Life can be complicated sometimes. Things you think should be simple too frequently end up being far more complex than they have a right to be. And usually it’s because the person trying to do the job doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing. Read on for a few distressing tales of gunsmithing woe. . .

Anecdote 1
A long time ago I was playing like Chuck Connors and twirling my .44 magnum Winchester model 94 carbine. Since I was an idiot, I ended up dropping it and breaking off the front sight. I accepted that stupidity definitely has a price and took it to a local gunsmith. He installed a replacement sight that was obviously not the original. I inquired as to why he couldn’t get a sight to match the original. He had no answer.

Took it out to the range, the sight flew off on the second shot. Took the gun back. Another inferior sight brazed on the end. This one lasted all of five shots. Took it back again. Insisted he contact Winchester and get a true replacement sight. A week goes by…nothing. Two weeks…nothing. A month later I return to the store (gunsmith rented out the back of a sporting goods store). No gunsmith. He’d packed up and left.

Took a deep breath and contacted store manager. Asked for my money and my rifle back. He couldn’t refund the money since the gunsmith operated as a separate business. OK, I’ll deal with that later. Go get my gun. He disappears into the back. Twenty minutes later, I have to have someone go get him. No gun.

Apparently all the in-process inventory was packaged up and shipped. WTF? Where? Don’t know, some other gunsmith. When did I need it back, he inquired. In about 5 minutes or I call the cops, I answered. He didn’t have the gun. Stalemate. Ended up taking 6 months to get my gun back. With, of course, another incorrect sight improperly installed. Sold rifle shortly thereafter, unfired.

Anecdote 2
A friend of mine borrowed a shotgun from someone and left it in the trunk of his car. The trunk leaked, gun got wet, stayed there for 6 months, turning a beautiful shade of rust. My friend’s a complete idiot. I can’t imagine anyone loaning him anything, much less a gun. Much much less a family heirloom. Apparently. A very nice looking blued steel shotgun. Friend does the right thing and takes it to a gunsmith to have the barrel stripped and re-blued.

The gunsmith doesn’t do that work in-house and ships it off. Gun disappears for close to a year. My friend and the gun owner have multiple arguments over it. Justifiable. Gun finally returns…Parkerized. WTF? Yup, military grade BS parkerization job. Not just the barrel, either, but the action too. A brilliantly blued action that now looks like shit.

Anecdote 3
Last weekend, the front sight flew off the end of my .45 Colt Combat Commander. OK, that happens sometimes. Took it to a local gunsmith. Big shop in the back of a major gun store. Three gunsmiths on duty. No front sights in stock for a narrow tenon. The most popular American handgun ever. Been in production for over 100 years. The majority of which use the narrow tenon front sight. And none in stock. Could he order one, I asked.

It’d be better if I just got one myself and brought it to him, he answered. He did have one (count them – ONE) sight package for a Colt 1911. Wide tenon front sight. Which would require him to machine my slide to accept a wide tenon. And the sight package? The radioactive glow-in-the-night sights at $130. Plus TT&L. Well over $250 by the time it’s all said and done. For an old, beat up range toy. No thanks, I’ll figure something else out, I answered.

I’m now surfing the web looking for a narrow tenon front sight and a tenon staking tool. Guess I’ll have to brush up on my (self-taught) gunsmithing skills.

My wife often asks why I never hire a professional. The above is a good start at answering her question. Cars, guns, bikes, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, I do all repairs myself. I’d rather do it wrong three times myself (and learn something in the process) then pay someone else to do it wrong once.

I know anecdotal evidence isn’t always – or even usually – conclusive, but does anyone have any good gunsmith stories? I’m talking local, back of the sporting goods store gunsmith stories. Shipping stuff off to high end, high dollar custom shops doesn’t count. I don’t care that Bill Wilson does good work, I’m not paying him to replace a front sight on a beat up antique. And if anyone is in the Clear Lake / Webster / League City area outside of Houston, can you recommend a good gunsmith?

