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
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
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
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
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
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
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: