as if "the factory" were some temple of righteous perfection in craftsmanship.  Those that subscribe to this line of thinking would literally not believe some of the examples of factory-original misalignment of barrels that I've seen on American doubles.  Here's a of photo of something that, according to some, would never have left the factory.  Unlike those grainy Loch Ness Monster photos, this is actually real.


Friday, December 25, 2020

Colt Model 1849

Colt's "open top" percussion revolvers, regardless of caliber, are all basically the same design: a frame with no top strap and completely open at the front.  Think of an "L" laid over on its long leg with the short leg being the rear of the frame.  The spindle upon which the cylinder rotates is screwed into the rear of the frame and its front end extends some distance beyond the front of the cylinder.  The barrel's structure serves as the forward portion of the frame and is located in part by the extended portion of the cylinder spindle.  This extended portion of the spindle is pierced by a horizontally oriented rectangular slot, which aligns with a mating slot in the barrel, and receives the barrel wedge which holds the whole works together.

With the barrel secured axially to the frame about the cylinder's axis, some method is needed to prevent the barrel from simply rotating about the cylinder spindle, and to establish and maintain the bore's alignment with each of the cylinder's chambers.  This is accomplished by the use of two locating pins on the forward end of the frame, that engage mating holes in the rear of the lower structure of the barrel, where it mates with the frame.  Those pins are the subject at hand, as they were both broken away on the subject gun.

The barrel locating pins are actually not pins at all, at least not as originally manufactured.  The locating "pins" are actually machined as part of the frame and breakage of these locators isn't an unheard of event.

Abrupt section changes and sharp inside corners are best avoided, if possible, in any design.  Colt's barrel locating method exhibits both: the section change from the frame bar to the locators, and, the sharp inside edge formed where the locator meets the frame bar.  That said, the most common contributors to the breakage of these locators are ham-fisted disassembly and worn, loose-fitting barrel wedges which allow the barrel assembly to "float" on the frame assembly, abnormally stressing the locators. 

There are two possible methods for repairing this damage.  One method would be to anneal the case-hardened frame, weld up enough material to remachine the locators, then polish, prep and reharden the frame.  This method would be rejected for the following reasons: The new pins, even after rehardening, would not be as sound as the originals because the originals were machined from the frame's forging and the built-up pins would effectively be castings (welding is really nothing more than casting in-place).  The second reason is that welding would destroy the original finish, or patina, whichever the case may be.  This is generally unacceptable to Colt collectors.

The second method would be to drill the frame to accept new tool steel pins.  This would be done after fixturing the frame in the mill and establishing the center of each of the locators.  The new pins are made .001" over the size of the holes in the frame.  Before installation, the pins are frozen and the frame is heated to between 250 and 300 degrees (Farenheit), the pins are then pressed into the frame and when the temperatures equalize, the pins aren't going anywhere any time soon.  The pins are then machined to the proper height and their ends are radiused.  

In the first photo, it is obvious how close the outside diameter of the locator is to the edge of the frame's upper surface.  This precludes drilling the holes to the full diameter of the pins.  The solution is to make the pins "stepped" with the smaller diameter inside the frame.  The step in the new pins is actually a short taper that matches the taper of the counterbore in the holes that are machined into the frame.  This is a royal pain to machine but it minimizes the stress concentration where the diameter changes.  Is it absolutely necessary?  Probably not, but it makes me feel better.

The gun was also missing the front triggerguard screw.  A new screw was made and finished, then the finished was "worn" to match with the rest of the screws.

Monday, November 30, 2020

A Sauer Boxlock

 This gun came in for a butt extension and straight hand conversion, which sounds pretty straightforward, and would have been, except for the fact that the stock had been previously refinished.  Now, a prior refinish in and of itself isn't necessarily a problem but when the prep work for that refinish was done with a floor-sander, well, things get a bit more interesting.  The cheeks (side panels) of the stock were so dished out, they could have held a pint of water.  Naturally, the edges were sanded below the metal as well.  There are those who, for whatever reason, feel qualified to work on the wood components of a gun.  Many of these individuals would at least hesitate to work on "the metal", but wood, they dive right in.  I blame high-school wood shop and hubris.  Stock making and finishing is not carpentry.

 Any-hoo, here goes.

The damage is obvious.  The result of a "can do" attitude, combined with a "can't do" skill set.

The cheeks were machined flat and veneers were applied, along with material for the extension and a plug for the sling swivel stud hole.

The finished job.