Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Friday, April 14, 2023

Musings on "Patina"

 Why is "patina" so valued by collectors (of just about anything)?  Patina, by definition, is oxidation.  What it is NOT, is "original finish".  It is what happens after the original finish has expired, either through wear, neglect or exposure to the elements (usually a combination of those).  No Winchester, Parker, Colt, or what have you, ever left the factory totally brown (or grey).  It is damage, period.  So why is it so valued?  Most of the arguments in favor of "preserving" patina that I hear are based in emotion, rather than logic.  Collectors will wax poetic (or try) about how the patina is a part of the gun's "history", how every scratch, dent or patch of rust is part of some "story"(which the new owner's imagination will create) and how remedying these maladies might somehow "erase those memories".  The problem with that entirely fanciful notion is this: the gun is a tool, it has no memory, no stories to tell.  It is inanimate.  The ability to become emotionally attached to the effects of someone else's experiences (in this instance, a worn, brown gun) is truly baffling to me.  Now, if the gun in question was owned from new (or nearly so), and all of that patina was acquired by the owner, the emotional imperative for keeping it as-is would be much more valid.  That is rarely the case though.  More common is the acquisition of some completely brown gun, followed by the entirely imagined scenarios that led to its current condition, then showing it off proudly, usually with comments such as, "If only this gun could talk" or, "Imagine the stories this gun could tell".  Well, it can't talk because it's a tool, a machine.  If it could, it might well tell horrific tales of abuse, neglect and the machinations of half-assed gunsmiths.  The mention of restoring (correctly) the gun to it's actual, factory-new condition is met with the disbelief that such a thought could even enter one's mind.  The patina is sacred, it's "original".  But it's  not, because as stated above, none of these guns left their manufacturer bruised and brown.  I imagine that if most of these people were car shopping, and the seller showed them a car with dull, oxidized paint, pitted chrome, rust and a few minor dents, they probably wouldn't look at it as "patina".  Speaking of cars, it's interesting that car collectors wouldn't have a second thought regarding the correct restoration of a particular automobile but gun collectors (or watch collectors, or whatever else) are extremely hesitant in that regard, to say the least.  The fact that there are so few that can actually do a factory-correct restoration on a gun (any gun) would be a valid reason for that hesitancy, if not for the fact that there are almost as few people that can actually discern a factory-correct restoration.  Perhaps it's due to the fact that the word restoration has, like gender, become "fluid" in its definition, and those actually interested in having it done fear what the result might be.  Maybe the gun's value, or its intended use, do not warrant a restoration.  That's fine, but perhaps it would be better to simply accept the gun as it is, rather than attempt to imbue its "patina" with mystical (and imaginary) attributes.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

GP-100 Custom Hammer

 This customer wanted a Python-esque hammer for his Ruger GP-100.  Given that the GP's proportions are similar to a Python's (chamber spacing and cylinder CL to bore CL), this allowed a much more faithful rendition of the Python's distinctively styled hammer.  The original hammer is an investment casting, while its replacement is machined from an O1 billet and fully heat treated before finishing.

Since I don't use CNC anything, each of these cuts requires a different setup.  The final machining operation is to narrow the portion of the hammer that isn't the spur.  Everything after this is hand work.

The hammer after final shaping and checkering but prior to heat treating and finishing.

The finished job:

The glamour shots:

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Wow, That Seems Expensive!

 If I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog.  It's most often used in response to hearing the cost of making (and fitting, heat-treating, finishing and possibly engraving) a small, seemingly simple, part or screw.  I understand that gunmaking is probably a bit too esoteric to be appreciated by many, which is one reason why there are those that balk at the cost of properly done work.  To the average person, a screw is a screw, so they don't understand why the local hardware store sells them for twenty nine cents while a screw for a gun could cost a thousand times (literally) as much.  

