Special Guns Episode 10 GermanO-U-Q&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 10 –  Franz Sodia Over and Under Hand-Detachable Sidelock


PART 1 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, gun in holders}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, and welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 10th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER:   In our previous episodes of Special Guns with Roger Rule, we covered the evolution of the shotgun from the breech loader with hammers, to the hammerless sidelock, to the boxlock.  All of those versions were side by sides, meaning double barrel shotguns with their barrels side by side.  But what about the stacked barrels, or more popularly called the over and unders?

VIRGINIA: Ahh, this is an over and under that we have today!

ROGER:  Yes, when the British first conceived of making a serious shotgun in the over and under design, the idea was not new.  As Michael MacIntosh and Bill Headrick put it in their book, Game Classics, and I quote:

“…the concept wasn’t new. German makers had for years been building arms of the Bock Buchsflinte form – a shotgun barrel with a rifle barrel underneath – and had even made the Bock Doppelflinte, two shotgun barrels stacked one atop the other.” (close quote)

The gun we have today is an example of how those early German over and unders have evolved, first as hammer guns, then grasping William M. Scott’s idea of a hammerless sidelock, and finally, amassing their own German innovations resulting into a great over and under design in and of itself.

PART 2:  {Audio only} {Use B Roll, Videos 10-1a and 10-1b and still images}

The German gunmaking center for these early gunmakers was the city of Suhl in Germany, and at one time it was in Prussia.  Suhl was the location of the master gunsmiths, for training gunmakers, for training engravers, and the location of the gunsmith’s technical school. German Krupp fluid steel barrels were considered the finest in the world. Many of these makers are still with us today, J.P. Sauer & Son since 1751, F.H.Heym since 1865 (more known for their rifles than shotguns), Kriefhoff since 1886 (but not based in Suhl), and Merkel since 1898.  Sadly, the great H.A. Lindner who built the Charles Daly brand for America, and many other smaller Suhl makers did not survive either WWI or WWII, and are no longer with us.

After WWII, Suhl was behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.  Merkel remained there and continued manufacturing less than best guns, until the fall of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany; at which time, Merkel’s better work resumed.  Before the unification, a branch of J.P. Sauer & Sohn relocated to West Germany. Krieghoff was one not in Suhl, but in the city of Ulm which became part of West Germany.  While most of the small Suhl makers in Germany didn’t survive the wars, many in Austria did.  There, a new concentration of gunmakers resumed in two cities: Steyr in the North, and Ferlach in the south.

{Audio only could end here but if no other good place, then we need to extend it for the amount of still images}                                  

PART 3: {Virginia and Roger still sitting at table}

ROGER: Basically, the cultures of Germany and Austria are similar, the language is German, and the gunmaking innovations, style, and tastes stem from the same old grand masters resulting in their guns being nearly indistinguishable as to country, and often, as to gunmaker.

While there are many, many small Austrian gunmakers, there are ten that have reputations in this country as great makers.  In alpha order these are: Ludwig Borovnik, Johann Fanzoj, Joseph Hambrusch, Karl Hauptmann, Peter Hofer, Josef Just, Johann Michelitsch, Johann & Walter Outschar, Franz Sodia, and Benedikt Winkler.

Some great names have retired like Franz Schmied, Anton Sodia, and Josef Winkler to name a few.

Since we already covered one of these makers, Franz Sodia, in a previous episode, I have chosen that maker for one of these typical German/Austrian over and under shotguns that we want to cover today.

VIRGINIA:  Isn’t that the gunmaker that was given some kind of national award?

ROGER: Good one, Virginia, yes, in Episode 5 of Special Guns with Roger Rule, we pointed out that Franz Sodia was personally awarded the national honor by the Austrian Minister of Trade in August of 1981.  This was 110 years after becoming a gunmaker in Ferlach Austria.  And, that award allowed their company to use the Austrian Coat of Arms in advertising and business, recognizing their products as being produced with national best-quality craftsmanship.

For our special gun today, an over and under shotgun by Franz Sodia is a best gun and is just about as good as it gets.  We could have used a Merkel 303EL or any of several other Austrian gunmakers’ work, but none of those would be any better example.

