Late this past Spring at the start of the dive season I was asked by one of our local charter captains if I'd like to put a gun on his boat for guys to try out. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get one of my guns into the hands of potential buyers and a great form of advertising.
Captain Dave Hochman runs Spearit Charters and holds the world record for striped bass caught with a speargun AND on a polespear. He's an accomplished spearo and charter captain who is known for putting more divers on 50+ pound bass than anyone else in the area. I wanted to make a gun that he would personally use. Everyone has their preferences but I thought in order for this arrangement to work my best bet would to make a gun he would enjoy diving with. We exchanged a few texts and before I knew it I had a project that would take me the better part of the Summer to complete.
Getting to work
My previous two roller builds were both double rollers with a heavily tapered stock. I wanted to make this gun in a similar style even more narrow (one set of rollers as opposed to two) so the muzzle would be easier to swing and track fish with.
I decided as usual I would make two guns instead of just one this way I would have one for myself to test and tweak so that when it came time to make more I would know what parts of the gun needed to be improved upon.
I wanted to avoid having to lay up new blanks so I started playing with a couple narrow blanks and some cut off's I had in the shop from previous builds.
My thought was that I could route my track and get my mech pocket done first. Then get a pocket cut in for my handle tenon, and finally add some wood up at the muzzle so the rollers could be installed. The blanks I had were not wide enough at the muzzle to install rollers.
Above you can see the extra wood I planned on adding to the blank once the track and trigger mech pocket had been cut in. I also penciled in some layout lines for how I wanted to shape the blank.
Forging ahead I cut my track and filled it with West Systems epoxy, microfibers, and graphite additive.
When doing this step I usually overfill the track. Once cured I take a very light cut on my tablesaw to remove the excess. Something I just learned from another builder who makes beautiful enclosed tracks is rather than fill the track to the top in one shot only fill it half way. Once cured finish topping off. By doing it this way you will minimize the amount of air bubbles that appear in the cured track. The method I currently use to get rid of bubbles it to pass a torch across the top of the epoxy right after it's been poured. This causes the bubbles to pop and your track looks a lot nicer. Inevitably though I usually wind up with a couple of bubbles. I will try the two step approach next time!
My next task was cutting the mech pocket into the blank and drilling the holes for the pins that hold it in place. Wait a minute, oops, I messed that up. Pinning the mech is usually done AFTER cutting the enclosed track, this way there are no problems with the shaft hitting the top or bottom of the mech casing preventing the shaft from engaging.
The way I normally do this is; cut the mech pocket, cut the enclosed track, insert shaft into the track, put mech into pocket, load shaft into mech, mark the position of the mech so holes can be drilled in the proper position for the pins. It wasn't that big of a deal. I usually only drill my pin holes half way through the stock at first. Once I'm sure I have them right I leave the mech inside the pocket secured by one pin and then drill through to the opposite side of the stock. This guarantees you will not have alignment issues with your pins/mech. Anyway it was at this point (before drilling through to the other side that I realized my error with the track. I filled the two holes I had drilled with epoxy then cut my tracks. The next day I went back and got my mechs pinned into the proper position using the shaft to help with the setup. More detail about pinning trigger mechs in this tutorial.
Once I had the trigger mechs pinned it was time to start thinking about the handle. For these guns I wanted to make my own handle which I would mortise into the stock. I had some handles I purchased from MVD that I used as a template for making mine. These came in handy while trying to figure out my plan of attack.
The goal is to get the handle as high up into the stock as possible. A high handle placement helps increase accuracy and is one of the most important aspects of a quality build. I like to leave a small amount of wood between the bottom of the mech and my handle mortise. I believe I left 1/8" of material (see the layout lines above) for my handle mortise.
The layout lines in the photo above show the depth of my mortise which I will cut with a 3/4" straight router bit.
After routing these pockets I squared them off and made sure my handle blanks fit in snug.
On previous builds I've rounded the tenons to match the mortise which is opposite to what I did here. I have found that squaring the mortise is easier than rounding the tenon.
