Tahlequah Daily Press

February 7, 2014

Gunsmith constructs flintlocks

Renfrow spares no detail in his creations

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Aformer teacher and U.S. Navy serviceman is using his understanding of firearms to recreate small pieces of history at a Tahlequah shop.

Dean Renfrow, of Williams Shooting Supply, has built more than 50 vintage rifles and shotguns – mostly from scratch, and mostly of the sporting variety.

“I can blame my grandfather for getting me interested in older guns,” Renfrow said. “He grew up in Arkansas, was a sharecropper, fished and hunted, used a muzzleloader. He was also a storyteller. Listening to him tell stories and growing up in the country, I became interested, and it went from there.”

Renfrow’s creations are mostly percussion or flint guns. The list includes the Pennsylvania long rifle, Hawkens plains rifle, English bore rifle, southern squirrel rifle and double-barrel and single-barrel shotguns.

Though some of his parts are prefabricated, Renfrow fashions others himself, and he spares no detail.

A visitor to the shop may watch as Renfro brandishes the hammers on a double-barreled shotgun, one created by Renfrow’s own metalwork, and the other original. Renfrow’s hammer is darker and shows less wear, but otherwise the two are identical.

Renfrow also shows the shotgun’s replacement butt plate with a Remington Arms insignia, which he created after scratching a relief pattern into a piece of paper.

Most gunsmiths specialize in facets of firearms construction – engraving, stocks, or trigger assemblies. But Renfrow falls into the category of “general gunsmith,” which demands familiarity with all aspects of firearms.

General gunsmithing requires skills in metalworking, woodworking, ballistics, chemistry, math and tools. Renfrow uses “primitive” tools like chisels, gouges, a rasp and a spoke shave.

“I was an industrial arts teacher, so I have mechanical knowledge,” he said. “But I think I also have a bit of an artistic streak.”

Renfrow starts with a block of wood – usually walnut – to make the stock.

“I stick with traditional styles,” he said. “I create the basic shape, then create inlets for the metal, get everything fitted, then take away some more wood for the final shape.”

If he knows a single measurement on a firearm, he can extrapolate all other dimensions from a photo, using scaling.

“I just need to know the stock to trigger, or ‘depth of pull,’” he said. “Or if I know the length of the barrel or the measurement between the trigger and the butt of the stock, I can build the rifle.”

He also recreates the sighting mechanisms of the original rifles.

“Even though I know many of the rifles I create will have scopes, I still try to copy the sights exactly,” he said.

The rifles may have scopes because Renfrow may build a firearm on commission. His customers understand his desire for accuracy in his creations.

“Sometimes, I may be asked to adjust the length of the stock or something,” he said. “On some things, I just won’t compromise. There is a wide variance in what one of my rifles might cost, but a ballpark figure might be $1,000 to $1,500.”

Building a vintage firearm is a time-consuming and detail-oriented process, but Renfrow relishes the challenge. He wants to build a matchlock firearm someday.

“I’m always behind, but I don’t mind,” he said. “I enjoy building these rifles. I wouldn’t come in to work if I didn’t.”