Winter brings on a time for reflection and creativity. Here are two of my latest projects.
Rebirth of an American Original:
I purchased a highly used Savage Stevens 311 side by side shotgun in 20 gauge this winter. This blue-collar piece of Americana looked like somebody had glued shotgun parts to a stock for a Daisy red-ryder BB-gun. Selling for less than $100 new, these shotguns were made bombproof. They were utility no-frills hunting tools and had to function even after being thrown into the back of a pickup or carried on a tractor. No room was left at that price point for aesthetics. A walnut stock was eschewed in favor of beech wood. This was sprayed with a mix of stain and varnish that often aged badly, melting and fading unevenly. Checkering was burned in poorly and often crookedly as well. It was a diamond in the rough, with nice casing to the metal, but would require the stock to be altered and refinished. As I looked at it in the gun shop, I saw both the flaws and the possibilities. The challenge? Could I manage to restore this and make it look like a respectable side by side? I had never refinished or reshaped a stock before.
|Raw stock with bad finish and crappy checkering|
|Sanded and re-shaped|
|Staining in progress|
After 3 weeks of work, this is what came out. I took the stock down with sandpaper and files, reshaping the squared off blocky looks to a more slender and elegant form, and re-sculpted the grip. I took off some of the burned in checkering as well. Then came hours of hand sanding using progressively finer papers to achieve a glass like surface of wood. Every step was done without any use of power-tools. I like to feel the raw material in my hands and let the material and my fingers guide me instead of trying to force myself on the subject by grinding away with impersonal electric appliances.
Multiple stains were tried on scrap wood until I finally was happy with the coloring. The bare wood beech stock had little grain to it, so that would have to brought out as well. How it would turn out was a mystery since I was on un-trodden ground here at least for me. It was all a great experiment. The two color and two-part staining worked out beautifully, especially after copious rubbing with a tack cloth.
Now for the finish…
Ah, Tung-oil… the stuff of frustration… will it ever dry?
Six coats of thin Tung-oil went on slowly in the late morning sunlight of a cold January. Every day the stock was sanded with wet-dry paper and another coat of oil rubbed on by hand with my fingers.
Finally assembled, the old Savage-Stevens was now unrecognizable from its original form. It had arisen from rust and dust and poor machine finishing to glow with pride.
Hunting with it for the first time was a joy, even if no bunnies were actually harmed, and the day consisted of wandering around the woods and briars with a shotgun in hand.
|In the field|
What mattered is the pride of ownership I felt at having something I was proud of and labored over lovingly for all those weeks.
Handcraft can be so fulfilling.
The second project was a commission from a client and friend. He saw several of the first leather rod tubes I handcrafted and wanted one to fit several Joe Balestrieri bamboo fly rods which were being designed and built for him.
The problem: Each of my prior rod tubes looked beautiful, but were not, at least in my opinion, ready for production or sale. The finishing processes were just not quite up to par.
I challenged myself to make a piece of art worthy of the rods that were going to be carried by it. No corners would be cut here. Time would be taken to ensure a perfect fit and finish. I also wanted it to be ornate, unique, and rather antique looking.
The owner is very happy with it, and I am proud to have produced a little piece of art out of time and leather. I can now make these to custom order. Price is $700 for the standard model pictured below.
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