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April 13, 2007

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The Importance Of Fit And Finish

A couple of years ago, the great custom gun maker Jerry Fisher told me: “An ape can be trained to do 98 percent of what I do. It’s the last 2 percent of the work that I charge all that money for.” And in case you wondering how much he does charge, the fee for a basic Fisher rifle is $15,000, and he has a waiting list that goes on for years.

Which leads to another quote from the gentleman who was president of SAKO in the 1970s, He gave a speech about what SAKO did, and at the end of it someone asked him what he thought of American rifles. He thought a long moment, looking for a way to be bespeak himself politely, and said:

“We consider them to be unfinished.”

A gunmaker can turn out highly functional guns that are very often accurate quickly and cheaply, but the quality of fit and finish will always be lacking, because that’s the last 2 percent, and the last 2 percent costs money. In Jerry Fisher’s case, it’s the last stroke or two of the rasp that gives a subtle change of shape to a stock, or the removal of a last infinitesimal curl of wood that makes metal fit seamlessly to wood.

In a factory rifle, the requirements are somewhat different, and American factory rifles, by and large, don’t do too well in this department. There are exceptions, but they tend to be in the high-priced range, notably Kimber and Weatherby. If you would like an education, have a gunsmith give you a 15-minute course on what to look for.

Thirty years ago, a friend of mine who collected Smith & Wesson revolvers made a point I’ve never forgotten.

“Look at a 1915-vintage S&W, just a plain .38 Special that might be issued to a cop. The metalwork is virtually perfect. The flats are truly flat. There aren’t any grind marks or polish marks anywhere. The radii are all true. Everything is concentric. The bluing is of a quality you don’t see anymore. These were largely handmade guns, and no one can afford to make them this way anymore, and it shows.”


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They just don't make 'em like the used to! There's really nothing like holding a quality firearm. It's almost an instant feel of utopia!

JA Demko

No, they do make still make them like they used to, if you are willing to pay what that costs. For that matter, quality never came cheap. Back when that 1915-vintage S&W was made, there were also junk guns available for considerably less money.

Charles  Benoit

Let's face the simple fact that most of us Americans simply cannot afford high-priced firearms. I'm sure those well-made guns deserve every cent they cost to manufacture, and the artists and craftsmen that apply their finishing skills are justified in charging a price that merits their attention to detail. After all, they have to make a living too just like the rest of us. If I had the money to afford a quality firearm, I would not hesitate to buy several of them! We all have to remember that all of us go through Life just once. And, even after one's life is over, the firearms can be passed on to your family's next generation to treasure and use.

Do those extra final touches really effect the accuracy of an aimed shot? I highly doubt it. I consider myself a poor shot, but I have won at turkey matches using a simple 20 ga Western Auto bolt-action shotgun made by Mossberg while competing against others with much higher priced shotguns. Mine was purchased used by my dad around 1973 for about $25. I can hit bullseye using a 7 o'clock hold within 35 yards on a consistent basis.

Regardless of the cost of a firearm, the gist is that we should buy what one can afford and enjoy the good times while we can.

Charles Benoit


I have to agree with Charles on this one. Buy the firearm of your choice and enjoy the hell out of it while you still can. I prefer to go middle of the road on most everything I purchase. Cheap gets you cheap, the middle gets good quality and value, and expensive gets you quality with more features. Whether one needs the additional features is up to them and their wallets.


I think Charles B. is missing the point. Most factory firearms are functional “in spite” of poor finish and fit. That last 2% costs and the price of a custom firearm is readily apparent if you build your own rifle. The simple act of true-ing an action and eliminating drag are many hours’ labor of love. E.g. The first act I do with a new rifle is check the polish on the feed ramp into the chamber, and then check the chamber for smoothness.

Any one can improve the “finish and fit” of a factory arm with a Dermal tool, a set of files, stones, and polishing compound, but I’m dismayed by the indifference to do so although I’m preached to on the pride of ownership thing on this blog.

“Good enough” is OK, but then it’s a personal statement promoting mediocrity.

Charles  Benoit

I cannot remember the name of the short-story I read in my 8th grade literature class, but it was about a skilled boot maker that was forced out of business due to his rising costs and not being able to pass on his expenses to his customers. The shoe craftsman could not compete against those cheaper inferior grade boots made by the large modern factories using the new mass production techniques derived from economies of scale. He lost clients as they did not appreciate the quality of his work. But, the old master craftsman never gave up on his love for his art and decided to sacrifice his personal comforts rather than skimp on the qualify of his product of hand-made boots. The character in the short story was from "the old school" with a heavy European accent. The story of course is fictional, but it made a lasting impression on me for over 37 years since the 8th grade. Still wish I could remember the name of that short story as it reminds me of another generation of craftsmen from a diffrent era that took pride in their workmanship versus our present generation of a "throw it away consumer society". To me, the story was not about boot making, but the love of one's work and profession. If anyone can recall the name of the short story, I would appreciate a brief note.

