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The making of Handmade Turnscrews.

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    Well a while ago there was a short thread about gunsmiths turnscrews - the discussion that followed on from that thread is found in the link below.

    Being a business man, I saw this as an opportunity to do a bit of sly and shameless promotion and weighed in on the subject. I showed a set of walnut turn screws which I had made for use in my workshop a few years ago.

    Pigeon watch member Tight choke got in touch and requested 4 turn screws, I priced up my materials and time and I set to.

    Now, the gunsmiths trade is essentially a service industry, and gamefairs and shows all over the country are rammed with people selling X or Y but the poor gunsmith has to sit there for a couple of days chatting and meeting people in the hope that when a top lever spring cracks in 6 months time random bloke finds the gunsmiths card and brings some business to his door.

    On the back of Tightchokes request I thought it would be pretty handy if I could have a product which I can no only sell there and then at shows and thus capitalize on goodwill, but also have a product who's packaging served as advertising in its own right so tightchokes request lead me down the road of making a premium handmade product and I thought I would share that story with you.

    It all starts with my wood lathe, which my grandad left to me when he moved to a smaller house and could no longer house it. A wood lathe is a bulky bit of kit to have in a workshop, especially my workshop which is small, space is at a premium, kit that doesn't pay for its self does not deserve the space it takes up!

    Anyway so a wood lathe other than for occasional use perhaps turning a large dowel for a broken stock or a quick handle for a tool really isn't a gunsmiths workshop essential. However when I was setting up shop, which was a gradual process as this moved from being an interesting hobby to a fiery passion, I made use of the lathe for making an plethora of tool handles to hold the various tools of the trade which I had made and accumulated.

    The work I carry out utilizes a combination of the tools you might find in a cabinet makers and engineers workshop, though less dusty than the former and less oily than the latter however in gunsmithing there are few outlets which can supply you with the tools to do a particular job, a chisel is a chisel but the chisels i use for inletting can not be bought from anywhere, tools for flat top checkering are largely unavailable certainly in the UK, deep hole drilling wood drills for drilling a stock bolt are often best made as required,  as each drill requires a corresponding counter boring drill to allow the head of a bolt to enter deep into the gunstock, these holes to be drilled neatly and accurately and without breaking out the side of the precious wood. So as you can imagine you make a lot of one off tools a friend in the trade once said " a good gunsmith is a tool maker"... I don't know if I fully qualify as either but I think what he said has some truth in it.


    So when I was setting up I seemed to be buying old screwdrivers to adapt into turnscrews left right and center, I had a load of walnut off cuts, a lathe, and some good spring steel from a car leaf spring, so thought i may as well make some from scratch, those above are a "nice set" of six turnscrews I made up a couple of years ago, the idea was to leave the blades over sized so they could be altered to fit whatever might come through the workshop at a later date, I would also have some nice tools which would give me joy to use. Well they have done just that they have been used and used and used again over the years now and naturally when I thought about making turnscrews to sell the handle design was a no brainier. Aesthetically and ergonomically it looks and feels great.

    I decided on an initial batch of 10 sets of turnscrews to test the water, I didn't really consider the full implications of a day and a half of running the lathe to turn and finish the handles, but you live and you learn. In order to get repeatable results from the manual lathe for this first batch everything was turned in stages of operation, calipers were set up for the key measurements between points and so the method was something like this.

    1. Cut the blanks to square and length.
    2. Center mark the blanks.
    3. Turn the blanks to round.
    4. Turn down the neck for the ferrules.
    5. Turn the taper.
    6. Gouge in the u shaped cut.
    7. Determine the length of the handle.
    8. Blend the palm swell between the U shaped cut and the end.
    9. Sand.
    10. Finish.
    11. Drill to accept tool tang.
    12. Part off.
    13. Finish the parted end.

    So when you consider the process, 10 sets of 3 turnscrews turned by hand, we are looking at 390 individual operations. Indiviually I can turn a handle to this basic pattern start to finish in about 15 minutes, when you have 30 to do the time almost doubled, this was in the hope of greater uniformity across the batch. But the whole point of this batch was to see what issues we would have and how to make the process more efficient ... oh and see if there was actually enough interest to sell them!


    Some Dodgy old calipers ground to a point I use for marking on the wood lathe.


    You can see the stages of the process here and one of my original "oversized" turnscrews I used as a pattern.


    The benefit of this challenge was a shed load of thoroughly instagrammable pictures.. at this point I was seriously considering keeping every handle for myself.


    A selection of the nearly finished handles, I love the varied colors of the walnut! Some slightly spalted, some sap wood, some heartwood, some root ball wood, it was good to use up these offcuts!

    The next fairly essential stage was to make 10 blades in 3 different sizes - 30 blades in all, precision ground, cut, hardened and tempered, this was just another big task.

    After re wiring my clarkson tool cutter grinder I set to, cutting the blanks to length and dialling in for the grind resulting in a fine tip 20 thou wide.


    I ganged the blanks up in the vice and ground 6 at a time, checking constantly for a consistent grind.

    The next stage of the oporation was to cut the shape of the blades  I did this on a band saw ..... 30 times - The blister proves how much fun I had doing this!!


    Each blade was then de burred and prepped for heat treatment which I carried out in a small heat treatment oven I use for tool making and spring making.


    I had to then pickle the parts over night to descale, then wash and oil them.

    Now finally the tools could be assembled and this is one of my favorite examples from this first batch!


    The pickle cleaning of the steels left an aged antique look to the blades, I decided to quite like this, the other option would have been to tumble them in fine sand or something to polish them, however I had no facility for this.

