F.lli Rizzzini, Part II
In September/October I described my visit to the F.lli Rizzini workshop, in Magno di Gardone, Italy, as well as my experiences examining one of the maker's best-quality R3 boxlocks and seeing the parts in process. This time I'll describe the functional aspects of the R3 and my observations while disassembling one. Vic Venters described the R3's intercepting sears in his July/August 2002 Gun Review column, so I'll try not to repeat what he said. However, the drawings that ran with Vic's column differ from what I saw inside my example gun.
Everything looked like it worked in nearly the same way, but either the mechanism had been improved or it had been slightly misrepresented in the drawings sent by the factory. Even though Stefano Rizzini explained and demonstrated the mechanism to me, this was no substitute for operating it in my hands. What I saw would improve any boxlock. The interceptor works as Vic related, but the sears themselves are different. Maj. Sir Gerald Burrard, in his book The Modern Shotgun, criticized boxlocks for having harder trigger pulls than sidelocks, because the lengths of the sears on a sidelock give more of the mechanical advantage of levers. The sear tails on the Rizzini gun-instead of jutting back along the sides of the triggerplate as on an Anson & Deeley gun-turn upward nearly 90 degrees along the back of the action. The triggers contact them about a half-inch above their pivot points, adding mechanical advantage. Also, because of the vertical (versus horizontal) arrangement, the triggers actually push the sears forward rather than upward, to disengage the notch at the hammer. Using my Lyman digital gauge, I measured the trigger pulls at 4 pounds 4 ounces for the front and 4 pounds 13 ounces for the rear. (The gun's owner, Ed Kaltreider, is not enamored of super-light pulls and requested these weights.) Vic got 41/2 pounds for each when he did his measuring on the R3 he reviewed. All of this trigger pulling, with the stock removed, gave me a chance to examine the interceptors in action. Vic got it right: As the hammers are cocked, the interceptor bar swings sideways, under coil-spring pressure, to effectively block the hammer fall. As the trigger is pulled, the upward movement pushes the block out of the way as it pushes the sear tail forward: blocked/unblocked. Only the trigger can move the interceptor. In the unlikely event of the sear jarring off, the hammer fall would be blocked, but not in the manner of any other gun I've seen. Important to me, the vertical sears leave more wood in the most fragile part of the stock: the grip. I'm always in favor of removing less internal wood from a gunstock. All this "raccooning" added to my experience of the basic operation and function of the gun. I noted that Rizzini seems to know when a bit of looseness is appropriate in building a gun. There was just a wink of trigger movement to engage the sear. Some new high-end guns are fit so closely that without this minute play, if the stock swells or shrinks, the triggers may be forced hard up against the sears, preventing full engagement. I've seen this more than once in abnormally dry and wet climates. The safety was crisp but did not bind in any way; again, it had been fit perfectly, and even though this gun had been broken in, there was a distinct lack of "shiny spots," which would have shown less-than-perfect initial fitting. The extractors had zero lateral play, yet they glided in and out under light finger pressure-a pleasure. Close examination showed no shiny spots here either, revealing high or low areas needing breaking-in. (Have you ever experienced sticky safeties or tough extraction with a new gun? Have you ever been told, "It just needs breaking-in?") Vic described the function as "silky," and I concur, with just the right resistance in the toplever to remind me that this was a relatively new gun, with only about 2,000 rounds through it. Vic noted a slight variation between his R3's bore dimensions and said that this was noted on the barrel flats. So out came my trusty bore mike. I measured both of my gun's bores at .724", with a minuscule taper (.001") toward the muzzles. The chokes were each about 13/8" long, with a parallel section about 3/4" long at the muzzles. The right barrel had .020" constriction and the left .034". And I liked the ivory bead nestled between the muzzles as well. With an overall weight of 7 pounds 4 ounces, this gun was not light by game-gun standards. That's the way Kaltreider likes them, and he'd ordered this gun for target shooting. The barrels' weight was marked 1.43 kilos. Rizzini will accommodate requests for balancing, and this gun balanced spot-on at the hinge pin. So although the overall weight may sound heavy, the gun handled very dynamically. As soon as I removed the buttstock, I knew something was up; it felt heavy. I have a pretty good feel for wood, and even though this one used the heaviest, densest Turkish walnut, I hadn't expected it to feel that heavy. So I removed the recoil