Commentary From A Gunsmith:
Credits at end but PLEASE READ FIRST BEFORE JUMPING TO BOTTOM OF PAGE ITS WORTH THE TIME.
..........There’s the picture-and it isn’t exaggerated. In city, town, and country, there are legions of “Franks.” We find them everywhere. Slowly, but surely, our male citizenry is becoming emasculated to the point of utter helplessness. Sliding along, content in their weakness, glorying in their inability to do things. Proud of the fact that they’ve never been taught to use their hands-and blind also, to the fact that they know mighty little about using their heads.
Work-honest, decent labor, skill of fingers, accuracy of eye-somehow it seems to be beneath the present generation. The business man in his office sticks out his chest, holds “conferences,” frowns and looks wise, preening himself on that thing he calls “ability.” Then he sharpens his pencil by sticking it into a little machine and turning a crank-or more likely screws down the point of an automatic gold one; has his finger nails cleaned by the blonde in the barber shop; calls a service man to change a tire on his car; wears a little useless penknife on his watch chain and sends it to a grinding shop to be whetted! (Sharpened)-yes, he does just that. We’ve been pampered to the point of helplessness-and if we don’t watch our step, we’ll find ourselves at the point of uselessness.
The average man who owns a gun-I said the average-takes it to the gunsmith to be cleaned-usually two or three weeks after using it. But the average man of today doesn’t own a gun-knows nothing about a gun-and brags about his ignorance. “Reform” has one wonders-in the way of making us a race of saps. Not that lack of gun knowledge, or a liking for firearms constitutes a man a sap-but the general trend of the times is doing this very thing, and the supercilious attitude of the general public towards those things on which our forefathers built the nation, is but one of the visible evidences of it.
Back in the hills, or on the farms, conditions are better. Living close to nature gives man a better viewpoint, a keener appreciation of the fundamentals. People are judged more by their ability than by their appearance or their social accomplishments. The man in the far places is not easily fooled by honeyed words of so called “reformers” who seek to take away our God-given rights; he promptly places him in his proper classification-and in so doing he doesn’t call a spade an agricultural implement.
The pioneer of yesterday saw, thought, and acted clearly-with understanding. Having no one else to depend on, he learned to do things for himself. He built his cabin, fenced his fields, cultivated them with home-made tools, and filled his larder with game which he shot himself-sometimes with a rifle made with his own hands, or by the hands of a neighboring smith, with the crudest of home-made equipment. Civilization, as we know it today, was not essential in his scheme of things.
Since the inception of our nation, the love of firearms has been a natural instinct of the American. Not as a means of slaughter, except in defense of life and property, or to provide food for the table. This heritage has been passed down to us, to be received by some, and rejected by many. Civilization has in some unaccountable manner, twisted our brains.
The pioneer loved his long rifle, and gave it all the care and attention given by the true gun-crank of today-for the pioneer instinct is not entirely extinct. Thanks to the efforts of the National Rifle Association of America, each year finds a greater number who have learned of the wholesome sport awaiting them on the range, and in the woods; while the call of the bob-white and the honk of incoming geese is a perpetual inspiration to those who have inherited a love for the smooth tubes. And try as they may, the sob-sister element will probably never succeed in wholly depriving us of our love for the sport of shooting-for what is bred in the bone is born in the flesh. The male American who scoffs at the sport is either an alien by nature, or else is deliberately perverting his natural ideas.
The arms of the pioneer expressed his individuality-and each was, perforce, a custom built arm. For there were no great factories as there are today, equipped to turn out quantity production. The man who wanted gun told the smith how he wanted it built, and the smith built it that way. Each gun embodied the pet ideas of the owner-ideas evolved from the necessities of the day and of the locality. As time went on, the private gun maker was gradually replaced by the factories-and firearms began to lose their individuality. Living costs advanced, and with them the cost of material and labor. The machine-made factory rifles were acceptable because they were both good, and cheap in price-costing far less than the hand-made muzzle loader-and possessed the advantages of greater speed of fire, greater facility of loading, more compact construction, besides greater power and range.
