The Revolving Rifle Story
When a customer came in and said he wanted a revolving rifle, it didn’t sound like too much of an issue. He then followed up by saying:
“…and I want it with a silencer, a cheek piece for a left-hander and a night sight."
We were already wondering if such a thing even existed, when he said:
"I want it in .357 magnum; oh yes, and I want an exhibition walnut case."
We had never seen or even heard of such a thing, let alone dreamed anyone would want one and were just about to tell him so when he pulled the ace out of the pack. "I can’t find one and no one else has got one; can you make me one?" I still believe he chose his words carefully and had probably been practising his speech on the way over. Within seconds Peter said:
"Yes", and that was the start of a very long project, late nights and more than one heated debate.
Making a one-off barrel and action from scratch was not an option; we needed something to start on and we settled on a long-barrelled pistol. The grip, spring, et cetera of a pistol obviously protrudes downwards so it can be held in the hand; this was no good for a rifle mounted to the shoulder so after making many drawings, we cut off these parts.
Next we had to re-design the mechanism and geometry so it would work in its new orientation, then make and weld together the new parts with straps long enough to hold a stock (which we would have to make from scratch).
With a working gun, at this point un-tested, we set about making a stock and fore-end. Weeks later, with the woodwork made, we could at last try the gun "in the shoulder". Although neither too heavy nor too long, the gun somehow felt very purposeful; unfortunately the stock did not. Somehow it was too fine and slim for what was now a rifle. There was only one option: start again. That first stock is still here. Knowing how long it took to make it, we can’t bring ourselves to discard it but it wasn’t right so another, bigger stock was made.
Then came barrel-bands, for holding the fore-end to the barrel; three of them, all bespoke, all different sizes. A silencer was fitted and a night-sight / image-intensifier, as the customer had requested. When all was in place, metal work polished, woodwork oiled and chequered, there was only one thing to do: shoot it.
So many things could have gone wrong at this point. We had made a pistol into a rifle, changed the mechanism, fixed the barrel to the fore-end, drilled holes in it to attach a scope rail and made it longer and heavier. Three of us went to the shooting ground to test it and I can honestly say I have never shot a smoother rifle; great balance, low recoil and fantastic grouping.
Happy with the rifle itself, we then moved onto the case. A case with only the gun in it wouldn’t do so we made an ammunition box from matching walnut to fit in the case, and supplied turn screws, screwdrivers and a cleaning kit. The case was lined with baize and oil-finished.
This was not a project we could devote 100% of our time to. We might spend three or four days on it, then leave it for a few weeks; so, after approximately four years from the customer walking in the door with his request, it was time for him to come back. On his arrival we gave him a drink, sat down and chatted about all sorts of things. Half an hour went by before someone said:
"We’d better have a look at this rifle."
The lid was raised and no one spoke. Eventually he was asked what he thought.
"I think you’d better engrave your name on it and make a label for the case."
Having known the customer for many years, I knew this was his approval, and that was enough.
It only remained to make the label and have the barrel engraved. Unfortunately, between this process being done and the customer coming back to collect the gun, Peter – who had done the majority of the work – died. He never saw it leave here and that may be a good thing, for during those few years it was very much a part of Peter Gardner Gunsmith.
I may never see it again and possibly no one but the owner will, but I know we did it and I know it’s out there, and that, also, is enough.