Beware the Amateur Gunsmith

Beware the Amateur Gunsmith - How about a scope mount for your Ruger Mini-14 rifle?  Image Source: American Shooting Journal
Beware the Amateur Gunsmith – How about a scope mount for your Ruger Mini-14 rifle? Image Source: American Shooting Journal

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- The definition for a gunsmith is someone who repairs, modifies, designs and builds guns, but in the end, it’s not as simple as all that. If you have been around firearms for a long enough time, you will see shoddy or even dangerous work, and often it comes at the hands of someone who calls themselves a gunsmith, but in reality, shouldn’t be near a gun at all.

Winchester 1892 Special Order 32-20 WCF, bottom of the frame is a crudely engraved “M”.
Winchester 1892 Special Order 32-20 WCF, bottom of the frame is a crudely engraved “M”. Image Source: Collectors Firearms

In the last two decades, I have seen some work passed off by so-called gunsmiths that range anywhere from decent and good to downright scary and dangerous. I have seen people refinish guns with spray paint instead of re-bluing them and calling it the same, to cutting off barrels with no thought to re-crowning them and then wonder why the accuracy went out the window. Some guns I have seen are downright scary and are in the category of unsafe and truly dangerous.

Please allow me to port your barrel with a hacksaw... Image Source: American Shooting Journal
The winner in the next bolt-measuring competition is… Image Source: American Shooting Journal

There is a difference between someone who has the confidence and chooses to modify their guns and the person who claims to be a gunsmith and works on someone else’s and charges money for it. I can tell you that I am no gunsmith, nor would I claim to be, but in the past, I have done my own action jobs on revolvers, and few custom modifications, stock work, but nothing that involves large technical jobs.

I learned a long time ago; if I can’t do the work or don’t have the proper equipment, I take it to a gunsmith, a real gunsmith, someone with experience and the right tools.

Finding a real gunsmith nowadays is harder than ever. There are many fly-by-night so-called institutions that will be happy to take your money and after a few online courses hand you a piece of paper saying that you are now a gunsmith. In the end, the students have learned little to nothing, have wasted their money on a school that has no accreditation [check this list of great gunsmith schools choose Gunsmith Schools from the drop down list] and sent people out into the world with almost no more skills than what they started. To the person thinking about taking an online gunsmithing course, think about how hard it will be to learn how to use things like a lathe or a drill press over the internet. My advice, look your local machinist union or school, they offer courses and apprenticeships in most cases and in this day and age of most people wanting to do nothing but sit behind a computer, they’re eager for students who want to be hands on.

Please allow me to port your barrel with a hacksaw... Image Source: American Shooting Journal
Please allow me to port your barrel with a hacksaw… Image Source: American Shooting Journal

Once you found a gunsmith in your area, ask around if they’re any good at their job, go to the local gun shops and ask who they use, if they know the person you’re talking about. On a couple of occasions, I have found that gun shops have given someone a try but were unhappy with them for one reason or another. If you get more than one gun shop saying that they had issues with a gunsmith, walk away, that person isn’t who you want to use.

Now of course in addition to gunsmiths, we have the age of the instructional video like you see on YouTube. I never tend just to watch one video on the same subject if I bother to use one. If you watch a video and the person is doing unsafe things, and it looks like they’re just some ham-handed amateur trying to get views, then avoid them like the plague, sadly there are many of them out there. If you ask a question and get a nasty comment in response just because you disagreed with them, then you again want to find someone else.

If you find that gunsmith you want to use, ask them their qualifications. If they want your money, then they better be able to produce something that says they aren’t just some guy with a piece of paper that might not be any good. Or telling you they’re qualified. In some states, you have to have a license to operate as a gunsmith, not just have a few tools and in your basement.

Good gunsmiths are hard to find these days, but I would also advise you if you have a clue how to use tools and are somewhat mechanically inclined, to learn as much about your own guns as possible. I bought manuals for many of mine over the years that show how to take them down for cleaning and minor work, nothing that is too difficult. Again, if I feel uncomfortable or think I am getting in over my head, it goes to a gunsmith.

Being a gunsmith takes a lot of time, tools and skill to be good at it. I’ve been working on my own guns here and there for years, and I would never consider myself one, but far too many people out there with a screwdriver set and a hammer call themselves one. Avoid these hacks and amateur “Bubbas” and take the time to seek out a professional gunsmith, like Tyler Gun Works or Wilson Combat, especially before you end up having your grandfather’s antique Winchester or very expensive custom rifle ruined by someone who would be better off playing video games instead of dealing with real guns.


David LaPell

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff’s Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

36 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ken
ken
2 years ago

In every US state you need a Gunsmith license to operate as a gunsmith. ATF issues them. The problem is they give an FFL (Gunsmith) to every person who can pay the fee and pass a fingerprint check. An understanding of how a gun works, much less how to fix one, is not a prerequisite to obtaining a gunsmith license. An inability to do basic math is not an obstacle to obtaining your gunsmith license. Neither is not knowing the difference between a hollow ground screwdriver and a pocket knife. There is no legal requirement to stay awake while watching… Read more »

Get Out
Get Out
2 years ago

Mid 80’s I had a gunsmith tell me the op rod on my M1 Garand was bent and did I want him to straighten it! I ask him why would he straighten it when the op rods supposed to be bent to cycle properly? I got the deer in the headlights look from him and to top it off he informed me that the bolt was stuck open and he couldn’t get it closed, he’d put the follower rod in upside down and it had locked open. Never went back and always cautioned everyone not to take their guns to… Read more »

Sabre22
Sabre22
2 years ago

My late father had a Stevens Semi-Auto lightweight shotgun from the 50’s and he forgot to change the recoil mechanism to a heavier load and broke the butt stock (duck hunting i think) . Since he had a family and little money and could not afford a new butt stock he had it glued and wrapped with wire and soldered and he used it for over two decades. it was the only stock i remember him hunting with. He had the stock replaced in the early 2000’s and got the old stock back i still have it and will not… Read more »

Chris Mallory
Chris Mallory
2 years ago

The “M” on the Winchester 1892 isn’t gunsmithing. It was probably a mark of pride put on the rifle by a poor man with little education or tools. He marked the rifle as “His”. Was jerry rigging the bolt what it took for a poor man to get the rifle operational again? Maybe he needed the rifle for food? You may not like how it looks, but unless we have the whole story there isn’t any reason to be attacking him. I have seen long guns held together with wire, duct tape or raw hide. Were they pretty? Nope. Did… Read more »

ChiptheBarber
ChiptheBarber
2 years ago

That porting job in the pic looks awesome. I think I can do THAT. Let me just get out my Korth revolver and see if I can tame a little of that recoil—-I’ll send pix when I’m done!

Chris
Chris
2 years ago

I am currently enrolled in one of the schools listed in brownells list. It’s an online school. I will say this. It provides a good amount of book knowledge but you cant replace hands on learning. Which is why I am also apprenticing with a good gunsmith. If you plan to just graduate from an online school and call yourself a gunsmith, you are doing a great disservice to some really great craftsmen. Unfortunately good smiths are going by the wayside.

P.S. if you just “build AR’s”, dont call yourself a gunsmith. You’re just a puzzle builder.

Charles Driggers
Charles Driggers
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Well Chris you do have a point. But, that does not count for everyone. I went through an online school. I did not apprentice with anyone, but I did do armorers work on guns before. Anyone who just wants to learn gunsmithing and go to school should definitely apprentice with a reputable gunsmith. But, that does not apply to everyone. And, an armorer is not a gunsmith. Too many people think they are. My eyes were open to a lot through schooling.

tomcat
tomcat
2 years ago

It is hard to believe that someone was actually dumb enough to weld the scope mounts to this rifle. What if the scope is no good or turns bad, you are SOL. Besides, the guy is not a welder it looks like a chicken sh-t on the rifle. Things like this mean more gun control just to keep some idiot from blowing himself up. Then again maybe there is no problem if he blows himself up.

Scotty Gunn
Scotty Gunn
2 years ago
Reply to  tomcat

I got a 1903 cheap with scope mounts arc welded on. Fortunately, they had the heat too low, and I was able to cold chisel them off and dress it up. For a hundred bucks , I am not going to complain.

Harold Wayne Price
Harold Wayne Price
2 years ago

It does not always require a gunsmith for all your needs, but if you are not comfortable with what you need to do seek out a qualified gunsmith. I own a lot of tools and have done industrial maintenance and machine work for 50 years { retired}, but there are some things like changing hand gaurd or barrel on my AR10 that I do not have the tools for. and as opposed to buying it all. it is simply more eco to just take it to my qualified local GS. If you fucks know everything why do not share it?

James Russell Bailey
James Russell Bailey
2 years ago

I really liked the article, because it made some fine points, which were validly written and posited. However, what’s the author did not address we’re a few simple Facts of real-world Life out in the boonies, with firearms that are not common, and for which parts if not hard to come by no longer exist. Basically the premise of my response is along the lines of my grandfather taught me so long ago: “You duhz with what you has. If you hasn’t, you doesn’t.” Sometimes you have to make repairs on items in an impromptu manner, with items you wouldn’t… Read more »

Charles Valenzuela
Charles Valenzuela
2 years ago

Not paying some elitist “guild craftsman” $75 bucks to repair something on a gun that I paid $30 bucks for in the first place. No matter how it looks, I can always take it to a gun “buy-back” and get something for it, and usually more than it’s worth.

Smarter then you
Smarter then you
2 years ago

You sound like a fucking idiot, have fun with your 30.00 peice of shit.

Charles Valenzuela
Charles Valenzuela
2 years ago

Does it work? You elitists can’t get over someone that makes stuff work without being a member of some guild or club, can you?

Steve H
Steve H
2 years ago

I’m guessing you will end up having to have someone open your ketchup bottles if you follow your line of thinking, good luck with that.

