Join Date: January 26, 2012
Read Roy Dunlap's book BEFORE you go to school.
You can buy a set of screwdrivers for overnight delivery, but the brain takes time to assimilate knowlage. There's a university education in "old school gunsmithing" in Dunlap's book. It'll take a summer to read and really assimilate. No black-gun parts-changing advice there, but if you want to know how to grind a screwdriver to fit a screw, or to tell what kind of steel something is made of by looking at the shape and color of the sparks it produces when you take a sample to a grinding wheel it'll serve well. Want to know how to make a spring, case harden a hammer, rust blue a shotgun, etc.. Those skills are GUNSMITHING and are what Dunlap writes about. There is a chapter on building and organizing your workbench. Read it!
Add to that Smith & Smiths books on "Rifles" and "Pistols and Revolvers" (2 books). These three books are enough to give you probably 85% of what you need to know to REALLY understand the mechanics of so many firearms designs that my guess is by REALLY reading all three and then REALLY practicing from easy projects thru harder ones you could self-teach yourself to competency. With those books under your belt (and on your bench) as well as shop based formal training, you will have a great start.
I bought these books over 30 years ago, and the pleasure of reading them and really understanding them has brought me countless hours of enjoyment, and a wealth of knowlage. I assume that they are still around for purchase.
Remember too that this is a "Craft", and one who really masters it is a "Craftsman" in the classic sense. Going to school will make you a good apprentice. Working for another established Gunsmith will take you to being a Journeyman. When you can meet his expectations of perfection, and take on the most complex jobs that come into his shop and do the job, and TEACH HIM a trick about how you did it, you "might" become a Master. This is the old way and there is no shortcut. A "Masterpiece" is just what it says: A project that incorporates every part of a craftsmans craft, to be produced to show expertise, and which is judged by other Masters, and when "Passed" allows the Journeyman to be welcomed as a peer by the other Masters. VERY FEW so called "Gunsmiths" are anything but Journeymen quality. Aspire to be a Master. Work for the BEST and MOST DEMANDING man that you can find. Work for free under him if that is what it takes. Be able to make Lock, Stock, and Barrel.. that's what a Gunsmith ought to be able to do. "Building" AR-15's by bolting on parts is a monkeys work.
Here's a quick war story about my (short) career as a journeyman 'Smith (I worked full time for 2 years at it). When I came into the shop, "The Old man" gave me a file, a compass, a micrometer, and lump of steel and told me to come back when I had made a 1 inch square cube out of the steel. Hmmm... no square? Uhh... use the compass to swing circles, use the resultant points to make a square out of piece of steel, use that square to measure the progress, and start filing.
(lesson #1: Sometimes the first thing you need to do to complete a job is to make a special tool so you can complete the job. Otherwise he would have given me a steel square, too...)
What I lost was much of the skin on the ends of my fingers. What I gained after TWO WEEKS of effort was a cube of steel (that actually passed the old mans scrutiny with a "Hmmm... not too bad... but not too good either", knowlage of some geometry, prussian blue, surface plates, and steel handing as well as a handmade steel-square (see "making your own special tools" above).
A file is the poor mans milling machine. With it you can make ANY other tool if you have enough time. You have no business with a Bridgeport if you do not know how steel "feels under the file", and that was the old mans point. No lesson is wasted. And there is NO way to infuse that knowlage without taking the time to learn it.
Or as the old man said: "If you are not cutting or forging, you are not Smithin'". What he meant was that SMITHING is "shaping metal", not bolting on parts.
A gunsmith's files and screwdrivers are his most precious tools. Buy the best and never lend them.
My "Masterpiece" if you want to call it that, was a single shot rifle. I made the entire firing lock from scratch. I made the mainspring. I made the hammer. I drilled and button rifled the BBL, made the stock, checkered it, finished it... etc. It took me TWO YEARS of effort "when not working on shop projects". I did each phase of the project in tune with what subject the old man was teaching me. I still think that any 'Smith worth the title ought to have done at least one project like this. It may seem archaic... but the result is a base of knowlage that is the foundation of all else. In the end I did not persue the profession, but I stll enjoy making things mechanical, and those lessons are used in a variety of ways both physical and metaphysical. Patience, persistance, problem solving, and pride in a job well done.
Masters teach Apprentices to be Masters. Journeymen teach Apprentices to be Journeymen.
Make sure that you work with Masters... they are damned rare.
If this is your passion, go for it! It's going to be a hard climb. Nothing easy is worth having.
Last edited by Willie Sutton; June 2, 2012 at 10:15 AM.