Disappointed with Gunsmiths


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ConditionOne
January 1, 2014, 07:13 PM
This is my first post, I'm a new member. I've been a viewer of the forum for a long time, but never really felt like I had something new to say until now.

I've been shooting for ~20 years, and in that time I have had many encounters with gunsmiths. Everything from basic jobs (like firearms refinishing and sight installation) to more complex work (like custom 1911 work). I've asked around for references in the case of local 'smiths, and researched online in the case of several nationally-known gunsmiths.

Every experience - without exception - has been a disappointment. Some examples:
- Missed deadlines...and I don't mean by a day or a week, but by months. In one case I had a nationally known 1911 smith who exceeded his estimate for work by over a year.
- Shoddy work...new sights not installed correctly, refinishing work that's subpar, trigger jobs that don't come close to delivering what was promised.
- Exceeding quoted price estimates, a practice that simply isn't tolerated in other lines of work seems to be fairly routine in the world of gunsmithing.

Are there fewer competent gunsmiths today? Are decent 'smiths so backlogged with work that anyone who can perform work in a timely manner must not be very good?

I feel like I've always done my part to be a good customer...researching reputations prior to getting work done, getting work orders and quotes in writing, not needlessly bending the ear or constantly calling/emailing and asking about the progress of my work, etc. But I am really disappointed in the ability of the gunsmiths I've dealt with to deliver what they promise when they promise in a competent manner.

They say you can have work done well, on time, or at reasonable cost...just pick any two. Well, I'd be happy with that arrangement, but I can't seem to find someone to deliver even two out of three.

My answer, unfortunately (and I hate to say this because I think we need good gunsmiths) is to gravitate towards platforms that don't require gunsmithing skills. For example, I feel perfectly comfortable doing whatever needs to be done to one of my Glocks or M&Ps. On the other hand, I'm not at all comfortable milling in a dovetail on a 1911 slide. So for me, the future is likely to include platforms where I feel comfortable "rolling my own."

I guess a good gunsmith is like a good barber or a good mechanic...if you find one, don't let them go! Unfortunately for me I haven't found that person, and I'm not willing to spend more dollars trying to find what I'm afraid may no longer exist.

<end rant>

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loose noose
January 1, 2014, 07:58 PM
Condition One, You never mentioned what you paid for those services, but generally you get what you pay for.

I'm a certified NRA Armorer and am frequently mistaken for a gunsmith, which I'm definitely not, although I've made parts for a firearm when I couldn't find them available.

I've had new sights installed (dovetailed) in the receiver of 1911s as well as action jobs (I've recently, within the past 20 years have done my own action jobs) etc. As far as refinishing goes I've also done that other than the bluing process, however I do the complete polishing of the steel to be blued.

I have paid dearly to have that work done in the past and I can't ever say I was displeased with the work they did. Incidentally I've been shooting for about 55 years or more. Have you ever complained of the work they did for you? If not I don't believe this is the proper forum to be complaining about "gunsmiths".

ConditionOne
January 1, 2014, 08:16 PM
loose noose, thanks for your reply.

To answer your question, yes I have shared my disappointment with them, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes they will attempt to re-work, sometimes they will knock a few dollars off the bill, and sometimes they won't do anything.

My point here is not to call anyone out. I have deliberately withheld the names of any firms. To be sure, several of these gunsmiths are high-dollar, well known names in the industry. Others are local gunsmiths who cut their teeth on basic walk-in business.

My point was not about any single company, more about what in my experience seems to be a bit of a trend across the gunsmithing trade.

I wanted to get something off my chest, and hopefully it will resonate with other shooters who have had similar experiences. Maybe I've just had terrible luck and other folks don't have similar stories...but based on some discussions with fellow shooters I don't think my experience is atypical.

barnbwt
January 1, 2014, 09:59 PM
I think the real problem is that gun smithing is simply really really expensive. It's also a lot of work. Way more expensive than other mechanical repair services we utilize. The training, licensing, skill, and natural talent required mean that there will always be very few smiths commanding high hourly rates. Those high hourly rates mean incompetent goobers will always be around to undercut them while promising sufficient results. A larger number (if not all) of the good smiths will take on far too much work out of well intentioned greed (they truly think they can take on just one more job for that desperate customer). A number of talented smiths are also simply incapable of putting in the time required to produce a full day's work (be it frailty, ADD, distractions from family or running a gun shop simultaneously) so they are simply unable to put a dent in the market demand, but still take up space in the market; "don't go the new guy, use the tried and true smith"

And we gunowners don't help the problem by pouncing on any random smith who shows the slightest bit of skill or business sense :D. For their sake I don't mention the small-scale vendors I buy specialty/low quantity items from for gun builds; despite already having a backlog, they would be instantly swamped with requests/demands/checks from people should that recommendation go viral. I request people PM me for the info instead so I can at least try to meter the demand for them. Very hard to say no when customers are screaming "shut up and take my money!"

