Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is That New "Best Gun" Really What You Think It Is?

In a previous entry, I tried to illustrate the folly in comparing machine-made production guns to "best quality" guns.  In hindsight, I failed to mention a point that they both share in common: uniqueness, or more accurately, the lack of same.  The English (or Scottish) best of 2019 is in fact the same gun that it was in the late 19th century, with each of the major makers using what became their respective "signature" designs.  Beyond stock dimensions, barrel lengths and (sometimes) decoration, the core design of the gun remained the same (and continues to do so).  Indeed, an apprentice's first tasks are to make the templates and tools required to assure that his work is as nearly the same as his master's as possible, just as the master had done when he was an apprentice.  Technology marches ever forward and the materials used by these makers is better than ever.  Technology delivers, to the worker at the bench (the nameless men that actually build the name gun), parts that are more nearly finished than ever before.  In fact, some of these parts are so nearly finished that the "gunmakers" of today are little more than fitters.  Factually, many of today's bests are really little more than highly finished, limited production guns with bespoke dimensions and decoration (that is assuming that the "house style" of engraving was not specified).  This is so thanks to the replacement of time-consuming hand work with computer-controlled machining.  At many makers, gone are the days of the actioner skillfully chiseling the frame contours with chisels of his own making, that's now done in the CNC programming, along with many other operations which were once performed by skilled, actual gunmakers.  With the gun first created in "virtual reality" and so much less hand work involved, one does wonder why the price of a modern best is so high, especially considering that one of the biggest names in best gunmaking now makes guns "for stock", presumably for the buyer who just can't wait for a bespoke gun.  It might even be said that the buyer is paying for something that he is not receiving, because he believes that he is purchasing a handmade gun when in fact, that gun is mostly made on CNC machinery.  Also, while one can go into any of these makers and order a gun "made to measure", the buyer is still choosing from a very limited menu as far as the actual design of the gun is concerned.  At the "biggest names" there is in fact no choice at all and that should further lead one to ask:  If this design has been made for the last 100 years (at least) and the production has been streamlined to the nth degree, what justifies the cost? 

What to do if our fictional buyer wants a gun that doesn't seamlessly blend into the other bests on the rack at the gun club?  What if having something to brag about other than an artificially inflated price tag is wanted by the buyer?  What if our buyer actually decides to follow what may be the only good piece of advice in gundom (buy the gun, not the name)?  Assuming that our buyer can handle the slings and arrows of his fellows at the gun club, asking things like: "Why didn't you buy a (insert socially-acceptable brand here)?" and:  "Are you sure that was a good investment?", he can seek out an independent gunmaker who is willing and able to provide exactly what he wants.  That being a unique, best quality gun that actually is hand made.  He didn't want a "fill-in-the-blank best" because, let's face it, while they're really nice and well made, there is almost nothing to separate them (within makes, I.E., one Purdey from another) and beside that, he's not a conformist.  He doesn't see it as an "investment" because he knows that there are only two kinds of people for whom a gun is an investment with an expected return: dealers and fools.  He sees the value in a unique (hand made) gun versus a best (hand finished) gun.  While the price will be substantial, he realizes that cost and quality are (and should be) commensurate, while one can hardly put a price on "uniqueness".  These individuals, the ones who prize individuality over brand recognition, and careful craftsmanship over slick marketing, do exist but they're a pretty rare breed.  After all, it does take a bit of courage to stand apart from the crowd.


  1. Owning a few vintage best guns has been one of life's real treasures. the superb craftmanship always amazes me.I also appreciate the fine vintage guns by those who were not considered best[S A. Leonard a410-Westly Box lock-B grade Ansley fox-Geyer side lock-Krieghoff drilling all almost a 100 years old and still perfection.Its a honor town such handmade craftmanship. Why I read every book to fully appreciate them.

  2. This article is not strictly true.I seriously think that before these comments are made a bit of investigation needs to be done. I do work for Boss & Co and I can tell you for sure that the guns are not just knocked out on CNC machines. On the side by side guns I machine barrels and fit all the parts in the conventional way. I also stand at my bench with and hammer and chisel the shapes on the them. You can order any custom shape you want. Although there's more machine work done on the O/U's there is still a huge amount of hand work done on assembling each gun. Again these are all filed up by hand and you can order whatever shape gun you want. The reason they cost so much is because they take well over 1000 hours to make and also engraving costs inflate the prices. So before everyone thinks Best London Guns are produced cheaply and sold expensively I would suggest you look into it a bit more and see what is really being made rather than listening to stories and believing them with no evidence.

    1. I was not singling out Boss (not the only "best" maker) and I did not say that any best is "just knocked out on a CNC", nor did I say that they are "produced cheaply". If you actually believe that there are no London (or any other) bests that aren't largely CNC-made, perhaps it is you that should do a bit of investigation.

  3. Two things come to mind.
    First the article on the extensive use of CNC machinery and its economic impact on best gunmaking, written by the former Purdey production manager Bruce Owen back in 2012. Costs were cut but prices rose is the resume of that.

    Second is a response from a gunmaker of best guns when I inquired about ordering an unengraved, uncheckered gun delivered with the stock unfinished.

    They told me that my special requirements would up the price by about ten per cent. The cost of the engraved checkered and finished gun was 8000 pounds back then.
    Asked about the discrepancy they said that special requests were costly deviations from their production line.

    Production line in bespoke gunmaking!