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· MGySgt USMC (ret)
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Folks, this question comes up a lot and there is not much good information on it that is readily obtainable. After doing this work for over 37 years, talking with many other smiths, and even instructing students - I thought some folks would find this information useful or at least interesting. If you read my first post on this elsewhre, I have added more onto this post, so please don't miss that.

Fair warning. If you have read much at all of anything I have written, then you will not be surprised this is going to run into more than one post. Yeah, I will most likely get VERY LONG WINDED. Grin. I will blend historical and modern gunsmithing as it ALL pertains to anyone interested in doing the work currently or in the future. I hope to save some folks from the pitfalls that either I have done or seen or heard about as well. Besides that, I want to offer some sound advice because I figure that is important for the future of the trade. OK, here goes......

MSgt Mike Gingher, USMCR (retired and lately deceased) and I have talked a lot about this over the years. Since he was and I still am an avid Black Powder and Living History nut, he always said he was NOT a gunsmith, but rather a National Match Military Rifle Armorer. Mike went through the old Machinist's Apprenticeship program and worked at G.E. as a Tool and Die Grinder for about 10 years when he came on active duty for our one year, On the Job Training Program - which is an Apprenticeship Program to learn to work on all the NM, Sniper, MEUSOC and other weapons the MOS 2112 Armorers build and repair. That's how I met Mike and that began our life long friendship as my very best friend.

A TRUE Master Gunsmith is one who can make every last part of a gun and that goes all the way back to 15th century Europe. In the 18th century in this country, Gunsmith Apprentices were normally apprenticed for 5-7 years starting at the time they were about 14 -16, At the end of their Apprenticeship, it was expected the Master give them a new suit of clothes and allowed them to keep the special tools they had made as an Apprentice and often some other tools they would need as a Journeyman. Some times they were to be given a small amount of money as well. This was all set down in a formal contract at the very beginning when the boy was first apprenticed. There are some cases of Masters advertising for runaway apprentices and even a few cases of the Apprentice suing a Master because the Master did not comply with the contract. Most of the time, though, it went pretty well for both.

When the young lad started out, he did the "grunt work" in the shop. He cleaned the forge and prepared it under the Master's supervison. He turned the huge wheel that ran the lathe and often pumped the bellows of the forge and swept up the shop and all manner of things like that. He was expected to watch closely and learn, though of course he would ask questions. Then he was taught to properly disassemble firearms and CLEAN them and in that way learned disassembly and assembly and how every part was supposed to operate. He mixed the chemicals for metal and stock finish and was taught how to make heated hide glue and use it. He was taught to properly cure, cut and work wood. Then he spent time on the forge. Then he was taught how to file and work metal and do heat treating. Then he was taught how to FILE both metal and wood. Then he was taugt how to make a lock and barrel. Then he was taught how to inlet the parts into a proper rifle/gun and finally how to do carving. Usually, he made his own gun in the last couple of years of his apprenticeship. He did the very best work he could do as that work would be judged for whether he was competant to become a journeyman and possibly later as a Journeyman, he would show that gun to another master to demonstrate his skills.

When the young man became a Journeyman, he could either work for wages for his Master or go to work in the shop of another Master while he worked and saved his money to one day buy his own shop, forge and all necessary tools and thus, become a Master, himself. Some Journeymen never became Masters and worked for other people all their lives.

MOST gunsmiths earned their "bread and butter" money by doing blacksmithing and other custom or "bespoke worke" as it was known then. Cleaning and repair of both civilian and sometimes Colony or later, State owned Militia weapons, was also a mainstay of their normal living. Contrary to the belief of some, VERY few Master Gunsmiths made all their money by custom making fireasrms. ALSO, even though almost every gunsmith learned how to make a barrel and lock during his apprenticeship - most locks in this country before the American Revolution were imported from Europe as were many if not most barrels. It was only during the time of the American Revolution that large numbers of barrels and especially locks were begun to be made in this country, though there was some barrel makers here before that.

I knew a very small amount of this growing up as a lad and am still learning some things about the 18th century gunsmiths. I studied what I could find on learning gunsmithing in the 60's as a lad. I DREAMED of going to the Gunsmithing School at the Colorado School of Trades or at Trinidad (also in Colorado). Well, with a brother ahead of me and a sister one year behind me, we did not have the money for me to do that. (I FINALLY realized a lifelong dream to go to the Colorado School of Trades a couple years ago, but this time as an Instructor for working on AR 15's. They have asked me to come and teach on the M14 and M1 and hopefully once my eye surgery results are better, I can do that.) However, the Viet Nam war was going on when I was a 17 year old High School Senior in 1971.

I certainly had the grades to go to college as I was National Honor Society, but I did not know what I wanted to study. I could not see spending money on what I didn't know and did not want to further burden my parents helping us to go to college. Both my Grandfathers served in WWI and my Dad served at the very end of WWII when he turned 18. Also, since I was a student of History and Government even then, I figured that it was my time to serve. I was waiting in the Guidance Counselor's office to talk to him in the early spring of 1971, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I looked at various college and trade school pamphlets and wasn't excited about any of them. Then I looked with interest at the Armed Forces literature. I saw the Marine Corps pamphlet and picked it up. Sure, the dress blue uniform was appealing, but the challenge was even more appealing. As I read through it, I thought "If I have to go to war, then I want to go with the best." When I found out that the Marine Corps HAD an apprenticeship program to learn gunsmithing, that did it. It was not guaranteed, but I was told if I worked hard enough I could get into it. That did it, I joined the Marine Delayed Entry program some time later and went to Boot Camp 7 days after my 18th birthday after I graduated and in the following fall.

What I want to get across before the end of this post is you just can't decide one day to become a Gunsmith, rent a shop, hang a sign outside and go into business. Most folks don't have the money, time or live close enough to a gunsmithing college or trade school to learn - and there you ONLY learn the basics. Gunsmithing as a trade today will NOT feed and take care of a family until you get into the advanced work and after some years experience for the most part.

