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Gunsmithing or Something Like It

When I took the Glock Armorer course in 2009, I had the fantasy of using that class to springboard myself into a new and exciting (pronounced “lucrative”) second career, that could perhaps sustain me in my retirement years. When I was was growing up, I would spend my summers at my great uncle’s house in Florida. He was an engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, and he also had a gunsmithing business that he ran on the side, out of a wonderful little shop behind his house. I remember seeing all his tools and the guns his friends would bring him.

So, after all these years, I started thinking about becoming a part time gunsmith myself. However, I quickly learned a few things about gunsmithing.

I don’t have anywhere near the range of experience to make any money be any good at it. True gunsmiths study their craft for years and years, many times as an apprentice under an active gunsmith. If I had started (mumble, mumble, mumble) years ago, I might be there by now. But I did not.

It would be difficult to make any decent money as a gunsmith specializing in Glocks. I recently wrote a blog about the extensive work I have done to my Glocks to make them reliable. Getting someone to pay me to do the same to their Glock is another matter entirely. Yes, there are companies that specialize in aftermarket parts for Glocks, and they are profitable, but this requires volume.

Working on any gun involves calculated risk. After all, you are then asking the owner (me) to shoot the gun, and trust that your work was done correctly and safely. Getting to this level of trust with the gunsmith (again, me) involves years of study.

Having said all that, I have done some work on guns for people, successfully. In truth, most of what I have done should really be described as Armorer work. That is, I’ve replaced parts, cleaned and polished internals, and made some easy modifications. My most requested service is a Glock trigger job, which I have gotten quite good at. I’ve also replaced sights and internal parts.

Now, since Federal law requires that a gunsmith possess a valid Federal Firearms License, or FFL, if they take money for their services and hold guns overnight to do work, I’ve made sure not to take any money for my work, or hold the guns overnight. Lord knows, I don’t want to get in trouble with the ATF.

Mind you, I have done some work that I would consider gunsmith work. I say that because the advice most often posted on the interwebz about the work I needed to have done was “seek out the services of a trusted gunsmith.” And I found that with the right tools, a steady hand, and instructions that came with the part in question, or on the interwebz, I’ve been able to do a decent job.

One example was with my Mosin Nagant. The front barrel band came loose the last time I was shooting, and I found that the wooden handguard had shrunk over time, so that the barrel band holding it on was very loose. Now, the makers of this famous Soviet rifle made sure that the barrel band would not be overtightened or allowed to become too tight as the barrel expanded during use, by including a stop on the band, tow pieces of metal that hit each other and stop you from overtightening. But, this same stop now made it impossible to tighten it enough to hold the handguard in place. So I used a small grinder to remove some material from the stops, until the barrel band just held.

The danger, of course, is that the rifle will expand as it is shot, and the barrel band won’t (not as much, any way) and there’s a chance the wooden handguard would be squeezed in between so hard that it would crack. I will definitely pay close attention to this the next time I shoot.

I’ve also done some work on my SKS, most recently replacing the factory gas tube cover with an aftermarket piece that matched my new stock. This just involved drilling out a pin and reinstalling it with the new piece. A drill press came in handy.

Thinking about it, there’s really not much I wouldn’t at least be willing to try, at least on my own guns. But, my hopes of turning this into a second career have withered in the light of reality.

++++

Just as I was getting ready to post this, I remembered something my grandfather once told me. He was a professional auto mechanic, and his advice was to be able to do all my own work on my own car, but not to do it for a living.

Good advice, even for a gunsmith.

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One thought on “Gunsmithing or Something Like It

  1. As a professional automotive technician (and part-time aircraft mechanic) for over 35 years I can tell you that your grandfather was right. As a guy who can't handle working under a car on a lift or bending over an engine bay all day long anymore, and is working on transitioning my hobby of gunsmithing into a second career, I hope to be able to overcome the challenges you listed.

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