So, we have this German/Austrian over and under that preceded all the others – English, American, Italian, French, Spanish, etc.  As I’ve said, the very earliest ones had hammers.  Credit the English for developing the hammerless sidelock, and then it was the German/Austrian makers that were first to use the hammerless sidelock for their Bock Doppelflinte, or double over and under shotgun.

Merkel’s over and under is considered one of the more successful ones. Its success is attributed to the patent by Gustav Kersten in 1899, who took W.W. Greener’s locking crossbolt one step further and designed it as a double crossbolt, which engages two barrel extensions instead of one.

Our Franz Sodia example here is a hand-detachable sidelock ejector over and under gun with two sets of barrels built on the Merkel pattern with the Kersten crossbolt.

This is Franz Sodia’s Model 660-E which is the highest grade in the maker’s line and a clone of the Merkel 303-E.  Even though this gun was built in 1960, we are able to use it for our example of the early German over and under because the main revision of it that belies the early gun is its concealed hand detachable lockplate release patented much later, in 1920.

VIRGINIA: Is this one in 12 gauge?

ROGER: Yes, this shotgun is in 12 gauge, with 2 ¾” chambers.  Incidentally, for you gunsmiths out there, these hand-detachable lockplates have integral bridles.

But before we go into our usual review of this great shotgun, let me share with you my one experience with it at the range.

When I first got this gun, it set in my gun cabinet for a few weeks, until finally one Spring day, I took it with me to meet four of my buddies to shoot trap at our club.  They had been accustomed to me shooting my Beretta Diamond Pigeon over and under. And I generally hit 23 and 24 a round, and on a good day, I get a perfect 25, or when I’m trying to show off.  And with these same guys, I had taken my Perazzi MX8 SC3 a couple of times which to them was sort of the Cadillac of guns.  But, both times I didn’t shoot it as well as the Beretta and returned to my 687EELL, leaving my Perazzi at home.  And that’s not meant to disparage the Perazzi, it is just that I am use to my Beretta because I have shot thousands of rounds through it.  If I were to switch over to the Perazzi, I have no doubt, in a little time, I would be shooting it with the consistency I get from the Beretta.

But on this new day, I brought with me this Franz Sodia sidelock over and under with its 30” barrel set, choked full and full. My companions noted right off that it was a true sidelock over and under and when I pointed out the detachable lock system, it seemed to be beyond their interest. The only question I got was, how well does it shoot?  I said I had never shot it yet, and that’s what I am here to find out.

We generally shoot four rounds of trap, 100 rounds of ammo.

In the first round, I hit only 18 and I pin a big share of the blame for my lower score on getting use to the automatic safety.  With an automatic safety, every time you close the action, you have to take the safety off before you fire.  With my Beretta and my Perazzi, both competition guns, the safeties are manual, and you can fire, open, eject, reload, close, yell Pull and fire again without regard to the safety.  For my Franz Sodia, I had another step, fire, open, eject, reload, close, take safety off, yell Pull and fire again.

For the second round, I had it down pretty good until about the 19th round and I forgot about the damn safety again.  I couldn’t fire, but a no fire is a miss with these guys and I ended up with a 22.

But by the third and fourth rounds, I had the automatic safety down and shot a 24 both times.

As you can imagine, I was really growing fond of this gun.  By the end of that 4-round, I had acquired a deep appreciation for this Franz Sodia  over and under, but if I were to use it all the time for trap, I would have that damn automatic safety altered to a manual safety.

To return to our review, let’s look at the mechanics first. Besides its automatic top tang safety, it also has Holland and Holland automatic ejectors, and a Kersten top lock.

Completing the general description:  This shotgun comes cased with two sets of barrels, 26” and 30” with matted ventilated-ribs of Bohler Spezial Steel, and they both feature ivory bead front sights.  With the automatic safety we know it was designed as a field gun, not a gamer.

Virginia, you haven’t asked me about the vignette on the table.

VIRGINIA: I think I understand about the duck, but not the plate?

