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· Registered
2,301 Posts
Good advice. I'm not a huge AR-15 fan to begin with, always hated playing with those things too much. I've had enough fun field cleaning M16s, and even more fun fixing jams on them. Of course I wouldn't mind getting paid to clean them, but as you said, there's little money in fixing them (which is almost a relief to me).

From what I understand the biggest market in the area will be hunting rifles and defense handguns, though since it's Montana, I expect to see enough of everything to go around. Obviously that doesn't mean they'll need a gunsmith for everything though. Unfortunately (yet very fortunately) it is a big hunting area, but I think there is enough civilization around to at least get started with. There are at least one or two gunsmiths in the area that I know of, and two barrel manufacturers (one also makes hunting rifles). I'll see what I can do with my 1911 trigger, and what I can do to a "Walter Mitty" M14. I won't touch the Mauser due to historical significance, at least until I've learned about restoration and I see the need for it.

As far as the levergun goes, it's not really a cowboy action shooter because 1) it's not a traditional cowboy model, but a modernization of one and 2) it's chambered in .45-70, and I don't think they run .45-70s in cowboy action competitions. I was planning on smoothing out the machining on the internals though, switching for a better recoil pad, maybe doing a few other things to it, and that might be applicable to the cowboy action scene.

I was definitely going to run around to shops and other smiths when I had something to show them. I'd like to have one of those 1" cubes with me when I do, I think it'd say a lot about not only my ability but also dedication, patience, and show that I put some research into the history of the trade. It'll take me a while, but what do you think? Thanks again for your insight!

· Registered
2,751 Posts
Great asdvice from Gus ... again

BTW, that leads me to something I have not thought of before. LEARN to most strongly suggest they buy GOOD parts or you will lose money trying to fit them. Also, you may have to refuse to fit some parts because they won't work even after you spend hours on them.
More than a good suggestion, this is absolutely necessary ... OR ELSE!!!!!

In my experience,
Gunsmiting, PROFESSIONAL Gun Smiting, ain't all smellin' the roses and hurting yourself carrying all the loot to the bank.

Sometimes, along with the roses comes the thorns ...
and sometimes, along comes a lot of "BS" aka ?rose fertilizer? as well.

I'll relate the incident that caused me to quit gunsmiting, go back to school, and become a computer Geek instead ....
aka "The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back"

I started out as an IPSC competitor with champagne tastes and a beer budget. I STARTED DOING A FEW LITTLE IPSC pistol TWEAKS just for myself, and soon enough I was doing them for friends, for a case of beer or a few boxes of ammo. Then I hurt my back [ popped L4 and L5 ], and after a year of constant agony, wasn't able to go back to work as a carpenter ... but was now capable of working for short periods of time while standing at a bench. So I became a Full Time pistol smith, working out of my house, on my own schedule ... as my back allowed it.

The local RCMP Sergeant, who saw me a few times a week buying, registering and then selling pistols, told me he was getting tired of seeing my ugly face so often, and helped me get set up as a Canadian LICENSED gunsmith, just so I didn't need to visit him as much. I was now a full time, LICENSED professional pistol smith specialising in PRACTICAL modifications to the good old Colt Govt model .45, and LEGALLY entitled to charge customers cash money for my work.

All my advertising was by word of mouth from [ hopefully ] satisfied customers. And since I was one of the top ranked local IPSC shooters, I knew most of my customers face to face. Which can sometimes be a good thing, and sometimes be a not so good thing. ... because every one of your "friends" and "aquaintences" thinks they should get a better deal.

When I [ or one of my customers ] did well in an IPSC match, business picked up. I made DAMMED SURE my pistol builds were TOTALLY RELIABLE, first, foremost, and always, because nothing can kill a "PRACTICAL" pistol smith's reputation faster than a few MALFS in the middle of a big match. I told all my customers,
"If you are NOT SATISFIED, if you have any complaints or problems, tell ME and I'll fix it. ASAP, and for free!!"

I also told them,
"If you ARE SATISFIED make sure you tell your friends".


