For Want of a Tumbler, Part 1

Greener restoration

When I first saw it a decade ago, I knew the big Greener had been a special commission—a 10-gauge hammerless ejector with 30-inch Damascus barrels acid etched in deep relief to reveal the exquisite figure of its iron-and-steel tubes. Most Greeners have the firm’s signature side safety, but this one had a top tang safety as well as a Scott-type forend latch, and its checkering was elaborately scalloped and paneled. Greener No. 35320 was lavished with superb scroll and game scenes from its muzzle to its heel and toe plates, and it mostly remained in original untouched condition.

The gun had one problem, though, and it was not a small one. Someone sometime had bodged a repair to its left tumbler. The gun no longer cocked or ejected on the left. Whoever had attempted the repair had given up when the gun wouldn’t open. Perhaps it had been the same person who then had filed off the noses of its left sears, the left side of the cocking stud and the ejector arm, permitting the tumbler’s ruined forearm to bypass the cocking swivel. The gun then could be opened and closed, but the price paid had been high: It had become a single-shot.

This Greener is a magnificent example of late-Victorian gunmaking, with deep acid-etched Damascus barrels and lavish engraving. Unfortunately, a bodged repair of its left tumbler had left the gun a single-shot. The left tumbler’s forearm had been poorly brazed and badly reshaped (above left, right side) and the nose of the left sear shortened (above center, left side). A new tumbler was called for, but first all of the components had to be brought back to original spec.

The Greener then evidently was left alone, which fortunately saved it further damage. I certainly was not the first to gaze in awe at its beauty and workmanship, but its state of mechanical disrepair had been enough to deter all previous potential purchasers. And that is why I was able to buy it. (It was not the sort of exhibition-quality gun I could turn down.)

I specialize in the restoration of collectible double guns, but when I took this one home nine years ago, I had little idea how its mechanism worked until I read a chapter on W.W. Greener’s “G-Guns” by Vic Venters (my co-writer here) in his book Gun Craft. My gun, it turned out, was a best-quality Self-acting Ejector, an amalgam of the firm’s Facile Princeps action paired with its proprietary ejector system, the latter patented in 1881. The G-Gun was not the world’s first hammerless ejector, but it was one of the first commercially successful ones.

In his 1888 book Modern Shot Guns, W.W. Greener emphasized: “The gun requires most careful adjustment, and—although the parts are few—to ensure perfect function the utmost precision is necessary in centering and shaping the various limbs.”

The Self-acting Ejector consequently required best-quality work in its manufacture, and to build it Greener always had allotted a small team of its most skilled and experienced craftsmen—the “A Team,” as Graham Greener, a director in the current firm, described the group to me. Production of the model stopped around 1900 (superseded by an improved Unique variant), and in the intervening century G-Guns requiring repair have earned the reputation as being a gunsmith’s nightmare. “The Self-acting Ejector is one of the most reliable ejector guns, as long as those who don’t understand it don’t fiddle with it,” Graham explained. “This includes gunsmiths who think they know what they are doing but really don’t have a clue.” It was obvious this Greener had suffered the uncouth attention of one of the latter.

This Greener, however, was a special, perhaps singular, example of its type and well worth restoring. Graham wrote me that the gun had been ordered by “Elliotts” (no other information recorded) and started on June 29, 1886. Three of Greener’s A Team were recorded as having helped build it: “Camm,” action filer; “Lacy,” crossbolt fitter; and “Barton,” jointer—in Graham’s words, “the very best craftsmen at the factory.” The barrels were described as “3 stripe Foreign Damascus,” also highly unusual, as Greener normally made its own Damascus tubes. The tubes almost certainly had been sourced in Liège and finished into barrels by Greener in Birmingham. I asked Damascus expert Drew Hause for his opinion. “Spectacular acid-etched ‘3 iron Turkish’ pattern,” he replied. “The scrolls are much finer than the usual British best.”