ROGER:  I purchased the pewter plate in Austria.  It has a capercallie engraved in the center. For those who don’t know, a capercallie is the largest member of the grouse family common in Germany and Austria and the males fan out their tail like our tom turkeys.

With 26” barrels choked Modified and Improved Cylinder, our gun here makes a  perfect choice in barrel length and chokes as an uplands gun for such game as grouse. And on the other hand, with 30” barrels both choked Full, it makes a perfect choice as a waterfouler, hence the duck.

Let’s defer to our sideboard and examine the disassembled components:

PART 4: {Disassembled gun in case, Roger off camera}{include Leather brush kit}

Here we have the cased Franz Sodia over and under disassembled in its fitted leather case, showing all its components with both barrels. The case fits everything nicely, has a maker’s label, but no doubt it is a replacement case, given the fact that it has a combination lock, and given when this gun was built. It has compartments for both barrels made to the correct lengths and for several accessories: a 3-piece cleaning rod, a nickel oil bottle, and two nickel snap caps.  It includes a small container for cleaning brushes.

{Pick up the long barrels, show forearm, detach lower piece}

                        Note how the lower piece of the forearm separates from the barrels while two upper pieces of the forearm stay with the barrels.  This is called a 3-piece forearm.

Since this gun has two barrels, there are two pieces of the upper forearm made for each barrel …

{Set the long barrel set down, Pick up the second set and show upper forearm}

This requires that the one lower forearm piece be made so that it fits with either barrel configuration.  The 3-piece forearm is designed to allow the forearm to be slim and elegant while maintaining more strength than a narrow one-piece forearm for a traditional over and under.

{Set the second barrel down and pick up the bottom forearm piece again}

The forearm release is not the Anson push rod, but is the Anson & Deeley lever release patented in 1870, which is another Westley Richards patent.

{Set the forearm piece down, pick up the long barrel set again}

                        The barrel assembly has a matted ventilated rib with an ivory bead.

                        On the bottom of each barrel system, we see the two Purdey chopper lumps.  Note the cutout for the action hinge pin and the two locking cutouts designed by Purdey in 1863. You can see the Holland & Holland type ejectors on both sides of the barrels, these are automatic ejectors, not extractors.  Then at the top of the breech end of the barrel assembly, we see the two holes in the Kersten crossbolt ears.  W.W. Greener of Birmingham England, had designed an earlier system that engaged only one barrel extension and became known as the Greener crossbolt. That was in 1873. This system, the Kersten crossbolt, as we’ve said, was devised in 1899.

Notice that the 3 screws on each side of the forearm wood attached to the barrels are engraved and indexed.  This is true for both sides and for both forearms.  The checkering patterns and how they fit together on both sides with the removable lower piece takes an incredible amount of skill, especially when making this one lower piece work for both upper forearms for the two sets of barrels.

{Lightly position forearm on long barrels, point out seamless joints, then remove}

On the bottom of a barrel set, it is inscribed “Bohler Special” for the type of steel. We also see 12/70 indicating 12 gauge with 70 mm chambers (which is 2 ¾”), and the serial number 9253 and Austrian proof marks with 625-60.  I have not verified it, but I was told this means these barrels were the 625th set proofed in Ferlach in 1960.

Exposed on the right barrel is the inscription, “FRANZ SODIA and under it FERLACH.”  On the left side, the inscription is in German, “WAFFEN FRANKONIA WURZBURG.”

{Set the barrels down, pick up the stock and action}

Examining the action, on the breech face, we first note bushed strikers that have the two holes for a tool to remove the bushings to change the strikers.  We can also see something only found on the best guns, there are locking setscrews on the bushings.

When I move the top lever…

{move the top lever, show works inside}

…you can see both the Kersten crossbolt move and down inside the receiver, the Purdey locking bar move that will engage the two chopper lumps on the barrels. On the top of the left receiver wall, we see the serial number again, 9253, and on the opposite top receiver wall is inscribed an Austrian proof mark and 624-25.60, which may stand for the 624th and 625th sets of barrels proofed in 1960.

