The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Xu Yan

Added to museum: 6/20/06

A Miniature Arms Maker in the People’s Republic of China

Xu Yan. (Click on any photo on this page to view a larger image.)

Introduction

Shelley Xu sent an introduction letter regarding her father, Xu Yan (family name given first as is the Chinese tradition). He is a craftsman in Tianjin, People’s Republic of China who makes miniature weapons. Considering China is the birthplace of gunpowder, this is appropriate enough; however, in much of the world there is a mystique and probably much misunderstanding about modern life in China, how a craftsman might go about pursuing his passion and the question of owning a gun—even a small one—in a country that does not allow private gun ownership. We felt his story might be instructive and found it interesting ourselves that far from the collector gun world of Europe and America, a craftsman should choose to make beautiful miniature weapons. Like the other miniature arms makers featured on this site, Mr. Xu started making these models because he found the history and beauty of these weapons intriguing. Also, not having the budget to purchase these wonderful works of art, it became obvious that the only way he was going to possess fine models like this was to make them himself. Following are Shelly’s answers to several questions we posed regarding her father’s work and some of the background information from his resume.

Xu Yan—an early interest in arms leads to a 40-year hobby

By Shelley Xu

Born on January 18, 1954, in Tianjin, Xu Yan developed an early interest in arms at around six years old. He often spent the whole afternoon watching posseman training not far from home, dreaming of firing a real gun one day. With an enthusiasm in craftsmanship and a little knowledge of mechanism taught by his father, an engineer, Xu Yan started to make the first model gun of his own –a Mauser 98K Rifle in1/6scale. The material for the gun’s body was his mother’s wood ruler for cloth making, and the tools are an awl and a knife. Later he replaced the aluminum parts with tin and strengthened the structure to withstand shooting action. The next year, in 1964, he produced a more mature model –a Type 38 Carbine in 1/6scale, which can perfectly complete the shooting action. This success encouraged him to keep on miniature gun making, which has unexpectedly lasted for more than 40 years.

Like most young people in the 70s’ in China, Xu Yan became a factory worker after graduation from middle school. His familiarity with arms enabled him to repair guns for the military office of his chemistry plant. Not long after that, he invented a small installation to enhance the shooting accuracy of Type 56 Submachine Gun. This invention brought him an exciting chance to visit the weapon storehouse of Tianjin Guard Area, where he saw most of the real guns he had dreamed of and studied their internal structures carefully. The experience in the plant not only allowed him to learn more about their mechanism, but also polished his skills in craftsmanship.

When Xu Yan became a mechanic in the vehicle department, Tianjin Administration of Governmental Affairs, he found a knowledge of electronics was needed, so he managed to take advanced courses on Electronics in junior college of Nankai University, focusing on wireless skills. During the four years (1986-1989), he had to go to classes after work, and sometimes brought along his little daughter who was born in 1982. It was definitely a difficult time for a husband and father, not to mention that he missed the training from high school. That period of time also developed his aspiration for learning. He has never stopped reading since then, and recently he published three articles in a major magazine in China—Small Arms. In his articles, he not only introduces guns to the amateurs, but also presents his understanding of miniature arms after decades’ commitment in the field.

Admittedly, Xu Yan’s craftsmanship also comes from beyond the books and self training. He visited watchmakers, jewelers, locksmiths and lathe machinists who have excellent techniques for making miniature things. He is also assisted by his handy tools, which have to be redone many times for special uses. To Xu Yan, miniature gun making is more than a hobby. It is an art that can put together man’s skills and inspirations. You cannot reach the peak within one day, but every thought and minute you poured in will be rewarded in your work.

Xu Yan also spends some time enjoying classical music and making broadcast equipment. He has been adjusting the self-produced amplifier and sound boxes so as to achieve better acoustics. Right now, more miniature making plans are on his schedule. He believes that there is always room for improvement, and to make things better is absolutely an inviting challenge for him.

Goals of Xu Yan’s Miniature Guns Making

One of Xu Yan's fine working  miniature guns, a 16th centuryBritish wheel lock pistol.

(1) To visualize the historical and cultural connotation.

