Lock, stock and barrel

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

When I was a youngster, I thought the term “lock, stock and barrel” referred to an old country store. The term was used to convey completeness or entirety. If someone did all of something, they did it lock, stock and barrel. I never read any explanation of the term, so nothing challenged my views.

It was only when I was in my 30s and was reading about guns a lot that I started to become interested in the old-time gun makers. Many of them bought the barrels for their guns and even more bought the locks. Then they assembled these parts into the stock that they made. There were, however, a few gun makers who made everything. They made the lock, the stock and the barrel.

Each major assembly of the gun required a lot of specialized skill and craftsmanship, and it wasn’t embarrassing for a gun maker to specialize in just one of the three disciplines. A lifetime could be spent just learning how to make a good barrel, and entire 6-year apprenticeships were often spent gaining the skills required to hand-file all the parts of a gun lock from steel and then fit them together and harden each one to do its job. Indeed, in various areas like Birmingham, England, gunmaking was a cottage industry where the craftsmen worked in very small shops or even in their own homes, turning out parts that only came together at some major gunmaker’s factory. When you look at a Brown Bess musket, you’re looking at an item that’s had dozens of different hands involved in its creation.

But in every age, there are always some people who are so talented that they cannot remain with the herd. They’re capable of doing everything and more. These are the innovators who begin building the entire gun at an early age and then start changing things as they enter their journeyman years. The more they learn about their craft, the better their products become…until they’ve risen to the top of their respective field as masters of the art of gunmaking.

Their progression doesn’t always stop there, either. Sometimes, they realize that they have a special gift for one or more things, and they should concentrate on just what they do best, leaving the rest of the things to others who do an adequate job. Harry Pope was one such person. In the beginning, he learned the skills needed to build the lock, stock and barrel and did so for several years. But he knew his barrels were better than any other barrels that were available, so he stopped making the other things and concentrated on just the barrels for the rest of his life. Oh, he did modify locks, which were called actions because they handled cartridges, so he could get them to work their best with his barrels. He favored the Winchester 1885 single-shot action that we call the high wall action today; but he felt the triggers needed to be on larger pins, and the geometry needed to be changed a little to get them to work their best. When he made a rifle, he usually used a high wall and did his work to get the triggers to work their best.

W. Milton Farrow is another master who made locks or actions. He was a world champion marksman who won trophies all over the United States and Europe and finally decided he needed something better than the guns he’d been using. Farrow liked the Ballard action best; but like Pope, he saw some shortcomings. He improved the action to the extent that he was manufacturing an entirely new action that looked like a cross between a Ballard and a Winchester. He also made barrels that are still renowned for their accuracy. For almost the rest of his life, he built actions until a hurricane destroyed his Florida-based shop and forced him to retire in his late 80s.

Farrow was one who made the lock (action) stock and barrel, but he might have subcontracted the stocks to other workers. His actions are highly collectible today and bring even more money than Pope rifles due to their scarcity. One of the worst horror stories I’ve ever heard was a pristine Farrow barrel that was relined for a modern caliber because the owner didn’t want to fool with reloading for the obsolete caliber the barrel was chambered for. A great way to turn $5,000 into $50. Sort of like installing an electronic pickup on a Stradivarius!

What about airguns?
Are there any airgun makers who make the lock, stock and barrel? Yes there are a few, but not as many as you might think. John Whiscombe is well-known for his remarkable recoilless double-piston rifles, and he made the lock and the stock but not the barrel. John used barrels from Anschütz and BSA depending on the caliber. And perhaps he used other barrels, as well. That left him the time he needed to make his actions and stocks. John did contract out some of his work to others, though there’s no doubt that he could have done it all if he’d wanted to.

Gary Barnes makes everything in his airguns. His first barrels were mediocre; but after reading about Pope and refining his process, he turned out some of the finest airgun barrels ever made. His actions are quite novel, to say the least. They’re unconventional, and shooters either love them or hate them. There’s very little middle ground when it comes to a Barnes gun. He prides himself on his decorations, which are also unconventional in both finish and engraving. But each gun is an expression of his art, and he makes them all his way.

