By Dewey Vicknair
The gun that is the subject of this article appeared in these pages in unfinished form in July/August 2016 (“Crafting a ‘Hot Rod’ Sterlingworth”). That article covered the metalwork, restyling and other modifications to the base Fox gun. The client had given me free reign to style the gun, with stock dimensions, the balance point and choke constrictions the only requirements specified. The embellishment, however, was a collaborative effort with the client that led to building probably my first—and so far only—“theme gun.”
Theme and styling are separate and distinct elements of any custom gun (or car, motorcycle and so on); they don’t necessarily have to have anything in common with each other, and I think this gun is a good example of that. Embellishment does not always follow or have a theme, as sometimes it is merely decoration. But that is not the case with the Granite State Gun.
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This custom Fox is engraved with New Hampshire’s state motto and flower and a rock formation called the “Old Man of the Mountain.” Granite texture replaces checkering.
I always have liked fast machines, be they bikes, airplanes . . . or guns. I know, a gun can’t really be fast, but it can look fast, and that was the idea that drove this gun’s styling—that is, the shapes and lines of the metal and wood. The previous article offers more insight into the styling process.
Once the metalwork was done and the gun was stocked but still “in the white,” I knew that I had succeeded in my goal. The Fox looked like it was doing 100 mph and, had it been mine, it would have stayed that way, at least for a while. But with the gun ready for engraving and finishing, it was time for the client to have a say in making the gun uniquely his own; and this is where things got interesting and the gun’s theme developed.
The client commissioned this gun as a retirement gift for himself; it was his first custom gun, and he wanted something unique. He also is a lifelong resident of New Hampshire and wanted his state’s most famous landmark, the “Old Man of the Mountain” (a granite formation on Cannon Mountain that looked like a man’s profile until it lost the battle with gravity), engraved prominently on the gun. He wanted the state motto—“Live Free or Die”—to be on the gun as well. The engraving is the only part of the job that is not done in-house, and for this gun I turned to artist Geoffroy Gournet.
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While Geoffroy had the parts, I learned that New Hampshire’s state flower is the purple lilac, so I had Geoffroy engrave all of the screw heads with lilac blossoms. I could have left it at that, with the Old Man in an oval on the bottom of the frame, the lilac blossoms, the state motto and the date of statehood where the original barrel address resided, and the balance of the gun simply and tastefully engraved with standard-issue scroll and border work. But I had an idea. The client originally had requested that the hand and forend be left smooth, with no checkering, in order to better show off the creases of the diamond-section grip and the figure of the wood. But as I looked at photos of the Old Man and the mountain to which it formerly was attached, I thought that the texture of the granite face of the mountain (scaled down, obviously) would make quite a secure and visually interesting gripping surface. When I suggested that this be done in place of checkering, the client was unsure; but after assuring him that it would be a good complement to the engraving, he warmed to the idea.
This was executed in a wraparound pattern, with the front of the panels shaped to harmonize with the shape of the toplever (so style and theme intersected here). The forend received the same treatment, but I left a raised blank area in the shape of the outline of the state in the center of the forend.
The “rock” texture was achieved by “walking” a flat chisel over the surface of the wood in irregular rows in one direction, and then across the previous rows, all the while working up to the border edge. Once that was done, I drilled a small hole approximately where the state capital of Concord would be and inserted a faux ivory (actually, bone) dot. So now we had the landmark, the motto, a representation of the rock the state is famous for, the state flower, the outline of the state itself and the state seal engraved in the forend escutcheon . . . . Why stop there?
The state insect is the ladybug, so I made a front bead (again of bone) in the form of a ladybug. It was made by turning the mounting post in the lathe, and then shaping it by hand while holding it in a pin vise.
The final New Hampshire-themed item would be at the other end of the gun. Early on in the project it was decided that the butt was to be finished with heel and toe plates, and that is what it got—but they’re not steel. New Hampshire’s state tree is the paper birch, also known as white birch, which is what I made the heel and toe plates from. The piece of birch that I used actually came from a woodworker (and tree) in the client’s hometown. With the plates made and fitted, the wood was finished in a traditional true oil (not Tru-Oil) finish, which took about a month to accomplish.
The barrels were rust blued and detail polished, all of the perfectly polished internal parts were gold plated, and the frame and related parts were hardened and French-gray finished. The completed gun was housed in a hard case with accessories. I am happy to report that the client was extremely pleased with the gun, and there definitely will not be another one like it.