35 Responses to The Gunsmith Chronicles: What’s Your Story?

  1. I tried to mount my Fulton Armory scope mount on my M1A. Couldn’t get it to stay straight, called Clint, I couldn’t follow his very clear instructions. I took it to the local shop b/c they mount scopes for $30 and I was sick of trying and I like to support local business. The guy behind the counter proceeds to make fun of me (“did you read the instructions?”), then when he realized it wasn’t as easy as it looked he disappeared in the back of the shop for 45 min. Finally I ask someone else what is going on and he says “oh, it’s done.”

    I have a revolver getting work done that has been in a different shop for ~6 months. I will reserve judgment until I see the results but the lack of communication is frustrating.

  2. My father was a part-time gunsmith in his spare time while I was growing up– one of the good ones. Did everything from proper bluing to engraving and other custom work. I credit much of that stuff during my upbringing to mechanical interests and abilities to this day.

    Anywho, most of the jobs he took on were word-of-mouth repairs for guns that had seen a back-of-the-sports-store “gunsmith”. The most amusing were, not surprisingly, sight repairs. I’ve seen everything from superglue to MIG welding employed to affix sights. And that really awesome flux-core 110V cheapest MIG money can buy “welding” too.

    The ugliest memory of note was the one guy who showed up with a shockingly beautiful Marocchi shotgun, which had been given a “choke job” with a hand drill.

  3. I got a gunsmith tale in progress now.

    As I type this my shiny 5906 is sitting at the gunsmith because of erratic double feed jams with new rounds jamming under the un-extracted casing.

    Took it to a local smith for evaluation and discovered that not only was the extractor sprung at the wrong value, but that the ejector was peened out by some numbskull in the past to compensate for the mistuned ejector. So now we have two problems to fix and not one. Its a repair bill I am NOT looking forward to seeing.

  4. My motto (when I was younger), I can screw it up a lot cheaper than the pros. Guess I’ve been lucky, nothing’s broken yet.

  5. The thing is, gunsmithing doesn’t typically pay well enough to compensate people with the requisite skill set. Which is why you see such a significant gap in the market – 20% are good, the other 80% fall between mediocre and criminally incompetent. And that top 20% tend to have a significant turn-around time due to demand.

    I’m fortunate to live in an area w/ an unusually good selection of local gunsmiths. Austin Behlert’s shop was nearby, and George Smith’s shop (EGW) is up the road, so there are a number of guys who’ve received very good training and produce high quality work. But any of them could be making more with their skills working in other areas. The ones who make a career out of it do so because they genuinely enjoy working on guns, and even then they’ll often have to supplement their income.

  6. I do like to learn and do my own work, but when I fail, I go for help.

    I bought a cheap green fiber optic front sight and stuck it on my XD. My factory sight was loose anyway. Turns out, I have the only XD in American with a loose front sight groove. So after installing it myself, it pops out at the range. The range has a gunsmith onsite, so I walked over and handed it to him. He had to bang some grooves into the front site dovetail to get the sight to bind and stay. He worked on it hard for 10 minutes while I waited. When he handed me the gun back, I asked, “How Much”. He shrugged and said. $5

    If your in East Fort Worth, stop by Winchester Gallery. Nice store, range and gunsmith.

    • I have to agree. They checked out a surplus M1 carbine for me (headspace and safe operation) and refused payment. They simply asked that I take care of the gun as it was the nicest they had seen in over a decade. This for a walk in they had never seen before.

  7. the Local gun smith i use is slow but Great, granted he might qualify as your high end mail in gunsmith Mr Hatfield does great work but 3-4 months is a hell of a long time to go without a gun but that is why you own multiple guns so you can enjoy the others while one is getting worked on. their website is http://hatfieldsgunsmithing.com/

    • Hatfields is way overpriced. A trigger job and a safety install cost almost $400 for a 1911. That is ridiculous by almost any standard. That should be around $150-$200. And the wait is more near 6 months. I’d rather either do it myself, or ship to Wilson Combat (or some other well knowns).

