Article on Gunsmiths (SLTrib)


Jorg Nysgerrig
September 21, 2008, 12:15 PM
Here's something you don't see every day, a newspaper article on gunsmiths:

Ask a gunsmith
They like to be needed, but avoid the preseason rush: Get repairs done before packing up your rifle this year.
By Brett Prettyman
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:09/20/2008 12:48:55 PM MDT

The tinge of fall in the air and declining duration of daylight do more than trigger the annual migration of wildlife.
Hunters also have been known to be prompted by those cues. But the human migration is to the local gunsmith, who takes care of that little rust spot that showed up on the last day of the waterfowl season, or the wicked ding inflicted on the favorite big-game rifle last fall when the horse leaned into a tree for a quick scratch.
Gunsmiths say the rush starts in early to mid-August and is in full swing by Labor Day. Desperate hunters are still scrambling on the eve of the general rifle deer hunt, Utah's largest opening day, held traditionally on the third Saturday in October.
"For a lot of people, hunting is a once-a-year deal. They go hunting and then put their guns away," said Ray Federico, owner of Nightowls gunsmith shop in Taylorsville. "When the time to go hunting comes again, they remember that they broke their gun the last time they were out and they come in hoping I can get it fixed in time."
Federico wishes hunters would show up at his shop in the days soon after the season ends rather than the days before it starts.
That way, he says, he might be able to handle all the requests.

Delicate touch
Good gunsmiths are hard to find, yet they provide an important service because most big sporting stores did away with in-house servicing long ago. Most guns come with a warranty and some issues are handled that way, but the bulk of work is rarely covered and people show up at the store asking for someone to install a recoil pad or mount a scope.
"We refer them to a couple of gunsmiths who we know do good work," said Jon Larson, manager of the Sportsman's Warehouse in Midvale. "It is a liability issue for us to do the work."
Delicate is not a word that typically comes to mind when people hear the word gunsmith, but a soft touch is what's required for many gun repairs.
A slip of the gunsmith's hand and that once-in-a-lifetime shot at a trophy buck drops an innocent tree stump instead. A minute miscalculation while boring a shotgun could send a shot wildly awry - and leave a hunter wondering if she needs glasses.
Watch Don Johnston set a trigger guard on a replaced stock in the gunsmith shop at his Cottonwood Heights home and it's obvious a gentle touch is needed.
With a magnifying visor over his eyes, Johnston carefully trims the wood so the guard will set just right. The replacement stock for the side-by-side, 20-gauge Saur and Sohn shotgun was easier to replace than most for Johnson because the owner found a matching stock on eBay.
Once done with the stock, Johnston will replace the grip and then begin the checkering process on the woodwork.
"The sense of satisfaction comes in knowing I've done the job right," Johnston said. "I like picturing them in the field using it and maybe, just maybe, admiring the work I've done for them."
Federico acknowledges that gunsmithing requires a light touch at times, but he also handles repairs that don't.
"It isn't very delicate when you use a big hammer," he said with a laugh. "But sometimes that is the only thing that can get it done. I try not to do it when the customer is around."
On the wall of his shop Federico has a collection of guns that have been brought in through the years. Call it a wall of shame. The collection is a tribute to the dumb things people do with firearms, like trying to shoot when the barrel is full of mud or wondering why a gun that hasn't seen a cleaning rod in 50 years "just won't shoot anymore."
The wall may also serve as preventive maintenance by showing shooters things they really shouldn't do - even if it seems like a good idea in the field when the game is plentiful.

Time to hang it up
The one thing gunsmiths don't mess around with is safety. If they know a gun is no longer safe to shoot, they will tell the owner it's time to hang it on the wall as decoration or store it in the safe and pull it out to get the memories flowing.
Johnston shoots a gun whenever he works on its firing mechanism.
"I want to be the first one to pull that trigger," he said.
A fair portion of the work Johnston has seen over his 18 or so years as a gunsmith has arrived at his shop in a Ziploc bag or a coffee can as people start a job and then realize they are in over their heads.
"I had a German revolver not long ago that I had never heard of and it wasn't listed in any of my resource books," said Johnston, who has worked on guns ranging in value from $50 to $20,000. "There were more than 50 parts and I had to figure out how to put it together. That was challenging, but I really liked it."
Neither Johnston nor Federico calls himself an artist, but it is hard to ignore the artistic touch and knowledge that they put into every project.
And sometimes they don't have to do a thing, but take a gun to the range to make it shoot more accurately.
"Every once in a while I go out to the firing range to find out exactly what is the matter with a gun," Federico said.
"And sometimes the hunters blame the gun when they should be blaming themselves, because it works just fine when I shoot it."

How to avoid a trip to the gunsmith

1 Keep it clean. It's hard to establish rules for cleaning that fit all circumstances, but if a gun gets dirty or dusty, clean it. Break it down as far as you dare and clean the interior of the action, especially semi-auto and pump actions. High-power rifle bores should be cleaned with an ammonia-based solvent after each shooting session or about every 5 to 10 rounds.
2 Keep the screws tight. Loose screws are the reason for a high percentage of failures, including broken stocks.
3 Avoid excessive lubrication. If your hands get oily when handling a gun, it has too much oil. Oil and grease themselves are not harmful, but they are magnets for dirt and debris. Lubricating oil on a wood stock will destroy the wood.
4 Protect it from physical damage. Many of the hunting guns brought to gunsmiths were attached to pack animals or all-terrain vehicles when they were damaged. Make sure your firearm is packed safely.
5 If you have a problem, fix it or have it fixed as soon as possible. A minor problem will usually lead to something more serious, and eventually to a failure of some kind. It's much better to fix it when it is fresh on your mind rather than when you take the gun into the field during the next hunting season.
6 Don't shoot reloads prepared by others for another gun. Reloaded ammunition tuned to a specific firearm can be a real benefit to accuracy and performance. Used in any other firearm they can quickly lead to stuck cases and blowups, to say nothing of reduced accuracy and performance.
- Source: Don Johnston

I can vouch for one of the smith's mentioned there. Federico has done work for me. He's good, fast, and reasonably priced.

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