The Bookshelf of a Gunsmith

Before one can approach a gun with the intent to create, modify or repair it, the gunsmith needs to gain knowledge of the fundamentals of the trade. 50+ years ago, before it became the agenda of educational bureaucrats, politicians, “free trade” hucksters and academic pecksniffs to extirpate manufacturing skills, this country used to have a thriving education in skilled trades and the use of tools to create useful, functional and durable goods.


Thanks to a modern educational system that has devalued skilled trades and getting one’s hands dirty in the course of a day’s work, fewer and fewer people have even rudimentary skills with hand tools, never mind machine tools. A classic gunsmith must have extensive knowledge of working in both metal and wood, with both hand and machine tools. There are gunsmiths who devote themselves to either metal or woodworking exclusively, but most gunsmiths still work in both mediums.
NB that when I say “gunsmith,” I mean someone who actually can make many parts for guns, not someone who merely orders parts out of a catalog or from a website, and then changes parts. Someone who disassembles a gun, checks the parts for operational limits and condition, and replaces any parts not within spec is an ‘armorer,’ not a gunsmith.
As such, many of the books in this bibliography will tend towards explanations of what seem like very basic and unexciting skills. To be a classically trained gunsmith, you must know how to choose the correct screwdriver, the correct punch, know how to use hand files, gouges, rasps, scrapers, chisels, polishing stones, sanding paper, machines (especially the lathe) and so on.
NB that my books run towards the classics and fine guns. I’ve previously stated that I don’t do much with AR’s and the like for customers – so the AR books I have run towards the accuracy and high-end sort of AR, not the 3-gun or plinking sort of AR. I view work on commodity-level AR’s much the same way a diesel mechanic views having to repair his lawnmower: it’s not something I do for profit, but I often do it for myself.
Also, I’d like people to understand again that as a gunsmith, I sometimes have to repair parts, sometimes even re-create parts out of thin air. There have been times I’ve been left with only a fraction of an original part, and I’ve had to build up metal on the exiting piece of a gun part by TIG welding, then I’ve re-created the part by hand filing it to dimension & shape. As a result, some of the books in my bookshelf are basically books of parts drawings, dimensions and techniques used to make these parts, and these are topics which aren’t that interesting to shooters and collectors. I’ll try to call these books out where possible. Some of these parts dimension books are quite valuable now, but are of very little interest to the general gun-owning population.
I will be adding to this posting regularly, as I go through my extensive book collection and add entries to this list. I have over 100 books on gun details, gunsmithing, etc. Not all of my books are in English – some are in German. I’ll include those too eventually, as the Germans do a good job of documenting their gun industry.

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Why Do SxS and O/U Shotguns Cost “so much?”

Lots of commentary on the web, in print, etc. appears to not understand why double-barreled, break-action shotguns cost so much more than the typical pump or semi-auto shotgun.

There’s several reasons, but let’s start with the most obvious:

When you purchase a double-barreled shotgun, the shotgun has two barrels. Right there, you’ve added (typically) at least $300 in the cost of the gun.

Then the details start adding up: The gun will have two hammers, two sears, and two extractors – at a minimum.  If the gun has ejectors rather than just extractors, then the gun has two more sets of hammers/sears/triggers/etc in the forearm. The action of opening the gun cocks the ejectors in the forearm, and when one or both barrels of the gun are fired, then a trip lever communicates this from the hammer in the receiver to the trigger/sear in the forearm for that barrel. When the gun is opened, the fired barrel (and only the fired barrel, if both barrels were not fired) ejects the spent shell.

This is not only a lot more parts, these various actions need to be tuned to happen in the correct sequence, and, in higher-quality guns, the cocking of a fully spent gun happens with at most two “clicks.” In the highest quality guns, the cocking of left/right or top/bottom barrel hammers/sears and ejector mechanisms has been timed so that there is only one “click” heard by the shooter when they open the gun. This take a significant amount of attention by a skilled gunsmith at the factory to make this a reality. British “best” guns have one click. Many high-end American double guns will have two clicks.

Then there are the details of construction. The two barrels didn’t come off the boring/turning/finishing machines bound together like that. Modern SxS shotguns are assembled with the top and bottom ribs, and possibly a monoblock. For those unfamiliar with double barrel shotguns, the “monoblock” is a part of the barrels that will include the chamber areas of the barrel, the breechface (with extractor/ejector cuts), the hook/action interface pieces, and the interface to the two barrels.

When the barrels are put together into a barrel set, modern shotgun production has the various parts treated with some brazing powder & flux, then everything is put into an oven to braze everything together. In past times, most barrels would be soft-soldered together up to the monoblock or hook area, and the area back near the action would be silver-soldered together for higher strength. This took skill to accomplish correctly.

Double-barrel shotguns have a significant advantage over single-barrel shotguns because you can have a different choke in each barrel. This means that a double barrel shotgun can be configured for patterns at different ranges. The classic SxS “field” gun would be configured with a Modified or Improved choke on the first barrel, and a Full choke on the second barrel. Many of today’s double-barrel shotguns will have removable chokes, allowing the shooter to reconfigure the shotgun from a long(er) range clay sport like trap (or other games, like Annie Oakley shoots) to a skeet gun with wide patters for close-in shots.

Double barrel shotguns also have the advantage over single-barrel shotguns in that if the first round fails to fire, you have a second barrel – as long as you have a mechanical trigger or double triggers. More on this in a bit.

The last point where break-action shotguns needed more attention was in fitting the barrels to the receiver. Before highly repeatable CNC machines came along, this was another job done by the hands of a skilled gunsmith. Today, modern production machines are able to eliminate most of this. Many double-barreled, break-action shotguns are made “tight” so that as they wear, they become more easily opened. When even a modern shotgun wears to a point where the barrels become “off face,” (you can see some light between the water table of the receiver and the bottom of the barrels), the barrels will need to be put back “on face” by a skilled gunsmith.

Then there were the issues of trigger mechanisms in double-gun shotguns. Double-barrel purists swear by double triggers, with the front trigger typically firing the more “open” of the two barrels first, and the rear trigger fired the tighter choked barrel. Having double triggers allows the shooter to choose the barrel with the tighter choke first, if the shot requires it. Later, around WWII, many double-barreled gun makers started making guns with a single trigger and a selector switch to choose the first barrel to be fired. This brought forth a new wrinkle that double-barreled gun makers had to solve that a single-barrel pump or semi-auto doesn’t: how to advance the single trigger to fire the second barrel. Some double-barreled shotguns do this only when the recoil of the first barrel being fired moves lockwork part(s) to move the trigger’s internals to the second barrel.  This is known as an “inertia trigger.”  The disadvantage of the inertia trigger is that in the event of a misfire (ie, the first barrel didn’t fire) or the shooter forgot to load the first barrel, there is no easy way to access the second barrel’s load.

Other double-barrel shotguns will automatically advance the trigger to the second barrel purely as a result of the trigger being pulled on the first barrel. This type of trigger is called a “mechanical trigger.” The fastest way for a shotgun buyer to determine which type of trigger a double gun has is to unload the gun by fully breaking the barrels (to cock the lockwork), close the gun, confirm the gun is pointed in a safe direction, then confirm the safety is off and pull the trigger. All double guns’ triggers pulled in this manner should result in a nice, sharp “click” as the first barrel’s hammer hits the firing pin home. Now, allow the trigger to reset (ie, take your finger off the trigger) and pull the trigger again. If you head a second sharp “click” of the second hammer hitting the firing pin, then you have a gun with a mechanical trigger. If you hear nothing, then, using your fist or open hand, give the gun a good, firm strike on the butt of the gun. Try the trigger again. If you hear the second hammer strike its pin, you know you have an inertia trigger.

Long story short: Quality SxS and O/U shotguns have lots more going on in them – there’s a lot more parts, involvement and labor involved than a single-barrel pump or semi-auto. They need more attention during their creation then single-barrel guns. They do have a specific set of advantages to shotgun shooters – before we start talking of embellishments and “best gun” values. Fox sold many thousands of Sterlingworth guns, and Parker sold many thousands of Vulcan guns – which were very plain in appearance, but still well made. Today, these plain SxS guns can be had for $800 on up in the more common variations (eg, 12 gauge, 16 gauge).

The origins of this blog

I’m a gunsmith. I’m also a man of strong opinions. Hence the moniker, “Dyspeptic Gunsmith.”

This blog will be where I publish some of my knowledge about guns. It will not be a “profit center,” ie, I’m not going to be interested in reviewing, endorsing, advertising or otherwise promoting products. If I mention a product, tool or service on this blog, it is because I’ve personally used it, and they have a solution to an issue in my word. Since I will be taking no money from gun product companies, I will reserve the right to offer my frank and unflinching opinions (based on the facts as I experienced them) about products and services I use. Since I’m not seeking to make this blog a profit center, I will also not waste readers’ time with click-bait postings, movies of scantily clad women in bikinis, shooting guns (in slow motion or otherwise), or of gratuitous explosions and destruction.

This blog won’t deal much in the area of politics or regulation. Politicians and regulators are not terribly impressive people, and I believe that there is more than enough discussion of unimpressive people and their even less impressive thinking elsewhere on the ‘net.

Since I’m not interested in using this blog as a profit center, readers will find that this blog will have a very stark, simple appearance. I did 20+ years in the computer industry, writing huge swathes of code in huge software systems. I’m no longer interested in impressing people with my software prowess, and as such, I’m not interested in making this a flashy, visually arresting piece of publishing. What few videos I might post will have very rudimentary video production values. Probably none of my videos will have slow motion, HD/4K, etc.

There will be posts that contain only formatted words, there will be posts that contain pictures, some that contain drawings and PDF’s of mechanical drawings, perhaps some videos demonstrating particular techniques in machining or gunsmithing. Since this blog is currently using WordPress’ free option, there will be advertisements inserted by WordPress that are outside my control, of topics and products that probably make no sense in the context of this blog. I will have little to no control over what the reader is subjected to in this regard.

If readers have suggestions on how I might present information more clearly, I’m quite open to suggestions.

As for answering readers’ questions about their personal guns, and gun problems: There are some problems with guns that I can diagnose from afar with nothing more than a detailed and accurate description of the problem(s) and a sequence of observed events of the issue. Then there are other problems where there is literally no other alternative but to have the gun in my hands, looking at it very carefully for whatever can be seen. I ask readers to not be offended if I can fix Reader A’s issue remotely, but have no way to offer substantive or useful information about Reader B’s issue. I’m not ignoring or disparaging Reader B. In areas where I perceive there to be an issue with a gun that possibly makes it unsafe to fire, I will advise reader(s) that is the situation as I perceive it, and recommend that they see their local gunsmith to inspect and address the issue. In these sorts of situations, I cannot offer solutions remotely, because I am obviously unable to confirm my diagnosis and test my repair, alteration/etc – and as such, someone making changes to guns at my instruction could be making a bad situation even worse. This is an intolerable situation for both the gun owner and me – as well as being a liability swamp.

Please also not that I am not soliciting business via this blog; it is intended to be a source of information for readers, not a business development tool.