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Sunday, December 21, 2014, 7:36 a.m.
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Daniel Casey

Modern-day gunsmith, knife maker has passion for tradition

By Lisa Burnett

This article was published January 12, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

daniel-casey-26-of-center-hill-made-every-part-of-the-40-caliber-rifle-he-holds-in-his-workshop-he-has-taken-lessons-from-renowned-gunsmith-and-bladesmith-hershel-house-in-woodbury-ky

Daniel Casey, 26, of Center Hill made every part of the .40-caliber rifle he holds in his workshop. He has taken lessons from renowned gunsmith and bladesmith Hershel House in Woodbury, Ky.

Daniel Casey is 26, but his line of work isn’t typical for someone his age. He’s a contemporary gunsmith who specializes in making longrifles and knives.

“I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now,” he said. “I started doing it when I was about 16, and I was able to go to Woodbury, Ky., and learn from a gentleman named Hershel House, and he’s been doing this for the last 50 years.”

Casey, who lives in the Center Hill community outside of Searcy, said House is responsible for bringing the longrifle culture back to the United States.

“Somebody gave me information about some blacksmithing videos of Hershel’s, and I started writing him letters and asking if he would mind teaching somebody,” Casey said. “After about four or five letters, he finally responded and let me come down.”

Casey was home-schooled, and his parents allowed him to go to Kentucky for several summers to study under House to learn the craft of knife making and gunsmithing.

“We built a rifle that first summer, and I’ve been stuck on it ever since,” Casey said. “I was actually more into knives at first, but then I progressed into building rifles as well.”

Although he works part time as a machinist, Casey spends most of his free time building rifles and knives for others, a craft to which he is devoted.

“It’s definitely my passion and what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

He uses a variety of materials in his projects.

“I use a lot of scrap metal to make my gun parts out of; and I buy a plank of wood, and in about a month and a half to two months, you can turn those raw materials into [a functional gun],” Casey said. “It just makes you feel good to see that and shoot [the gun], and kill a deer or squirrel with it.”

Right now, he’s working on a set of dueling pistols for a customer.

“Everything, when I get it, it starts out just as a chunk of wood,” he said. “I start by inletting the barrel first; then I inlet the lock, then just just start forming it. I draw a lot of lines and take a little off.”

He’s learned from his mistakes, he said.

“You’ve got to love doing it,” he said of his craft.

Casey said he sees a boost in his sales around Christmas and during the summer before hunting season starts.

“I like to stay busy, and I manage to stay busy enough, but I can’t mass produce,” he said. “I can’t have impulse buyers buy stuff from me. It’s a custom-order kind of deal.”

He said he goes to a show every year, where he showcases his products and what he can do, along with going to the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View to let others know about what he does.

“I’m getting my shop set up right now to where I can have four students,” he said.

Casey gives lessons in gunsmithing and knifesmithing to people who are interested, but most of the time, he’s younger than the people he teaches, he said.

“At 26 I’m one of the pups in the business. I go help teach seminars in Kentucky in the fall and spring, and I’m always the youngest one there,” he said. “All of the students will be in their 50s.”

With traditional crafts like gunsmithing and knifesmithing, his rifles tend to stick to a certain time period, Casey said.

“My time frame is typically the 1770s to the 1830s,” he said. “As far as knife making or sword making goes, I can typically make them from any time period; but my gun work, I pretty much stay between [1770 and 1830].”

Because his projects usually resemble something from centuries ago, Casey said, it is helpful to know the history of the era.

“It definitely helps to know what was used when and where. A lot of people want it to be correct because they’re re-enactors, and a lot of collectors of Revolutionary War or Civil War stuff will contact me,” he said. “People will have a knife they’ve seen in another collection, and they can’t get it, so they want me to make a copy of it for them.”

Aside from his reproduction and restoration work, most of Casey’s creations are original designs.

“I try to build originals myself, and I’ll take things I like from original guns from the time period a customer specifies, and then I’ll add my own touches into it,” he said. “I want to build originals, but I want them to be traditional and correct.”

His craft is traditional, and in producing an item, he tries not to steer far from the tools that were available in the time period his rifles represent.

“I try to stick with traditional stuff. Basically the only power tools that I have out here are a hand drill, a bench grinder and a band saw,” he said. “That’s about the only modern-day power tools I use. The rest are mainly just files and rasps, chisels and scrapers.”

It typically takes a long time to finish a project, and Casey said he can get bored with it sometimes.

“When I get sick of working on a rifle, I’ll go work on a knife,” he said. “It’s hard to make myself come out here and work sometimes, but if I’m getting close to getting finished with one, I almost can’t sleep until I get it finished.”

Ultimately, Casey said, he wants to build rifles as props for movies.

“The guy who taught me, his younger brother built the cane that was a pistol in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,” Casey said. “That’s how you can really make money for your skill.”

Casey’s contact information is available in the artisans section of the Contemporary Longrifle Association’s website, www.longrifle.com.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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