A Visit With French Arms Maker L’Atelier Verney-Carron

The name St. Etienne is synonymous with weapon production. From the middle ages to the present, St. Etienne artisans, gunsmiths and factories have produced countless knives, swords and firearms. These weapons were designed for hunting, self-defense and/or military applications.

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Verney-Carron is a lens through which one can view St. Etienne’s firearm production. The marriage of Claude Verney and Antoinette Carron represented a merger of two families whose legacy was gunsmithing. Their families’ artisanship extends back in time to Guy Verney who was producing shotguns in 1650. An examination of Verney-Carron thus reflects the wonderful history of weapon production in St. Etienne and France.

Though Verney-Carron is well-known as a manufacturer of assembly-line sport and security force firearms, my exposure to their work has been through their hand-made shotguns and rifles; both the side-by-side rifle in .450/400 Nitro Express and the 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun were delights to handle, photograph and shoot.

So, I was extremely excited when Jérôme Lanoue agreed to host my wife, Frances, and myself at L’Atelier Verney-Carron headquarters and factory.

Our time at L’Atelier began in Jérôme’s office-cum-display room. My interview of Jérôme will be featured elsewhere, but suffice it to say, he’s a passionate master gunsmith and hunter. He and I recounted some of our hunts, showing each other photos of animals taken as if they were our children (apologies to my actual biological children).

Soon, Frances and I found ourselves ushered into the ‘workshop’ in which much of the hand-made production occurs. Walnut stock blanks – obtained from a variety of regions – were stacked in several corners. Hand tools for wood- and metal-working adorned each of the benches occupied by the seven L’Atelier artisans.

We began our tour by watching the apprentice, Angelo, being instructed in the formation and installation of the rib of a side-by-side double rifle. His mentor was Laurent, the head of the workshop.

Angelo had completed a three-year program at a school where he learned the rudiments of gunsmithing. Before he would be trusted to work on his own firearms in L’Atelier, Angelo, will need to spend an additional four years as an apprentice.

Moving further into the workshop, we came upon Christophe – the head of technical applications – making fine adjustments on a trigger for a 28 gauge side-by-side shotgun. Again, no machine could be trusted to arrive at the exact shape required, so hand-filing was required.

Jean-Baptiste was our next ‘victim’. He specialized in woodwork. Final shaping of the stock was again being accomplished by meticulous handwork.

We encountered our second ‘Christophe’ at the next niche (he’s the one in the image at the top). Christophe was using a narrow chisel to round off the junction between barrels and action of a double rifle.

From Christophe #2, we moved on to Matthieu, who cleans and polishes all of the metalwork that’s destined for casehardening.

This stop within L’Atelier also provided an opportunity to view the work of the gifted engravers. These artisans, along with those who apply their skills in checkering and carving motifs into the stocks of shotguns and rifles, work off-site at their residences. Jérôme explained that he wants these master craftsman to work in quiet surroundings because of the absolute concentration that’s required.

Photograph courtesy of L’Atelier Verney-Carron

Photograph courtesy of L’Atelier Verney-Carron

The final stage of our tour within the workshop was appropriately with Chem. Chem is the last person who touches the firearms before they go to Jérôme for final approval; he could thus be considered ‘The Closer’.

We approached Chem as he was putting the finishing touches on the trigger assembly of a twin-triggered, double rifle. The steps we observed are a perfect model of the artisanship of L’Atelier Verney-Carron, and thus an ideal way to conclude our journey through the workshop.

Chem was just completing the trigger assembly as we approached his niche.

He next attached the exposed action to the barrels of the side-by-side rifle.

Attaching a pull weight gauge to each of the triggers in turn, Chem tested to see if the trigger pull required for a dangerous game caliber (approximately two pounds) had been achieved.

A glance at his gauge resulted in Chem shaking his head…

…quickly pulling apart the trigger mechanism…

…and meticulously removing a tiny bit more of the metal to allow a slight reduction of the pull weight.

