View Full Version : Where have all the Gun-Smiths Gone?
July 31, 2005, 05:28 PM
This is a solid question. Recently my beloved father-in-law “tasked” me to resuscitate a 1921 Colt Woodsman or find someone who could. I’d say it’s about 70%, not too bad for being old as dirt! It does NOT function properly though and is going to require some serious TLC and re-finishing. It has since been dropped off at, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most “reputable and competent ” folks in the S.F. Bay Area. He is overwhelmed with work/orders, so fortunately, there is not even a remote “rush” on the Colt. I told him “do it at your leisure”; he responded, “Oh, I will”.
Here is the dilemma; I attempted to have three of my rifles serviced yesterday (dust, clean, lube, inspect, adjust), however, the 2nd most reputable “smith” I know is backlogged until mid-august and didn’t even have the room to accept my guns. I was in no rush; I just wanted them on his “list”. They never made it to his safe, instead I returned home with guns in tow. Where have all the Reputable Gun-Smiths with the competitive rates gone? It’s like the twilight zone. I am in the South S.F. Bay Area, and we have millions living here, except the Gunsmiths seem to have left? Is there no longer profit in that Vocation? It seems with all the cool new stuff out, some one is installing it? Just because someone shoots, doesn’t mean they know how to properly clean or “fix” their firearm. Some folks (like me) are just plain lazy and are willing to pay someone else (qualified and competent) to help with some of the required maintenance tasks.
Anybody have any solid recommendations on Reputable and Competent Gun-Smiths in the Southern S.F. Bay Area, California? :confused:
I have a feeling any responses will be short, sweet and did I say short? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Peter M. Eick
July 31, 2005, 06:13 PM
My observation is that the market has basically killed them off. The gov. made it so difficult to run an honest legal business like the gun business that many of the shadetree gunsmiths left the industry. Those that are left got into a fairly cutthroat business for the limited work that was left. Thus I am always shocked at how cheap it costs to repair something. Commonly I spend more in shipping then it costs to get basic gunsmithing done.
For example, an excellent trigger job done by a "named" smith here in Sugarland, TX costs only $125. Think about it. At current automotive shop rates, that is less then 2 hours worth of work on the gun. He told me he spent around 4 hours on it. That is only $30 an hour. Pretty darn cheap, but he has a back log of about 4 months, so he can make it reasonable.
I hope you see my point on the state of the industry. We need more young smiths entering the business and we need to pay them a "living wage" otherwise we won't have very many in the future.
Sorry for the long answer. You hit a pet peeve.
July 31, 2005, 07:02 PM
I agree 100% with you. Especially your quote! "10mm and 357sig, the best things to come along since the 38 super!"
I guess I could "suck it up" and send the rifles straight back to the manufacturer for their "service visit". All three are at Gunsmith level "required" maintenance.
Ruger is usually pretty easy to deal with. I should call and ask about their "menu". FN on the other hand can be quite tenuous to reach, makes me leery about shipping them a very expensive (and my favorite) shotgun!
Thanks for the response! Always appreciated.
July 31, 2005, 10:33 PM
Well, the long answer is this, most gunsmiths stay backed up 2-3 months no matter where he is. If you came in my shop today, it might take a few weeks for me to get to it. The days of having it looked at when you bring it in are long gone. What kind of cleaning do they need that a can of gun scrubber can't take care of. Remove the trigger group pins and drop the group out of the gun, spray the gun scrubber inside the gun to clean out the inside and then spray off the trigger group. This removes carbon and dirt and then evaporates and leaves the gun clean. As far as the rifle goes, remove the bolt and spray it and then the inside. Get yourself something along the line of a Bore Scrubber, the foaming bore cleaner and a boresnake.
July 31, 2005, 11:27 PM
Dang..although we are 6 months to a year on custome rifles, we get minor repairs done in about 10 days
August 1, 2005, 01:35 AM
This is a global problem- same in Australia and the UK. Issues are a lot of shooters don't want to pay much for a lot of repairs & insurance is very expensive (when available).
August 1, 2005, 02:00 AM
Mine runs a thousand a year just for my liability. Then you have the shop and contents which runs 1/3 of that. Then, oh well, enough about then. Like I said, 2 weeks is normal turnaround in my shop unless is it a busy month like during hunting season which business picks up quick and the turnaround will go to a month unless you catch me in a situation where I can take a quick look and fix it for you while you wait.
One man said it best: You want that fixed now, sure, I'll do when I get a round tuit. I used to have a round tuit at one time, but I lost it.
