View Full Version : Has quality peaked already?

Pond, James Pond
July 1, 2012, 02:24 AM
I live in a town that has a city centre 650 years old. Their materials are old and their engineering basic, but they still stand. IN another part of town there are sky-scrapers (by Estonian standards) of 30-40 floors. I ask myself: "Will they still be here, 650 years from now?" I find the answer to be most probably not.

So I ask you your view on something similar. I asked this question about handguns, sometime last year, but a recent link given to my to a page called Chuckhawks.com led me to a rant by the author about how the shift from precision and craft based industry to that of cheap, mass production and the throw away society. This made me ask that same question again about rifles.

I have been recently looking at bolt action rifles. My curiosity and budget have led me to consider both lower end new and unknown old. That rant above and my own musings about the Old Town made me think "Should I really ignore a 25 year old rifle because I can get a new one for "only" €80 more?
Is modern and new, especially at the cheaper end of the range, really better than cheaper and old?

For example, I can pick up a new CZ 550 Standard for €610, a Marlin XL7 for €590, or a Savage Axis for a similar €575. Then there was a Zastava Mauser in .308 for €500 with a scope. There was also a Finnish Mosin for €420.

Both the Zastava and Mosin were old (the Mosin much more so at 80 years!!), but the barrels looked good, the bolt fitted nicely on the Zastava with no play that I remember; the trigger felt good.
They were nicely made.

The flip side is that now we have modern materials and new treatments and alloys for metal parts (although, I've often read posts of concern on the longevity of MIM parts etc).

So, for you, do you feel that generally a run-of-the-mill rifle you can buy now is better quality than one of the old guard you might find on sale?

Do new tech and materials off-set the corner cutting of mass and automated prodcution?

Or are steel barrels still steel barrels and the more careful assembly of 3 decades ago does more to ensure you have a rifle for life?

July 1, 2012, 03:13 AM
I have a Forehand Arms 32 caliber nickel plated 6-shot revolver: USA patented Dec 7, 1886 & Jan. 11, 1887. This gun is in excellent condition, but the cylinder no longer aligns with the barrel. Thus, this gun should not be fired.

Old may be fine, but function is better. I look for guns to last at least as long as I do. After I'm gone, someone else can deal with it.

July 1, 2012, 03:21 AM
Technical improvements- better steel , better alloys ,better precision [more 1" group guns]. One factor in all this is that many buy by price rather than value.
Some new ideas have to be sorted out .MIM was new and in the effort to get cheaper guns many parts were in appropriate for MIM and the process had to be improved.
Other factors are there too. In the '60s labor costs went way up thus driving design changes to reduce prices. It also introduced more automated production.
Quality control is still a problem as efforts to meet consumer demand result often in quality dropping .Not too many companies stop sales like Ruger has in order to catch up on back orders !!
I always look for better quality, better design and don't consider the lowest price or attempt to buy more guns rather than fewer better ones .:)

July 1, 2012, 05:29 AM
There are two ways to look at it. One from a cosmetic fit and finish on the outside and another is the accuracy of new rifles. While I believe they don't put as much into the looks of new rifles they do put a lot of emphasis on the accuracy of new ones. I know new ammo as a lot to do with that, but it is a combination of new manufacturing processes for both ammo and rifle. 1 MOA or less is pretty much the standard these days for a out of the box rifle. I don't believe you could say that 20+ years ago.

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July 2, 2012, 10:28 AM
I have been recently looking at bolt action rifles. My curiosity and budget have led me to consider both lower end new and unknown old. That rant above and my own musings about the Old Town made me think "Should I really ignore a 25 year old rifle because I can get a new one for "only" €80 more?
Is modern and new, especially at the cheaper end of the range, really better than cheaper and old?

I like older rifles and there are newer rifles that I like. Specifically I am thinking of the new FN made M70's and older pre 64 M70's.

I am of the opinion that older rifles, post WW2 rifles, are good designs and generally well built. The pre WW2 rifles, the closer you get to WW1, the metallurgy gets worse, however, the time you get into the late 30's, metallurgy is a mature science and the only real issues are process controls, which are still very good. Early guns, 1890’s-1920’s, process controls were awful and the metal, heat treat, suspect.

I really like 50’s, 60’s rifles. You can pick up bolt rifles from that era what have much better wood, have little features that were deleted later for cost cutting purposes.

I really don’t like the sheet metal magazines of later bolt rifles, earlier designs the feed lips are machined into the receiver. You can see the cheapening of the M98 in FN actions. Early 50’s FN actions have lots of M98 features, by the time you get into the 70’s, most of the safety, gas handling features of the M98 are gone. Only a claw extractor is left to give the look a 98.

Don’t forget that there were lots of cheaply built rifles/shotguns that were used up and tossed. Generally what is left is the better built items. You can go to gunstores in my area and find beat up Crackshots and “White Powder Wonder” shotguns that were cheap when they were made and did not improve with age.

As for "are the cheap stuff better?" On the average, I would say "yes". Modern steels and safety features are improvements. It is harder to shoot yourself with modern designs and takes more effort to blow yourself up.

July 2, 2012, 01:55 PM
We live in an age of disposable products. Not just guns, but eveything. And to be honest this is not always a bad thing. Up until about WW-2 every generation had done everything pretty much exactly the same going back 3-4 generations. Technology advnced at a very slow rate so things were built to be used for several generations. A high initial cost was justified because of the long term use.

Today it makes less sense to put the quality into any product since it will likely become obsolete before it really wears out anyway. We all appreciate the workmanship that went into many of the older guns, but the fact is a cheap budget rifle made of stamped metal and plastic parts will usually outshoot those finely machined guns of yesterday. And for a fraction of the cost.

July 2, 2012, 02:04 PM
And just to touch on what Mr. Slamfire said, I like the older rifles too. However, a number of times you've said "The barrel looks good." Don't put a lot of faith in that- even most worn, eroded, and abused barrels can be made to "look" nice and shiny. There's no way to tell without gages. If there's excessive throat or muzzle errosion, or a slight bulge, or gross oversize drilling- that won't appear to the naked eye.

Some new rifles are still built with an aire of quality... sort of. Compare a new CZ and a Remington 710, 770, SPS, etc and you'll catch my drift.

July 2, 2012, 02:09 PM
The easy answer is "it depends." And notice how in the expression "precision and craft based...to cheap, mass production" the word "expensive" is missing. There are still expensive hand-crafted products available and probably always will be. The problem is in thinking that at one time in the past things were precision and craft based and cheap. Some words just won't go together.

That leads us to the question of whether expensive products perform any better than, well, more reasonably priced products. Maybe they will for some people. The rest of us won't notice. But you asked good questions. Aside from the finish alone, which does nothing that affects life or performance, I'd come down on the better crafted older product. Remember, even fifty years ago some manufacturers were "cheapening" their products because costs had risen to the point where they couldn't sell their guns at a profit. That's why things like the Savage 99 and the Mannlicher-Schoenauer eventually became ordinary rifles, having before been somewhat special.

I would also suggest that better grade products will work better (smoother, etc), though whether or not that will make it more accurate is another question.

July 2, 2012, 02:37 PM
how the shift from precision and craft based industry to that of cheap, mass production and the throw away society.

This I find difficulty agreeing with. One of the very reasons why classic great guns of yesteryear needed so much craftsmanship and expensive hand fitting was because the parts manufacturing process was inherently inaccurate. Basically constant variance in parts production meant the only way to put together a final quality product was to have highly trained (and expensive) people put them together, fine tuning the fit of the parts for each individual gun as they did so. The "craftsmanship" of assembly was simple the only way to deal with the inadequacies of the parts manufacturing processes.

Todays modern casting and forging techniques, combined with ultra-precise CNC machining processes and laser guided tolerances mean that much of the very reason for hand fitting no longer exists. Parts can be mass produced with extreme precision and exacting repeatability, so that there is far less need to have someone baby-sit the final fitting of each and every single part.

And "inexpensive" need not necessarily equal "cheap". An example - CZ's move from the PCR to the P-01. The PCR did/does in fact require much more hand fitting than the P-01. In order to put out the P-01 they invested in precision CNC equipment and parts manufacturing to make drop in parts that should work equally well in all and any P-01 pistol. And the P-01 to my mind (I've owned one for a few years now) is a reasonably priced, and very high quality little handgun.

People lament the lack of quality in so many things these days, but I think a lot of it is perception, not fact. Many products these days that are mass produced are amongst the longest lasting and least problematic of any such products, from cars to guns to televisions. Of course, with 7+ billion people on the planet, companies make more items then ever, more people have them then ever, and modern communications give everyone with a problem a highly amplified voice. So some product produced in the millions with even just a very few examples with problems suddenly gains the perception of being a crappy product, when in fact the vast majority of the items in circulation are in the hands of very happy owners.

Look at examples of modern guns on forums like this - I think it would be impossible to mention any make or model that some one (usually more than one) will post is complete crap. And yet you dig a bit and find that the model in question has and is selling all that the manufacturer can possible produce, or you see them at the range in the hands of happy looking owners, and you have to question "how bad can it really be"?

July 2, 2012, 04:35 PM
Today I can get a quite accurate rifle made with durable components for almost a song.

Back in the day that type of performance was costly

I think it's two different facets to the same issue: quality and performance

High quality materials don't automatically equate to a highly accurate rifle. Doesn't hurt though

High performance doesn't automatically mean high quality materials

Back in the day you had some very high quality, high performance rifles, true. Today the methods of manufacture in regards to say, machining, are considered quaint.

I think it's the same boat, but today we see performance overtake quality in terms of aesthetics. An ugly, inert plastic stock is superior performance-wise to a beautiful hand-rubbed wooden stock.

But one looks cheap

July 2, 2012, 05:30 PM
Its a mixed bag of nuts here James. While the quality of the steels have gone up and some of the CNC processes are much better, the assembly and attention to detail have gone way down. Unfortunately this trend seems to get worse each year. Of course, you can get the best of both worlds by having a master smith make one up for you. "If you've got the $ honey, they have the time". What you will end up with is a beautiful precision firearm.

July 2, 2012, 06:12 PM
With most of the new metals and the availabilty if less expensive CNC machines, I think the quality of new guns would go up as far as fit, finish. The only thing that concerns me is with all the Computer Aided Engineering, some things will be designed closer to their theoretical limits. I know that my old S&W model 28 will probably take an over sized load and probably be OK. It was over engineered to start with. But now that their looking for smaller & lighter designs, a small mistake, or shooting really hot loads all day long. might over stress the lightweight designs.

July 2, 2012, 06:29 PM
Mike - I think you have the right idea. I have a S&W pre-model 10 from the late 1920's, and it's held up beautifully for over 80 years and still gets fired frequently. But the number of machining marks evident in the finish would have any modern-day buyer screaming "POS" at the top of their lungs.

The reason so many ancient structures are still standing is that the designers/builders didn't have the structural engineering knowledge we have now, so things were generally over-engineered to hell and back. Allow me to use five times the material that I really need, and give me a steady supply of slave labor to assemble it all, and I could build you a wall or a pyramid that will still be standing 3,000 years from now, too.

Art Eatman
July 2, 2012, 07:14 PM
Things like group-size accuracy and durability in even the lower cost rifles are better than in the "good old days". The cost of equal-quality wood for stocks and the cost of hand-fit and finish is much higher. There are many "custom" rifle makers doing business, but their rifles cost well above a mere thousand dollars.

How nice do you want it? A search for "hummingbird double rifle" brings up this URL :) :


Click on "more pictures".

July 2, 2012, 07:57 PM
I'm pretty sure there was a lot of junk produced back then too. The junk went to the scrapyards a long time ago and we are left with the better stuff.

There will always be finely crafted guns, guitars, furniture, men's suits, etc., for those willing to pay for them.

Art Eatman
July 2, 2012, 08:45 PM
Yeah, the post-civil war and early 20th century years saw plenty of equivalents to the oh-so-wondrous RG. :D

July 4, 2012, 10:02 AM
Very interesting topic and always relevant.

Because as others have noted in other threads, guns (as well as everything else) are built to a certain price, some guns have been produced to certain finish levels. Marlin produced rifles with less expensive "hardwood" stocks for sale in what used to be called discount stores (and which used to be called "cut-rate" before that) and nicer walnut stocks for the rest of the trade. Same rifle, different stocks. Some handguns have come with different finishes usually when there was an urgent need for those guns during wartime. No effect on function at all.

There is marketing involved here, too. The Ruger No. 1 is a very nicely finished rifle but there was never a low-priced version (ignoring the No. 3 for the moment). There is only so much demand for single-shot rifles and having a less expensive version would tend to ruin the appeal the the gun, I think. The No. 1 action has also been used as the basis for some really, really nice rifles, too, Bavarian style.

There's another angle, too. It is a question of design. Although the design of the Colt .45 auto is over a hundred years old, it remains a good design that lends itself to being a reliable product without a lot of hand fitting. Other automatic pistols from that period, notably the Luger do not have that reputation. That is not to say the Colt automatic is inexpensive to produce if it is made the way the original ones were. It's just a design that results in a more reliable pistol than the Luger, or so I am led to believe, and I've owned both. The caliber doesn't enter into the matter. Curiously though, for government use, the .45 auto went out of production only about three years after the last new Luger was driven out of the factory. Lugers remained in use in some armies as late as the .45 automatic until replaced in one case by Glocks. Even FN Model 1903s in 9mm Browning Long were used that late, too.

One might note that more and more new pistols are basic variations of the Browning designs.

Al Den
July 4, 2012, 10:29 AM
I think cars and guns are just better than ever. Handguns may be the best example -- how many reliable semi-auto choices are there out there today. You'd struggle to find one that ISN'T reliable!

July 4, 2012, 11:02 AM
I expect the old weapons that really were good better stood the test of time than those made poorly. The lesser have likely been discarded with time while the better were heralded and saved.

How many 1975 cars made 200,000 miles and are still running on the road? (vs. my 2001 Dodge about to turn 200k without any serious work done)

The fallacy with old towns is that space can become so valuable in a city center that even historic sites may be removed.

July 4, 2012, 02:04 PM
Not every old gun was a well crafted piece of machinery. The Chauchaut machine gun can't hold a candle to an FM MAG (240B to us Americans).

A lot of old guns are nothing more than junk, they didn't stand the abuse of a single generation of users. We have a lot of surplus Mausers on the market not because they were the pinnacle of quality construction but for the same reason we have a lot of AK-47s on the market. Millions upon millions were made, and so a lot of them survive.

In terms of "quality" machining a lot of people think only about "external fit and finish" as opposed to a piece being machined dimensionally true. The progress of machining in the last hundred years has allowed consistent machining and tight tolerances. Less hand fitting. Even advances in metallurgy have allowed advances (such as powder steel) have allowed extremely high homogeneity blanks that allow hammer forging to mass produce high quality barrels of uniform dimension.

In the civil war, the loss of a single skilled worker to the CSA caused the output of a rifled musket factory to drop by a complete order of magnitude. Such an event is impossible with modern manufacturing practices.


July 4, 2012, 10:24 PM
I've been in manufacturing for over 40 years (retired metallurgist) and honestly feel the materials are BETTER and the tolerances are held better. This is in regard to the machine's ability to control size and not custom made hand turned parts. You didn't see stainless steel rifles back "then" either.

I'd bet on the accuracy of today's rifles also. Now comes the downside. The old guns had some beautiful wood. Today's mostly are synthetic (many bad) and the wood is plain.

The finishes on the lower priced guns are also not what they "used to be" when craftmanship was so important. Many of us could not afford a rifle built the "old way" in today's world.

I have new rifles and like them alot. :)

July 4, 2012, 11:09 PM
As other have said, we only have the quality guns left because all the crap guns have been scrapped. The garbage guns that are left are sometimes now valuable just because they are old.

My dad showed me the 22 rimfire falling block gun that he and his brother had when they were young, just looking at it I could see it was a shoddy design, build cheap, and not made to last. Even when new, cases would rupture occasionally due to poor casehead support.

