Bowen Classic Arms corporation, located in the rolling countryside of East Tennessee in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, is one of America’s pre-eminent custom handgun making firms. Founded by Hamilton S. Bowen, the company is recognized the world over for the exceptional style and execution of its revolver work.
After completing undergraduate studies in History and English, Hamilton studied gunmaking at Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado. Fascinated by fine firearms of all sorts, he was drawn particularly to revolvers and returned to Tennessee to concentrate his energies upon them. Shortly thereafter in 1980 he commenced formal operations as Bowen Classic Arms. Or at least entered his apprenticeship to himself.
At the time, gunsmithing school curricula were heavily focused on riflemaking so Hamilton devoted several more years to study and experimentation, developing the designs, procedures, parts and tooling for the sophisticated revolvermaking that constitute the core offerings of the firm to this day. The cylinders, in particular, ranging from the simple factory replacement style components for Ruger 6-shot and Colt SA revolvers to the 5-shot linebored Ruger and the more complex 5-shot Redhawk double-action parts, are often at the heart of a great custom revolver.
Building on these basic elements, Bowen Classic Arms has pioneered the field of fine custom revolvers. The focus is on guns in the classic style but with a contemporary twist, combining modern materials and engineering with traditional elegance. There is no mistaking the influence of traditional arms and gunmaking on the firm’s work. Many of the shop’s best efforts revisit pre-war Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers, borrowing heavily from the elegant sights, barrel contours and finishes that distinguished these great guns. Nineteenth century riflemaking also offered up many touches such as damascus steel barrels and fittings and the lovely ovate ribbed barrels peculiar to single-shot rifles from the British Isles.
Back when working on revolvers was not cool, virtually none of the basic accessory and remedial parts so essential to efficient, quality work existed. It was every man for himself. Consequently, Bowen Classic Arms undertook the design and production of numerous dedicated revolver parts initially for in-house consumption and, once demand was evident, for consumers, as well. In addition to several semi-custom cylinders available to the trade, the firm offers not only some basic tuning parts such as endfloat bushings and oversize base pins but also a wide variety of front sights. Perhaps the most important and popular part is the Ruger pattern target-quality adjustable rear sight, the finest available for these modern revolvers. More recent innovations include the Rough Country heavy-duty rear sights so important to serious working guns.
Bowen Classic Arms Corporation has grown from its humble basement beginnings into a well-equipped shop. While some of the parts used in the course of the daily work are produced on CNC machinery by outside vendors, virtually all the serious machine work and pistolsmithing is done in-house on conventional machinery including horizontal and vertical mills, engine lathes, surface and cylindrical grinders, a jig-borer, welder, heat-treat furnace and honing machine.
Ancillary equipment consists of a variety of belt and bench grinders, bead blast cabinet, bluing set-up and an enormous selection of tooling fixtures and chambering reamers. Only barrel reboring, specialize finishing ( color hardening , carbona blue, etc.) and specialty machine work (EDM, tool grinding, etc.) are sent out which expedites delivery. But, at the end of the day, despite all the machinery, the skilled handwork is what gives the final product it unique style and quality. There is simply no substitute for old fashioned hand fitting and finishing.
Bowen Classic Arms is also proud to subscribe to the goods and services of some of the finest suppliers in the field. Our reboring is done exclusively by Jim Dubell of Delta Gun Shop. Chambering reamers come from Dave Manson of Manson Precision Tools. Douglas, Krieger and PAC-NOR supply our barrel stock. We use not only our own but Belt Mountain base pins. Most of our custom grips are by Roy Fishpaw, Paul Persinger and Dustin Linebaugh. Much of our test-fire ammo comes from Black Hills Ammunition Company. The list could go on. Each job we deliver is accompanied by not only owner/user information but also a list of sources for cast bullets, ammo, leatherwork and other related products and services we trust so that the owner of a Bowen Classic Arms revolver can enjoy it to the fullest.
Hamilton is active in the affairs of the custom gunmaking industry. He is a member of the American Pistolsmiths guild (a past president and current board member) and the American Custom Gunmakers Guild. Not only a National Rifle Association member, he is a regular guest instructor with the NRA Summer Schools program, lecturing at Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado and Montgomery State Junior College in Troy, North Carolina.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Bowen Classic Arms continues to expand and refine its revolver artistry. The Workshop section of the website feature a sampling of some of the more recent memorable efforts. We hope to add more examples in due course. The best is yet to come…