The Longrifles of Allan Sandy
By Wayne Zurl
In 1781 on the decimated battlefield of Yorktown, a military band played The World Turned Upside Down after Washington defeated Cornwallis. More than two hundred years later, in the 1980’s, CLA member Allan Sandy turned his world upside down, leaving a successful business as an auto mechanic to begin a second career as a builder of muzzle loading firearms.
Initially Allan dabbled on his own trying to learn the secrets of being a first class gun maker. Then, after a time, famous barrel maker Ed Rayl announced he was teaching a course in gun building. Allan took the course and built his fourth rifle under Ed’s tutelage. Three guns later Allan met legendary gunsmith Keith Casteel. Allan told me: “He [Keith] saw more talent in me than I saw in myself at the time. Keith really helped me; he was and still is a very big influence in my work.” Anyone who has taught or influenced Allan Sandy should be proud of their one time protégé. Just four years after taking up the tools of the gunsmith, Allan’s entry at Dixon’s Gunmaker’s Fair won Best of Show in the Masters Division. For Allan that one victory was not enough; subsequent entries in 1993 and 1994 also netted him Best in Show awards at the same venue. Like a true champion Allan retired from competition after three successive years of top prizes and numerous blue ribbons under his belt to allow other builders to achieve their own moments of fame and glory.
I asked Allan a number of questions to give me an idea of what inspired him when making these award winning guns. Here’s what I learned:
The original old works he admires most came from John Sheets (and other members of the famous Sheets [or Sheetz] family of gun makers) also Wolfgang Haga who formed his own “school” in Reading, Pennsylvania; John Philip Beck of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania and Beck’s former apprentice, Simon Lauck of Winchester, Virginia.
When rating contemporary makers, Allan looks critically at their “chisel work” or their hand chased engraving, their ability to hand make components, the way they “antique” a gun and their ability to make an overall super clean piece. He doesn’t believe in the tale some tell that contemporary makers shouldn’t make a gun too perfect. He sticks with the philosophy that seems to work well for him and his loyal customers; he wants to see a perfect job. He’s a self proclaimed perfectionist who loves creating new museum quality heirlooms inspired by the original guns he studies.
I had the opportunity to look over one of Allan’s presentation grade rifles at an 18th century trade fair we were both attending. This gun stuck out like a crystal vase among earthenware crockery when compared with all the relatively plain transitional rifles and early fowlers anyone could see on display or being carried through this typical market fair. This wasn’t the kind of gun I would normally be drawn to but it was such a work of art I couldn’t keep from focussing on it. I learned this gun, his 100th, was based on an original John Sheets’ rifle made around 1800 which is currently in the Colonial Williamsburg collection. The carving and engraving patterns were those from the old gun with certain embellishments of Allan’s own.
While handling the rifle I realized that beyond being beautiful, this particular gun was a way in which to study the man who made it. I saw a completely hand made and uniquely designed large silver patch box with some of the finest possible engraving. The elaborate Rococo relief carving looked like it had grown on the wood that way. I couldn’t find an unwanted tool mark, a slip or neglected low spot that required more sanding or scraping. There was a sculpted nose cap, a tapered ram rod, channel inlays of silver and gold at the flared muzzle end and even gold inlays in the engravings. I tried to calculate how many feet of silver and gold wire was inlayed into the curly maple stock. The triggers, touch hole liner and lock pan were all plated with 18K gold. Allan rounded out his work with a hidden box release and a tow worm and ball puller hinged inside the patchbox.
Two years ago I asked Allan to build a very early American longrifle for me. After many discussions and lots of research, I decided to base Allan’s work on a gun shown in Whisker’s book Arms Makers of Colonial America. The author categorized this rifle as one made around 1740 and typical of what may have been found in the old New York Colony, my former home. The photographs included show Allan’s interpretation of a gun from the era of King George’s War.
I was so satisfied with my longrifle that I’m now a return customer. I’ve commissioned Allan to recreate a mid 18th century Officer’s fusil similar to one I had a chance to examine at Brodie Castle in Invernesshire, Scotland. I understand that I’m typical of Allan’s customers who often own two or more of his creations.
So, who else out there has purchased Allan Sandy guns and considers themselves a happy customer? How about Gary Forman of Native Sun Productions? Gary worked with Allan on designing two guns destined to make it to Hollywood. These rifles were used in his productions of The War of 1812 and Boone and Crockett, The Hero Hunters, films made for presentation on The History Channel.
To provide a finish for this article I asked Allan to make a statement about his philosophy of gun building and customer relations. His answer was: “I feel I can build any gun anyone could want; I really enjoy a good challenge. I want every customer to be pleased enough with what he gets to plan on ordering another gun. Approximately 75% of my customers own 2, 3 or 4 of my guns.”
Allan Sandy is a CLA charter member who can be reached at: Rt 2, Box 41, Belington, WV 26250. (304) 457-4936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.