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Building Double Rifles on Shotgun Actions is the first step by step introduction to building double rifles on shotgun actions.
Gunsmithes have been doing it for over a century, but few have been forthcoming with information on how it is done — until now. Brown gives his personal methods of building double rifle barrels and all the associated parts. Using the author's own detailed photographs, Building Double Rifles on Shotgun Actions takes you through the whole process of building a double rifle from defining the scope of the project to fitting the barrels to the action, proofing, regulating and finishing the barrels.
There are chapters devoted to proofing and regulating the barrels. Regulation of rifles barrels has been, and continues to be, a closely guarded skill intentionally clouded by manufacturers of double rifles to intimidate the layman. The author discusses exactly what regulation is and how he goes about regulating a set of rifle barrels. It is not beyond the skills
of a normal, practical-minded man.
Anyone that has ever thought about building their own double rifle or who has an interest in double rifles in general, will benefit from this book.
This is a thank you to all of those that had a part it the writing of this book. First I would like to thank Jan Manning, my long time friend, hunting partner, and fellow "commiserator." With a friend like this, I am never without projects. Jan has helped with the construction of some of the firearms in this book and the 7 x 57R double rifle which was used for a number of the photographs in this book, was built for him. Jan has also helped with the editing.
Next I would like to thank Bruce LePage, who at the time that this book was started, was part of the gunsmithing department at Pine Technical College in Pine City, Minnesota.
Bruce was gracious enough to have me come and teach a week-long seminar on building double rifles on shotgun actions. I learned a lot about how not to do a seminar during
that week, but that seminar was really the start of this book. It began as a course outline which grew all out of proportion. A "thank you " also to Kevin Molden, who attended the week long seminar at Pine Technical College and took me seriously about marking any mistakes that he found in the original manuscript - he found a lot. I would like to thank Dave Frye, another long time friend, who took time from his busy schedule to help with the editing of this book. His encouragement and support of this project are greatly appreciated.
Another person whom I would like to thank is Cheri Armstrong. Cheri has her own publishing business and her free information and advice on the "nuts and bolts" of getting
a book published and printed have been invaluable.
I would also like to thank Stacy Hosek who contributed heavily to the dust jacket design and held my hand though the printing process. I learned all about the physical and technical characteristics of a book - paper, board material, cover materials, etc., etc. from her. Stacy's encouragement that this really would happen, was much appreciated.
Last, but obviously not least, I want to thank my wife and family for their patience during the process of creating this book. People who write books, really shouldn't have
families, but then, who would remind the writer to eat? Without the help of these people, the publishing of this book would have been even more difficult and time consuming than it has been. Thank you all very much!
First and foremost, I want to thank all of those that purchased the 1st Edition of this book! Thanks to you, we paid the bills for the publishing, printing, advertising, and shipping of the books, and I was able to take an inexpensive plains game hunt in South Africa - Thank you very much!! Next I want to thank everyone that has written, emailed, or just stopped by to give me encouragement and pass on information on how they have approached various issues they encountered while doing their own projects. Some of that has been included in this
edition. Thanks also goes to Anne Marie Martinez for her assistance with the updating the dust jacket and spine for the second edition. I want to thank my wife, Dr. Alise Brown, who graciously used her English degree to do the initial edit of the manuscript. I am quite embarrassed at the number of mistakes the she found that had been published in the first edition!
Jerry Barnhart, a friend that I have not known long, but whom it feels like I have known forever, did a technical, as well as an editing, read through of this edition.
And above all, I need to thank Christa-Maria who did the final editing of this edition.
It seems I have always liked sporting arms and hunting. Some of my earliest
memories are of pretending to be a hunter in the vacant lots in our neighborhood. I grew
up fascinated with firearms and studied the gun sections of the "Sears & Roebuck" and
"Montgomery Wards" catalogs (no, they don't carry guns anymore) until the pages were
tattered in hopes that Christmas would be "kind" to me - it never happened.
