Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age...

Day At The Range has a review of a custom-built 6" SVI Infinity.

A truly bespoke pistol is something a lot of shooters will never experience, and one that is done right is an even rarer beastie.

One common belief is that the money is spent on pretty; cosmetic fripperies that have nothing to do with the function of the heater in question. I suppose it's possible to sink bucks in various styling curlicues and gingerbread, but that's missing the point. Sure, I'll look at things like how well the beavertail is fitted up or how nicely the ass-end of the extractor is blended with the slide, but I only do that as a gauge of the craftsman's attention to detail: If he didn't care enough to handle these visible areas properly, why should I think he spent the time to do a proper relief cut on the sear or make sure that the feed ramp geometry was precisely correct?

Understand this: By comparison to a true custom 1911, even the nicest Kimber is a mass-produced gat that is only distinguished from its more plebeian brethren by its price tag. Sit down with a Brownells catalog and start tallying up the tariff on a high-end gun: Forged frame and slide, Kart barrel, Cylinder & Slide lockwork... You're over a grand before you've even gotten into the nitty-gritty of triggers and sights and slide stops. Pick your choice of everything, sized and shaped to your hand and style of shooting. Make sure it's made of top-shelf materials; no cheap slag on your Excalibur. Select a truly skilled craftsman to assemble it (and that's the hardest part, right there; there are dozens of gun monkeys for every guy who really knows how to make a 1911 sing,) and pay him appropriately... Now you know why these things cost money.

But when they're done right, oh my. When you have sweated and agonized over each part, building exactly the gun you want, fitted to your hand like a glove, well...
...its exactly what I was looking for. It feels great in the hand, balances well, and shoots like a dream. The only problem I have with it is that it makes my Baer look a little crappy...
It makes me happy that pistols like this exist at all. It makes me even happier to see them beat to hell from hard use on the range. No sword, no matter how perfect, is much use if it just hangs over the mantelpiece looking pretty.

33 comments:

Ninth Stage said...

"Beat to hell from hard use" yeah. My competition guns are all holster worn and beat to hell from hard use, and favorites all.

BTW it's an ess vee eye at the link.

Tam said...

Fixed.

Thanks!

Firehand said...

Amen. It always made me happy to see somebody come by years later with a knife they'd bought, and I'd see the scratches and stains and wear. Pretty is nice, but I wanted the damn thing to WORK, and it was mightily pleasing to find it'd been doing the job.

Fiftycal said...

Dunno. My Glock 27 still looks pretty new even after 7-8 years of holster in/out. Maybe the sekret is not to drive nails with the butt or something.

Roberta X said...

Better living through plastic? I don't like the way they balance in my hand -- reliable as a hammer, though, especially with high-end parts and skilled help. ...Hey!

Jeff said...

The 1911 I built myself is my favorite. As you said, everything is how I wanted it. Custom fitted high end parts, its a beautiful thing.

$1k does come up pretty quickly when paging through the Brownells catalog.

Tam said...

"Dunno. My Glock 27 still looks pretty new even after 7-8 years of holster in/out."

Really?

The slides on mine were usually pretty shiny on the corners after a year or two. Of course, most of them were the older matte finish, before Glock went to the newer fingerprint-friendly slides.

Borepatch said...

Somehow I picture you singing this epic poem in a Meade Hall, with the Theigns and Huskarls silent in their rapt attention.

Now you've gone and made me want to drop three grand (more?) on my own custom Joyeuse. The Massachusetts Theigns will be thrilled at that ...

Joel said...

Yeah, I'll never own a custom pistol like that - and if I did it wouldn't come out looking anything remotely like that one - but it makes my morning a little brighter knowing they're out there.

The Jack said...

"Understand this: By comparison to a true custom 1911, even the nicest Kimber is a mass-produced gat that is only distinguished from its more plebeian brethren by its price tag. "
Speaking as a Kimber fan: this is Very, very true. Kimbers *are* mass produced and thus the quality will suffer. And they are overprice, but if you are patient you can pick one up used for a good price with little wear (my full-size really only had break-in wear, but it was sold because the previous owner tried to put a buffer in it and gave up).

However, a true custom is worlds apart. Both in quality and price (but that level of quality and customization is exactly what you're paying for).


