A Visit To The Ruger Factory

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

December 17th, 2008

 

 

 

Many years ago, when I was a sixteen-year-old kid, I bought my first handgun. It was a brand new Ruger Security-Six .357 magnum with a four inch barrel. I learned to shoot a handgun with that Ruger. I also learned to handload my own ammunition using that sixgun as a platform for my experimental ventures into the dark world of handloading. Back then, a fellow was looked upon with suspicion by most shooters if he rolled his own ammo, but working after school, if I didnít handload, I could certainly not afford to shoot very much .357 Magnum ammo. My Security-Six was built in 1976, and bore the roll mark ďMade In The 200th Year Of American LibertyĒ, as were all Ruger firearms that were produced that year. I paid the gun store $121, and they threw in one box of ammo, and another six bucks bought me a leather holster for the sixgun. I suppose that a manís first anything has more meaning to him, and that Security-Six sure meant a lot to me. It started me reading all that I could about firearms, and handguns in particular. Back then, there were several good writers who actually enjoyed shooting. My favorites were Bob Milek, Skeeter Skelton, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, and Hal Swiggett. There were others that I read, but these gentlemen penned the words that piqued my interest in handguns, which to this day has still not faded. I have been accused before, on several occasions, of liking every gun that I come across. While that is a bit of an exaggeration, I do like most guns. If it does that which it was designed to do, and functions well with reasonable accuracy, then I pretty much like it. Still, like most folks, I have my favorites. However, when reviewing a handgun for Gunblast.com, I try to keep my personal prejudices from entering into the review. I try to list the facts, and let the reader decide. However, since I started out on a Ruger, I do tend to like them. They are good, solid, firearms, built for shooters.

When reading of those handguns back in the 1970s and 80s, guns like the Blackhawks, Single-Sixes, Redhawks, and others, I always wanted to visit the factory where they were built. I read of the investment casting processes using the lost-wax method of casting, and that stuff really facilitated me. Finally, last week, I made the trip to New Hampshire for a visit with several of the marketing folks and engineers at Sturm, Ruger & Company. There were four other writers present, some I had met before and some that I had not, but we were all treated very well, and shown some of the new manufacturing techniques that Ruger has put into play at the New Hampshire factory.

Like most American manufacturing companies, Ruger operated in various sections, with folks who drilled the same hole in the same part, day after day, for his whole working life. Same thing with the man who machined a groove for a rear sight. He would have parts coming in, do his thing, and send it on. With this method, there are boxes of parts all over the factory, but the one part needed to assemble a gun might be two months away from production. Ruger has now transformed their operations into manufacturing cells, where, in one given section of the factory, all the parts for a certain firearm are built, and then assembled just a few feet away. With this method and modern CNC machinery, Ruger can go from design to production much faster. I am sure that many of you have noticed that just about every major gun wholesaler has their own version of, for example, the 10/22 rifle. Using the cell manufacturing system, Ruger is able to run small batch special orders quickly and efficiently. Instead of taking a year or more to get a new product or variation in production, it now takes a couple of weeks, once the design is perfected. No longer are there boxes of parts that are no longer needed, but there are boxes of just the right number and style of parts to build the guns that are heading for shipping. This new system also allows for mistakes to show up quickly, instead of several months down the road, after thousands of the parts have been machined that are good for nothing but scrap. The new system allows a mistake to show up within a day or so, and the corrective action can be taken without holding up production for several months.

Anyway, I was delighted to visit the factory, as I always am when I get to see quality guns being built. I had the opportunity to see how the various parts move from station to station within the cell, and shown how the workers have a great deal of input into the design of the cell itself. I saw a couple of racks of the new 50th Anniversary Super Blackhawk frames and barrels ready for assembly, and they will start shipping to distributors next month. I was happy to see that the Anniversary Supers are getting the high-polish finish like the Supers of years ago. Look for a review of the Anniversary Super Blackhawk on Gunblast soon. I saw other very interesting things like the assembly stations for the Number 1 and Hawkeye rifles, as well as the 10/22 cells where Ruger can turn out 1000 rifles per day! Not long ago, Ruger changed from an aluminum trigger housing on the 10/22 to an injected polymer unit. I didnít care for the change myself, but it was hard to see much difference, so I didnít scream about it. After seeing both the aluminum and polymer trigger housings side-by-side, it is clear to see that the new polymer housing is a more consistent product, which does not suffer the problems of tolerance stacking that the older machined part did. With the polymer unit, Ruger engineers told me that they can control the trigger pull much better than before, and that all 10/22s now leave the factory with a much better trigger pull than in years past.

I had thought, as had many others, that the .480 Super Redhawk was a thing of the past, but I saw a couple of racks of them in assembly. Later, while we were at the indoor range, a technician wheeled in a cart of about twenty or so of the six-shot .480 Super Redhawks for function and accuracy testing, and I got to help with that a bit as well.

The trip to New Hampshire was a good one, despite the ice storm, no power or water at the hotel for several hours, and the cold temperatures. I got to see some things that are very interesting to me; the way a firearm comes together in a modern factory. The food was great, and the hospitality of the Ruger folks was outstanding. Look for some new products and variations for the coming year from Ruger, like the long-awaited Flattop Blackhawk .44 Special, the Anniversary Super, and the return of the six-shot .480 Super Redhawk, at least for a while. There are a couple of new chamberings for the Number 1 rifle, a .480 Ruger/.475 Linebaugh, and a .460 S&W Magnum. Ruger also has a pair of very interesting firearms in the works which we shall see in 2009. For now, I am sworn to secrecy, but do not miss our daily SHOT Show updates starting on January 14, 2009.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

Jeff Quinn

 

50th Anniversary Super Blackhawks in assembly.

 

 

Bisley hammers.

 

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

 

 

New polymer 10/22 trigger housing.

 

 

Mini-14 receiver as-cast (top) and after finish machining (bottom).

 

 

 

 

Mini-14 barreled receivers.

 

 

Completed rifles ready for testing.

 

 

A rack of .480 Super Redhawks ready for test-firing.

 

 

Guns waiting for test-firing.

 

 

 

 

Michael Bane, doing what he does best.