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Gunsmiths, Armorers and

 Kitchen Table Mechanics



There are lots of people to whom you can take your guns when you need something done. Gunsmithing is one of those trades where anyone can call himself a gunsmith. There is no licensing board that tests the skill of someone who wishes to work on guns. When you choose a gunsmith, it is up to you to check his qualifications.


The choices we have today are tremendous. There are qualified, semi-qualified and not-so-qualified gunsmiths. Most gunsmiths tend to specialize in one area and may not be at all qualified in another. There are advantages and disadvantages to doing business with each and every one of them. And just because a "gunsmith" falls into a less highly trained category does not mean they don't know what they are doing.


So what can you expect and what should you watch for when you are trying to make a choice? In the following paragraphs I will try to give you some idea of what kind of training and experience is available out in the world today and how you can judge someone's qualifications.



Gunsmith Training


When the gunsmithing trade was young, people learned by working as an apprentice to a master gunsmith. This was a long process requiring a great deal of patience. After several years an apprentice could call himself a journeyman gunsmith. After many, many more years, he could call himself a master.


Today, some gunsmiths do train apprentices. I started my gunsmithing experience as an apprentice. It was a valuable experience learning from a very capable gunsmith. He was not, I am sure he would agree, a master gunsmith. I do not believe that today you could call anyone a "master gunsmith." By my way of thinking, a master is someone who knows as much as is known by anyone about his trade. When there were only a few types of guns in the world, there were plenty of masters. Today, with the great number of makes and models there are, I doubt seriously if there are any masters left. A gunsmith can be the master of a particular field such as 1911 style pistols or trap & skeet shotguns.



Gunsmith Schools


By far, the most comprehensive training available is the kind you get from one of the nationally known gunsmithing schools. These schools teach principles of firearms function and repair. The idea is that by knowing how each part interrelates, diagnosis of a malfunction is possible. This is because while there are thousands of different weapons in the world today, each is based on just one of a few basic systems.


Completion of a good school should equip the graduate with enough knowledge and resources to make a reasonable living as a journeyman gunsmith. After apprenticing for a year, I attended Colorado School of Trades (CST) in Lakewood, Colorado. The training started with the basics, like using hand tools to make parts to exact tolerances, metal polishing , checkering and refinishing of stocks. As the training advances, stock making, machine tool operation, and welding were included. Near the end of the training is the "design and function" section. This is where you actually learn to diagnose and repair weapons. CST operates an actual shop where customers can bring their guns for repair at reduced rates. This provides valuable training because customers can have repairs made that would be too expensive at a regular shop.



Armorer Training


Armorers learn their craft at classes sponsored by manufacturers or the military. Usually they are only available to law enforcement or military personnel, although some manufacturers are training students at some of the gunsmith schools. An armorer is trained to work on a specific set of firearms. For example, XYZ, Inc. sponsors an armorers class to train people to work on their guns ONLY. They may further limit it to only their revolvers or automatics. They don't teach you how to do all those neat things you read about in the magazines. What they do teach you is how to put a weapon back to factory specifications.


I have been to armorers schools offered by many of the manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Glock, Sigarms and Remington. As a gunsmith, these classes are beneficial because you learn the techniques the factory has developed for repairing their guns and the theory behind the design.



Kitchen Table Mechanic


People I refer to as "amateur gunsmiths" many people call "kitchen table mechanics." These people learn their craft by reading, watching and experimentation. This is not necessarily bad except that there is usually no instructor to coach you through your first time with a particular technique. It does take quite a bit longer to learn gunsmithing this way. It can also be expensive if you tend to make a lot of mistakes.


I have seen amateur gunsmiths do some fine work. Most of the time they do gunsmithing simply because they love it instead of being motivated by profit. Still, without a good foundation of knowledge and skill, and the lack of proper tools, mistakes can be made and problems can develop.



Choosing The Right Gunsmith


Picking the right gunsmith is really a matter of trust. The gunsmith should be honest about his skills. When he can't offer quality work on a particular request, he should let his client know and give him the reason why. The gunsmith who continually promises more than he can deliver is destined to lose more customers than he will gain.


Ask your potential `smith about his qualifications. Find out where and when he learned his trade. Ask if he has references. Look at previous guns on which he has worked. Talk to past customers for whom he has done the same type of work. If he is honest and does good work he should be happy to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.


Dishonest gunsmiths are found everywhere. Don't let yourself be fooled. On a target or hunting gun you may lose some money. On a personal defense gun you may lose more than that.



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