Sidelock Vs Boxlock

Dear Technoid,

Thanks for the input. The Garbis that I saw are model 51B boxlock. If you have a specific opinion about them, I would love to hear it. Do you have an opinion on sidelock vs boxlock?

Thanks again.


Dear Steve,

Nope. I have no specific opinion about the Garbi 51B boxlocks. I’ve never examined one. The Garbis I see marketed today in the US market have tended to be sidelocks and at the higher end of the Spanish price spectrum.

Sidelock vs boxlock? The Spanish use the Anson & Deeley boxlock and a modified six or eight pin Holland and Holland sidelock pattern sidelock almost exclusively. I think that the boxlock is less complicated and more reliable as a design. The sidelock is considered the “upper end” gun because it offers more room for engraving, is more traditional and requires slightly more work. Because of this, the sidelocks tend to be made in higher quality. The boxlocks tend to be the less expensive lower quality guns.

This difference has nothing to do with basic design. It has to do with man hours and marketing. A Piotti Piuma boxlock is as well made a gun as any around. The Wesley Richards drop lock is sort of a boxlock and is well made. Purdey made boxlocks. It’s just that the boxlock doesn’t have the prestige, so it is relegated to the lower cost, lower man-hours, part of the maker’s line. If a boxlock and a sidelock were both made to the same standard, with the same number of hours invested, the boxlock would be the superior gun. This is because it is a simpler gun to build, so the extra time could be invested to further improve quality.

I have a 1926 Webley & Scott 500 boxlock which balances and handles as well as any of the Purdeys or Hollands I have shot. Actually, it balances better than many of them. It’s also as strong or stronger. Perhaps stronger as it has less to break, especially in the stock inletting in the head. It doesn’t have the detail work as it was built to a far lower price than a sidelock best.

One of my other complaints about many sidelocks is that they are irritating to carry amidships in one hand. Most sidelocks of the English pattern have a sharp ridge along the middle of the receiver. The boxlocks are usually slightly rounded here and much nicer to carry. Many of the new Spanish sidelocks are offered in a “rounded action”. I find these much more comfortable to carry when I am carrying open in one hand. It’s a small thing, but it’s a consideration that you come up with when you actually use the gun, rather than just look at it.

All sorts of twaddle has been written about the potential trigger superiority of the sidelock due to its trigger geometry. Maybe so, but so often potential isn’t realized. A good boxlock can have a fine trigger and leaf springs too. I’ve also heard the argument that the sidelock is inherently better balanced in a game gun as it pulls slightly more weight rearward. Gimme a break. There are a gazillion ways to balance a gun. Using an overweight receiver doesn’t offer the most flexibility.

Remember too, the boxlock is the more modern design. The sidelock is really a hold over from the hammer gun days. The hammers are just moved inside, but the fragile “four horns” of the stock heading still remain. True, I’m kicking a dead horse, but look at the stock problems the LC Smiths had with cracking around their sidelocks. At the very least inletting a sidelock requires a great deal more time than heading up a boxlock. Time that could be spend elsewhere.

Does that mean I’d pick a basic Spanish Ugartechea boxlock over a Grant sidelock? Not on your life. Would I pick a Piotti Piuma boxlock over an AyA #2 sidelock? Youbetcha. In a heartbeat. Would I pick a $1500 AyA boxlock over a $3,500 AyA sidelock? No way. The same guy made the gun. He just spent half the time on the boxlock. If a boxlock and a sidelock were the same price from the same maker, I’d pick the boxlock under the assumption that it had more labor in the details to make up for the less complex design.

As to beauty, that’s in the eye of the guy writing the check. Though not exactly a boxlock, I’ll stack the smooth lines of a old Dickson or a newer A&S Famars round action against any sidelock Purdey or Holland every made. It’s always seemed incongruous to me that a typical best sidelock has smoothly rounded barrels, forend and stock, but flat plates and sharp edges on the receiver and plates. It just doesn’t seem to flow. All sorts of things like cutting points into the wood behind the sidelocks have been tried to make the transition more aesthetic. It’s up to you whether or not you think that works. Once you deal with boxlock’s awkward vertical juncture of receiver and stock head by a heavy rounding of the flow into the top tang (like the A&S), you have something of real beauty. It becomes the kind of gun you can run your hands over with closed eyes.

If it helps, on the durability side, basically all serious competition guns are boxlock O/Us. OK, the trigger plate/boxlock of the O/U is a different animal, but it’s the same idea. Yes, the sidelock SO Berettas are used in competition, but not in very large numbers. The boxlock has proven it’s durability to be superior in the O/U, so that’s why they use it when there’s money and prestige on the line. Look at what wins in the Big Leagues of Olympic competition. Show me the sidelocks.

Bottom line: There is no bottom line to this one. Buy the best you can afford. You’ll remember the quality of the gun long after you have forgotten what you paid for it. If you want Spanish, you have to be aware that the Spanish sidelocks of today and yesterday are of better quality than their boxlocks, even if the design isn’t inherently superior in practical terms. The sidelocks cost more too. It’s all a marketing decision and a question of where they put the man-hours.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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