A Higher Degree of Finish
Pete Mazur: Metalwork Restoration on a Holland & Holland Double Gun
by Steven Dodd Hughes
Photo No. 1: This looks like an H&H ought to look—as new and as properly refinished. The case colors (by The Color Case Co. Since out of business) have a somewhat subdued look with lots of grays, proper to London guns of the era. Note the gold sear and interceptor axles, nitre-blued screws and bright mainspring stud. The inlaid gold line of the tumbler axle acts as a cocking indicator. After the tumbler was gold plated, this stippled end was stripped and blued to clearly show the inlay.
With each project, every craftsman has to arrive at a place of completion. I’ve never liked the cliché “good enough for . . . ” and yet the reality is each of us has to decide when it’s time to call it done. Gunmaking companies face the same dilemma, and when studying each maker’s place in history, attention to detail and degree of finish work often contributes to their ranking. As one’s knowledge of fine guns develops, so does the appreciation for a higher degree of quality and sophistication. Nowhere is this more evident than in a gun’s metal finishing, or lack of it.
If initially introduced to American double shotguns, new shooters find that the uniform flat-tone rust bluing and attractive case colors of field-grade versions look wonderful—when viewed in nearly new condition. Upon discovering higher-grade American, European or English shotguns, however, it’s easy to see that the metal finishes simply look “nicer.” When compared with British “bests,” current top-echelon Italian guns or the highest-quality American custom shotguns, it becomes obvious that the degree of metal finishing is one area that clearly sets the finest guns apart. If one has the opportunity to view and compare the insides of the various guns, you immediately can recognize significant differences in the metal finishing. It’s good to remember that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries labor was cheap and tradition was strong. Things are different these days
Photo No. 2: With the left lockplate removed, you can see all six of the appropriate metal finishes—rust-blued barrels; charcoal-blued toplever and safety button; case-colored action and forend iron; gold-washed strikers and lock parts; nitre-blued triggers and screws along with bright-polished springs, cocking lever, safety, trigger flags, lockplate and bridle. I greatly enjoy seeing the three screws and wheel of the safety nitre blued as well. This interior view of any shotgun tells the tale of how well it was finished and its level of quality and degree of sophistication.
As an adjunct to those pieces that synthesizes key elements of each, let’s take a close-up look at the inside and outside of a Holland & Holland Royal Hammerless Ejector, circa 1913, with complete Mazur metal restoration and refinishing of the highest order.
When this gun arrived in Mazur’s shop, it was showing its 90 years. The action was rusty and lightly pitted outside, as were the insides of the lockplates and lock parts. The action bottom had been buffed to the point that to completely remove the flaws, Mazur had to remove much of the engraving in places. Both of the lockplates had been badly sprung, requiring annealing and straightening before hand polishing. The top rib was quite loose, so the barrels were stripped and the ribs re-laid and polished to 400 grit before blacking. Several mechanical repairs were completed, and virtually all of the exterior surfaces—and much of the interior—were renewed with files, stones and grit paper. Then expatriate English engraver Charles Lee re-cut the engraving, returning it to its former crispness.
Photo No. 3: The interior of the lock shows all parts equally polished with the tumbler, swivel, sear and interceptor gold plated. Mazur triple-plates the gold parts to assure a “good buildup” of the precious metal but not enough to interfere with function. The gold offers rust proofing and a lubricity. Mazur says it “Just feels slicker.” The lock parts were not originally plated. “It’s much more common on Belgian and German guns,” he said, “but clients like the gold.”
Photo No. 4: Flawless barrel polishing is a dirty, gritty and thankless job until it can be appreciated by the results. This rust bluing has a high-sheen, almost burnished, look, with nary a scratch or blotch anywhere. Mazur “cross polished” the barrels to assure removing all the “grinners,” so called by gunmaker Jack Rowe. A grinner is a file mark not seen on the barrels until the second coat of rust bluing is carded; then “it’s right there grinning at you, and you have to go back and polish it out.”
It’s a given in life is that we seldom understand the next-higher level of quality until we see it. With firearms, it’s often hidden under the wood in the extra detail afforded the internal parts and the mechanism. It’s one thing for a gun to be beautifully finished on the outside, another to see one so well finished where it isn’t so obvious. Pete Mazur invested 165 bench hours on the restoration of the Holland’s metalwork.
All restoration work by gunmaker Pete Mazur of Grass Valley, California.
(Some other photos. Can you identify the six different metal finishes? Rust bluing, Charcoal bluing, Case coloring, gold wash, nitre bluing and bright polish.)