The date the gun was finished was not recorded, but at the time Greener could build a gun of this quality in about a year or less. In 1887 Robert, Dave and Jim Elliott opened Elliott’s Shooting Park, near Kansas City. Jim, better known as J.A.R. Elliott, was one of the finest live-trap pigeon shooters of his day and, like many professionals, shot a Greener to claim numerous championships and awards. The gun’s oval is engraved with interlocking initials “DCE.” Was No. 35320 built for Dave Elliott, also a crack shot, as a show gun for the shooting grounds? The trail of clues leading to the Elliott brothers is circumstantial but intriguing; discovering DCE’s middle name might cement the case. The search continues.

I am by training a toolmaker and by past vocation a prototype model maker with nearly 40 years experience. I’m accustomed to working with anything from simple hand tools to modern state-of-the-art machinery and equipment. I get a kick out of problem solving, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s to not bite off more than I can chew.

I also knew that bringing back this piece would require my full attention and commitment; unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of time. When I took the gun home nine years ago, I put it away; and there it stood in the back of a safe until this past December. These days I have a lot more time and resources.

My initial challenge was to understand the nuances of the gun’s mechanism. I had to get into the heads of the Greener craftsmen who built it. A tumbler on a standard Anson & Deeley boxlock has a straightforward job: The sear holds the tumbler cocked, and when the trigger is pulled, the tumbler is then released and propelled forward by the mainspring to fire the gun. The G-Gun’s more-complex tumbler, by contrast, is multifunctional: Its cocking arm (or forearm) also kicks the ejector arm to propel a spent shell. As such, the tumbler is the heart of the design; if it goes wrong, little else works.

The illustration shows the major components of the left lock and ejector mechanism of Greener's Self-Acting Ejector patent of 1881. Bear in mind that the forearm of each tumbler curves in near the knuckle of the action and that the cocking swivel and ejector arms flanking each side are built into the front lump of the barrel. The tumbler initially is lifted (as the barrels fall) by the cocking stud (A), protruding from the cocking swivel. As the tumbler rises, its forearm slips off the cocking stud and is propelled downward by the mainspring onto the ejector arm, which in turn pivots and strikes the extractor leg, ejecting the fired cartridge. (The drawing illustrates this action in process.) As the barrels continue to fall, the tumbler's forearm then contacts the second cocking stud (B), at the bottom of the cocking swivel, which lifts the tumbler again, allowing the sear nose to slip into the bent, cocking the gun. The gun's intercepting sears are not shown in this simplified drawing.

According to current Greener director and gunmaker Richard Tandy, trouble most often begins when someone shortens the nose of the sear to adjust the trigger pull, which throws the ejectorwork out of regulation, causing the gun to eject whether or not it has been fired. To prevent unwanted ejection, some repairers then have filed off the nose of the tumbler’s forearm. “At this point,” according to Tandy, “it becomes a spiral into gunmaking hell.”

And into Inferno someone had cast the tumbler on this gun. The nose of the left sear had indeed been shortened — by at least 1/16" — but in this case I believe it likely was a consequence rather than the cause of the bungled repair. At some time the tumbler’s forearm had cracked, and whoever repaired it brazed the cracked parts together. The repairer then made a futile attempt to reshape it. Not only had this left the tumbler’s cocking and ejecting geometry wrong, but also the high heat had killed the tumbler’s temper, leaving it soft where it should have been hard.

At this point the gun not only would have not cocked or ejected but it also wouldn’t have opened. To properly restore it, I had to make a new tumbler, but to do so I needed to repair the old one to serve as a model. And before any of that could happen, I needed to bring all of the other damaged parts back to original specification.

The description of the restoration will be continued in the next issue.

Claudio Opacak lives outside Toronto and has been endorsed by W.W. Greener's gunmaking team to repair high-grade Greeners in North America. Vic Venters is Shooting Sportsman’s Senior Editor.

Buy this issue!

Shooting Sportsman Magazine
On the cover: Incoming canvasbacks photographed by Tom Martineau/

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *