Cole Harrison uses native woods, native skill to craft
Custom Conch Cannons was created to satisfy Cole Harrison’s quest for the perfect speargun.
“I call it functional art,” said Harrison. “There is no feeling like spearing a fish for dinner with a handmade gun. It’s a satisfaction that must have been felt by mankind’s first hunters.”
A lifelong spearfisherman, Harrison crafted his first speargun at age 13 because he didn’t want to use a flimsy gun with plastic parts; he wanted something unique with plenty of character.
“The craftsmanship of my guns is second to none. Each is numbered, has my signature and an original carving, most recently a mahi-mahi,” he said, pointing to a newly inscribed piece of Swietenia mahagoni.
Swietenia mahagoni, or Cuban mahogany, is a fine hardwood used in many of Harrison’s guns. He said the wood has been popular since Spanish galleon ships piloted around the Florida Keys some 400 years ago. Because it’s extremely expensive to buy from a lumberyard, Harrison procures it locally. He is fortunate to have some friends in the landscaping business that give him trunks and branches cut down throughout Key West and the Keys.
Dave Black helps Harrison acquire and mill the wood locally.
“Some of these trees take 70 years to grow and they are not even available commercially,” said Black. “Why mulch it when it could be recycled? Cuban mahoganies, Jamaican dogwoods, black olives and even the invasive Australian pines are hardwoods with beautiful grains … Cole has the talent and eye though. I just cut the wood.”
In addition to mahagoni, Harrison also uses teak and other hardwoods.
“I made a custom gun out of a sapodilla tree for a gentleman. His grandfather planted the tree in town and he had to cut it down, but still wanted to keep the memory,” he said.
The manufacturing is time consuming. It requires a great deal of carpentry (some skills passed down from his parents who built a boat in Costa Rica and sailed it to Key West) plus planes, carving knives and other tools. Then he carefully installs the spear mechanisms custom ordered for each gun. When the gun is nearly finished he takes it in the water, adds lead weights and makes sure everything is calibrated.
His guns are for sale at the Harrison Gallery on White Street, the gallery his family has owned for more than 30 years. They begin around $900 and he prefers to do custom designs for each customer. Harrison said the best part about the spearguns is they only need a bit of sanding and light oil if they get a little scratched up. Check out his company website, customconchcannons.com.