Artisans of the 21st century
Shooting Times & Country|April 29, 2020
Forget the image of an old sage in spectacles — gunmaking is being transformed by a diverse ambitious workforce, says Rachel Draper
Rachel Draper

When someone uses the term gunmaker, an image of a craftsman probably pops into your head. A gentleman wearing an apron, stooped over a vice in a workshop, with small spectacles balanced on his nose and a file in his weathered hands. The gentleman pictured in your mind is probably middle-aged, if not older.

These are the images that we see time and time again in magazines and marketing, promoted as tradition. But this is only half the story. Time and success have always allowed gunmakers to take on apprentices and so the younger generation learn the craft. However, it is no surprise that the stereotype of the classic gunmaker is no longer relevant. I spoke to four gunmakers, all from different backgrounds, and at varying stages in their careers. They are all under 30 and have a modern approach to this traditional trade.

Now running his own gun-making business, Ian Sweetman specializes in building new English shotguns and rifles, and works within the trade for some of London’s most elite names. At only 29, he has taken the industry by storm, completing two apprenticeships and working for prestigious companies such as Westley Richards and James Purdey & Sons, before setting up on his own. He describes how he adores “the history and the heritage of this industry, but it is a world of its own and can’t be treated like any other business”.

Ian’s work is traditional, building beautiful, classically English guns. His brand, however, has a more modern feel to it, using social media to promote his work and giving his followers an insight into the life of an independent gunmaker.

“The history and heritage of this industry is a world of its own and it can’t be treated like any other business”

Shooting fans rarely get to see behind the scenes and, apart from a select privileged few, never get to step foot in the workshop. With social media becoming a huge part of everyday life, does it not make sense to use it as a way of promoting a classic craft to a younger customer base?

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