However, if you perceive a need for a service that the market is not satisfying sufficiently, you are fully entitled to fill the gap yourself ;). There's a bit of a "Peter Principle" for gunsmiths, in that many invariably take on jobs they really aren't qualified for in an effort to be helpful to their customers. I imagine all smiths are capable of AR accessory work, but not necessarily sear profiling. I think qualified and unqualified smiths need to create a Karate-style belt system so the lesser guys can do the easy/profitable jobs, while the seasoned guys can focus on the fewer really profitable skilled and one-off jobs.

TCB

LAGS
January 1, 2014, 11:15 PM
You are not alone in this Boat.
For the past 40 years , everytime I took a gun to a gunsmith there was some major complaint. this is over three states and 10 cities.
So I bought the tools and do all my own work except Machining, and only because I don't have a lathe any more.
They lost parts, stripped screws, welded sights on to a 1911 that I took in to have staked on ,and it turned my hard chrome slide top Blue.
They even handed me back a rifle action that they were supposed to square up the barrel, and set the headspace, and the barrel was not even hand tight, nor machined or headspaced.
But that is the work they did in six weeks and for $175.00
There are many more examples, but I don't want to get into a Bashing contest.
But there was only one rifle builder that I really trusted, but he went out of business due to the economy.

Reloadron
January 2, 2014, 01:28 AM
I feel your pain. During the 90s my wife and I had a shop up here in the Cleveland burbs. I had a few good smiths for the work I felt beyond my area of expertise. I also had an incredible bluing guy. Unfortunately my bluing guy won't touch bluing anymore and the really skilled smiths I had are either deceased or totally retired out of state. Turnaround times of a few weeks are now months or years. Good quality work is hard to find up this way.

Ron

Boxhead
January 2, 2014, 05:30 AM
I have two 'smiths that touch my work. They are good and well back logged for good reason. One does my revolvers, the other my rifles, shotguns and 1911. I plan ahead so am never in a hurry and just hand them the work, specify it clearly and await the call or email when the work has been completed. Never a problem.

CraigC
January 2, 2014, 01:33 PM
I've had four custom revolvers built, one engraved, others tuned, a couple refinished and myriad custom grips made. I've never had an issue with any of them. Except one set of grips that took a lot longer than it was supposed to. All have wide recognition and I've never found a local gunsmith I wanted to take a chance with. Delays go with the territory, especially if that gunsmith farms out specialized work like finishing. You should know up front how much the job will cost and any unforeseen expenses should be discussed before fixed.

LAGS
January 2, 2014, 02:27 PM
I think most of the problem stems from the gunsmiths being so busy, that they totally forget exactly what you brought your gun in for in the first place when they finally get around to it.
And they don't really make enough profit on work to justify hiring an Office staff or manager to keep track of the fine details.
I do work on some of my friends guns, but not as a business.
But they bring it over and I fix it right there in almost most cases.
(And it is Usually the night before they have a match the next day.)
But if I had a shop, I could see how work could get backlogged, and it isn't right to put off complicated work to do someones simple job on the spot.

Kp321
January 2, 2014, 03:02 PM
I have been in business for 35 years, run a one man operation. Meeting deadlines is the hardest thing I do. There are days I only get one or two hours of work done in the shop due to phone calls and visitors. When this happens, the schedule slips. I cannot work till 10:00 PM like when I was 30. I know I should not answer the phone and shoo visitors out the door but that is just part of doing business. Most phone calls and visits lead to paying customers.
Sorry for the response rant but I have to defend by brother smiths. If you are good, you are busy these days.

LAGS
January 2, 2014, 03:39 PM
@ kp321
I feel for you and would be in the same boat if I was on your side of the Professional fence.
But do you agree that there is just not enough profit in Gunwork to pay for a staff to do all the non gun related stuff that goes into running a shop ?
People think Gun work is ALL Profit.
They have no idea the cost to run a shop and pay for all the needed tools plus the periodic replacement of them.

rondog
January 2, 2014, 05:13 PM
I used to be a machinist for many years, but I certainly would never consider my skills even close to that of a real gunsmith. I'll tinker on my own guns to some degree, but I won't touch someone else's. I have the highest respect for gunsmiths, that's a profession that demands a HIGH degree of skill and competency! But, like any other profession, there's always going to be hacks that have no business being there. Unfortunately.

