Discussion in '1911 Gunsmithing' started by army_inc, Nov 8, 2011.

  1. army_inc

    army_inc New Member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Hey Guys,
    I've noticed there are a lot of pistolsmiths here on the forum. I'm looking at becoming a pistolsmith here in the near future and was wondering if there are any "classes" that one could take before becoming an apprentice under a local gunsmith? I'd like to mainly work on 1911's just because I like them. I know I won't learn everything from a general gunsmith, but I can learn a lot hopefully. I just don't know any pistolsmiths in my area. I'd like to be a pistolsmith and engraver. Any good ways to get an "education" for this? Thanks.
  2. EdS

    EdS Member

    Sep 21, 2011

  3. CMG

    CMG Member

    Aug 20, 2011
  4. 50GI-Jess

    50GI-Jess Member

    Aug 24, 2011
    Basic knowledge is good, however most high end 1911 custom shops, take new folks in right from the street with no prior training. They like to train them their way, and don't have to tell them, this is how we do things around here.
    It boils down to the individuals interest and energy for a new trade. There's nothing more irritating, than trying to teach someone a specific task, when they think they already know it all, if you know what i mean.
    Often times, you should expect an entry level position. Which could consist of parts finishing, prepping complete guns for finish, refining filing skills by dehorning, test shooting or installing sights etc.
  5. pistolwretch

    pistolwretch Dremel jockey Supporting Addict

    Aug 26, 2011
    The Rodgers pistolsmithing class can't be beat!
    It would give you a real indication if 1911 work is up your alley.
    Plus you will learn a TON and leave with a custom pistol valued at several thousand dollars.
  6. lsbbigdog

    lsbbigdog Smiffin' ain't easy Sponsor

    Aug 21, 2011
    I was lucky enough to friend an older guy who is a LGS smith who LOVE'S 1911's and he learned from another and is paid it forward to me.He also has a small home shop around the corner from my house but I would have drop an hour to his place to learn. I have learned a ton from him ,but also figured out a lot on my own and still learning. I think you have to be very detail oriented and be very good with your hands. Being a contractor specializing in finish work for almost 15 years has been a huge asset for me in this field.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2011
  7. AlchemyCustomWeaponry

    AlchemyCustomWeaponry Crabby Old Gunsmith

    Nov 4, 2011
    This is the best response here. This is exactly the way it is at LBC. He hires 20 year olds off the street that have never had a file in their hand and trains them to do it "his way". As if he's worked on a gun in 30 years.

  8. Greg Derr

    Greg Derr Custom Pistolsmith Supporting Addict Sponsor

    Oct 3, 2011
    I would suggest another route. Since much of the quality work done to the 1911 today is one off, I spent a lot of time taking machining classes. Swapping parts and changing the color of stuff is easy, but to get into the creative and detail oriented work of a 1911 a machinist background is important. Lots of guys do things by hand, but in the end you can't make a living that was as a one man shop. Machines also offer repeatablity and precision. I worked under and old school smith for a long time and learned a lot. But it was all hand work and took too long for the end result. Most trade schools have machinst classes at night in which you can learn how to run a mill and a lathe, later learn to weld and braze. Another class I took was on how to measure, I know that sounds funny, but it is so important to the craft. Last of all - listen to Chuck,Jerry,CT,Stan,Tony,Jason,Bob,Chuck, Don and a few others. Take notes. Good luck.
  9. Wheezy

    Wheezy Bullet Banger Supporting Addict

    Aug 31, 2011
    This is something I read that was written by Joe Chambers and to me rings out real loud and true about the gunsmithing business and what it takes to survive in the industry.---

    "I wrote this some time ago on a forum where there were some guys asking about having a career in the firearms industry, specifically gunsmithing. It seemed to make a pretty big impact on them and from what they said it was enjoyed. Thought you all might enjoy my thoughts from that moment. Those of you that really know me know that one of the most enjoyable things for me is writing, sometimes it just flows and sometimes, like here in the past two weeks it has been tough...this was a flowing one...enjoy.

    I have a "career", if you wish to call it that, in the firearms industry. To me it is a passion.

    I own a one man shop that specializes in building custom one of a kind 1911 pistols. They are very reliable. They are very accurate. And they are not inexpensive. It is a specialty that cost me 3.5 years of 100+ hours a week to learn and still there is something new learned virtually every day. It is a specialty that cost me $40K+ in the first three months of opening my own shop just in tools and equipment, some of which was bought used of course. But every time I look over at that Webb 3VH Vertical Mill that was found in mint condition on Craigslist a smile crosses my face. It is a specialty that has me booked into the end of 2013 after having my own shop open for only a year and a half. It is a specialty that pays the bills and takes care of much more that is enjoyable to my family and me. It is a specialty that has gotten my guns on national T.V. and in several gun mags in just the first year (which is a very humbling honor by the way). It is a specialty...get the point.