He prefers to choose milestones in the history of mechanical guns as my models. They reflect the level of scientific and technological development, as well as the taste in arts and decoration of the time. Special attention should be paid to the fact that recorded history of the development of wheel lock/matchlock firearms is lacking in China. Collection in this area is also rare. Thus his works can help people remember and understand this period of history.

(2) To exhibit characteristics of different guns.

The graceful figures and the mystical charms of classical guns are often so delighting that one’s eyes can scarcely be taken off it. Moreover, almost every gun has its own history of design and application. Some famous guns even posses their own legends. Before putting one miniature into being, he will study the references to learn why the original gun has become what it is, compare it with others of the same catalogue, and then try to grasp the characteristics of this one.

(3) To share the joy of creativity.

According to the laws in China, private possession of a gun in scale of 1/2-1/1 copied from the real one is strictly prohibited. Relevant laws also stipulate that the power energy of bullets shot by toys/models should not exceed an average of 0.5 J. Hence the scale of hisy miniature guns ranges from 1/6 to 1/14. He also uses rubber bullets and make sure the shooting energy is smaller than 0.007 J. As a result, the internal structure must be re-designed, because the limit of internal space and the fierce force the miniature has to stand when it shoots. That is really a complicated project to do the re-design.

There also exist challenges in the external operation mechanism. For example, after the trigger and the roll protector become a miniature, nobody’s finger can click from inside the trigger. So he combined the trigger and the roll protector to make a synchronous movement. By pulling back on the roll protector, one can fire the miniature. This creative combination balances the exactness in appearance and the smoothness in action.

He hopes that his miniature guns can always surprise people with their creative qualities, and help them share the joy of creativity.

Xu Yan’s “Workshop”

Xu Yan's shop is small like the guns he makes.

Given our income and limited space, it is impossible for my father to have a separate workshop. His “workshop” is a reading desk in the corner of his bedroom, and sometimes, the balcony of our apartment. He stores his various tools in the cabinets on both sides of his desk. Generally speaking, his tools are simple. However, he also posses a large number of miniature tools for accurate operations. He also has several microscopes and other magnification devices for making it easier to view small parts while working on them.

A little of my father's philosophy regarding craftsmanship

If his attitude towards his creation can be called philosophy, then it should be “to be persistent, but not to be too concentrated.”

Mr. Xu dressed for a formal occasion.

Indeed, you can never be too concentrated when you are working on a miniature. However, as a miniature arms maker, one needs much more than technology and time to realize his/her idea. My father doesn’t make miniatures every day. Actually, he enjoys pondering and reading which broadens his vision and brings aspirations to him. He never rushes to finish his work given that he would spend few months reading related materials, polishing his design, and usually spends a lot of time experimenting. Since there is little data on making a certain miniatures, he has to design the experiment himself so as to get the needed data. To realize the drawing, it also takes quite a lot time to find and test materials. Even after his work has come into being, he hardly considers them completed. Adjustments are made everyday, and sometimes polishing and re-making of the accessories. Tests of intensity and longevity of the works are also necessary. He leads discussions with friends who are experts in different fields. He believes that solutions come into mind when the brain is prepared. One cannot reach the peak within one day, but every thought and minute one pours into it will be rewarded in his works.

After many years of making miniatures, my farther spends more time on details and has become more critical of his work, especially in the artsy quality showed by his works. He believes that the aesthetic dynamic movements and the accuracy of the works as well as the effective factual shooting feelings in hand are the top two elements that define an outstanding gun miniature.

Those wishing to contact Xu Yan personally by e-mail may do so at xuyan540118 at 163 dot com. (Substitute the @ symbol for the word "at" and a period the word "dot" in the preceeding e-mail address. In order to defeat spam spiders that search the Internet for e-mail addresses, we have not published his address in a complete, clickable form.)

The Climate regarding craftsmanship and individual effort in modern China

China is a nation that owns a spectacular history of culture, so there are a large number of folk artists or craftsmen who devote themselves to traditional forms of craftsmanship, such as kite making, carving, traditional tools, toy making, etc. Some of the technologies have been passed down for several generations. There are societies for hobbyists of these “regular” creative activities either supported by the government or by the public. As for hobbyists whose hobbies are rare, they stay at the hobby level and make a living at their own occupations.

Speaking of my father’s persistence in his miniature arms making, it is fortunate that every time when he was about to finish one miniature, he had found out the next archetype he is going to make. Though he receives no assistance from the government or other professional organizations, he grasped a few chances to receive expertise. Most of the time, he has had to work on his own. Since the 1st Zhong Hua (China) Folk Art Treasures Exposition, his work began to be known by the public. More and more folk artists and craftsmen are introduced to the public by mass media, but still, there is no permanent place to showcase their works.

Details about Xu Yan’s works

Xu Yan’s miniature guns are a kind of dynamic model that possesses mechanical power. The exterior of his works exactly imitate existing guns that are famous in history. Therefore, the interior parts have to be carefully designed as to make it possible for the miniatures to complete the shooting action smoothly. He draws scripts himself, and makes every accessory of the miniatures by hand, being assisted by special tools that are hard to find or even made by himself. All the materials he uses are brass, mahogany and galvanized iron.

The goal of his creative activity is to exhibit the development of gun mechanics and the excellence of craftsmanship throughout history through his products.

So far, his works could be divided into 8 periods by their distinct interior structures:

1st Period, 1962, static miniatures.

2nd Period, 1963, Mauser 98K Rifle, 1/6scale.

3rd Period, 1964, Type 38 Carbine, 1/6scale, 151mm in length.

4th Period, 1965, M1 Carbine, 1/6scale, 152mm in length. Material: iron, wood, etc. Within a range of 1m, it can hit a target of 10.1 mm. The whole gun consists of 46 separate parts, and can be disassembled/assembled, being able to fulfill 5 actions. Awarded in the 1st Zhong Hua (TianJin) Folk Art Treasures Exposition, 2001.

5th Period, 1966, M2 Carbine, 1/6scale, 154mm in length.

6th Period, 1992~2003, British Wheel Lock Pistol of 16th Century, 1/6scale, 88 mm in length. Within a range of 2 m, it can hit a target of 20.2 mm. The whole gun consists of 56 separate parts, and can be disassembled/assembled, being able to fulfill 8 actions. Material: brass, iron, redwood, etc.

Specialty: The first time using previous fire discharge devices and form with it the body’s structure. Wheel Lock employs mechanics to set up fire, which initiated the age of mechanical fire mechanisms after the age of rope fire devices.

Awarded in the 3rd China International Folk Art Treasures Exposition,and the 2nd Zhong Hua (TianJin) Folk Art Treasures Exposition, 2004.

7th Period, 1996~2003, Italia Imperial Guards’ Match Lock, 1/7scale, 129mm in length. Material: brass, iron, redwood, etc. Within a range of  3 m, it can hit a target of 20.2 mm. The whole gun consists of 31 separate parts, and can be assembled/disassembled, being able to fulfill 3 actions.

Specialty: The first time using a straight tube for the structure of the gun’s body, which is made up with an assembly of 4 layers and 10 sections. When the lever of the gun’s fire rope serve as gun’s fire launching gate, one hand can hold the gun when the other hand fires it, this enables the shooter to complete the most difficult duties at the same time, thus improving the degree of accuracy of the shot.

8th Period, 1998~2003, Japanese Match Lock of Jianghu Period, 1/14scale, 72mm in length. Within a range of 2 m, it can hit a target of 10.1 mm.

The whole gun consists of 55 separate parts, and can be decomposed/re-combined, being able to fulfill 6 actions:

1. Using the barrel to push the bullet into the gun thorax

2. Withholding the trigger can launch fire

3. The match lock collet can hold the fire rope

4. The cover of the gunpowder pond can rotate and separate the combination

5. Pressing the head of fire rope can lift and hang up the trigger

6. The cleaning rod can be inserted and drawn out

Specialty: The first time using hammer beat structure. It also has fire discharge devices. The action needs to be perfectly coordinated. Given that the work’s scales should reach 1:14, the design and making require extremely delicate technique. This fire rope gun adopted the pressure fire lighting method. The cover of the gunpowder pond, the winding assurance device and the aim tools makes it outstanding among Match Locks of the latest period.

In summary, Mr. Xu’s works model famous guns that are milestones in the history of mechanical guns. The scale ranges from 1/6 to 1/14. He uses rubber bullets and spring power to make sure the shooting energy is smaller than 0.007 J., and his creative re-design of the internal structures balances the exactness in appearance and the smoothness in shooting action.

Xu Yan in his small but productive desk/workshop.

Education:

1986-1989 Electronics, Junior College of Nankai University, Tianjin, China

Working Experience:

1971-1982 Equipment maintainer in compound chemical plant

1982- Present—Mechanic and dispatcher, vehicle department, Tianjin Administration of Governmental Affairs

Membership: Tianjin Folk Artists Society

Publications:

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“Wheel Lock Pistol—Pre-existence of Flint Lock Pistol,” Small Arms Vol.5, 2006.

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“Unscramble the History of Japanese Match Lock,” Small Arms Vol.20, 2005.

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“A Classic of Italia Match Lock,” Small Arms Vol.13, 2005.

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Article from Miniature Arms Newsletter, October, 2006 shows craftsmanship awards to Michel Lefever, Xu Yan and David Kucer and also fetures examples of Xu Yan's work. (Click on underlined link to see article.)

Exhibitions Entered:

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2004—3rd China International Folk Art Treasures Exposition, the 2nd Zhong Hua (China) Folk Art Treasures Exposition, organized by People’s Government of Tianjin, China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, China Folk Artists Society and UNESCO.

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2001—1st Zhong Hua (China) Folk Art Treasures Exposition.

Mass Media Focus:

*Exclusive interviews:

Given by: Small Arms, Cheng Shi Kuai Bao (Brief News of Tianjin City), The People’s Liberation Army Life, JinWanBao (Evening Newspaper of TianJin).

*Reports:

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“Top Miniature Gun of Zhonghua (China),” Famous Guns, Vol.4, 2005.

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“The 1st Master of Miniature Guns in Zhonghua (China),” Dragon Gate, Vol. 3, 2004.

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“40 Years’ Longing for Miniature Arms,” ShenYang Daily, 01/ 2003.

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“Glory of Miniature Guns,” Album of Military History (a magazine published by China People’s Revolutionary and Military Affairs Museum), 08/2002.

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“Polish the Top Miniature Arms of China,” Hidden Dragons and Tigers, The People’s Liberation Army Daily, 08/ 2002.

*Videos:

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05/2003 “A Man Falls In Love With Miniature Guns”, TianJin TV.

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01/2006 “Tremendous Commitment in Miniature Arms”, E-News, Tianjin TV.

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“Folk Olympic,” Channel V, Tianjin TV.

Articles on Xu Yan in Chinese in PDF format

For those wishing to read further on Xu Yan, the following PDF files published in their original for min the Chinese language are available:

• Interview and Report by Small Arms, "Passion and support of small arms among the public."

Pre-existance of flint lock pistol, by Xu Yan

Photos of Xu Yan's miniature weapons and the tools he uses to make them:

(Click photos to view larger images.)

British Wheel Lock Pistol

A 1/6 scale 16th Century British wheel lock pistol, and a detail of the firing mechanism. The gun consists of 56 separate parts. Completed in 2002, the gun won a prize at the 2004 China International Folk Art Treasures Festival and the 2nd Zhong Hua (TianJin) Folk Art Treasures Exposition.

Engraved with the artist's name.

(New photos added 10/18/10)

The pistol is complete with a presentation case and tools needed to load and fire the weapon.

Italian Guard's Match Lock Rifle

This 1/7 scale Imperial Italian Guard's match lock was completed it 2002. It is 129 mm long and consists of 31 separate parts made from brass, iron and redwood.

Additional detailed photos of the Italian match lock gun were submitted in 2010.

In June, 2014, Mr. Xu Yan sent photos showing modifications to the Italian Match lock gun. On the left is the 2002 version. On the right is the new, shorter version.

Artwork describing how the real Italian match lock is fired. The model has all the functions of the original but is only 72 mm long. It consists of 55 parts of brass, iron and redwood.

Type 38 Carbine

A 1/6 scale Type 38 Carbine made by Xu Yan in 1964, complete with bayonet.

The latest photos of the 1/6 scale Type 38 carbine above show in great detail the weapon both assembled and disassembled.

This carbine also features a detailed bayonet that can be attached to the end of the barrel.

(New photos added 10/29/10)

M1 Carbine

This 1/6 scale M1 Carbine made in 1965 is 152 mm long. A full size bullet shell can be seen on the key ring below it. It received an award in the 1st Zhong Hua (TianJin) Folk Art Treasures Exposition, 2001.

 

  Additional photos of the M1 Carbine were supplied by Xu Yan in November, 2010. These show details of the very tiny rifle. The above photo shows he various components of the disassembled rifle.

(New photos added 11/2/10)

A 1/6 scale M2 Carbine was made in 1966. It is 154 mm long. The M2 is characterized by a dual trigger mechanism.

More details of the M2 Carbine show subtle differences between it and the M1.

(New photos added 11/4/10)

Japanese Match Lock Pistol

A 1/14 scale Japanese match lock of the Jianghu period was completed in 2003.

According to Xu Yan, the statistics on this miniature firearm are as follows:

Scale: 1:14

Size: Length: 72 mm, Diameter: 1.6 mm

Number of parts: 55

Firing: :Yes, spring powered projectile can hit 10 mm x 10 mm target from 2 meter range

This miniature firearm took 3rd place (Bronze medal) in the 2006 China (Tianjin) Bronze Folk Art Exhibition.

(New photos added 11/10/10)

M-100 German Panzerfaust Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher

In April, 2009 Xu Yan sent us updated photos of his latest project; a 1:11 scale M-100 German Panzerfaust, which was an anti-tank rocket used in WW II. The part with the black bulb at one end is the rocket. The firing tube is called the "ram." The final photo shows his signature on the piece.

Like some of his other spring-loaded weapon models, this one actually fires a replica of the rocket. Actual range of the miniature is from 1.2 to 4.8 meters for armor piercing ammunition and 2.4 to 6 meters for grenades. Range is determined by the length of the "tail" of the projectile.

Japanese Type 89 Grenade Launcher

Another new piece is this 1:12.5 Scale Japanese Type 89 Grenade Launcher from WW II. The model is about 49 mm long and actually launches a model grenade tube over 3.3 meters.

The final photo shows the launcher with one of the rounds it fires.

English ML 51mm Mortar

In October, 2009, Xu Yan sent photos of a new mortar he had just completed. It is a miniature English ML 51 mm mortar done in 1/9 scale. It uses spring power to provide the shell a specific kinetic energy of <0.16J/cm2 for a  range of 3.4 meters. The mortar is made from brass, while the shell is made from ebony. It measures about 55 mm in length.

1.  2. 3.   4. 5.   6.

NOTE: The description of the building and operation of the model copper spring gun was supplied by Xu Yan. I have attempted as best I can to interpret his Chinese translation to make it more understandable in English. My apologies if I have misinterpreted his writings. --Craig

Copper Spring Pocket Gun modeled on an ancient Chinese design

An ancient Chengzihe copper gun was found in 1970 half unearthed in Ashe County near the Heilongjiang River. It is now displayed in the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum. (Figure 1.) Its diameter is 28mm, length 345mm and weight 3.55kg. At the mouth of the powder chamber there is a strengthening hoop, and the tail Qiong is hollow. (Figure 2.) A wooden handle can be inserted into the hollow for better grip when it is fired. It has a simple appearance, well-proportioned and varied with flowing lines. It shows the characteristics of the Yuan Dynasty, and represents a masterpiece among guns in ancient China.

Cheng is the maker of the copper gun. He made a prototype system to power a hand gun with pocket springs. Figure 3 shows a drawing of the prototype for a 1/10 scale gun that utilizes pocket springs. The length is 34.5mm. With a projectile muzzle kinetic energy of <0.16J / C m, that gives a maximum range of 2 meters. The materials are steel, brass and ebony. The complete gun has 16 component parts and can be completely broken down.

The original is an ignition firing gun and the miniature is a spring hand gun, so in order to maintain the shape of the work, the builder must not change the appearance of the prototype. Certain parts must be skillfully converted into a trigger, which caused the biggest challenges.