I hope that the above description of the work performed at L’Atelier Verney-Carron gives you some idea of the unique place that this ‘workshop’ holds within the community of gunmakers. They stand alongside such storied names as Purdey, Holland & Holland, Westley Richards, Turnbull and Janz as producers of exquisite, custom firearms.

Because every one is fashioned by hand, each of their products has a unique lineage and form. This makes every firearm a heritage-piece for their owner. I have written this before, but it is worth repeating: vive la Verney-Carron!

Special thanks to Jérôme Lanoue and all of the workers in L’Atelier Verney-Carron for their patience while their workshop was invaded by two Americans who asked countless questions and took hundreds of photographs.

And, finally, thank you to Jean Verney-Carron who allowed himself to be interrupted from his workday in order to show the Americans examples of the Verney-Carron history from his archives.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all of the illustrations were provided by Frances Arnold.

Mike Arnold writes about firearms and hunting at his blog Mike Arnold, Outdoor Writer.

 

 

comments

  1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

    “…work off-sight at their residences.”

    FYI, that’s ‘off-site’, instead of ‘off-sight’.

    Other than that, nice write-up. I like seeing how the real crafts-people ply their trade…

  2. avatar Ogre says:

    Exquisite work! No prices mentioned, but if you need to ask….

    My French son-in-law went through an apprenticeship enroute to learning his woodworking craft and become a member of Les Compagnons du Devoir craft guild. After coming to the States and marrying my daughter, he started his own company, where he and his people do mostly custom cabinetry and remodelling for well-off folk. But I’ve seen some of his furniture restorations and custom side projects – the lad is definitely an artist. So I get what the journeyman and master gunsmiths described in the article went through to attain their level of craftsmanship.

  3. avatar RCC says:

    Custom from Purdey in England starts at about $125 000. I’m guessing about the price range. The old if you have to ask you can’t afford it rule applies.

    1. avatar Joe in NC says:

      Same applies to Holland and Holland also in England. No two exactly the same so no interchangeable parts. Plus the waiting list is in excess of a year to start the piece.

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      RCC,

      I never would have guessed in 10,000 years that anyone would pay over $125,000 for a custom firearm.

      I imagined the top of the price range would be on the order of $12,000 or so. Looks like I was off by at least a factor of 10!

      1. avatar PK says:

        Certain circles of people routinely pay well over half a million dollars for custom shotguns.

      2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Well, guess again. Some people do.

        Some people view guns as a store of value, some as art, some as status symbols.

        1. avatar arc says:

          Just like fine watches and incredibly detailed artwork.

          Its not a matter of functionality, even a <$5 watch will tell you the time. Its the hand crafted precision, incredible tolerances, the attention to every conceivable detail, and shear labor that goes into each piece. They are both artwork and status symbols. Store of wealth, not so much. For practical purposes, a shotgun is a shotgun and a watch is a watch, value != worth.

          If I was a multi-millionaire, I may spend the money on a few toys. . . It does employ a lot of people.

    3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      I know a double gun gunsmith who was one of my instructors in shotguns who bought a V-C SxS, “in the white,” with no embellishment on the action for about $6K six years ago. He was going to do all the stock work and then send it out for engraving here in the US.

      So there’s a “base” price for V-C’s work, if you’d like to take it that way. For a set of barrels with all the ribs on, fit up to the action, and the action & barrels fully polished out to 400+ grit, you’re under $10K by a fair bit.

      OK, so let’s say you wanted to find the all-in price on a gun like this. Start with $8K (give or take) for the action/barrels in-the-white. add in, oh, $600 to $1K for the wood. Add in $1K for the metal finishing (modulo issues if you have gold or silver inlays put into the metal).

      So we’re up to about $10K+ for COGS. Add in another, oh, $3 to 5K for stock work, checkering, finishing on the wood. So we’re up to about $15K so far.

      Now you add in however much you want to spend on the engraving. You could spend only a couple large, or you could spend 50 large, depending on what you wanted and who you have doing it.