    • I ordered the staker tool and it showed up yesterday. Ordered the sight from somewhere else, still waiting on it. Thanks for the links.

      • I order from Brownell’s regularly. Their customer service is great, they ship fast and they have most everything. Reading their catalog will cause you to plan all kinds of projects.

        Midway has lots of gunsmith type stuff also.

        The Kuhnhausen books (there are 2 volumes) on the 1911 cover everything and are a help if you do much on the gun. I’ve built 1 from parts and another starting with an RIA “tactical”.

        Glad I could help!

  8. I was visiting the gunsmith brother of a friend about a custom 300 win mag, when he pulled a $5000 custom target rifle out of the cabinet, looks real close at the barrel, pulls out a 2′ length of pine 2×4 and whales on the bottom of the barrel for fifteen seconds. Looks real close at it again, puts it back in the safe, and continues the conversation as if nothing happened.

      • He is in his 60s and nobody is really sure whether he is senile or not, and his ‘shop’ looks like someone decorated it with a barrel-scope-manual-catalog-rem oil-machining oil bomb. So I’m not totally convinced.

  9. My local god-like gunsmith is retiring next month. This is the man who took the trigger on my .32NAA from over 12lbs to 6, shortened the pull from all week long to .4″ and the reset from even longer (Well it seemed that way) to .3″. He also smoothed the feed ramp and tuned the triggers on my PX4s. I was hoping he would be the one I took my Sigs to when I buy them.

    Now I have to find another ‘smith. I am not looking forward to the hunt.

  10. Jeff doesn’t have a website, but call him and tell him I sent you. The guy does top notch work. He’s does some custom machining, sights, and used to build competition guns for a hometown friend of mine.

    Hill Country Arms, Inc.
    1013 Sidney Baker
    Kerrville, TX 78028
    830-792-7722

    While he is a little far away, Kerrville is a nice place to visit. Or you could have your local FFL ship to him.

  11. First Impression: My Mossberg 500 broke its tang safety button. I took it to a gunsmith in Vista, CA and picked it up a week later. The safety was fixed and the bill was $30. I was happy.

    Second Impression: My 686 developed a dangerously light S/A trigger after about ten years and thousands of rounds. I probably caused it myself by getting jeweler’s rouge into the works when I polished up the stainless steel. I took it to a Vancouver, WA gunsmith (quickly out of business) who sat on it for two months and did nothing. I canceled my order and chewed them out. Not happy.

    Third Impression: I took said 686 to a Ridgefield, WA gunsmith (unfortunately still in business) who sat on it for three months. I tried to cancel my order, but he had already thrown away the original hammer, which he said was worn down. I had no choice but to wait another two months until he got off his ass and installed a new hammer which solved the problem. His bill was about half the price of the gun at the time. Not Happy.

    Fourth Impression: I have an exceptionally accurate Mosin-Nagant M44, and I wanted a scope mount and a bent bolt. I took a friend (who wanted a minor modification to his .308 Saiga) to a Vancouver gunsmith who literally sneered at us and said “I don’t work on Russian shit like that.” That gunsmith is no longer in business, but he sold his operation to a different heavily-tattooed fellow who is even less pleasant to deal with. Not Happy.

    Fifth Impression: I have a great relationship with another Vancouver gunsmith who handles all my FFL transactions. He shows off his work to me, and I show him all the cool guns I get to test for TTAG. I’m probably going to have him Duracote my AK this year. Happy.

    Why do 3/5 of gunsmiths treat their customers so poorly? When I have to send a gun back to the factory, I know I can usually expect it back in 4 to 6 weeks with the problem solved. With a gunsmith, there’s just no way of knowing they’ll even look at it for two months.

  12. I sometimes have fixed stuff that stumped so called gunsmiths. I had a 39A that I had the dealer fix a magazine cut off tab spacer and never fixed it right. I finally installed a brass bushing tab spacer part off an older 39 that fit better than the newer part and it finally worked!

  13. I had a cherry 1937 low wall Mosin and an authentic PEM scope and mount with the proper Russian screws. I take it to the local smith who says he can do it no problem. I tell him that the threads or an odd metric and hand him my matching tap as well.

