If you’ve found yourself in need of repair work, a custom inlay, engraving, or the fitting of a new stock, you would traditionally patronize the services of a trained gunsmith. However, there’s a world of difference between the casual hobbyist who works on guns for fun or part-time employment and the professional who earns a full-time living this way, refining his craft and demonstrating a high level of skill.
Individuals who ply this trade used to specialize in particular types of firearms, and this still happens. Today, many gun shops or sporting goods stores retain gunsmiths to offer generalized services to customers.
What is a Gunsmith?
A gunsmith is a craftsman who repairs, modifies, engraves, customizes, or builds firearms according to customers’ demands. According to the ATF, he or she must possess a federal firearms license (FFL). Besides federal licensure and compliance with the National Firearms Act of 1934 and Gun Control Act of 1968, they must also familiarize themselves with local laws, which differ from one jurisdiction to another.
While a skilled gunsmith may perform a variety of services, at the core of this profession, the gunsmith must inspect a firearm to identify whether it’s assembled correctly, that all necessary parts are installed, and that the customer’s gun is in proper working order. If there are cracks or signs of fatigue, rust or pitting, or missing parts during the inspection, the gunsmith works to remedy these defects. They may also test-fire the weapon once they’ve made the repairs to prove that it functions reliably.
Gunsmiths often possess a diverse skill set to work on firearms. Some are woodworkers, which is an essential skill for stockmakers. Many have some machining ability, allowing them to operate milling machines and lathes to modify existing firearms or fabricate replacement metal parts. Most are skilled in using hand tools, from chisels and metal files to pin punches and measuring instruments.
If you don’t know how your firearm works, take it to a local gunsmith for an evaluation.
The safe handling of firearms is your responsibility as a gun owner, but this also assumes that the firearm you’re handling is safe to operate and functions correctly. If you’re unsure whether your firearm is safe to operate, test it. If, for example, a manual safety or decocking lever does not engage or disengage, the weapon is unsafe and needs repairs.
Different Types of Gunsmiths
Some gunsmiths choose to specialize in different guns. These can include:
A pistolsmith is a gunsmith specializing in handguns — semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, and other weapons—the responsibilities of a pistolsmith overlap with those of a general gunsmith, including inspection and repair work.
However, the finishing and modification work they perform is specific to handguns used for self-defense, competition, and hunting. This can include accurizing, modifying the pistol to feed more reliably, reshaping the trigger guard, feed ramp, or ejection port, etc. One of the critical issues for revolvers is timing — how well the cylinder aligns with the forcing cone and barrel during indexing.
A stockmaker fabricates a rifle or shotgun stock from wood, often using hand tools, such as chisels, planes, and saws. This requires expertise in woodworking. A gunstock is a decorative and functional part of many weapons, providing a stable platform for the barreled action.
From traditional blueing and color-case hardening to manganese and zinc phosphating (parkerizing), a finisher applies coatings to metal firearm parts to protect them against rust or corrosion and abrasion.
Gunsmith or Armorer?
A gunsmith may perform a variety of services, including repairing damaged or broken firearms, replacing components, bedding stocks, and customizing firearms.
An armorer typically works on one or a specific set of weapons in an official capacity. Law enforcement agencies and militaries usually employ armorers to maintain and repair the institution’s inventory — i.e., small arms and light weapons — in an armory.
How to Become a Gunsmith
If you want to pursue a career as a gunsmith, there are a variety of options available. You can attend a dedicated gunsmithing school, which teaches you the skills necessary to work on firearms in several capacities. These may require a high school diploma or the equivalent for entry. Some colleges also offer training programs.
A gun manufacturer may employ gunsmiths, armorers, and design engineers, and while some tasks these professionals perform overlap, there are some important distinctions. A design engineer, for example, may also be a gunsmith, but that isn’t necessary. Some of the most famous American weapons designers, such as Eugene Stoner, had no gunsmithing background. These engineers design small arms and other weapons systems from the ground up, either individually or as part of a team.
The Last Word
At IFA Tactical, we think that gunsmithing services are vital to firearms’ continued functioning for sporting and defensive purposes. If you’d like to discuss our gunsmithing services and how we can assist you, call us at (586) 275-2176.