A bench jeweler most of his career, Scott Patrick has made creating custom jewelry for other people his life’s work. Rarely in the last 40 years has he made time to do any custom design work for himself. That all changed this summer when he dusted off an old World War I era pistol he got as part of trade back in the 1970s.
While rummaging through his belongings in storage, Scott ran across his old Ortgies pistol. More than 40 years ago, Scott traded some finished jewelry for a turquoise parcel and the old gun. He would later discover a German ship building company made the pistol between 1919 and 1924.
The German company had been making ships for Germany’s World War I war effort, but later began making weapons. Years later, even with all of the old company’s weapons manufacturing, the old Ortgies pistol became the weapon of choice for Adolf Hitler’s secret police during World War II.
Scott had been able to fire the weapon a few times in the four decades he has owned the pistol. To fully restore the pistol to the level he wanted using wood grips, Scott would have to tap into the many bench jeweler skills he’s accumulated over the years, plus some tech training he gained later in life, and somehow harness the passion his father had for woodworking.
A bench jeweler for most of his life, Scott had been working hard for nearly 25 years doing bench and custom design work when, for whatever reason, Scott just got burned out in the 1990s and decided to blaze a new career trail in the then emerging tech industry. Eventually he got a job with Gateway while still maintaining his jewelry business at night. Years later, he was laid off and through a worker’s displacement program, he took several computer technology classes.
In 2002, Rio Grande was hiring to create a CAD design and development team, and that’s where Scott has been working ever since. Happy that he’s combining his past interests in bench jewelry design work with the precision and ease of CAD, Scott still wasn’t taking time to do projects for himself. In August when he saw the old German pistol and its missing grip, he said to himself. “There’s a project I can get into.”
And he did just that. The Ortgies pistol had a unique design feature. The grips for the pistol fitted in the handle, but were held in place by two clips. Scott couldn’t figure out how the clips attached and needed to see a working model. In September, he attended a gun show and found an exhibitor with the same gun.
At the gun show, he received a mixed bag of information about his old German gun. The good news: He was able to figure out how the clips attached to the inside of the handle to hold the grips in place. The bad news: The old pistol he owned, although in good working condition, was not a rare piece. “There’s actually a lot of them around,” says Scott.
Undeterred, Scott still wanted to follow through with this project. Part of what motivated him to persevere was his somewhat new career path that combines creative and technical work – the best of both career worlds. But it was also his father’s hobby of woodworking that inspired him to restore the old pistol with a custom-made wood grip.
“My father was an electrical engineer,” says Scott. “Wood working as a hobby gave him a break from that.”
For Scott, he understood his father’s passion for woodworking as a distraction from working with old slide rules. A project centering on designs in wood would be a pleasant departure from working on silver, gold and platinum.
At the outset of the project, Scott approached it like a bench jeweler. Partial to European history, Scott’s wood pistol grip has Celtic weaves framing a skull on one side of the grip and a rose on the other to symbolize life and death. Proficient with CAD, Scott’s design quickly took shape on his computer monitor. Pleased with the design work in the rendering he faced his next challenge – how to use a CNC machine that is suited for working on wax and metal to do the work a router does on wood.
“I needed to figure out the feed and rotation speeds for the CNC machine to carve out the wood based on my CAD design,” says Scott. “If these speeds are too slow or too fast, it’ll either burn the material [wood] or break the tool.”
After figuring out the speeds on rough cuts of wood, Scott was ready to work with Tiger Maple for the final grips. “I went to an exotic wood dealer and liked the look and feel of the Tiger Maple’s grain patterns,” says Scott.
Once the CNC machine carved out the designs in the wood Scott had yet another challenge, how to make an intricately detailed woodworking project stand up to the rigors associated with routine gun usage. Although Scott intends to frame the finished project in a special case, and would never dream of selling (unless he was tempted by the right price), he wanted to harden the wood grip as if the pistol would be routinely fired.
This was achieved by using varying grades of sandpaper, from slightly coarse to super-fine. Once the sanding work was completed, a special wood finish sealed the project.
With an estimated 20 hours of actual work dedicated to the project Scott looks back on the project thinking he could have done things differently to save time. “But bench jewelry work is all I know,” says Scott. “I can carve waxes to make jewelry, but I can’t carve wood. And, CAD allowed me to achieve the matching details in each of the grips I wanted without having to carve the wood.”
Now that Scott has figured out the best way to produce custom wood grips for pistols, he may have a woodworking hobby of his own – just like his father. But Scott might actually make some good money from his part-time interests. The same exhibitor at the gun show that had a similar pistol asked Scott many questions about his restoration project. After much discussion, the man wanted to work with Scott to create CAD-generated custom pistol grips. “It’s something to think about,” says Scott. “For now I want to finish this and a custom ring project for my son.”