Gunsmith Makes His Own History by Building Old-Fashioned Flintlock Rifles
RALEIGH, N.C. (MCT) - Dan Hopping retired from IBM in 2005 after 40 years with the company. He then started his own company that helps retail businesses with technology decisions.
"I'm a futurist when it comes to business," he said.
But he's old-school when it comes to firearms.
Hopping, 67, is a custom gunsmith. On a given day, he will be in his basement in north Raleigh working on some sort of firearm - breaking down and cleaning a $4,000 Tanfoglio match pistol, restoring a Lefevere shotgun submerged during Hurricane Katrina or appraising a private collection.
But his passion is for the flintlock rifle, and when he's not fixing modern firearms, he's building - from scratch - rifles that first appeared in the 1600s.
"This is what the everyday North Carolina farmer would have hanging above the mantle," he said as he removed a flintlock rifle from a glass case in his living room. "It's a match rifle, and it'll hit a Continental dollar 10 times out of 10 times at a hundred yards."
Hopping is a self-described history buff. He cites the movie "The Patriot" as being historically accurate.
"The Smithsonian (Institution) made sure every knife, every weapon, every piece of clothing was accurate," he said.
In his busy basement workshop, Hopping does the same. A dizzying array of power and hand tools, reloading equipment, parts and other equipment is stacked, boxed or hanging from the walls and the ceiling. On one workbench are several gun stocks in various states of finish, ranging from a raw wood "blank" to several that had been shaped into recognizable rifle stocks.
Curly maple is Hopping's wood of choice and, when finished, yields a tiger stripe pattern. The wood isn't cheap. Hopping said that curly maple blanks cost $800 to $1,000. It takes him about 100 hours to finish a stock.
"But I cheat," he said, grinning as he motioned to six Dremel rotary tools hanging above one workbench.
The lock takes more than 200 hours and an entire gun about 500 hours.
In a business sense, the end might not justify the means.
"If I sold it for $3,500, I might make 40 cents an hour. That does not count research," he said as he disassembled and cleaned a pistol. "You don't say 'I'm going to build a rifle' and grab a bunch of parts. All of mine are historically accurate. The shape of a stock and the carving would be different by county and by decade. To make them historically accurate is the trick."
Hopping said 10 of his ancestors participated in the Revolutionary War, which sparked his interest in the period.
"My liking for the flintlock is kind of based on when I got interested in genealogy," he said. "What I'm trying to do is make sure people don't forget how our ancestors lived. Most of the people in the revolution were farmers with an anti-government bend."
American rifles were "lighter, longer, smaller caliber and much more accurate" than British rifles of the time, Hopping said.
In addition to making flintlocks, Hopping also creates his own period clothing from various types of leather (including wild boars he killed in the Tennessee mountains), hats from felt, "possibles" bags (a bag or pouch containing the necessary tools and powders to shoot a flintlock) and other equipment.
In addition to being a gunsmith, Hopping is also a competitive shooter, and trophies stand on nearly every flat space. He shoots his creations maybe once a month.
"This doesn't have any value," he said, picking up his Tanfoglio match pistol, "except going to USPSA (U.S. Practical Shooting Association) matches and embarrassing myself. The muzzleloader was t he only gun in the household. If it didn't work, you didn't live."
Hopping's love for flintlocks doesn't extend to modern muzzleloaders, which have ignition systems, powders and projectiles that make them analogous to a modern compound bow and longbow. He doesn't own a modern muzzleloader.
"I thought about it, but I don't really need one. I don't hunt deer," he said. "I'd rather shoot the classic. It's more fun. Would you rather have a powerboat or sailboat? The muzzleloader is a sailboat."
© 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).
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