Monday, January 23, 2006

A User's Guide to Dealing with Gunsmiths

I notice on a bunch of the gun-specific forums that there are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS "I got hosed by my gunsmiths" threads. In some of those cases, I actually the know the gunsmiths named pretty well, and I know that they'll walk across broken Pepsi bottle to keep from getting that kind of crappy press.

I do lots of custom gun stuff, much to the amusement of many of my friends ("God lord, Bane, if you want a .44 Special, just buy one for heaven's sake! It isn't necessary to gather up pieces like Easter eggs and then pour money on them!"). After semi-careful analysis, I realize that most of the bitching on the forums about gunsmiths is a classic "failure to communicate" situation, so I thought I'd whip together an IDIOT'S GUIDE TO DEALING WITH GUNSMITHS, me being the idiot, of course. Since I've already made all these mistakes, you don't have to!

1) First and foremost, know what you want. A really good gunsmith can probably fabricate you a 4-inch deck gun for a destroyer that also fires .45 Colts and .410 shotgun shells. You will, however, be unhappy when the bill comes. Most of the disagreements I see are of the "I asked for X and damned if he didn't give me Y" sort. This is because "Slick up my smoke-pole" is subject to interpretation in gunsmithing as in life. Think of tuning as a continuum, from a simple trigger job to a wholesale reengineering of the gun. Your basic trigger job is going to cost you in the $100 vicinity, depending on the hardware. A "master tune" of the same gun will run in the $500-600 range, for which you will get essentially a blueprinting of the gun. If you need or want to replace parts, that's going to be extra. If you supply the replacement parts, it's going to cost you twice as much, because your gunsmth is going to have to grind the part that you purchased because of the great magazine article to fit, and, in general, zinc is hard to grind.

This is why god invented email!!! Everything is then in writing, so you don't do a Michael...gunsmith says, "It'll be expensive." Michael says, "No problemo." Michael has to sell sperm in order to survive the year, but he is theonly one on his block with a .50 caliber single shot pistol.

2) Do not send your gun to a gunsmith for work if you think you may have to shoot your brother-in-law next week. Gunsmithing takes time. Lots of time. Lots and lots and lots of time. Geologic era time. My record is 14 years. That YEARS, not months. I had actually forgotten that I'd left the gun with him. He said, "Remember that gun you won at that match in the mid-1980s? Well, I'm ready to start working on it." I said, "What gun?" "You won it in a match and I said give it to me since you'll just screw it up." "I won a gun?" Etc. It is, however, an excellent gun, a 1911 if you must know. Ironically, I had to forego the checkering, since under the 14-years-later price list, I couldn't afford it.

3) Learn to speak GUNSMITHESE. When your gunsmith says, "That'd be nice," that translates into at least $100. "A different mainspring housing would be nice..." KA-ching! "Being able to shoot live ammunition would be nice... " KA-ching! there are other key phrases, such as, "It would look better [fill in the bank];" "I think you'd be happier with [fill in blank];" or the ever-popular "You know, Jack Bauer on 24 uses one of these..."

4) Understand the difference between a Real-World gun and a "project" gun. People like me and my pal Mike Daly are mentally unstable — we think spending perfectly good money on overhauling obscure guns is fun. It is not fun, unless you think collecting the stamps of the British Empire is fun, in which case there's nothing I can do for you. Gunsmiths like Hamilton Bowen, Dave Clements and Doug Turnbull thrive on project guns, which typically involve the exchange of a credit card number and/or a firstborn male child. Do NOT speak to these gunsmiths unless you understand "auction etiquette" — you scratch your nose at the wrong time and you've bought a vintage Maserati, a small Paul Klee and a house in Tuscany.

For example, I understand that should I say to such a gunsmith that I want a "really accurate" .44 Special single action, they are NOT going to give me reloading information. Instead, I know I'm in for line-boring a new cylinder, maybe a new barrel, recutting the forcing cone, Taylor-throating, recrowning the barrel and probably at least a goat sacrificed over the cylinder-barrel gap. You gotta watch out for stuff like that.

5) Memorize these words — What the hell are you talking about?


Anonymous said...

This is a riot. Great commentary on gunsmithing. This rings true in so many ways. #5 is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Good rules, Michael, but I think we also need to set out the Rules for Gunsmiths:

Rule 1: You are not God. Gunwriters may worship you and your work, but your customers just want you to use your skills and finish a set task.

Rule 2: The customer is always right. (See Rule 1.) No matter how uninformed or obnoxious a particular customer may be, you must remember you chose to enter a customer service business. If you don't want to be bothered with actually serving the customer, consider another line of work (e.g., politics, postal worker, etc.).

Rule 3: A gun sent to you for work does not become your property. If a customer cared enough to send the gun out for work, he or she expects you to take care of it and be concerned about its safe return.

Rule 4: Read the work order before starting work. Then read it again. Contact the customer if you have any questions. After you've lopped off half the barrel and chrome plated the gun is not the time to discover it was sent in for new sights.

Rule 5: Give a realistic estimate on turnaround time. If you can't comply with your estimate, it is your obligation to contact the customer with an update. If you fail to do that, don't get annoyed with the customer who contacts you to find out why you're overdue. (See Rules 1 and 3).

Rule 6: Don't accept a job you don't already know how to do well. Use your own damn guns for on-the-job training. If the task is out of the ordinary and entails risks, inform your customer of the risks before you start work.

I've probably offended most of your gunsmith friends already, but I'm sure there's plenty more that others can add. Hey, it's a start!

- Rob Firriolo
Just visiting from The Gun Zone

Patrick Sweeney said...

Concerning "Rules for Gunsmithing" I've been on both sides of the equation. One thing I want to make clear is the misnomer that "the customer is always right." (I could write a blog just on that, but...)

The customer is wrong when he wants something contrary to fact. No, I will not install a longer link to "improve accuracy' on your 1911, despite what your brother the Marine says. I will not put a 2# trigger pull on your LWC that you wanted dehorned for carry.

Countertop said...

I used #5 this morning on an outside counsel we hired to draft some regulatory comments.

Fudzy said...

I was drawn to your comments about dealing with gunsmiths because I have written about the same subject in the past.

The guy who commented that Gunsmiths are not God simply has not been in very many gunsmith shops. I have been in the trade for nearly 30 years and can tell you that attitude is taught by the clients. I know several gunsmiths who swore when they were young and idealistic that they would never act or talk that way, myself included. Well, client teach you to be hard or starve to death.

Good article and good sense of humor! My comments on the subject can be found at:

muebles en rivas said...

This can't work in reality, that is exactly what I suppose.

Anonymous said...

more rules for customers:

the smith can't get work done while BSing at the counter.

whoever answers the phone can tell you what time you close(this actually happened, i had my wife answer the phone once while threading a barrel, the guy was INSISTANT about talking to the gunsmith, the question was "what time do you close?"

Luger collectors are weird

because it CAN be done, doesn't mean it SHOULD BE DONE.

prices have gone up since the 50's
gas isn't 11.9 cents a gallon anymore.

stop watching Enemy at the gates

"creep" isn't the same as "slack or "take up"

whoever decided to sell trigger pull gauges to the general public should be keelhauled

and i digress...........

Anonymous said...

More rules:
1.Call at least once per week and ask"is my gun done yet?Just checking..."Daily calls are even better.It will motivate him AND improve his attitude!
2.Offer to show him how it's done.
3.Come in on their busiest day,insist on speaking to the gunsmith and ask things like:"Which WASR10 is the most collectable...?
4.Cleverly suggest he buy all your junk guns so he can "make a small fortune fixin&flippin..."
5.Ply him with expensive gifts: cigars,spirits,BBQ lunches (NO,really!)
6.Ask for his "Expert Opinion" Then ignore it.
7.Try fixing it yourself;after all,when it's FUBAR just bring it to him!
8.No,we are NOT god.And please stop telling me you would love to have my job;you probably earn a better salary.

