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.
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.
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.
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.
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.