The one absolutely necessary thing you have to have to become a gunsmith is the desire to do quality work and the best work you can at each stage of your development. When I was the Instructor of OJT's (On the Job Trainee's or Apprentices) at the RTE Shop at Quantico, I used to brag I could teach a monkey how to do a really good job of building a NM M14. Part of the reason for that was I sweat blood learning it myself, so that made me a better teacher. Well, that was until I finally had one OJT who caused me to change that brag to "I can teach a monkey to Match Condition an M14, AS LONG AS the monkey is the least bit interested and will listen." However, some of my OJT's who had the most difficult time learning, but had the DESIRE to do really good work, became some of the best Military Gunsmiths we ever had. One became one of the American Pistolsmiths Guild's Pistolsmith of the Year after he retired and that was I guy I had to FIGHT to keep in the program because they wanted to drop him. He made a lot of mistakes and took longer to learn than most folks, but I recognized he had the DESIRE that was necessary and would do what was necessary to learn. He often told me he was embarrassed it took him longer and he really appreciated how patient I was. I told him I appreciated his stubborness and desire and as long as he fought so hard to learn, I would teach him. He became one of the Best Head Armorers that THE Marine Corps Pistol Team ever had. I would love to tell you his name, but I don't have his permission to do so, so I won't.
 

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Great post. This should be a sticky..

Thanks for your Service. That said, gunsmithing is an art. Some gunsmiths are truly artists, some are just plumbers. Once a gunsmith develops a good reputation hopefully they'll also teach the craft so that knowledge will be passed on.
 

· MGySgt USMC (ret)
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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
OK, so how does one start out in the trade today? Well, so much depends on age, mechanical ability, and financial means. Unfortunately, the old apprenticeship program is no longer available, BUT if you follow what they did in the modern world, you can still do it.

If you are a student in Middle School or High School, then you should take every "shop" class you can. You ALSO should study math very hard as advanced math like calulus and trigonometry is important for the machining side of the trade. Now you don't need to be an Albert Einstein, but the problem most people have the worst time with in machining is the application of Trig and Calc. You should also be a voracious reader. In my day that meant going to the library and reading everything I could on gunsmithing, but today you can also learn a lot by the internet. STILL, reading and studying gunsmithing books is extremely valuable. Study English and learn to READ AND WRITE it as best you can. Unfortunately, I have seen some folks who probably would have made good gunsmiths, but their reading comprehension was not up to the task. In the 1960's, I bought every gun magazine I could afford and get my hands on to learn more about guns. It's true that even then I knew a lot of what was written then was BS, but I found some great information in most everything I read. At the very least, it will make you much much more knowledgeable on guns.

What about going to school? Well, IF you can afford it, the 13 month course at the Colorado School of Trades is an EXCELLENT way to get into the trade. What is REALLY great about that school is when you graduate that program, you can normally find a job pretty easy with the gun makers. The gun makers advertise and send recruiters to that school and you probably won't have any difficulty getting a full time PAID job. When I first went there as an Instructor a few years ago, I was surprised that most of the students were NOT right out of High School. Many had done a tour of duty in the military and most were over 21 when they began there. Same thing if you get the four year degree from Trinidad, plus you actually have a Bachelor's Degree.

What if you can't go to Colorado or some of the other gunsmithing schools? Well, many Junior Colleges and even many four year colleges offer courses in machining and welding. You don't need to know how to be a master welder, but you do need to know how to operate an oxy-acetylene torch and do some light welding at least. It is best you learn to USE A HAND FILE and especially on metal, run a lathe and End Mill and then other machines as you can.

I was both a student at and an Instructor at times for the NRA Gunsmithing seminars. This is a GREAT way to get really quality instruction from some of the best guys in the business who are willing and able to teach. They set these up usually in the summer and in different parts of the country. I highly recommend them, especially when you can not get someone to mentor you on something you wish to learn.

If you can attend any of the factory courses on the guns you wish to learn about, that is always a great thing to do. I graduated Smith and Wesson's Revolver and Automatic Armorers courses and though I don't do a lot of work on them, it was real handy to have and adds to your credentials. I also graduated the NRA Police Firearms Instructor's Course, even after qualifying with a .45 for about 10 years and also a NM Armorer on them, that course finally "turned on the light bulb" on a couple of things about shooting a pistol and it immediately shot my scores up higher. It also made me a much better pistol instructor for my Marines.

One thing that is not nearly important today as it was say 40 years ago is learning how to make a stock from a blank and how to hand checker. Almost NO one wants to pay a decent wage for stock checkering today. It is a great art to learn, if you want to, but you won't make anything on it for years and years for the most part. That is something best left to learn on your own or take classes on later on.

This is super important if you want to make a living at the trade. You have to choose what guns you can: 1. Make money on and then 2. What guns you want to learn about and work on. For example, it does not require you be a gunsmith to do most work on an AR 15 for example and it seems EVERYONE is doing it. If you go hog wild towards working on those guns, your competition is extreme and you won't make a very good living. If most people in your area use shotguns, then the best thing you can do is learn everything you can about them including cleaning and basic repairs, installing screw in chokes and other items that are popular in your area. If you want to work on long range rifles, then you had best have customers in your area because you have to get your bread and butter money. One of the worst things even a great bolt action rifllesmith can do is move to hunting country. You will spend so much extra time just trying to correspond with people that you won't do well. You have to have a customer base or you can not make a living.

What I ABSOLUTELY recommend is buy every Disassembly/Assembly manual you can lay your hands on for the guns you need and want to learn on. After you have the best library you can get on them, you can move into other books. The VERY BEST are those Jerry Kuhnhausen has written. I am not a true master gunsmith, but Jerry most certainly is. If he has written a book on a firearm you need and want to learn on, buy his book FIRST. After that, I have found the Gun Digest books on disassembly/assembly of different types of firearms extremely useful. They are not that costly and it is a good idea to get all of them if you are going to do general gunsmsithing. I also bought the NRA disassembly/assembly books and have found them very useful. After that, buy other books as you need them. If you are going to work on military guns, then buy BOTH the FM's (Field Manuals) and the TM's (Technical Manuals) especially the ones that have 3rd to 5th echelon work. I have a HUGE bunch of books on many types of guns and especially the ones I work on, of course. I can not begin to tell you how valuable a good reference library is.