I wish I was personally skilled enough to improve on my firearms using stones and files that Mark mentions in his prior comment. The best I can do is keep them meticulously clean and well oiled. Unfortunately, I am the type that can break an anvil with little effort, and I have learned the hard way that it is best to pay a craftsman to handle repars. Some of us are not mechanically gifted, and I fall into that category. Those guys deserve every penny they charge, and I appreciate their profession. Mr. Petzal had an article about the best firearm repairman in the nation a few months ago, and his article brings back the short story memories I remember of the boot maker.

Best regards,
Charles Benoit


It's too bad we don't have hundreds of thousands of black forest cabinetmakers, London blacksmiths, or Swiss watchmakers pouring into Ellis Island anymore. My grandfather came to this country knowing how to do beautiful work in wood. I merely own a basic set of hand tools. Something has been lost along the path of progress.

John Van Zant

There is not the pride in workmanship by all,now days as there was in the past. The ones that have pride nowdays,are the ones whom desire and recieve the big monies for there work!I have been a general gunsmith for 43yrs,and have also worked for toop name companies. I have had only "1" comeback in all those years!I take pride in my work,and work on every firearm as if it was my own!There are a lot more super craftsman in the trade today,but they only specialize in one thing. Thats what makes them know and brings them to the attention to the public. Nothing wrong in that! some,like working with wood,metal,checkering ,engraving, which all makes this a trade of true craftsman of the lost arts. And hopefully not! I take my hat off to all in this trade,that make it what it is. I just wish,that the peoples with the monies whom can afford quality work would really appericate what went into it,and they never will. This is a trade of love,heart,and expression of same that will go on for ever!! I,m proud to be a part of it. Respectfully to you all,John Van Zant


I recently was given A.17 cal Rifle at my retirement reception.. Actually I was given the Money to purchase said Rifle. So to get a little better one, I added a little money and got the one I wanted. Ilike the rifle but the trigger pull is quite rough.(Getting Better). For the Manufacturer to have improved on the trigger, nodoubt the cost would have have been more, Now would it have been worth it to increase the price of the rifle for this service? Yes, but would more people not have purchased this rifle because of the elevated cost Probably so. so that extra 2% would cost more than expected due to selling fewer Rifles. I guess it's up to me to improve the trigger myself..

Clay Cooper

Of all the rifles I have handle and had the pleasure to shoot, that old O3A3 Remington 30-06 military rifle my Father had Jensons Gun Shop in Tucson Az 49 years ago customized for me at the age of 13, still has the sweetest action by far. Accuracy is ½” at 100yds and he did it all for under $125.00! Remington should bring this action back into production. If it's good enough for High Power Competition, by golly it’s good enough for the sportsmen!

Charlie Sierra

I purchased my pet Remington 700 in .270 for something like $600. $2000 later I had the gun I really wanted. That "final 2%" (more like 75%) of parts and labor was worth every penny, at least to me. Good topic Mr. Petzal.

Sigfredo Flores

You are correct in that they don't make them like they use too. I made the mistake of selling my 7mm "W" Mauser, now wishing I han't. The problem now is, here its 3years later and I discover 4 boxes of (Winchester Super X 7mm Mauser {7X57} 145gr power point). My question is, Is there a rifle still being made today, that I can order that will allow me to use these cartridges or does anyone have a 7mm "W" Mauser availble for sale? And is as the law: I will only complete sale and tranfer with a Federally Licence Gun Dealer.
[email protected]


Dave, Fit and finish are extremely inportant,in a high powered rifle, where accuracy is necessary.I Think its a less so with us shotgunners(or should i be talking to phil).I believe you have a valid piont dave. I just hope everybody understands their responsobility with their firearm of choice. ( THIS IN CLUDES BILL H).

 been there-done that

Quality work, craftsmanship etc. has long gone out the window. Now it's all about Money. Have owned many guns in my 72 yrs, and finally found a factory made firearm that out-shoots any firearm I ever shot. Many other guys have tried to buy it from me, but no its's not for sale. As long as its shoots where I aim it, thats all any gun is suppose to do, regardless of cost. O we can pay thousands for a firearm, but when the bullet goes out the end of the bbl, where it strikes is what matters. $$$$ and cents makes no difference.I like beatiful wood and perfect fitting metal to wood as good as the next guy, but only have one custom firearm and it does not shoot any better than my factory job. So the extra hundreds I paid for the custom job, I could have used on a Rocky Mtn Elk hunt again.