The tenons on these handle blanks were made with a dado stack on my tablesaw.
The next thing I wanted to work on was placement of the rollers. I knew the muzzle wasn't wide enough so I planned on adding some strips of wood at the muzzle to fatten it up a bit.
Like the rear section of the stock I thought I'd epoxy the extra wood needed on the sides of my narrow blank and I'd be all set.
The more I looked at the setup in the photo above the more it looked like a bad idea! The thing that bothered me most was I wouldn't be able to make a nice gradual taper from the muzzle to the wide area in front of the handle. I scrapped this idea and glued extra lams on both sides of each blank. A lot of wood to be wasted in the tapering process but a gun with cleaner lines as a result.
The blank on the left side is teak and mahogany, the one on the right is padauk and mahogany.
Now that I had my wide blanks I went back to work on the rollers.
I made a mockup out of some scrap before doing the "for real" cuts on the blanks.
The cutouts for the rollers go pretty quick. You can leave the fence on the router table set in one position. By flipping and rotating the blank after each cut you can make four cuts without having to raise the router bit.
While the blank was still in square I made one last cut using a ball end router bit to put some band relief grooves into the top of the stock.
My next task was to start shaping the guns. I would need to taper the bottom of the gun, then cut the shape. Both of these tasks would be done using a small 10" Rikon bandsaw. Not the easiest thing to do with a such a small saw and this is one part of my build process that is the most nerve wracking for me because a bad taper job on the bottom of the gun is something that could potentially ruin the build.
I set up my saw with a new blade and went for it. I really need to step up to a more powerful bandsaw! The blanks were too big to do this operation on my tablesaw but I recently came across an interesting jig that might make doing this with my thickness planer a much easier operation. The end result of my bandsaw taper looked pretty ugly but I cleaned these up pretty quickly with a block plane by hand. The main thing is to stay outside the layout line while cutting on the bandsaw.
After cleaning up the taper on the bottom of the gun It was time to work on the side profile. I wanted the two guns to be nearly identical which is hard to do when everything is shaped by hand. I decided I was going to try something new. I made a template from MDF in a shape very close to what I wanted my final gun to look like. I designed the template shape with a long straightedge and some french curves. I then used a utility knife with a straight edge to get the long taper cutout from the muzzle to the aft section. The curved areas I cut out with my bandsaw. Then I used sandpaper to smooth out any imperfections.
I used the template to sketch the shape on the blank so I could see how it would look and to make sure it was positioned correctly. I would use these layout lines to make a rough cut of the template shape with my bandsaw.
Here's my layout lines to be cut first with my bandsaw.
The idea was to get as close to the lines as possible without cutting into them.
The next step is where use of a template really shines. The top of my gun was still perfectly flat. I used double sided tape to attach the template to the top of the gun and then used a bearing guided router bit to trim right to the pencil lines I drew on the blank earlier. Theoretically if everything went well my gun would be the exact shape of the template.
Making very light cuts I was able to shave away all the extra wood up until the bearing on the bottom of the router bit made contact with the MDF template which was face down on the table. It took a little longer than I thought it would to do this but I was really happy with the results.
One thing you really need to pay attention to if using this method is making sure the template is sitting so that the track is perfectly centered. If the template is off center the track will be as well. I learned this the hard way on the second gun. It was off just a little bit and was only noticeable at the muzzle. Fortunately I was able to shape my way out of that situation, there was enough wood get it looking even on both sides. The gun on the right is the one I'm talking about.
The next thing I wanted to work on was the handles. I needed to trim down my blanks a little and also get a shape drawn onto the blank so I could remove some wood before installing them into the blank for good.
I cut the handle blanks down with my bandsaw. The slimmed down handle blanks will be a lot easier to shape now.
Before going any further with the handles I decided to start refining the shape of the stock, removing rough edges etc. The handles can sometimes get in the way. For most of the shaping I have to clamp the stock down to the top of my bench. The tapered shape of these guns make it difficult to put into a wood vice in certain situations.