I agree there aren't many folks around that want to go into a business that makes you have to beg to get paid for what you are worth. Price things too high and you make folks mad, price them too low and you have to close the doors. Price them to where folks will come back and use you again and you barely scrape by. So yes, if you find a smith worth a flip, he will be backlogged. How long will depend on just how many smiths are close to him. I have 4 in my county alone and the county only has 55,000 + or - a few. Move to the next county over and there are 2 that I know of. Ask one of them if they stay as busy as any of the ones where I live and the answer is absolutely plus some. So you can imagine how one that lives where you are would be 4-6 months backed up and telling you it will be a while before he looks at your gun. Learn to do as much as you can and take the gun to the smith when you have a problem with the gun. One of the things a lot of smiths do is clean in it before you pick the gun up. I clean them before I work on them myself, but if you come in just to get it cleaned, you will have to wait until I get the others fixed. Just how it is, not just first come first served, but fix the highest paying job first happens a lot of the time.
August 1, 2005, 11:27 AM
Aside from the laws, legal liability, business regulations, taxes, low actual pay, cost of tools and capital, etc., I will add one more - customers.
Now most customers are decent people, but it only takes a few ranting, raving, loony fringe nutcases demanding their guns be fixed NOW to drive a gunsmith right out of business. I have had people threaten me because I couldn't fix their guns by opening day when it was five PM on the day before opening day. And I got a big ration when I refused to ream an old Damascus barrel clunker shotgun to 3" magnum. And the screwballs who wanted me to make them some wild gun that they saw in a gunzine; one guy wanted a revolver that shot .44 Magnum and .22 LR (yes, one was pictured in a gun magazine - two rows of holes, two hammers). And the guy who wanted his rifle drilled and tapped, heard the price, then said his brother-in-law could do it with a hand drill. Then he brought the messed up result to me to "sight in".
And on, and on. I miss some of the good guys, but I am glad I am out of it.
August 1, 2005, 11:39 AM
I would also note that the "reputable" part is a bit problematic. A friend of mine just started work as a professional smith. How many years of struggling is it going to take before he is considered reputable enough for you to try him?
August 1, 2005, 02:05 PM
The Politics od La La Land have made it almost impossible for a reputable man to work there. And why should he/she? There are still places where the Citizens do not put up with this silly crap. I am fortunate to live in a State that is somewhat gun friendly, but the CA people who have moved here are a problem and they want to ruin this State like they did the one they left. Wild One is in a similar place for the store that he has there up north.
Arizona is hard on dudes and we are Western men and women who know that firearms are important to keep around and to carry 24/7.
One of the reasons my Online Class is so great is becuase these guys are not going to wait a year or two for work that they can do themselves and then know how to keep it running until the end of the gun days. I make it very clear to all and sundry that I AM NOT A GUNSMITH! I am NOT a "Professional" anything. I built Custom Caspians for 20 years and I am willing to share that knowledge with a few people who want to learn to build ONE Custom1911.
There are fewer and fewer people who want to take the risks mentioned here for very hard work and a meager living. Those that are good at it have a waiting list. Those that aren't , will jump on it right away. I have some great pals who do this kind of work for their beans and rice and I would not trade places with them for millions of dollars. It is a hard place to be when you can't pick your customers and have to put up with their silly nonsense.Thanks, but no thanks!
August 1, 2005, 09:11 PM
The customers, who were bent on price first at any cost :D , starved them.
Still doing it.
August 2, 2005, 08:44 AM
As far as the specific question relative to the number of smiths in San Fransissygo, I'd say that Dave's nailed it! Why in the world would anybody who's straight and loves guns live in a place like that, let alone work in the gun industry?
August 2, 2005, 05:02 PM
This is an old dinosaurs' opinion but it is a definate one!
By and large, excepting a few young people, most teens today are interested in making money!
You, if you're any good, don't make "money."
Gunsmithing is work intensive! It takes dedication as anything does that is worthwhile. Dedication generally isn't on young peoples minds (except for dedication to things that are totally unproductive - such as golf, bridge, computer games, -CENSORED--CENSORED--CENSORED--CENSORED-, etc! College is not a learning process but a free sex, boozing bunch of misfits who run their parents and grandparents!
Gunsmithing, hard work, building what you need instead if buying it (or sending the bill to your parents) is what this country was all about; Elmer Wolfe, a backwoods gunsmith worked ouitside forging, drilling and building muzzle-loaders in hot, cold, rainy weather! No one to teach you, no one to give you easy answers.
Let me congratulate you, sir, for desiring to be a gunsmith - you are a rare young person!
I tried one year to build my first muzzle-loader! I gave up! But I came back the next year and tried (and succeded) that year.
