Fred Zeglin Most importantly, we are staﬀed by highly gun-literate people, but personally, I graduated from the Lassen College Gunsmithing program back in 1984. I have made a living in gunsmithing and custom guns for over 30 years now, and I’ve published two books, Wildcat Cartridges and the Hawk Manual. My next project is to put together several instructional booklets about gunsmithing.
Not too long ago, I was approached by the American Gunsmithing Institute to make instructional video courses, and I created two videos: Taming Wildcats: Custom Cartridge Design and Fabrication and Reloading A to Z. I have both taught and run NRA Short-term Gunsmithing programs, and coordinate and teach the Firearms Technology program at Flathead Valley Community College.
ASJ It sounds like your scope and depth of knowledge is profound!
FZ In a nutshell, I have chambered and headspaced so many barrels that I lost track of the count long ago. Because of my work developing cartridges for clients and for my own interest, I was forced to learn about headspace at a level that most gunsmiths never feel the need to understand. If you’re going to design new cartridges, understanding headspace is essential.
ASJ It sounds like you enjoy teaching. What is your philosophy when working with students?
FZ When you teach classes it’s necessary to carefully break down the processes you’re discussing to make sure you impart the information the students need. This close evaluation of processes will increase your understanding of the subject in a unique way. If you are teaching others how to headspace a barrel, you better know exactly what you’re talking about.
ASJ Your company name is 4D Reamers. Is that all you oﬀer?
FZ We are constantly adding new tools. Right now we have almost a thousand reamers. In addition to that, we have headspace gauges that work with the reamers and a lot of other gunsmithing tools.
ASJ What other tools do you rent?
FZ We have some AR-15 specialty tools, sight installation pusher tools for several popular pistols, shotgun choke tools in several patterns and gauges, hydraulic dentraising tools for shotgun barrels, specialty taps and dies, crowning tools, forcing cone tools and lots more. Essentially, if it’s small enough to ship in the mail, we might well have it.
ASJ Tell us about the quality of your tools.
FZ We’re often asked if the reamers are sharp. I really have to laugh when I hear that question. I understand the reason that people feel the need to ask, but the answer is right in front of them. We have been in business a long time and repeat customers are our life blood. So, we make every eﬀort to keep all the tools in the best possible condition. We want our clients to come back over and over. If we did not provide good tools, this would not happen.
ASJ Who is your typical client?
FZ That’s an interesting question. We have a lot of hobby gunsmiths and guys who just want to ﬁx up one gun. We also serve the professional gunsmith community; professionals rent more tools simply because they have the volume of work.
A few of our professional clients are benchrest gunsmith Gordy Gritters, Pac-Nor Barrels, Jack First Distributors, Brockman’s Riﬂes. You know these folks have great reputations with their clients and they would not do business with us if we did not take good care of their needs for sharp, quality tools.
FZ When tools return they are inspected under magniﬁcation. Most clients are very careful with the tools. They understand that the next time they need a reamer they will want a sharp tool, so being responsible with them is just natural for most clients.
Once in a blue moon a tool will be damaged. What I like about the gun business is that it’s populated with people who are all about personal responsibility. Most are nice enough to call up and tell us there is a problem; some write a note and send it with the tool. In nearly all cases they simply abide by the rental agreement and take care of the damage.
When a tool shows wear and needs to be sharpened, we ship them oﬀ to professionals who specialize in this. We endeavor to make sure every tool is sharp and in good condition. We encourage clients to call right away if they are unhappy for any reason. Happy clients come back, that’s what we want.
ASJ Why do people rent tools when they can buy them?
FZ If we are talking about a hobbyist gunsmith, tools can be rented for a tiny percentage of what they cost to purchase. Save money on tools and you get to do more projects – it’s simple math.
Professionals use us because they often need tools that they will only use once or twice during their whole career. We often hear, “I have a tool box full of reamers that I never use.” Obviously that’s a huge investment in tools that just lay around. Shops will purchase reamers for calibers that are popular in their area. But the one-oﬀ chambers are better handled by ordering a rental. The overhead cost is so much lower and most shops just charge the rental to the client, so there is no investment at all for the shop. Plus, they can oﬀer every chamber we have tools for without buying a single one. If we have 1,000 reamers, they have 1,000 reamers.