4v50 Gary
January 2, 2014, 05:58 PM
Slow service. That's not uncommon and that's the way it was when I was young. I just find other things to do.

Poor workmanship. Gunsmiths tend to specialize. Some work only on gunbuilding. They make custom rifles or just stocks. Some work only on shotguns and others only on 1911s. Find one that specializes in the work you want done.

Training. Not all gunsmiths are created equal. Schools vary in quality. Even a poor school may produce a talented gunsmith if that student has the aptitude and willingness to learn (and keep learn even after (s)he graduates). A school only provides the foundation or building blocks for the student to build a career as a gunsmith. Some schools will provide a better foundation (Trinidad State or the one in Germany and Austria). Heck, even specialized schools like the NMRLA's gunbuilding classes can impart valuable skills (want to learn to engrave, make brass patchboxes, build a flintlock pistol?) that the formal two year schools may not teach.

BTW, one of our most promising students in my class is a former machinist of 17 years. His work is outstanding! He won the Custom Handgun Builders Guild scholarship for 2013-2014.

ConditionOne
January 2, 2014, 06:12 PM
I was looking through some receipts last night and realized I overstated the argument when I said I'd never had a good experience with a gunsmith.

Several years ago I had a FAL built by an excellent gunsmith. If I ever need FAL work again he will be my go-to source (and in the spirit of sharing a good experience, feel free to send me a PM if you want his name). That slipped my mind as I was thinking through my more recent negative experiences. Recency bias strikes again.

I am going to be extremely cautious in the future about who gets my business. The ratio of good gunsmiths to so-so gunsmiths to outright terrible gunsmiths is not favorable to consumers.

Reloadron
January 2, 2014, 08:09 PM
As I mentioned earlier when we had the shop I did some work and other work that I was uncomfortable with was farmed out. The objective was to have satisfied customers. When I quoted a time frame I always made sure any needed parts were available. No shortage of Sundays spent in the shop. Among the rifles I enjoyed working on and went to NRA schooling on was the good old M1 Garand. People unfamiliar with the Garand would do well to not try to repair the things. The below images show an operating rod butchered by a so called gunsmith.In the below images a good operating rod is shown at the top of the images for comparison.

The forward end is supposed to be round. This is what happens when an idiot has a dremel tool. Notice all the flat spots this op rod now has:
http://www.bearblain.com/images/Rods1.png

It gets better in this image:
http://www.bearblain.com/images/Rods2.png

The below is just plain a hack job:
http://www.bearblain.com/images/Rods3.png

The original complaint was the rifle would not cycle correctly and would prematurely eject the EnBloc clip. Apparently the "gunsmith" had strange ideas on the operation of the rifle and a love affair with a dremel tool. Once the damage was done he lacked the God given brains to at least polish the mess. I still have that operating rod.

Oh yeah, after replacing the operating rod with a correctly fitted one ($50 at the time) the actual problem was a $2.00 spring as I recall. Go figure huh?

Ron

LeonCarr
January 2, 2014, 11:11 PM
Everybody I know who is a gunsmith or in training to be a gunsmith is doing so because once upon a time some unskilled jackleg hacked up one of their guns.

Just my .02,
LeonCarr

Eb1
January 2, 2014, 11:17 PM
Not only private gunsmiths, but warranty work from major manufacturers. Just received my rifle back form Rem/Mar, and the person who worked on it sent back a scope base attached to the receiver, and removed the rear sight ramp and sight.?. Why would they do that? I sent it stock without a scope base.

dsm
January 3, 2014, 01:27 AM
I'm not a gunsmith, but do my own work for 1k BR shooting. I redid a muzzle brake for a relative that had a local, in business, gunsmith do it. Man, what a total hack job! The threaded tenon was so undersized that the brake slid over 3 threads before I started! I could see daylight between the brake and tenon shoulder. Look like he used a file to radius the brake meet the barrel. To top it off with a cherry, he spray bombed it with matte black spray paint that had runs in it. People, this brake was made out of chromoly and the barrel is blued! What gunsmith does not have a bottle of oxphoblue and steel wool on hand? LOL

Well, I indicated the bore, parted off the hacked tenon, single pointed 1/2-32 threads on a proper sized tenon, tapered the brake perfectly to meet the barrel, turned a nice finish on the OD, polished it and cold blued it. Polished with steel wool and another coat of oxphoblue. Very nice results!

