Making headway in lock, stock and barrel

Holland & Holland is a traditional maker of guns, with the emphasis on craftwork and tailoring each gun to the exact requirements of the customer. But, mindful of the need to provide a more accessible range of guns, it turned to automation

To meet the demand for its hand-crafted guns, Holland & Holland is automating some of its component making operations

The manufacture of guns was originally a series of cottage industries employing different craftsmen. A locksmith making the firing mechanism, which became known as the `lock’, a woodcarver made the `stock’ – the carved wood butt – while the blacksmith made the barrel. Hence the term `lock, stock and barrel’. Finally, an engraver would embellish the gun.

These crafts are still very much in evidence at Holland & Holland today. Only 120 guns are handmade each year, ranging from the £22,000 for a sporting gun to over £70,000 for a double rifle. The prices reflect the amount of craftsmanship and time involved in the manufacture of each gun and the quality of material used. For instance, only finest walnut is used for the stock while engraving a gun can take over 160 hours. The guns are in such high demand that there is a three-year waiting list for some models.

Customers are personally fitted for the guns at the company’s shooting range in north London, and it is the high levels of personalisation that has led to the long waiting lists.

Conscious of the need to introduce a more accessible range of guns, Holland & Holland looked to automate some of its component making – with the core part being the action body – using the System 3R MacroJunior tool/electrode holding system.

First, a case hardening mild steel billet is prepared and mounted in a five-axis machining centre. Following this, the billet is wire-cut to form the action body. Different sizes of action bodies are used, depending on the gun calibre, multiplied by the variation of gun configurations. The action body then undergoes an intensive spark erosion process that can take up to four days to complete. Up to 14 electrodes are mounted onto MacroJunior holders and placed in the automatic toolchanger of a Charmilles EDM sink erosion machine, allowing complete automation of the process. Depending on the type of action body being made, different electrodes are used. As the system eliminates the need for electrode preparation and provides 1-2 micro m accuracy each time, the process of changing electrodes is easy.

By using these workholders, Holland & Holland can measure and line up, and preset outside the machine. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the set-up time for tools and workpieces.

System 3R (UK) Tel: 01844 274455