pad. Underneath, in the center of the stock, I found a round hole plugged with matching walnut. I surmise that weight had been added here-a sure sign of thoughtful and conscientious craftsmanship in the art of balancing. I also was impressed with the quality of the wood. When I visited the Rizzini workshop, I spent some time in the walnut storage room, which is sealed to maintain a consistent atmosphere. Looking over the many Turkish walnut blanks, I was pleased to see that they'd been picked not only for flamboyant figure and color but for layout and strength as well. Stefano showed me blanks that had been purchased many years before and some that had been bought more recently. He remarked that the quality of the wood had improved over the years and that the company was getting the best walnut it had ever purchased. (I personally would have loved to have had even some of the older selection in my shop.) The Rizzini craftsmen are very conscientious about aging stock blanks, and the blanks are always stored for at least seven years. The wood on Kaltreider's R3 buttstock was nearly quarter-sawn. The grain was dense, straight and strong through the grip and turned down toward the toe, with some fine figure at the butt. It was far from exotic but had enough black marbling to make it very attractive. I would have proudly used that stick for any straight-grip shotgun. The wood had a distinct reddish tone, and though I don't remember seeing any stocks being stained during my visit, I'd be surprised if this one wasn't. The stockmaking corner of the Rizzini shop had the best natural lighting. A stock was being hand-sanded with very fine paper in the early stages of finishing. A row of stocks in various stages of oil-finishing was visible inside a dust-free cabinet. I saw a large jar of Tru-Oil finish on the workbench, and this was consistent with the well-filled, built-up finish of Kaltreider's gun. Although this is not my first choice of stock finishes-and some might not like guns that shiny-I could not find fault with the results. I noticed a couple of interesting details on the inside of the buttstock of Kaltreider's R3. The inletting was very clean. All of the surfaces showed signs of having been worked on with hand tools, and I was unable to determine whether any of the inletting had been machined. (Of course the hand-tooled look is preferred even if machining is involved.) More important, the wood underneath the metal had been sealed, unlike on many other new guns. I suspect the tangs and action surfaces contacting the stock had been given a light coat of epoxy. I applaud the use of epoxy for sealer and not as a stopgap for shoddy inletting. I also noted the use of a steel tube, or sleeve, in the stock at the hand pin (rear tang screw). This vertical tube ensures that the proper distance is maintained between the tangs and is a good addition, in my opinion. Rizzini offers a couple of "house" engraving styles, and Kaltreider's R3 had a very fine version of English rose & scroll. When I say "very fine," I mean some of the tiniest scrolls I've ever seen, with such light cutting that it might be described as bulino scroll. Negative space predominated, with lovely rosettes on all the screw heads. In the Rizzini office I was shown various guns that had been embellished by some of the legendary names in Italian engraving. In this realm, imagination and styling is virtually unlimited. Externally, the R3 boxlock follows the tradition and character of truly "best" guns from an earlier era. Rizzini's pinless action, flat-topped checkering, unique lever shaping and action scalloping provide the company's singular stylistic character. Internally, the innovative sear, interceptor and trigger mechanism is a decided improvement on the traditional Anson & Deeley mechanism. I am not one who appreciates innovation for its own sake. I recently heard someone say, "How could the basic A&D boxlock be improved upon? It's been around for more than 100 years; what could make it better? Different, yes, but better?" Why does Rizzini continue to improve its guns' designs? The question is answered when one realizes the dedication and commitment of generations of family craftsmanship. As much as I enjoy the character that can come only with a century of acceptance, I now understand the Rizzini family's desire to innovate and improve. I easily can imagine the Rizzini boxlock being referred to and being the company's-and family's-pride and joy a century from now. Rarely do we see tradition and innovation brought together with such a high degree of sophistication and quality. As much as I enjoyed my visit to Rizzini's workshops, I equally enjoyed my personal discoveries of excellence at my workbench. Author's Note: For more information on F.lli Rizzini guns, contact Old Friends Hunting & Shooting Co., PO Box 685, Livingston, MT 59047; 406-333-9313; www.oldfriendscompany.com or William Larkin Moore & Co., 8340 E. Raintree Drive, Suite B-7, Scottsdale, AZ 85260; 480-951-8913; www.williamlarkinmoore.com.
- By: Steven Dodd Hughes