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William & Son is one of the finest makers of guns in London. Each bespoke shotgun and rifle we make is an exceptionally crafted piece, highlighting the regard we hold for the British shooting tradition. A team of specialised craftsmen builds the guns together. Each has his very particular area of expertise in one of the seven areas it takes to build a gun and has dedicated his life to it, from serving as an apprentice to becoming a master craftsman. It takes around 1,000 hours to complete one of our bespoke guns and the finished product is unique to its owner.
When a customer initially comes to William & Son, the first thing to ascertain is what type of game they wish to hunt, as this determines the calibre of the shotgun. For a pheasant, a 12-bore or 20-bore is more suitable. The barrel length will depend on whether you wish to do driven game shooting or walked-up shooting. For dove or quail, the customer would require a smaller calibre, such as 28-bore or .410.
Once we have discussed this, we then open conversations regarding engraving. We have a house-style scroll engraving; however, we can create more elaborate engraving and even incorporate gold inlays. We will also ask the customer their choice of wood, from traditional figure to a more burr effect. All our stocks are made from exhibition-grade Turkish walnut and the customer is able to choose their pieces from our selection.
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Once an order has been placed, our team of craftsmen takes over and will meet the customer to discuss their exact requirements. Although William & Son is relatively young in the world of London gunmaking, our chairman and founder, William Asprey, is steeped in generations of both British shooting and bespoke luxury goods. This has enabled him to pick the very best barrelmakers, actioners and engravers in the country to work for William & Son.
For every gun there are seven disciplines: barrelmaking, actioning, lock work, triggers, stocking, engraving and finishing. The gunmaking techniques used today are skills that have been passed down from master craftsmen to apprentices through generations. Skills from as long ago as 200 years are still used today. As technology has evolved, they have adapted; making the most of technology means we can produce a more consistent end product.
The gun grows from the barrels, so it is the first part to be made. The barrelmaker shapes and builds the barrels from two steel forgings, which are then bored. He shapes the tubes and polishes the internal bores to ensure a perfect line. The barrels then need to be fitted to an action, which is milled from a forging and filed so the barrels fit. The fitting is done by a process of smoke-blacking that allows accuracy to one-thousandth of an inch – an incredibly good metal-to-metal fit. Next we build the trigger and lock work using mechanisms as complex as those you'd find in a fine Swiss watch, with all the parts filed by hand.
The gun is then stocked – another completely bespoke experience tailored to the customer's height, body shape and eye domination. We take three measurements for the length of the stock, two face-side measurements for the cast (right or left-handed) and two depth measurements for the drop, to ensure point of aim is accurate.
After stocking, the gun is engraved by hand to the customer's requirement. Finally, at the finishing stage, the parts are put together and become a true working gun. The stocks are polished with oils to ensure the practical functionality and durability, and the gun is cased.
At the end of the process we present the customer with their gun. We believe the perfect shotgun is one in which the gun becomes an extension of your arm. It has great balance - we bore out the wood of the stock to ensure a perfect point of balance on the cross pin - with fine handling – an easy flow of movement in your hands as you aim your shot – and the very highest quality of materials, reliability and aesthetics.
A William & Son gun is prized for its rarity. We only make a few guns each year, which allows us to provide an incredibly personal service and attention to detail through the build and beyond. We have an inhouse gunmaker, Paul West, who has 40 years of experience and can service guns on site. A properly maintained gun should provide enjoyment for generations and can become a family heirloom.
IAN ANDREWS is the gun sales manager at William & Son, London. He was previously international head of gun sales at Christie's and head of Purdey's gun department. He owns 12-bore and 20-bore shotguns and enjoys pheasant shooting in the UK, as well as dove and quail hunting in the US; williamandson.com
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