Dennis Quackenbush is making airgun locks, stocks and barrels in very large numbers for a one-man operation. Actually his wife, Karen, helps out with several of the processes to keep the production on schedule, and he still can’t turn out the guns fast enough to satisfy the demand. A Quackenbush big bore is the best investment anyone can make in an airgun; because the instant you buy it, you gain at least 50 percent additional value. There are several people who buy Quackenbush guns just for the money they can make on reselling them.

Dennis is just about the only maker I know who has made both big bores (over .25 caliber) and smallbore guns in their entirety. He’s used factory barrels in the past, but he also rifles his own .22 and .25 caliber barrels. I’ll be testing some of his special .22-caliber barrels for you very soon.

Dennis’ locks (actions) are his own design. They are made to appear very conventional — like a Remington 700 bolt-action, if you please. But he’s spent years refining what he does; and after 1,400 were produced, there’s been a definite advancement in the design. Other airgun makers are copying Dennis’ design to some extent, though there are subtleties they do not include because they’re not aware of them.

And Dennis’ stocks are objects of great interest everywhere. He uses fine walnut blanks that are shaped to his specified profile and finished to whatever grade of work the customer desires. People used to say that Harry Pope was crazy for selling a complete shooting outfit for $40, when it should have been worth $100 at least. Dennis Quackenbush is a lot like that. He is turning out pearls of great price and ignoring the constant advice to double his prices. So, it’s his customers that reap the benefits.

Yes, there are airgun makers who turn out everything these days — lock, stock and barrel. We’re living in a golden age of airguns that will be heralded by future historians. Our task is to see what surrounds us now and make wise choices. It wasn’t easy to do that a century ago, and it still isn’t today.

33 thoughts on “Lock, stock and barrel”

  1. Very enjoyable read for a rainy monday morning,along with a good cup of coffee.I am in awe of the talent base that exists in our airgun hobby/obsession.It’s funny to me that some powder burners look down at airguns.I’m suprised you made no mention of Nelson,didn’t he get barrels from Remington and then rework them to his own specs?

    • I went back & reread a bio of Nelson Lewis.It seems he just purchased unrifled blanks from Remington,then he bored,reamed & rifled them his way (gain twist ONLY)….and then for target models he sent them back to Remington to be bored for a “false muzzel”.I’m sure this was only because he didn’t have a lathe.After seeing the adress in Troy NY,if he had a lathe it would have had to be steam powered…..he lived too far from the Hudson river to use it for power.

  2. The title grabbed me first as it’s also the title of one of my favorite movies of all times:
    English not being my main language I had never heard of the expression before I saw the movie in ’98
    I’m glad to know what it means, even when talking about airguns you teach about other things! This blog really is the best!

    But you forgot about our own airgun maker duskwight!


  3. Very nice article. I was very much impressed by the two craftsmen you mentioned. If I only had a couple of thousand dollars, I could pay off something… Uh I mean by a very well crafted air rifle.

    Wonderful stuff.

    Once again, Thank you.


  4. BB,

    I can add this to my storehouse of knowledge that is mostly useless to others but of great value and pride to me in knowing where the expression came from. Such expressions as, “the whole nine yards” (the length of an ammunition belt carried by WW I fighter planes for their machine guns), “getting to the short strokes” (a carpenters’ term when finishing up a saw cut so as not to splinter the end}, the whole shebang (a Civil War term for all your camping gear) and my favorite, “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” ( a Naval term where stacked cannonballs spilled out of the triangular brass holder – called a monkey – due to contraction from the cold) are used all the time and the majority of the users have no idea where these expressions come from. Now you do.

    Fred DPRoNJ

    • Morning B.B.,

      “Sort of like installing an electronic pickup on a Stradivarius!” Just love your analogies.