July 5, 2012, 04:28 AM
The Winchester FN Model 70 seems like the best-made of the generally-American guns that I've seen in quite a while. Yes, there are Coopers and other high-cost rifles, but if you're looking for quality there are very few.

The high-end Savages look nice, but I'm not partial to their basic bolt action design. They're a bit wierd to me.

Weatherbys are still very good rifles, though many people don't like the style or finish.

Brownings are still good guns, maybe better than they were a few years ago, but may all be made overseas.

Generally, hunting rifles made in stainless steel will hold up better than blued guns, especially with regard to rust. Unfortunately, stainless is softer than chrome-moly, so if a rifle is to be shot often, stainless has a tendency to wear or peen and some won't stand up under a lot of shooting. Target guns often have stainless barrels, but blued-steel actions.

Even stainless .22LR benchrest barrels wear out much sooner than chrome-moly. Their peak accuracy is usually less than 10,000 rounds, but chrome-moly may go over 200,000 rounds and still be quite accurate.

Stainless centerfire barrels used to last a bit longer than chrome-moly, but I'm not sure about that. Either don't normally go 2,000 rounds of benchrest match shooting, but that's top accuracy. Most of us could shoot 4,000 rounds through one and not notice a big drop in accuracy, especially if we don't overheat them.

July 5, 2012, 11:15 AM
While you may be correct about stainless steel being softer and not standing up to a lot of shooting, a hunting rifle will not normally be shot a lot but it may be exposed to a lot more bad weather than a target rifle that would be fired a lot. So you takes your choice.

While highly skilled metal working craftsmen may no longer be required to turn out good quality firearms, the machines do not operate all by themselves. There is still a human doing something somewhere. It is true that computer controlled equipment can turn out parts that are closer to "spec" with less variation than was otherwise the case, it doesn't follow that close tolerances result in a better firearm. It should certainly result in parts that are truly interchangeable than otherwise but that's an idea that goes back to Eli Whitney. The question then is what you want the most. A highly accurate firearm, thinking mainly of rifles here, will likely have closer tolerances than a so-so rifle. But the so-so rifle may otherwise be a better choice if it means it is more reliable, a sometimes more important characteristic. A WWII .45 auto was never thought of as an especially accurate pistol the way it came but no one ever has a bad thing to say about the reliability. This isn't to say you can't have both and some things won't work well at all if the construction is indifferent.

July 5, 2012, 05:32 PM
This gets back to one of the things I run into all the time.

Depending on who you ask and the age of the answerer, it always comes down to the same type of answer.... "Western civilization peaked at (insert decade here) and has been going downhill ever since." Everything before was old-fashioned and everything since is crap.

Seems like the same old circle

That being said, music these days just stinks...:rolleyes:

July 5, 2012, 05:35 PM
"Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things."

--Douglas Adams

July 6, 2012, 04:01 AM
I need to write that one down and remember it. That's a good one. I've known a lot of engineers (work for one). You should hear what they say.

As far as music goes (I'm 65), I've discovered a lot of wonderful music, all performed by virtual kids to me. It's all in German and comes from Austria, although it isn't all Austrian. It's fresh, upbeat, innovative and strangely familiar. Now, what else comes from Austria?

TX Hunter
July 6, 2012, 06:11 AM
The new Rifles are good that are CNC machined. But I keep picking up on people saying :THERE IS NO NEED FOR A SKILLED CRAFSTMAN ANYMORE : I just hate that.

July 6, 2012, 07:29 AM
Now you need a skilled CNC machine operator. The thing is, everything is more difficult than it appears and that fact isn't appreciated. Part of the reason for that is, fewer and fewer people actually do anything with their hands anymore except type (or keyboard, I think they say). People even belive that the pyramids had to be built with the aid of outer space aliens because something like that would have been impossible 5,000 years ago.

Ever see a Civil War period weapon? They look pretty good, don't they? Well, they were machine made. You can see the machines in Harpers Ferry. The machines are from Pratt & Whitney. They weren't exactly hand crafted like you might think.

Advances in manufacturing are sometimes due to advances in our ability to measure things.