Gun's Magazine

September 1989
One Dressel Gun
 Is Not Enough
The Ultimate Reward  
for a Gunmaker is When the
Customer Comes Back for More.
Paul Dressel's Clients Do.


By Stuart Williams
Photos By Mustafa Bilal


A Belgian Francotte Model 24-E 1937 vintage 12 gauge,

 with 28 lines-per-inch checkering by Paul Dressel.


Paul Dressel, Jr. is a gunmaker who turned a necessity into a virture. Being left-handed, he was frustrated as a young man at not being able to buy a left-handed rifle. In those days, gun manufacturers wrote off left handers as a tiny, insignificant minority.  
     Paul found his only option was to get a rifle custom built, but this was something he could not afford. So in 1963, he decided to build his own rifle.
     He was 21 at the time and although he had been tinkering with guns since he was 16, he had never undertaken a complete rifle. Paul converted a Remington Model 721 to operate left-handed-no small feat, especially for a young gun tinkerer with no formal instruction and very limited tools.
     The rifle was such a success that it attracted the attention of his friends, who soon gave him regular gunsmithing jobs to do. He did this work merely for the cost of the materials.  
A close-up of the excellent grip cap work.
     At the same time Paul avidly studied photos of custom rifles in the gun magazines and in Gun Digest, and he began to carefully study custom rifles at gun shows. This was the entire extent of Paul’s instruction in custom gunmaking.
     Some 20 years after his first custom rifle project, Paul decided to become a full-time professional gunmaker. The year was 1981. By 1983 he got really serious and bought a Don Allen stock-carving machine. Paul has kept that machine busy ever since, making stocks and doing semi-inletting for other stockmakers.
     In 1984 Paul became a charter member of the American Custom Gunmakers Guild, shortly after the group’s founding. His wife, Sharon Farmer-Dressel, is also a member of the Guild.
     Although by necessity, most of his work is on bolt-action rifles, Paul does equally masterful work on single-shot rifles and high-grade double barrel shotguns. Recently he restocked a fine Purdey over-under and he has also restocked several Westley Richards shotguns. Paul is also known for upgrading and reconditioning of fine American doubles.  


Stan McFarland did the bolt handle checkering and
Bruce Nettestad the metal work on this Pre-1964 Model 70.


     Currently, Paul is stocking a Krieghoff four-barrel skeet set with some outstanding California English walnut. The receiver has been lavishly engraved by the master engraver Bryan Bridges. This gun is being built on speculation and will be offered for sale when the work is completed.
     Dressel has gained a special reputation for the superb restocking of Ruger Number One rifles. Early on he found the Number One to be very appealing because it is an ambidextrous rifle. After turning out a number of beautifully restocked Number One’s, he received his due recognition by being asked to stock several of the Ruger 21 North American series.
     This is to be a series of 21 Number Ones, each of which is to be stocked by a master stockmaker and engraved by a master Austrian engraver Franz Marktl, with each rifle commemorating a different North American big game animal. Paul has stocked three of these to date.
     One of Paul’s pioneering efforts in the making of left-handed guns was the conversion of the Kimber model 82.22 rifle. Well before Kimber started offering the left-handed model 82 on a regular production basis, Paul teamed up with master metalsmith Pete Grisel to build these nifty little conversions. They did quite a nice business until the people at the factory started making the left-hand models on a regular production basis.


This Dakota 76 is stocked in beautiful Bastogne walnut and features a very
distinctive broken ribbon-point pattern. The close-ups below show the
fine detail Dressel's touch on the 24 line-per-inch checkering work.


     Paul currently does a limited amount of metal work. He plans to purchase a milling machine, a lathe and a surface grinder in the near future. Then he will be able to do everything in his own shop and like the premier gunmakers, control the whole job.
Although Paul presently farms out most of his metal work to Stan McFarland and Conrad Garrega, he does the design work himself and influences the metalsmiths to a great degree.
     In the highly competitive stockmaking trade where there are always many talented young craftsmen on the way up, Paul Dressel knows how to important it is to set his stock apart from others. The first thing the educated eye notices about a Dressel stock is the very open grip. In fact, seen only from the grip to the butt, one of Paul’s stocks looks very much like a shotgun stock.
     There is a reverse flute at the comb, or no flute at all. Additionally, the bottom line of the stock is considerably higher than one usually sees on other stocks, usually by about 3/8ths of an inch. This may not seem like much but its effect is to give Paul’s stocks a very trim silhouette. Above all else, Paul wants to avoid the "canoe paddle" look of some gun stocks.
A Douglas-barreled 7x57 Peruvian Mauser stocked by Dressel in Turkish walnut.
The blind guard, trigger and safety metalwork is by Grisel.


