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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mini Guns, Maximum Firepower

TULA -- Konstantin Sushkin stood nonchalantly in the middle of his loudly decorated turquoise living room, slowly raised the loaded pistol toward the piano stool, took aim and pulled the trigger.


The ear-splitting shot caused one observer in the room to start involuntarily, then scurry toward the piano to survey the damage.


But no one was hurt, and the piano stool did not suffer. The bullet could not be found. That, though, was to be expected: Sushkin had fired at the paper target from a pistol the size of a well-fed locust -- one-fifth the size of its real-life counterpart -- with a 2.9-millimeter bullet.


"It takes me about a month to make one gun," said Sushkin, a Tula craftsman who fabricates elegant miniature reproductions -- from one-sixth to one-fifth the normal size -- of pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and cannons that actually fire.


Standing in front of a bookcase supporting his impressive array of dwarf firearms -- modeled on weapons made in the 15th to 20th centuries -- he said, "I've been making them for about 30 years. As far as I know, I have no competitors."


A Smith & Wesson pistol, a double-barreled shotgun, a 16th-century French cannon, a Russian siege cannon, a Remington rifle, a six-shooter with a carved ivory handle -- each work is an original, copied painstakingly from photographs in books from Sushkin's comprehensive library.


A dapper 50-year-old of slight build with straight, graying hair, a trim moustache and almost gruff demeanor, Sushkin, the son and grandson of firearms craftsmen, has gun-making prowess in his genes. For decades he worked at the famous Tula Arms Factory, which, according to Sushkin, in its heyday employed as many as 20,000 people.


But some four years ago, with government orders down and production falling precipitously at the factory, Sushkin decided to join Diana-T, a private firm that restores and reproduces guns. Through the firm and on his own, Sushkin manages to sell enough guns to survive, now receiving from $800 to $1,000 per weapon. "This system is 1,000 times better than [the Soviet] system," he said.


But even during the Soviet period, connoisseurs quietly bought Sushkin's creations. In 1984, Sushkin said, Alla Pugachyova -- then in Tula for a concert -- purchased two pistols for 1,000 rubles each, a tidy sum in the pre-perestroika Soviet Union.


Chain-smoking and pacing in a T formation from the living room of his apartment into the hallway that runs perpendicular to it, Sushkin said his recent clients include collectors -- mostly Americans, Canadians, Germans -- who find him through acquaintances, the occasional exhibit or pieces displayed in museums in Tula, Suzdal and Hamburg.


Answering questions over his wife's simultaneous responses, Sushkin said he sits for hours at a time in the tiny closet that serves as his studio, poring over the minute steel barrels, bronze drums and oak shoulder rests that comprise his creations.


He farms out some of the work -- the ivory carving, the detailing of patterns on the wood -- to other local craftsmen, paying them as much as $150 out of his own pocket for a single gun. Sushkin then presents the final product to buyers: an accurately reproduced weapon smaller than a human palm, nestled in a small, wooden, velvet-lined box.


Sushkin makes no weapon twice. Leafing through dozens of gun photographs in "Das gro§e Buch der klassischen Feuerwaffen," he asked rhetorically, "Why should I repeat myself?"


Sushkin said he does not regret that the fortunes of the factory -- which recently closed down and will reopen in mid-January -- have deprived him of a secure job. "I now work creatively -- as I should," he said. And he seemed to take an ironic pleasure in knowing that the pendulum of history has swung back in the direction of private enterprise and knocked the Soviets out of power.


"The Bolsheviks confiscated my grandfather's horses," he said. "And the street in town named after our family was renamed Pioneer Street" by the Soviets, he said. "But now they're not standing over me with a knout."