      Thanks Fred. I never knew the real brass monkey. Come to think of it, the origin of all your examples were unknown to me.


    • The reference to freezing parts off a brass monkey was the source of constant discussion among the men in our family at holiday gatherings. Keep in mind that many of them were Packer season ticket holders at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and they all had plenty of experience with one or another frozen part.

      The expression that we children heard all the time from the Old Men was the freezing of the tail off a brass monkey. The reason for this expression came from the days of fighting ships under sail. Since the family homesteaded property along Lake Michigan between Algoma and Sturgeon Bay, WI, ship building and farming were the livelihood of choice for most of the Old Men. Those old fellows believed that a canon had a tail. It was made from wood, and it was used to steer the canon around on deck to get it into its proper place. Also, they believed that the brass monkey reference was the brass canon itself. So, weather fit to freeze the tail off the brass monkey, meant that it was so cold that the ships spray would freeze on everything and, if one tried to move a brass monkey in that weather, the steering stick would break off the mount for the canons.

      Given the idea of the spray, and canon balls being iron, I am not so sure that canon balls would have been stored on deck anyway. I think I would like to have them as low as possible as they would be incredible ballast. Either way, both are wonderful stories and the mental images that they create really take me back to growing up on the shores of the Great Lakes where stories of sailing ships were as common as fairy tales.

  5. John Bowkett and DaveG have made great contributions to airguns with their unique designs. Not sure if either of these guys have ever made their own barrels. Dennis Quackenbush and Gary Barnes are rare.


    • Lee,

      The Girardoni (we now know the name is spelled this way, because Dr. Beeman found the family still living in Europe) was far too complex for the gunsmiths of the time. It needed workmen with the skill of clockmakers. Also, it was a royal pain to charge a butt of air, where a thimble of powder would do the same thing.

      It was superior in its repeating function, but not in power or reliability. Those things were deemed more important than repeatability in the grand scheme of things.


  6. BB fascinating narrative to take one back to a time when time was not a commodity. Now everything is measured in time,we all live in a constant race to entertain ourselves with a new project,because their are so many options. Hand made locks then,computer lives now. Curious thing we want to measure value in money,I guess Quackenbush is an artist.

  7. B.B., today’s blog reminded me immediately of a book I have at home. I don’t know how many here may remember the Foxfire series of books. Rather than write overly much here I’ll give you the skinny and a couple of links. Foxfire 5 included a section on gun making. The following link is for a Google preview. The relevant section begins on page 208. There are pages missing, but there is still quite a bit included, including information and photos of barrel making.


    Whoa!! I Googled “‘Foxfire 5’ gunmaking” and found it at the top of page 2. I include this only because it gives a good idea about the book.

    You can also connect to, http://www.foxfire.org for more information. There is a link on the first page for a 16 page PDF about Foxfire history and currently, and the series and more are available for purchase.

    I purchased a Crosman .357 air pistol Saturday. I had been thinking about this for a while. I decided I wanted to purchase a CO2 with a rifled barrel to shoot pellets. I decided to start with a revolver and look at other options later on. The Crosman is the least expensive of those that met my criteria. After I watched Paul Capello’s AGR episode about it I believed it will satisfy my needs for now. My only interest is learning to shoot a handgun with a degree of accuracy up to at least 10m. I am not much worried about speed, fpe or sustained firing (in fact, I expect to shoot in single action mode most of the time). I a few different .177 pellets for my initial trials. Based on my first 40 shots I think my reading about shooting a handgun is already paying off (from a mere 10 feet, but I have to start somewhere).


      • B.B., among the air pistols that met my criteria (aside from cost) the Crosman .357 is the only one that has a break barrel design. This concerns me somewhat, but I intend to use as little pressure as possible to open and close it. I think it will work out. ~Ken

        • Ken,

          Three weeks ago I shot a Smith & Wesson Frontier revolver that was made in the 19th century. It is a 44-40 black powder revolver that breaks open, and this one has been doing so for over 110 years. But it was able to put five out of six on a 5-inch bullseye at 50 yards, nevertheless. Just because they break open doesn’t mean they aren’t accurate. And they don’t wear out if they are made right.