As a kid I'd hang around the good old gunsmith shops and try to learn from them - just a kid. It's hard work - and being a GUNSMITH isn't about making money at all - IT IS LOVING GUNS!
Be what you dream to be, but don't count on acolades, fame, or riches.
August 3, 2005, 10:24 AM
I am supposed to be off to the doctors; instead I am on the boards! There are only two Smith’s know to reputable, in response to an earlier post, yes the "reputable" part is difficult. It's father time, quality of work and word of mouth, all coming together. I am way late, have to run.... I still think if someone set up shop in Santa Clara County, CA 1,500,000+ people, as just a Gunsmith, they would do some serious business. People here with big $$ and want "all" the accessories, regardless. My smith at Reeds charges $75.00 a gun (rifle) to break it down, inspect, clean and lubricate, and make any minor adjustments and repairs. This task still takes me quite awhile, so it's worth it to me. Yes, even at $75.00 a pop.
August 3, 2005, 10:29 AM
Other than the one smith i personally know and the one at the best sporting goods store in town i cant think of any. I have heard of one custom stock maker but that is about it.
Gunsmithing is a tough job that gives little in the way of money unless you charge just a "walk in the door" fee and even then you make very little.
August 3, 2005, 10:52 AM
Almost every "Craft" has been killed by costs. Has anyone seen a "Watchmaker" lately. Any "Clock Repair Shops" left around? Any trade that takes years of training, practice, large investment in machinery and tools has pretty much been killed of by the availability of reasonable products at low costs. Inexpensive Clocks and Watches make repair financially impractical.
Guns are now in this category. Collectors are an aging group and not a lot of young people collect like those of my father's or my generation. I am now a Grandfather and neither my kids or my grandkids are showing the type of interest in Guns that I have. The days of the African Safari, Alaskan Hunt, or even the local Deer, Elk, Bear season are diminishing. :( A reasonable hunting rifle with scope is available for about the cost of a car payment (only one payment). In the past a good rifle was built for the hunter. Cost was near the price of the whole car. The Gunsmith had a fairly large clientele, was able to charge fair prices for the work done, and made a reasonable living. :)
Why would someone want to study a trade for 4-8 years and try and build a clientele in an environment of shrinking customer interest, increasing regulation, increased facility cost (tools, equipment, supplies), and pricing pressure on retail prices from the mass merchandisers (or Internet Stores)? :confused:
Lastly, and also mentioned, who wants to deal with some of the "Kooks" out there today that bring in some import military surplus piece and want to have it restored to its full capabilities (you know what I mean here). As to California, why would ANYONE want to be in business in that state. The State has made themselves an unwanted partner in ever business there with their regulations, taxes, and oversite. :barf:
August 3, 2005, 11:14 AM
No question that the economics of gunsmithing are precarious. Normal economics suggests that if you double your prices and lose half your customers, you're making just as much money for half the work, but that doesn't always fly in gunsmiting. In gunsmithing this would likely work only in high-end neighborhoods.
Way back around 1980 or so, a study showed that 38% of hunters were people living below the poverty line. I don’t know what that percentage would be today, but something significant? These folks couldn't afford double-price services and are likely to be the ones who have put off spending on repairs right up to opening day, but also be the ones who most need a successful hunt to avoid losing the deer tag cost.
The guys who could pay easily would be those high-end neighborhood dwellers, but the wealthy are often so concerned about someone trying to take advantage of their money that they become the worst skinflints. Translation: you could charge them, but they would make you pay with verbal abuse, then expect preferential treatment because of “who they are”. It would take a thick skin.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the Ben Franklin quote isn’t right. I found this out because I used to quote a variation: “Those who would surrender a little liberty for a little security will soon find they have neither.” Then someone tried to correct me on it with still another variant that also turned out to be incorrect. A synopsis of what is known about the quotation and where it came from is in wikiquote:
• “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
o This statement was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) which was attributed to Franklin in the edition of 1812, but in a letter of September 27, 1760 to David Hume, he states that he published this book and denies that he wrote it, other than a few remarks that were credited to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served. The phrase itself was first used in a letter from that Assembly dated November 11, 1755 to the Governor of Pennsylvania. An article on the origins of this statement here includes a scan that indicates the original typography of the 1759 document. Researchers now believe that a fellow diplomat by the name of Richard Jackson to be the primary author of the book. With the information thus far available the issue of authorship of the statement is not yet definitely resolved, but the evidence indicates it could well have been Franklin.
o Many variants derived from this phrase have arisen and have usually been attributed to Franklin:
"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security"
"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither"
"If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both."
