I don’t know if there’s a dictionary entry for “Special Projects Editor,” but if there is, it needs to show a photo of Roy Huntington with one of those, ear-to-ear, “kid in a candy store” grins.
Actually, strike that. It needs to show Roy with one of those, kid trapped in a candy store overnight, with a free pass from the owner to ‘help yourself to as much as you want’ kind of grins.
Yep, that’s more like it.
I doubt there’s a single RevolverGuy in the audience who hasn’t heard of Roy, or read at least a dozen of his entries in American Handgunner (or one of FMG’s other, excellent publications—Guns Magazine, American Cop, and Shooting Industry) over the years, but a short introduction seems appropriate, anyhow.
After a short stint as a Reserve Officer in nearby Chula Vista, California, Roy spent a career on the San Diego Police Department during some of the busiest decades in modern law enforcement. As a certifiable Gun Guy, it’s no surprise that he spent some of his career serving in the department’s training division, where he was responsible for conducting firearms training for his fellow officers.
Along the way, Roy began writing for my all-time favorite of the gunzines, American Handgunner, whose publisher was based in San Diego. I remember seeing Roy’s byline appear in the late-80s, or so, and it wasn’t long before he was writing all kinds of feature articles and running the monthly gun leather column (which I had a special affinity for).
Upon his retirement from the police department, Roy worked as the LE Sales Director at Bianchi for a bit, and served as Editor of POLICE Magazine for a while. In late 2000, he took on the role of Editor at American Handgunner, and wrangled gunwriters for many productive and entertaining years.
A move from California to America brought some exciting changes for Roy and his wife Suzi, and a gradual transition away from Editor to Special Projects Editor. I have no doubt that Roy thoroughly enjoyed being the Editor of American Handgunner, but I’ve got a hunch this Special Editor gig has been the best job he’s ever had. I don’t even think that kid with the free candy pass is having as much fun as Roy is in his current position, where he’s basically free to work on the things that interest him, and pass on the rest.
BEING A GUNCRANK
Over the years, Roy got to work with the “Who’s Who” of the firearms industry, and has good friends in every corner. There’s hardly a door out there that his “key to the city” doesn’t fit, and we’ve all been able to benefit from his access, as he shared what he learned with us.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about his writing is his attention to what goes on, “under the hood.” Like many of us, Roy’s early interest in firearms made him increasingly curious about how they worked, and that curiosity eventually led to him breaking out the screwdrivers to see what made them tick.
Figuring that out made him curious about how they could be improved, and it wasn’t long before those screwdrivers were augmented with other tools—punches, files, cutting tools, polishing compounds . . . even the professional gunsmith’s nemesis (or job security aid?), the dreaded Dremel!
In fact, one of the earliest articles I remember from Roy was a piece about a Hong Kong surplus Model 12 that he customized for off duty carry. I remember being rather shocked when he told of how he lopped off some of the barrel on the workbench in his garage. A much younger version of me thought such activities were the exclusive domain of “real gunsmiths,” and I was intrigued how an “average guy” could get away with such alchemy.
He got to be pretty good at all of it, and always had a steady stream of his own projects, and a pile of his buddy’s guns (“Hey Roy, could you help me with this gun . . . “) to work on, when he wasn’t cleaning up San Diego or herding cats at Handgunner.
Roy is quite modest about his gunsmithy skills, and is quick to paint himself as more of a hobbyist, tinkerer, or shade tree mechanic, but all those decades of self-study and practice have taught him more than a thing or two. He’s also been fortunate to learn from some of the best in the business, along the way. There’s nothing like studying under guys like Bill Laughridge to help you learn the business.
Roy has been eager to share the things he’s learned on his journey behind the shop apron. Whether you’re interested in learning how to fix a buggered screw head, clean up some damaged checkering, put an Old West patina on your new sixgun, chamfer a muzzle, or add an insert to your front sight, he’s done the tutorials. He’s also showed us how to recover from the occasional oops, and has kept us entertained with some wonderful storytelling about the brains behind a particular gunsmithy.
For those of us who are still a little intimidated by the thought of doing our own fixin’, but are eager to learn more about how our guns work, Roy has also done some neat articles on things like 1911 rear springs, revolver timing, and such. He even cut some revolver cylinders in half, just to see how much steel was left in the areas where the cylinder stop notches were cut.
All for science, you know.
Podcast fans, haven’t been ignored, either. When Roy teams up with fellow Guncranks Brent Wheat and Tom McHale, you know there’s gonna be some laughter (especially when the Christmas spirits flow), but also some educational gems. Wanna learn how to refinish your gun stock or the gun itself? How about just picking up on some tricks of the trade? He’s got you covered.
PASSING THE TORCH
A few years back, Roy took an interest in helping to “grow” the next generation of gunsmiths, and began working with a promising young man by the name of Dustin Housel. Roy introduced “Dusty” to a bunch of the greats and created opportunities for him to learn from them. He also brought Dusty into his own shop, where he taught him many of the tricks and skills that he’d accumulated over a lifetime of “tinkering.”
Before long, Dusty was taking his first steps as a professional gunsmith, with Roy “helping out here and there” in the shop. The demands of Dusty’s military career have prevented him from gunsmithing on a full-time basis, lately, but Roy and Dusty have continued to work together and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more about Dusty’s work in these pages, when his schedule allows.