So one day, after over a decade of this type of fun and frolic, a customer [ a NON-local IPSC shooter I knew slightly ] comes in and asks me to quote him a price for a NEW SS .45 ACP barrel and fitting. Sight unseen. Apparently, his original barrel was so shot out and worn, he couldn't hold 6" at 25 yds off of a rest.

No big deal, BTDT lots of times, so Sight unseen.,
I gave him my standard shop rate [ since I'd done enough of these and could do them pretty easy, I didn't need to charge by the hour, and had a standard rate for this job]. And since I could make a bit of markup on the barrel sale, it was a fair deal for both of us.

So this character shows up a few weeks later with a really old pre-war Colt Govt Commercial . The old PRE-war Colt Commercials were made like a Swiss watch, better fitted and finished inside than the new Gold Cups are outside. And this one must have been made with brand new tooling, because every dimension was TIGHT!!!

OOPS ... gonna be XTRA work fitting a barrel to this one!!!
There goes the profit margin on the labor!!!

Then he hands me a SS barrel he picked up at a gun show, which was NOT even roughly cut close to finished dimensions. And tells me he wants me to fit THIS barrel to his tighty Colt.

OOPS ... there goes the tiny profit margin from selling him one of my in stock half finished SS barrels. And there goes the "Average time" I USED TO CALCULATE a SET / package price!!
I'm already in the hole before starting this job!!!

I tried to explain these facts of life to this gentleman,
who become quite irate, and loudly complained that
"A quote was a quote"
and that
"I wasn't a man who's word could be trusted".

Some times the best thing you can do with such a customer is refuse his job, give him a $ 100 bill, and tell him to go away .... but instead I said I'd do the job for the price quoted, and eat the difference [ ?chalk up the loss to good advertising ? ].

So I did the job ... with my own link and pin, 'cause of course his old worn parts wouldn't work well. And this old Colt thusly was transformed from a 6" at 25 yd gun to a 2" at 25 yd gun.

And the world was spinning properly on it's axis.

The guy picks up his new Colt, and refuse to pay me for my link and pin ... after all we had agreed on a price as quoted.

OK fine,
anything to get this guy out of the shop.

A week later HE IS BACK ... and he is NOT HAPPY!!!
The pistol functions perfectly, it shoots 2" at 25 yds sure enough, but now it doesn't shoot to the point of aim of the tiny stock fixed sights.

I try to explain how the angle of the barrel to the slide [ and thusly to the FIXED sights ] has to [ HAS TO!!! ] change when a new OVERSIZED barrel is fitted tightly enough to give best accuracy.

But he ain't having any of it.


OK FINE, any thing to get this guy out of the shop PERMANENTLY!!

I offer to install a new set of MILLET Hi Profile fixed sights on his slide, NO LABOR, just the cost of the parts.

But this isn't good enough ... he wants the sights thrown in for free too!

At this point I totally lost it, told the guy to get the F$$%% out of my shop, and never come back.

His parting words were,
"I'm going to tell everyone I know how you screwed me over."

Some times the best thing you can do with such a customer is refuse his job, give him a $ 100 bill, and tell him to go away .
It will be cheaper in the long run.

So I became a PROFESSIONAL computer geek [ now retired ] and HOBBY GUN SMITER instead. I am no longer LEGALLY entitled to charge for my GunSmiting labor. I still work for ammo [ no reloads thank you ] or maybe swap you my labor FOR SOMETHING YOU'VE GOT THAT I WANT ... but I no longer drink, so no more cases of beer. I get most of my ammo from some "Government sourced" individuals, these days mostly SWAT, as my military buddies seem to have mostly slipped away into fatherhood and no time for gunslinging no more. And you better be someone I know and respect and like, who can call me by my first name.
And it better be a job that INTERESTS ME.

Or just like Seinfield's Soup Nazi,

I now have the best of all gunsmiting jobs.

I work ONLY on things I want to work on,
and only for people I like,
and I get a small Govt pension NOT to come back to work for the Tax People
[They paid ME to go away ... apparently having a screen saver with your newest assault rifle scares even the hardened individuals who work for the Tax dept enough that they will eventually pay you to retire ... [;) ].

Case in point,
my relationship with M14.CA.

