I’ve been doing amateur gunsmithing for the last thirty-five years. Over time I’ve actually gotten fairly decent. In fact, requests for the custom knives and S&W revolver work I do has grown enough over the past few years to warrant spending more time in the shop – and building a larger shop. Which brings us to a new series for this year – “Fancy Gunsmithin’ At Home.” Yes, I just said I was moving into a bigger shop, but that’s for commercial reasons. Along the way to here I’ve learned ways to do cool stuff with limited budget, materials and space.
About every gun guy ‘n gal I know is interested in how their firearms work and in modifying them. So, if you’ve never investigated the mysteries of doing custom work on your own firearms there’s no reason not to. Especially with all the resources and information out there today. Sure, you can buy parts to attach to your gun but, does this really express your individuality? No, not like modifying your weapon in a way that nobody else would or could do.
The key areas to think about, which I mentioned above, are budget, materials and space. “Budget” is always a consideration. Sure, I’d like to have a fancy tool for every task I perform, but there’s not enough money in my wallet to do that. Every so often there’s a job that does require a specific tool, but usually those are smaller and inexpensive. For example, the wrench designed to remove and replace an AR barrel. One word of advice. If there is a piece of equipment you need it’s best to buy quality as opposed to thinking you’ll get by with something cheap. In the long run, for your time and money qood equipment is the way to go. When you do come across something that’s not in our budget chances are you can find someone who you can contract the task out to while you do everything else.
Prior to starting any modification make sure you’ve got the “materials,” -- here’s what I need to do this job. With all the great resources we have – Brownells, the ‘net and other references it’s easy to determine what materials you’ll need to perform the work. This is also where you figure out how to do the job. Study, research well and check your list three times. Nothing sucks more than being in the middle of a job and realizing you forgot something. Especially if it’s something you can’t just head into town to pick up.
Finally, don’t forget to consider “space.” If you’re going to try to refinish a barrel with a spray ‘n bake paint be sure you have an oven big enough to actually hold the part – for small parts a counter top toaster oven will work. You can do a lot of work in a “tiny” shop, if you set everything up right. Also, don’t set up shop in your kitchen. A lot of the materials you’re working with may create toxic fumes.
I preach that firearms are just tools. Yet, if I can make that tool work better for me – modify this or slim that down – it’s going to make me more efficient with that weapon, should I ever be forced to use it for defense. A weapon that is “mine” - it fits and works perfectly for me – is also going to create confidence. I’ve developed a relationship with that firearm. And nothing strengthens that bond like some fancy, personalized gunsmithing. Stay tuned.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. Visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.