OK, that's about all the typing I can do on this tonight. So stay tuned.
 

· MGySgt USMC (ret)
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
What I suggest for most people is they start out at a full time school or job at something else and do gunsmithing on the side. Let me give you an extreme example why that can be important. There is a guy locally who graduated the 4 year program at Trinidad. I saw a couple of his bolt action rifles and his stock work and checkering work were very nice. However, there are not a whole lot of people who want that around Richmond, Va, though. I refered people to him when I could, but he could just not get enough work and enough work that paid well enough to stay in the trade. After about 2 years, he quit and went to work hanging dry wall as that paid a whole lot better.

What you DON'T want to do is go deep in debt for machines, tools, supplies, parts and a shop when you first start out. It is far better to spend what you make buying more tools and equipment you need. That's why the day job is important to pay the bills, so you can invest the gun work money.

OK, so how do you begin on a low budget? The VERY FIRST THING I suggest you do is get a Brownell's Catalog. If you are in the military or a cop, they may allow you a dealer discount. If not, find someone who can buy at dealer price from them and work or do favors for him to order things for you. Now, not everything in the catalog is discounted. Oh, fair warning, I would NOT buy your standard tools from them unless you live somewhere you can not find them locally. I would NOT go hog wild and buy any of their Armorer's Kits, especially at first. Buy the items you need when you can afford them.

The first thing to BUY is a Magna Tip Screwdiver Master Set. (Link provided below this paragraph.) This is one time you really should go for the most expensive set. If you can't take a gun apart, you can't work on it. One thing that is almost unforgiveable is messing up all the screw heads on a firearm. This set will save you more money than you will spend on it. There is also a replacement policy on the bits. I have this set and the set of super thin European style bits as I work on antique and blackpowder guns. A few other tips are good to buy as you need them like the long neck bit to remove recoil pad screws or other specialty bits as you need them.

http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=417/Product/MAGNA-TIP-SUPER-SETS-trade-

The next thing is find your local SEARS store and buy or order CRAFTSMAN 1/16, 3/32' and 1/8" pin punches. When they break, Sears will replace them free. Snap On tools also has this policy,though they can be a lot more difficult to find. From experience, buy TWO 1/16" punches and one each of the other sizes. I WOULD NOT buy a brass drift lpunch set. My brass drifts are pieces cut from brass rod. In a pinch, you can buy a brass screw that is big enough and file off the teeth for a drift. I would not buy a whole set of punches unless you can get them on sale. Buy a set of jeweler's screwdrivers and jeweler's files. You can buy the modest priced sets and they will work OK for some time.

As to hammers and mallets. Well, every gunsmith winds up with their own favorites and you will buy more as time goes on. After looking at the ones I use most often and what is the best buy to begin with, here's my recommendations:

1. 3/4" Brass/Nylon Hammer. DON'T buy the smaller size as they are almost worthless. I have a large copper mallet, a large leather mallet and a large plastic mallet, but you can do a lot of work with this one hammer to start out with. http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=12587/Product/3-4-NYLON-BRASS-HAMMER

2. Dead Blow Mallet. This is a hard plastic mallet filled with shot. Works great to loosen metal parts without harming the surface. You can find these at auto parts stores or Sears. Buy a medium to large size one.

3. OK, I'm a freak about ball pein hammers and I have them and jewelers/watchmakers planishing hammers in many sizes. However, 90 percent of the time I use a ball pein hammer, it is an 8 oz one I have filed the face smooth and polished the flat face. I suggest a Stanley Hammer with a wood handle.

4. To REALLY save money, you can make a wooden mallet out of scrap lumber just as gunsmiths have done since the 1500's right up to today. You don't HAVE to have one, but it can be useful and give you something to make.

There are two things you REALLY need to do gun work and that is a good work bench and vise. I have NEVER purchased a work bench and I've made 6 or 7 over the years. I use 4x4's for the legs and 2x4's to form the supports and side pieces. I ususally screw a layer of 2x4's flat for the top and SCREW a 3/4" plywood top on that. A GOOD machinist vise is a great thing to have to do gun work and the ones that have 4" wide jaws are the best. However, they will give you a heart attack when you see what a good one like a Wilson will cost. I did not have a really good personal vise for MANY years.

You may be shocked, but I made a wooden "post" vise and used that for years as my primary vise. I used a large bolt that I had a piece of drill rod welded to for the turn screw. I used 2x6's as the jaws. I made removeable jaws from angle iron and angle bronze and made leather jaws for it as well. I also had a less expensive machinist's vise that I bought at a gun show. Later on I tried a 4" wide machinist's vise from Harbor Freight that only cost about $ 40.00. I bought that to see if it would work at the NSSA Championships and since it did work, I left it bolted to the work bench there over the years. Bottom line is you will need some kind of machinist's vise and DON'T buy one that has less than 3 1/2" or 4" jaws. A modest priced one will work great for many years. Look around at yard sales, flea markets and used tool places and you can probably get a $ 600.00 machinist's vise like a Wilson for around $ 200.00 - 300.00 or so, when you can afford it.

OK, there are more tools to buy, but I have to quit typing and go do some work for a while. Stay tuned.
 

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Gus,

Awesome and informative posts.

During my 1400 hour gunsmithing course, we were taught everything you stated as to how a young man would apprentice and someday (maybe) earn the title over years.

After finishing mine and becoming a newly minted rifle maker...what I have yet to learn is honestly humbling. One of our instructors had spent four years at Liege and could hand file a small block of steel into a gun part...reminds me of what you were saying.

The rundown on tools needed to begin the trade is similarly excellent.
 

