Information Is An Important Tool.
If I visit a residence without books lying everywhere or a few yards of bookcases brimming with readables, I get a really uneasy feeling. That something is not quite right. Like nobody there knows anything or cares to. Books should always be at the ready to answer questions, to show specifications or to educate. You just can’t remember everything and books are a good place to stow useful knowledge. Maybe an old-fashioned view in the cyber age but the Internet doesn’t know everything. Books are often just handier and more efficient.
Like any business, a gunsmithing business runs on information. There is a certain core store of knowledge you have to have at hand to work effectively. Every gunsmith, working and hobbyist alike, will have a different focus in his work but we all still need much of the same information. I’ll touch on a few of the essential references that inform my daily work.
Most of my daily fare is metalwork. Questions on heat-treatment of particular steels arise regularly so I peruse heat-treat recipes, draw temperatures and hardness tables found in a couple of steel company publications on both carbon and stainless materials. Occasionally, I’ll nose into the Machinists Handbook for advice on odd thread pitches and how to select tap drill sizes for them. Most of the books on metalworking I have are quite old but then so are the materials we use. If you haunt used bookstores, you will find all manner of books on materials and machine shop practice that are priceless and cost about nothing. The sad irony is the Internet is the best treasure-hunting tool out there and is how I find most of my books now.
For rifle and pistol smiths alike, barrel and cylinder chambering means you need specifications for the cartridges you use. I have a weary, greasy, dog-eared NRA Handloading Guide, bought in the early years of my business, that has critical SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) cartridge drawings showing the all-important headspace numbers that all gunsmiths must use to produce safe, dependable and predictable work product. I will admit to visiting the excellent SAAMI website for drawings my old book doesn’t have (just don’t tell the book). Since the old NRA Guide doesn’t offer much in the way of intelligence on vintage or foreign munitions, I have an equally faithful and grimy edition of Cartridges of the World which has not only specifications for many other cartridges but loading data, as well. When you need to order up chambering reamers and other tooling for some obscure round, these specifications are invaluable tools without which you cannot intelligently design the tooling. These two books will cover most territory you will travel but I would also commend at least the third and fourth volumes of George A. Hoyem’s excellent The History & Development of Small Arms Ammunition. Nobody should keep house without a goodly collection or reloading manuals, old and new alike, from various publishers and manufacturers.
Webley-Fosbery parts are the only thing scarcer than the guns so it pays to study up a little before venturing into the irreplaceable innards. This book from Mowbray tells it all. A companion book on Military Rifle Disassembly is a must-have as well.
While I do very little gunsmithing for hire, there is still a good bit of it going on in the shop after hours and on weekends for my own amusement and for family and friends. Most of us in the gun making trade tend to specialize. While most custom gunmakers have a sound working knowledge of firearms, few of us have a lot of general experience. And it shows the first time you are confronted with a gun you have never handled, let alone disassembled or repaired. While intimately familiar with the entrails of most revolvers, I had to repair an old Marlin Levermatic some years ago, a terrifying experience. The action of this little .22 Magnum rifle was a Gordian knot of entangled mousetrap springs, levers and cams, none of which made a lot of sense at first glance. However, armed with my grubby, stained copy of J. B. Wood’s Firearms Assembly/Disassembly Guide, Part III, I was able to prevail and make it well. The first-class Collectors Guide to Military Pistol & Revolver Disassembly and Reassembly by Mowbray & Puleo was an invaluable companion for understanding a Webley-Fosbery revolver. This was uncharted water for me and I didn’t want to rush the work or injure the old girl in any way. Owners manuals from contemporary manufacturers and parts catalogs from Gun Parts Corporation and Jack First all offer exploded drawings of new and vintage arms that will provide the names of any parts left over after reassembly. You simply can’t have too much of this material at hand.
The last class of books we’ll touch on are my favorites. These play little part in my day-to-day work but they have fueled many a pleasant evening, pouring over them all. The list is long so I’ll mention but a few favorites. I have the eight Wal Winfer books on British single-shot rifles which offer great insight into these grand old guns. There are several tomes from Collector-Grade Publications on everything from the Colt New Service revolver to the Remington Models 8 and 81. These books are also the ones that can lead to penury and privation, especially when you accumulate several hundred pounds of them. Still, they are friends and companions from whom I would not be parted. Handy as the Internet is sometimes, there is no substitute for a paper book with its own peculiar smell, warmth and substance. Books are like guns, too: if you know how many you have, you don’t have enough.
By Hamilton S. Bowen
200 S. Front St., Montezuma, IA 50171
Gun Digest F+W Publications
700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990
54 E. School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895
Collector Grade Publications
Quality books on collectable
P.O. Box 14046
Cobourg, Ontario Canada K9A 4W5