Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Armorer" ≠ "Gunsmith"

There are a lot of people who hang a "gunsmith" shingle out who are really glorified parts-swappers. Sure, they can mount and boresight your scope, free-float a barrel, or put a Wolff spring kit in your Ruger Redhawk, but that's not really gunsmithing. An actual gunsmith, as opposed to an armorer, is someone who could take a block of steel into a machine shop and come back out with a functioning firearm.

On the other hand, over the last couple years, the guys at CCA have fabricated for me:
  • A takedown plug for a Colt 1902 military,
  • A cocking indicator for a Dreyse M1907, and
  • An extractor for a Frommer Stop.
Given a set of drawings or an example to work from, and time and money, of course, I'm beginning to think they could machine a cure for a rainy day.

Incidentally, this is one of the nicer things about old-style machined steel firearms: If you buy the new Blastomatic 2000 tomorrow, and the Blastomatic Corporation goes tango uniform after one year and 5,000 units sold, good luck finding replacements for the toaster parts inside if anything breaks five or ten years down the road. This is one factor behind my hesitation to be an early adopter, even of new designs from established companies; I like making sure there's a bit of an installed user base to guarantee a parts supply and aftermarket support for a good long time. That's the reason that, up until maybe a year or two ago, I would have unhesitatingly picked a Glock over a Smith M&P despite preferring the Smith in amost every way...

30 comments:

Lewis said...

Parts swapping is good stuff, too, and not to be underrated, particularly when you have the laughably named "drop-in" parts for (say, oh, hypothetically) a 1911.

But that's still miles and years away from real 'smithing. An engineer buddy of mine reworked a Steyr 95 into a left handed .45-70 in his shop, which, if it isn't Eliphalet Remington, is at least in the same ballpark

Boat Guy said...

My first MOS was "Armorer" (2111) and we were "school-trained" to swap parts. Even fitting them (like the sogenannt "drop-in" 1911 pieces) was really beyond our ken.
I know real gunsmiths and feel like a guy who can competently put a band-aid on in the company of surgeons.
That said, there's a goodly number of folks who can't even swap parts.

Lewis said...

Boat Guy:

ME! That's me you're talking about! Wait---a magazine is a part, right?

Ted N said...

The Marines are a big jump up from the Army, on that. Our armorer's school is basically the next level of disassembly and cleaning, and good luck getting parts to fix anything we're allowed to take apart. Pretty much everything needs to go back to depot to get fixed, at least for us.

George in AZ said...

I knew a guy some years back, who had served in Germany (for the U.S.). He advised me to join the gunsmithing guild there, after apprenticeship, one was given a solid block of steel, roughly 2" cubic. The task was to make it spherical, WITH HAND TOOLS! Sounds like a good measure to me.

Gewehr98 said...

Nice post, Tam, but Gunsmith does not eqal Machinist across the board, either.

I would prefer to have a gunsmith who's a good machinist, but in this day and age of plug-and-play modular firearm construction, that skill set is no longer a prerequisite.

Not everyone demands BoMar dovetail cuts and flat-top milling of their 1911 slides, but I'm glad there are still gunsmiths who have the machining skills to do so. Sourcing hard-to-find repro parts is another nice benefit, but I wouldn't call it status-quo for today's gunsmithing career field. (Which is another reason why I have a mill and lathe in my garage...)

Bubblehead Les. said...

Sad thing is, a good Gunsmith is as hard to find today as a Cobbler. Beginning to think we need to set up some sort of Historical Village for Gunnies and charge the Touristas big bucks so we can keep the skill sets alive. But then, we'd have to find some Youngin's who'd be willing to spend the years learning those skill sets, rather than spending their working hours banging drums at a State House demanding more money to do nothing worthwhile at their Taxpayer Funded Occupation.

Tam said...

Bubblehead Les,

"Sad thing is, a good Gunsmith is as hard to find today as a Cobbler."

(865)966-4545. Ask for Bob or Shannon.

perlhaqr said...

That's funny, I want to learn both gunsmithing and cordwaining. :)

I've already got "machinist" under my belt. :) Sadly, the nearest gunsmithing school is 225+ miles away. And the guy who can teach me how to make boots... well, "Bend, OR" isn't exactly right next door either. ;)

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Yeah. I say gunsmith a lot when what I mean is 'armorer.' Prolly won't change without bit of effort either.

Anonymous said...

"Sad thing is, a good Gunsmith is as hard to find today as a Cobbler."

Got them both and use them both in my city.

That said, does anyone else think that the NRA should be giving out scholarships to gunsmithing schools? Seems like a worthy cause and a subversive one at that. :-)

Shootin' Buddy

Boat Guy said...

Les,
We do have such a place; Colonial Williamsburg.
Why would the NRA - the people who will cut a deal with Chuck Shumer of it saves them - sponsor something "subversive"?
We've got two 'smith schools but they're too far away to commute to attend, damn it...

Will said...

IIRC, around 1900, an apprentice requirement to be a machinist was to take a chunk of steel and make a 1 inch cube that was flat and square to .001", with a hand file. Might have to make the file first, not sure.

Steve said...

You know, every time I see someone (knowledgeable) say they like the S&W M&P, I wonder what they're smoking, having sold during my brief tenure at the Mountain of Geese, dozens of S&W... Sigmas.

