A couple of years ago, the great custom gun maker Jerry Fisher told me: “An ape can be trained to do 98 percent of what I do. It’s the last 2 percent of the work that I charge all that money for.” And in case you wondering how much he does charge, the fee for a basic Fisher rifle is $15,000, and he has a waiting list that goes on for years.
Which leads to another quote from the gentleman who was president of SAKO in the 1970s, He gave a speech about what SAKO did, and at the end of it someone asked him what he thought of American rifles. He thought a long moment, looking for a way to be bespeak himself politely, and said:
“We consider them to be unfinished.”
A gunmaker can turn out highly functional guns that are very often accurate quickly and cheaply, but the quality of fit and finish will always be lacking, because that’s the last 2 percent, and the last 2 percent costs money. In Jerry Fisher’s case, it’s the last stroke or two of the rasp that gives a subtle change of shape to a stock, or the removal of a last infinitesimal curl of wood that makes metal fit seamlessly to wood.
In a factory rifle, the requirements are somewhat different, and American factory rifles, by and large, don’t do too well in this department. There are exceptions, but they tend to be in the high-priced range, notably Kimber and Weatherby. If you would like an education, have a gunsmith give you a 15-minute course on what to look for.
Thirty years ago, a friend of mine who collected Smith & Wesson revolvers made a point I’ve never forgotten.
“Look at a 1915-vintage S&W;, just a plain .38 Special that might be issued to a cop. The metalwork is virtually perfect. The flats are truly flat. There aren’t any grind marks or polish marks anywhere. The radii are all true. Everything is concentric. The bluing is of a quality you don’t see anymore. These were largely handmade guns, and no one can afford to make them this way anymore, and it shows.”