IROCZ
January 5, 2014, 05:19 PM
The only decent gunsmith in my area is so offensive I will not go to his shop again. I had a 1911 trigger job done at another shop and the hammer followed within a short time, like 2 mags! I called the shop and they stated that that's just the way 1911's are! They also refused to look at it again. When I was a kid, 35 years ago, gunsmiths were magical. They did great and amazing things, but old Dick Enstrom died and I just found some one local who could re-barrel a Mauser. He is my neighbor who is actually going through gunsmithing school in Pa. The cities greatest gunsmith told me get that POS out of my shop when I took it to him. Thanks Tony. I think a real gunsmith could really make a great living here, because there are none. Do good work, be honest and don't promise something you can't deliver. No offense to any of the real gun smiths here but that's the way it is here. I am an LE armorer in several designs and would rather learn to do most things myself rather than spend my money and be disappointed. No offense to any one meant, except Tony.

rodregier
January 5, 2014, 06:51 PM
Five (non-exclusive) items I now do when engaging the services of a gunsmith:

Try and give a gunsmith work that is in his comfort zone. For example, if you want a barrel blank threaded, contoured and chambered for a bolt gun, pick a smith who does this regularly. Don't give a 1911 pistol for accurizing to a riflesmith.

If any parts or special tooling are required for a project, try and get a clear understanding/agreement of where they are coming from and what the likely lead times will be. This is doubly important for semi-exotic items like match-grade barrels, muzzle brakes, etc. A project is not going to move any faster than the availability of parts.

Provide a written statement of what work you are expecting the gunsmith to perform along with your contact information if there are any questions. That ensures the gunsmith is not depending on his memory or sketchy notes on a shop tag.

Put your own ID on the largest piece of the firearm being supplied. I tape a contact card to the buttstock or barrel in the case of long guns.

When dropping off a project, ask the gunsmith when would be a good time to contact them for a status update. Ditto for each subsequent contacts. You're not pestering him if he is setting the followup contact schedule.

Jim K
January 5, 2014, 09:29 PM
Several times, I have offered advice for folks asking about getting into gunsmithing as a business. Some seem to be good folks who are sincere and honest, but some have flatly said that they need no tools but a file, a screwdriver and a Dremel, that they need no training ("I know it all because I do my own work" is a common theme), and that they have no experience but plan to acquire it on the customers' guns.

But believe me, it is not only gunsmiths - all shops that need skilled workmen are hurting for quality people. I know I sound like an old carmudgeon*, but today's young people are part of a "throw-away" world, where there are few things worth repairing and many things can't be repaired at any cost. A friend in the auto business told me that he expects to see the day when cars will be sealed at the factory, will have a 100k guarantee, and will be scrapped rather than fixed. Maybe we are going that way on guns, as well.

*I have an excuse - I am an old carmudgeon.

Jim

Zeke/PA
January 6, 2014, 05:47 AM
Several times, I have offered advice for folks asking about getting into gunsmithing as a business. Some seem to be good folks who are sincere and honest, but some have flatly said that they need no tools but a file, a screwdriver and a Dremel, that they need no training ("I know it all because I do my own work" is a common theme), and that they have no experience but plan to acquire it on the customers' guns.

But believe me, it is not only gunsmiths - all shops that need skilled workmen are hurting for quality people. I know I sound like an old carmudgeon*, but today's young people are part of a "throw-away" world, where there are few things worth repairing and many things can't be repaired at any cost. A friend in the auto business told me that he expects to see the day when cars will be sealed at the factory, will have a 100k guarantee, and will be scrapped rather than fixed. Maybe we are going that way on guns, as well.

*I have an excuse - I am an old carmudgeon.

Jim
Jim,
Remember the era when a custom rifle built from a Mil-Surp action was the rage?
Mausers and Springfields were the most sought after but there were pleanty around.
A Douglass Barrel , any chambering desired and a custom stock was the thing.
The Mil-Surp actions are no longer available for one thing but the factory offerings these days cover a lot of ground and for the most part are quality items ready for a speedy scope mounting.( no drilling and tapping required).
"young people in a throw away world"? I have a Buddy like that! He must replace things on a regular basis mainly because he DOES NOT take good care of things.

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