ASJ Do you ever sell reamers?
FZ On a custom order basis we do sell reamers and gauges. Most of these orders are for non-standard reamers. Some folks want special dimensions, so custom orders are the best solution to that requirement. We are not a reamer maker, so we buy all of our reamers from the various reamer makers across the country.
We also sell Dakota bolt knobs in ﬁve styles, Dakota grip caps and inserts, Cerosafe chamber casting metal, instructional videos and many other gunsmithing-related products.
ASJ You also sell barrels. Tell me more about that.
FZ We oﬀer custom Savage drop-in barrels. These barrels are for the popular Savage 110 family of bolt actions. There are many places you can order pre-ﬁt Savage barrels, but what we oﬀer is access to our library of reamers. If we have the reamer, you can have a barrel chambered for the caliber. Nobody has as many calibers to choose from as we do.
We will only stock barrels that we know we can count on to be accurate. Blanks are CNC turned to the taper of the client’s preference, and we handle all the chamber and crown work in our shop, so that we can assure a proper set up for accuracy.
Stainless steel and chromoly (blue) steel barrels are both available. We have a small stock of blanks that we list on the web site. Custom orders can be ﬁnished in as little as four to ﬁve weeks, depending on the speciﬁcs of the order, and we are competitive on price.
Our accuracy speaks for itself. We have yet to have a client complaint. I love that ability to provide a high-quality product that surpasses the client’s expectations. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more, see 4-dproducts.com.
From about 1722 to 1838 the Long Land Pattern musket (Bess’s oﬃcial name) was the standard-issue long arm for all land forces in the British military. This weapon ﬁred a .75- to .78-caliber ball. As this was the era of British expansion, Brown Bess saw duty around the world. From India to Waterloo all the way over to those pesky American colonies, this was the gun that did most of the ﬁghting, and when mounted with the standard 17-inch bayonet it was deadly indeed! Think of an M1 Garand that stayed in service for over 100 years!
THE ORIGIN OF THE NICKNAME Brown Bess for this pattern musket seems to be uncertain. Some say it was an aﬀectionate reference by the British soldiers to Queen Elizabeth I. King George I was, in fact, German and did not speak English (go ﬁgure), and others think it could have been an interpretation for the German braun Buss or brawn Buss, meaning strong gun or brown gun. (Büchse is an old German word for rifle, in the sense of a hunting weapon.)
Most experts on this musket, however, seem to think it is more likely the overall appearance of the weapon: dark brown wood on the stock and a barrel that often had a brownish tint due to the method of “bluing” the metal at this time known as russeting.
History is wonderful and if you are as crazy about guns as I am, you could get lost in the details and minutiae of any ﬁrearm. I will admit, however, that there is something better than just reading about it – hands-on shooting. The feel of the gun, the burning powder in your nose and getting your hands dirty – there is no substitute for this.
So, where can you actually learn to load and ﬁre a Brown Bess musket? Glad you asked! Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, of course!
This 301-acre historic site features hundreds of restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings. Costumed interpreters tell the stories of the men and women in this 18th-Century city – black, white and Native Americans were all here. Some were slaves, some were indentured and some were free. When you come here, you will learn the challenges these people faced and you can also learn to ﬁre the Brown Bess!
BRAND NEW THIS YEAR, Colonial Williamsburg has opened a ﬁring range where guests can learn to load and ﬁre this treasured musket. If you enjoy history (which you probably do if you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg), take the time to feel history in your hands by shooting these historical treasures.
Even though we were visiting the colonies and not Her Majesty’s home in England, the day my wife Helen and I visited Colonial Williamsburg, we were treated like royalty. Joe Straw, public relations manager for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and all of the staﬀ went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
OUR FIRST STOP was the gunsmith shop. To be honest, I could have spent the entire day in there. As with much of Colonial Williamsburg most of this sweeping landscape is just like stepping back in time. Try to imagine walking into an 18th-century gunsmith shop. It’s all here! The guns, the powder horns, the tools and every accoutrement that you can think of and some you might never have realized existed, all with the absolute authenticity and attention to detail that Colonial Williamsburg is known for.