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Someone posted on another forum, and I quote:

I was on another gun forum and a young man that was an armorer in the Army was asking for advice from the gunsmiths on the site where the best gunsmithing school was. One of the gunsmiths gave a good little piece of advice. Get a chunk of tool steel, a scale divided into 100ths of inch, a hacksaw, and some files. Using only those tools make a perfect 1"x1"x1"cube of steel. If after doing that you still want to be a gunsmith then go for it. It sounds silly but the other smiths on the site agreed with him. I have a couple of friends that are blade smiths. When somebody asks these guys to teach them how to make a knife they start by having the person make a knife from an old file. If after that the person is still interested in learning how to make a knife they'll teach him more.
..................................................................................................
Is this true?
 

· MGySgt USMC (ret)
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Gus,

Awesome and informative posts.

During my 1400 hour gunsmithing course, we were taught everything you stated as to how a young man would apprentice and someday (maybe) earn the title over years.

After finishing mine and becoming a newly minted rifle maker...what I have yet to learn is honestly humbling. One of our instructors had spent four years at Liege and could hand file a small block of steel into a gun part...reminds me of what you were saying.

The rundown on tools needed to begin the trade is similarly excellent.
Thank you for the kind words and I consider that high praise especially with your background.

When I attended the International Muzzleloading Committee's World Champsionships at Wedgnock, UK in 96 and 98 - I was the only gunsmith there for any team. The Team Captain of the Swedish team brought me his wife's original percussion Jaeger rifle that was probably worth $ 15,000 to $ 20,000 because it was a highly carved and inlaid rifle. Gorgeous rifle. Some Total HACK had screwed up the tumbler and sear, but I was able to fix it well enough she could compete with it (until such time the parts could be welded up and properly heat treated). She won the Gold Medal with the rifle. I also repaired an orginal Nicholas Boutet saw handled flintlock dueling/target pistol another HACK had messed up even worse. That pistol was worth between $ 75,000 and 90,000 at the time, I was informed. When I fixed the Jaeger rifle, I knew I was in the presence of a Master. When I fixed the Boutet pistol, I was in the presence of a Master of Masters. The French Team Captain took 7th place and you would have thought by the way the team acted and thanked me that he had won the whole competition. My Team Captain (USA) told me they had never done anything close to that high before. However, in both cases, I never forgot I could not make either rifle or pistol that these Masters had made and I was honored to keep them shooting.

Then one Saturday at the second World Shoot, the only ones still competing were our shotgun folks. I stayed around my work area until a little past noon to ensure I was there in case any problems came up. Finally our shooters were done, so I made a fast bee line down to the Arms Faire tent. I talked to some of the best English BP gunsmiths there and bought as much as I could afford. Well, when I came back - one of our shotgun shooters came rushing up to me looking very worried. He had purchased a new percussion shotgun barrel for his gun and the breech, but the breech wasn't fitted. It seems the HEAD gunsmith from I think it was Pedersoli had just retired, but he had come to the world championships. I don't know how our shooter and he was introduced, but he said he could fit it by hand if he had the tools and he was sorry he did not bring them. My shooter said his Armourer (me) had the tools and would love to have him fit it. However, I was not there. The US Team Captain knew me well enough that he knew I would not mind, but it had taken quite a lot to convince the Master Pedersoli gunsmith before he began fitting it. So when I came up, the Master Gunsmith looked VERY embarrassed and concerned he was using my tools. Of course he only spoke Italian and the tiny little bit of German I knew didn't do us any good. We did not have an interpreter at first, but I smiled broadly at him and made gestures to use anything he wanted. So he went back to work. It was a pleasure watching him. When he stopped or hesitated and even looked like he wanted something, I would dig out what I thought he needed. I wasn't right every time, the first time, but every time I managed to figure out what he needed. The breech was made of an alloy that REALLY loaded up the file teeth. So I grabbed a piece of chalk out and showed it to him. His eyes lit up bright and he smiled and thanked me and used it. I also laid out some tools and stones I figured he would need and he smiled his gratitude as well. Though neither of us could speak more than a word or two of each other's language, we had a common kinship bond in the trade. It was a real pleasure watching him hand file and fit that breech.

Finally they found an Italian who could speak just enough English that he interpreted for us. The Master apologized profusely for using my tools without my permission. I told him I considered it a High Honor for him to use my tools and thoroughly enjoyed working with him - even though my tools did not "fit" him. This is something machinists and gunsmiths understand that we all use hand tools slightly differently and they wear in to the way we use them. I had recognized he had some difficulty adjusting to my tools as I would have had if I had used his, so I would offer him different files that might do what he needed. I also thanked him earnestly for "apprenticing" under him while he worked. He recognized the word "apprentice" and was very strong in saying I was not a mere apprentice. The French Team Captain had shown him the pistol I had worked on and he had said it was as good of work as could be done on the spot with just the tools and equipment I had to work with. He was also a little surprised an Armourer from another team had done it for him and he appreciated that. I told him as a gunsmith, our duty was to honor the tradition of the Art and Mystery of the Trade. Well, that really sank home with him and he understood completely. I told him I would always treasure our time working together and meeting him. Though we will probably never meet again, a superb foundation of respect was laid that would have led to a great friendship had we had time to know each other better, I'm sure.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I was on another gun forum and a young man that was an armorer in the Army was asking for advice from the gunsmiths on the site where the best gunsmithing school was. One of the gunsmiths gave a good little piece of advice. Get a chunk of tool steel, a scale divided into 100ths of inch, a hacksaw, and some files. Using only those tools make a perfect 1"x1"x1"cube of steel. If after doing that you still want to be a gunsmith then go for it. It sounds silly but the other smiths on the site agreed with him. I have a couple of friends that are blade smiths. When somebody asks these guys to teach them how to make a knife they start by having the person make a knife from an old file. If after that the person is still interested in learning how to make a knife they'll teach him more.
..................................................................................................
Is this true?
You may be surprised, but this ABSOLUTELY TRUE and was one of the old time tests an apprentice had to pass. I'm told this was also a test for old time machinist apprentices. Actually, the true test is to get it within not just one hundreth of an inch all over, but one THOUSANDTH of an inch all over. That was not required in our OJT Apprenticeship program in the Corps, BUT I felt it was something I personally wanted to do to honor the traditions of the trade.

