The Kolar Gun by Nick Sisley
When most skeet shooters think of Kolar the company’s sub-gauge skeet tubes no doubt immediately come to mind. And no wonder. Kolar Tubes have gained an enviable reputation over the years. But these days the Kolar name is being associated more and more with their new shotgun. During the 1980s, despite sales of Kolar Tubes singing right along, Don Mainland (he bought Kolar in 1980) saw that there were only so many skeet shooters and that they would only be buying so many skeet tube sets. He saw the need back then for expanding this business into other areas.
Interestingly, Mainland has been in the precision machining business most all of his adult life. Of course, he’s in many facets of this business where near perfect isn’t nearly good enough. For example, one or more of his companies has made different parts for NASA’s Space Shuttle, plus DC10s, 747s 777s, F-111s, F-15s, F-16s, the B-1 Bomber, Blackhawk Helicopter, nuclear submarines and more.
What Don ultimately decided to do was create a competition shotgun—plus make Kolar into a company that catered to all shotgunner’s needs—but especially hard-core competition shotgunners. Like the sale potential (in numbers) of Kolar Tubes, Don knew that sales of a Kolar Gun would never match that of say a Remington 1100. But he wasn’t interested in that aspect of the market. By now most of you have heard of the Kolar Gun, but this is the story behind this unique over and under, as well as the story of how Kolar has become sort of a one-stop-shopping place for scattergunners, especially those of the skeet persuasion.
Enter John Ramagli. John had taken an early retirement from IBM Corporation some years ago. It didn’t take long before thumb twiddling became too boring, so "Rags" was looking for something challenging to take up the rest of his life. Without too much adieu he became a partner in Kolar with Don Mainland. About this time the Kolar Gun had been in the planning stages for many, many months. There was probably even a prototype. While Ramagli puts in lots of long hours at the company’s Racine, Wisconsin plant, John has also become sort of the "mouth piece" of Kolar because he travels extensively to skeet, sporting clays and trap shoots, especially the big ones, but Rags makes a number of appearances at the not-so-big shoots, which is important, too.
So now I’ve set the stage for you, but before we look back and get into the nitty gritty of what makes the Kolar Gun tick, let’s come to the end—and talk a bit about the end result of this 12 gauge over and under. Couple of interesting things to consider. First off, this is the first American-made dead-serious competition shotgun—perhaps ever. Remington’s models 32 and 3200s were used by plenty of competitors, but I think even Remington brass would agree that these models weren’t aimed "solely" at competition shooters. Like say a Krieghoff, Perazzi, Beretta, though these are not American made. The current Ruger Red label is American-made, but, again, it’s still not a shotgun aimed specifically at serious competition. Same with Remington’s current Peerless.
Second big, important thing. Various modern machinery is run by computers, nothing earth shattering about that. They’re normally CNC machines. Like computers themselves, every year, nay every month, there’s new innovation in these type machines, enabling them to accomplish tasks that were unheard of even a decade ago. But the earth-shattering fact about the Kolar Gun is that it is the first one designed with this ultra-modern CNC type machinery in mind. Of course, many or most gun companies today rely on CNC machinery for making numerous parts, maybe even the overriding majority of the parts that go into their gun. But there’s a difference between making parts of a gun on such machinery—compared to designing every part in the gun—from scratch—with CNC high-tech technology in mind. From what I learned on a recent trip to Kolar’s Racine factory, this is an extremely important aspect of the Kolar Gun.
Thirdly, the Kolar Gun is designed to be fixed very easily, very inexpensively, very quickly. Of course, the gun is also designed with great durability and reliability, but when most failures occur they can be remedied quickly and without a huge outlay of cash. We’ll get into that aspect of the Kolar Gun shortly.
I’ve heard it said that the Kolar Gun is a combination of a Krieghoff and a Perazzi. But this isn’t true. The Kolar Gun was designed on its own merits, right from the ground up. Admittedly, this new American-made marvel does have some of the best characteristics of both. There’s great merit in separated barrels, a la the K-32 and K-80, that have hangers of differing sizes that can be replaced to change point of impact. The Perazzi’s bifurcated lug system can make for a strong lock up. Kolar incorporated bifurcated lugs but with a design that makes it easy to tighten the action up for very few dollars expended and literally only minutes of work. Once you look closely at the Kolar Gun, pick it up to examine it through your bifocals, get the feel of it swinging and mounting, you’ll agree that this is no step child.
