Craftsmenship is dead or dying! If that statement is true, David Kucer has’n gotten the word yet. He still takes hundreds of hours to handcraft replicas of the world’s finest firearms – in miniature. Displayed at many exhibitions and museums, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the Royal Armouries of H.M. at the Tower of London, the Polish immigrant’s precision rifles and pistols reflect an almost infinite patience and attention to detail. Because of Kucer and a handful of others, miniature firearms collecting is exploding in popularity. One factor drawing so many to collecting societies or just into a simple collecting of a few pieces is that here can be found the direct opposite of the mass-production, assembly-line, plasticized world in which we live. In Kucer’s work, nothing is shoddy, no corners are cut to cheapen the product of his skill.
Born in Poland in 1922 and emigrating to Canada in 1930, one of his first acquisitions at age 18 was a Colt Single Action Army. During World War II, Kucer volunteered his services to the Canadian Covernment and was promptly installed as the Armor Artificer of the Canadian Gun Works. During some four years of service he developed and modified many of the Naval gun systems. After the War, Kucer – his family’s fourth generation of sheet metal workers and machinists developed and supplied the city of Boston with magnetic ticket-turnstyles which involved some 50 highly complex and specialized operations.
Today, Kucer and his son Zavie are in the custom jewelry field, specializing in custom engraving, coats-of-arms, heraldic symbols and miniature pistols, located in 1421 MacKay st., Montreal, Canada.
Almost from the moment he acquired that first single action, David Kucer’s interest in producing miniature firearms grew. He says that his hobby is like a disease, and as he is not able to recover, he does his best to feel good with it. That’s why he has made it his main occupation, which, by the way, his descendants have inherited. We think many people would even envy a person who is so passionate about the things that he does and gets so much pleasure from his business.
He made his first steps in this way when he was twelve years old: the boy had seen tiny pistols in a show in New York and decided to try making something like that. Of course, his parents were skeptical about these experiments. But they had given him firstly, experience and understanding of the process. Although he had to interrupt his experiments with miniatures for years – the circumstances required his time and energy in other fields – he didn’t forget them and started again after returning from the army. The prototype of the first satisfying miniature pistol, made by David Kucer, was his personal M.1911 Colt, that has already been mentioned – the firearms which he had carried through World War II. Of course, he always dreamed to make a «younger brother».
Many attempts were made, but always the equipment was inadequate. He devoted nearly seven years to developing his own machines, the first one powered by a vacuum cleaner motor with a power varier, equipped with dental cutters. Since that time, he had modified his 12-inch table to utilize surplus aircraft engines and servo mechanisms.
The first step in producing a pistol is the composition of detailed drawing. The Kucer miniatures are in a ratio of 2 1⁄2“:1, or as if .45 caliber were to be reduced to .20.
All the miniature firearms are fabricated of 1020 SAE Carbon Steel, all parts heat treated and tempered in accordance with original manufacturers specifications. Kucer has found internal springs the most difficult to create, and frequently must make as many as a dozen before he considers one to be satisfactory. All work is done with a 2 1⁄2 power magnifying glass. To make finishing for metal surfaces special «emery sticks» are used – polishing is made predominantly by hands, without special wheels (the form of details which are processed don’t allow using machines). The master says that his process of making miniature pistols has not changed with years, excepting some little improvements. But his own attitude to his work became more and more critical. He learned how to save time on some routin operations and how to manage his work process in the best way. At the same time he became more skilled and experienced – and he started putting much more attention to details and to the quality. So making miniatures has remained a kind of art for David Kucer. Real craftsman can’t «stamp» his masterpieces: each of them is the part of his soul.
The special wooden boxes for his arms Kucer also makes himself, including even screws and locks. Such products can’t be bought: they have to be designed individually, with numerous sections for every piece. And in every case the number and the shape of these sections depend on the quantity and the size of elements that are included in every arms kit. So why outsource this work, if the master can perform it better than somebody else – as he already knows every item like the palm of his hand.
To date, Kucer has completed about 80 miniatures, each requiring from 100 to 400 hours, depending on the individual model. A Remington O U Double Derringer takes 100 hours to produce and costs approximately $3500. A Colt with 2 mm caliber, demanding some 200 hours, is priced at approximately $8000. True custom items, such as a Luger carbine complete with stock and ease, require appreciatively more man hours and are priced accordingly.
Collectors such as Robert Sutherland, Shelley Braverman and others count Kucer’s custom firearms in their collections.
Kucer does not consider himself alone in the field. He is one of a select few, however. His work is all-consuming, to the point that it occupies his time away from the shop. He teaches jewelry, metal working and engraving at the university level in Montreal; his hobbies include duplicating rare art carvings in miniature and a passion for 1933 Cord “motorcars”.
One needn’t know guns to appreciate Kucer’s skill, but knowing them makes one realize the beauty of his miniature firearms all the more.
Resource: “Millionaire” magazine, Mar/Apr 2006