     One corollary of Dressel’s trim lines is lightweight. Some of his bolt-action rifles are as light and svelte as a fairy’s wand- ideal for mountain hunting but at the same time rugged, durable and dependable.
     Paul’s emphasis on lightness will immediately raise the inevitable question: "How do they shoot?"
     Paul’s answer is that he builds hunting rifles, not benchrest or varmint rifles. He thinks a hunter should not realistically expect better than a 1 ½ inch three-shot group at 100 yards. Paul insists that consistency of impact is much more important for a big game hunter than miniscule groups.
     To obtain such consistency, Paul is very careful to select a dry blank with proper grain flow, to inlet and bed it precisely, and to make the action mortise and barrel channel absolutely weatherproof.
This detail shot of a skeleton butt plate on a handsome Sako sporter by
Dressel shows off a beautiful example of marblecake California walnut.


     Paul is a stickler for precise fit of stock and pointability of the gun. In fact, he says that a properly stocked rifle must have the same pointability as a fine English game gun. The rifle should come up like a shotgun and point where you look.
     He is of the opinion – gained from many years of big game hunting in Washington State and British Columbia – that most game is shot offhand. He wants to give his clients that extra half-second advantage in getting on the game.
     As mentioned earlier, Paul uses a stock-carving machine and builds a pattern for every gun he makes. That way, he is able to make any necessary modifications and changes on the pattern rather than directly on the expensive piece of walnut.
     When the pattern is completes he will put the barreled action in it and send it to the customer for approval. He encourages his customer to take the gun out and shoot it and to critique the dimensions very carefully.
A Grisel grip cap engraved by Martin
Butler with metal finish by Roger Kehr.


     In effect, Paul is using the old time-proven system of the try-gun, which the English gunmakers have used successfully for decades. Paul is furthermore, building his own try-gun for fitting rifle stocks. It will incorporate adjustments for cast-off, cast-on, length of pull, down pitch and drop at the heel and comb. This method is also the final argument, Paul says against those who chop stocks directly out of the blank. He says he built 60 stocks that way before seeing the light.
     Paul has built a strong following among left-handed shooters who believe they get a better stock fit than they can from a right-handed gunmaker. This is not to say however, that Paul cannot secure an excellent fit for right-handed shooters. His right handed customers are just as loyal.
     Paul likes to have a hand in the designing of the gun but readily admits that it is the customer who designs the gun. Nonetheless, if an inexperienced or ill-informed customer wants a gun that violates the basic principles of good design, he will be gently persuaded to change his mind. In the course of making a gun, Paul enjoys getting to know his customer. He likes to make a friend every time he builds a gun and furthermore says he builds each gun as if he were going to keep it.
     Paul has undertaken one of the most difficult and impressive projects ever taken on by an American gunmaker. This is the creation of a cased and nearly matched pair of full length stocked short-action rifles. I say nearly matched because one rifle is scaled down to be precisely 10% smaller than the other in all dimensions.


 One of the few rifles ever made in the Ruger 21 North American Series, this
was built to honor the mountain lion. Engraving was done by Franz Marktl.


     The larger rifle is chambered for the .358 Winchester and the smaller for the .223 Remington. The .358 is build around a Mauser action and the smaller rifle around a Kimber 84 that has been so thoroughly altered that it cannot, except in length, be distinguished from the Mauser.
     The Mannilcher stocks are made of extra-fancy Oregon English walnut and checkered 30 and 32 lines per inch, respectively. Bruce Nettestad did the barrel contouring and built the quarter rib and iron sights on the .358. Stan McFarland made the grip cap, butt plate and bolt handle.
     This rifle was elegantly engraved by Martin Butler, a young émigré Englishman who lives in Canada. On the .223, McFarland did all the metal work: quarter rib, sights, trigger, safety, bottom metal, forend tip, bolt handle, grip cap and butt plate. Eight craftsmen have been involved in the making of this very exceptional pair of rifles so far.
     The .223 is still in the white, but Paul expects to have it completed in time for the 1990 American Custom Gunmaker's Guild Show.
     Incidentally at the 1989 show, Paul received an offer of $50,000 for the pair of rifles. The rifles however, are not Paul’s to sell; they belong to his client.
     The rifles of Paul Dressel have seen service throughout the western U.S. and Canada, Alaska, and Africa. They have provided such flawless service and enduring satisfaction that the owners have, to a man, always returned to order another gun. Ultimately, that is the best recommendation for a gun-maker.