PART  5 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, camera adjusted for standing}

ROGER: Here we are again, with our Franz Sodia over and under now re-assembled.

To finish the mechanical description, we need to cover a few basics. First, this gun has two triggers: the rear trigger fires the upper barrel and the front trigger fires the lower barrel. Closing the action, the tang mounted automatic safety is engaged. And as I have emphasized, the safety has to be slid forward before it will fire.

Note the concealed lock plate release on the right lockplate.

{Stand up, pick up the gun,

Okay, I’ve just assembled the gun so we know it is unloaded, right?

{Open action and check it, then close it}

Always check an unloaded gun!

{open concealed detachable lock door}

Once the trap door of the concealed lockplate is open, the door itself becomes a screw.

{Show it to Virginia}

VIRGINIA: That is intricate, you can’t tell it’s there until you open it.

ROGER: The way it works by explanation is: First, the gun should be cocked, then it is disassembled into its three main components.  You would next take the action and stock in hand, open the trap door. The trap door is actually a screw that connects to the lock on the other side. If you unscrew it to the left, counter clockwise,

{Unscrew trap door, leave it unscrewed }…

and remove it, both locks are free to come out.

I am not going to remove the locks here on this gun, which is in near mint condition, but you can find how to do it on YouTube.  We have a tag posted on our sidebar for a demonstration by Dan Moore showing how to remove detachable locks on a Holland & Holland.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTNYNdoU90

You have to know what you are doing and use a rubber mallet to impact one side of the action to get the lock on the other side to come loose. Then you can just press through the action to the other lock, putting pressure on it from the interior of the action to free it.  The danger is that if you don’t handle everything properly, you can damage the very fragile wood lines of the stock that fit around the locks.

{Screw the door back in now}

Screwing it back in, you have to get it aligned just right so the door will close into its perfect position, but see how easy that is.

VIRGINIA: I did not know they ever made guns with that kind of detail.

ROGER: It seems we find more gadgets on German/Austrian made guns than on any other.

We have already cited that this has the Purdey double underbite system.  This gun has one bifurcated lump, which means when the action is closed, it shows through the bottom of the frame, sometimes called a platform lug.

{Point to the platform lug, remain standing holding gun}

And, this fine shotgun also has intercepting safety sears.  An intercepting sear is a second sear, which sits just behind a second notch in the hammer.  When a cocked gun, which has only one sear is dropped or jarred, it’s possible that the hammer could fall firing the gun accidentally. When a cocked gun designed with an intercepting sear is jarred or dropped, the second sear will engage before the hammer can fall, preventing a discharge.  That’s why the intercepting sear is often called an intercepting safety sear. Only best quality guns have these and this one does.

We have covered the mechanics, now looking at the exterior design and finish, let’s examine the metal work first.  Counting the pins, we see it is a 6-pin sidelock.

The frame and lockplates have 100% engraving coverage of deeply etched and darkly shaded leaves and vines surrounding life-like game scenes which have amazing detail. While the British prefer their conservative rose and scroll engraving, the engraving here is very typical of best quality Germany/Austria engraving as found on best quality guns. Examining the engraving detail a little closer, we see on the left lockplate…

{Show it to Virginia}

…there is a setter flushing a pheasant with five other pheasants, two watching, one up and moving, and two sitting – look at the detail of the feathers.

VIRGINIA: That’s a real art!

ROGER: The entire background is leaves, no blank areas of metal at all which is why this is described as 100% full coverage engraving.

On the right lockplate, we see a pointer flushing two quail and two rabbits, again surrounded with a complete game scene of foliage and some ground terrain.

{Show this to Virginia}

PART 6  {Audio-only)************************************

The detachable lockplate door shows only by its round sundial-style engraving and a closer look shows a contiguous small second circle of engraving that houses the hinge of the concealed door. On the frame on both sides, there is a nice pattern of concentric circles around the hinge pin and arabesque engraving in the remaining areas between the hinge pin detail and the lockplates.