Well, it took me THREE chunks of mild steel before I did it, but I managed to do it on the third chunk. I did it at lunch time and after we had shut down in the shop for the day and on weekends. I used garnet paper wrapped around the files and large India stones to get it to the final dimensions, but it was all hand done. Many of the other OJTs and most of the 2112's in the shop thought I was crazy to do it and some made fun of me. Mike Gingher Was even a little surprised, but he made some suggestions. He told others that I was doing my best to learn how to use a hand file and he understood that. Well, when I got it right finally, I asked Mike to inspect it because Mike had been a tool and die grinder for 10 years before he came to the course. Oh, he put on QUITE a show of checking it all over the piece with facial expressions I could not read. Then before he told me anything, he got up and took it back to the machine shop and showed it to our two senior machinists. (Mike had a great deal of respect from them as a Tool and Die grinder.) They checked it thoroughly and asked him if he had done it and he simply said, "Nope, Fisher did it." I was watching with apprehension and then both of them looked around the shop till they saw me. Then the Head Machinist did a "Thumb's Up" to me. Before that, he had hardly spoken to me. So I came back in the Machine Shop and he told me that was impressive. After that, MAN did they help me whenever I needed help!!

When we used to hand file/stone NM .45 Pistol slide stops to fit the oversize NM barrel lugs, we actually hand fit them in ranges of Ten THOUSANDTHS of an inch. It was there I learned how HUGE a thousandth of an inch was and I had no idea of that before I began the apprenticeship in the pistol section.

Ask any REAL Master Machinist and he/she will tell you that being able to use a hand file on metal really well is the mark of a true craftsman.

Edited to add: I am NOT a real machinist by any measure. REAL Machinists have my highest respect and some awe by me. A real Machinist usually does better metal work than most any gunsmith. However, a real machinist often is at a bit of a loss on wood.

I learned this from my friendship with Mike Gingher. I was blessed to have him as both a mentor and a friend. Mike helped me a lot to learn working metal as I had not done hardly any of that when I came to the OJT program. However, he told me in later years that I used to "Scare the Crap out of Him" the way I hand filed fiberglass and wood. He used to say, "Fisher would grab the hugest/coarset HORSE RASP he could find and would take 25 thousandths or more off in a single swipe and do it faster than most people I ever saw." After glass bedding, I could clean up an M14 stock as fast or faster than most anyone else. I replied I had to do that because it took me longer to do some of the metal work.
 

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If it was a business that paid megabuck$, and was a cheap and easy field to get into, everybody would be doing it.

Regarding learning how to use a file, I remember in his autobiography Dr. Werner von Braun, of German and NASA rocketry fame, talking about how the German schools taught students to learn how to be machinists. He was given a file and a huge steel ball, maybe 6" in diameter, and told to turn it into a perfect cube; when his cube, eventually, passed inspection, he was told, "Now turn it back into a sphere."
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
If it was a business that paid megabuck$, and was a cheap and easy field to get into, everybody would be doing it.

Regarding learning how to use a file, I remember in his autobiography Dr. Werner von Braun, of German and NASA rocketry fame, talking about how the German schools taught students to learn how to be machinists. He was given a file and a huge steel ball, maybe 6" in diameter, and told to turn it into a perfect cube; when his cube, eventually, passed inspection, he was told, "Now turn it back into a sphere."
WOW, I'm not sure that is something I would want to try. Grin.
 

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Gus, you're very welcome...So far, my background is just enough to realize I have a ways yet to go though.

Your stories are a reminder of what our work represents, and the respect which is due for it from one working in the craft.

Stainless1911, that damned cube...

I still have mine. It took me eight days. Our margin for passing was that it had to measure between 0.965" and 0.968" with a micrometer and all six faces had to check out with a square angle not to show any light when the angle was against them. At the time this was nearly unimaginable and seemed at first like they were joking.

It's amazing how critical things like the height of the vise you are working on in relation to your own height, etc become with that kind of stuff. Much like shooting a rifle, your body has to position the file just so and consistently maintain the position to keep accuracy. A very little angle in the stroke of the file one way or the other becomes pretty grave. After letting us frustrate for a while, they showed us how to use boards underneath our vises to shim it's height and have our arms be parallel naturally, etc. Very illuminating. Moving around the cube to file from different angles equally was really important too.

We used 600 grit wet sandpaper and honing oil wrapped around the file to get our final dimension.

At the time it could be discouraging, and there was a lot that felt like I might never grasp it. Stock inletting was another of those things. And learning to grind HSS bits into knives to do our different jobs on the lathes, like facing and turning, or the one that took me the longest, a thread cutting knife to cut the 60 degree barrel threads on our Remington 700s. Can be frustrating. But there's an awful lot in gunsmithing where its very easy to take material off, but good luck putting it back on and no second chance...but after that one, whenever I picked up a file it was with a lot more confidence.

Following most of the course in French was also at times not the easiest way to go ;)
 

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OK, I have been fighting a REALLY nasty cold or virus my Great Nephew brought home and I'm too worn out to continue the tool list tonight. However, I think it is important to talk about Mentors.

