William Bishop’s clock. Keeping time at Westley Richards for 200 years.
One of, if not ‘the’ hardest aspects of making bespoke guns today is managing peoples expectations regarding time. People want something superb, unique and bespoke but without the wait, an impossible combination. You can, I am sure go out today and buy something superb but it will certainly not be unique and bespoke for you. There will have to be a compromise, perhaps accepting 28 inch instead of 30 inch barrels, perhaps engraving you like but not love, you will be buying something made for someone else, not for you.
There is, I am afraid, no solution for the time it takes to make a best gun, I have said it before, it takes what it takes and the gun cannot leave until it is absolutely perfect. Modern gunmaking introduced CNC machining to make better parts but these still have to be fitted together by hand and eye and filed up in a similar manner. The gunmaking houses each has only a small team of craftsmen, each working on an individual gun at any one time. Time guides are set, but rarely met. A good example is perhaps in the stocking, if you head up a blank of beautiful wood, start pulling it off to find a shake, a hole or other problem, there is only one solution, you have to start again, more time is needed! If the blacking of barrels is not right it has to be done again, if the engraving is not detailed enough it needs further work, the finished stock is scratched by the case maker and has to be redone. The problems and minor details I promise you are endless!
I know from my experience that the very best guns have, and always will go to those who understand this process and are prepared to wait, to the people who allow the craftsmen, engravers and finishers the time to do their very best work, allowing them time to make a truly bespoke gun for an especially unique customer.
We are, as always, very thankful for your orders and totally admire your patience!
Westley Richards 600NE Droplock Rifle Engraved by A. M. Brown circa 1992
Pair of Westley Richards 20g Droplock Guns Engraved by Vince Crowley.
Set of 7 Westley Richards Droplock Shotguns Engraved by Peter Spode and the late Shaun Banks.
Much like I have a lot of small, nicely bound notebooks lying around my office, filled with ideas and whatever else needs writing down, Leslie Taylor kept similar notebooks with his own ideas, notes and references. I found this page from one such book of his which has the recipe for barrel browning. The recipe is from ‘Johnson Barrel Browner’, the very same company we use to this day, 110 years later. It is for a ‘Black Brown’ and noted down in about 1904. There are 3 other recipes for other browns and blacks. I have no doubt he wrote this down for someone like me to inherit should a customer bring in a pair of damascus barrels to be browned and Johnsons had closed.
1/2 oz tincture of steel, 1/2 oz sweet spirits of wine, 1/2 oz nitro,1/2 oz sublimate of mercury, 1/2 oz blue stone, 1 oz brimstone (sulfur), 10 drops of nitric acid.
One look at that list of ingredients should answer anybody’s question “why can’t you do it just like they did it in the old days, the pre war days”. A question or statement we all hear, not infrequently.
I would like to assure everyone it is very, very difficult to do a great deal of things related to gunmaking ‘nowadays’ in a way it was done in the ‘old days’, perhaps in a way this explains why so few people actually bother!
Many of the chemicals involved with the old finishing process on a gun are now, quite rightly (but annoyingly!), illegal. These chemicals and substances were used in the tinning, blacking, blueing, case colour hardening and stock finishing processes and have had to be substituted by modern equivalents, often less effective substitutes. It is a constant game for the craftsmen working out new processes when they find they can’t get a chemical which has been used for a specific task for years.
So I dedicate this ‘Leslie Taylor recipe’ to all the craftsmen who continually strive to get the very best results, from within ever stricter Health & Safety laws and regulations. To the people who continue to make it possible to make a best gun with a best finish.
And for the person who is not satisfied with the modern day results, the recipe can of course be used in their kitchen, please be careful with the boiling water, mercury/acid combination, and good luck!
In that we have a need to zero a rifle before a hunting trip; I have found this method to provide a free ‘take-a-way’ from that range time and something that could potentially re-establish confidence, should you have a scope or mount problem. Admittedly, I have never actually needed it, but having it available as a reference for elevations as well as a simple way back to your original zero, is comforting. If you have an issue with a riflescope, whether a mounting or the need to change the scope out for some reason, it has the potential to create great doubt concerning your rifle, which is not helpful. Having confidence in your equipment, gives you a mental freedom. While this seems almost too basic to mention you should always check stock screws, but do not over tighten. A physician acquaintance just returned from British Columbia, when he finally got his shot at a Mountain Goat Billy on his last hour, last day opportunity, after five misses under 200 yards, his rifle literally fell out of the stock. This was of course entirely preventable and needless to say he was sorely disappointed.
I will assume that we will limit this to 300 yards, which is much farther than 99% of our shots will be taken.