The receiver is machined from a solid bar of 4140 chrome-moly steel. There are no underlocking lugs, so the result is a low-profile receiver that allows a more direct line up of the barrels between the shooter’s two hands. Two square-shaped lugs extend from the face of the receiver—to engage two matching recesses near the upper mid-point of the monobloc. These lugs resist those tremendous forces that are "upward" in moment upon firing. The barrels pivot on trunnions on each side of the receiver. Trunnions are common on most all over and unders. In addition to providing a pivot point for the barrels, trunnions also resist those "forward" moments of force that try to open the gun upon firing. Also, there’s a bifurcated lug (one on each side of the receiver) with matching recesses on each side of the monobloc. The bifurcated lugs provide a second and very significant additional lock up. Further, on the side of the monobloc there’s a small insert, circular in appearance, but not quite a complete circle. This part can be adjusted or replaced at very, very little cost if you ever shoot the action a bit loose, say over hundreds of thousands of rounds. It’s as easy to remove as unscrewing the retainer with a hex-head wrench. While the tiny part won’t cost you pennies, replacement of that minuscule part is hardly anything at all. The bifurcated lugs also prevent those "forward" moments of force from opening the gun upon firing. The result is a very strong action.
Because the lugs that extend forward from the receiver upon closing are positioned so high it means the opening lever extension (called the bolt) can be much shorter—than if those lugs were positioned near the bottom of the receiver. The shorter opening lever bolt portion (the part of that opening lever that extends down into the receiver) means not only a stronger opening lever, one less likely to break, it also means that part of the opening lever does not have to have holes drilled into to it to access the firing pin holes, holes in the opening lever which also compromise its overall strength. Further, Kolar has designed a cloverleaf-shaped part in their opening lever (it’s down inside so you can’t see it), so that it will break or wear before the opening lever itself. Replacement cost? Again, very, very little, and a gunsmith can accomplish this task in minutes.
The trigger is easily removable, mechanical, selectable, and you can slide it forward and backward for perfect individual positioning. Note the straight, strong-looking trigger coil springs. Sears are not only heat treated but also titanium nirtided for even added hardness. By changing only two parts this standard trigger can be converted to release-pull or release- release. Barrel selector is behind the sliding trigger.
The choices in Kolar Guns is so long that I recommend you ask for a company catalog and their stock dimension sheet. Check the address and phone number at the end of this feature. In Skeet version you can get 28 or 30-inch barrels, with or without "carrier" barrels, flat or stepped rib, Schnabel, Undersized or Oversized forearms, numerous grades (depending upon engraving and precious metal used) blue or nickeled. Barrel bores are .740 standard (that’s about .010 overbored), but on special order .750 barrels can be had, plus others. Typically, a "carrier" barrel is bored way out—to .765, .780 or whatever it takes to make the exact comparable weight with the standard barrel. Of course, these carrier barrels can only be used with Kolar Tubes in place, 20, 28 and .410. Kolar then supplies a separate barrel for 12 gauge shooting that will weight "exactly" what the carrier barrels weigh with Kolar Tubes in place. There are also Sporting Clay and Trap versions of the Kolar Gun, including "Un-Singles" in the trap renditions.
If the fore-end ever tends to loosen an adjusting shoe makes tightening easy, quick and cheap. The Main Spring Keeper in the trigger can be quickly and easily changed for precise inertia system timing. There are five different sizes of mid-barrel hangers, six different-size muzzle hangers, providing and endless array of point-of-impact change possibilities. Most all gun parts from other manufacturers which have a radius (and there are many of them) must be ground by hand. This is tedious, time consuming, expensive and, in reality, not that precise. All Kolar Gun contours are ground by CNC machine, as Kolar has developed the technology and software for this. This and other high tech development not only makes for precision fit but also permits total part interchangeability. Every barrel is proofed, magnafluxed and patterned. Before bluing or nickel plating takes place metal surfaces are bombarded with glass beads. The result to my eye is a most pleasing burnished effect.
