Richland flintlock firearms maker to teach class in Hampton
Folks make more than 18th-century-style firearms in craftsman David Hughes' Gunn Klass.
They form friendships, too, while learning about the arts and crafts once practiced on Western Pennsylvania's frontier.
“We have people that are into leather making and the scrimshawing on powder horns,” said longtime Gunn Klass member Dan Connolly of McCandless, retired chief of the Hampton Township Police Department.
“We get together and have dinners,” Connolly said. “We have women that are great seamstresses.”
Self-taught silversmith and gun maker David Hughes, 67, of Richland, an award-winning artisan, leads the Gunn Klass.
A former industrial arts teacher with a long, full beard, Hughes started the class 40 years ago through the Community College of Allegheny County. He annually offers fall and spring semesters of the ongoing, unstructured course.
The next Gunn Klass — open to adults, age 18 and older — will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at Hampton Middle School.
“We have truck drivers,” Hughes said. “We have retired teachers.”
Hughes' Gunn Klass offers men and women the opportunity to make a variety of flintlock firearms, such as a fowler, a long rifle, a pistol or a blunderbuss — the 18th-century equivalent of a sawed-off shotgun.
Some people, such as Connolly, enroll year after year.
“They make what they want. … I recommend starting with a kit,” said Hughes, recipient of the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award in Education from the Contemporary Longrifle Association, or CLA.
“I've made over 125 pieces (guns), and I'm just beginning to do it well,” he said.
Hughes prizes the engraved powder horn made by Mike Small of Berkeley County, W.Va., and Mark Thomas of Rockingham County, Va., that he received with this CLA award.
Thomas nominated Hughes for the honor.
“He freely shares his knowledge with everybody,” Thomas said. “Dave is a very humble individual.”
In Hughes' Gunn Klass, students can also learn a variety of 18th century crafts, such as silver engraving. Participants will receive individual instruction and meet Tuesday evenings for 15 weeks at Hampton Middle School. Tuition is $80 and includes a one-year membership to the Depreciation Lands Museum in Hampton.
“The cost of the class doesn't cover the cost of the parts,” Hughes said.
Kits to make an 18th century firearm, for example, cost $400 or to $500, Hughes said.
The Depreciation Lands Museum in Hampton sponsors the Gunn Klass in cooperation with Hampton School District.
“We don't use a lot of machines,” Hughes said. “It's mainly hand tools.”
A graduate of Shaler High School and the former California State College, Hughes taught industrial arts for 35 years in Hampton School District before he retired from that job in 2003,
Hughes' parents — the late Les and Armella Hughes, formerly of Shaler — first fostered his passion for 18th century firearms, crafts and history, especially the French & Indian War.
“I was constantly hearing stories of history. … We had a camp in Warren (County), in Russell, right on Conewango Creek,” he said. “We'd sit there fishing, and my grandpa and my grandma, and my mum and dad would be talking. ‘This is where the French came down … and claimed this land. There was just canoe, after canoe, after canoe of French militia.'
“We were always shooting and target shooting and talking about the old German gunsmiths,” said Hughes, who recently became a grandpa, too,
Hughes and his wife, Kathy, lost their son, David, in a 1999 automobile accident. But their daughter — Eileen Hughes Hoffnar and her husband, Forrest Hoffnar, of Montreal — have a new son, Quincy, born Aug. 8.
For more information on David Hughes' Gunn Klass, visit the “Upcoming Events” section of the Depreciation Lands Museum's online site at www.depreciationlandsmuseum.org. To register for the Gunn Klass, call 412-302-9590.
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.