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The use of CNC machines and batch production in Gun Making.

Old Gun actions batch produced through a series of jigs.

A few comments and emails I have received in response to the post on single shot rifles, showed interest in the rifle, but raised the question of being able to reduce the cost of making the rifles by utilising CNC machinery and making batches of actions. This is a practise I am not exactly in favour of, I have tried it and backed away from it.

Westley Richards is, and probably has been for many years, better equipped to deal with batch machining and production than any other gunmaker in the country, I am sure we were the fist to own CNC wire, EDM and Milling, and certainly the only one with industry standard quality control at Aerospace level. Together with our sister company, Westley Engineering, we can justify the expense of running CNC machines on an economical basis. We need the machines for that business, they do not use the full 24 hour capacity and as such we can put our gun work on as needed, filling machines capacity and justifying new machines should we need them. We have the machines, the capacity and the batch machining knowledge, we just choose not to use that method.

Westley Engineering, Pressing s, stampings, engineeringWestley Engineering Factory.

A CNC machine will essentially 'do as it's told', you put a block of steel in the machine and it doesn't care if it makes 7 x 12g actions or 7 different a .410, 28g, 20g, 16g, 12g, 10g & 8g for instance. The same applies if you are making double rifle actions. I appreciate that this is a very simple way of looking at it, batch production is most efficient, but I don't ever want 7 or 10 of the same actions at one time, the orders don't come in like that, pairs and three's yes, but the days of The Maharajah's of Patiala and Alwar ordering 6 or 8 of the same gun are over, for now! The problems with gunmaking are not in the machining's it is what happens with the machining's after you have them. We make hand made guns and there are only so many pairs of hands to make them!

At Westley Richards we have programmes for each type of action we build, we aim to constantly improve our guns and rifles on an ongoing basis, minor alterations here and there, many that most people may not even notice. I personally have never been satisfied that we have nailed every nuance of a best gun, I never will be enough to say, "that is it", no more modifications. We can always improve and more importantly we can, and are happy, to adapt our designs for the person who wants a light 577 or a heavy 470 a new calibre or whatever. We remain flexible to our customers requirements because we only build to order, and modifications start with the action.

sodick wire edmThe latest Sodick Wire Cut EDM machine at Westley Engineering.

Putting actions from 'batches' in stock means that when you make a design alteration you will either have to write off the actions and replace with a new batch, or wait to implement the improvement until you have used all the last batch of actions. That for me is a bad practise and is the reason I am so against this method of production. Our portfolio of guns and rifles is larger than any other gunmaker in the country with more than 20 different action sizes and shapes. 10 of each at £6000 a set of parts is .... I think you get my point.

A group of CNC machines can produce far, far more actions and parts in a year than we can ever complete as guns and rifles to a standard both you, and we expect. There have, over the years been quite a few 'engineering sorts', those people who are masters of the CNC who have said they can make best guns 'without gunmakers'. They have not ever succeeded to my knowledge. Shirley & O'Farrill, or O'Farrill and Shirley I am not sure went first, a recent start up, they who took some of my workers last year and pronounced that we were doomed because they were going to be so efficient making rifles, have just ceased trading, I wonder how many batches of actions they left behind? Quite a few from the reports I received!

So yes, I could build 20 cloned single shot rifles and send them through the factory as a batch, but I doubt many people actually want a cloned rifle from us, and frankly, it is not what we are good at. If it came to an order I am sure 20 people would not choose the same calibre, some would want small, some medium, some large. Westley Richards are good at delivering you exactly what you want, we enjoy the challenge of something different and I believe this shows in our work. We do not want to sell you what we have sitting on a shelf and want to get rid of, it is not what we are about. We want to make something special and  It may take some time to get it, but we certainly hope it is worth the wait!

Westley Richards, Gunmaker, filing action, Mark Mitchell working on a single shot rifle, we do make them you see, but our way!



  • Allan Kirk on September 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Point taken. I will keep saving...

    • Simon Clode on September 4, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Sorry about that!!

  • mickc on March 7, 2015 at 6:05 am

    I'm very sorry to hear that another gunmaker said that you were doomed. The trade has enough difficulties without such internecine strife.
    Has what was Border Barrels disappeared with the Shirley concern? What has happened to the barrel boring machinery?

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