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GUNS Magazine April 2012 Digital Edition - Page 28

STORY: Hamilton S. Bowen the FiNAL touCh ithin most professions in this world, despite the best efforts of professional organizations and sanctioning bodies to achieve uniform standards of performance, there are often great discrepancies in skill and ability of members. In many cases, these differences of skill and talent are inconsequential. In others, say, for instance, brain surgery, you would like to think everybody out there practicing the craft is equally and supremely competent. In the world of the arts, manual and otherwise, these variations are not usually life threatening but merely reflect on the general skill level of the practitioners. So it is with lettering from gun makers, custom and production alike. Some of us get downright persnickety about lettering while others have a more relaxed “Git ’er done” attitude. In my humble opinion, proper markings on receivers and barrels can make all the difference in the world, distinguishing stylish from otherwise indifferently rendered pieces of work. We’ll take a look at some examples of lettering and contemplate available technology. If you think about it for even a moment, you can imagine the difficulty or producing a stamping die. In the olden days, before photo etching, EDM (electro discharge machining) and N/C (computer-driven) technology arrived, roll marking dies were laboriously carved by hand in steel by engravers of otherworldly skill. In reverse. Or worse, in-the-round to follow a barrel contour precisely. Not surprisingly, these stamping dies were goofy expensive and used exclusively by major manufacturers who could amortize costs over tens of thousands of units of production. The magical marking machine (above) with a nylon stencil and application tools. All hooked up (below), this Ruger single-action revolver is ready to be marked with a stencil. W Firearms markings. Among the handsomest factory roll marks are those found on Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines as this M1910 action clearly shows. In the good now days (above), roll markings such as these were executed with a 26-piece manual roll stamp kit in People’s Small Arms Factory No. 49273. The EDM markings on this custom S&W .327 barrel (below) came out pretty darn nice and are rarely any better than this. hand or machine? Even today, roll stamps made with EDM technology or with precision milling engraving, are very costly and beyond the reach of most small shops. Even after stamping technology was reasonably well perfected, it was not unusual to see models of limited production with some hand-cut markings. I have a Colt large-frame Lightning pump rifle in .38-56 caliber with the caliber mark hand cut while more standard Colt marks, such as a the classic “rampant colt” logo, were executed with a roll stamp. Virtually all of the Victorianera British sporting arms made for the carriage trade feature exquisite hand-cut markings. Engravers weren’t paid much in those days and it was far cheaper to mark by hand, given that annual production of many of the best makers might be but a few dozen pieces a year. Roll markings or similar stampings represent the best of marking technology for production pieces. In the interest of authenticity, some restoration enterprises will still trouble themselves to produce the 28 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • A P R I L 2 0 1 2

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