When I was 12, my family moved to a small town in northeast Colorado which
allowed me bicycle access to "wild" country, which means I could ride 2 miles west of
town to a wildlife management area on the Poudre River. After some instruction from
my father, I was allowed to take my father's Winchester model 67, bolt action, single
shot 22 and harass the squirrels and rabbits that inhabited the woods along the river.
Actually, I became a rather good shot and learned a lot while on my lone outings to the
river. I suppose by today's standards, I was under-supervised for my age, but back then it
wasn't so uncommon. After my father bought a couple of boxes of 22 rimfire
ammunition for me at the local hardware store, it was accepted by the proprietor that 1
was responsible enough to buy my own, and after that I was eternally broke from my
My first firearm purchase came as a result of having worked in the mountains one
summer. I had some cash to spend, and my father found an Ithaca model 37, 12 gauge
for $75.00 and so went two weeks' wages. In the following years I did quite a bit of
trapping for fox, muskrats, and coyotes. My next firearm was a Winchester model 61,
pump 22 rimfire. I will always remember trading one fox pelt and one coyote pelt for
that rifle and feeling like a real "old time" trapper trading fur for a firearm.
I was eighteen when I purchased my first high power rifle. It was a Husqvarna
bolt action in .270 Winchester and that is where my gun work started to take form. By
that time I had developed some strong notions as to what I wanted in a rifle but could not
afford to buy a gun the way I wanted it, nor could I afford to have someone else upgrade
my current rifle, so, I did the work myself.
After graduating from high school, I went into an apprentice program with a large
firm as an electrician. Along with the electrical training was a course in machine shop
skills. For 8 weeks, 8 hours a day, I learned how to use a lathe, a mill, and a surface
grinder along with other basic shop equipment like grinders, drill press, etc. - I was in
heaven! My desire to learn more skills resulted in learning to TIG (tungsten inert gas)
weld and silver solder, all of which helped me with my personal gun projects in my home
I bought and read any and all books I could on gunsmithing. After reading Jim
Carmichal's book, Do-lt-Your self Gunsmithing, I took my first leap into the gunsmithing
world. My first project took me much deeper than I had intended. I wanted to install
double set triggers and a shotgun style trigger guard on my .270. I located a set of used,
but perfectly functional (and affordable!) triggers at a local gun shop and a shotgun style
trigger guard at a gun show - I was set. That was the easy part. When I removed the
magazine from the rifle, I realized it was aluminum and was not going to be suitable for
my intended purpose. The model Husqvarna I had did not use a "standard" Mauser type
trigger guard/magazine, they had their own proprietary bottom metal. Not being able to
find a steel trigger guard/magazine, I decided I would have to make one. The result was
a very nice steel box magazine with a lever release floorplate to compliment the double
set triggers and shotgun style trigger guard.
Over the years, my willingness to "dive" into some rather complicated projects
has resulted in the information I share in these pages. Not all things have come out as I
intended nor have they all worked. Some projects just proved to be more involved than I
was willing to go on with and were abandoned, but overall, most projects have turned out
well enough that folks have been willing to pay quite well to have me do the same work
to their firearms.
This book is not intended to tell you what to do or necessarily how to do my
projects, but rather to encourage you to pursue your own ideas. I give details on how I
went about doing my projects so you might see a solution to something you want to do. I
can not endorse everything I have done as the best way or even the safest way, I am
merely passing on the way I did it. In a business that is over two hundred years old,
requires apprenticeships, and years of training, it may seem presumptuous for me to write
a book about building doubles rifles, but I have tried to do it anyway.
I hope you find this book informative, interesting, and above all, encouraging.
This book is designed to provide the reader with information on the subject matter
covered. It is not designed to be a complete guide to gunsmithing or the sole
authoritative work on the subject. It is sold with the understanding that neither the author
nor the publisher is engaged in giving professional or technical advice.
This is not a "how to" book. The purpose of this book is to educate and to
entertain. Neither the author nor Bunduki publishing shall have any liability or
responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused, or
alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly by the information contained in this book.
