Answer- Boxlock or Sidelock
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Dear Cal:

Thank you for your column on double rifles. It is about time! I most definitely will purchase a double in the near future. The caliber I can decide on but I can’t make up my mind on the two different lock styles--boxlock or sidelock. Can you enlighten me, please?

Reubin Williams




Thanks for the opportunity to reply. Without getting into the exact details of the lock work of a double rifle, let’s keep it simple and only concentrate on the boxlock and sidelock. There are many sub divisions of these but all do approximately the same thing--transfer a blow to the firing pin to ignite the powder charge.


The most popular is the boxlock and this is due to its lower cost as it takes less man hours to produce one. The boxlock is a the action for a working rifle. Granted, one can be had with some impressive engraving and other embellishments (such as carved fences) but most of the boxlocks are rather plain working rifles void of any extras. Next to the lower cost, another advantage is the boxlock is more water and dust resistant.  The downfall to this is that it takes much more to expose the lock work to repair and/ or clean a boxlock. This was an important consideration in the days of old when a hunter may be in the bush for months or years at a time and the nearest gunsmith was a continent away. Last of all, I have read that the boxlock is a weaker design due to the amount of metal that has to be cut away from the action body to fit the lock works.


The sidelock, with its side plates, is the canvas that engravers can really show off their skills. The finest double rifles (and the most expensive) are sidelocks--the Royal model from Holland and Holland being the pinnacle of achievement. It is a rare gem to see a sidelock that is a plain working rifle. The action is stronger as the lock work is on the side plates. And, the side plates can be removed quite easily for cleaning, examination, and repair. In fact, many sidelocks went to the field with extra locks in case of a mechanical failure. The down side is the extra cost associated with the sidelock and it is said that water and dust can make their way in to the lock work.


Alexander Gray’s book, the Hammerless Double Rifle is an excellent source to read about what goes into the construction of a double rifle. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. In it you can learn of all the types of actions, regulating, buying, care, etc... As the title suggests the book does not cover the hammer guns. I would hope Mr. Gray would make a second edition with the inclusion of the hammer doubles...both box lock and side lock.


Anyway, I hope this helps. Good luck in your choice. No matter what you buy, if it is English or Scottish you can’t go wrong. It may just come down to the size of one’s wallet.


Good shooting.