Take your pick on authorship, but the first quotation preceeding the description of the history is the right one. I still like my variant better, but that would be revisionist history, I suppose.
August 3, 2005, 01:48 PM
Hey Uncle Nick! I will take "All of the above!"
I just got an e mail last week from a "Professional Pistolsmith/Machinist" who said that "I was a Joke among the Professional Pistolsmiths" because I was not dumb enought to try to do 1911 work full time. He also said that Ed Cameron was 4X the smith I NEVER WAS. I want all of you to know I could care less about this man's opinion and I also do not care what the rest of the "So Called Smiths" think of me. They do not pay my rent or buy me food so who cares about what they think.
I am retired now and do not do any work for the general public. I have never claimed to be anything but a part timer with an FFL when I was doing this work. I never wanted to be a gun plumber because it is not a pleasant way to make money. It is very hard, demanding,tedious work for people who look at a $3500.00 1911 and say "Nice Grips!" I have done this stuff for a long time and have achieved nothing but sore fingers, sore eyes, sore elbows, and nasty comments from other smiths who don't do any better hand work than I do. What little money I made, went for new tools and shooting supplies. This is what I wanted it to do. I am not a machinist and never wanted to be anything but what I am. I still don't know what that is, but if I find out, I will let you know.
So this is what you get for building Custom 1911's for 20 years that do not come back for my "NO BS Lifetime Warranty." They come back to have the Compensators chopped off and some newer parts, but they don't come back because they don't run. When a beautifully built 1911 runs 100%, that is all there is to that.
If this is the kind of work you want, go for it. I can't tell you how glad I am not to be "Professional Pistolsmith."
"Professional" means that you do it for money. It does not mean you are good at it.
August 3, 2005, 04:52 PM
Well, first of all, I learned from a guy who was trained by the U.S. Airforce to be an armorer. He was shown how to fix the gun and make it work. He got so good at it, that they put him to working on the pistol shooting team for the Airforce. He has never called himself a professional pistolsmith or anything similar. He does the same type work that Mr. Sample does. The one thing he taught me was to make the pistol work correctly. Don't worry about Joe Blow and all his fancy stuff he does to the pistol, make it work and the owner will be pleased. My hats is off to you Mr. Sample. You do the type of work that I like and don't worry about the idots that send you emails telling you that they are the professionals and do better work. From what I have seen and read, you are as skilled a craftsmen as there is. I get a kick out of folks who preach about their training and never show the work they do. Must be something to that, huh. I realize the post here while back was directed at you, but it just burns me up for someone to come hijack a thread to talk bad about anyone here on this site or any other for that matter. Salutations,
August 4, 2005, 08:44 AM
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August 4, 2005, 12:45 PM
Do you think it's possible to be a good businessman, making a good living, and be a good gunsmith, or is "real" smithing only something that those not wishing to be financially successful should aspire to achieve? You've mentioned several times, somewhat defensively, that you're not a machinist. Is having machinist's skills a detriment to running a profitable gunsmithing operation?
August 4, 2005, 04:13 PM
Sorry you think I am "Somewhat Defensive" about my lack of desire to be a machinist. I was a Managing Director for three of my own Corporations before getting into Law Enforcement which led to the gun work I started doing for fellow officers. Dick Nixon got the first two business's, and Jimmy Carter got the real estate firm. Then I went out as an Independent Broker for six developers and cleaned up some land projects for them. I did that while I was a deputy sheriff.
I think to be a Gunsmith iin the year 2005 you would have to be a very good machinist with about a $100,000.00 machine shop to do well as a Gunsmith. The good ones can make any part for any gun and they are very talented people. The delemia is how to be successful without paying your dues and creating a customer base that likes what they hear about you and your great work. There is no secret to owning your own business. You just work twice as hard for half the money! That is the bad news, and the good news is that you have a great boss! There is a story about a wealthy man that became a great gunsmith until he ran out of money.
It takes capitol to purchase tools and space. Either you have to make enough money somewhere else and then spend it on setting up shop somewhere that there is a customer base and then hope some jerk that you did work for doesn't lie about your work and kill your business and your reputation for you. Going to a gunsmith school will not teach you how to run a business or become highly skilled. That takes time in the ranks and while you aquire the needed skills, who pays the rent?
I just do not have a good answer for anyone that thinks they want to be a gunsmith. I could open up again and build some guns, but that thought is a nightmare for me. I would rather live in poverty than do that. Too many jerks with guns, around here. I have always had the very best machinists to help me with the machine work I require so I never had to become one. That stuff is hard work!
