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!
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.
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