I met Frank, the owner of M14.CA at one of my "M14 Inspection, Maintenance, Repair, and Modification" seminars. Frank fell deeply and almost insanely in love with the M14 rifle, and said to me,
"I want to build the perfect M14 aluminum stock."

I told him he was crazy, that this was a BIG DEEP BLACK HOLE that would eat up his money and his sanity. But he persisted, put his money where his mouth was, and we started off down the 2 year long road that eventually led to something new, his Blackfeather EBR alloy M14 stock.

I am merely a consultant on this project, bringing some tactical / practical /professional experience as a former Infantry type / practical 3 gun competitor / paid gunsmiter.

Frank pays me a small hourly stipend, almost enough to cover my gas and ammo. Ansd sometimes he buys me a burger [ cheese cake too!! ] Not much in cash $$$ but enough to be able to look the wife in the eye and say truthfully,
"HONEY, I can't do the yard work today ... I'm working for Frank!!".
This may not be much in Cash $$, but otherwise PRICELESS!!!


I now have the best of all gunsmiting jobs.

But would I personally encourage any young guy today to take up a career as a gunsmith???
I'd suggest instead they take up a career as a computer geek ... especially if you can get on with the govt.
got the good as gold govt pension with the COLA!!
PS: I also a cheated a bit ...
I married a very rich and VERY tolerant woman, who cuts me a LOT of slack.

· MGySgt USMC (ret)
7,047 Posts
Discussion Starter · #45 ·
I was definitely going to run around to shops and other smiths when I had something to show them. I'd like to have one of those 1" cubes with me when I do, I think it'd say a lot about not only my ability but also dedication, patience, and show that I put some research into the history of the trade. It'll take me a while, but what do you think? Thanks again for your insight!
Actually learning to tell when NOT to do something on an historic gun will make your reputation better, so you have a good plan to wait on the Mauser.

At the World Championships of the International Muzzle Loading Committee held in Wedgnock, UK twice - I worked on an original inlaid percussion Jaeger Rifle valued at about $ 20,000.00 then and an original Nicholas Boutet (Armourer to Napolean) Saw Hangled Flintlock Dueling/Target Pistol valued at over $ 75,000.00 then. (Yeah, WHAT was he thinking shooting that valuable of a pistol?!! Some folks have a lot more money than brains, I guess.) BOTH of these exceptional and historic pieces had their tumblers and some other lock work BUTCHERED by what looked like the same Idiot/hammer/grinder Fool, though the Jaeger was owned by a member from the Swiss Team and the other owned by the Captain of the French Team. I was BARELY able to do enough work so the owners could fire them in competition successfully, but I also told them they needed the parts properly repaired/replaced by a REAL gunsmith or Armourer when they returned home as I did not have the capabilities to do that much at the Shoot.

Oh, BEWARE how much you offer to charge for doing stock refinishing. It will eat up your time like almost nothing else and there is almost nothing in it that you receive for the time spent. The best way to handle a stock refinish job is as a part of a total package where you make your money on the rest of the work. Either that, or show your customers how to do it themselves.

Yes, making the 1" cube will be an excellent idea. Now, I want to warn you that not everyone will understand what it means and even some gunsmiths. Even if they don't understand, you MAY still be able to learn something from them, but it is far less likely than from a gunsmith who does understand.

Be prepared to ruin a few sears and hammers learning to do a really good trigger job on a M1911. Going EXTREMELY slow and careful should keep that to a minimum, but you ARE going to ruin some parts while learning the trade. Heck, you are going to ruin some parts even after YEARS in the trade every now and then because we are human and we all make mistakes every now and then.

· MGySgt USMC (ret)
7,047 Posts
Discussion Starter · #46 ·

Your last post was especially good. There will always be some customers who we wind up wishing we had never met and even after we go out of our way and beyond reason to help them, they will complain. I wish there "was a sign" (like Bill Engvall of "Here's your sign" humour suggests) for those customers so you spot them and could turn them down BEFORE you attempt to do something for them.

I have found the only way to keep that to a minimum is get very specific with a customer and I long ago gave up on a "package price estimate" for work performed except to quote a medium to a possible outrageous price for the work. Then when you charge them less or a lot less when you can, they better appreciate it.
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