    At this time in my shop, unless you are a very close friend or family, if you walk in with a Ruger GP100 and want work done my answer is "no thank you". If you walk in with a Browning A5 for work, my answer is "no thank you". If you walk in with a Colt SAA my answer is "no thank you". If you walk in with a Remington 700 for a trigger job my answer is "no thank you". The reason is not because I can't do the work or because I'm a snob or don't like those guns. The reason is because when I started out to be a smith it was decided by me and illustrated by others through observation and conversation that if you want to make a living, especially a good living smithing, you have to specialize and become the best at something.

    Have I fixed an old Mossberg lever action .22? Yep. Have I done trigger work on Winchester M70's? Yes. Have I tuned a Smith M14? Sure. But only because there was a slight gap in time, I needed a break for a bit or because I wanted to challenge my mind to help me down the road. But never does my mind stray far from my specialty...the 1911 pistol.

    When first starting out in the beginning of of 2007 working with Bob Marvel, I had never touched a lathe or mill. Total newb...that was me. Sure I owned 1911's, and lots of other guns. I shot competition, reloaded tens of thousands of rounds, took guns apart and could maintain them...but build them...no. Looking back on it now there is some advice I would give to perspective young smiths and it is as follows:

    First of all, forget making any money the first 2-3 years smithing. Commit yourself to going hungry and having ZERO social life...trust me, I know a lot about this...but, do this knowing you are following a passion. If it isn't a passion go do something else until you figure out what your passion is in life.

    Secondly, get enrolled in milling and lathing classes. Work side jobs at Burger Flipper if you have to but get FORMAL machine training. Everything I know and do on the mill and lathe was self taught from trial and error, books, talking to others and from Bob. It has been a HUGE learning curve but it has been done. Even today there are plans in my future to go take some advanced lathe and machine classes to better those skills and increase the knowledge.

    Thirdly, go take every course you can in welding. TIG, MIG, Oxy, Al, and whatever else you can soak up and learn. Trust me, nothing is worse than having to stop a project because of something you didn't do and didn't plan for (read: rebuilds), drive 30 miles to the welder, wait on him to finish, drive 30 miles back...time is money...learn to weld yourself. Buy a good TIG and MIG and never look back.

    Fourth, pick a specialty. Whether it is: english side by side shotguns, small bore rifles, bolt guns, 1911's, revolvers, whatever...just pick. Then find the top people in that specialty and call them and offer to pay money, sweep floors, do chores or whatever it takes for them to teach you. Most of them will say no but some will say yes. It won't be cheap. But then neither will your work when you are done. Always keep in mind that no matter how much you pay them, they are loosing money taking time to teach you...in cutters, machine wear, tool wear, etc...so be respectful of what they offer. How will you know they are the best? Look at the record of their guns, talk to people on the forums, ask if they have guns break often etc...don't just pick because of a cover on a glossy mag.

    Fifth, be ready to suffer. This is something too many take lightly. To me it is serious. You have to be ready to do whatever comes your way to make your dream of being a specialist become a reality. If that means you do trigger jobs on the crappiest version of your pick for 6 months, so be it...get to it. If it means you have to work 120 hours a week for a year to learn how to properly bed a rifle, get on it! If it means you have to clean every nasty, hasn't been cleaned since the great depression 1911 that comes into the shop, do it with pride! And before you know it, if you sacrifice and do your best work all the time, one day, you'll open up a gun mag and there it will be, your name, listed with other specialists whom you used to read about yourself...and there are no words that can describe that feeling...trust me, it is very exciting and humbling all at the same time.

    Lastly, develop good relationships. Keep in mind, not everyone is going to like you or your work. That's life. But build as many strong relationships with your clients and others as possible. Treat them fairly. Be honest. Be sincere. And most of all, do your best work regardless of what the person is paying. In the end the rewards will be self evident by having more work than you can do which translates into money to support yourself and your family.

    Well, there are a few thoughts for you. I'm by no means an expert on the topic but at least I love what I do for a living! ;) Never have a fear of following a passion passionately in pursuit of happiness. Feel free to ask questions if you ever have any and I'll do my best to help by answering them for you."


    Joe Chambers
    Owner/Custom Pistolsmith
    Chambers Custom Pistols
    American Pistolsmiths' Guild Member

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