    I come back in a week and find that he has:

    1. Used hardware store screws and “threw away mine” because they were inferior Russian steel.
    2. Broke my tap
    3. Drilled through the chamber wall

    Fortunately it only cost me $70 to get my unshootable rifle back. A few months later he closed up shop and reopened in a nearby town under a different name. He has since closed up that shop and moved back to the original location under yet another name.

    • Please tell me you are taking him to small claims court for 1. Refusing to do as requested – i’d call that fraud. 2. The replacement cost of your broken tap set 3. The FULL market value of the gun that he has rendered unshootable.

      And I wouldn’t let the court fob you off with a 80$ mos in from the guys stores.

      That’s insane that’s fucking ludicrous, that’s like he decided to put a LS engine in your Jensen Intercepted because ‘it’s a shitty rotary engine’

      I sure as fuck wouldn’t have paid the guy a dime and I’d have claimed in his insurance and tried my dammedest to have him done for fraud and being a fuckwit.

  14. I’ve never had to use a gunsmith, I’ve managed to fix everything I’ve screwed up on my guns, but it’s sad that it’s no longer the respected trade it once was (or at least, in the black-and-white movie in my mind it was). Most trades have certifications like ASE for mechanics, or union apprenticeships like plumbers and electricians. Not to say a self-taught person can’t be competent, but somebody with a certificate hanging on the wall gives some comfort. Anybody with an electric drill and a mallet can hang up a sign saying he’s a gunsmith. I think one problem is the low volume of work available in any given area – guns are mostly pretty reliable, and a lot of people do work on them themselves. If you consider what a competent machinist (same basic skill set and tools) can make in a year, being a gunsmith doesn’t look that appealing, except maybe as a part-time side job.

    That said, we should expect to pay for competent work. It’s unreasonable to expect a skilled person with a lot of expensive tools to bill $20/hour. I say this as a self-employed tradesman. Prospective clients (often of the old codger variety) are sometimes put off by my rates – “Hell, all you have to do is this and this and this, I could do that myself!” Then, by all means, do it yourself. I’m even happy to give free advice about how to do it. But if you want me to do it, it costs what it costs, and you can sleep soundly knowing it was done right.

  15. Had a local gunsmith install sights on a gun for me.

    They ended up sliding around the rear of slide back and forth about 15 rounds into the first session.

  16. Hey, there sure is a lot of Gunsmith hate in here… You know for every hack goonsmith out there, there are dozens of us unappreciated hard working gunsmiths fixing your fuck ups people. We don’t make a lot of money and we are almost never thanked, but we do the job. We do it because we love firearms, and the shooting sports. We also do it because we want other shooters to be able to enjoy these things as much as we do. I can tell you that there are a lot of people out there clamming to be Gunsmiths that are not, but my profession deserves a lot more respect then I am seeing on this blog. I wont be following it anymore.

    A real Gunsmith

    • Let me get this straight: You’re butthurt because people are complaining about a few whackjobs in your profession who don’t know what they’re doing? Seriously?

    • Tell you what. I got some more work I need to get done. Contact Our Fearless Leader with your info to pass on to me. I will have you do the work at my expense, and write about it afterwards, assuming that is ok with OFL and you. This site is called “The Truth About Guns” and I will be happy to tell the truth. I will say that my problems with smiths (and shops, for that matter), have usually been with their attitudes rather than their work or knowledge.

  17. I notice that we’re not using names, so I’ll do the same..

    A few years ago I’d taken a Model 14 and Bo-Mar sight rib to a Pennsylvania gunsmith who promotes himself as a custom revolver-smith. He’d cut the cylinders of a couple of my revolvers for moonclips previously, and so I figured that he could handle mounting the sight rib for me.

    Long story short, after two years, repeated attempts to get the revolver back and two certified letters culminating in me threatening to report the revolver stolen – I finally got it back.

    And he did mount the rib – sort of.

