The slightly awkward title of Tom Turpin's Custom Rifles: Mastery of Wood & Metal David Miller Co. (Gun Digest Books, 2012) suggests that this volume on the David Miller Company may be the first of a series on custom gunsmiths. If so, David Miller and his associate Curt Crum are a good choice to lead off: a David Miller rifle has become synonymous with the highest quality.
Turpin's book has an abundance of photographs documenting "all aspects of their work." The difficulty is that this abundance ultimately leaves this reader wanting something rather different. Crafting a custom rifle involves what David Pye* has called the workmanship of risk, for the quality of the rifle is continually at risk during the process of making it. To minimize this risk, Miller and Crum have devised a number of jigs or fixtures. Turpin comments, "David once told me that he really felt empathy for a new guy who is just coming into the business. His reason had nothing to do with the trials and tribulations of dealing with the public, or looking for business to earn a living. His real reason was all the work ahead for the young man in just developing and crafting all the fixtures and tooling that he needed to succeed."
One problem Turpin faced in doing this book is that photographs of any one of these fixtures--the one to create a fore end tip with a widow's peak, let's say--doesn't have a great deal of intrinsic interest. Turpin can show the tooling block created for the complete set of parts used for this task. He can show a cutter about to cut the recess in the fore end and follow that with a shot of a mill squaring off the end of the stock. But the static nature of photographs can't capture the dynamic process of crafting a rifle--as would, say, a video.
An even larger problem involves the actual subject of Custom Rifles. Ostensibly, this book is about the mastery displayed by David Miller and Curt Crum in making rifles. Having known Miller and Crum for many years, Turpin apparently felt no need to formally interview them. The result is unfortunate: we learn nothing abut how they feel about what they do, about how their sense of craftsmanship has evolved over the years, or about the challenges they still face after so much success. The highest form of craft results from the harmony between hands and soul. Turpin is content to photographically document the rifles that Miller and Crum have made, but he fails to explore their joint vision of craftsmanship embodied in their rifles. If other volumes do follow this one, let us hope that Turpin will remedy this deficiency.
*David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship, rev. ed. (Cambium Press, 1995).