As a kid, Zack Buck was livin’ the dream. The local unit of the Old Bucktails, a Civil War re-enacting group, would dress him up in the correct clothing of a Union soldier, and he’d march in parades. He would dress up as an Indian like the other kids did, but he was interested in the Native American lore, which led to his desire to wear historically accurate garb. One of his Boy Scout leaders, Bill Bennett, was a re-enactor, and, when Zack was about fourteen, introduced him to re-enacting a la the fighters in the French and Indian War. When he wanted a real eighteenth-century-looking knife, a re-enactor with a forge took the kid under his wing, teaching him the process. Bill encouraged Zack in his pursuit of and interest in history, and Zack continued blacksmithing throughout high school. He began using a forge on the family farm near Lawrenceville to make knives.
Zack (above) is now a partner in Blak Forge Armoury. “Blak” is an archaic, old English spelling of black. When things progressed to include rearms, he added “Armoury” to the business name, also using the older spelling. Today, Bill Bennett, Zack’s former Scout leader, is one of the major partners in Blak Forge Armoury.
Zack chuckles, “Sounds funny now, but I majored in anthropology [in college]. And you know, I could steer that study to rearms history.” It turns out that his roommate was a Sullivan County country boy who also liked outdoor sports. The boys hunted and shed together throughout their college years. In the beginning, they dreamed of owning a sporting goods store. But the forge kept calling. They smithed and did minor gun repairs. At graduation, they had decided on blacksmithing. The roomie, Nelson Lehman, worked at the forge for a while, but his home territory called. He now is devoted to working with at-risk youth. Zack’s brother, Jake, is also a partner in the business but he is “on sabbatical” right now pursuing other ventures.
Zack confesses to having champagne tastes with a beer budget. He could always buy a well-used, maybe broken, gun and refinish it so it looked and worked like new.
“I knew I couldn’t afford really good guns, but I knew I could modify the ones I had and make them special,” he says. “I’ve always worked with my hands.”
From time to time, Bill and the Bucks work over the forge and anvil, manufacturing rare parts for ancient rearms. They have even built flintlock rifles from the ground up. Their latest project is a blunderbuss used by cavalry officers in the 1700s. The barrel is the easy part. Fitting the stock to the barrel and hammer assembly takes tedious hours of fine filing.
The principals in Blak Forge Armoury did time in the military. Bill looks like a first sergeant in civvies. He signed up during America’s bicentennial year and served his hitch. Zack served six years and was deployed to Kuwait.
Describing the business requires taking note of the taxing, ultra-fine work necessary. The guys admit they’re pretty generous with their time. They try to set a fifty-bucks-an-hour rate but usually cut that. They mostly do gun repair. Roles are somewhat defined. Bill does the quick turnaround repairs. Zack has the patience to take on tedious tasks. For the fine works they build from scratch, they buy the basics and, they confess, spend way too much time ling and polishing. They can fabricate parts if need be and they have done some heavy modi cations for sporting rifles. They do work from custom pistols to shotguns to antiques to rifles to flintlocks to finely machined AR semi rifles (that’s custom-made assault rifles). But they really like to do heirloom restorations. People bring in grandpa’s old shotgun and they fix it.
A visitor will note some used guns on a rack that are for sale. They look rough, but they don’t do work on ’em until somebody wants one. Then they customize the rearm specifically for that person. They feel there’s no sense working on them until they know what the customer wants. They buy, restore, or rebuild.
Find Blak Forge Armoury just south of Wellsboro in Morris. Why Morris? The owners put up a map of the area and placed pins where there were gunsmiths. Morris was the furthest from competition—and it also had an inexpensive building. Going south on Rt. 287, it’s on your right as you leave town. Coming north from English Center, it’s on your left.
Stop in and be amazed.