          I’ll bet that 357 surprises you.


    • Hersel House was featured in Fox Fire #5. If you saw the movie “Patriot” you would have seen rifles made by House and his brothers for that movie. The poor boy style Tennesee rifle that was featured in the book, is a very practical rifle . Dixie Gunworks made a nice reproduction of that style a few years ago. Sadly, a little after that article appeared in Fox Fire #5 , House’s shop burned to the ground, and a lot of period tools were lost.I remember reading about his loss in “Gun Week” ,and like many others, sent him money to help rebuild his shop.Gun makers of his talent level are rare , as the other posters above have already mentioned .

      • Robert,
        I should have known you would like FF5 :)!

        You can see several pages of articles on H. House here (and you might like the contemporary makers blog sight as well — lots of neat stuff a bit every day): http://contemporarymakers.blogspot.com/search?q=hershel+house. As far as I know HH is still working. I know him only by sight (at longrifle shows) and reputation (he is the superstar/grandfather of contemporary southern longrifles), but I am pretty sure he is still working when he wants. His brother Frank is excellent as well, just as talented but with a slightly different perspective to his work (a little more literal in terms of interpretations than H’s. later stuff: search the blog for him also, if interested).

        From the book (FF5), Wallace Gusler and Jim Chambers are still active also and tops in their respective fields. I’ve come across several of them in one way or the other and it is always thrilling to talk to someone that was featured in FF5! For a hillbilly, that is almost like meeting someone from the Bible :)! Contemporary Longrifle Association show in Lexington is the place you want to go for those gun builders — soon, while they are still with us.

        Now, if you haven’t built a longrifle, I think it is time you tried…

        • BG : thanks so much for the link. Hershel House is one of my idols. I have always been interested in the southern rifles and self sufficient living , and yes , I have read and re-read the first FoxFire books . The first 5 were the best. So far, I have only built rifles from kits and my father built several before his death from kits. The Dixie Poor Boy rifle was one of those. It is a flint lock in .32 cal. If only I could get away from fixing these damn old houses …

          • Robert,
            Glad you liked it. When you get time to build a rifle, I’ll give you all the resources and point you to all the people I can if you want. From what little I know of your skills (both with guns and wood work, etc.), you would take to it like a duck to water. The Tennessee rifles (predominantly the Upper East Tennesse ones) have been popular for some time, but there is still a lot of research to be done on them, and the wider spectrum of southern rifles is practically wide open, with something new being uncovered, re-located or examined in a new light almost every day. By the way, many of HH’s early rifles were built from the Dixie “kits”, if I understand correctly, although “kit” in that case just meant a board and some parts.

            We practically lived the FF lifestyle growing up in some ways. We thought it was normal. When people started studying it, it was like being “validated” as they say nowadays :). The lifestyle is enshrined for posterity at the Museum of Appalachia — just off I-75 at Clinton(or Norris, really), TN. You should stop there if you are ever that way; I think you’d like it.

  8. I always took “lock, stock, and barrel” to mean totally inclusive. Not sure when I realized the reference to guns which just happened at some point. One sometimes gets the impression that before interchangeable parts and mass production that gun-making was in the dark ages with the individual work required to fit all the parts. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and besides, custom gun-work is supposed to be associated with handcrafting so that realm has never left us. Clint Fowler, who advertises himself for old world craftsmanship, tells me that one of his mentors told him to take enough care with a gun that you would not leave a fingerprint on it. I can understand, holding one of Clint’s rifles.

    God bless all of our veterans.