    The next stage was packaging which would prove to have the most issues of any process.

    Luckily I have a machine which will neatly wrap the turn screws in a clam shell protective plastic ----- like hell I do and i wouldn't use it if I did.

    After all this work I wanted the packaging to be as "authentic" and lasting as the product has every intention to be. I have old pine cigar boxes and similar in the workshop which were my grandfathers, and some even older still - as such a simple pinewood box was the answer. I didn't take many pictures of this process but I assure you it was absolutely fraught with issues, one being printing the lids and sides of the boxes, for which there does not seem to be any decent reliable process the other being that the sliding lid on the boxes would swell and shrink a lot, meaning you could make the lid run smoothly and come back to it a day later and find it had shrunk and fallen into the box, and the next it would have swollen and locked the box shut. In the end I realized I was having up to 4mm of shrinking and expansion and the water which was being used to transfer print the product information and branding was what was causing the ridiculous shrinkage and swelling, in the end the lids were made and re made 3 times with great frustration. Once I worked out what was going on the only answer was to make every lid 6mm over size, carry out the printing then sand to size.


    The packaging was easy - when working with the pine and planing all these box lids I made a lot of shavings and these were an awesome natural protective packaging. Much prefered over bubble wrap which whilst fun to pop didn't quite work with the image I was going for.


    At this point I had one other order for a custom made turnscrew which would accept brownells magna tip bits ( Shown above )


    I also wrote and formatted a small trifold information booklet about turnscrews and using turnscrews which was included in each box


    Im really pleased with the finished product, though obviously there is always room for improvements.

    When I finally announced the product the response was overwhelming, and in 6 hours they were all sold, some have gone to New Zealand, Canada, American and all around the UK,

    The final thing was to protectively package for postage, which was a simple cardboard box, wrapped in parcel paper. Keep it simple!


    A stroke of luck and a helping hand from a few strangers ( life can be good like that sometimes ) led me to aquire a few weeks later a "lathe duplicator" for £60, On arrival this was a rusty piece of junk but after working on it a bit its helped reduce the turning time from 30 minutes to about 6 minutes. Although as is often the case, its also taken all the fun out of it! Never the less i made a solid steel handle as a pattern for the duplicator, which will last my life time, and save time whenever i or anyone else wants a nice handle!


    If anyone is interested inputting their name forward for some from the second batch then please make yourselves known. The full costed price of the set of 3 is £126 fully insured UK postage. No payment will be taken until the next batch is ready to be posted.

    I am an autodidact gunsmith, I started in a serious desire to push myself and learn at 17, now 22 years old I diverted much of my student loan to buy tools and equipment to further my self education and business, lately I have been supported by others in the trade who work with me to ever improve my skills and help me get to where I need to be.

    If you want to see more of my work please see:


    To concerned individuals - These forums and the people on them have been very good to my throughout my skill development since I am now shamelessly promoting both myself and my products I will of course be paying for trade membership, to support the forums and also make my mercantile motives explicitly clear. 



    I hope people enjoy this post if nothing else! Kind regards


    Grinding the tips video.


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    The wood looks very nice and I’m sure they are a pleasure to use. 

    Edited by figgy

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    A very interesting post DW, so informative with the pics. A true craftsman at work, thanks for taking the time to show us.


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    I am genuinely almost lost for words. You have a real talent and I wish you well in your venture.

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    I almost missed this thread. I am glad that I didn't.

    You have great skills and an articulate way of telling the story.


    Best of luck with this and other ventures.

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    37 minutes ago, demonwolf444 said:

    Thanks for all the kind comments, if mods feel its appropriate please feel free to move this to crafts/diy

    Top man let everyone see your amazing work 

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    James, that is wonderful, I am so glad I was in at the start and am very happy with my set of four, good luck with your great work. :good:

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    I too, almost missed this thread and am so glad that I didn't.

    Wow, what a truly inspiring and beautifully illustrated write up showing James' wonderful talent.

    Having witnessed James' work first hand, he is a true craftsman with a passion and being self taught, deserves to succeed, which I'm sure he will, given his obvious talent and entrepreneurial skills.

    Well done James and good luck for the future.


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    I have no idea what a turn screw is, but I'm sat by a cnc lathe waiting for home time, the stuff we make doesn't look anywhere near as nice, the handles, the colour and the presentation all look amazing, I'm sure all the people who bought your first batch will be showing them off, hopefully leading to more orders for you.

    best of luck for the future.

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    Well done, not only for a great product, properly done, ...... but a very interesting write up as well.  Thank you.

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    Amazing, all the best with your future, you are a very skilled person, and the way the post is put together is great.

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    Thanks once again for all the kind responses and interest regardless of whether or not it results in orders I am always keen to share my work with this forum I have been here since I first started shooting or near enough in my mid teens, people on here have been wholeheartedly kind and shown generosity of spirit  to me time and time again and it's nice to be able to give what I hope is an interesting post back to the community. 

    If anyone would like a set please make yourselves known to me, special requests and one offs can always be accommodated, personalisation of boxes to be given as gifts is also possible an ideal thankyou gift for a days sport given or Christmas gift for the vintage gun enthusiast! . 

    I know my posts have a particular style, I do like to tell a story, and Its interesting to see they are received with  a marmite response you either have the time and patience to enjoy it, or it's just not for you and I take no offence! 

    Once again thank you to everyone who enjoys my work it helps spur me on 


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    On ‎27‎/‎05‎/‎2018 at 16:07, demonwolf444 said:

    All pm's replied to and thanks again for the kind comments! 

    James they should go well  in my gun cases  you know where I am  .


    Edited by Feltwad

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