Monday, August 3, 2009

Aging Contemporary Guns

I once asked Houston Harrison a fine Tennessee Gunsmith his opinion on aging new long rifles. He said: "I don't do that, those guns never looked like that when they were new, if they did, no one would have bought them"

"Eric Kettenburg Allentown Arsenal rifle detail"

Jack Brooks

A very good point. Clearly the truth. The 18th century generation certainly had it's attraction to its past, but not in the way ours may. One could argue there may have been groups (probably actors) who got together and attempted to recreate knights in shining armor or biblical scenes. Not much rust on armor so this lets out the lust for patina here, ha ha, but ahhh to look very old like Moses or St. Peter, now this might have had appeal. Our groups of reenactors attempt to create the past as though it were here and now so there is not much point in having accouterments which look 200 years old. So What's the point? What has this got to do with aging long rifles to look like antiques? Nothing. That is the point. Adding Age to new guns is something entirely separate from making them. It is art all by itself and because it is a pure and imaginative activity may be the reason most gunsmiths do not find it interesting or challenging. It's like writing fiction. It implies a past where there is none before. It requires a special talent and a willingness to add a whole new layer of imagination and experimentation to an already successful conclusion. It involves taking chances, removing definition and changing (some would say destroying) layers of work. The only thing artificial aging has in common with building a gun is it is both an additive and subtractive process. It is an activity which uses none of the ordered steps involved in the making of a rifle. There is really nothing to hold on to... except perhaps curiosity, no real reference points. There is also the worry that ones work may be accepted by some as actual antiques! For shooters this aged look may have little appeal, for collectors it seems to have great appeal. Imagine an antique gun show where every piece was in brand new condition.

Copy and photo by Robert Weil.


  1. When I hold an antique, no matter what the vintage, it speaks to me. Whether it’s a rifle, a cutting board or a bread bowl. It is my connection to the past. In that object I can see the life's experience of the ones who owned it before. It that object I can see my ancestors struggle to survive, raise families and build America. It gives me pause to wonder about what they saw , what did they endure. With 18th and 19th century frontier items especially, there is a vivid picture of survival to be told. These items were necessary for ones survival and the survival of ones family members. The story of America has been applied to these items with the blood, sweat and tears of those who held, used and depended on them.

    When an “artists” or “craftsman” of today “ages” an object he has made, it adds a new dimension to that object. You might stretch a bit and say it gives that object a soul. I think it gives the object a connection to the time, place and human experience that many of us who like this “stuff” seek to recreate.

    Scott Sibley

  2. I guess it falls into the same line of thought as wearing ripped and faded blue jeans to high school or the mall.
    Its guess its a late 20th century anomaly.

    Dan Phariss

  3. As one who strives to build beauty into my work, to put my soul into it - it just hurts! It hurts to partially destroy lines and fine details that I work hard to create in the wood and metal. I prefer those I build for to take the guns out and use them. Collect their own "Love Bumps" on the gun through happy days in the field or on the range. Build their own history into the gun and pass that along to a son or daughter someday -

  4. The fashion for quality reproduction or new furniture makers in the post WWII period until perhaps 1975ish was to 'distress' quality furniture to make it look antique to a buyer. It meant something to buyers then, and dealers responded to buyers demand. Like the nuttinesses of 19th century interior decorators that fashion has gone and I am grateful. I note that even Japanese sword buyers used tohave an argument like this, and modern makers reproduced 'tired' blades, whose definition and robustness had been lost in centuries of polishing. I love the pure work without the artificial ageing, but just as our extreme moral display over certain issues is a fashion of our time, so perhaps is the purity of a new reproduction item.

    The ideas of steampunk and fictional, movie-based realities will also evolve and so long as items are not falsely represented to buyers, there are many extremes the future may offend us with, yet be the result of valid exercise of freedom by designers and makers.

  5. I aged my best gun the old fashioned way: I used it, carried it, slept with it, lugged it, crossed rivers with it and got snowed in and rained on with it. It weathered on its own, gracefully. Got dings and chips and bunged up. And looked better for it. And, maybe just as importantly, I used no new products on it, only what mother nature provided.

  6. I like patina. People like Jack Hubbard and Joe Mills are some of the best.

  7. The people who resell these as originals love that artificial patina too. Faked patina is still faked patina.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.