June 26, 2023
Any number of my acquaintances will confirm this fact: I am not a gunsmith and do not pretend to be one. When skilled work needs to be done, I find an expert to do it. However, there are some essentials that can no longer be found commercially or don’t require the sterling touch of a London gunmaker. These I make myself, and since they will rarely leave my gunroom and will be seen by few, it doesn’t matter if they are a bit crude.
Making one’s own ammunition is not really gunsmithing, but it’s related, and in that case it’s make it yourself or don’t shoot. Also, some of the tools and skills involved (if such they can be called) are useful for both.
For example, serious gunmakers always have what they call “shop rods.” These are not the exquisite and expensive two- or three-piece rosewood-and-brass masterpieces kept in a case with your Purdey, which are certainly usable, but also very fiddly. Putting them together, switching jags and brushes and mops back and forth is okay if you’re traveling. Otherwise, I’d rather avoid it.
A perfectly usable rod can be made with a piece of dowel either drilled with a hole to accommodate a cleaning patch or with a hole drilled in the end to accept a brush or jag. For a few bucks, you can make dedicated tools for each gauge of shotgun. You can get a dowel of exactly the right diameter and cut it to the best length. Elegant it’s not, but once the wood has absorbed enough Hoppe’s No. 9 and gun oil, it will look like it’s been around for a century.
The brush, jag, etcetera, can be permanently attached regardless of whether it has male or female threads by drilling a large enough hole and filling it with a serious glue. Another way is to drill a small hole through rod and jag end and shove in a finishing nail. Trim the nail ends, add glue, and you have yourself a very durable tool.
Another eminently useful gadget, which is very hard to find anymore, is a pull-through. These can be elaborate or painfully simple, but they need to have certain qualities. One is a weighted end to drop through the bore. I find this to be the biggest obstacle, especially with smaller calibers like .308 or 7mm. You need strong twine or cord for the pull-through, and a knot to hold the weight is usually too big.
I solve this problem by finding a cartridge case smaller than the bore and enlarging the flash hole to allow the cord to pass through. You tie a simple knot, pull it back down into the case, then crimp a bullet into it for weight.
The other end can then be as simple or as elaborate as you want, but I find that a loop, tightened around a cleaning patch of suitable size, works for most of the things you want a pull-through for, such as removing blackpowder grime at the range. In fact, depending on the use, patches can be left in place until they become too dirty to do the job.
The Brits being the Brits, they managed to turn the pull-through into yet another beautifully made little gadget to go into the case with your fine, elegant shotgun. They had custom-cast lead weights, or sometimes brass, like miniature plumb bobs, and the cords were threaded through and knotted in a cavity, much as I described earlier. The opposite end had a threaded brass cup, similar to what you find on rods, for accepting jags and so on. The cord was the best natural fiber British India could produce, and it was all packaged in a neat leather pouch.
When making your own pull-through, with a bit of trial and error, you can still find balls (or bales) of hemp, jute, and cotton cord, any of which work better than modern synthetic fibers. As for the pouch, I’m trying to persuade a leather worker of my acquaintance to copy one. But since it would cost an inordinate amount—“Do you want pigskin or Morocco?”—it rather defeats the purpose.