If you do not wish to be bound by the above, you may return this book to the
publisher for a full refund.
I met Ellis Brown in 1979, floating the South Platte River, in eastern Colorado, in
canoes. We hit it off instantly and soon became fast friends. In the years since, we have
hunted and fished together, and endlessly debated on fine firearms. I had learned to shoot
shotguns with my father's Winchester Model 21, so I had always had a liking for side by
side shotguns, but it was Ellis who stimulated my interest in double rifles. At a large gun
show in the spring of 1980, he hauled me around to show me various doubles, all of
which were far beyond our meager means, but at the same time inspired a love of the
guns, both for what they represented in themselves, and of the hunting adventures they
had participated in.
There is something compelling in the look and feel of a good double rifle. They
truly are the apex of the gun maker's art. For someone who appreciates not only reliable
function in a tool, but elegance in design and execution, a fine double rifle is bliss. To
the master gun makers of the past, who bridged the transitions from muzzle loading to
black power cartridge to nitro cartridge goes all the credit. It is their skill and experience
we hope to emulate.
I have been fortunate to travel as companion and confidante on the journey Ellis
has traveled in learning about double rifles, the skill required to create them and the men
who have mastered that skill in the past. Over the years we have handled many double
rifles, some by famous makers, some by obscure. Some of the rifles have had famous
histories, belonging to notable persons, like Teddy Roosevelt and John "Pondoro" Taylor.
Some offered nothing about their past but their obvious quality of manufacture and
honorable scars of battle. We examined each for the treasure it is, as monuments to their
makers, the men who used them and the game they have taken, and for what we could
learn from each.
To know and understand the complex elements which go into the design and
execution of these guns is one thing. To be able to duplicate it is another thing entirely.
But this is the task Ellis has long set for himself, and which I have been privileged to
observe, and in a small way, participate in. What each of us sees and understands is
slightly different from the other, and so gives perspective. What neither of us
understands, we debate until we do understand it, or the cognac runs out. Ellis has the
expertise, I occasionally supply a naive notion which contains a grain of inspiration, and
which carries us a step closer to understanding.
It is all too likely neither of us will ever have the chance to hunt dangerous game
in the heart of deepest Africa, the destiny for which most double rifles were designed.
Indeed, in this day in age, there is precious little of deepest Africa left at all. Never again
will the likes of Taylor, Neumann, Hunter, or Selous disappear into the endless bush,
double rifle in hand, perhaps to return months or years later, a string of porters carrying a
fortune in ivory behind them. Or perhaps never to return again, victim themselves of the
very animals they were hunting, or of the tropical diseases they risked in their quest for
ivory and adventure. But there is something we can do, and that is understand and
respect the tools they used, and dream. Whether we are hunting game or dirt banks, a
double rifle is a bridge to that time and those men, and sometimes that is enough.
Ft Collins, Colorado
21 February 2001
For many of us, the double rifle holds it own special mystique. Like the "Sharps"
rifle invokes visions of the buffalo prairies, and the Winchester lever action stirs
emotions of the old west, the double rifle carries you to the "Dark Continent" with wild
elephants and ivory hunters.
Squinting across the sights of a vintage "using" double rifle conjures up images of
charging elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos and lions. They're always charging, they have to
be - that's why you need a stopping rifle - a double rifle! These doubles of our dreams
are always in large, "panatela" sized cartridges - it says so in every book we've read.
There is a magic to double rifles which stirs the emotions of many of us. It goes
beyond just the pieces parts which make up the gun itself, although the silky feel of a
well used action and the mechanics of a well made double make it a pleasure to have in
the hand. Perhaps it is the "hand made" quality to it, the soul of the craftsman that
becomes part of the gun, or perhaps the mere expense which makes it "forbidden fruit"
for many of us, that is the lure. Or, just perhaps, it is the time period and the history
which surrounds these firearms that makes them what they are. A time when there was
wild land and places to explore, elephants were plentiful, and it seemed a man with the
fortitude, desire, and a limited bankroll, could march off into the back of beyond and
make his fortune hunting ivory. Few made their fortune, but great are the tales of these
intrepid fellows and the gun of choice for a lot of them was the double rifle. I think it is a
combination of all of these things.
