On a dull day in September 2012, after some difficulty in locating the premises, we arrived at a somewhat old factory to find a barbecue smoking away outside under the eaves. We were warmly greeted by the owner James Longthorne Stewart and his wife Elaine, who proceeded to give out the barbecued food, all whilst he explained the process the metal bars went through to produce the barrels and action. He then disappeared inside and came out with a set of barrels in his hand, proceeded to place them over two blocks of wood to form a bridge, and then drove his Range Rover over the barrels.
Wow, what a demonstration…. On checking there was no deformation of the barrels. While we were still in awe of what we had witnessed, we were taken on a comprehensive tour of the factory. James explained why he decided to develop this process, and without revealing the secrets explained the machining process for the component parts to make a shotgun. All metallic parts were produced ‘In House’, with Walnut for stocks and fore end bought in finished, detailed and assembled in the building.
This was way outside the traditional method of making Shotguns, solid barrels, action machined from a solid billet, finished by spark eroding, where the CNC tools could not reach. This was a different world to what we were used to and knew.
We had the opportunity to fire this new technology on ground at the back of the factory on a few high driven clays ….. you will find these guns very different to use, compared with conventional shotguns, James said……how right he was.
Loading 35 gram 6’s and wearing a light jacket is perhaps not the way to fire these cartridges. Fearing a fair ‘Punch’ from the gun, the trigger was squeezed with some caution at a high clay, expecting to be drilled into the ground, the perceived recoil was unbelievably low.
James explained to us that because the barrel, ribs and chambers were all in one, the metalwork absorbed the recoil. What an introduction to a unique manufacture of an O/U Shotgun.
Fast forward to 2018, and we are now on our way to Northampton, to visit Longthorne, once again, you read correctly, not Preston, but Northampton.
On arrival we were ushered inside, past a very smart reception, to offers of tea or coffee. James and Alex joined Elaine, and James spoke about the changes from ‘Up North’ and the realisation that although he originally thought he was the first, Sir Joseph Whitworth patented a method of making barrels from a solid bar back in 1857. He went on to explain the changes since 2012, and how the range of available guns has progressed with the development of a Side by Side, and a ‘Clay’ gun to be launched next year. We then progressed to a very bright and clean workshop for our tour.
As we walked past benches and machines, over a smart clean floor, you could see salvage from production of hammer springs made in house. We arrived at the important bit, the CNC unit that machines the barrels. At least ten bars of steel (special) were ready to load into the unit, each bar weighs around 27kg, a finished barrel weighs in at around 1.3 to 1.4 Kg, the local scrap man must be very happy.
Next ‘Zone’ was production of the ‘Action’, again machined from a solid billet, either for the O/U guns or for the S/S guns, both are available. The complex CNC programs are done by James himself, areas that the machining heads cannot physically reach to remove metal are subjected to ‘Spark Erosion’ to create a finished action.
After explaining the operation of the ‘Spark Eroder’, we proceeded to the assembly and finishing room. All the pictures here other than taken of the ICSI visitors, are supplied by Longthorne as all photography in the factory is banned for security and Patent reasons. While the machine shop was full of CNC machines, at around £1.2 million each, with one person operating, the finishing area was a hive of Industry, stocks being finished and polished. Final fit of actions to barrels, still done in the traditional way of yellow flame soot and accurate filing. A glimpse into the room where finished stocks were drying was surprising due to the numbers in there.
Last but not least the ‘Wood Room’ where every configuration of walnut sat before us, some stunning pieces of stock and for end waiting for a customer to choose. We decided that this would be the best place for the Group Photograph.
Related Links: https://www.longthorneguns.com