Cheap v. Best Guns, With General Advice on the Purchase of a Gun By Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey
Part - II BEST GUNS
Let us have a look at what the manufacture of a good gun means, and at the same time bear in mind that it is in every detail constructed with as much care and accuracy as the fittings of a valuable watch. It is tested over and over again, and its materials are chosen with the utmost caution, in view of their lasting and other useful capabilities.
First-class gun-barrels are selected from the very best iron and steel; they are put together with the greatest possible care; and they are bored, finished, and adjusted to a thousandth of an inch. The thought and science bestowed on the barrels alone, before they are perfect, represent the experience of a lifetime; and, as instancing what a first-class artisan in the gun-trade is worth to his employer, it is worthy of remark that no machine or lathe has yet been invented that equals in delicacy or rivals in accuracy the touch of such a man's hand, as applied to his tools when finishing a barrel for its shooting, or when bestowing on it a correct outline. The barrels, roughly attached to the stock, are first tried at the range, and then returned to the factory to be retouched here and there by clever artificers; then they are tried again, and perhaps altered half a dozen times on the trial-ground itself, and several hundred shots may be fired from them at the target before the workman and his master are satisfied that the gun supports their reputation, and is fit for the purchaser.
To arrange the satisfactory shooting of guns is a very difficult and intricate affair. Out of a score of guns sent to the trial-ground, it is quite possible that not one will shoot as does another, though each is bored to all intents alike. To alter them so as to get their performances up to the same standard of excellence is a matter of great care and expense. This difference between the shooting of guns is not to be wondered at when we consider that the thousandth of an inch of deviation in any part of a barrel may throw it off its shooting; and when we also bear in mind that its boring is regulated by manual labour.
The excellence of gun-barrels depends very much on the amount of care they undergo during the process of forging. A barrel that has not been carefully welded is very likely to show 'greys' and sandholes in its finished state. The former appear in the form of small specks, and are not of great consequence unless in profusion; but the latter are serious defects, of a dangerous nature. These sand-holes run (like the track of a worm in timber) round or along the barrel, inside the metal; and they are wont, by rusting, to increase in size till, perhaps, a fracture occurs. But a crack in a barrel is worst of all, and is the result of really bad manufacture.
In purchasing a secondhand gun, it is well to minutely examine its barrels with a magnifying glass, and probe with the point of a penknife any lines that look like rust, or any crevices that it is possible may have been levelled up with composition in order to conceal the mischief lying underneath.* To detect a crack in a pair of barrels, remove the woodwork, hang the barrels up by a string, and strike them with a piece of hard wood. If sound, they will emit a bell-like ring; if damaged, they give out a comparatively dull or jarring note. I have shot with an 8-bore duck-gun that had a small hole in one barrel a foot from the muzzle; but such a defect, though, of course, much against the shooting of a gun, is of little moment, in the matter of safety, compared with what even the smallest crack would be.
* It is not uncommon to find in sale-rooms and secondhand shops old, and, of course (in their former state), unsalable, pin-fire guns, that have been converted into central-fires; a most dangerous alteration this, as the necessary drilling between the closely-set barrels of a pin-fire gun, in order to take the leg of the extractor of a centralfire, is certain to weaken the metal of the barrels at their breech end. So have a care on this point when purchasing a secondhand gun.
The barrels, however, are only one part of a gun. There are the locks, the breech-fittings, the stock, and the finishing—all, in their way, requiring as much attention.
No part of a gun varies more than its locks. There are many grades of lockmakers alone—men who make common locks, those who make fairly good, good, and really first-class locks;* and so it is with every other detail of a gun. Locks can be purchased from a few shillings up to several guineas a pair; as likewise can breech-actions, as well as the other numerous parts of a gun. What care and excellent arrangement the locks and mechanism of a good gun require can be guessed by most; but few realise to what extent these qualities are necessary. The stock of a best gun is most carefully chosen from, perhaps, a hundred rough outlines in walnut; and, finally, the gun is finished by a real artist in the trade—one who turns his work about, and looks at it on every side, considering what is best and what is not, and who, in fact, puts beauty and merit into every touch he gives it with his tools.
* Because the locks are hidden from view, they are none the less of exquisite workmanship in a good gun. In this line of business Messrs. Joseph Brazier, of Wolverhampton, have been justly famous for an hundred years or more, though their name is better known to gunmakers than to gun-buyers.
How often have I heard it said by a shooter, that he does not care to pay for the engraving of a good gun. Little does he know that engraving is the cheapest part of the weapon, and that a gun can be smothered with scroll-work for a pound or so, though the artistic outlines seen upon an expensive gun cost more. I should never fear that engraving was put on a first-class gun to hide inferior work; it is applied as an ornament and finish— as a frame to a picture. But I always suspect engraving on a cheap weapon, as by such means it is easy to conceal bad fittings and materials.
To sum up. I consider that a high-class gun is about as complete and lasting an article as a shooter can buy, and in the long run it is much the least expensive, though it cott him the usual price of 45£. He may take it for granted, if it be purchased from a wellknown gunmaker, that it represents all that is said of it, and that every part—stock, lock, and barrel —is about as perfect as human ability and lavish, though necessary, expenditure can make it. I therefore strongly recommend a first-class gun, from a good maker, as being the most economical in the end; for it will last well, shoot well, work satisfactorily, and always be a safe and pleasant companion to its owner.