The availability of two quick shots was very desirable when something that can
bite back or stomp one into the ground is rapidly approaching. Another advantage to a
double is that it is basically two guns in one and if one side fails, the other is usually still
functional. The down side is they tend to be less accurate and therefore not the long
range "super zapper" that seems to be a requirement of today's hunting rifles. But for
me, that is also a plus. A sort of self imposed limitation that I like to think makes me a
The double rifle is still a practical weapon for today's hunter for the same reasons.
We hunters go through the "normal" progression of hunter phases. Many of us reach the
'method' stage where it is no longer enough just to take game, but how we do it that
matters. Some turn to the bow, some to a single shot rifle, others to muzzleloading, and
some of us to double rifles. Death is death to prey, but it enhances the esthetics of the
hunter's experience to use a weapon which is almost as pleasurable to carry as is it is to
shoot. Let's face it, we carry a gun in the field far more than we shoot it, so enjoying the
carrying greatly adds to enjoyment of the hunt.
I never had a great "African fantasy" as a youngster; it came later in life -
somewhere in my early twenties. I had been hunting elk with my father and bother-inlaw,
Roy. Roy had been carrying a Ruger #1 in 30-06. We had not taken an elk that
year, but as usual, discussions of firearms came up. Both Roy and I felt his No. 1 was a
perfectly appropriate rifle for our elk hunting, but Roy made a comment that in some of
the thick timber, a quick second shot would sometimes be beneficial and even a bolt
action gun would not be fast enough. I had remembered reading somewhere about
double rifles and our conversation on the mountain stimulated me to research the subject
Well, you can't read very far about double rifles before you end up in Africa, and
the more I read, the more hooked I became. Ruark, Taylor, Lake, Corbett, Hunter, and
countless others have written about their adventures, and as you read about them, the use
of, and preference for, doubles becomes apparent. The first real book on Africa 1 read
was Robert Ruark's, "Horn of the Hunter" and I can't think of a better way to start.
Ruark's discussion of using his Westley-Richards .470 nitro was all the catalyst 1 needed
to develop a deep-seated desire to own a double. I also came to the conclusion that
double rifles were the elegant solution to our mountain top theorizing. Peter Capstick
was beginning his career as a writer about the time I started reading about Africa. His
"Death in the Long Grass," as well as some of his subsequent books, romanticized the life
and death struggle on the Dark Continent and the double rifle was intertwined in the
fabric of his prose - I fell victim once again. Also, the more I researched, the more
apparent it became, fantasize as I might, there was little chance I would be able to afford
a good double anytime in the foreseeable future. The only hope I had was to build my
own double as I had built some of my other guns. I started out with a drill press, a welder
and some hand tools. I had to "borrow time" on a lathe and mill to do some of the work,
but I still have my first double and enjoy its use immensely.
I have built several doubles since taking up my quest and I have become
somewhat better "heeled" (though not wealthy - dang it!) and have purchased several
double rifles over the years. I have built extra barrels for some of my guns and, like
using a quality knife of your own manufacture, using a double I have built is very
In this book we will explore the methods I use to build a double rifle, from
selecting an action to proofing and regulation of the barrels. I hope you enjoy reading
about my building of double rifles as much as I enjoy building them!
Before I start discussing actions, I might as well state up front, some of what I do
and will say is considered to be complete heresy in some circles. I want to say here and
now, I do not endorse the modification of any collectable firearm. But, on the other hand,
not all firearms are collectable just because they are old or were of quality workmanship.
Many firearms over the years have been used, abused, and just plain butchered by who
knows whom. The firearms I have "converted" have been in such a condition and were
not safe or usable in their current condition. If the barrels are rusted out, the firearm is
not usable unless major work is done. To restore the firearm to original, may or may not
increase the value of the firearm if it does not already have some collectable value, and
leaving it as it is leaves it with little or no value. Turning it into something the owner
values - i.e. a double rifle - at least adds value for the owner.
