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 Celebrity Talk

with Patrick Sweeney

Archive: George Trulock

Welcome to the Shotgunworld Celebrity Talk. This section of Shotgunworld will be used to bring you interviews with industry leaders, authors and shooting innovators. These will be celebrities that you want to hear from. In conjunction with this we will also provide a section in our Celebrity Forum for you to ask questions directly. Often the celebrity will offer a free prize giveaway on the forum. All you have to do is enter your name in the Celebrity Talk Forum. Lets get started...

This weeks interview is with Patrick Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney is perhaps the most respected and well known gunsmith on the planet. He is also the author or many of the popular gunsmithing books including "Gunsmithing: Shotguns". This is the bible for us shade tree gunsmiths, so we're very eager to hear what Mr. Sweeney has to say. Don't forget that Mr. Sweeney will be giving away an autographed copy of his "Gunsmithing: Shotguns" book on the Celebrity Talk Forum. gunsmithing.jpg (7165 bytes)

 SGW: Can you give us a little background on yourself? Where did you grow up....where do you live now...family...that sort of thing.

Sweeney: I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and had the benefits of a middle class upbringing in the U.S. during the last half of the 20th Century. In other words, I had the luck of fate to have grown up in the best possible time, place and circumstance. I went to college and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Growing up we had guns in the house, and went to the range on a fairly regular basis. Married and settled down now, with a steady barrage of deadlines for books and articles, classes to teach and the occasional match to attend.


SGW: How did you get into gunsmithing?
Sweeney: While working after college I happened to buy a Mk 1 Lee-Enfield. The stock wood broke between the front action screw and the magazine, before I had finished the box of surplus ammo that came with it. Fixing that problem (I still have the rifle) got me started.


SGW: Do you think that the utility shotguns of 50 years ago (Iver Johnson's, Steven's, etc.) were a better quality and craftsmanship than utility shotguns of today (Mossberg, Winchester Ranger's,etc)?
Sweeney: If you measure quality solely as an outcome of steel forgings, nice walnut and deep bluing, then the best then were probably better than today. The bad ones were not. (Anyone ever seen a Noble shotgun?) However, we ask a lot more of our shotguns today then we did then, and the price of technological advancement is that you get to choose between higher prices or less-elegant finishes. A Winchester M-37 may be blued steel and walnut, but it doesn't have a screw-in choke, tapered forcing cone or back-boring.


SGW: What's the most common mistake that you see people make when trying to repair their own shotguns?
Sweeney: Jumping in without thinking the problem through. For instance, a chipped toe on the stock can be fixed. But, if you take a few minutes to prep the work, make sure the piece fits precisely, fix it in place securely, and be neat in your work, you'll be better off. Then you still have to figure out what the stock chipped. If you don't solve that problem, it will just chip again along a different grain line. Yes, you can lengthen a chamber to take 3" Mags, but is the gun built for it? Will the empties eject properly? And will the project cost more than just getting a 3" mag gun?


SGW: Do you think it's a good idea for amateurs to work on their own shotgun?
Sweeney: Sure, as long as they take a clear look at their abilities and the tools at hand. My advice for those who want to try their hands at their own gunsmithing is to invest in a practice gun. Don't jump in refinishing the shotgun your Dad or grandfather gave you. By a beater at a gun show and practice on it. Learn in a manner where your mistakes won't be cause for regrets.


SGW: Was this what prompted you to write your books on Gunsmithing?
Sweeney: No, I was walking the aisles of the SHOT Show one year, with a copy of my latest published article in an attaché case to show to any possible future publisher of articles or books. I came to the Krause booth and mentioned that I was a gunsmith who could write and take pictures. The then Chief Editor and Owner Charles Hartigan said "Well, we have some gunsmithing titles that need updating." And the rest just happened. Until then I had been working to get magazine articles on gunsmithing and match shooting published, with some success.


SGW: You probably have many shotguns, but which one is your favorite?
Sweeney: The Remington 1100 is my favorite for competition, as they have won me many matches and piles of loot. But I began my shooting with an old Remington Model 11, one with ordnance proof marks. That gun taught me how to shoot quickly and accurately, and down steel plates and bowling pins. I've even used them (both Remingtons) in skeet and trap, and the Chevy Truck Challenge. Curiously, I've never used one of either to shoot a gamebird.


SGW: We're starting to see more aluminum and plastics on the inside and outside of shotguns. How do you feel about this?
Sweeney: As durable, inexpensive and easy to fabricate materials, I have to love them. Having grown up with blued steel and walnut, they leave me cold. However, as a competitive shooter, I go with what wins. So, when I start getting beaten by wonder-guns of polymer and aluminum, I'll have to pick some up. Until then, it's steel and walnut for me.


SGW: Last week someone asked on our forum "How do you tell if a gunsmith is a good one?". What would you say to them?
Sweeney: A competent gunsmith can fix many firearms. A good gunsmith can fix anything that shows up at his door. A smart gunsmith knows which ones to turn away because they will take too much time to fix, or he will have to spend too much time learning about it before he fixes it. A great gunsmith will break the realities of gunsmithing to his customers: "You can only select two of the following three variables. Cheap, fast or good. Let me know which ones." A master gunsmith is not bound by the "Two of three" rule for he produces Art. And when you buy Art you give up control over time and cost. When you buy Art you simply ask how long and how much and decide if you want to proceed.
Many gun plumbers progress from competent to good, and some of those to smart. A great gunsmith is hard to find. As for the masters, if you know one you do not speak his name lest his delivery time and prices grow even greater.


SGW: In your opinion, what has been the most innovative product for shotguns in the last 50 years?
Sweeney: The most innovative product isn't even part of the gun: the plastic hull and wad. With the compression-formed hull and one-piece wad we have a potential level of control over patterns that did not exist before. All other inventions are far behind, and some even depend on them. for instance, back-boring is great, but would not be possible without the one-piece wad.


SGW: Alright I just had to ask this one...with all the books and appearances and your outstanding reputation....how much do you now charge to work on a shotgun? Is it like a million dollars an hour?
Sweeney: My shotgun work is now very specialized, as I am almost exclusively working in the law enforcement area, and my clients are departments as well as officers. The hourly rate depends on too many variable to pin down. For instance, is the job mostly hand work, or machine work? Does it require test-firing or not, and just how specialized are the test-fire requirements? but that million dollar an hour rate does sound attractive. And I wouldn't have to bill too many hours, now would I?

Other Books by Patrick Sweeney: