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Thread: what is a gunsmith?

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    what is a gunsmith?

    didn't quite know where to put this
    I know a very good local gunsmith and rightfully so he is backed up with work and wait times are quite long. so I did some google search and a bunch of ads popped up, one very close by. I called the man and had quite a long conversation with him. after returning from Afghanistan with an honorable discharge he used his benefits to go into some pretty serious debt to complete gunsmith school through online instruction with "Sonoran Desert Institute"
    Now when I was in my 20's I spent a lot of time helping out at a gunsmith shop with a man who could properly repair just about any kind of gun and I sure as heck am not a gunsmith but I have done a few simple repairs for myself on various firearms and built a few AR's from bits and pieces.
    Well anyway after speaking with this young man for quite a while it really made me wonder exactly what kind of school he had been accredited by. for example when I asked him if he reblued guns he really didn't know what I was talking about and said that in school he learned how to do hydrgraphics.
    I dont think I'll be dropping off my antique slide action Remington with him.
    It sounded to me that this school took a whole bunch of his money put him in debt and taught him how to put together an AR. I wonder if Sonoran institute is an NRA recognized gunsmith school. which I think might be a pretty good benchmark.

  2. #2
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    I quite loudly hear your lament! The four GOOD gunsmiths within a ~90 mile radius all have a passed! With the ambition to "be a gunsmith" and proliferation of "you cannot fail on-line" courses, I suspect anyone with a few dollars to invest and an Internet connection may become a gunsmith.
    In "the old days", (generally) young men would assist and apprentice with a saged, seasoned gunsmith for quite a few years learning the trade before he hung out his own shingle.
    I have, in the years, been blessed with the "local" fellows -- til they passed. As I type this, I have an arm on the waiting list (6 to 8 weeks before he can even look at it!) in Tennessee! (Getting it to him -- after nogo at UPS store, learning UPS Hub is closed to public due to Covid), and not wishing to make the risk with USPS -- I spent 2 1/2 hours getting set up with FedEx -- which ended up being the carrier.)
    So sad, my suggestion is "word of mouth" -- including person's experiences on this site. E.g., if I should have a revolver cylinder problem, albeit I never before heard of him, or even know where he resides -- I'd reach out to Doug... . Other than that, like me, to find the real-McCoy gunsmith -- you may have to resort to mail order firms of good repute. I can add that, through the years, I sent two pistols to Clark Custom; one to Heinie; and all -- when returned to me -- exceeded my expectations.
    If it were me, I'd check out Remington Forums -- perhaps there you may get a lead re someone experienced and good to whom you may post your cherished arm? Interestingly, I have an antique slide-action Remington or two -- Models 8, 14, 14a, 81...
    BEST wishes!!!
    geo
    Last edited by georgerkahn; 01-19-2022 at 10:39 AM.

  3. #3
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    What/who is a gunsmith? Actually, probably anyone who works on guns. Unlike the medical or legal profession there are no regulated standards to which a gunsmith must answer. You, having worked on guns, are a gunsmith. However, like doctors and lawyers, there are good ones and bad ones-- people of greater and lesser ability.

    As to training, I never heard of the Sonoran Institute. Recognized schools are those which require actual attendance and supervision by gunsmith instructors of proven ability. Hands on experience. Bound to raise some hackles, AGI is another "school" that claims to turn out gunsmiths, but does so with video instruction and no one looking over your shoulder to say, "No--do it this way."

    There has been such an evolution in the construction and design of modern firearms that it is not unrealistic to believe your individual was trained only in AR-15s. From wood and steel flintlocks to plastic and aluminum, big changes have taken place. There is too much technology change from 1600 to 2000 for most individuals to become complete masters of the trade. Therefore, the need to specialize, either in a wider category such as metal refinishing, or a narrower specialty such as AR-15 or 1911 building. Just as, to again pick on the doctors, there are heart and cancer specialists.

    The good thing here is that you recognize the deficiencies in this individual and will not be surrendering your prized firearm to his care. But, it sounds like you are both aware of his limitations. As one who used to do much rebluing, I can only observe that the construction of modern firearms is slowly making the traditional refinishing of firearms a dying art. The first death knell was stainless steel (love it, and have several stainless firearms myself), followed by things such as aluminum which can not be blued by traditional methods. Paint is the new order of things.

    DG

  4. #4
    Boolit Grand Master

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    I am still old school as to gunsmiths. A true gunsmith can re barrel a firearm from a blank. install a liner, fix most firearms. fit and or make a working part, inlett as needed. My old friend and smith passed away a few years ago. A good smith can not only machine a part but when called for can forge one also. He can drill and tap hole on location when needed. But most of all is the knowledge he posses on many different firearms and equipment. That is what your paying for when you hire him.

    Gunsmiths used to be an apprenticed trade and who you apprenticed under was a big thing. Most smiths spend the biggest part of their carrier building up the reputation. Its a long road to being a accredited gunsmith.

    The ARs and somewhat the savages are more parts changing than smithing. unbolt one part and bolt the new on, check...

    I to have assembled AR15s and 10s, along with M14M1As, garands, and bolt action rifles.

  5. #5
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    The mechanic trade has also progressed on a similar path. Very few can actually troubleshoot down a problem and fix it, instead Mechanics now are basically parts changers.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master scattershot's Avatar
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    Lots of parts changers around, fewer and fewer gunsmiths. Not quite sure how you could learn a specialized, very skilled trade online.


    A buddy of mine went to Gunsmithing school, and he could make a light tight dovetail ( both male and female sides) with files. How would you learn that by watching a video?
    Last edited by scattershot; 01-21-2022 at 08:09 PM.
    "Experience is a series of non-fatal mistakes"


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  7. #7
    Boolit Master pietro's Avatar
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    I never used to be a gunsmith - but today I are one...
    Experience is a wonderful thing - It lets you recognize a mistake, when you make it again.

  8. #8
    Boolit Man
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    I share the original poster's opinion.

    Bluing? I learned by building my own equipment from the ground up. Self taught all the way.









    Nope, I am not a gunsmith. Just a 'po boy from the Georgia Swamps.


    If a gent is unable to design and build special tooling and fixtures I hesitate to call him a craftsman.









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  9. #9
    Boolit Master Shawlerbrook's Avatar
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    Agree with much of the above. Yes, most good gunsmiths are backed up months, if not years. The ones local to me are either retired or passed on. To me a gunsmith can makes parts from scratch, while many that claim they are gunsmiths just put parts together. My last remaining local Smith apprenticed under two European born gunsmiths but is now in his mid-70s. I am no way a gunsmith, but I can have an intelligent conversation about bluing.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master


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    I have a friend that calls himself a gunsmith and is in the business but can’t cut threads on his lathe!
    I offered to teach him but didn’t want to learn!
    My machinist teacher was a gunsmith! He could make stocks, make a barrel from a blank and visualize what a part should look like and make it without drawings!
    He also did bluing!
    I work on my own guns but I don’t consider myself a gunsmith, maybe a gun plumber!
    I only work on certain makes and models.

  11. #11
    Boolit Buddy skrapyard628's Avatar
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    Hang on for a minute while I go grab my dremel...

  12. #12
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    It seems that today anyone who can assemble an AR calls himself a gunsmith……..NOT. I used to work in a gun shop who had a very well known Rifle builder/gunsmith. In fact he trained most of the people at Hill Country Rifle in Texas. He’s retired now and not doing any gun work. He was a real craftsman!

  13. #13
    Boolit Buddy 405grain's Avatar
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    The metallurgical parts of gunsmithing are certainly important skill sets. A good gunsmith needs to be good at machining, heat treating, surface treatments like rust removal, bluing, anodizing, etc., brazing and welding, assembly, and a host of other engineering skills. But in addition to this a good gunsmith also needs to be skilled in wood working. It's my opinion that a true "old school" gunsmith should be able to produce a rifle/shotgun stock from a blank of wood. Not many are left today that can do that. (Check out Mark Novak's "anvil" channel on youtube)

    The modern sporting rifles based on the AR platform are currently the most popular long arm in America. It only makes good business sense for enterprising young smiths to learn and practice on the types of firearms that the vast majority of their customers are going to want work done on. There are particular skills that are required for these types of firearms, and traditional things like stock making, bluing, and even the majority of machining skills aren't always relevant to this process. But it isn't like buying parts and putting together a Lego set; you still need to know what your doing.

    In this day and age there have become more and more specialized gunsmiths, but generally with fewer in each specialty, (except for "AR & 1911" types). Some who specialize in black powder and antique firearms. Others that are primarily pistolsmiths. Many that do their work on modern sporting rifles. And the traditional gunsmiths that work on everything from bolt actions to rolling blocks. Sadly, the traditional gunsmiths are either getting on in age or have passed away. Those few that remain in this sector of the trade are usually left with quite a backlog of work as their skill sets are in a steadily decreasing pool of talent. Later, when they come out with Buck Rodgers laser weapons we'll become hard pressed to find a decent AR gunsmith, just like the situation today in finding a good traditional gunsmith.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master Shawlerbrook's Avatar
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    I don’t own an AR, but do not disparage them or their owners. They just don’t interest me. That said, they are a modular gun system or a kit type gun. Building an AR is to building a custom rifle like painting a house is to painting a portrait.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master Scrounge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shawlerbrook View Post
    I don’t own an AR, but do not disparage them or their owners. They just don’t interest me. That said, they are a modular gun system or a kit type gun. Building an AR is to building a custom rifle like painting a house is to painting a portrait.
    Building an AR is a lot like building a computer these days. You buy some parts that are supposed to meet standards, and assemble them. Back in the old days, you used to have to wire wrap connections or make your own circuit boards. It's easier now, but they just don't have the same panache!

    Both have their advantages, and disadvantages. It is kind of hard to do the new and unusual with the modern way, though.

    Bill <---- not now nor have I ever been a "real" gunsmith. Just a wannabe. Same is true as constructor of computers, for that matter. I did it one the hard way, once. Not well.

  16. #16
    Boolit Buddy todd9.3x57's Avatar
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    i am a shade tree gunsmith. i am not a real gunsmith. most people in my area are gun hacks who build AR's.

    i have a true gunsmith (about a 1/2 hour from me) who can do anything except rebore (i asked, he's not set up to do it.....yet!!!) . he was apprenticed to a true gunsmith(retired & i trust him) and he bought the business.

    my gunsmith is like me, we love old guns, esp the krag!!!
    I was in uniform for four years, and I know that heroism doesn't occur from taking orders, but rather from people who through their own willpower and strength are willing to sacrifice their lives for an idea.

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  17. #17
    Boolit Master Shawlerbrook's Avatar
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    Todd, does he accept mailorder work and if so, would you share his contact information. Pennsylvania is not the far from Central NYS.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master

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    I call myself a gunsmith but I have only had 1 or 2 ARs in my shop in the last 20+ years. I got sort of a slow start with gunsmithing, did it for a hobby for about 30 years while being a mechanic, welder and machinist. One day I found myself out of a job so figured it was time to build the rifling machine I always wanted. Got some advice from a barrel maker plus a whole bunch of reject barrels to play with ( thanks Jerry). Was playing around freshing out old barrels when a fellow ask me if i could take his T/C Hawkin out to 54 caliber. First barrel I did for someone ells and it turned out to shoot very good. So I thought there might be some money in it so I put an add in Gun List that I would work on barrels. A fellow on the east coast called and wanted a barrel blank machined so I did it and then he flooded me with work. Basically started my business with one customer and picked up more along the way. I have not advertised in over 15 years but I do have a web page that my step son set up. Word of mouth seems to keep me in plenty of work. The rifling machine does not get much work but I get about 5 barrels a week to work on as well as other work. Making parts for old guns is what I like best, getting them shooting again. While I can work on wood I find that I would rather be working on metal. I did have bluing tanks but found it is much easier to let someone ells do that so I sold them. I don't get too much of the new stuff in but I have pin and welded many flash hiders on AR barrels( I get just the barrel, not the whole gun). Most of my work is on old single shots and lever guns with an occasional odd job like making a barrel for a 1905 Colt. Barrel liners seem to be the big thing now but I prefer to only use them on lower pressure guns because a new barrel is much better for a magnum. Turning my hobby into a full time job has been enjoyable but I don't like the paper work that's involved. While I did take a gunsmithing corse at a junior collage almost 50 years ago all I learned there was how to blue.
    There are plenty of parts changers out there that claim to be gunsmiths, just like auto mechanics that keep changing parts till it works. They can call themselves gunsmith and there is nothing wrong with that.

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master uscra112's Avatar
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    C.C.Johnson didn't do woodwork either. Going into the archives - there were guys who were famous for metalwork like Johnson and Niedner and Pope, and there were other guys like Tom Shelhamer who did wood. Not really the same skill sets.

    Until you can make and temper a flintlock mainspring from an old file, IMHO you're just an armorer.
    Cognitive Dissident

  20. #20
    Boolit Master

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    [QUOTE=
    Until you can make and temper a flintlock mainspring from an old file, IMHO you're just an armorer.[/QUOTE]
    Never thought of trying a file for a spring but I have made several springs from old car springs and new annealed stock. Last one I made was for an 1840 East Indian musket. Also use old car springs for firing pins, machine as is with no heat treat. Seems modern files are not hard all the way through like the old ones. I have made flint and steel fire starters from old files and a few special cutters.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
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GC Gas Check