1 have an action in my shop which has no barrels, trigger guard, forend iron or
wood, and no butt stock. My intention is to "restore" the action back to original.
However, am I really restoring the gun or do I just have a really nice, fully engraved,
"action for the trade" on which to build a custom gun? If it is just an action, does it
matter whether I build it into a gun or a rifle? How is this any different from a firearm
which has rusted out barrels? I cannot answer these questions for anyone but myself and
I have to take each case individually. The other side of the issue concerns building extra
barrels for a given gun, and I have had less confrontation on this issue. So as we go
through these pages, try to understand that part of what I look for in an action is whether
or not it has intrinsic collector or other value, before using it for one of my "projects."
Since the first printing of this book, I have had a lot of calls asking about building
double rifles on actions other than what is described in these pages - I do not encourage
it, but that does not mean it can't be done. I have had people tell me that they have a
built a low proof .45-70 on an action that I would not have used, and that they have been
shooting it for years without a problem. That is great! The point is, this is my criteria
and what I feel I want to have in an action. With a shotgun action, I feel that I am already
starting with a 'handicap' and, therefore, I want as much 'safety factor' as I can get. My
standards may be high to the point of exclusive, but I still have my fingers. The second
thing that makes me prefer the actions I use is style. Most European or English actions
appeal to my esthetics more than the run-of-the-mill American actions. Accuse me of
being an Anglophile or Europhile (is that a word?) if you must, but that is just what
appeals to me.
When selecting an action to be used for a double rifle, it is important to
understand the forces involved when a double gun is fired. Briefly, there are four (4)
forces involved: "axial", "radial", "bending", and "horizontal rotational."
Forces that come into play when a double gun is fired.
Axial force moves in a linear direction with the barrels and tries to push the barrels and
the standing breech apart. Axial force is the strongest single force that comes into play.
Radial force is a result of the barrels and axial force being above the horizontal axis of
the gun. Radial force tends to lift the barrels off of the watertable and to push the
muzzles down (in relation to the action - not necessarily in relation to the shooter!) and
rotates around the hinge pin. Bending force is a resultant vector force of the axial and
radial forces. Because the barrels are attached to the action at the hinge pin, the axial and
radial forces are concentrated there. When the gun is fired, the barrels try to go forward
and down and, in effect, force the forward end of the action (knuckle) down. The
standing breech, on the other hand, tries to move in the opposite direction of the barrels
and the hinge pin resulting in a force which tries to "bend" the action - this is "bending"
force. If the quality of the bolting system is compromised, either in the fit, the type, or
the material, the action can break where the standing breech and the watertable meet. A
good top fastener (like the Greener crossbolt) and a radiused or angled "gusset" at the
juncture (root) of the standing breech and watertable help prevent this problem. These
are two important features I look for when considering an action to be used for a double
The fourth force, horizontal rotational force, is unique to a side-by-side double
gun or rifle. On a side by side, the barrels are positioned on either side of the center axis
of the gun and there is a tendency for the barrels to rotate horizontally one way or the
other depending on which barrel is fired.
Side clips are a theoretical correction for this problem, although, any well fit gun,
the locking lugs themselves, will also compensate for this. Side clips do help direct
escaping gases away from someone who might be standing next to the shooter in the
event of a pierced primer. Besides, side clips just look neat!
When doing a conversion like this, it is sometimes hard to determine which comes
first - the action or the cartridge. If I already have an action I want to use, I am limited to
cartridges suitable for that action. If I have selected a cartridge, then I must find an
action which is suitable for that cartridge (not always an easy thing). Most of the time it
is a compromise between what I want and what I have or can find.