My Grandfather in his 70's was my first mentor. He taught me how to hand saw wood STRAIGHT as he was trained as a finish carpenter in his youth. He made a mark on a piece of scrap board, locked it into the vise, handed me a crosscut saw and explained why we used that saw and then told me to saw it straight through. I started very slow and then got faster as I got used to the saw and was doing OK for about an inch, the just barely started to stray off the mark. In a stern voice that was not quite a yell, Grandpa said, "I SAID to saw it straight." Well that startled me, so I slowed down and got it back on line and sawed further. Well, about 1/2 way through the board I began to stray just a bit again. Once again and a little rougher this time, Grandpa said, "I SAID, SAW IT STRAIGHT." I cringed and got it back on line and was actually doing a pretty good job until I was very close to the end. As if often the case with less experienced folks, I let it wander off towards the very end. JUST as I was cutting through the last of the board, I got a HARD slap on the back of my head with the words, "If you don't saw it STRAIGHT, you have to do extra clean up and that means money lost on wood or time or both!" Then he pulled out a hand plane and showed me how to straighten the end of the board. Years later I told Dad (Grandpa's son) about it and he chuckled. Said Grandpa had done the same thing to him. I told Dad I remember that EVERY time I pick up a handsaw. Grandpa taught me many things, but the best thing he taught me was to "Do you BEST work you are capable of on EVERY job, EVERY time you do it. That was the ONLY WAY to do things or you are just fooling yourself and wasting time." Well, Dad has helped me at the gun shows for quite some time in recent years. I overheard him tell a customer that it when he watched me work on something, "It is just like it was watching his Dad all over again." I told him I always try to work like Grandpa would have been proud of me."

Over the years I have been blessed with Mentors in my military career, gunsmithing, leather smithing, wood work, antique gun collecting and many things. There is just no way to expain how valuable mentors are to everyone, at EVERY stage of their career or life. I was fortunate to have my Grandpa as my first mentor because I learned right off the bat that someone in their 60's, 70's, or even 80's or 90's STILL had much they can teach and help you IF you are smart enough to seek them out. I can not begin to tell you how much I STILL value talking with retired machinists, gunsmiths and other folks. Not all of them can help you with everything, but if you seek them out you WILL find someone who will help you with anything you want to learn. You do have to show them the respect they deserve and you do have to be humble enough to know what you don't know and admit it.

Of course, I was fortunate to go through the apprenticeship in the RTE Shop and have so many experienced people to learn from. I would ask questions and if the person couldn't answer it, they would direct me to the person who could best answer it. It was kind of unusual for a young OJT to do that, even then, though. When I had some questions on doing bolt action work, I was told to ask GySgt Bill Brown. Now "Old Brownie" was a pretty gruff guy, especially towards young OJT's. The first time I went up to him and respectfully asked him a question, he SLAMMED the top of his tool box shut, said that was a "Dumb a$$ freaking question!!!" with even more profanity and went over to the coffee mess to fill up his cup. Well, I was so shocked I was sort of dazed and figured I had better wait to apologize. However, when he came back to his bench, in a COMPLETELY normal and instructive tone, he told ahd showed me what I needed to know. I was a bit dumbfounded. OK, so the next time I asked him a question, he did the EXACT same thing. I asked Mike about it and he just said, "Must be how Bill does things." So a couple months laster a newer OJT asked me something about a bolt gun and I told him I didn't know the answer, but I would take him to who knew it and we went to Bill's Bench. HOWEVER, I had WARNED the other OJT what Bill might do ahead of time. Sure enough, he did the EXACT same thing with a good deal of profanity. The newer OJT looked as dumbfounded as I had looked the first time I asked. When he asked me if he had done something wrong, I told him, "No, I don't think so. I THINK Gunny Brown does this to see if you are really interested and not just wasting his time. He will show you what you want to know if you have the balls to wait here." I was watching Bill sort of from the side of his face at the coffee mess and noticed just a hint of a crook of a smile on his face, though it was gone when he came back. Sure enough, he showed us what we wanted to know. After that, though, when I came up with a question, he no longer did it and always pleasantly showed and taught me.

When I went home on Christmas leave that year, my brother sheepishly apologized that he had used and dropped my Ruger Mark I target pistol in the sand on a levy by the Missisissippi river. He had taken it apart and cleaned and oiled it thoroughly, but did not know how to put it back together. He then handed me a plastic bag of parts that BARELY looked like a gun. Of course that was well beyond what I knew how to do at the time. I took the bag of parts back with me and took it into the shop and asked if anyone knew how to work on them. I was told that one Gunny knew how to work them, but most folks did not like him as he thought WAY too much of himself and was a real braggart. OK, so I took the bag with me and showed him. Yeah, I had to sit patiently and listen to how he was the Greatest Gift to Gunsmithing there was, but he reassembled that pistol in the blink of an eye. I watched REAL close and could barely follow him. I realized he wasn't going to teach me as much as he was trying to awe me, but at least my pistol was now back together and operating correctly. I thanked him very respectfully. Afterwards, some of the other OJT's and a couple of 2112's asked how I could stand to be by him that long. I told them I would put up with almost anything to learn something I wanted to know.

These last two examples were some of the most extreme I ever ran across, though. MOST of the time I have humbly and respectfully asked for help from people, they have bent over backwards BECAUSE I have been humble and respectful.

If there is one piece of advice I would love to get across is to ACTIVELYseek out Mentors. You can learn a LOT from experienced and retired Machinists. Same thing from woodworkers and of course other gunsmiths. Don't be afraid to ask questions as when you do it enough, someone will always help you.

This is part of the reason I post so much on this forum. I figure that if you love and honor your work, you should be willing to mentor people who are interested. it is sort of a way of "paying back" the people that have mentored me over the years. BTW, you are NEVER too old or too experienced that you can not learn something useful from someone else. I don't plan on stop asking questions and learning until when I'm dead.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Following most of the course in French was also at times not the easiest way to go ;)
I can feel for you there. I have been interested in the 18th century history from the time I was in grade school. So when I got to High school, one might have thought I would have studied French. Nope, I had my head up my rear end and thought German might be more useful in the future, so I took that for the two years it was offered. Well, 40 years later I have only used German a tiny little bit and have forgotten most of it. HOWEVER, had I studied French, I could have used that an innumerable number of times for reading 18th century stuff as French was the international language of trade then. There are not a whole lot of things I would have changed over the years if I could, but that is definitely something I messed up on all those years ago.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Gunsmiths get a lot of "bread and butter money" by doing somewhat simple repairs and just giving guns a thorough detailed cleaning/oiling and servicing. In areas where shotguns are used for small game or deer hunting, this is especially true.