But no story about Kolar would be complete without talking at least a little about their sub-gauge skeet tubes. The manufacturing process has been continually modernized over the years. Today once a raw tube goes into the CNC machine it’s never touched again. All machining is accomplished in repeated computer-generated processes, including the threading of both ends of these tubes. Titanium chambers are threaded on to the breech end, the unique Kolar choke system to the other. After final processing Kolar tubes are then hard coated, not just anodized, to a Rockwell of 62, which is a more expensive procedure. Aluminum screw-in chokes are hard coated, too. It’s aluminum that’s used for the chokes in the Kolarlite Tubes, while stainless steel is used in the Standard Kolar Tubes. It’s thus safe to use steel shot with current Kolar Tubes, so Don Mainland was looking well into the future when he made this "hard-coat" change.
There are lots of other services available now at Kolar. All stock work can now be done in house. This means not only stock work on all the current Kolar Guns, of which there are many, many options, but stock work on any shotgun you have. Dennis Zeitz is the in-house engraver, and some of his work that I saw was exceptional. Check accompanying photographs. Bob Wessner is the in-house gunsmith. He’s Krieghoff trained, does all the trigger conversion work on inertia triggers, shotguns that come in for a set of Kolar Tubes. But this is only one of Bob’s many fields of gunsmithing expertise.
Doug Breaker does the work of fitting shotgun stocks to individuals, so it’s now possible to walk into the Racine facility and have that done. Your own gun stock can be fitted to you perfectly, or you can be fitted up by Doug for one of the new Kolar Guns. I had Doug formally fit me up so I could get a better feel for his how-to, and to be better able to tell you about it. He starts off by having you mount the gun over and over. If you’re doing some aspect of this improperly Breaker will make suggested changes in that how-to, all in an effort to attain that perfect stock fit. Naturally, he wants to see where your pupil is in relation to the shotgun’s rib, but he’s looking for a lot more, too.
He wants you to mount with the top of the recoil pad at the same spot time after time, obviously important to repeating point of impact over and over. He wants you to minimize lowering the head to the stock. Doing so makes it easier to raise the head, a no-no concerning repeatable point of impact hits. He’ll push on you or the gun at various spots to determine whether you’re in good balance or not. He likes to get your feet and body correctly positioned for the shot you’re visualizing. He does all this and more to hopefully fit you to the gun in the best possible manner. Near the end he’ll have you look at the ceiling (not straight up), then raise the gun to your shoulder, finally raise the gun up to your face. Only when you’re getting the gun mounted correctly (obviously, there’s more involved here than meets the untrained eye) does he start working on stock fit. My point is that a gun fit at Kolar is just as thorough as you would expect to find it at say Holland & Holland or Purdey in England.
Before final finishing and checkering on a Kolar Gun, or even your own, Doug Breaker might suggest that you take the gun home and shoot it for a few weeks. Then you’ll bring it back for yet another fitting session before the final steps of stock work take place. Maybe before and after final finishing Doug will have you shoot the gun at their indoor patterning facility to make doubly certain everything is perfect.
Speaking of patterning, John Ramagli showed me how they typically do it at the Kolar indoor range. The patterning paper is on a roll and a wheeled cart. The cart can be positioned at any desired distance up to 50+ yards. Firing is done with the forearm firmly on a benchrest. Normally, Rags wants to fire two shots into each paper. Recorded are the distance, gauge, load, choke. A 30-inch Plexiglass circle is placed around the center of the pattern. The paper is huge, maybe 50-inches wide or more. John then simply counts the pellets that missed the 30-inch circle, subtracts from the total number of pellets in the loads he fired—to attain the total number of pellet hits, which are recorded on the paper, too. Further, he measures off the pellet-breaking coverage—top to bottom, side to side, and both ways diagonally, then marks this core number (a width) on the paper. Pattern paper can be saved for future reference.
The new Kolar Gun is already making its impact in competitive circles. There’s little doubt it will continue to do so in coming years. There’s so much innovation built into it, this today’s only American-made over and under aimed specifically at the competition market. Further, Kolar has updated all their in-house shotgunning services. While once thought of as almost solely for Kolar Sub-Gauge Tubes, this company has expanded to encompass all phases of shotgun work.
The ongoing saga of the gun purchased in Boone and shot around the Country!
1 post • Page 1 of 1