      To get to $125K, you need to go all-out on the embellishments. Purdey is trading off their name quite a bit, and so I’d reckon at least $50K of that $125K is the Purdey name. What people need to realize about the modern-day instances of Brit “best gun” companies is that most of them are now “lifestyle” companies, who hawk clothing, cars, hunting swag, etc under that name. Guns are only incidental to them.

      Verney-Carron is an actual gun company, and their business is making guns. Not clothing, not perfume, not adding bling onto a car.

      1. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

        Thank you for another excellent informative post. Hope business for you is doing alright up there.

    4. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

      Now if you think it through, knowing that some fine guns take in excess of 2000 hours to build, 200 thousand or so isn’t out of line at all.

      Audi mechanics make 100 bucks an hour.

  4. avatar Gregolas says:

    Fascinating ! Thank you for this informative look into French gun making !

  5. avatar JoinGOA,FPC,SAF says:

    Does it come with the White Flag?

    Buy American! Support Freedom!

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      If any of these guns are dropped, it would be accidental rather than on purpose.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        And it would be a crime. Did you see that wood. Fantastic.

        1. avatar Ralph says:

          That wood gives me wood 🙂

  6. avatar Specialist38 says:

    These are pieces of art that happen to fire cartidges or shells.

    If someone gave me one, I’d be shooting it.

    Outside of that….never going to happen for me.

  7. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    For people who wonder what a real gunsmith’s bench looks like, observe what you see in those pictures carefully. Those are actual gunsmiths. They’re not armorers who merely change parts. These men actually make parts, fit them together, and test them for the fit, then finish them.

    Notice the tools on those benches. Notice that every gunsmith in those pictures is using a real bench vise – not some cheap Chinese POS crap you can get down at Home Depot. No, those are big, solid vises that are probably 50+ years old. Notice that they’re holding all their parts with some sort of wood or leather padding between the part and the vise jaws.

    For those who wonder what real gunsmithing looks like, there you go. Lots of files, rifflers, hammers, cold chisels, polishing paper, etc.

    My one question is re: the photo of the bottom of the engraved action: the main screw is under-timed… I’m sure they did’t allow that to go out the door like that…

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “the main screw is under-timed…”

      That is interesting, I wonder why the engraver even bothered to engrave it in the first place. Needs a new screw, and re-engraving?

      1. avatar John in AK says:

        . . . or maybe it’s just not tightened fully into position with a brace. I’m willing to accept that a couple more ft-lbs of torque will fix that issue.

        Considering the care taken with the rest of the work, I’d give them the benefit of doubt.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Ditto. Just thought it odd that they’d take a photo of the screw in the under-timed position.

  8. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

    The Average American today would not recognize a quality gun if the quality gun walked up and shot him in the foot. Today the average mass produced firearm is made of plastic, stamped sheet metal and brittle castings. Take a gun like that to these folks and you would be laughed right out of the building.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Being laughed out of the building hasn’t slowed your roll at all. You would have to have pride, humility and shame for that to happen. Something which you have none of.

      MAGA. Trump 2020.

      1. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

        So what if I do not have any pride humility or shame or dignity or honor or loyalty or honesty or intelligence or any value at all as a human being? I am vile and disgusting so I have that going for me.

  9. avatar Hannibal and the Elephants says:

    A wonderful article about arts that are at the brink of becoming lost. It refreshing to see the acme of human creativity. However, this is soured when considering European attitudes about private firearm ownership and that these firearms do not look like anything the Proletariat could afford. This article only cements the concept that “sensible gun control” is only meant to keep firearms out of the grubby hands of the common masses, and not for the ennobled.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      French gun laws are better than typical NYC gun laws, as I understand it…

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Socialism chokes the economy. It’s tough to impossible for a person to advance their self in a socialist system. The same reason some Swedes I know and a few Germans moved here. They just wanted to own a home. Not live in a state subsidized ‘barracks’.

        I’m willing to bet that the majority of those 6 figure shotguns are not sold in Europe.

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