    Slinging Lead, do you mean that you were serious about mugging the elderly? 🙂

    Victor, thanks for your info. We spend a lot of time talking about the placement of the left (forward) hand to achieve the right hold, but there’s no doubt a great deal to know about the placement of the buttstock in the shoulder. I’ve noticed that David Tubb has a particular ritual of raising his right elbow to the side, placing the stock, and then bringing the elbow down hard into position. With his shooting jacket, this really locks the rifle into place. I imagine you wouldn’t have so much tension with the artillery hold but no doubt there should be some care.

    Caveman, thanks for the link about the Daisy 747. With Duskwight as my inspiration and this kind of detailed info, I’m sure to pull through.

    Say, in light of the big Petraeus scandal, does anyone know how easy it is to track down someone’s IP address? I always knew that your online trail was ultimately traceable, but I had the impression that it required a lot expertise. You really have to get the attention of someone pretty powerful which was obviously done in this case. But maybe it’s more a question of legal authority. Perhaps the FBI just went to the internet service provider and told them to hand over their records.

    If you’ve never heard of semi-automatic archery, have a look at this.


    Russians triumphant. I believe this is a variation of horse archery techniques developed by the Mongols. Anyway, it’s supposed to be in the higher realms of action pistol shooting to shoot while walking, and here is someone doing it with a bow and arrow! Ah for sufficient space to practice this and airgunning what wouldn’t I give?


    • Matt61,

      I do in fact do exactly what David Tubb does on EVERY shot. But because I’m not wearing a shooting jacket, I pull my loose clothing in towards the center of my chest to straighten out the material, and then I raise my right arm straight out, causing my front shoulder to pop forward, making it easier for me to consistently plant the butt-stock into the upper chest.

      My rifle coach, Jim Thorne, was formerly a Marine Drill Instructor. Funny, but early on in getting to know him, I asked if he was a Marine, and he barked at me, “WAS I A MARINE! I MAAADE MARINES!!!”. Jim was one of the finest men I’ve ever known in my life. For sure, we always knew that he had our back. He was very easy to respect and appreciate. As straight a shooter as anyone can be. Never BS, and always at his best. In California, they use to hold a match where coaches got to compete against each other. Jim entered it once, and to no one’s surprise, won it. It was called “The Hot Dog Match”, and the winner became “The Big Winnie”. Like Stan, Jim didn’t like to show off, so he left that as a lesson for his team that he knew what he was talking about.

      As a Marine, Jim taught us to raise our right elbow when shooting kneeling or offhand. Jim taught us the same fundamentals that he’d probably been teaching for decades. All of those fundamentals are as correct today as they were back in the 50’s and 60’s, when he was “making marines”. To this day, I still do what David Tubb’s does, because that’s what Jim taught me.


    • Interesting video, Matt. I don’t know what the poundage is on her bow (not a lot I presume) but the speed and the hold are interesting. I have a 35 lb. recurse at home; I think I’ll try the hold but I am not expecting to match that young woman any time soon (or ever). ~Ken

    • Matt tracking a computer isn’t very hard. If you don’t how you can hire someone who knows.
      When you go on a website they have a pretty good idea of where you are and they can get the connection IP adress and the computer IP adress. Webmasters can block IP adresses either from the computer or from the connection or both.
      If they block the connection but not the computer you can take your lap top to a WIFI hot spot and vomit your crap (because that’s usually why people get banned) but you won’t be able to use another computer using the same connection, banning the computer IP stops the person to move the computer to another location but will let someone to use another computer in the house to post their bad mouthing.

      When you buy something they know where you are so they can better stop fraud but knowing where you are doesn’t make it easier to get in your computer to hack it.

      That’s how some countries stop the people living there from accessing certain website and things like that.

      Of course you can get around this using proxy servers so you’ll be located in Germany or a lot of other countries, you can use many of them so you’ll be harder to track but ultimatly it’s down to how bad the person wants or needs to hide and how badly they want to find you and how good they are at it.
      There’s ALWAYS a way around it no mather if you’re searching or the searchee.

      Companies will keep on making better safes and robbers will keep on finding ways to get inside them.


Leave a Comment