For this purpose we will assume a zero of +1.0 at 100 yards. First we will establish a group with the center of five shots 1.0” above point of aim at 100 yards. Then we will move (the same target) out to 200 yards then on to 300 yards again firing a group at each distance using the same aiming point that we used at 100 yards, and will use for all shooting. What you are looking for here is an accurate elevation that your specific rifle, scope, and load combination delivers at each distance in your rifle. You will have to use your judgment on windage and not overreact to conditions at the longer ranges for our purposes. If your group is centered at 100 it is likely good at 200 and 300 in calm conditions. There is a joke among competitive long-range shooters that this rifle holds elevation great but the windage is very unpredictable.
Once this is accomplished you should move the target to 25 yards and shoot a five shot group on the same target, using the same aiming point that you used for all other shooting. This will give you a close range reference for your longer range elevations. I like to use a heavy paper taped to the bottom of a bull’s-eye target for this so that the holes and groups are clean. The grid type targets do not have enough definition for me at the longer ranges. I had given away all of the examples that I had so I scrambled to put one together to illustrate. I took a .243 bolt rifle with a box of factory ammo, (something common) and off to the range. Shooting was done with an almost constant left to right cross wind and these are the results. You will most likely not have perfect conditions in the field if you need to do this either. I did this shooting off a rolled up jacket to duplicate some of the conditions that you might encounter on a hunt. Your shooting bench could be a vehicle hood, prone on a jacket, or shooting sticks. So then your process will be to simply tack up or tape this target to a box or some larger backing at 25 yards, and move your shots into this previously fired 25 yard group. Sure, you could just take a picture of your target on your phone and carry along but the phone is just not a practical target!! When you have this available and use it should you have an issue, it will show your guide or PH a level of preparation and knowledge. I assure you that this will give them a confidence in you also, and that is another critical piece of your overall success!
An off the face gun is something worth a little time to try to understand. The main questions are what to do about it and what caused the problem in the first place.
A general view is the culprit is usually a worn cross or hinge pin along with wear on the mating surface of the hook. Maybe or maybe not.
Perhaps a bigger cause is a lack of elasticity of the action resulting in an actual permanent bending or stretching of the action face rearward and away from the breech end of the barrels.
The fact that new guns and newly rejointed guns can and do come off the face during proof where cross pin wear can’t be a factor should be telling.
When a new cross pin is fitted and the barrels moved to the rear, a chain of events comes into play and things can become increasingly complex.
Move the barrels rearward and we’re “off the circle”; the circle being the concave surface on the front of the rear lump. The function of this concave surface being to mate with the corresponding convex surface of the “draw” or that portion of the forward surface of the rear action lump slot. This “jointing” of the circle to the draw is the primary means of absorbing recoil forces and keeping a gun from coming off the face. On some guns, namely the Westley Richards “C” models, these forces are mainly taken by the forward area of their deservedly famous doll’s head.
Looseness begets looseness and if the major forces occurring during shooting are taken only by the cross pin and hook because of excess clearance between the circle and the draw the gun is soon loose once again.
Reducing this excess clearance is the obvious remedy. Easy to say but not so easy to accomplish. A build up of the circle surface or that of the draw or both can be done in several ways. Fitting a new piece to the front of the circle or to the draw and smoking them back in is possible. This or a metal deposition process if carefully done can put the circle back on the draw and the barrels back on the face.
At the end of the day it all can come down to what if any looseness or amount of being off the face is tolerable and safe. Probably the best advice is to shoot the loads the gun was intended for and use a little good grease on the bearing points.
A gun set up too tightly is no pleasure to use during a long day’s shoot and many, many guns that are a bit loose give, and will continue to give, thousands of rounds of service with little or no trouble.
The best option may be to ask the views of a competent gunmaker or gunsmith and either fix it if he sees it as a problem or quit worrying and enjoy your gun.
Vic Venter’s excellent book GUN CRAFT has a marvellous chapter on jointing and well worth reading if one has further interest.
I cannot refrain from a small addition here. I personally prefer a loose gun to a tight gun. It is hard to define what is absolutely perfect as different sportsmen will prefer a different feel to their guns. When I say loose I do not mean rattling but I like the gun to open and close easily and for the top lever to go home properly. I see many of the London guns coming out “very tight” with the explanation that the gun will wear in, that the tightness shows the gun is new, the top lever 15 degree or more off centre will “bed in”. I have often been asked if the gun is safe when the lever is not fully in position and have heard of people not using new guns because they thought they were not locked properly as the lever wasn’t home.
I like our guns and rifles to be ready for use in the field, I see no reason for the client to ‘run the guns in”, something like we had to do years ago with a cars engine. At Westley Richards we run the guns in before they leave. There is nothing more frustrating than a hard to open and close gun in the field and if tight and hard to close the loader in the case of a shotgun will be slamming the gun closed and this can quite easily end up with a broken stock from the shock. This has happened many times. In the case of a double rifle it is just plain dangerous if the rifle doesn’t close quickly, often the milliseconds do count.
