Gunsmiths are losing traditional engravers

October 21, 2018

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Replicas of traditional guns used by tribal chiefs. These guns were engraved with unique designs, reflecting the preferences  of the owners.
Replicas of traditional guns used by tribal chiefs. These guns were engraved with unique designs, reflecting the preferences of the owners.

Up until the late 90s, metal engravers were earning their livelihoods in Darra Adam Khel decorating handmade guns, but the craft is now practiced by a dozen or so people who hammer burins into the barrels, butts and bodies of firearms.

A few of these craftsmen visited the capital recently for an exhibition on sport and hunting arms, where they were met with residents of the twin cities who wanted their names and other designs engraved on decorative knives being sold at the same event.

“I have worked on shotguns made for English companies,” said Fazal Mehmood from Umar Gul and Sons in Darra Adam Khel. “Now I have regular orders from the makers of decorative knives and swords in Wazirabad.”

Shahab is a fourth-generation craftsman who engraves designs on weapons.
Shahab is a fourth-generation craftsman who engraves designs on weapons.

Mr Mehmood said engraving orders from gun-makers were on the decline.

Engraving guns with various patterns, mostly birds, animals or floral designs, came to the gunsmiths of Darra Adam Khel after the 1st World War from arms manufactured in Europe. Once influential figures got their hands on decorated weapons – mainly shotguns and revolvers – others were quick to demand copies.

A pattern on the blade of a sword.
A pattern on the blade of a sword.

As more people were authorised to possess arms after independence, demand increased – mainly for shotguns. But the guns manufactured by licensed Pakistani companies were simple single or double barrel guns, and influential figures sought to have their guns decorated like those made in England, Spain and Germany.

Zeeshan Khan, a fourth generation engraver, also showed off his skills before residents of the capital. He said that contrary to the overall sentiments in the trade, he had continued as a professional engraver.

Fazal Mehmood learnt the craft from his elders who were gunsmiths in Darra Adamkhel. As the gun-making industry is on a decline, he now works for factories that manufacture decorative swords and daggers.
Fazal Mehmood learnt the craft from his elders who were gunsmiths in Darra Adamkhel. As the gun-making industry is on a decline, he now works for factories that manufacture decorative swords and daggers.

“My family has a small arms manufacturing business, and I am the only engraver for our guns,” he said, adding: “Whenever there is no engraving work I am responsible for maintaining the business accounts, so job security is not an issue for me.”

As the gunsmith business increased manifold in the 80s and 90s, the number of engravers rose with it. But now, with strict regulations on the movement and manufacturing of unlicensed arms, the business is in decline and gunsmiths are losing traditional engravers.

A hand-made engraved shotgun of the kind preferred by European buyers. — Photos by Ishaque Chaudhry
A hand-made engraved shotgun of the kind preferred by European buyers. — Photos by Ishaque Chaudhry

There are currently six to 10 people in Darra Adam Khel who are skilled engravers, and they are looking to move to regular jobs.

Daudsons Armoury on Kohat Road, Peshawar, is the largest employer of engravers. The company is fulfilling a large order of traditional double-barrel shotguns from the United States.

The head engraver at Daudson, Shahab, learned the skill from his father and grandfather. He acknowledges that the craft is dying.

“Our family is actually practicing engraving guns now. Zeeshan is my cousin, and some others too are in this trade. But people are leaving it due to the lack of opportunities,” he said.

Metallic surfaces are engraved by cutting grooves into them with a burin and a small hammer, following the design already traced or drawn onto the surface.

Mr Shahab said engraving is a slow and dull process, with no way to fix a mistake, which is why young people get bored easy and prefer other jobs.

Tahir Khattak, CEO of the Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company – which has encouraged gunsmiths to promote engraving for their product, added that hand engraving is “very expensive and time consuming, on the other hand cheap and handy laser guided machines are available for gunsmiths and cutlery makers of Wazirabad”.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2018