There is one more screwdriver that I think every gunsmith or advanced hobbyist should have in his tool box and that is an extremely long bit, large screwdriver. You will find a bazillion uses for it over the years and most often for getting up inside shotgun buttstocks to get at that long machine screw that holds the stock on. I bought a Bonanza No. 6 butt stock screwdriver over 30 years ago I have used countless times on more shotgun and lever action rifle buttstocks than I can remember. It is a 3/8" diameter round rod with a screwdriver tip ground in the end. It is 12" from the handle to the screwdriver end. (It is also necessary to have one if you are ever going to do complicated repairs or trigger jobs on Civil War Period Smith Carbines.) A long screwdriver like this is necessary to remove shotgun buttstocks so you mount/fit "rubber" recoil pads. If you live in an area where a lot of shotguns are used for Trap and Skeet, this is another of those "bread and butter" jobs you will get a lot of work on once you are set up to do them.

Now before I get into a separate post on pliers, there is one set of pliers I have used with both shotguns, M14 Elevation Pinion Drums to hold them to tighten the internal screw, and a number of things around the shop. I've even used them to loosen the lids on the small tubs of Accraglass Gel and get stuck Tru Oil cap bottles or other stuck caps off bottles. Heck, I have used them to hold original Muzzleloading barrels when I'm doing something on them. I'm talking about what Brownell's calls their "MAGAZINE TUBE/CAP PLIERS" http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=13787/Product/MAGAZINE-TUBE-CAP-PLIERS

I have heard you can find them in some auto parts stores and I've also heard they are used in the aircraft maintenance industry. I first bought mine in the 1980's and I think I bought a pair of replacement jaws with them, but with care over the years, I still have the original jaws in them I can't tell you how many HUNDREDS of screws in M14 Elevation Pinions I have tightenecd using these pliers to hold onto the drum without marring or cracking the drum.

I most certainly would buy both of these tools early on as there are so many things you can use them for.

OK, I myself asked at what point one should consider doing bluing (really hot black oxide) and parkerizing. Well, my advice is forget bluing for quite a while unless you can work with someone who already does it. Proper polishing prior to bluing is almost becoming a lost art, folks and it will require some expensive equipment you won't use for much else. You have to have a dedicated space for bluing and you have to deal with all kinds of hazmat regulations and EPA restrictions. So I suggest you leave that alone for a while.

Parkerizing is much less expensive, though you have to have a blasting cabinet and that can run over to well over $ 1000.00 bucks for one large enough for a barreled action. You also need a rather expensive air compressor and stainless steel tank and burners. But it is not just being able to afford the blasting cabinet and other items, you have to have a place to put it. I've known folks who have semi large outbuildings, either pre-fab or a concrete block hut (for bluing) on their property, but you must already have the property.

So it is best to forget about doing either when you are first starting out, unless you work for a shop that already has the equipment.
 

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Lots of great wisdom Gus, and the stories are interesting and easy to read. Thanks for taking the time to share.

I especially like this quote: "I told them I would put up with almost anything to learn something I wanted to know." This applies to learning in so many ways. Dealing with difficult people, difficult and frustrating experiences, long and tiring hours and mistakes -- everything. If somebody is serious about learning (or achieving anything), nothing will stop them. This is the greatest power we posses as human beings: mental fortitude (stubbornness?). It was through this power that we have achieved so many incredible things, like landing on the moon for instance.

Thanks again. I look forward to more stories and wisdom, as your schedule permits.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Pliers.

Well, if I'm a freak on hammers, I am absolutely insane about pliers. (I'm completely over the deep end on 18th and early 19th century bench vises, pin vices and hand vises, but that is another story.) Straight and bent nose needle nose pliers, slip joint pliers, vise grips and all manner of pliers you can get at hardware stores will come in handy. For the most part, you don't have to pay for the VERY best ones, but don't buy the super cheap ones either.

Back in the days I was starting out, I HAUNTED flea markets and yard sales for OLD tools. I still do it when I can. If a tool was made in the 19th or early 20th century and still is in good working order, that normally tells you it is a QUALITY tool. I never cared if they were surface rusted or even had some pitting on them, though that always saddened me a bit. I would pay far less for a good tool and just have to clean and oil them a little.

What I ESPECIALLY look for at flea markets, yard sales and even antique stores and Ebay are known as "Box Joint" Pliers. This a way the pliers were made rather than what type of jaws they have. They are also known as Watchmakers' and Jeweler's pliers. This construction method goes back to the 17th century and is STILL considered the best way to make truly precision pliers. I look for the ones that do not have plastic over the handles as you find better ones that way for less. I have found really great smaller jeweler's pliers on Ebay where I paid as much or more for shipping as I did for the pliers. The great thing about the jeweler's or watchmaker's pliers are they often do not have any teeth on the jaws that won't mar something you need to hold onto while you work on it or hold it. In more recent years, the better to best ones come from Germany. However, they are well known in the English (and of course Canadian and Australian) tradition.

OK, I'm going to digress a little because this got me to thinking of when I decided I wanted to put together an 18th century Artificer's tool kit. Artificers were military Armorers then as well as repairing all kinds of things with the Armies in the Field. The terms Armorer and Armourer were also known, but not as well used. Anyway, on a trip to the gun shop at Colonial Williamsburg in the late 90's, I was asking what the correct designs were for 18th century turnscrews (what they called screwdrivers) and some other tools. What they use as a primary period source is "A Catalogue of Tools for Watch and Clock Makers by John Wyke of Liverpool" (Box Point Pliers are right on the front cover) However, 80 to 90 percent of the tools in this book would have been used by gunsmiths and various "Mechanics" of the period. They showed me a reproduction copy and I was absolutely FLOORED how many tools gunsmiths and machinists use today are listed in the book. I HAD TO HAVE A COPY. Well, it was out of print and for my first copy I paid $ 110.00 and shipping. The NEXT copy I bought was on Ebay for $ 45.00. HOWEVER, Winterthur is selling what must be an overrun for only $ 9.99 !!!! http://www.winterthurstore.com/prod...k_Makers_by_John_Wyke_of_Liverpool.html?tc=PA Here's a link to a couple of pages to give you an idea about the book. http://www.davistownmuseum.org/bioStubs.htm Gunsmiths and machinists will REALLY get a kick out of this book and trust me, it will give all of them some ideas on some tools they may not know about and many they would recognize or find in their tool boxes today. (I'm thinking of buying a quantity at that price and putting them away for future sales.)