Generally speaking, if I want to build a double rifle with a smokeless cartridge, an
action which is "nitro" proofed should be used. Black powder cartridges can generally be
used on "black powder" proofed guns. This is not always the case!! If I am building a
22-rimfire double, then a black powder proofed frame may be perfectly fine. On the
other hand, if I am building a .500 BPE, a nitro proofed frame may not be strong enough
if it is too small or does not have a third fastener. Good judgment is required here. Using
"The Standard Directory of Proof Marks" helps me determine how the gun I've chosen
was proofed. This, of course, only applies to English and European guns since the United
States does not have, nor has it ever had, a proof house or proof rules. This is another
reason (as well as others), I prefer not to use U.S. made double guns for double rifle
conversions. Another thing to consider is most of the proof marks are stamped on the
barrels and proof rules apply more to the barrels than the action itself, even though they
are proofed as a unit. The point being, any given action will usually handle barrels of
varying proof levels.
Some form of "third fastener" is very desirable and, to me, the "Greener
crossbolt" is the best for the purpose of building double rifles. There are several types of
third fasteners and suitability may depend on the particular cartridge I select for my
project. The "Greener crossbolt", however, protects me from all the forces discussed,
including the radial force, which a dollshead does not. Most "hidden" third fasteners
protect against the radial force, but not the axial force. How important this is depends on
how intense a cartridge I intend to use. In addition, there are two styles of "Greener
crossbolt" in common usage: the round and the square. I much prefer the round to the
square, as the square corners of the hole on the latter offer opportunity for stress cracking.
Along with the above, frame size is also a factor. Double guns come in many
frame sizes from .410 to 10 gauge, occasionally larger. All actions for a given bore size
are not the same either. A heavy proofed 12 bore waterfowl gun will be more 'beefy' (in
general) than a light proofed upland game gun of the same bore size. Which size I use
will be determined by the cartridge I've chosen, or the cartridge I choose may be
determined by the action I have. One of the big things to consider is how much wall
thickness I will have when the chambers are cut in the barrels.
I look at other double rifles, if possible, which are chambered in the same
cartridge I plan to use or are chambered in a similar size cartridge of the same intensity.
This will help me determine if the breech I have is big enough or how large a breech I
need to search for. I make sure that the rifles I look at are in their original chambering.
Some rifles have been re-chambered for cartridges that they were not designed for. A
common one for this is the .375 2lA" to be re-chambered for the .375 H&H magnum.
German combination guns tend to have very thin chamber walls especially when
compared to any bolt action rifle. I do not recommend following their example (unless,
of course, I am rebuilding a combo gun), but, it does give you an idea of how small
chamber walls can go. Keep in mind, most drillings use low intensity cartridges and, of
all the guns 1 have dealt with, I have seen more "blown" drillings than any other type of
gun I know. To be fair, this has normally been due to shooter ignorance, however !
I always prefer to err on the side of caution as most shotgun frames are not as "beefy" as
double rifle frames.
Another desirable feature is "chopper lump" barrels. Chopper lump barrels can be
identified by looking at the locking lugs "end on." If there is a brazing line that runs
down vertically through the lugs, they are probably chopper lump. On chopper lump
barrels, one half of the lug is forged as an integral part of each barrel, and then the two
are a brazed together. This is the strongest form of barrel joining and is found on some
shotguns and a lot of double rifles. While chopper lump barrels are desirable, I do not
limit my search based on this criterion unless I plan to build a very intense double and I
generally will not use shotgun frames for very intense cartridges. This only comes into
question if I am going to actually use the original barrels for monoblock, which only
seems to be about twenty five percent of the time. Other barrel joining systems are very
adequate for most doubles.
The first double I built was a 450-3 VA Nitro built on a German 16 bore action with
double underlugs and a Greener crossbolt. While I would not build a cartridge like this
on a 16 bore frame again (it makes the gun too light for the cartridge), I have fired over
600 rounds through this rifle and it is still tight and solid.
In summary, my basic action criteria are:
1. Be nitro proofed (if building a nitro cartridge).
2. Have double underlugs,
3. Have a "Greener" crossbolt
4. Gusseted root.
5. Be of sufficient size to support the cartridge to be used.
6. Having an action with traceable proofing history is also a real plus.