I stood in awe of the blacksmith’s shop next door as a ﬂat piece of metal was repeatedly heated, hammered and forged around an iron rod, transforming it into a riﬂe barrel. I had always been curious about this process and wondered how it was even possible. There I stood as sparks danced with each blow of the hammer and black smoke rolled.
I was very fortunate to spend some time with George Suiter, the master gunsmith here. Suiter has been working in this gunsmith shop for over 30 years and after about 10 minutes of speaking with him I had already forgotten more about making these riﬂes than I would ever know. Suiter makes these Colonial-era “riﬂe guns” right in this shop and people can order their very own. The waiting list is quite lengthy, currently eight to nine years, and on average a riﬂe will fetch about $20,000.
“The best way to preserve a trade is to practice it,” Suiter told me, “ … and that is what we do here at Colonial Williamsburg.” He assured me that one would never ﬁnd tools in this shop which were not true to the time period.
I also spent some time talking to Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. Goldstein is the coauthor of The Brown Bess: An Identiﬁcation Guide And Illustrated Study Of Britain’s Most Famous Musket. This is, at the very least, an exhaustive study of the British Land Pattern musket. I do not believe you could be a serious student nor a proper collector without owning this book.
JOE STRAW WAS ULTIMATELY ABLE to hustle me out of the gunsmith shop and took Helen and I to the musket range. A highly capable group and just as knowledgeable in their craft awaited us. You will ﬁnd this level of commitment and passion all over Colonial Williamsburg, and this is also depicted in the clothing and demeanor.
Portraying a Colonial-era militia man, armorer Justin Chapman met us at the range with a host of well-trained helpers. Chapman gave us an extensive safety and background brieﬁng on the Brown Bess, as well as a period “fowling piece.” The “fowler,” we were told, would be a muzzleloader that would have likely been used by colonists at the time. A predecessor to the modern shotgun, it could be loaded with bird shot or ball load, making it very versatile for the hunting colonist.
Both the Brown Bess and the fowler are smoothbores (no riﬂing in the barrel). They could be loaded quickly, but are not especially accurate over 50 yards. For the European style of combat used at the time, where armies marched in formation to within range of their foes and then sent volleys of lead chunks at them, the Brown Bess was a deadly weapon; for the long-range shooter, not so much. A British soldier was expected to be capable of ﬁring four shots in one minute. After a few volleys of ﬁre, a charge was ordered using those wicked triangular 17-inch bayonets. The line that could stand against such a charge was stalwart indeed!
MY WIFE HELEN HAD the privilege of being the ﬁrst visitor to ﬁre a round on the brand new musket range here. I enjoyed watching her do that as much as anything on this trip. There is something about watching a new shooter that warms the heart. The look on her face after the smoke and boom of her ﬁrst shot was priceless. When she was asked if she wanted to shoot again, she immediately replied, “Of course!”
When it was my turn to shoot, I found that it was not difficult to hit the NRA target, as the musket was more accurate than I had expected. The Brown Bess has no front sight, but the small lug where the bayonet attaches serves as one. Again, this was not meant to be a sniper riﬂe. Quick and easy to load, I could see how shooting this type of muzzleloader could be addicting. Straw had to drag me oﬀ of the range before we all froze
to death – it was a cold March day – and I shot up all the powder and ball in the county.
AT THE END OF THE LONG DAY, Helen and I would not be denied another stroll down Colonial Williamsburg’s streets. It was a blustery evening with not many visitors around. I stood and peered down Duke of Gloucester Street; nobody was in sight outside of those in period attire. Far down the street I could see a soldier in uniform hastening into the evening gloom. Trouble was coming, but in the end came freedom and the rise of the greatest country the world had ever seen. Just for a minute I imagined it was 1774, and I was there. ASJ