Swift Precision Rifles
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
When Webley closed in 2005, prior to its resurrection in the hands of AGS, it seemed to mark the end of not one great name in gunsmithing, but two: the other, of course, being Venom Arms. Most people will associate the Venom name with tuned Weihrauchs and other custom air rifles, and with Steve Pope, who, since Venom’s demise, has set up shop in his own right, and continues to produce excellent work under the “V-Mach” moniker. Less well known, however, is the fact that Venom also had a nice line in customising firearms, and that this was principally the work of Steve’s namesake, Richard Pope (no relation). The good news is that Richard is also back in business as an RFD, and is trading as Swift Precision Rifles.
As soon as the news reached me I gave him a call and went down to Bromsgrove to pay him a visit. It’s probably worth saying from the outset that Swift Precision is still a small-scale enterprise: Richard’s workshop is installed in his garage, but after two years operating successfully on a part-time basis, in 2007 he quit his former day job and went full-time, and it’s clear that he’s got the skills, the equipment, and the enthusiasm to take things even further.
From Scott to Webley (Venom)
Richard started off in the gun trade as an apprentice at W.C. Scott, where he spent four and a half years making best-quality S/S and O/U shotguns for Holland & Holland, and other famous names. After Scott’s closed he moved into general engineering, which, among other projects, involved him in making machines for Cadbury’s chocolate factory and even building an aeroplane! Then came another move, this time to Webley’s where over the course of the next six years he helped develop the Tomahawk, Longbow and Viper rifles, and became their PCP specialist, as well as doing most of their firearms work. So if you ever had any muzzle-threading, barrelling, chambering, bedding or trigger work done at the Webley Venom Custom Shop, or had them build you a moderator, the chances are it was Richard who did the job.
So we can safely say the man knows his trade, an impression that’s confirmed when you step inside his workshop, and see all the serious hardware he’s installed. Aside from the usual lathes and other industrial tools, there’s even a bead-blasting unit, which, whether used on its own or in conjunction with KG’s range of coloured coatings, allows him to get the perfect custom finish. Refinishing with GunKote is just one of the services on offer; Richard also does re-blueing, stock work, threading, crowning, barrelling, chambering, machine turning, bedding, and can service and repair all makes of PCP and spring-powered airguns. One of SPR’s neat ideas for a PCP is a front sling stud for the HW100 that replaces the forward stock bolt, allowing you to fit a sling without drilling the fore-end. These studs are available in brushed stainless or black finishes
As if all that wasn’t enough, he also designs and builds moderators for centrefires, rimfires and PCPs. His airgun moderators include a highly effective muzzle-mounted model (as sold by Sandwell Field Sports first in carbon-fibre and now in a brand new alloy version that matches the Weihrauch on performance and trumps it on looks), and over-barrel moderators for Theoben Rapids.
His rimfire work, meanwhile, includes fitting Browning Buckmark carbines with moderated (and un-moderated) carbon-fibre barrels that along with a lightweight arm-brace give the Brownings an excellent “pistol” feel, as well as an alloy moderator (recently reviewed here) that does a peerless job on a .22LR and acquits itself very well indeed on an HMR.
As for centrefire moderators, in addition to offering a refurbishing service for the popular BR Tuote Reflex series. Richard has just begun making his own stainless over-barrel units to order; a strippable, stainless-steel, bushing-free, over-barrel unit for medium-calibre centrefires that adds just 4.5” beyond the muzzle - so watch this space for a review.
Custom Firearms and Gunsmithing
I asked Richard how much time it usually took him to do a standard “smithing” job, such as rebarrelling a rifle. This, he pointed out, depended on whether the customer already had his barrel, when he would expect to be able to complete the work within 4-6 weeks, or whether it had to be sourced from the States, in which case an extra 8-10 weeks wait was almost inevitable… and just in case I’ve got it into my head that this might be a bit slow, he adds that in the last six months he’s completed work on 120 rifles.
As regards chambering work, he tells me that at present he has good reamers for .17 Ackley Hornet, .17 Remington Fireball, .223, 6mm BR, .22-250, .338 Lapua magnum, and .44 magnum, whilst confirming that others can naturally be obtained for customers. Richard primarily uses Pacnor barrels, which he feels combine excellent performance with keen pricing: stainless, fluted, pre-fit Pacnor tubes come in at just £350 or so, whilst a complete re-chambering and re-barrelling job costs around £700 (all plus V.A.T. and depending on exchange rates). At the time of writing he also has barrels in stock for Ruger 77/22s, Sako Finnfires and Anschutz 64s, plus some Walther tubes in .17HM2 in both stainless and blacked finishes. It’s not all small-bores though, as he’s happy to work on rifles up to.50 BMG, including fluting existing barrels.
If you just want your muzzle threaded, he can screw-cut it, fit a thread protector and get it proofed in a couple of weeks for around £60, though if threading is all that is required there’s a good chance he can do it for you while you wait. He also showed me some of his work, including a thread-protector machined to blend in perfectly with the barrel, and a beautifully-made muzzle brake, explaining that the latter are available with the vents cut in a staggered, spiral or arched array as required. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s called upon to provide screw-cutting services for several of the biggest names in the UK gun trade.
On my last visit to his workshop, I found Richard in the process of assembling a CZ527 which he had re-barrelled with a heavy profile tube machined from a Lothar Walther blank and chambered in .17 Remington Fireball. But as I soon realised, the changes didn’t stop there, as Richard had also re-profiled both the shoulder of the bolt handle and the bottom metal, and had re-finished the whole lot with GunKote applied to a bead-blasted surface. Less visible tweaks included blueprinting and truing the action and tuning the trigger to give a super-crisp, creep-free release.
Also in the rack was a striking, stainless-steel, Howa-actioned bench-rest rifle, in a piece of rough-cut blue laminate from Richard’s Microfit Stocks (no connection) in the USA. As with the CZ, Richard had BP’d, trued and bedded the Howa’s action, but in this case, the barrel was a Pacnor pre-fit tube, already chambered in .300 WSSM, that had required only head-spacing and fitting, along with the addition of a thread for a Vase muzzle brake, which has been turned to give an invisible join between brake and barrel.
One of His Own
The other rifle Richard had to show me was his own Remington 700-actioned .260 Ackley Improved, which features a stainless action, BP’d, trued and bedded in an HS Precision synthetic stock, and fitted with the same company’s detachable magazine system, a Sako-style extractor from Pacific Tool and Gauge, SPR’s own interpretation of the Badger Ordnance tactical bolt handle, a CG Universal trigger from Jackson Rifles, and a 28” fluted Pacnor barrel, the latter threaded and fitted with an Ase Utra CQB moderator in a smart black GunKote finish. Underneath, a Harris BRS bipod and an Accushot monopod keep things steady, and the package is topped off with a Ken Farrell tactical rail and rings mounting a Leupold VX III, 8.5-25x50 with a Varmint Hunter’s reticle. I’m not sure the AI version offers worthwhile advantage over the standard case, but everything else about the rifle is characteristically spot-on.
Postscript: one of his customers obviously thought highly of the .260 too, since Richard tells me he’s just sold it… I guess the price was right! He added that he’s got a few more projects in the pipeline though – such as a custom action with a Remington footprint for use with .338 LM and other long-range rifle cartridges - but he says they may take a while, because customer’s guns always come first.
Finally, if you fancy an SPR moderator, remember to order via your local RFD if you can’t collect it in person, since even air rifle moderators can’t be sent out by post these days.