    He mounted it behind the revolver’s front sight. That is, he never removed the front sight, he simply abutted the front of the rib to the rear of the front sight and drilled and tapped it in place. So the revolver now has two front sights, one on the barrel and another above and behind it on the rib. The rear of the rib extends over the hammer spur, making it impossible to shoot the revolver in SA. He didn’t bother mounting the rib at the rear, so it’s only mounted at one point near the front. Which is actually good because it will enable me to salvage the revolver and have the rib mounted properly. But there’s no way that he could have thought that he had mounted the rib properly – he has pictures of revolvers with sight ribs on his website. I suspect that he simply decided to screw me and hope for the best.

  18. Gunsmiths are a bit like lawyers, they specialize (at least they do in my neck of the woods). Taking a 19th century long gun to a guy that focuses on 1911-A1s can be a crap shoot. I’ve been blessed in my 2 times I used a gunsmith. Austin Behlert mildly customized my 1911 exactly as I had instructed, and the bill was quite reasonable. I think it took 3 or 4 weeks tops. I also had another Pennsylvania gunsmith (I have forgotten his name, it’s been over 25 years) fix my Taurus .357 revolver. The lockwork was jammed. Cost me $25 and I got it back in 2 weeks. All I can suggest is check with members at whatever ranges/shooting clubs you belong to for recommendations. My 76 year old dad still actively shoots trap and knows several good and a few bad gunsmiths thru the clubs, matches, and ranges he shoots at. He takes his Remington to Mr. “X”, his Bennelli to Mr. “Y”, and his handguns to Mr. “Z”.

  19. My dad and I are pretty lucky that we’ve always been able to repair our own guns, of course it was never anything big. We have done a few nifty repairs when parts were hard to come by, like replacing the worn springs in a derringer with near identical ones from a RC car shop. I personally have a strong interest in learning gunsmithing and have a few books on the subject. We are also slowly amassing the tools and materials for a lot of basic gun work.

    I am currently working on repairing an old S&W .32 safety hammerless; I’ve completely taken it apart, stripped all the rust and old finish off, and am going to get a spring blank to down file down into a new trigger spring in place of the rusted out old one. I will have to find someone to do a new hot blue on it and that step makes me a little worried because we don’t personally know any smiths or shops in the area. After that it will be good as new, minus some minor pitting in the barrel, and ready for a little range time. The gun isn’t very collectible and I always wanted a break open revolver so I thought it would be a good learning experience. Maybe one day I could do a bit of gunsmithing myself as a side job.

  20. I’m the type to do everything myself, trigger jobs, sight installations etc guess I’ve been blessed with a mechanical inclination. Did have a New Haven 22 with a trigger that would not reset that stumped me for a while, but did get it working ok. Only time going to a smith was when my brother got night sights installed on his 1911, the shop was really messy, but after a 30-60 minute BS session it was clear the guy knew what he was doing. Did a good job, and was done when he said, and had another long BS session when we picked it up.

  21. Sounds like a fun project, Jake.

    Youtube has been invaluable to me with little projects like installing triggers or just taking things apart for cleaning.

  22. I’ve been a shooter for over 50 years and every last job I’ve had done at gunsmith shops has been done poorly. Every darned one. Every shooting buddy of mine has basically the same story.

  23. I haven’t had much need of their services, but both times I visited the gunsmith at The Arms Room in League City, I had good results, though both were minor. (SE corner of I-45 and 646 next to PetSmart)

  24. I have limited experience dealing with “professional” gunsmiths, but I did take a few of my brother’s pistols to one after he left them in his car for a few days in a puddle of rainwater.

    When I dropped the pistols off, they looked like they were COVERED in rust; When I picked them up 1-2 weeks later, they looked practically new. The only signs of any rust were on the one that had looked worse to start with — the recoil spring assembly is still discolored where the rusty spring was sitting on it, and there is some pitting on one side of the rear site (but not the slide). Total bill was something on the order of ~50 per gun, which I thought was more than fair given how thorough a job the shop did cleaning them up.

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