GUNSMITHING: Be­hind the scenes at the gun­smith’s work­shop

Ever won­dered what it’s like to work in a gun­smith’s work­shop? What sort of jobs you’d en­counter and what you might munch on for din­ner? Won­der no more, as Jonny re­veals all!

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Be­ing a shoot­ing man can be quite a hard thing. I, like many of you, love get­ting be­hind a gun, and so many of you will ap­pre­ci­ate my po­si­tion to­day.

To­day is the day af­ter a game shoot. The day that, as much as you are at work phys­i­cally, your head is lost in the events of the day be­fore – a very hard men­tal state to con­trol!

Dream­ing of the birds you hit, the ones you missed, and that mas­sive hill that you hate and yet can’t wait to tackle its slopes next sea­son, can be rather detri­men­tal to one’s con­cen­tra­tion at the work­bench! It does, how­ever, get one’s brain pump­ing.

While mud­dling my way through a rather busy yet fairly av­er­age day in my life, I de­cided that I should give you a deeper in­sight into the work­ings of the mag­i­cal place that is a gun­smithy. Please join me as I go about my day, putting ev­ery­thing I have into the great guns of some great Guns that I am de­lighted to call my cus­tomers.

The di­ary of a gun­smith

Day one started like ev­ery morn­ing starts here at The Gun Shop (TGS). We all rocked up half an hour early to drink a cup of tea – all apart from one par­tic­u­lar mem­ber of staff who prefers a warm pil­low to our thrilling morn­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

This is our time – with no cus­tomers – just friends hav­ing a laugh, throw­ing ideas (and some­times abuse) around and gen­er­ally get­ting men­tally pre­pared for the day.

Nine o’clock al­ways ar­rives sooner than ex­pected. The doors are flung open to our ador­ing clients, and I scut­tle off to my work­shop to sort out the day’s work.

My first task is to go through the re­pair book, check­ing what is next on the list, and mak­ing sure no­body has taken in any­thing ur­gent. Ur­gent re­pairs are some­what of a con­fus­ing thing – the client clearly shoots reg­u­larly to need a gun fix­ing in a mat­ter of hours, and yet this same af­flu­ence in the field is never brought into the shop. Those who you go the ex­tra mile for can be some of the tight­est gen­tle­men about! Of course, this rule is not ex­clu­sive, and there are many gra­cious and lovely peo­ple in a hurry as well!

It has taken some time, but the fine art of daily plan­ning is some­thing I am fi­nally get­ting the hang of. I have learnt not to plan too much, as one can never pre­dict what dis­trac­tions might oc­cur. A gun shop is not a con­trolled sub­stance and there are reg­u­larly peo­ple who want the gun­smith, or re­quire some gun fit­tings. Man­age­rial work also takes up my time so I have to al­lo­cate space for this, even though I am also get­ting rather pro­fi­cient in del­e­ga­tion (thank you Ka­rina).

‘To­day is the day af­ter a game shoot. The day that, while you are at work phys­i­cally, your head is lost in the events of the day be­fore’

Air Arms S410

Any­way, enough waf­fle, on with the job. The first gun on the bench had been there the day be­fore, and time had not per­mit­ted me to fin­ish fix­ing the Air Arms S410. The gun had been leak­ing out of all pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions and I had per­formed a full ser­vice and seal change be­fore, but af­ter a few hours of be­ing full, the new gauge seal had popped rather de­fi­antly.

A sim­ple un­screw, re­place and re­fit of the gauge and the job was done. It then had to be filled with air, leak tested and left for six hours to check its long-term sur­vival. Un­for­tu­nately, the na­ture of ‘o’ ring seals bring some in­con­sis­tency in sup­ply, and even us­ing fac­tory parts can lead to the odd brand-new ring be­ing not quite fit for pur­pose. This is a good enough rea­son to wait a few hours, or even a day, be­fore phon­ing a cus­tomer to in­form them of completion. In this case it was an easy fix, but it is not al­ways the case.

