Artisan David Rase lives in Bremerton, Washington. Bremerton is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, not far from the Puget Sound Shipyard where Dave has worked for the Department of Defense for over 30 years. Back in 1976 a Navy Chief sparked Dave’s interest in gun building, and before long he’d put together his first rifle from a kit. From that point on, his interests and the scope of his projects began to grow, and continue to grow to this day. Dave is now able to forge, sand cast and otherwise fabricate many of his own gun parts. He creates a wide variety firearms and also many of the accoutrements that would typically accompany them, and he makes many of his own specialized tools , including the recent addition to his shop of a rifling bench to hand rifle barrels. His work ranges from close copies of original examples to very unique contemporary pieces.
We visited Dave in his shop shortly after the 2012 Washington Historical Gunmakers’ Guild event had ended. We were able to see some of his works in progress and some finished pieces, and we talked about his projects and his plans for the future.
Upon entering his shop, a very cleanly built, near finished matchlock gun caught my eye …..
mid 17th century English matchlock gun with handmade lock
…..Hey, very nice matchlock. Can you tell us about that one?
That’s the first one I’ve made. I went to the Lewisburg show two years ago - I was in John Getz’s shop helping him pack up and had seen one on the wall and instantly fell in love with it. It was a 1650’s English style matchlock built by Jurgen Kreckel from Pennsylvania. John took it to the show and let me take it back to the motel room and disassemble it, photograph it, measure and sketch everything.
Do you think part of the attraction may have been the desire to figure out how to build the matchlock mechanism itself?
That was a big part of it. You’ll notice this one has a “tiller” on it. It’s not a snap matchlock where you’d pull the trigger; that would in a way make it too similar to a flintlock mechanism. That’s what attracted me to the gun more than anything else, and then being able to go figure out all the ratios and the spring tension, making all the parts - really the challenge of building the whole mechanism, and also the challenge of building the fishtail stock. I’d never done one before, so that again was something that interested me.
handmade lock and tiller
Is that desire to learn something new often a factor when you are choosing new projects to work on?
Yes. When I was originally getting started, I loved building one of a kind projects and working through the challenges to pull it off, but now it's more the challenge of correctly building the style of gun that appeals to me.
Before I built my first iron mounted gun, I'd been to the classes at Western Kentucky University. There was a contemporary iron mounted gun there on display. Wallace Gusler made the comment, "what a great gun...it's too bad he used cast steel mounts..." With that concept planted in my brain there was no way I was going to produce an iron mounted rifle with cast steel mounts. I had to figure out how to forge my own mounts, and that was a challenge. The next challenge along the way was learning how to sand cast may own brass hardware. I don't do it that often any more, but if a client wants something special I have that capability.
As a gun maker, what is appealing to you about building a "composite" gun like your American Musket?
I think the appeal is in the artistic liberties you can take in making a gun using parts that might have been found on a battlefield and taken to a gunstocker. You have a lot of freedom - if you know your schools, your time period and your location - and most importantly, the architecture has to be there, and the pieces have to complement each other.
An American Musket, stocked with Brown Bess trigger guard and pipes and fitted with a hand made Dutch style bayonet. Hand engraved lock, hardware and barrel.
The gun projects we're looking at here are quite varied. Do you find as you get into these projects that you develop a different mindset for each of them, or that you have a different approaches depending on the type of work?
Here is my approach. I have a customer who likes an original Jacob Dickert gun but doesn't like the sideplate, or doesn't like the metal patchbox and wants a sliding wood box, or there's some other element on the gun he'd like to change. I start imagining myself as Jacob Dickert's apprentice. As a young apprentice, I was probably the one who was asked to pick up various supplies and materials from nearby tradesmen to keep our shop operating. During these trips I would have been exposed to the different styles of guns in the region. As I found a feature that I really liked on another gunmaker's gun, I would make a note of that. Once out on my own, I was free to incorporate that feature into a gun of my own design. So using this philosophy, when I build a gun, if you don't like the side plate I can go look at other guns that were build in the Lancaster area and pick something else out. As long as it was in that time frame and from that region, I don't feel it detracts from the gun mixing and matching from the same locale.
But what about a piece like your take down gun that may be much more loosely based on original work?
The take down York gun may be more of a fantasy gun than the others - you may not see that relief carving done in that particular format wrapped around a bagged cheekpiece on originals, but all the elements of the carving were taken off a couple of York guns I had looked at.
Some would define it as "interpretive" work; in a sense you've taken what's traditional and put your own spin on it. What is the approach to creating that kind of a gun?
You've got to think things through, you're trying to figure out what's plausible.
Years ago I took Wallace Gusler's engraving class at Western Kentucky, I said " you taught us how to carve, you taught us how to engrave, but you haven't taught us how to design..." Wallace replied, "your mind is a catalog of everything you've looked at, and that's how you design". You don't have to reinvent the wheel - the more you study guns, the more elements you get that go into your head, and then when you sit down and start sketching, you're recalling what you have studied.
York "take down gun" in progress. Relief carved York rifle of contemporary styling; brass hardware with silver embellishments.
In addition to making guns, Dave creates many fine accoutrements. We were able to photograph a few pieces that Dave had in the shop.
Oak flask which won the Madison Grant Award at Dixon's in 2006. Made of two hollowed oak slabs with antler stopper and hand made chain. Inspired by an original piece pictured in Madison Grant's "Powder Horns and Their Architecture" .
Banded powder horn with turned antler tip. Also a Madison Grant Award winner -2004
A pair of hand forged tomahawks - pipe tomahawk with osage handle patterned after the Alexander McKenzie hawk , and a second tomahawk in progress
Internal touch hole coning tool, similar to a tool used at the gun shop in Colonial Williamsburg.
Adjustable steel powder measure with unusual octagonal shank.
Aside from creating guns and related accoutrements, Dave operates a successful gun barrel inletting business, which he plans to expand to include a stock carving service.
Dave's work has appeared several times here on the Contemporary Makers Blog, and has been featured in Muzzleloader Magazine, the Contemporary Longrifle Association's American Tradition Magazine, and on American Pioneer Video's compilation DVD " Contemporary Kentucky Rifles Volume 2". Dave hopes to retire from his job with the government in 2013 and devote more time to his craft.
David Rase can be contacted at David Rase.