More on ‘Gunsmiths’

This happens a lot.  A customer calls about a problem, and it’s the customer’s gunsmith who says “X” yet the “gunsmith” is totally wrong.  The “gunsmith” is the source of the problem, or the source of the misunderstanding of the problem.  Yesterday, a rep from Big Household Word High-End Optics Company came in with a Yugo M70.  The wooden buttstock’s comb was too high for him, plus he had a Galil missing a detent ball for the rear sight.


Solid wooden stock with a bolt through the middle.  So shave down the comb.  Fit and try.  Ten minutes, plus some finish sanding and some linseed oil.  Nope.  “Gunsmith” decided it would be a better idea to bubba some lump of weld under the rear sight leaf, to raise the sight instead, thus negating the elevation slide function entirely, and crank up the front to match.


“Gunsmith told him that a detent ball for the Galil was “hard to find”.  It took google less than a second to find several sources of loose steel balls, and yet you don’t need a ball per se.  It could be a short piece of rod.  All it really needs to do is fit in the hole with the spring and be sort of roundish on one end.


I asked the rep; “What kind of a ‘gunsmith’ is this guy?”  And this is the answer I get every time;


“Oh but he’s a really great guy.  Really a great guy.  Old School.  He’s been at it for decades and really knows his stuff..”  I have gotten that answer from a lot of people.  That very same answer.  In that very same kind of ‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing’ situation.


I’ve taken to using Tam’s definition of a gunsmith– one who can take an amorphous lump of steel and turn it into a fine firearm.  Give the average farmer or junior high school shop teacher around here a bent, rusty nail, a hack saw, an old bastard file and a power drill, and he can make you a new detent pin for your Galil rear sight, without ever having heard of a Galil.  Actually he could make do with just the file, the saw and the nail, and his bare hands, but that take a little longer.  Same deal for adjusting the comb height, but you only need the file (or a pocket knife) and a chunk of sandpaper.  But an “experienced gunsmith” was out of his element.  It’s gotten so every time I hear the infamous words, “My gunsmith says…” I start rolling my eyes.  I know there are good ones out there (some really, really good ones) but no one calls me or comes in with a problem if they have a really good gunsmith, do they?  So my sample is heavily weighted.  Or so I hope.


A big takeaway here is that a nice personality, I suppose, can overcome the greatest depths of incompetence, and keep you in business.

9 thoughts on “More on ‘Gunsmiths’

  1. I do all my own work for this very reason. Some of my early ham-fisted efforts are still better than some the butcher jobs I have seen.

    And it’s fun too!

  2. Yep. Last time I took a firearm to a gunsmith for a swap of handguards I ended up with an upper reciever with two cuts through into the barrel extension. aparently that is how one removes a factory installed barrel nut. Should have done it myself but was too buisy with other projects and just wanted it done. Worst part is he concealed it, spoke nothing of it and 6 months later I take it apart and have a WTF moment.

  3. Your comments about “gunsmiths” is highly reminiscent of my opinion of “mechanics” Where there is a difference between ‘parts changers’ and real mechanic.
    A few folks can diagnose a problem & correct the cause. Most just change parts until the problem goes away. The customer paying the price for incompetence.
    I do all my own gunsmithing (and mechanicical work too) up to the point of needing machine tools. I cannot afford to pay for someone elses incompetence.

  4. “A big takeaway here is that a nice personality, I suppose, can overcome the greatest depths of incompetence, and keep you in business.”

    That is true in many fields of endeavor. You wouldn’t believe how many utterly incompetent computer programmers I’ve worked with, but they keep their jobs because they’re team players.

  5. I bought a used Ruger GP-100 a while back that seemed fine in the store, but the cylinder and trigger locked up when I tried doing anything more than very slow fire. I took it apart myself and compared the parts to the exploded view and saw a bent piece of metal in the trigger group. I went online to a gun forum and asked if anyone had experience with such an issue, in preparation to sending it back to Ruger to fix, and got flamed all to ashes for daring to disassemble my own handgun.

    Only great guys with good personalities are allowed to make mistakes with other peoples’ guns, it seems. Be careful if you try to avoid making one yourself.

  6. You have to have a bit of general competence to recognize professional incompetence. Given that many people nowadays can’t be bothered to learn generalities about anything, particularly mechanical or construction skills, how would they know incompetence when they see it?

  7. What the? Any time I get a new one, the first thing I do is field strip it, look closely at all the major parts groups, and put it back together. Then I fire it with several different types of ammo to see what it likes and to find out if it is experiencing any issues. Then I clean it & take another look at the innards, and at some point I will detail strip it (sooner unless it voids the warranty), mostly to familiarize myself with the gun and how it works. Also to see if I can remember how to put it back together. (If all else fails, Youtube usually comes through.) I don’t have a dremel, and I’m still pretty hesitant about removing material, but give me a few years & I’ll probably be doing my own action polishes.

  8. There are a lot of really weird, seemingly incompetent, gunsmiths out there who somehow escape their reputation. There is one shop in the Denver area with their own TV show … that are notorious for engraving their names on the sides of customers’ pistols when they do work on them, without permission or request.

    I’ve seen people who don’t know basic facts about classic gun repair issues that call themselves gunsmiths. I stood in one shop waiting my turn when someone brought in a Garand with the classic clip latch problem and listened as the gunsmith told that customer that that’s how Garand’s all work and it couldn’t be fixed. I just turned around and walked out w/o dropping off my job for him.

  9. I guess it’s not fair to single out gunsmiths– the same problems exist everywhere. I just happen to be dealing with the effects of the incompetent gunsmiths lately. I once saw some trumpet valve casings (properly they’ll be fit to within a few ten thousandths) reamed out so brutally that you could see stretch marks on the outside of the casings. Imagine doing that to an engine cylinder, yet engine cylinders/pistons are fit much more loosely. The guy charged money for that job, though it completely ruined the trumpet’s ability to function in any way. For the life of me I could never understand what could be going through the head of someone while doing something like that. Nothing, maybe. Otherwise it would be vandalism. But how could a person think of nothing while trying to do something? Is it genuinely akin to sleepwalking? Sometimes we daydream while driving on the highway. “Let me get this big reamer out and go after these valves, one at a time….oh look! Puppies!” (crank, wreck, gouge, ruin…) No; I don’t get it.

    My mother told me, years ago, that it is a wonder, sometimes, that anything ever gets done. It’s like watching some ants trying to pull a large insect into their nest– there will be ants pulling in all directions, while others just walk over the top of the ones doing the pulling, but somehow they do get it into the nest.

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