May 02, 2008
How Good is Good Enough?
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
This past week I was drooling over one of Jim Carmichel's double rifles, a lovely Westley Richards .465 Droplock, which is a marvel of mechanical intricacy and British craftsmanship. Among other things it incorporates a safety block--a small lever designed to keep a gunbearer from flipping the safety on and causing you embarrassment when something was chewing on your head and you couldn't figure out why the gun wouldn't fire. It probably took someone a week to make and install that little device.
The metal-to-metal fit was so perfect that when you put the locks back in the receiver and closed it, you couldn't see where the parts joined--I mean, not even a hairline. Nothing. I can't even guess how long it took someone with a set of files and infinite patience to pull that off.
German and Austrian gunsmiths absolutely love mechanical intricacy. I once handled a double rifle that was designed to be used from a hochsitz, which is a treestand to you. Because doubles click when you open them, and might spook whatever was lurking nearby, this rifle had a pair of small, noiseless pistons that cocked it.
Most really good gunsmiths don't build guns for the money. They could make a lot more money programming CAD/CAM systems someplace. They do it because they like guns, and they do it because they enjoy pursuing perfection, and to show how good they are.
Sometime about 500 years ago, a European gunmaker completed a wheel lock pistol, inlaid, fancy to the nth degree, and on it, he inscribed in Middle German: "There, it's done. Anyone who thinks he can do better is welcome to try."
Which pretty much says it all.