Clay:, The 03a3 is A very Good action I know of a few 03's Still in service and doing well. We just ordered a new turned down bolt for it to clear a scope.Some one just wrote about the Mauser 7mm. That's A very good action also. I too just gave a box of 7mm foder away.( Don't have the rifle any more) I really like the 7mm, very mild recoil and ample for any critter here in E. Ky.where ranges may vary from 75-200 yds.


Yes, they don't make them like they used to as the example of the 1915 S&W shows. But fortunately they're still around and you can buy one. But, look at the price, you say?

Think about it. A brand new S&W NEW CENTURY (Triplelock).44 in 1915 would set you back a month's wage. Some people were willing to do that. Today, a nice Triplelock will still cost an average month's wage. And if S&W were to make an equivalent pistol with the exact same fit, finish and workmanship today, it would cost a month's wage too.

So you can see, I'm still trying to justify myself into buying one.

Good luck.

Chad Love

I digitally unfurled my copy of the NYT this morning (since I'm in Oklahoma and can't get the murdered tree version) and lo and behold, there was a story about F&S and its four National Magazine Award nominations.
It was written with a somewhat smarmy attitude and the lede graf had to have the obligatory wise-ass trophies-on-the-wall references (you'd think that a NYT reporter - someone ostensibly at the top of his profession - would be creative enough to forego the rapid-fire use of tired and witless cliches, but apparently not...).
However, despite the "how the hell did these guys make it to the party?" undertone it was a good read. I especially liked the reference to most other male mags as focused on "grooming and shopping" which is of course the socially accepted 21st-century equivalent of hunting and gathering...


If Chad got it right, this is good news! Congrats F & S!!!!!

BTY-Think national media is unbias, read "At Any Cost" by Bill Sammon of the Washington Times

PS: F & S why don't you spike the punch bowl and gobble down all the finger food. You deserve it! :-)

Steve C

Quality vs. quantity.

Many years ago I read a true story about an owner of a fine shotgun – a high grade Parker if I recall. But he shot a plain-vanilla pump instead and seldom ever touched the Parker. It shot high and to the left, although I’m sure the fit and finish were excellent.

That proverbial extra 2% is for those whose bank accounts are exceeded in size only by their egos.

If the shoe fits …

Dave Petzal

To Steve C: Rudy Etchen, who was one of the great trapshooters of the 20th century and enormously rich to boot, never shot anything but a Remington Model 870. One day, after he had just won a doubles event with the pumpgun, someone asked him why he didn't buy a nice o/u.

"But then what would I do between shots?" asked Rudy.

jim R.

Have just recieved the May issue of F&S and am confused. Just what is a black rifle? Is there an official definition of assault rifle? I thought they had to have a full auto capability. Need some help here. Thanks.

jim R.

Have just recieved the May issue of F&S and am confused. Just what is a black rifle? Is there an official definition of assault rifle? I thought they had to have a full auto capability. Need some help here. Thanks.


Function over fit and finish. Duiring my safari in Namibia I talked to few PHs and they do not have high opinion about the pricy European gear. No doubt, fit and finish are better than on average american gun but in the tough environment they still prefer robust Remingtons and Winchesters with leupolds and bushnell's. I have seen how after few trips on Toyota pick-up truck the barrel in my friend's Sauer got loose (no tool to fix it !) and he had to shoot my 700. Just two cents that rifle's look may be deceptive, i.e. good finish and fit not necessary reflect on its overall quality and utilitarian traits.


There is a lower threshold on acceptable F&F - Winchester went below that with their rifles and look where it got them. You could pick up any recent Winchester rifle and readily see the lack of attention to detail in the metal and, especially, the stock work. Appalling, and there was no excuse. I ordered a new Model 94 - great looking wood but you could see sky in the gaps between the metal and wood. The mag tube was twisted and the firing "pin" kept bending and causing misfires. Offset was a good 4"! Internal finish was horrible. The gun was returned for repairs three times before it ended up on the for sale rack. New Model 70's weren't much better. It shows when the workforce no longer cares. F&F is worth the price and, as you can see on a Kimber, doesn't always have to be exhorbatantly priced.

"Have just recieved the May issue of F&S and am confused. Just what is a black rifle? Is there an official definition of assault rifle? I thought they had to have a full auto capability. Need some help here."

I used to have a small gun shop, this was years ago before the Brady BS went into effect, and according to BATF documents an Assault weapon was a FULL Auto Military weapon. This disappeared on later printings to fall in with the media definition of Assault Rifle as any gun that LOOKS like a Military Firearm, most of which are black from muzzle to butt, therefore the "Black Rifle" name.

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