Let's take as an example the breech screw from a Parker, that most iconic of American doubles.  This is a 12-27 (#12 diameter and 27 threads per inch) screw with an unthreaded shank and a "flat head".  Seems simple enough, right?  Let's take a closer look at that screw then, shall we?  To start, the threads are not the typical 60 degree "V" form, but 55 degrees with rounded root and crest.  Now, the local hardware store is definitely not going to have a threading die for this, which means that the threads must be cut on a lathe, using a cutting tool specifically profiled for that job.  That seemingly flat head isn't really flat either, is it?  No, it follows the contours of the top strap, which means that the new screw head must be shaped in situ, which further means that, in order to have the necessary access, the entire toplever works must be disassembled and the frame put back into the stock, so that the screw head can be shaped.  This must be done absolutely flush and without harming the surrounding finish.  Sounds easy, right?  This is after cutting the slot so that it aligns correctly when properly torqued.  Then the head of the screw is engraved in the correct factory pattern, by hand, and then heat-treated and finished.  Depending upon the condition of the gun, the screw must then be artificially "aged" in order to blend with its surroundings and look original, because no repair should be readily discernible, ever.  Finally the toplever work is reassembled, along with the rest of the gun.  For most other doubles, also figure on the added time for making the tapered shank.  A couple of hundred bucks doesn't sound so out of line now, does it?  

"Hold on there a minute." you say.  "A couple of hundred bucks for a screw?", you ask.  The truthful answer is that the screw (or part, or entire gun) is free, what you are paying for is my time, knowledge, attention-to-detail and ability, and, as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.  Keep that in mind when someone says they can do it "fer cheep".

The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to one-off work, economy-of-scale simply does not apply.  A part that was originally made on a screw machine by the thousands is going to be much more costly to duplicate by hand.  Comparing the cost of one to the other is simply nonsensical. 

What to do When Midnell's/Brownway Doesn't Have What You Need

 When dealing with old and/or unusual guns, one doesn't simply order parts from the amateur's supply catalogs.  

Case in point: A customer needed a pair of ramrod hangers for a Ballard No.5 Pacific rifle.  He also requested a slightly increased wall thickness (to make them less prone to damage).  Here I'll detail the creation of those parts.

The original sample, sitting atop the billet of 1018 from which the new parts will come, the bore has already been drilled and finish reamed.

 Machining the areas that will become the integral dovetail bases:

The dovetails are then cut and the bulk of the material that will become the raised bands is machined off.

The parts are then cut free, the ends squared and the bands are hand profiled, as are the bases.  They are then temporarily attached to a mandrel for turning of the barrel portions on either side of the band.  Those portions actually have a very slight (one half of one degree), but readily noticeable, taper.  The barrels are cut to their final length and the ornamental rings are then cut.

 The final step is to nitre blue (oh look, they're black) the new parts.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Bored of Looking at Gun Work? Alright Then...

 What the hell is a classic mechanical watch doing on a gunsmithing blog, you ask?  Two words: precision and craftsmanship.  These are two things that should be exercised with religious devotion by any real gunsmith (or anyone who works with their hands).  The first, precision, is fairly self-explanatory.  Craftsmanship, though, seems to be a bit more "fluid" in its definition among some people.  What I'm getting at is, if something this small can be made (and serviced) without marring screwslots, there is no excuse for f**king up the slots on gun screws.  If something this small can have mirror-polished surfaces AND sharp edges and corners, there is no excuse for the buffing wheel f**kery that is so commonly visited on gun parts.  If something like this can be designed and understood by the mind of (and made by the hands of) man, there is no excuse for the acts of mechanical incomprehension that I see on a regular basis. And, lastly, I like watches and it's my blog.

This is a King Seiko (5626-7111), manufactured (for the Japanese domestic market) in December of 1972.  As you will see, it came to me in pretty sad shape.  The case was pretty beat up, the crystal was broken, many small shards of same made their way to the dial face and, it was not running.  Upon disassembly, I discovered no evidence of any prior service being done.  Not a mark anywhere, no buggered screwslots and most importantly, the case, while damaged from hard wear, had never felt the corner-rounding, edge-smearing sting of the buffing wheel.  Yes, buffing wheel damage caused by the ham-handed is just as common among "watchmakers" as it is among "gunsmiffs".   What I did find inside was hardened oil, everywhere.  This meant a complete teardown, to the baseplate, and a thorough cleaning before reassembly and lubing, which is only correctly possible during reassembly.