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying this,it allows me to vent.Here's some more:
9.If you want to know something,don't bother coming in.Just have your wife call me while you drink beer and watch TV.I can hear you in the backround coaching her on what to say.
10.While standing at my counter call your "expert" then hand me your phone so I can talk to someone I cant understand to answer some of the most absurd questions imaginable.
11.Ask me how you can fix your gun.Become indignant & hostile when I say I get paid to fix guns NOT teach gunsmithing.I worked 20+ years as welder/machinist etc.then went to school for 2 years to be a gunsmith,if you want to know how to fix guns,try THAT!Also see #6,7,9
12.If your buddy,boss,or brother-in-law know so much about guns, pricing,etc have them open their own gun shop.Then you can hang out there & waste their time.
13.Here's one for reloaders;It's not your ammo that 's making your 1911 malfunction,it's NEVER your ammo.Even though it works perfectly with factory ammo.I know,I know you've been reloading for 25yrs and blah,blah,blah...
14.Speaking of reloaders,next time you drop by for aimless chatter about relative burn rates or whatever ,please leave me your phone# so the next time i have a bout of insomnia I can call you.
15.Often heard when I refuse to take on a job:"I've been to 3 guys & nobody wants to do it..."
In fact,if you lead off with this statement,I see red flags!
16.If we happen to meet in public for the 1st time,say a motorcycle swap meet,and i let slip that i am a gunsmith,be sure to ask me if i will make a silencer or convert a machine gun for you.My answer? Google Randy Weaver,you retarded fool!I can trust you ,though,you wont tell anyone!

Gunnymike said...

and I continue......

UPStracking numbers are it there yes? Tracking says its delivered! Is it there yet? Waiting period? I've waited during shipping, that counts right?

Drop in parts never drop in.

Mil-spec means sloppy tolerances built by the lowest bidder.

Double action only carry guns seldom make good target guns, yes that trigger pull is SUPPOSED to be long.

Your LCP won't work if you hold it like its a dead mouse.

Turn around time is what it is because I have to stand at the counter and explain that there are 50 guns (at least) ahead of you and that simple jobs (to you ) aren't all that simple.

If you're a 95 dollar an hour plumber, don't tell me my prices are too high.

The blueing isn't dull or shiny, it's in the metal prep you idiot. ( I have to explain this 2-3 times a week.

If I have to fix a bass pro scope mounting job on a Sunday, it won't be for free!

If its done right it doesn't need locktite.

Even box stock guns will out perform 99 percent of shooters, PRACTICE

If you drop your gun in a swamp, don't wait a year to bring it in.

The 50 other guys ahead of you are also going hunting tomorrow.

If your going to shoot a match tomorrow with a new gun, you're an idiot.

There can't possibly be that many retired military snipers in the tri state area.

There is no BEST AR15, they all suck and should be recycled back into beer cans and Barbie dolls.

If I tell you it's operator error, and I SHOW you it's operator error, it probably is.

Would you buy a vega and expect corvette performance? I can't fix cheap.

ARs don't like steel cased ammo, deal with it.

If the customer refers to the bat mobile as a suspension bridge, is he still right?

And further I digress.....

Gunnymike said...

And still more.....

Bore sighting only gets you close, YOU actually have to do the rest.

If someone else is cheaper, why are you talking to me?

I don't know the disassembly procedure, ins outs and idiosyncracies of EVERY gun ever made, I'm sorry I'm an idiot.

Gun screws don't come from the hardware store, nor do taps.

A best oil stock finish takes more than a week.

And still further into the oblivion of digression I go......

Anonymous said...

Anonymous(1 of several?)

17. You know a GREAT gunsmith and he has never heard of me?
That's OK , I've never heard of him either.

18. What is in that Kimber Kool-aid?

19.So you bought one of those 3" barrel 1911s in .45ACP for your wife and it doesn't work reliably, kicks like a mule and your wife hates it and you for spending $900.
Gosh! I never saw that coming.
(See #18)

20. Tell me about that gunsmith you know that is cheaper. Oh right, he went out of business...

21. Don't get angry & abusive towards me when I refuse to even look at the Bersa you bought at the gun show,take it back to the guy who sold it to you. Maybe he's in Denver this weekend.(see #6)

Anonymous said...

22. Wow! There sure are a lot of USMC snipers out there. How does one get to be an ex-sniper at 19.
I'd just like to know.

23. So you are going to take your Grannies money, go to gunsmith school, open a shop here and put me out of business. Good luck, pal. The last guy only lasted 8mos. I did get some bargains on tools at his liquidation sale.
(see #12)

Anonymous said...

Backlogged 6 months? Tell customer it will be ready in about 4-6 weeks.