Full fit­ting a Brown­ing

Next was a Brown­ing B525 in for a full fit­ting, but the client had de­cided (in­tel­li­gently) to go with a two-stage fit­ting pro­ce­dure. The first stage in­volves get­ting the gun from to­tally wrong to near-as­damnit right, so we can check any finer ad­just­ments. The gun as stan­dard has al­most neg­a­tive cast due to the twist of the stock, and mea­sures at 14 78 / " with a plas­tic heel plate. The cus­tomer’s first-fit spec was 13 78 / " for over­all length and ½" cast at heel.

I ap­proached this job as nor­mal: cut the wood, bend the stock, then fit the pad. As with any­thing in­volv­ing some­body’s prized pos­ses­sion, re­spect is needed as well as a healthy dose of con­fi­dence. Lack­ing either of these can lead to mis­takes, or a job that takes far longer than you could pos­si­bly charge for.

This chap needed slightly less at toe to com­pen­sate for a more portly chest than av­er­age. Max­i­mum shoul­der con­tact is the aim of the game, so get­ting this an­gle right early on is paramount. To do this, I mark the line and, cut­ting slowly but con­fi­dently with a fine-tooth hack­saw, re­move the un­wanted length of wal­nut, us­ing as much of the blade length as pos­si­ble to en­sure a clean cut. It is rather dis­con­cert­ing re­mov­ing large por­tions of wal­nut, and at times this has turned my stom­ach some­what. The bend was next. I have re­cently ac­quired a new bend­ing jig. Made to my spec by a rather tal­ented fab­ri­ca­tor, it out­shines my old wooden jig and is much more eas­ily con­trolled. I can’t share an im­age of this, though, as the chap has asked me to keep the de­sign a se­cret!

Need­less to say, much heat and oil was re­quired, as well as a great deal of pa­tience. This job is best done with a cup of tea. Get­ting the wood to the right heat is a fine art – hot but not so hot it burns, and not too cold that the bend won’t hold – all the while avoid­ing the dreaded ‘snap’.

Once the stock was where I wanted it, it was left to cool, which can take an en­tire night in the sum­mer, but while Jack Frost rents out a por­tion of my work­bench it should only take a few hours.

Prob­ing a BSA

In this time, I popped down­stairs, checked ev­ery­one’s hap­pi­ness level, low­ered it, and went back up­stairs to play with a BSA.

This R10 came to us so full of pel­lets that the bolt probe had been filled up and the air was no longer flow­ing through it. The pel­lets had been re­moved a few days be­fore, and the rel­a­tively sim­ple task of either fix­ing or re­plac­ing the probe was ham­pered by my lack of en­thu­si­asm in tak­ing this rather dirty Mk2 R10 to bits (dirt in this game mean­ing a paste of mud, grease, lead and rust).

First was to pop it out of the stock, which re­quires a lit­tle force; next, the anti-tam­pers were re­moved to ac­cess and dis­as­sem­ble the body. On a BSA, these are rep­re­sented by a small pres­sure-fit­ted disk of alu­minium which blocks ac­cess to an im­por­tant screw. The other is a dif­fi­cult-to-re­move cap over the reg­u­la­tor ad­jus­tor, but this could stay in place as it was not per­ti­nent to the job in hand. A quick drilling ses­sion and the first anti-tam­per was out.

The BSA reg­u­la­tor is very con­trol­ling on the power of the ri­fle, so ad­just­ing the ham­mer spring makes very lit­tle dif­fer­ence to the power. Nev­er­the­less, BSA don’t al­low you to ad­just it out of the box for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Next, were the two screws that hold the top of the ac­tion on; these are not nec­es­sary to com­pletely dis­as­sem­ble the gun, but the client also wanted it clean­ing and lubri­cat­ing. I was al­ready el­bow deep in dirty blue roll by this point so he was get­ting his money’s worth on the clean­ing front! The probe came out with ease, and luck­ily the lead that was well jammed in it did as well. Cleaned and pol­ished, it all fell back to­gether with­out in­ci­dent. De­light­fully suc­cess­ful, if a lit­tle mucky.

