Making a Gardner Gun

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The Gardner Gun is one of an entire generation of all-but-forgotten* manually operated proto-machine guns. GunLab has begun a series of posts documenting the effort of one Papa Joe (who receives a regular mention there) to reconstruct a Gardner Gun from scratch. Since no blueprints are available, he had to track down an existing Gardner and take precise measurements of every dimension of every part, create his own (electronic) prints, and then construct each piece himself. As if that wasn’t enough, Papa Joe decided that his Gardner would be scaled down and chambered for .22 LR!

The Gardner Gun very much resembles a manually operated machine gun in operation. The gun has a reciprocating breech block with a familiar-looking extractor, ejector, and firing pin, all of which are actuated via a cam track acted upon by the crank; a very ingenious design from the time when black powder and immature metallic cartridge technology made true self-powered machine guns extremely problematic to design. Gardners often had multiple barrels; up to five.

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The Gardner mechanism. Image source: ibiblio.org.

With the advent of the Maxim, the Gardners, Nordenfeldts, Gatlings, and other designs became obsolete almost overnight. They are, however, a very cool piece of late 19th century history that isn’t given nearly enough attention!

For those wanting to learn more, Firearms History, Technology & Development has a very good post on the Gardner Gun to go along with GunLab’s series.

*With the exception of the Gatling, of course.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

    This gun would be California-legal, being a crank-fired gun similar to a Gatling (also CA-legal).

    I just think that is a hilarious fact for people to know 🙂

  • Don Ward

    Life on those Victorian and Edwardian estates must have been rife with the threat of violence if you needed a Gatling gun to fight off roving gangs of gardners…

  • Gregory Markle

    I don’t know if Joe Lozen is still makes his .22 Magnum Gardner Guns anymore but he would be a great resource for info on the system ( http://www.gardnerguns.com ) and Curt Wolf at US Armament ( http://www.usarmamentcorp.com ) built a number of Gardners in .45-70 that I saw early versions of at his shop and he showed at SHOT or NRA (can’t remember which) a few years back before Colt started buying the Bulldog Gatlings from him but the project seems to be on the back burner right now. Nice to see someone taking more active interest in this interesting mechanism.

  • noob

    hmm. if you were strong enough to turn the crank, could you connect the drive shafts of five or ten guns together in a battery, and then have a chain go off the end of the last gun to another five guns in a second battery mounted below?

    and have the whole assembly still be california legal?

    • Ken

      Exercise bike.

  • Komrad

    Now, .22 LR is all fine and dandy, but I’d like to see something mid way between .45-70 and .22 LR.
    Maybe .38 Special would be a viable candidate, being rimmed and relatively inexpensive.

    • Tassiebush

      Agreed Konrad a .38 special firing one would be cool! pretty sure that somewhere I read that the Gardner was made in .303 at some late stage. If that’s correct it could possibly be made in a center fire cheapie like 7.62×39 or 5.45×39 and styled after a later model.

      • Tassiebush

        I should have followed the links before commenting. There were definitely .303 British and 6.5 Dutch Gardner guns.

  • Dan

    Agreed

  • Tassiebush

    Thankyou for this great article! I always enjoy reading about manual machine guns. Especially the Gardner but also the Nordenfelt, both of which seem to fall under the shadow of the Gatling. I would love to see someone build a light machine gun configuration version of either in anything from .22lr or any good plinking round with buttstock and bipod although I don’t think either configuration ever existed.

  • Cymond

    Back then, the slugs were a lot slower, but bigger, heavier, and more toxic if you were unfortunate enough to ingest any of their residue.

  • gunslinger

    manually operated machine gun?

    is that like a magazine fed muzzle loader? 🙂