Tom Wilkes’ father used to say ‘guns should be made for gentlemen’s hands to open and close” and I fully agree with this approach!
The Lion Rifle is complete and is a rifle I am particularly pleased with, I think the whole rifle has come together really well and that the engraving is unique. It is refreshing to see another new style so beautifully executed. Not, I am sure, to everyones taste, but certainly to mine! Thanks to everyone involved with its making.
Rifle by Westley Richards, Engraving by Paul Lantuch, Barrel Black Johnsons, Colour Case Hardening Richard St Ledger, Colour Brush Off A.M. Brown.
The engraving of Paul Lantuch on our India Rifle and Lion Rifle has been much admired by visitors to both this blog and our stands at last years exhibitions around the world. Between the India work and Lion work and when Paul wanted to look at something other than a gun for a few weeks, I asked him to make me a set of dies for some cufflinks depicting the ‘Big Five’ in his classic engraving style. We managed to get the ‘Big Four’ done and then went straight on with the lions on the rifle!
In typical gunmakers tradition, we are late with these for the Christmas gift giving season, but I do have these first four pairs available. Paul engraved the dies for these and stamps out the silver blanks from a poured nugget of pure silver. The resulting blow of the die leaves the animal impression and a unique edge to each piece, a totally handcrafted and hand produced cufflink which will be very limited in production as we have guns to engrave! The reverse of the blank is initialed PL and each piece has been hallmarked in Birmingham’s assay office in our close by jewellery quarter. WR is marked on the leg of each pair.
These are the fist 4 pairs and are available at £350 inc VAT per pair in Europe or $450 per pair exported. First come, first served. If you send me an email message by hitting the contact The Explora button at the top of the page I will reserve them for you. These will not be on the webshop yet.
As an update to this post, the first 4 pairs were sold and I have received this week some more blanks from Paul which we are now making up in the Jewellery Quarter here in town. Paul was also kind enough to send a few photographs showing the process of making the ingots for the stamping. Once the ingots are cast they are put in the hydraulic press and die stamped with his engraved master which produces the blanks, as seen in the final photograph below.
American businessman and inventor A.E. Lard, the developer of the early single trigger was by all account quite a driven and dynamic entrepreneur. His early development of a single trigger design gained him some six U.S. patents during the period 1899-1915. I am not sure as to what name he used to label his design during that period but I do know that when Hunter Arms of New York, maker of the L.C. Smith purchased the American rights in approximately 1904 they referred to it as the ‘Hunter One Trigger’. This Hunter One Trigger has been both praised and vilified.
In the early 80’s I purchased a beautiful and seemingly perfect L.C. Smith ‘Wildfowl’ model equipped with the one trigger and was so excited to use this on ducks and turkeys only to experience a nightmare with it. At that time I could not locate a specialist for these triggers and so put it in the hand of folks who had no more success than I did. I have an idea today that the softer American Walnut in combination with the torque applied to the sideplates may have been part of the problem. In any case there are several gunsmiths today that can straighten them out and make them work quite satisfactorily.
The Lard Single Trigger from an old gun (top) and the First Westley Richards version that replaced it below.
I am not sure when Westley Richards adopted the A.E. Lard design, I do know that he was an Agent for the company and was advertising the Westley hand-detachable boxlock fitted with the Selective Single Trigger in the American Field Magazine in an August 24, 1901 issue. I would love to read his agreement with Hunter Arms and explore the language pertaining to the sale of his design to them; something tells me that Mister Lard was a pretty ‘slick’ operator. Westley fitted some 1000 plus of these triggers to guns and rifles and adopted the companies own design approximately 1909.
The bespoke process of manufacture in Westley guns and rifles vs. the mass production in the American market to meet demand no doubt has contributed to the success of the W-R single trigger. The combination of the A&D design, with the contained and protected hand-detachable locks, in combination with the single trigger design precisely made to close tolerances and protected within the design of action and stock is one of the greatest combinations of all elements in gunmaking. Being able to withstand high-volume shooting in shotgun, and recoil and conditions of hunting in the case of the double rifles. We have to look no farther than the James Sutherland .577 as an example of its success in combination of these elements. His fondness and confidence in it is well known and documented by his own words in print.
James Sutherland’s .577 Single Selective Trigger Westley Richards Droplock.
I am told that today approximately fifty percent of new Westley shotguns are built with the single trigger and some twenty percent of new double rifles. The single trigger being available up through .600 in the double rifle. There is a pair of 4-bore rifles underway in the hand-detachable, single trigger configuration which will be something to see indeed. The reliability of the A&D design utilizing the detachable locks, coupled with the single trigger makes for as trouble free use as you will find on any. These guns and rifles, from a simple case colored action, through a ‘gold name’, to exhibition engraved so configured is truly ‘Best Quality!”.