Back to that Brown­ing

Choos­ing a pad can be a tricky busi­ness and is a de­ci­sion I would rather the client takes, but 90% of peo­ple are happy for me to make the de­ci­sion for them. I am a fan of Pach­meyer per­son­ally, and the few pounds more that they cost over a cheaper pad is al­ways worth it in the long run.

Even though they are much harder to fin­ish nicely, it is much bet­ter to be proud of a job than just do­ing an ad­e­quate one. So, a Pach­meyer Old English 0.8" brown was cho­sen, rep­re­sent­ing a long-last­ing pad that, fin­ished well, has a medium amount of re­coil re­duc­tion.

In this in­stance, the wood we’d re­moved had taken with it the orig­i­nal screw holes, so new holes were needed. This is done by find­ing the cen­tre ver­ti­cal line of the stock, hold­ing the pad at the right height, and mark­ing the first hole. This is then drilled on the cen­tre line and the pad fit­ted with one screw. The se­cond screw hole is then scribed through the hole and onto the wood, the pad is re­moved, the se­cond hole drilled and the pad re­fit­ted.

A line is scribed around the stock onto the pad, which will have a lot of meat re­moved be­fore a fi­nal sand­ing is re­quired. The pad is re­moved and, us­ing a va­ri­ety of meth­ods, as much ex­cess as pos­si­ble is re­moved. I pre­fer a grind­ing wheel and lin­isher, but have used scroll/band saws when min­i­mal dust was re­quired.

Either way, a dust mask is re­quired, and even through the best of af­ford­able masks the smell of grind­ing a Pach­meyer pen­e­trates in its un­mis­tak­able ‘burnt dog’ ef­flu­ent way!

In a first fit, the pad is then reat­tached with around a 1mm lip, as it is in the re­moval of the 1mm where the ma­jor­ity of labour time is put in, in order to achieve the best wood to pad fit pos­si­ble.

Now just to wait for the cus­tomer to re­turn to try his cast and short­ened gun, and if the notes are to be be­lieved, there is likely to be an is­sue with comb height, but we shall see! I re­mem­ber think­ing that just hav­ing the cor­rect amount of cast should make his mount both eas­ier and more con­sis­tent, and it is the lack of con­sis­tency that a poorly-fit­ted gun pro­vides that makes the two-stage fit­ting more nec­es­sary.

Down tools

The driv­ing force of the day was the thought of con­sum­ing two wood­cock pro­cured the day be­fore. We have a tiny oven in our tiny staff room, and it was in this that we cooked these small and beau­ti­ful game birds, with a strip of ba­con apiece, com­pletely and ut­terly un­evis­cer­ated. It was to be my first ex­pe­ri­ence of wood­cock on toast and the smell of them cook­ing pushed me through an un­event­ful rou­tine ser­vice of an old BSA Hor­net. The timer went off al­most as soon as the fi­nal screw was go­ing back in.

The birds came out of the oven, the ba­con was diced and put in a pan with some gar­lic and a splosh of red wine, the en­trails were then re­moved from the wood­cock, the gizzard sep­a­rated and the rest chopped and thrown into the hot pan with the other bits. Once cooked, it was spread on brown but­tery toast for a long-over­due treat.

For those in­ter­ested, it tastes of the best game pâté you could dream of, and the tex­tures of all the par­ties in­volved is rather nice; the medi­um­rare breast was rather good. If we are go­ing to shoot this amaz­ing lit­tle bird I can think of no bet­ter way to hon­our its jour­ney.

Drilling is some­times re­quired

Bend­ing a stock

There are plenty of parts to dis­man­tle

‘O’ rings from a bro­ken Air Arms S410

Checks are car­ried out at all stages of re­pair

Rust is of­ten the enemy

Airgun main­te­nance can be a dirty, fid­dly job

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