I have to confess that I always wanted to have a Smitty/Mill/Drill/Lathe just to play with, but I just don't have the room for it now. I think that would be lots of fun.
August 4, 2005, 05:33 PM
I have been smithing for almost 8 years now. when I first started doing gun work, a lathe was only a pipe dream of mine and a Mill was even further off down the road. I did good work and learned about the guns as I went along. As to whether or not a smith can do good business without a lathe, yes he can. Can he do better work using a lathe, yes and no. A good man with a lathe can do a lot of work that cannot be done any other way. Now a days, they are making tools that you can use without the aid of a machine simply by turning them with a wrench. Lathe work and gun work are sometimes two very different animals. If a mchinist wants to be a gunsmith, he will still need to learn how the guns work. If a gunsmith wants to learn to use a lathe, he will have the knowledge of the gun already, and will have to learn how to run a lathe. These two don't necessarily go hand in hand, but both will benefit from the other. Since I went back and learned how to operate machinery, ie the lathe nd the mill, I feel my knowledge has increased, but the lathe didn't increase my knowledge of gunsmithing, only simplified how I do a lot fo my work. If you are a machinist and want to learn how to be a gunsmith you will be in the same boat in that being a machinist didn't make being a gunsmith any easier, it just made how you do the work simpler. I farmed out machininst work for years, even before I became a gunsmith I operated a welding business. I farmed out the machinist work and charged what it cost me and still made money on my labor, you can do the same thing as a smith. Can you make more money doing it yourself, it just depends on how good you become. If a man that does the machine work everyday can turn out the work in 1/2 the time, I would say you were better off letting him do the work if he charges you a fair amount for the work. If you become good at running a lathe and mill then by all means you can save time by doing the work in house, it just doesn't mean you make more money necessarily, just that you do the work and know how it was done. You have to weigh the expense of the machinery, plus the electricity to operate it, plus the down time of the other work in the shop versus what it costs to farm it out. It will normally be very close in expense, and you will have to decide if it is worth it.
August 8, 2005, 11:52 PM
I met a very nice gentleman when I lived in the San Fernando Valley area of L.A. a few years back, probably '99, 2000 He was a gunsmith/Class 2 manufacturer and did very good work. He and his ex-business partner had even developed a double-barrel machine-gun in .45 caliber for law-enforcement that he had pictures of a few years before I met him. As he was getting sick of the laws of the People's Republic of Feinstein, he was planning a move to Arizona. Coincidentally, I have since moved to Yuma, AZ, and would like to get in touch with him. Does this ring a bell with anyone who used to live, or still does live in the L.A. area? I have no idea what his business was called, but it was located in an industrial complex near one of the landing paths to Burbank Airport. Anyone?
August 11, 2005, 03:26 PM
Where have all the Gun-Smiths Gone?
Gunsmith Heaven of course. :(
August 15, 2005, 03:44 AM
I'd really like to know the answer to that myself... Recient situation---a friend of mine has a Magnum Research SSP "Lone Eagle" in .22-250... Last fall the firing pin broke. Well, being the local gun-know-it-all, he asked me to see what could be done to fix it. After a week of trying everything I could think of--phone calls (to Magnum Research themselves mind you), internet searches, aftermarket dealers, etc., anything and everything I could think of to find a new firing pin, I finally ended up just saying to hell with it and spun out a new pin on a make-shift lathe in my livingroom. Now, I'm not condoning such behavior, I DO know what I'm doing with metals, etc, just don't have a full shop available. So the finished replacement was within less than 1/1000" of the original on all dimensions except for the finger length (the part that broke off) which I dialed down easily enough. now the weapon has fired clean for several hundred shots and all is well. The point is that I think the actual trade of gunsmithing is being outdated by the mass-produced weapons we're seeing more often and the actual art behind the weapon itself is lost to the masses. Those with both the knowledge and the interest that can benifit the art are fewer and farther between.
September 7, 2005, 10:21 PM
Same place the machinist went. I know, Ive been a machinist/toolmaker for 40 years. I used to do a good amount of gun work, even though I would not call myself a gunsmith, until I became sick and tired of all the "experts" walking through the door and asking me to do something dangerous or illegal. Our society is indeed sick. College boys get an education in booze and skirt chasing, get a degree in animal husbandry, then go to a big company and get hired as the supervisor of a machine shop where they give orders to men who have been "doing it" for longer than the little geek has been on the earth! And you wonder why the truly gifted craftsmen of America have gone undercover? I work out of my garage with nothing but rudimentary machinery and make a decent living without the horse-hockey I used to put up with. Rant over. :eek:
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