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Double-barreled gunsmith.

What is a master gunsmith? Stripping the term of any excess subjectivity, it usually denotes one who has completed his training in a recognized gunsmithing school, then an apprenticeship in a custom gun shop of good repute. He then spends years of working at his craft. Most master gunsmiths have the paper to prove it, and from these come a few whose virtuosity in steel and wood places them a couple of rungs above the top tier's average.

After having known many fine gunsmiths here and abroad, and knowing their work by their individual styles in steel and wood, I find it difficult to define such a man. Like the chap who when asked to define a "camel" replied, "I can't describe one, but I know one when I see one!" I can best do justice to George Hoenig by stating that he is indeed one of the masters of that arcane and difficult art called gunsmithing.

To many who see and closely examine a Hoenig gun or stock for the first time, it is also their first experience in viewing a tour de force of a gunswmith's skill.

Hoenig's other dimension -- George Hoenig, inventor-designer--is less definable in so many words, because it is 90 percent creativity and engineering with ten percent in shooter-consumer terms. At the motivational root of Hoening's approach to firearms is a consuming determination to produce guns which function better, and the many unique Hoenig designs which cause them to do so. If George had been content to rest on his laurels and stay at the top of a career as a custom maker of superb gunstocks and remarkable metalwork, which he combines into superlative guns, he could simplify his output. But the inventor and engineer in George makes the seemingly conflicting careers of custom gunsmith and engineer-inventor work in tandem.

George Hoenig knew long ago as a boy in Germany he wanted to be a gunsmith, and early in life he set about preparing himself for his chosen profession. Hoenig studied the work and techniques of the European masters, the English masters and their finest products, and after his parents brought him to America, George examined every fine American gun he could. He learned how to design and build entire firearms, including pistols and revolvers, and the exotic intricacies of drillings and docuble rifles absorbed his attention.

Fortunately, George Hoenig the artist and Hoenig the mechanic were one and the same, so that the manifestation of aesthetics in his creations combined with function to create a better gun or stock.

Modele de Luxe .375 Magnum Mauser. I wanted low but strong bases so as to be able to see the open sights with the scope detached, and to have positive return to zero after the dismounted scope was repositioned. George designed and made a superior dovetail top mount which looks and functions as a part of the receiver.

Around 1970 I become involved with the development of the .460 G&A cartridge, the inspiration of tom Siatos, the publisher of Guns & Ammo. This round is based on a necked-up .404 (10.75 x 73) case with the body expanded and shoulder moved forward. For a forthcoming Uganda safari, Tom commissioned George to create the ultimate magnum Mauser express rifle. Tom provided a remarkably engraved Brevex magnum action as executed by J. P. Sauer's former top engraver.

From this action Hoenig built an express rifle that can only be described as a masterpiece. A thing of beauty though it is, it is a working rifle which lives up to its looks. George polished and honed all internal receiver, bolt and magazine surfaces so no roughness impeded the smooth rise of rounds in the magazine, and then on up to and under the extractor hook, providing a near friction-less chambering. Hoenig characteristically laid the pistol grip back so the forefinger didn't get slammed against the triggerguard in recoil--something which commonly causes flinching.

George has a hobby of collecting and restoring or rebuilding drillings, those Germanic three-barreled shotgun-rifle combinations. He has rebuilt a number by installing new rifle barrels or by sleeving the original to replace an obsolete caliber. He refinishes the drilling and often installs his own custom quick detachable scope mounts. George has done a lot of inventive work in designing the finest and strongest quick detachable custom scope mounts, especially for heavy recoiling rifles--but this is not work which Hoenig wants to solicit. With all his research and development of new products for himself and major manufacturers it is mentioned solely to build the Hoenig profile in its full spectrum.

His greatest engineering achievement and invention--his precision stock pantograph--was created to uncompromisingly replace hand inletting and shaping of stocks with a machine that inlets more precisely than the finest hand inletting. That Hoenig's machine does this to the degree of precision which I have spelled out is certainly the ultimate in machine design for precision woodworking.

When Tom Siatos told me about the machine being able to inlet a sidelock shotgun or double rifle stock with no gaps and within .0005 of an inch, I, as a toolmaker and machinist-gunsmith, was exceedingly skeptical. I had to go to Hoenig's shop in Boise, Idaho to see for myself. The Hoenig precision pantograph inlets so precisely that a slight friction is left as the locks or other parts are pushed into their recesses. Only the small corner radii was cleared out with small chisels, since even the smallest diameter cutters cannot cut a lateral corner--only a bottom corner.

As George points out, even the finest stock maker produces at least minor gaps here and there, and by removing the locks and actions of the finest Engish shotguns one can see such minor gaps on most of them. Even these minor gaps are avoided by Hoenig's precision pantograph because it reproduces precisely a pattern created from the gun's original stock--by filling all internal stock inletting surfaces which contact the metalwork, with Micro-Bed compound which then hardens around the metalwork in a gapless mirror impression. The sensitive stylus of Hoenig's pantograph follows these perfectly accurate contours with a precision simply beyond the capabilities of the best hand inletter, including the capabilities of Hoenig himself, who is one of the best.

If the customer wants to use the original stock as a pattern, but to have the original comb built up, the pistol grip laid back, or cast-off added or whatever change he might desire, the pattern can be dimensioned so that the stock reflects the changes. The original stock can be split at the grip and a wedge installed to create cast-off, cast-on, or a cheekpiece can be added, or the comb built up. Stocks for antiques or other fine guns which are so badly damaged as to be unsightly or unusable, serve as patterns when repaired so the original styling, dimensions, etc. are retained and then checkering, wood type and color and any original peculiarties and embellishments restored. Again, there is no quess-work in this--it is all done by creating a precise pattern--the machine then reproduces it.

A sidelock double shotgun or double rifle, especially of the Holland & Holland design with perhaps an extended upper tang which attaches to the nose of the comb, is one the of the most difficult to stock. Such guns require the finest stockers and the most expensive wood, but Hoenig's pantograph will precisely inlet stocks for such guns as easily as it does simpler designs. However, there is naturally more work in creating a suitably precise pattern for such sidelocks and more handwork in clearing out the many radii with small chisels. While the Boise, I watched Owen Bartlett, Hoenig's assistant, machine inlet a sidelock shotgun and a custom Remington 700 with a Blackburn triggerguard and floorplate. Bartlett cleared out the corners of each stock and then coated the metal where it contacts the inletting, with lamp black and then pushed all actions, lock plates and barrels into place with a slight amount of friction. The coating of lamp black rubbed off on about 90 percent of the surfaces contacting the areas coated. That was enough to convince me!

Hoenig also reproduces Kentucky rifle stocks using his extended (60-inch) machine, and he can produce the finest Mannlicher type stocks, which are a Hoenig specialty. Hoenig recently turned out a superb Mannlicher stocked .375 H&H Magnum Model 70 "jungle gun" with a 20-inch barrel for Rober E. Petersen, Chairman of the Board, Petersen Publishing Co. It is one of George's most original efforts.

To give an idea of the esteem in which Hoenig's precision pantograph is held by the trade, the following prestigious gunmakers and individual stockmakers are among those owning a Hoenig precision pantograph: Holland & Holland of London, England, Paul Jaeger, JErry Fisher, Bill Dowtin and Pachmayr Gun Works, to name a few.

Customers must furnish the barreled actions and the wood, and George carries the ball from there, including all custom work, metal and woodwork as well as furnishing the essential and custom hardware such as steel grip caps, trapped or not, steel buttplates, knurled, trapped or skeleton type and Pachmayr recoil pads. George also furnishes European-type barrel band slide studes to preclude finger damage and to allow a lower slung position to avoid snagging in cover. With so many variables there are not set prices in Hoenig's stock work, but generally speaking, when the customer furnishes the barreled action and wood, the price of a Hoenig custom bolt action rifle begins at $1,500.

This includes the finished and checkered stock with all basic hardware, such as seteel grip can (not trapped), sling swivels, recoil pad, chekered bolt release and all metal work carefully polished and blued. Boxlock shotguns or double rifles and forearms are $1,500, but if only the buttstock is needed it is $500 less, or 1/3 the cost of a buttstock and foream set. Extended H&H type upper tangs are extra, and sidelocks minus such tangs are $2,500 as are full-stocked opr Mannlicher-style bolt-action stocks, the latter inlcuding all basic hardware, polishing and blueing as with half-stock sporters. All stocks are checkered inclusive with the price and this is of finest quality. Basically Hoenig creates a classic stock but with whatever individual variations are required. Special attention is given to unusual specifications and less conventional work, but naturally is subject to individual estimates.

George Hoenig has invented or designed so many unique and useful items that I have difficulty in selecting outstanding examples, but here are a few. He has been retained by the Pachmayr Gun Works, Los Angeles, California, to develop new products, a position uniquely suited to George, who spent years working there as a top custom gunsmith. I am only now authorized to report that his first product in his new consulting capacity is a revolutionary conversion unit for the Colt Model 1911 Government Model which converts it into an extremely strong single-shot pistol for silhouette shooting with almost any cartridge. It can also be used for varmint hunting, and tthe toolroom original George chambered for the .22 Hornet.

One removes the Colt slide and then fits his unit securely the 1911 frame via precisely machine cuts on the unit which is then attached to the Colt frame via integral clamps. It uses an artillery breech of such strenght it can handle cartridges well beyond the power needed for silhouette handgun shooting, and it is a very short and compact breech which leaves plenty of barrel length. It comes with open sight and integrally machined scope mount bases for quick detachability. The original prototype has a ten-inch barrel, but various barrel lengths are contemptlated. This unique conversion unit converts any Colt Model 1911 into an entirely different and vastly more powerful flat-shooting handgun, but just as simply as it is attached, it can be detached and the original slide can be remounted.

Hoening has also created a unique system of accurizing a famous pistol for a major manufacturer which is also revolutionary in concept. This design completely rewrites the book on accurizing semi-auto pistols but because of the sensitivity of the development and patent stage of this sensational invention, I am not authorized to reveal the handgun it is designed for. But if you keep this in mind, you will doubtless remember these words when, in the not too distant future, another Hoenig invention becomes a commercial reality. Basically this invention accurizes the semi-auto pistol without any dependence on the slide for controlling repeatable accuracy--and does so with greater reliability and simplicity.

Another Hoenig invention is one which experienced handloaders of modern bottlenecked ammunition will appreciate. It is a simple but new and cleverly designed full-length resizing die, or it can be used for neck sizing only. The trouble with most full length or neck sizing dies is that the neck begins to size well before the case body, leaving the case body unsupported while the neck is sized. This means that the neck sizing follows the line of least resistance and not the concentricity of the resized case body which is sized as the shell holder bottoms out. George's sizing die resizes the case body and only after the body is sized, the neck enters a sliding neck sizer bushing and is sized absolutely concentrically with the case body. Sooner or later some loading tool manufacturer is bound to snap up this jewel of a handloaderhs die. And it is not just for the bottlenecked case, but perhaps even more for the straight-tapered case such as the .444 Marlin or the .458 Win. Mag.

In George's own words, his stocks are, "A combination of European and American classic. They differ from the typical American classic in that I like the egg-type cheekpiece, rather than the one that flows up into the grip. Yet my cheekpiece differs from the European egg-type. The Germans and Austrians use a cheekpiece that is too flat, too skinny and too pointed. Some of the British overdo it the other way, with great big fat cheekpieces. With my cheekpiece there is no protrusion that can bite the shooter, but where your face lies in the front there is more depth than on the typical American cheekpiece. Because of the need for fore-end pressure I dislike fore-end tips. With a grafted piece of fore-end tip you can't have pressure on the tip itself. You have to move the bearing points behind the tip, otherwise you eventually cause the joint between the non-integral tip and the fore-end to separate. So you have to mechanically set things back of the tip because it creates a weak point for aesthetic reasons only. For these reasons I never install a fore-end tip and can utilize whatever length is there right to the very tip."

Hoenig creates suitable cast-off, cast-on and toe-out on his stocks, because, "Bodies aren't built straight up and down like a machine, and the gunstock should be made taking this into consideration, with a little cast-off and toe-out. This will make the gun come up naturally, so that you can just cheek the gun and fire." Hoenig always makes a determination of correct fit to serve the individual physique, based on his own measurements or those provided by the customer.

What is the point of such fine custom guns as George Hoenig produces? Any fine custom gun by a first-class maker contains hidden energies which are released when such a gun is shouldered or viewed--that thrill of seeing for the first time the realization of months of planning and dreaming, the great pride of ownership and the joy of showing it off to fellow gun lovers and friends (a great way to convert a non-gun lover), that first sighting-in at the range, and those admiring stares. If it all ended there, George would be disappointed, because he builds his guns and stocks to be shot and hunted with. I used to think that fine guns belonged in the gun cabinet where they can't get scratched or develop that honorable patina some call "handling wear." But after a few safaris I learned that with adequate care, custom guns are great for the hardest hunting. I just ensure that they are carefully wiped down with an oiled or greased cloth nightly and kept in a case when not in use. Just be careful not to take a cased gun from a cool or cold place to a warm one such as a car's trunk which will rapidly cause moisture condensation (sweating) followed by rust.

Actually, the George Hoenig story is not the story of a European gunsmith at all, but quite an American story which though beginning in Europe, flowered in America much as did the careers of other American gunsmithing greats, including the nanmes Pachmayr, Bob Owen, Arthur Savage, Borchardt, Paul Jaeger, and on back to those immigrant frontier gunsmiths such as the Schoyens and others who are integral to the great American mosaic of craftsmanship.
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Title Annotation:George Hoenig
Author:Lott, Jack
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1984
Words:2829
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