"It makes me happy that pistols like this exist at all. It makes me even happier to see them beat to hell from hard use on the range. No sword, no matter how perfect, is much use if it just hangs over the mantelpiece looking pretty."

Indeed. The weapon is a tool; it should be used. Otherwise it's just a piece of art.

And now you're putting bad thoughts in my head... and there is a Brownells catalog on the kitchen table.

ZerCool said...

It makes me even happier to see them beat to hell from hard use on the range.

I'll give that a hearty plus-one endorsement. Now I'll throw the big question at you:

Would you use a full-custom gun as your daily carry piece, keeping in mind that if you ever have to use it as designed, it's going to end up in an evidence locker, uncleaned and unprotected?

Tam said...

ZerCool,

"Would you use a full-custom gun as your daily carry piece, keeping in mind that if you ever have to use it as designed, it's going to end up in an evidence locker, uncleaned and unprotected?"

Yes.

og said...

The good news is, for the price of a decent used car, you can have a brilliantly made sidearm. Almost everyone could do this. I don't know anyone who couldn't scrimp and save and put together the scratch needed to have a bespoke handgun.

Longarms, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more spendy. That's why when I see a Dominion Holland and Holland 20 bore sitting in Cabelas for $7k, and people walk by saying "Why so much for just another old gun" it makes me just about sick to my stomach, and I want to slap them.

What's more important, really, a fine sidearm, or trading in your car after two years instead of six?

Tam said...

"Longarms, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more spendy."

Doubles, sure, but one could still build a pretty premium bolt gun for a fairly reasonable sum if one was willing to forgo decoration and pretty wood.

I'm still kicking myself for not snatching up a few more Turks back when you could get them for <$50 and knocking them down, selling off or throwing away all the excess, and be left sitting on a drawer full of Oberndorf actions just waiting for inspiration to strike. ;)

og said...

"but one could still build a pretty premium bolt gun for a fairly reasonable sum"

If all you wanted was for it to shoot nice, yeah, you could do it for a couple grand. A really nice looking gun, even an unadorned one, is gonna be triple that price, even if you act as the general and make it yourself. And there is hardly any point to doing so, when so many fine rifles are available from so many makers. A bone-stock savage with accutrigger is more gun than almost anyone could ever need. Almost the only reason to do something yourself is to fit a particularly deformed body, to which a standard stock will not shoot well, or to wildcat a cartridge.

It's having a piece of art made by Bland, or parker, or H&H that is expensive.

Tam said...

"If all you wanted was for it to shoot nice, yeah, you could do it for a couple grand."

That's the kind of pistols I'm talking about here, so, yeah.

"A bone-stock savage with accutrigger is more gun than almost anyone could ever need."

Ditto a Glock 19. :)

og said...

Bespoke pistol: 3k, 5k. Very plain bespoke bolt rifle: 10k and up, is all I'm saying. You don't have to buy a double to spend money, and a "homemade" rifle will almost never be an improvement over a Savage that costs half as much, and the savage will probably look better and shoot better. Shit, low end well made scout rifles on plastic stocks cost 5k. You cannot make a "homemade" rifle that looks and shoots better than a Savage and spend less than 5k doing it. And my original point was, and still is, buying a bespoke pistol is well within the ability of the average person, not so a bespoke rifle, even an unadorned bolt rifle. Go price them, I have. My McGowan mauser cost me quite a bit in 84, and it's not even that nice.

Tam said...

Og,

"Go price them, I have."

I don't need to go price them, Og; I've rung them up, after all.

ZerCool said...

ZerCool,
[snip]
Yes.


Somehow, I had a feeling that'd be the answer. :-D

DirtCrashr said...

Trading-in vehicles? I am content to have temporary ownership of other peoples' handwork - a long-slide .45 is a dream gun.

ParatrooperJJ said...

As an added benifit it will most likely run, Kimbers have a known problem with that.

Gewehr98 said...

Different strokes for different folks. If his loins ache for a heavier-than-normal 6" 1911 variant with full length guide rod (OMG!)for his bedstand gun, then by gawd, that's what he gets.

I'm pretty ok with using my holster-worn 5" carry/Limited Class custom Kart-Norinco to fight my way back to the long guns. If I want a heavy 6" handcannon for ventilating things that go "bump" in the night, I have my Desert Eagle Mk1, which will both ventilate and flambe' in one fell swoop.

Just sayin'.

og said...

"I've rung them up, after all."

Cool. From this I can conclude one of two things:
1: you worked in a hella cool shop, can't imagine why you'd quit
2: you and i have dramatically different definitions of "bespoke rifle"

Tam said...

Og,

"2: you and i have dramatically different definitions of "bespoke rifle""

Well, I'd define it as "built up from a bare action to my specifications." Further, if from a bare factory action, I'd want the lugs lapped, the bolt face trued, the threads chased...

Granted, prices may vary depending on whether you're building from a 98 or 700 action or a Stolle Panda, or whether you're using a Lilja or a Douglas barrel, or whether you want a walnut stock for pretty or a synthetic stock for function...

Anonymous said...

We eventually went with a copy of the Cylinder and Slide sear & hammer. Pretty much what I wanted in the first place, only about two thousanths more engagement than Gunsmith Bob runs, but Ted wanted to see it peddled by someone with a name before he'd let me play.

Kart barrel, check. Forged frames and slide (from Bourdon Forge in Middletown CT, same folks who've been making Colts since 1920 something), check.

One thing that ticks me off, and may yet bite me on the ass. I am more than annoyed when I see someone hauling away on a bushing with a wrench, and thinking that somehow that makes it a "match" gun.

The barrels arrive from Kart with individually lapped to fit bushings. Fred Kart turns the I.D. and O.D. of the bushing at the same time, so they're dead concentric. If the bushing is perfectly concentric in the free state, is it also concentric when it's hammered into the slide and binding? I don't think so.

It takes a good file hand 8 to 10 minutes with DyChem and a diamond file to get the bushing fitted to turn smoothly in the slide, with no wobble or shake, using only firm finger pressure. I feel it leaves the bushing to do the job Kart intended, with no loss of roundness.

I'm sorry, but if a customer wants a bushing that needs a pipewrench to move, something to accompany his 7 alarm chili in his quest for manhood, I suggest he buy brand X.

Tam said...

FWIW: My shopping list was "Oberndorf '98 action, Lilja barrel, Timney trigger, Boyd's stock, & etc. & w/ev..."

Granted, it was all done as time allowed and on the cheap, but I wasn't out more than a couple grand.

I realize I would have paid more with better optics, full retail on shop rates (and a lot of that rifle was "making it up as we go", trying to get a '98 action to work with .300 Whisper), checkering and finishing the stock, and going with something other than a matte bead-blast finish on the metal, but I still would have been under four grand.

og said...

"Well, I'd define it as "built up from a bare action to my specifications.""

I'd consider that a custom. And there are a lot of very nice customs. I've done a few very amateurish ones myself, in 7.62 x 39, in 44 magnum, 308, and a couple of wildcats. They shoot, they even shoot moderately well. A good gunsmith can make absolutely incredible customs.

I consider a bespoke rifle to be one made to the specifications of the owner; including fitting to the owners physique, test firing a try-gun so that the drop at heel, drop at comb, offset, cast and length are optimal. Including building an action specifically suited to the intended purpose, or at the cheap end, using a partially completed action and finishing it based on the needs of the owner- Shilen is a classic example of this, their actions are blanks uncut, waiting for an order to be fitted with a left hand or a right hand bolt, and the loading/ejector port is not cut until the order is placed. The barrel material is selected based on the purpose for which the rifle is desired, and drilled, bored, reamed, rifled, and contoured to give the best performance, weight, and balance for the intended purpose. The customer selects a stock blank by looking through blanks wiped with alcohol to show the grain, and stockmakers mate the wood to the metal. Sights are fitted, and test shots are fired and a load is selected that provides the best performance, and stamped on the water table (in a double or stalking rifle) or in bolt actions, inside the magazine floorplate. Finally, the rifle is blued or browned and assembled, and if desired, sling swivels are fitted and it is cased. Shilen is doing an excellent job of this at a consumer level, providing a very solid firearm somewhere above custom and on a level with low end bespokes.
So yeah, our definitions are far different. My bad, we're speaking past one another.

