Home Gunsmithing Tips

Dave Anderson

It will happen eventually. You selected your handgun after a lot of research and study. You compared various models at the gun store, maybe even went to the trouble of renting examples at a shooting range and actually firing them. In the ensuing months you’ve put a lot of shots downrange, and you’re happy you’ve made the right choice.

Except — you’re starting to think there are a couple of ways to make a good gun better. Maybe those tritium night sights you passed up are starting to seem like a good idea. Maybe, as your skills improved, you wish the trigger pull was a bit smoother. Maybe you’d like to personalize your gun a bit, set it apart from the thousands just like it.

In an era where a distressing number of vehicle owners don’t know how to check tire pressures or fluid levels, I suppose many gun owners prefer leaving even simple jobs to a gunsmith. Actually this is not meant as a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. If working on guns doesn’t interest you it’s wise to leave it to an expert.

I’m far from being an expert, but I have learned a few skills, mostly the hard way. I’ve put scratches in guns and on kitchen tables, lost tiny parts in the carpeting, twisted screw slots with ill-fitting screwdrivers and about driven myself crazy trying to reassemble guns I shouldn’t have disassembled. Maybe a few suggestions can help you avoid learning the hard way.

See those tiny parts — don’t drop them into your shag rug. This is the reintroduced version
of the Whitney Wolverine and was hard enough to reassemble, even with an instruction manual.

Dave’s Tips

Be careful: I know I tend to be a tiresome nag about firearm safety. The rules of firearm safety apply at the workbench just as much as at the range. Familiarity may not always breed contempt but it can breed complacency. I knew a gunsmith who spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair after shooting himself in the hip while working on a .30-06 rifle.

Do no harm: Or to put it another way, if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. A mistake might result in nothing worse than a scratch, but at worst, it might get you or someone else killed.

Know your limitations: Some jobs require skill in the use of precision tools such as milling machines and lathes. These are not skills picked up overnight. Precision machine work also requires a high level of patience and discipline. If you’re easily distracted by a squirrel, step away from the milling machine!

Buy quality tools: You don’t need a lot of tools to get started, and a few screwdrivers, pin punches, pin block and plastic-head mallet may be all you ever need. Quality tools will last longer, work better and are less likely to damage your guns.

Buy the right tools: Although I love Red Green the comedian, not all (maybe none?) of his advice should be taken literally. In particular don’t believe Red when he says, “Any tool can be the right tool.” An old nail and a carpenter hammer are poor substitutes for proper pin punches and a plastic-head mallet.

Brownells offers dozens of screwdriver bits,
along with handles of different sizes.

Core Basics

Don’t know how to recognize quality tools, or the right tool? Trust the good people at Brownells. If a tool is in the Brownells catalog it’s been vetted by their staff. Otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Not sure what tools are needed? Brownells has a “Live Chat” function on their web page, as well as a toll-free number, where you can get expert advice. I say Brownells because I’ve dealt with them for going on 50 years. Midway USA also offers gunsmithing tools and advice.

Have a workstation: A 24×30 workshop filled with tools would be nice. For now you need a workbench or table — preferably not the dining room table. You want good overhead light plus an adjustable work lamp. A padded work surface is important (an old clean towel is fine) and reduces the chance of marring or losing parts. A padded floor mat is good too. If you drop a tiny part it won’t disappear into a shag rug or bounce off a wood floor into never-never-land.

Read books and watch videos: There’s an incredible wealth of information out there. Brownells has a very good series of videos under the “Learn” section of their web site.

Don’t break my heart like this: “I inherited my grandfather’s Colt Python revolver he wore on-duty as a highway patroman. It had some blue wear around the muzzle, and four notches filed in the left grip panel. I’ve cut away the front of the triggerguard, replaced the grips with fake ivory and touched up the metal with cold blue.” Guns with collector or sentimental value should be left alone. Think about it.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index

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