SIDE BY SIDE

A NEW SYNTHESIS

The new prototype does not look out of place in a vintage case.

The new prototype does not look out of place in a vintage case.

After several thousand articles on guns the time has come to do rather than merely report and describe: to build my own side by side based on ideas and inspiration drawn from close contact with every type of shotgun and every make of "best" gun. Recent advances in computer aided drafting and 3D modelling made possible the transformation of a thick pack of plans and doodles into a 3D prototype.

What is different about this one? Well pretty much everything yet each part has been done before. Neither boxlock nor sidelock, it is a trigger plate actioned inboard hammer gun. Trigger plate and Round Action are synonymous and this one is in that broad category, and as an all manual system it promises to be as tough and reliable as it is pretty. Sounds eccentric and it probably is, but then that is what you get when you design for a jaded and fussy customer.

Will it be superior to what is out there in the thousands? For the client you betcha! Its graces are already evident by manipulating the prototype. This is one handy and graceful form. For Mr Average probably not, but then he aint paying for it. That was not the point anyway. This is not a commercial venture. It is a technical cum philosophical exercise to pare the side by side to its utmost essentials. So let us see this attempt at truly bespoke gunmaking.

SIMPLICITY

The result so far is a 3D prototyped side by side in what can be regarded as the simplest, I am tempted to say purest, form of the type.

It was a minimalist approach from the start, perhaps a reaction to decades long overexposure to the "best" and often overspecced and ornate that tired me out. And certainly over 30 years of writing about shotguns I have seen the weak spots, the most frequent failures that could be avoided. The action type chosen is one that minimises parts, while it beefs up the dimensions of what is left. The 3D prototype was also to test the ergonomics of the design while a three dimensional object is a good indicator of the overall visual impact of the finished item. Two dimensional drawings just cannot compete with actually holding an object in your hand. Naturally some details will change in the final version, if there is one.

Gunmakers often draw parallels from the motor industry, likening their products to Ferraris or Rolls Royces. If a parallel helps, this side by side is more like a Morgan. Reduced to the bare essentials, but retaining function, style and aesthetics it offers the most important and often forgotten feature: using pleasure. As author and aviator Exupery said, a design is good when there is nothing left to take away, and this one is pretty close to irreducible.

ACTION

Left hammer cocked, right hammer at rest. The inboard hammer action provides auto rebound and a safety bent on the hammers.

Left hammer cocked, right hammer at rest. The inboard hammer action provides auto rebound and a safety bent on the hammers.

The action is an inboard hammer gun, a system that eliminates external locks, keeping the mechanics on the trigger plate. It is a simple system held together by just three transverse pins. With the exception of two screws in the forend and the stock bolt this design has no other screws, just the tree action pins. No screws means no threads, therefore less cost. It elegantly sidesteps the boxlock-sidelock debate along the way.

Springs are coil. One per lock, one for each firing pin and one for the locking bolt. For understandable reasons there are no detailed photos of the action.[Ed: I have lost many an idea to sharp eyed Italian makers!]

Action and trigger plate are one piece. This provides a permanent base for the internal parts and simplifies fitting of the parts to the action as well as to each other. No accidental overtorquing can alter the relationship of parts, change trigger pulls or induce doubling in such a setup.

The hammers are rebounding, equipped with a safety bent. If the trigger is not pressed, and kept pressed, the hammer will be caught by the sear, thus offering a passive safety mechanism pretty much like an intercepting sear, but without the extra sear, its spring and their two pins.

The tension of the hammer springs took some thought. Conventional hammer guns require some heaving to cock. Yet autos and pumps, even though their hammers push heavier firing pins and springs, can be cocked with the little finger. Hence the springs were lightened so that this hammer gun can have both hammers cocked with one thumb. Whether this will prove reliable in use will be seen. In any case, changing to a higher rated spring, if needed, is no big deal.

All internal parts are made of flat steel stock cut by EDM wire cutting, thus simplifying construction. The hammer system being totally hand operated has no cocking rods, no ejectors, no timing, not much to go wrong.

LOCKUP

A solid barrel hinge and round bolt lock the barrels to the action. There is no middle bridge.

A solid barrel hinge and round bolt lock the barrels to the action. There is no middle bridge.

A round bolt was adequate for the Winchester Model 21. So adequate in fact that the Model 21 trounced the opposition in two destruction tests. The round bolt also simplifies manufacture and fitting. It is much easier to drill and ream a round hole than to cut a blind square recess as in the usual unerbolt.

The absence of a central action bridge and the solid cross pin are also inspired by the Model 21. From another American design, the Parker, come the replaceable "shoes" for the bite and the barrel hook.

Having seen the improvisations that gunsmiths employ when tightening a loose double, it seemed a good idea to provide for repair at the design stage. If this side by side shakes loose, a change of "shoes" should be enought to return it to factory tightness.

ERGONOMICS

Ergonomic design brings all controls within easy reach of the operating hand, while all movements are on a back and forth axis.

Ergonomic design brings all controls within easy reach of the operating hand, while all movements are on a back and forth axis.