Remington used to have a whole department for this, ages ago. You could order such a gun, once upon a time, at Abercrombie and Fitch. Shilen still does a fine job, these days, and their firearms are incredible. Harry McGowan in St Anne Illinois used to do this, but his barrel making business has moved out west, and it is still doing well, last I heard. I don't know if there's anyone left in the midwest who does fine bespoke rifles, but to hold one in your hands is to be in love. A fine westley richards or a greener is a thing of beauty, a Holland and Holland is a work of art, a parker-hale is amazing beyond belief (I think they just make boring L81 sniper rifles these days)

If you can figure out how to get one of those bespoke rifles in my hands for under 4k, I'll be glad to write a check for two, and eat one.

Tam said...

Og,

I mean this in the humblest, friendliest, and most polite way: Do I tell you about industrial robotics?

"So yeah, our definitions are far different. My bad, we're speaking past one another."

No, we're not. You've dug in your heels and moved your goalposts.

"Bespoke" is "Built to Order". At least it is according to my dictionary.

"If you can figure out how to get one of those bespoke rifles in my hands for under 4k..."

No more than I could tell you how to get a left-handed 1911 that was whittled from billet to spec for that price. If you want one built up on a gunsmith-fit Baer or STI frame, however, we can talk. :)

og said...

if you call a rifle made from an assortment of parts "bespoke" how many legs does a dog have? bespoke used to mean "hand mad, one at a time, to perfectly suit an individual, from scratch". The original term came from suits of clothes, and meant the suit was made to order, as opposed to made to a pattern and then tailored to fit an individual. You don't take a pair of pants from Sears and a jacket from JC Penneys and a vest from Kohls and put them together and call it a bespoke suit.

I'm not sure if you think I'm trying to make something up to "win" an argument. I am not. If you think for a moment that I mean to cast aspersion on the work of gunsmiths making fine rifles out of off the shelf parts, I am not. What I describe is how it has happened in fine makers and how it happens still. If I'm "Dug in" it's where the line in the sand used to be. You can take the word and make it mean whatever you want, it's no skin off my neck. I prefer the traditional, and more descriptive, meaning of the term, you do not. I think to use the term the way you do cheapens it, makes it somehow more commercial, more tawdry, and it makes me sad to see it used that way, otherwise I would have dropped the discussion several posts back. So we're talking past one another. Again, my bad.

No, I wouldn't expect you to tell me about robotics, or machine tools, and i know you wouldn't try. I certainly wouldn't tell you about shooting, as you can very obviuously outshoot me; or writing, as you daily outwrite me, and I have never worked in a gun shop selling guns. On the other hand, having installed and programmed machines and robots in Smith, Colt, Winchester, Henry repeating arms, Rock River. Springfield Armory, Mossberg, and NAA, to name a few, I have collected the odd fact or two about firearms manufacture.

Tam said...

Og,

You said, and I quote,: "Bespoke pistol: 3k, 5k." That is the conversational point from which I was proceeding.

Your latest post does not match that, as you certainly are not getting a bespoke pistol by your new definition for any three-to-five grand.

Perhaps you meant to say "custom pistol" but then why would you compare a custom pistol to a bespoke rifle (by your new definition) rather than a custom rifle?

og said...

I'm sorry if I was confusing, it is certainly not my intention.

A pistol from Smith's performance center is priced well within the stated range, and is built by Smith and Wesson from raw steel,from scratch,from the ground up, and is not a collection of parts from different manufacturers. Certainly the original linked article refers to a firearm that is more of a "custom", and it is a fine, fine firearm. My contention was, and is, that a bespoke pistol, like one from Smith's custom center, made to order, from scratch, to a customer's spec, is well within the grasp of an individual, a bespoke long gun, not so much. Holland and Holland lists their "entry level" bolts on their website for 22,000 pounds sterling, and those are on the fringe of bespoke because they use forged blank actions from Mauser. To get a truly bespoke H&H you have to spend a lot more. My sincerest apologies for the confusion, and for hijacking the comment thread, and for anything I've said that may have sounded contentious. It is not my intention to offend or be argumentative.

og said...

Sorry, that should say "Well within the grasp of the average individual"

Gewehr98 said...

Pedantics "R" Us?