CUSTOM WORK


One of the nice things about being a gun person is that you never run out of things to spend money on; and no gun person, ever, has ever been satisfied with any gun just as it comes out of the box. Fortunately as I have become older and have more disposable income, I'm able to indulge some of my whims. God knows what I'm going to do with all this stuff when I die, but by then it will be someone else's problem.

I'm into older guns, and some time ago, "just because," I bought a cute little Fourth Model S&W "Lemon Squeezer" .38. This series of top-break revolvers was a cash cow: S&W produced more than half a million of them in both .32 S&W and .38 caliber S&W between 1887 and 1940, a production run of over half a century. Had World War Two not come along, they might be making them still: they make its lineal descendant, the post-war Centennial, in .38 Special.

Officially named the "Safety Hammerless" or "New Departure," by S&W, the odd "Lemon Squeezer" nickname comes from the grip safety in the frame's back strap. Unless this is pushed in the gun can't be fired, which made it safer to carry in a coat pocket or holster but didn't interfere with fast use. In .32 S&W it was pretty much a popgun, but the .38 caliber version is another story: at close range this round is at least as effective as the .380 ACP, and was a serious self-defense proposition by the standards of its time.

When I got the gun, it was in good shooting condition, but a bit ratty-looking. I sent it off for a re-blue, adding $85 to the price. This isn't a top-end blue job, but I've seen worse: you get what you pay for. At least the markings were left intact: some re-blue places will buff the gun to the point where the markings become illegible.

Needless to say, once I'd "invested" money in a blue job, I was dissatisfied with the original factory grips. They were in decent condition, minus the usual chip at the bottom where the locator pin is, a weak spot on all top breaks with small handles. So it had to have new grips.

I sent it off again, this time to Charles Bebout, at American Custom Handgun Grips (2401 Crownwood Circle, Malta, Ohio 43758; 740-962-3812). I had run into Chuck at a small gun show in Marietta OH and was immensely impressed with his craftsmanship and reasonable prices. He can make grips for anything but seems to specialize in older guns and guns for Cowboy Action Shooting. Shortly after the show I sent him an Uberti-made Remington Belt Model 1863 conversion for a set of grips, and as you can see from the picture, he knows his stuff. He does beautiful work, befitting his motto of "Shoot It Straight, Show It With Pride."

OK...now that I'd tarted up my little Squeezer so nicely, I wanted to wear it and show it off. The venue for its début into the local Polite Gun Society would have to be the annual Friends of the NRA banquet, for which I am the Treasurer. As such, and considering that I leave the event with a huge pile of cash and checks that have to be deposited in the bank, I always go armed to the banquet. I needed a holster whose appeal was commensurate with the gun that was going to go in it.

I've purchased custom holsters before, and been only marginally satisfied with the results and the price. But this was clearly indicated. So I turned to another Auction Arms contact, Big Bad Gun Custom Leather, A/K/A Bob Chiasson, who says he's "deep in the swamps of southern Florida and wishing I was back home in the great state of Arizona." Bob also specializes in rigs for CAS, and having seen some of his pictures on his web site, I contacted him and told him what I needed: a fancy dress holster. We corresponded back and forth discussing details, and then he sent me instructions on how to send him a tracing. A couple of weeks later the holster came back, a cross-draw in the "Slim Jim" style.

And when it came, it was an eye-popper:

I'm not saying how much I have in this little .38 by now, other than that it's way more than the nominal value of the gun itself, and quite a bit more than I paid for it. But it's what I wanted, and there's an intangible value in having exactly what I had in mind, made to my specifications. Custom work costs as much as someone is willing to pay for it, but in my experience it pays to buy the best craftsmanship you can afford, and hang the rationalization about "need" and "investment" and all that crap. "I want it and I can afford it," is all the justification needed. Bob's price on this holster was extraordinarily reasonable and the finished product is top class. I just wished I'd had the gun gold-plated instead of blued!