Dave C
Dave C
2 years ago

Trying again, because it wasn’t posted earlier…….Every brick and mortar “gunsmith” I went to either screwed it up or said they couldn’t fix it and took at least 6 months before I got it back. I had several guns stored away because they didn’t work. I have done the research, have the proper tools including taps, punches, presses and multiple sets of headspace gages. I only work on my own, though I have had several requests. If I can’t do it right (and legally), I don’t do it, but have built 5 AK-47s from receiver flats and de-milled parts kits,… Read more »

Dave C
Dave C
2 years ago

Brownells has some very good videos on many of the more simple tasks…

Dave C
Dave C
2 years ago

Every brick and mortar “gunsmith” I went to either screwed it up or said they couldn’t fix it and took at least 6 months before I got it back. I had several guns stored away because they didn’t work. I have done the research, have the proper tools including taps, punches, presses and multiple sets of headspace gages. I only work on my own, though I have had several requests. If I can’t do it right (and legally), I don’t do it, but have built 5 AK-47s from receiver flats and de-milled parts kits, 7 AR-15s, 6 of them being… Read more »

Alan in NH
Alan in NH
2 years ago

I got my diplomas from the Modern School of Gunsmithing in Phoenix AZ, in the 80’s a correspondence course. Though limited in scope, it was a great introduction to the art that was available at the time. Now, we have the unlimited wealth of information on the internet and particularly You Tube. How do you disassemble a RemWinchSavaRuger? and more importantly, put it back together again? You Tube! Maybe the most important lesson will be to know your limitations and when to seek professional help.

Barry
Barry
2 years ago

Funny thing on that Mini-14 too…. that little plate is removable for installation of a mount! Doh!

BillyBob Texas
BillyBob Texas
2 years ago

“I dun’t seee no problm. Here in Wes Virginny this is jus normal.” 🙂

willyd
willyd
2 years ago

My biggest complaint with finding a qualified Gunsmith is that most will build you a complete gun before they will repair an owned gun. I have looked in my area that I moved to and have had trouble just finding one to put fiber optic sights on 2 of my pistols. The one that did the job really left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I dropped the 2 guns off at the shop and was told to check back in a week, the week goes by and I check back, then was told IT COULD BE ANY… Read more »

Charles Driggers
Charles Driggers
2 years ago
Reply to  willyd

Now you have said the magic words to a problem. ” I got manuals ”. You are the reason gunsmiths stay busy. Keep up the good, or bad, work. How busy was this so called smith? Yes, it doesn’t take long to install sights, but were you his only customer. Six months ? Hard to believe he said that. If he was a real gunsmith. Sights are the easiest thing to replace . If you know what you are doing. Did you look for a good job done. Or, the cheapest person you could find? Gunsmiths have all kinds come… Read more »

pigpen51
pigpen51
2 years ago

I live in West Michigan, along the Lake Michigan shoreline. We have always only had one gunsmith withing 50 miles of us, that we knew could be counted on to do any quality work. When I was a kid, about 17 or so, I took a .22 semi auto rifle to him, and he fixed it just fine, for only 5$. It would not fire, so I think it was only a spring or something, but I was impressed by his fairness. Now I live south about 35 miles, but still on the lakeshore, and we have a few more… Read more »

Greg K
Greg K
2 years ago
Reply to  willyd

Your comment stood out for me Willy. Am curious why you were in a big hurry? Also curious if the gun expert had to cut dovetails? Does he/She specialize in something other than your request? Most important, if it was so easy and you had copious amounts of time, why didn’t you do it yourself?

This guy may have explained his position, but you may have pushed him into a decision. In fact, it’s sometimes as important for the business to pick their clients; as it is for the client to pick an expert.

Djpagel
Djpagel
2 years ago

The weld hack job is awful!! It would have looked much better if it had been TIG welded instead. 😉

Green Mtn. Boy
Green Mtn. Boy
2 years ago

There is a difference between a gunsmith and a gun butcher as evidenced by the scope mounting job in the photo on the mini 14.

Jerry S.
Jerry S.
2 years ago

That always makes my heart skip a beat. When something that serious happens to a gun of mine and I don’t have the tools or confidence to do it myself, I almost get panicky. I live in the Florida Panhandle and the gunsmiths here are scarce and not well known, ergo, how do you know they can do the job??

LesWol
LesWol
2 years ago
Reply to  Jerry S.

Try DSH Firearms in Tallahassee, 850-386-5370. They’re good people and if they can’t do the job they will refer you to a reputable person who will. My friends and I use them a lot.

Steven Townes
Steven Townes
2 years ago

The gunsmith schools link takes you to Brownell’s.

Jay Morris
Jay Morris
2 years ago
Reply to  Steven Townes

And then in the drop down box you select Gunsmith Schools.

GregTorchia
GregTorchia
2 years ago

Friends don’t let friends go to Gunsmiths Or drive under the influence of communism

Clifffalling
Clifffalling
2 years ago

True story.

Baldwin sanimbu
Baldwin sanimbu
2 years ago

I have Mauser rifle 7x57mm German type made by Inman meffert suhl /sole agent of south Africa with some engraving on the trigger and on top of it.it has a long Hexagonal barrel.please in need advice on what type of a scope I can use on it and suppressor.

Gary Howes
Gary Howes
2 years ago

If you are looking for a gunsmith in your state, check out the directory at http://www.gunsmithusa.com