Opening is via a stud at the front of the trigger guard. It is one of several choices available, all of which can be had with no tools or hand fitting, as we will see below. It was a relief to get away from the most unergonomic, in my opinion, opening system: the top lever.

With the opening stud in front of the trigger guard, the hammers located inboard just under the thumb, and no automatic cocking, this double is superbly ergonomic and self opening as well. All controls are within reach of the operating hand, either right or left.

However, the stud is not the only choice for opening the gun. Without tools, using just a punch, this hammer gun can be changed into:

1- Underlever, manual external hammers

2-Side pedal, manual external hammers

3-Stud opening, manual external hammers.

4- Self cocking underlever, external hammers

5- Self cocking hammerless, underlever, with some minor changes and additional parts which require no hand fitting.

BARRELS

The ''shoes'' on the hook and the bite are replaceable, pinned in place by solid steel pins.

The "shoes" on the hook and the bite are replaceable, pinned in place by solid steel pins.

Will be monobloc, ready made, from an established barrel maker in Italy, because it is the most reliable and most repairable system there is.

Yes, monobloc barrels are by design slightly wider (by two millimeters) at the breech ends. I can live with that. On the other hand the monobloc steel can be specified as to type, 4140 in this case, and the tubes made of another, more suitable material, Boehler Super Blitz being a possible choice.

And it will be ribless! Ribs do nothing for a double other than provide useless weight up front and a place for rust to work unseen. A detachable carbon fiber rib will be made just for looks.

If I lived in a rifle friendly jurisdiction I would love a second set of barrels in 30-30 or similar medium intensity caliber. But I do not, so it will have to be exclusively smoothbore with thin wall chokes.

Yet when considering the rifle possibilities there was an epiphany of sorts. If I were facing down a charging animal, would I trust this action more than others, even the proven ones? As I held the prototype and my thumbs gently eased back the hammers my body knew the answer. This one tells you honestly when it is ready.

NOTE re the stepped monobloc in the photos: this was due to the practicalities of the prototype phase. In the final version the monobloc will be faired to the barrels.

STOCKING

The stock sweeps up to the action with no flat panels and no teardrop points.

The stock sweeps up to the action with no flat panels and no teardrop points.

Having chosen a stock bolt and a simple spring catch for the forend, stocking is simplified.

Also, the action tang and trigger plate lines are parallel so that the stock can be cut easily on a milling machine. There are no tapers or curves requiring time consuming smoking of the stock to the tang.

Bolting the stock presents a challenge when it comes to cast off. The stock style called New American by Wenig solves that problem. The stock is kept straight and cast off is provided by offsetting the comb. Having tried this stock shape on another shotgun I can say that it is not only faster to make, it has less felt recoil too.

One word about stocks and walnut.

The stock is a handle that puts the gun in the right pointing position. When that handle become an expensive fetish, too expensive to alter or change, its function is diminished. Yes, a fancy super expensive piece of walnut can be made to measure from the outset. But our dimensions change as we lose and gain weight and if the cost or unique figure prevents altering a stock then it becomes a hindrance to good shooting. A plain but well finished piece of American walnut would suit this side by side just fine.

FORM

A sleek profile with uncluttered lines was one of the design objectives.

A sleek profile with uncluttered lines was one of the design objectives.

Form follows function is an old axiom. It was followed here. The trigger plate hammer action blends well with a rounded acion bar. The ball fences harmonise with the round shapes and the stock sweeps up to meet the action with no flat panels and no useless points. Having the right form lessens the need for superficial embellishment.

Note the roundness of the action and the absence of any screws or pins. The trigger plate is parallel, a reflection of the top tang to ease milling the stock.

Note the roundness of the action and the absence of any screws or pins. The trigger plate is parallel, a reflection of the top tang to ease milling the stock.

Embellishment is a subjective choice and to each his own. Too much contact with the luxury end of the market has brought on a type of sensory overload. There are also personal quirks that are not negotiable.

Color case hardening is out. No game scenes! Engraving other than a simple border line is unnecessary. A French grey action, slow rust barrels and linseed stock are enough embellishment if done right. None of my stocks are checkered.

SIMPLE BUT NOT CHEAP

The curse of simple actions is cheapness.

There are some superb simple shotgun actions out there that have been sunk by nasty finishes. The BSA Single XII, designed by the brilliant William Baker, is a good example. It has three parts, it would have cost nothing to polish those parts to a decent standard. But apparently the simplicity and cheapness of the action somehow led the makers to literally shove the bits in the gun in a rough filed state.

This is not the plan here. Simplicity and low manufacturing cost is no excuse for anything but the very best surface finishes. Fitting the barrels without the complexity of the central bridge is an opportunity to have better, not worse barrel jointing. Stocking without the complex tang shapes should be faultless. Good fit and faultless finishing are affordable precisely because of the inherent simplicity.

There is no "invention" in any of the above. This is not a "new" design. Every part of it has been done before by someone else. The same goes for most things in guns built after 1900. It was all invented by the end of the 19th century and from then on what we get are combinations of features. This is what this design is about, a new, simplified synthesis intended to yield an affordable, infinitely repairable, ergonomic and stylish double. It looks like it is getting there.

BoreKisser

Linseed Oil Finish

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