Yet in his acceptance of this new arm, the shooter never entirely lost his desire for expression of his personality in his weapons. The evidence is found in he several fancy grades of factory guns still supplied, and which usually are merely stock guns with added engraving and other decoration.
With the growing scarcity of our big game the need for more powerful hunting arm has grown apace, and hunters have learned that the military type of arm, being more highly developed, is now the best adapted to their requirements. So there has come into the field, not a new industry, but the revival of an old one-the building of special arms to the ideas of the individual, on modern actions adapted to the load he desires to use. This industry has been further aided by those, who while still clinging to the traditions surrounding the old “standbys,” yet desired certain changes and refinements. Special stocks designed to fit, butt plates with trap for cleaning materials, pistol grips that serve a definite purpose instead of being a mere wart under the shooter’s elbow, sights adapted to his eyes, barrels of gilt-edge accuracy, trigger pulls sweet and crisp, instead of reminding one of opening a cash register-these are some of the many things the custom-gunmaker of today is called upon to supply, by shooters who have learned what they want and who can afford to pay for it.
But for every shooter able to buy the gun of his dreams there are hundreds who must count their cash more carefully. And they,-like the pioneer who having plenty of time and little cash, mined and smelted his own iron, felled his rock-maple tree, and built his flintlock,-will retire to their improvised workshop, and with such tools as are available, produce the weapons they want. For failure is not written for the true gun-crank.
The gunsmith, for some reason or other, has always surrounded himself with an aura of mystery; leading the shooter to believe that his craft was a gift from the gods, not to be encroached upon by ordinary mortals. True, gunsmithing is a highly specialized trade-but there’s no black magic about it. It requires mechanical skill, and an understanding of principles, just like any other mechanical trade. Sawing off the end of a stock isn’t so very different from sawing off a piece of oak flooring-both require a sharp saw, and ability to follow the line. It’s no harder to file a spring or a hammer than it is to file a door latch-and either one may be ruined if you fail to stop in time. The jeweler makes a ring of silver, and oxidizes it-but he thinks the bluing of a gun is a deep dark secret. The dentist makes a gold crown and puts it on a tooth-why shouldn’t he also make a gold bead sight and fit it to his rifle?
Many, if not most, of the so-called “trade-secrets” of firearms manufacturers are wide open secrets. The trouble has been that the factories had no reason for telling their customers how to do their own work, and the small amount of data available has been in most cases the work of gunsmiths who, meeting the necessity as it has arisen, have worked out fairly good methods, but not necessarily the best methods by any means.
The man who prides himself on his inability to sharpen a lead pencil may well gasp at the sight of another man-perhaps one who is not a mechanic by trade-making and fitting and checking and finishing a rifle or shotgun stock; or spending long hours filing out some small part that “quantity production” methods would complete in a few minutes; or in bluing a barrel when there are factories better equipped to do it. “Does it pay?” he will ask. Of course not!-not as he would figure it. The gunowner cannot count his time at so much per hour and come out ahead on the job. But, in using his non-productive time to do work that perhaps he could not afford to buy, he acquires beautiful, well fitted and finished and smooth working arms that are a constant source of pride and satisfaction, because products of his own handiwork-expressing his own individuality. So of course it pays him to do it.
Gunsmithing is not child’s play. It is hard , slow, painstaking WORK, calling for reasonable skill, the proper tools (many of which may be home made), and a whole lot of patience and attention to small detail. Yet it is perhaps the most fascinating pastime in which a shooter can indulge, next to the actual use of his weapons in the woods or on the range, affording him the opportunity of having exactly what he wants, at a price he can afford.
The above passage is from Clyde Baker's Modern Gunsmithing Handbook Copyrighted in 1928 which is now out of copyright.
The thing that moves me the most about this is passage is how more so today than then ever it rings true. My grandfather was a metal smith, working in the packing houses of Omaha Nebraska, making wooden barrels and rings to pack the meat in. His skills at forging and working metal were passed on to me in his home garage work shop where the centerpiece was an old pot belly stove converted into a forge and garage heater as well. Grandpa was a Gunsmith and during those long winter days I was privileged to watch and learn from an old master who was resoldering old doubles, Blueing with Old School Pure Nitrate Concoctions and creating parts from raw metal. I watched intently as he took the hammered metal from the forge and with just a few files, rasps and stones created a replacement part or spring to tolerances today's CNC equipment is just beginning to duplicate if you have a skilled programmer on the other end.
As Gunsmiths go today I see the same things happening. Machine shops that call themselves gunsmiths are in my mind no more different than the manufacturers mentioned in Clyde's passage or the Franks that just want to turn that golden crank to make a buck with their pretty machines. Anyone with a rudimentary mechanical inclination and $300,000 of their family's money can become a gun or parts manufacturer by plugging some numbers into a CNC machine from drawings that are now in the public domain from the military to make a 1911 or whatever and call it "CUSTOM" by adding a few changes here and there. It takes a true GUNSMITH to be able to take a piece of metal and HAND cut and FIT each and every part into a unique functioning piece of pure art.
In California I see more Franks than anywhere. People with more money than brains who listen to the manufacturers marketing crap, created by people who have never held a weapon in their hand let alone taken a fine stone to a sear and reshaped it to perfection. The Franks like to look all the pretty widgets and rails that can be added to most anything these days and discuss them intently on all of the Forums that are out there to infinitive insanity. Then you get the Frank that has a gripe and spreds discontent because he spent x amount of dollars and can't hit the broad side of the barn the first time he puts 10 rounds through his new widget laden piece of commercial crap. The fun part here is that no matter how many dollars you spend you still have to be able to shoot to the level the machine is capable of and a GREAT shooter can make anything shoot well. I get Franks in my store that think my shop is a Jiffy Lube (tm) where they can get miracles performed in less than 24 hours and they deserve it. These are the same guys who do nothing but complain about the cost of my services and would be dissatisfied if they were handed the golden goose for ten cents and have no knowledge whatsoever except from reading something somewhere on a internet board.
The boards to me are good and bad. They can be a GREAT place for a novice to find out basic information about a particular weapon and enhance their learning power about that weapon. I also think that a great amount of discression should be applied when reading much of the non-sense that is posted by self serving trolls that have nothing better to do with their time than to complain or who are seeking their 15 minutes of fame behind a blind computer terminal because they are one of the many Franks that can't actually do what they say they can do. Anyone can memorize something someone else wrote and defend it to infinity because they read it on the internet, but it takes a truly wise man to go out and DO, then make his own intelligent conclusions based on FACTS from his own trial and error. I do believe thats called LEARNING.
The other thing that amazes me is how many self proclaimed gunsmiths (machine company's, shade tree's and manufacturers) who have so much spare time on their hands to sit and post crap on the boards to begin with. From what I have seen it usually surrounds pumping up their company and bad mouthing any one else who is in their market segment. If a company or gunsmith has that much time on their hands do that do you really think they are a good gunsmith? If they were truly as good as they they say they are don't you think their bench would be full of work and their time better spent at their trade? At OCG my day begins at 7:00am and stops at 8:00pm. My bench is full of custom builds and antique restorations. I do not have time to think about anything other than creating a quality product for my existing customers or trying to school perspective new customers in what they truly NEED to achieve their next level of personal marksmanship or how to restore grandpa's treasure.
To sum up all this narrative, If you want to have your weapon repaired or enhanced by someone who knows metal and weapons and who still hand fits everything he touches and can produce truly one of a kind weapons stop by and see me or give me a call, I will be more than happy to spend my time with you. If you are looking to keep up with the
Jones's on the cheap than please look to my competitors as I'm sure they will be more than happy to take your Frank dollars. The next time you you sit in front of that computer to read or post nonsense to the boards why don't you take that same time and go LEARN YOUR WEAPON on the range or at your bench.
Also one last piece of personal advice from my Grandfather who told me this time and again,
"If you make it through the day without learning something new then you have wasted a day of your short life"
In Memory of Frank VanLong (1906-1996) Belgium Master Gunsmith, Fabrique National (1923-1938)