You think you’re a gunsmith?

THIS is a gunsmith.  Watch all of them.  There are a bunch of vids all in a row detailing the handcrafting of an American longrifle.  They hand hammer a barrel around a mandrel and hammer weld it.  Awesome.  No “machine tools” of any kind.  The closest to a machine tool is the barrel drilling jig, which is hand powered and hand fed, using hand-made cutting tools, and having a wooden spiral jig for determining the rifle twist.


Hat tip; castboolits.gunloads.com


We are extremely pampered today by comparison, having rolled bar and seamless tubing of precise alloy to work with.  I once “restored” (though the word is abused in this case) a hand-made, lavishly hand engraved and gold plated trumpet that was made in the very early 20th century– for its original owner, who was over 80 years old at the time.  He had bought it as a kid and played it the whole time.  All of the tubing was wrapped over mandrels and soldered, including the piston valves– every tubular part had a lengthwise seam therefore, and some of the silver solder had corroded out, resulting in leaks.  I had to re-solder some of them, but others were too far gone and I replaced them with extruded, seamless tubing.  The curved tubing was made back then by filling the straight pieces with lead and bending them  by hand over a bending jig, then hammering out any wrinkles.  Now they are bent using an ice composition and then hydro-formed in molds.  Some curved tubular parts are now built up entirely through electrolysis over investment cores.  And they didn’t use a buffing machine back then, but instead hand-burnished every square millimeter of the instrument prior to plating it– you could still see all the tiny facets on that trumpet– one for each stroke of the burnishing tool.  But that all that was still short of the skills used in rifle making in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and I didn’t do any engraving, carving or inletting in my instrument repair career.


An instrument (or rifle) with that sort of craftsmanship today would cost you well in excess of fifteen thousand dollars (you find fine rifles for well over a hundred thousand) though we can get good ones, made by modern methods, for under one thousand.  But no one makes musical instruments like that anymore, so far as I know.


When I first started in musical instrument work, the most expensive saxophone, the Selmer Mark VI, was under a thousand dollars, or right around a thousand, and it was imported from France, but the much simpler concert flute could be found costing several times that much, made in America.  You know why?


Because a flute can be made by hand in a person’s basement, whereas it takes a rather large shop, with a tons of specialized tooling, to make a saxophone, that’s why.  There were exquisite hand-made flutes, but no hand-made saxophones.  You can’t hand build a large-scale integrated microchip in your basement.  It may cost millions to set up for making them but you can buy one for a dollar.

3 thoughts on “You think you’re a gunsmith?

  1. One caveat to your microchip comment. While you cant easily run wafers in your basement, ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) are pretty much dead in the electronics industry. FPGAs and CPLDs killed them. Both allow the user to describe a circuit at the gate level and the “program” is merely programming memory and routing so it ends up being the equivalent of an integrated circuit.

    So while no one has a fab in their basement, there is certainly nothing stopping someone from making their own CPU from the ground up if they were so inclined.

    Still the videos was down right awesome.

  2. Wind Instruments, especially once you get into the real professional stuff, give machine guns a run for their money cost wise…

    The craftmanship is amazing, the cost is mind boggling once you get into weird stuff like double reeds.

    I have to buy reeds and pay for repairs on our show and it was really eye opening the first couple times.

  3. Another caveat on the microchips: “billions” better describes the price of a modern fabrication facility for modern chips.

Comments are closed.