Craft Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Friday, March 20, 2020

More of How to Win Friends and Influence People

Alright, I'll admit it, I'm not Dale Carnegie and I should probably never work a suicide hotline or be a hostage negotiator.  I do however say what I mean and mean what I say.

What does the guy that graduates at the bottom of his class from "gunsmith" school call himself?  The same thing that the guy who graduates at the top does: gunsmith.  The thing is, they're both wrong.  The level of competence of the typical American gunsmithing school graduate (and many American gunsmiths, for that matter) is appallingly low and it's not entirely their fault, given the fact that the diploma from most of these places is little more than a participation trophy.  Before I'm accused of tarring-and-feathering everyone, let me be clear that there are some extremely talented individuals who have gone through these schools or who work in the business, and it is my good fortune to know some of them.  They are the minority however.  Most gunsmithing schools in this country are two-year (school years that is) degree/certificate programs and there is simply no way on earth that a person, with no prior knowledge, can be taught even most of the things that they need to know to actually be a competent gunsmith in that time.  The sciences of metallurgy and heat treatment are barely skimmed, if mentioned at all, none of the schools vet students as to mechanical aptitude and it would take two solid years just to cover the majority of different commonly encountered designs, even at one a day.  Instead, here is the typical curricula at the typical American gunsmith school:  a couple of months learning how to use a lathe and milling machine (keep in mind that most students had never seen either prior to this), followed by "building" a bolt-action rifle, "building" a 1911, assembling an AR-type rifle, then on to how to ruin surfaces with a buffing wheel, hot dip caustic bluing, maybe Parkerizing and one or more variations of spray-painting disguised as some "patented, proprietary, high-tech coating process".  Then, upon graduation, these people are told that they are gunsmiths and sadly, many of them believe it.  Why shouldn't they?  They paid their tuition and they "passed" their courses (they all pass) plus, they have that nifty paper.  They then go out into the real world and many never realize how much that they still don't know because hey, they've got  the diploma and they already "learned" gunsmithing and are ready to impress everybody with their "certified" skillz.  The problem is that they really didn't.  Let's start with the instructors.  There is an old saying: "Those that can, they do.  Those that can't, they teach." and "Those that can't teach, teach gym."  I've met a few instructors and, to be charitable, with one standout exception, they were less than impressive in their knowledge and ability.  I know for a fact that students are hired as instructors immediately upon "graduation" at some places, mainly because no actual gunsmith would get anywhere near a full-time instructor's position at these places.  This is why it would behoove every student to attend the summer courses that some of these schools put on, where actual gunsmiths share their knowledge.
The only gunsmithing school in the world worthy of the name takes four solid years and requires that the prospective student pass an aptitude test before being granted entry.  It's also tuition-free, so there is no "profit motive" to admit and graduate as many students as possible.  The students at this school learn about the materials from which guns are made and then actually, literally, make a rifle or shotgun FROM SCRATCH, not from parts and actions that are bought from a catalog (that happens to also "sponsor" the gunsmithing program).  At this school, the mere making of a spring is not treated as "black magic" or something to be avoided if possible.  Heat treatment is not some mysticism known only to practitioners of the dark arts and rifling a barrel, adjusting a choke or making an entire action aren't things that can only be done "at the factory".  There is no need to name this magical wonderland of education, those that are worthy already know the name, but based upon the previous statements it should be obvious that it's not in the U.S. of A.
There is little that is more galling than to see shitty workmanship touted as the work of a "master", except possibly than to hear others on some forum chime in in agreement because nobody knows what the hell they're looking at.  That is not hyperbole, a surprisingly large number of "end users" are woefully lacking in the ability to discern good workmanship, much less actual craftsmanship.  This is a large part of the reason that incompetent "gunsmiths" persist.  To point this out on a forum is to be labeled a "troll" because the internet has become a "safe space" where truth and facts are shouted down if they're not agreed upon by everyone.  Like it or not, whether you want to admit it or not, all of you gun forum denizens are just as much "snowflakes" as the "liberals" that you hate, when it comes to calling out shitty work or shitty guns.  So, between gunsmithing schools, internet forums and Google, everybody is an expert now.  Have at it.
One last word of advice to all of you freshly minted "gunsmiths":  You have no idea of what you don't know.  Your "education" barely qualifies you as a parts changer at the local bait and bullets store.  Your real education begins after you leave school and if you're smart, doesn't end until you draw your last breath.   Keep that in mind and in about ten to twenty years you might actually be pretty good.

Now, get off my lawn!


  1. Lol the get off my lawn comment was the icing on the cake

  2. I don’t know if you reply to these comments, but I figured I’d take a shot. I went to one of these American gunsmithing schools and your assessment is spot on, unfortunately. I wanted to learn to properly build a rifle and shotgun, as you say, “from scratch”. You make a mention of a school outside of the US but I failed to see the name of the institution. Would you be so kind as to provide any information that you were willing and able to give?
    -A seeker of knowledge

    1. Hello Clark. The school to which I refer is the Technical Training and Research Institute of Ferlach, Austria. Last I checked, the tuition is free but you must fluently speak German and will be responsible for your own living arrangements.