Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

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.  The idea that, just because something is hidden from view means it need not be done right, is the mindset of the mediocre.

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.

Before:

After:

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.

Here are some photos of the interior of the action.  The finish on the triggers, sears, safety block and hammers is called "gratte" and is quite time-consuming to complete.  The triggerbox and the "floor" of the triggerplate are frosted, the verticals polished and the edges beveled.  The triggers are handmade and pivot on a .100" diameter screw rather than the original .077" diameter drift pin.  This modification is SOP for any Fox-based custom project.  The pin that retains the safety detent spring is also no longer a drift pin.  It is a self-locking pin that locks to the safety blade under pressure from the detent spring.  It is impossible for the pin to walk out in either direction.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Replacing a Claw-Mounted Scope

 Here we have a Steyr-Mannlicher sporting rifle in 8x60S.  Its original K√∂hler Pecar 6x59 (6 power, 59mm objective) scope had suffered damage that was beyond repair.  The owner did not want to shoot the rifle without a scope and he did not want to mount a modern scope in custom-made rings because that would have compromised the vintage flavor of the rifle.  Being the intrepid sort, he actually found another scope of the same type on, believe it or not, Ebay.  The replacement scope was intact, with good undamaged glass but it was more than a bit lacking in the looks department, as well as being quite dirty internally (scopes of this type are neither sealed nor charged with inert gas).  It also had claw-mounts for a completely different rifle attached.  This would necessitate removing the mounts from both scopes and placing the "new" scope in the old mounts.  These scopes are built with steel main tubes and the mounts are soft-soldered in place so, since it would be entirely disassembled for the mount swap and cleaning anyway, the decision was made to completely refinish the scope as well.

After complete disassembly of the replacement scope, some damage to the main tube was discovered in the bearing area of the eyepiece, where it rotates to focus the reticle.  It seems that someone had at one time removed the lock screw and replaced it without aligning it in its retaining groove, causing a spiral dent in the main tube.  This interfered with the fore and aft movement of the erector lens tube and would have to be repaired, using a custom turned mandrel and a small (and very highly polished) ballpeen hammer.

 After removing the mounts from the replacement scope body (along with all traces of solder) and draw filing the pitting that was present, it was time to put the new tube into the original mounts.

Attaching the mounts is no different than reattaching the ribs on a set of barrels.  The tube is tinned in the area of the mounts, as are the "saddle" portion of the mounts.  The reticle is temporarily reinstalled so as to be able to level the scope, the mounts are locked into their bases on the rifle, and then the scope tube is slid into the mounts.  Measurements were taken from the original assembly before disassembly, so that the eye relief would be correct.  The assembly was then soldered together.  Since the entire reticle assembly is metal (brass with steel "sidewires" and "post"), there was no danger to them from the heat of soldering.

With the tube repairs and mounting complete, preparation for refinishing could begin.  While the tube/mount assembly are steel, and would be rust-blued, the eye piece and elevation adjuster wheel assembly are aluminum and would require a different finish method.  These parts were originally finished with a finely textured paint, the remains of which was removed with lacquer thinner.  The closest modern equivalent that I came up with is black wrinkle paint.  This wrinkles very tightly with the application of heat and while not exactly as original, it would look good and it is very tough.  After stripping the original paint from the aluminum parts, they were lightly glass blasted to give the surfaces a uniform base for the paint.


After bead blasting, the interior surfaces were masked in the threaded areas in preparation for internal painting.  All of the interior surfaces are finished in black so as to prevent any internal glare of reflections in the sight picture.

After the internal painting was finished, the external surfaces were wrinkle painted.  Here is the eyepiece with the cleaned lenses, spacers and retaining ring.  The retaining rings are made of brass and were polished bright.  This isn't as original but the owner likes the look of it and I concur.

After the wrinkle paint is fully hardened, I recut the markings, using a graver.

With all of the metal finishing done, it was time for reassembly.  At this time I also made a nylon thrust bearing for the eyepiece that eliminated metal-to-metal contact between the eyepiece and and the shoulder on the tube.  This wasn't strictly necessary but it does result in much smoother movement of the eyepiece while focusing the reticle.