The very first set of pliers you should buy to do gunsmithing is a set of "Paralled Jaw" or sometimes called "Lineman's" pliers. I would LOVED to have had a set like these years ago with non marring jaws. http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=6707/Product/HIGH-GRADE-PARALLEL-JAW-PLIERS However, most of us have gotten along with somewhat less expensive ones and wrapped strong tape around the serrated jaws when required or bent sheet brass around the jaws. I even found a small set in the "fishing section" at Wal Mart a few years ago for about $ 6.00 and those are VERY handy.

I would then buy some box joint pliers and the ones with round jaws are really handy for grabbing springs. I would also buy the flat joint. Needle nose pliers don't have to be box joint, but it is great if they are. However, what I have found is REALLY better to have in the way of needle nose pliers is what are called "long nose" with small diameter jaws. Here is an example: [ame]http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00093D500/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B0007XJO7K&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=136SF4QFCRCABCC3Z81F[/ame] These will allow you to get sprngs and small parts from down inside actions.

You will also need various kinds of Slip ring pliers to work on some guns. I would not buy them till you need them, though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Darn it, I COMPLETELY forgot some punches, so I guess I had best add them while I'm thinking of them.

As a gunsmith or machinist, you are ALWAYS dealing with small to tiny pins that hold parts in place. The one thing I've been surprised at when teaching so many Law Enforcement Armorers Courses is how few people know about "starting" punches. Starting punches are nothing more that punches with either SHORT drive pin sections OR dedicated punches to start tight/frozen/stuck pins out of their holes. It if often difficult to get a pin to "start" moving, but after you have moved it a little, you can much more easily drive it out. It is pretty easy to break a regular drive pin punch if you try to use it as a starting punch.

When I break a small pin punch, I file or grind the tip flat again and use it as a starter punch. Another neat trick is to go to yard sales and flea markets and buy "nail sets." You regrind them to the size you need and because the tip is so short and tapered down, they make some of the very best starting punches.

There are VERY special punches made for starting roll pin punches and I've found the WHOLE SET extremely useful and recommend you buy the whole set. I ALSO use these for solid pins to start them in holes. They are SUPER great to have to work on M14's, M1's and many other guns with roll pins or even for small solid pins. http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=781/Product/ROLL-PIN-HOLDERS

Now if I may, I would like to pass on some advice when using regular (longer) drive pin punches and roll pin punches. What I teach is the "Tap and Twist" method as I call it. AFTER you get the pin moving with a starter punch, I tell my students to Tap the punch and then TWIST the punch as they drive out these pins. The reason to twist the punch after every time you tap it is so you don't get the punch stuck and that would mean you can break it on the very next time you hit it with the hammer. This is also EXTREMELY important on small roll pins.

I joke there should be a Hazard Warning on taking out the roll pin that holds the Ejector in an AR 15 bolt ! The 1/16" drive pin punch is too small and the 3/32" punch is too big for that pin, so most folks use the 1/16" punch. The PROBLEM is folks can get the 1/16" pin punch STUCK INSIDE the center of the roll pin and when that happens, they usually break the punch off inside the pin. You would not BELIEVE how hard that jams the pin up!! You often have to resort to drilling the pin out on a drill press. However, when we are teaching the classes, we USUALLY don't have access to a drill press. At that point, Charlie usually says "That's why I pay a gunsmith to help me at these courses" (with a wry grin on his face) and sends them to me. At a class in Jacksonville, FLorida, I spent almost four hours until I got the roll pin, with a broken pin punch stuck inside it, out of the bolt. AFter that fiasco, I make a POINT of teaching "Tap and Twist" EVERY time we take out tight roll pins. GRIN.

On the subject of roll pin punches, I was able to actually afford the entire set when they became available years ago. However, for most guys starting out, it is best to buy the sizes they need to work on the guns they work on. I am a FIRM believer in using these punches on roll pins so you don't bugger up the ends of the roll pins. This probably will be as important in the future as not buggering up screw heads has been traditonally. We were not issued these in our standard Infantry Armorer's repair kits and that is one battle I lost over the years, trying to get at least some of the smaller sizes added to "The Basic Armorer's Tool Box." Anyway, here's the link: http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=5551/Product/ROLL-PIN-PUNCHES

There is one other type of punch that I have found much more useful over the years than I imagined and that is a set of alignment punches. The three piece set is good to have and not super expensive. Mine was a bit more expensive than this set, but it gives you an idea: http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200305339_200305339 I really like these when I fit extended beavertail grip safeties on .45 pistols to both align and give some friction to show where I need to take more metal off the frames. They are not something you HAVE TO HAVE when you are starging out, though.

Well, I guess there is one other item in my pin punch drawer that I should mention and that is cold chisels. I have three small ones that came in sets of punches I bought over the years and that's the way I would buy them. Sears sometimes has special sales on pin punch sets with a couple small cold chisels and that is the way to go. If you REALLY need a cold chisel for something else, then buy it when you need it.
 

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When I take the slide apart on the XD, I do it in the shower stall with the drain shut, in case the thing flies apart. I once tried that in the kitchen, and the back cover came off and hit me in the nose, needless to say, it took me a while to find all the parts. That back cover had actually fallen through a crack in the floor, and was laying in the dirt under the trailer. The pin guide thing was on the microwave.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
When I take the slide apart on the XD, I do it in the shower stall with the drain shut, in case the thing flies apart. I once tried that in the kitchen, and the back cover came off and hit me in the nose, needless to say, it took me a while to find all the parts. That back cover had actually fallen through a crack in the floor, and was laying in the dirt under the trailer. The pin guide thing was on the microwave.
Now THAT'S what I call using your head to adapt and overcome a problem!
 
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