On the bolstered frame, there are heavy chiseled leaves concealing the Kersten crossbolt. The leaves continue across the top of the receiver with beaded fences housing the Kersten crossbolt. On the bottom of the receiver is a game bird, a very detailed capercallie (CAPer-kay-lee), like the one on our pewter plate here today, surrounded with arabesque work in full coverage again.

All of these engraved areas, including the forearm release escutcheon and the triggers, are coin finished, the process we covered in one of my earlier videos.  The upper tang of the action is coin finished as are the six screws attaching the wood panels to the two forearms.  The forearm screws, by the way, are engraved and indexed – meaning the screw slots are aligned.

While we are looking at that, the underside of the gun shows that the pistol grip cap screw, the lower tang screw and the action screw are also engraved and indexed.  Again, this type of amazing gunsmith work is only found on the best quality guns.

The remainder of the metal parts are blued, but we still find engraving on the top lever and the trigger guard, with border engraving on the breech of the barrels where they meet the receiver.

PART 7 { Roger and Virginia sitting at table}

ROGER: Now, let’s look at the wood.

VIRGINIA: I usually like the wood the best, but on German guns, I think the engraving is my favorite.

ROGER: If you are familiar with German/Austrian guns, it is rare to find the figure of the wood up to the standard of the engraving. And their grade of wood, as pertains to figure, is much behind compared to other guns that are of equal quality in the metal work.  So, for an Austrian-made gun, the grade of wood in this one is really outstanding because it has nice color, dark contrasting streaks with interesting figure, which shows on both profiles of the gun and carries through to the forearms.  From the look, the wood pieces of the forearms could have been cut from the same wood blank sourced for the stock, and that applies to both forearms with the two attached pieces.

The comb is classic, not Bavarian, and it has an open pistol grip as opposed to the English straight-hand stock.  Another unusual feature of its stock shape is that it has a cheekpiece, not often found on shotguns, but common on high-grade rifles and on many German/Austrian shotguns.  The shape of this cheekpiece shows it is quality as there is a conservatively sculptured shadowline surrounding it. The comb is fluted and the pistol grip has a cap made of buffalo horn.

Instead of a buttplate or a checkered butt, this one has a leather-covered recoil pad, rich brown in color that goes well with the color of the stock and forearm.  We’ve already mentioned the 3-piece forearm.  This is a very common standard for these German/Austrian guns to be designed with three pieces so that they are strong yet remain slender. The forearm tip is just a rounded nose.

Checkering on the pistol grip is two-panel, each with two points, very well executed in a fine 26 lines per inch, as is the checkering on the forearm. The forearm checkering is a disguised wrap-around style, as it is actually a two panel point pattern that meets under the forearm at one point and then again with a border point between the forearm release and the action.  The pattern, and its execution, is amazing as to how it works, to fit perfectly with either of the 2-piece sections on the two barrels.

The wood design around the forearm release has a well-designed island of space between the checkering and the metal and looks pleasing and very high quality.

All of the wood-to-metal fits are of best quality. These are displayed clearly by looking at the inlay of the pointed forearm release, the pointed lower tang that runs three quarters down the grip to the cap, and the pointed upper tang carrying the safety.

And finally, uncommon to most American and English shotguns, but not so on other European guns, there are two eyes for attaching sling swivels.  The rear one is mounted about 4” from the toe and the forward one mounted on the barrel about 5” forward of the forearm.

So, even though this shotgun was built in 1960, it is an age-old clone of a design from 1899 and only the 1920 patented hand-detachable locks and of course it’s 1960 condition, give away that it is newer than those original German 1899 over and unders.  The design itself creates a tall action, which was not considered so tall, until other designers go into the act with their innovations and improvements.

While now an older design, it is still cherished by many followers.  And I can attest that when I took this gun out to the trap range, I impressed myself that the first time out, I shot it nearly as well as I shoot my favorite Beretta Diamond Pigeon – which I shoot all the time. These German/Austrian over and under sidelocks, when made as best guns like this one, are still best guns today.

Next episode, I intend to continue this evolution of the over and under shotgun and will be moving on from this 1899/1900 version to 1909 when the great English maker Boss, got into the act.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.