THE ACCIDENTAL GUNSMITH
In the meantime, Roy has perfected the art of walking the tightrope between vocation and avocation.
To hear him talk, he’s just been tinkering around his shop, playing with projects that entertain him, and lending an occasional hand in Dusty’s shop, to keep things moving, but I think he’s treading dangerously close to becoming one of those “real gunsmiths” I talked about.
Shhhh….don’t tell him I said that.
There’s a lot of whimsy in Roy’s gunsmithing tinkering. He once sent me some photos of a single-shot Rossi .410 shotgun action that eventually morphed into a single-shot rifle. The process involved cutting the locking lug off the .410 barrel and TIG welding it onto a British .303 barrel that he turned down to the proper dimensions. The barrel chamber was recut for .32 H&R Magnum, an ejector was manufactured and fitted, a front sight was manufactured and dovetailed, and a Skinner peep sight was added to the receiver. Of course, the whole thing had to be refinished, too. Why go to all the work? Because he thought it would make a fun gun!
Another mail showed the installation of a Smith & Wesson J-Frame adjustable rear sight on a Walther PP in .22 LR. Roy said they were both laying around on his desk, and the idea just came to him. Of course, he had to manufacture a replacement front sight, and dovetail it into the slide, too. Now he has the adjustable sights that he always wanted on his Walther.
One “simple” project really caught my eye–Roy cut, welded, and reshaped an 1851 Navy hammer, to lower the spur for easier cocking. The end result shot as good as it looked. Roy said, “you wouldn’t believe the difference it made in handling–it felt like an entirely different gun!“
He’s worked on some more traditional projects, too. Installing a Fermin Garza front sight on a Ruger Bearcat, adding a lanyard loop stud to a Ruger Wrangler frame, doing some S&W revolver action jobs for the custom “choppers” that Dusty has been building, and replacing a S&W Model 29 ramp front sight with a pinned replacement—the kind of stuff you’d see “real gunsmiths” doing to keep the lights on.
It’s Roy’s work on the popular Ruger Wranglers that’s turning a lot of heads, though.
Roy credits acclaimed ‘smith Hamilton Bowen for the idea. Mr. Bowen had showed him a custom, ultra-lightweight Wrangler that he managed to get down to 16 ounces by turning the barrel, adding some Titanium parts, and so forth. He hard-chromed it, and Roy said it looked “smashing,” as we’d expect from the master artisan.
That got Roy thinking . . . and tinkering.
Roy said his first Wrangler efforts began as a quick job to clean up the gun’s action a bit, and maybe polish out some of the casting lines on the grip frame, but his simple project soon snowballed into a full-blown custom. He wound up grinding and polishing the sides of the hammer and trigger, fluting the barrel, cutting flats on the cylinder, scalloping the recoil shield, and recontouring the loading gate. He worked the action over, made the loading gate easier to open, and dovetailed a new front sight.
It was the muzzle chamfer and forcing cone work that really made the gun sing, though. Roy said the Wranglers consistently shoot about three inches at 25 yards from the factory, but recutting the forcing cone and muzzle shrank groups down to 1.25 inches or better.
When he wrote up the results for American Handgunner, he was surprised at the response. He wasn’t sure if many folks would appreciate putting $1,000-plus worth of work into a $200 gun, but the orders started coming in—not only for custom Wranglers, but custom Bearcats and Single Sixes, too.
So, Roy’s been doing lots of custom Wranglers lately, made to customer specifications, and he’s been having some fun with the creative side of it all. The Wranglers need to be refinished after all this work, and Roy has been experimenting with a variety of Cerakote finishes. Some are vivid, others more subdued. One customer wanted his a bright, cherry red, and Roy delivered. My personal favorite of all the ones he’s done is a dark blue Cerakote with a gloss finish over the top, which makes it look an awful lot like the classic blued finishes that I miss so much on factory-new guns these days.
AN EYE TOWARDS THE FUTURE
He’s still a little stunned that shooters would pay so much to gussy up a budget gun, but the Wranglers have been an excellent base for the custom projects, and it seems that balance between avocation and vocation might slowly be tipping towards the latter.
I think that’s pretty exciting, and I’ll be eager to see how things play out. I hope Roy never runs out of time to do those fun projects that just tickle his fancy, but it would be pretty neat to see more of these fancy Wranglers get built.
I’m also eager to see more of what he and Dusty can do, when they get back together. You can bet that we’ll keep tabs on them, and we’ll let you know what they come up with, when Dusty can hang up his fatigues for a while, and don his shop apron, again.
For gunsmithing inquiries, contact Roy at: [email protected]
Editor’s Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to mention this—If you aren’t getting the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter from FMG, which features Roy’s work (and the work of some of the most knowledgeable gun scribes in the business), you should sign up for it. I enjoy reading it very much, and I’m sure you will, too. Drop Editor Ashley McGee an email at [email protected] to sign up.
Editor’s Note, Part Two! Just before press time, we learned that Mas Ayoob will be hosting a Massad Ayoob Group Revolver Class in Live Oak, Florida, on February 22-23, 2024. I first trained with Mas almost 30 years ago, and completed my first LFI class with a pair of revolvers, which Mas taught me how to shoot even better. He’s a world-class revolver instructor, and I know you’ll get a lot out of the program if you attend. I’m sure this one will fill up fast, so don’t delay!