Figure 4 shows loading of the "bomb" by compressing the internal spring before firing. A sear on the inner edge of the bottom hook engages the projectile when it is fully cocked. (Figure 5.) Figure 6 shows the small engraved builder's mark.

What made the work difficult:
1.The transmitter seat required five small-diameter holes with the smallest diameter being
0.3mm and the depth of 4mm.
2. The slide handle screw is a not a standard fastener but was hand-made by the builder.
3. The sear and a drive rod shape are complex and require a high degree of precision. The surface has been polished and heat treated, thus ensuring a comfortable grip and a long service life.

The original Welrod pistol in a museum display and a cutaway of the silencing feature of the barrel. Note the three rubber "wipers" between some of the chambers.

Two miniature replicas by Xu Yan

The projectile is seen before loading while and being loaded.

The Welrod being fired

Xu Yan's signature on the end of the knurled bolt cap.

1/10 Scale Miniature British Welrod "pocket pistol"

The real gun...During WWII, the British developed a silenced weapon for their special forces (SOE) which was also used by the American OSS. It was known as the "Assassin's gun." Firing a 9mm or .32 ACP bullet it was very quiet at only 73 db, at least for the first few shots. As the rubber dampening washers inside the silencer wore, the effectiveness was increasingly diminshed, requiring replacement after 10 or 11 shots. It has a simple bolt action which is also very quiet, and the magazine (holding 6 or 8 rounds depending on caliber) was also the handle once installed. With the magazine removed, the gun was easier to conceal. The silenced barrel was about 1.5" (32mm) in diameter. It was just over 12"  (310mm) long and weighed just over 1 kilogram. It had a sight groove with fluorescent marking for aiming in low light and a claimed range of 12 meters, but it was probably most often used at zero range, pressed up against the target to further reduce the sound and eliminate any chance of a miss. Approximately 2800 of these weapons were made, and were employed by the British as recently as Operation Desert Storm.

The model gun...Xu Yan has duplicated the look of this unique weapon and given it the ability to fire a special solid round using a spring mechanism instead of a gunpowder charged cartridge. What would be the silencer tube in the full-size gun becomes the projectile in the miniature model. The model is made in 1:10 ratio, with a diameter of 2.5mm and a length of 31mm. The range is stated at 2 meters. It is made up of 26 separate parts and can be completely broken down.

The miniature pistol is so small, holding it while firing requires a special technique. It is fired by gripping the stock between two fingers. The thumbnail is used to press the trigger. This releases the spring to discharge the projectile. Mr. Xu is already working on modifications to the trigger and sights to make future versions both easier to fire and more accurate. All work was done by hand by Xu Yan. Most miniature guns are made in scales from 2/5 to 1/3 size. Xu Yan often works in a much smaller 1/6 or 1/7 scale but has made non-firing models in as small as 1/14 scale. This challenging model is functional but still built at a very tiny1/10 scale.

(Added 10/17/11)

Xu Yan's Shop

In order to make some of the small parts he needs, Xu Yan built a milling machine of his own design from various components. He lists specifications of his custom-designed machine as:

Height: 350 mm

Motor: 65 watts

Max. Spindle RPM: 35,000

Xu Yan's lathe is a D-bed watch maker or jeweler's type lathe to which he has added a stereo microscope for doing very small work. The reversible tailstock has a drill chuck on one end and a dead center on the other. Work is driven by a larger drill chuck in the headstock.
Mr. Xu has now upgraded his shop capabilities by creating a more powerful and versatile milling machine. He notes that he assembled the milling head using a 180 watt motor that will turn to 10,000 RPM. It includes a speed control switch and a pulley system that runs the spindle at up to 5000 RPM. The head can be used in the vertical or horizontal position. The first photo at the left shows it in the vertical position, while the second photo shows it in the horizontal milling position.
Some of the magnification tools Mr. Xu uses to help him do the very small, detailed work necessary to produce parts for his small guns. The second photo shows his setup for viewing very small drilling work. He also uses a small X-Y table under the drill head for positioning parts for accurate drilling.
The tools used are not high tech. Here is a selection of pliers and other tools used to make the small parts for the guns.
High speed grinding burrs are also used. A large selection of tip shapes are at Mr. Xu's disposal.

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