View Full Version : Where to learn simple partial gunsmithy?

September 28, 2007, 12:21 AM
Hi, I have no desire to become a gunsmith. I make enough and enjoy my work as a technical/art director in computer graphics. But because I am a technical and artistic person, with a hobby of shooting guns... I am curious to know more on how I can suit-up my own guns via engraving and finishing. I am actually not much interested on gunsmithy parts that deal with functionality, but only on aesthetic alterations. (1911's only)

So my questions are:

1) I can't leave my job to go to school. So what would be the next best place to learn about gun finishing and engraving?

2) For engraving and/or finishing, I will need to practice before carving up my guns. Are there any "practice" parts or nearly identical metal bars for sale? If so where do I find them?

3) I actually lack even the basic skills to alter 1911 grips to my own designs. Where could I find out what types of laser cutters is necessary for wood and polymer carving. (I've used laser cutters but only for plexi-glass years ago).


Bill DeShivs
September 28, 2007, 01:00 AM
Read. Buy all the books you can on engraving. "The Art of Engraving", by James B Meek is a good place to start. Draw patterns. Practice. The artwork is paramount.
Buy engraving tools from Brownells. Practice. Learn to use them on brass or copper, then find scrap steel to cut. Buy a good engraving vise. Then, and only then, buy a Gravermeister or similar tool. Practice. Learning tool control takes time.
Lasers are not necessary for grips. Saws, files, rasps and sandpaper work very well. A good belt sander helps a lot.
What you want to do requires much dedication. It will not happen overnight.
BTW- practice.

James K
September 28, 2007, 05:00 PM
With a few exceptions, most famous gun engravers didn't start out to be gun engravers. They were/are general engravers who began to specialize in guns. If engraving is what you want to do, don't bother with a gunsmith course, learn engraving. There are schools and courses, mostly directed toward the jewelry trade, but engraving is engraving.

Mostly, though, engraving is an art. It sounds like you have the right background, so you may be able to start working by yourself.
Look at the books to see what people consider good engraving and to get an idea of the type of engraving people pay big bucks for.

Once you know what you want to do, find some scrap metal and try laying out patterns and following them. The most important requirement for an engraver is first to be an artist. (This writer could never be an engraver - he can barely draw a straight line using a ruler!) I don't know how much the use of computer graphics helps. Top engraving is not done by computer, but with real steel tools on real metal. Today, any pattern that can be put on a computer screen can be "engraved" by laser, but that work is considered cheap and of no interest to people who want real engraving.

Engraving on steel is considered the top of the line for an engraver, so starting on brass or copper might be best. As you get better, you can start to work on soft steel, then on harder gun steel. Most of the top gun engravers work with factories; the factory sends the gun to the engraver "in the white" and unhardened. The engraver does his thing and sends it back for finishing up and hardening. (As a minor point, gun engravers are legally considered gunsmiths and most have an FFL so they can ship by mail and also legally have guns in the shop.)

One thing of interest. While people may accept other decorated mechanical pieces that don't work and are intended only for display, most buyers of engraved guns want fully functional guns. That is not to say they will ever, or ever intend to, shoot them, but they want them shootable. That impacts the engraving design if working the gun would destroy part of the engraving. Good engravers know this (and it is an area where knowledge of guns helps a lot) and make sure the engraving is designed to allow the gun to function while keeping its appearance. (A perfect example is the drag mark the S&W cylinder stop puts on the cylinder - a good engraving job will leave that "ring" area unengraved so the engraving will not be ruined by the drag marks.)


4V50 Gary
September 29, 2007, 06:25 PM
Conner Prairie Arms Making Workshop. John Schiffer is the instructor for the one week course. He teaches you the basic skills and then you go to work. Practice 15 minutes every day and gradually your skills will improve.

September 30, 2007, 08:55 PM
GRS has classes that are a week long for basic engraving, they have a web sight also!

October 3, 2007, 11:12 PM
Thank you all very much for the replies. They've been infinitely helpful. The more I research, I really wish to learn more about it. I am not thinking of being a full time engraver, since art/programming is providing me with good steady source of income.

But at the same time, I don't want to just read books (I already ordered $400 worth of books on engraving.. why...) and jump into it alone. I wish to take some classes where "real" engravers will teach me hands on.

So here are two questions that ya'll experts can help me with.

1) I can't leave work. So I'd need to find classes or a mentor to teach me engraving near my area (Glendale, CA). I can't seem to find any online. Does anyone know someone who is an expert engraver willing to teach for a price?

2) I am not quite sure of space the tools take up. I live in an apartment and I am not sure if that space is enough for setting up all the tools for engraving/metal finishing.

3) I am not quite sure of the price range of the tools required. Is under $2,000 enough to purchase all tools necessary for engraving/finishing?

4) I want to learn it only to engrave my own guns, and maybe friend's. Do I need any kind of license in California to engrave guns since it is modifying it? (not functional modification)

thank you!

Bill DeShivs
October 3, 2007, 11:30 PM
Look in your local phone book for engravers. You might also call a few jewelers.
An engraving bench can be set up in a closet. Linoleum or concrete floor is much better than carpet (little metal slivers everywhere!)
$2000 will just about get you started pretty well. You will need/want to spend more as you progress.
Keeping any firearm FRAME overnight requires a federal firearms license. Not sure about local ordinances, but since you are in California, I suspect NOTHING is allowed!

October 4, 2007, 08:51 PM

I know you said you couldnt take off work buttttt, if you could find one week this may be an answer.

Harry Bonar
October 19, 2007, 05:21 PM
Dear Sir:
Forgive me if I come across in a strange way to you but there is something that comes across to me in a strange way about this whole thing!
I don't think there is such a thing as "partial gunsmithing."
You're to be congratulated in your present job - you're doing well!

Yes, there are specialists - barrel makers, etc. - but it just impacts me in a strange way.

I mean no offence but the whole things just leaves me confused.
Harry B.:confused:

James K
October 19, 2007, 10:20 PM
The tools don't take up much room at all. Just for info, here is one outfit that looks like it has everything you would need.