I like preWWII industrial design. From the late 19th Century to 1945, American industry did some remarkable things of very high quality with remarkable individual skill. I’m not saying that after 1945 they didn’t still do that, but after 1945 everything had changed.
For a non-gun example, take woodworking tools, (another hobby of mine, along with history in general) and in particular, handsaws. Bear with me, gun enthusiasts. After the Civil War there was a manufacturer in Philadelphia that made handsaws for wood. The man that started it was named Henry Disston, and he eventually took his sons into the family business, so the company was eventually known as Henry Disston and Sons. They were the General Motors of the handsaw manufacturing world. Lets take, for an example, a standard saw made by Disston in 1907 and one made in 2007. They both look like handsaws, and don’t look much different from each other at a glance, except one looks brand new and the other has aged 100 years. But they are very different. In 1907, professional craftsmen depended on his handsaw to make a living, today a professional uses a DeWalt or Makita or Bosch saw for all his cutting, so today’s handsaw is geared toward more of a hobbiest occasional customer. Today’s steel blade is sheet metal stamped out with teeth put on by a machine and all this happens very fast in total automation to keep costs down. The 100 year old saw blade has more refinements. The blade is taper ground from the tip to the handle, and from the teeth up to the back. This taper makes the saw easy through the wood better. The teeth might have been stamped out, but it was hand sharpened in the factory. The blade’s temper was checked by a specialist to be sure it had an even flexibility throughout the length. And there was more metal depth to the blade in anticipation of the user sharpening it quite a bit. Another big difference between the saw is the handle. The 2007 saw is made of plastic, or, if you are lucky, plywood board where the handle was cut out and corners eased with a router. It isn’t very comfortable. The 1907 saw is made from Apple or Pear wood, and is practically carved to fit a hand, long before the term ergonomics entered the lexicon and is a joy to hold. After WWII, the Disston company slowly declined until all that is left is its name on some Taiwanese budget handsaws. Just like Stanley, the makers of millions upon million of hand planes, with similar quality to Disston Saws, in New Britain Connecticut, is now a garage door opener manufacturer with a corporate headquarters in the Bahamas.
My attitude extends to guns. Even comparing my 2 military issued battle rifles produced in wartime is telling. Side by side there is an elegance to the walnut stock on my Springfield 03 that isn’t as nice on the M1 Garand made just 25 years later.
Prewar industrial processes produced guns with so much handwork done to them routinely, compared to today, that we can almost consider them custom made. Not that there isn’t a lot of handwork on today's guns compared to other industries. And American gun production is highly refined, quickly and cheaply producing very fine firearms as a matter of course, and generally domestically. It’s just less handwork intense than the old days. Less machining today, and what there is is done by computer instead of skill and well earned experience of a human operator. And I like that personal touch by men that were contemporaries of my grandfather and greatgrandfather (a linotype machinist). To cut costs a gun part in the seer, today, might have machining marks on areas that have no metal to metal contact. And this doesn’t impact the function in any way. To do it this way allows a CNC machine to make the part automatically and cuts down labor costs and production time, then passing that savings on to the customer. Before the War the standard of machinist practice would have expected a finer finish, and this attention was paid with it’s subsequent demand on human skill and time. Labor was a bit cheaper at the time, so, while it added to the cost, it was not beyond the customer’s means.
Denise of the Ten Ring blog shares my admiration of old walnut stock and properly blued metal. So does Tammy, I recently found, from the View From the Porch blog. Tammy has the milsurp bug pretty bad, and I am sure here is another subject matter expert that has forgotten more about historical guns and gunmakes than I will ever know. But I have the edge on her for hoppy beers.
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