MARK LEE METAL FINISHING FORMULAs
My fulltime career in the firearms industry began in 1972 under the instruction of Ken LaCroix. Ken owned and operated Ken’s Polishing Shop, which is noted in the classic gunsmithing book, The Modern Gunsmith, by James Howe (copyright 1941). Ken and my Dad met in were 1941 while enlisting in the army. They both participated in the D-Day invasion and were lucky to make it through the war. They remained life-long friends.
As a young teenager, I was always fascinated and impressed to see the custom stocking and checkering Ken did. When I was 15, I bought the book Restocking a Rifle by Al Linden and was inspired to attempt making a stock from a blank. I followed the instructions but as a beginner, I did not remove enough wood in the right places. However, it looked good to me at the time and I wanted to learn more about this trade. I bought Monty Kennedy’s book, Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks and discovered checkering took great patience. As a teenager, I finished a stock with a thick spar varnish finish but when I started to checker it, the varnish clogged my checkering tool. I managed to get all the rows in, but as I began forming diamonds the varnish started chipping away and I was losing the first lines. As a result, I was forced to strip the finish and start over. Years later when I met Monty Kennedy that story gave him a good laugh.
After graduating from high school, I went to work for Ken. He taught me how to polish and prepare guns for either bluing or plating. Rust bluing was one of Ken’s specialties. He was a master and stressed cleaning the gun parts thoroughly and not to touch the metal with bare hands. After 6 years of mentoring with Ken LaCroix, I worked with Don Allen building custom rifles for one year.
In 1979, I opened my own custom rifle shop and began rust bluing for the custom trade. In my own shop, I experimented with mixing chemical formulas with the goal of making solutions without using mercury or selenium compounds. Within five years, I developed three separate solutions: Express Blue #1, Express Brown #2, and Slow Rust Blue #3. In 1984, I started selling my rust bluing solutions to the gun trade.
In 1985, I had the opportunity to work in a patternmaking and prototype shop. The skills I had developed in the gun trade were a perfect fit for the pattern and prototype field. In the early 1990’s, computers started to change manufacturing and I was trained in a high-end CAD/CAM software called Intergraph. Today, I work for a company that makes aluminum and magnesium aerospace castings. Using Siemens NX software, I design and machine pattern tooling. Manufacturing continues to change at a rapid pace with options such as laser scanning, 3D printing, and direct metal laser sintering, but it still takes the human touch to build a fine custom rifle or shotgun.
Whether you’re just beginning in the trade or are a master gunsmith, I hope I can help make your metal finishing projects a success.