Then, my brain catches up, I realize they said, "M&P," and all is right again. :-)

Sigma: Let's sell lots of guns!
M&P: Let's sell some good guns!
LOL

Discobobby said...

Heh, I'm trying to get work to pay (at least a portion) for "Machine Shop I" at our local JuCo, partly to see the befuddled looks I'm getting walking the form around for signatures. And I need to take the intro course because the JuCo won't take "I can basically half-ass it" to waive the pre-reqs for the interesting stuff. Perhaps that's for the best. :)

Anonymous said...

i had a chance a while back to purchase a 200 year old barrel rifling setup from an estate along with other original tools...
since i build a ML whenever the mood strikes me, it would have been an interesting toy to have...
as for real honest to god gunsmiths, i've met two in my lifetime who were worthy of the word...
crap like glocks and other plastic fantastics encourage the cheapening of the profession to the level of 'parts replacer' (fitting extra)...

atlharp said...

So what you are saying is that it's best to have someone make parts for your hobby gun? Sorry couldn't resist... ;-)

George in AZ said...

@Steve - attended a gun show some years back, with a vocal friend. I'd just explained to him how 'Sigma' was a poor Glock substitute, and I derisively referred to them as 'smegmas'.
Just then, we came across a huge table of Sigmas. My friend said loudly, "Oh look, Smegmas!" with a straight face. A buncha folks around us broke up, but the dealer
corrected him. I don't think he knew what had been said.

og said...

"Gunsmith" is to Machinist as "Urologist" is to MD. Both could probably work on a lot of different stuff, but mostly they stick to guns.

The manufacture of functional but ugly firearms is most ridiculously easy, just ask General Motors.

Tam said...

Og,

Yes, but a real gunsmith is not just a reasonably decent machinist, but a fairly competent woodworker and a jackleg ballistician as well.

og said...

Exactly as a urologist isn't just a good dr but a dab hand at what he does. It's not a subset, though the skills crossover, it's an... offshoot, I guess would be the word. A trade with the same roots but a different destination.

Northwest of you, in Kankakee, is a guy who once made the most beautiful rifles you can imagine. Harry McGowan has sold his rifling machines and the most of his business, but his sons still build and repair rifles. The stuff he made out of old crap is as you describe; wood and metal put together lovingly into works of art. If you appreciate a gunsmith, you maybe ought to go visit Harry McGowan in St Anne Illinois, he's not getting any younger. He's the guy who turned down the bolt on my Arisaka; it's nothing if not loverly.

BTW< you forgot "Chemist". The closely guarded blueing formulas of the better gunsmiths are a source of some jealousy to me.

Anonymous said...

One of my instructors at Trinidad, CO. Jr. College Gunsmithing School was an old Holland & Holland Hand. He told us about the requirement to file an accurate cube. We filed a lot in his class and in my GS shop. I'm retired but with my mill & Lathe I could make any part by drawings or duplication, often by guess and filing. Heat treating by hand & making flat springs. No Prob. My favorite work; Antiques, Drillings & all High End Shotguns. TSJC concentrated on Custom Turnbolts from old 98 Mausers. Beautiful guns. I like metalwork, some prefer Stockmaking. A GUNSMITH can do it all.
Look up Brownells list of GS Schools across the USA.

Tam said...

Og,

"BTW< you forgot "Chemist"."

Which is a little embarrassing, considering that there's a Doug Turnbull case-colored cylinder blank pen-holder on my desk; the story of Turnbull's ceaseless work to exactly dulpicate as many old finishing processes as possible is one of the more fascinating ones in 'smithing...

og said...

"Doug Turnbull case-colored cylinder blank pen-holder "
Yeah, some of that stuff is mind boggling. I've heard that some of the smiths would make patterns of rolled up pieces of wet rawhide to pack the receivers in, to get the right amount of case-mottling, and that the receivers were as often as not dumped into a fast moving stream to accomplish the widely varying patterns on the surface. It all sounds like so much wizardry.

Here's a bit of freakish trivia for you: Did you know that casehardening is light sensitive? Enough exposure to sunlight, and it will all go away.

Tam said...

Og,

"Here's a bit of freakish trivia for you: Did you know that casehardening is light sensitive?"

Yup, just like that bright blue charcoal bluing.

Seeing an old S&W revo with pretty case coloring on only one side of the trigger & hammer because someone kept it lying on a shelf in the sunlight is enough to make one cry...

og said...

"is enough to make one cry..."

tell me about it. There was a Thomas Bland double in 500 BPE at the local Cabelas that the case was perfect underneath, and completely gone on top.

Cabelas persists in putting color case shotguns &etc out in plain view, which makes me about half sick to my stomach.

BadIdeaGuy said...

It's pretty challenging to find a gunsmith through the shops in my area. I found one about 40 miles away but it's a haul. It's kind of like how anyone can be a blogger but a blog artisan is one who can find the "does not equal" symbol.

og said...

Oh, you mean Nitre blue, I think, maybe? Like the bright blue screws on this colt?
http://www.ronsgunshop.com/finishes.html

That's gorgeous. And it can't even be DONE to something not properly polished.

Tam said...

Og,

"Oh, you mean Nitre blue, I think, maybe?"

That is, I believe, the correct name for it. :)

og said...

Yeah. That's a process that I'd like to get my hands on. Another one of those secrets good smiths don't want to share.