The main tools I use to get my final shape are a block plane, spokeshave, rasp and sandpaper.
It was now time to permanently mount my unshaped handles to the stock.
Thickened West Systems epoxy and a couple of clamps do the job.
I give the epoxy a full 24 hours to cure while clamped up before working on the shape.
I do 80% of the handle shaping with a Foredom rotary tool. These tools are like a Dremel on steroids. I use various burs from a company called Typhoon. These burs are very effective for shaping the contours of the handle and remove material rather quickly. The other 20% of the shaping job is done with a traditional hand held rounded rasp and good old sandpaper. The handles on these guns took a little over an hour each to get them to their final shape.
By the time was done shaping the handles I had removed so much material, not only from the handle but also the mortise and tenon joint. To strengthen this part of the gun I decided to add a layer of fiberglass, and then a layer of carbon fiber over the entire handle and up over the joint.
First I cut a pice of fiberglass cloth to the approximate size of the handle and then I mixed ups batch of "Phil's Epoxy". It's not a difficult procedure getting the fiberglass to cooperate and lay on the handle nicely you just need to wet the fabric with epoxy before placing it into position on the handle which already has a coat of epoxy painted on it. The main thing is to make sure the cloth is sitting on the handle and it hasn't lifted away from the wood. Once the epoxy cures I will lightly sand the entire handle removing any rough spots.
Adding a layer of carbon fiber is the same basic procedure but instead of wetting the handle with epoxy as a first step I use a spray adhesive on the handle and then carefully wrap the handle with the carbon making sure not to create any wrinkles as I'm pressing it into position. Once I've got the handle wrapped I try and trim off any excess fabric without making too much of a mess. Below, the gun on the right side after application of the carbon cloth.
Next I brush on a coating of epoxy. I let the epoxy cure for a few hours and then put another coat on the handle. After the second coat I lightly sand and then add another coat which I will also be sanded.
The fourth coat is usually the final coat until the rest of the gun gets finished.
The last thing I wanted to do was add some stiffness to the stock. I was a little concerned about its overall strength. I decided to wrap the stock with carbon. I considered purchasing all the materials and equipment to use a vacuum setup but I decided wrapping the underside the gun and up the sides would probably give me the extra stiffness and strength I was after.
I used the same procedure as on the handle. I cut my fabric as close as I could get to the size needed and carefully tacked it into place using spray adhesive. I took scissors and trimmed off excess fabric that wasn't needed.
Below is the gun with carbon fabric epoxied into place after the first coat of epoxy.
I added another coat of epoxy before doing any sanding, same as the handle.
After some sanding and a couple more coats of epoxy I was happy with the finished product.
Before final finishing of these guns I had to drill holes for the reel, trigger guard, band anchors, loading pad and line guide. The band anchors and line guide would be epoxied permanently into the gun. For these I drill a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the rod I use to make these parts. I get some epoxy into the hole, insert the part and let the epoxy do its thing. For the hardware needing screw holes I drilled the appropriate sized hole and then used silicone sealant inside the hole to seal. In the past I've drilled oversized holes, filled them with epoxy and then drilled a smaller hole into the epoxy to retain the screw. That's method that will keep water from penetrating the wood. I heard from some other experienced builders that they were using the silicone sealant method. It's certainly an easier way to seal the hole up.
Once I got all my holes drilled it was time to start prepping the two guns for the paint I planned on laying down. I taped off the parts of the carbon I wanted to show (pretty much most pos it) and started with flat black layer of primer.
After the primer I used some 'Metallic Base" (medium) from Createx. I was going to cover the metallic which is silver with little sparkly flecks in the paint. While this metallic base coat was still wet I used Saran Wrap to create some random patterns which comes off looking like marble. After the metallic paint dried I finished up with Createx Candy Colors. I did a yellow/orange/red fade on one gun and a green,/blue green/indigo on the other gun.
Both finishes came out great and looked even more stunning after laying on 4 coats of Phil's Epoxy.
Heres a few more shots of the completed guns.