This watch uses Seiko's 5626B movement, which differs from the 5626A in a couple of areas.  The first is that the A version uses an externally accessible regulator (through a plug-screwed hole in the case, between the lugs) and the second is that the day/date corrector "star wheel" is steel.  In the B movement, the regulator is internally accessible (not really an issue, thanks to the screw-back case of the B-equipped watch, versus the mono block case of the A-equipped version) and the day/date corrector wheel is made of a nylon material.  Those are the major material differences, but the A and B  also differ in the finish of certain components like the mainspring barrel cover and the pallet fork stanchion.  Enough geekery, let's get to it.

Here is the watch, as it arrived.  Yikes!  Note the deep scratches in the case.

The first thing to do is to remove the movement from the case, which is accomplished by unscrewing the case back, removing the crown/stem and withdrawing the movement from the rear.  Then the front bezel is removed using a case opener, followed by the gasket and the crystal/rehaut assembly.  Here's what it looked like once disassembled.  Not too pretty.

After dropping the case parts in the solvent tank, I began disassembling the movement.  The first step is removal of the hands.  This is done with a pair of shop-made miniature pry-bars and using a thin poly sheet that prevents damage to the dial surface, as well as containing the hands when released.  Then the dial is removed by loosening the two retaining screws on the side of the main plate.  This also allows the casing spacer to be removed.

The next step is disassembly of the day/date mechanism and the dial train.

Then the movement gets flipped around for disassembly of the auto-winder rotor (already removed), regulator and main train.


 With disassembly of the movement completed and all internal parts soaking, I turned my attention to correcting the external damage.  I turned a holder for the bezel so that it could be held in the lathe for machining away the damage and for polishing.

Seiko polishes the cases of their Grand and King models using a method that they refer to as "Zaratzu".  This is, effectively, machine lapping of each individual surface of the case, ensuring that all flats remain so, and all edges are sharp.  I do not have this polishing equipment but I do have a pretty steady hand, and files, which were needed to get the case ready for polishing because of the depth of the scratches.  The actual polishing was also done by hand, using wood blocks and multiple lapping compounds, in order to maintain the flats and edges.  No buffing wheels are used.

Everything cleaned and ready for reassembly, once the NOS crystal arrives.

Reassembly begins with lubing and installing the mainspring, using a shop-made mainspring winding tool.

Then the mainspring barrel and main train, along with the under-bridge portions of the auto-winder are installed, followed by the main bridge and pallet assembly.  Each of the jewel bearings is lubed as assembly commences.  Note the polished bevels of the bridge, the screw holes and the jewel recesses.

Next is the installation of the regulator assembly (regulator, balance wheel and hairspring)  Note the machined notch on the underside of the balance wheel.  This is used for "poising" (balancing) the wheel by removing weight from the "heavy" side.  That notch is .004 of an inch wide.

A couple of turns of the crown and, it runs.  Now the auto-winder rotor is installed after its bearing and the gear teeth (on the back side) are lubed.

Now on to the dial side of the movement.  I did deviate from "factory correct" by bluing the sweep second hand.

The broken crystal is removed from the rehaut and all traces of the original glue are carefully removed in preparation for the installation of the new crystal.

The shop-made case support and pusher used to snap the bezel (which retains the crystal assembly) into place on the case.  They are made from Lexan and the pusher's contact area is highly polished to ensure no chance of marring anything.

The movement is reinstalled into the case.  All that's left is to install the rear spacer and back cover (with a new gasket).

It's finished.  Compare this to the photos at the beginning.

 Now that that mental health break is over, it's back to the salt mines.