Learning From A Sad Gunsmithing Story

Hognose, blogging at his home WeaponsMan.com, has touched on a very worthwhile subject in one of his latest posts: How to deal with gunsmiths (if you’re a customer) and customers (if you’re a gunsmith). He springboards off a tale originally posted on Reddit about some gunsmithing work that didn’t live up to expectations, but where the post really takes off and becomes worth the reblog is in Hognose’s analysis of how to prevent that sort of situation from happening in the first place:

This guy wound up spending $500 for work that was never QCd adequately by anybody and having three guns down for a month and a half. Work that he needed, in some cases, to do over. The shop did offer to blast and restore the Cerakote on the Glock slide, as removing enough of the burrs to assemble the pistol left bald spots on the slide. The seller chose not to give them a second at-bat with his pistol; he’s still so POd that he’s talking about a credit card chargeback (something merchants really abhor).

Even without having seen their side of the story, it’s a dead certainty that the shop, too, is unhappy with this transaction all around.

How do you avoid this predicament?

There are several things  we recommend.

  1. You may not want to use a local shop. There are shops that solicit your business and that do business nationwide.
  2. If you can’t talk to the guy who’s going to cut your metal in a local shop, they send it out to some generic job shop where it gets treated like generic machined tractor parts or whatever.
  3. If the guy says they don’t know how to do something, don’t browbeat him into trying it and then regret it when he fails. Instead, take his word for it. This is not the smith you are looking for.
  4. Don’t pay 100% in advance. In fact, withhold something until the job proves out. Think of those dollars as your hostages to a successful transaction.
  5. What’s the point in dealing locally if you don’t deal face to face with the actual smith? A lot of people today seem terrified of communication by phone or face-to-face with actual humans, but this guy didn’t have that problem, he just communicated with the wrong guys.

From the Dealer’s Point of View

  1. If you send work out, be up front about it. (“Hey, that’s a milling job, we don’t have the machine tools for that, but we do have a good shop that does work for us.”) Nobody will hold it against you, you’re a small business that needs to interface with other small businesses to please your customers.
  2. Don’t let a customer talk you into work that you’re not sure you or your guy can do.
  3. Never, ever, take a job you don’t understand completely.
  4. Never, ever, release a job without inspecting it to ensure it met what you quoted. (What, no quote? See next item).
  5. Quote in writing and in detail. This protects everybody, yeah, even the merchant.
  6. Consider hiring (or teaming with) a real smith if your market will support it. If you’re really small, see if you can get a guy to come in one evening a week (most of your customers work day jobs) or make a weekend presentation on what he can do. It is not the walk-in repair and modification business that will pay for the smith, but the impulse purchases of the guys who come to see him. You can also use him to raise the profile of some of your plain-jane used guns.
  7. Don’t oversell your smith. We watched an alleged smith fail miserably at reassembling a customer’s common-as-dirt Winchester .22. He didn’t have the humility to go to YouTube for an answer, and the old standby of using two screwdrivers to compress a long spring into a short hole didn’t occur to him, probably because he got rattled by several failures. If a guy isn’t a real gunsmith, don’t call him that, call him a technician, armorer or repairman.
  8. If you’re the smith, be humble. There’s no harm in asking if you can look at something, check some references, and then quote.

For everybody, meet the other party half way, and try to be sensitive to their expectations. We actually think the shop in this case did that with their offer to re-coat the slide; we think the customer’s being unreasonable if he wants a full refund. But the shop really blew it by returning uninspected work to a customer. Now the guy has lost faith in you, and, he’s dropped the Reddit bomb on you, which is on the net forever, or until Reddit management finally kills the site, whichever comes first.

I highly recommend our readers follow the link and read the whole thing, but the moral posted above is something any gunsmith or gunsmith’s customer should heed.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • NDS

    Customer #4 – Never, ever, EVER pay for mill work, Cerakote, etc in advance. This is not like the deposit on ordering a new firearm; this is work to be performed on a firearm you already own. Parts to be ordered, etc I am completely comfortable paying in advance because that is money out of the gunsmith’s pocket. However, if the work is not performed properly, you have a much harder time getting your money BACK than getting it fixed BEFORE payment is completed. Conversely, if a customer refuses or is unable to pay for services completed properly, the gunsmith can retain the firearm until he is paid.

    Also, reputation and size matters. If a gunsmith is unable to do even minor work without 100% payment up front, that may mean he lacks the resources to cover the expenses or mill time on your job. Doesn’t necessarily mean he is incapable of doing the job – but what are you going to do if he makes a mistake and can’t afford to fix it?

    • wzrd1

      I had a small shop master gunsmith. He did great work, but some machining was outside of his scope of practice, due to the expense and speciality work he did.

      Once, he had to send out part of the work for me. He called me a couple of days before I expected to pick it up and apologized profusely, as there were issues with finish and some rough work.
      I remarked, maybe he has a new apprentice or maybe he had a bad morning after a wedding, as he had incessantly praised the man’s work long before I had that work done.
      So, I told him to send it back.
      It turned out that the gun machinist did indeed have a new apprentice, who didn’t have his master check his work and sent it out half-assed.
      He offered a significant discount on future work and repaired the mess at no charge.
      I never had need to avail myself of that and have no intention to do so.

  • Hillary Clinton

    It is sad to see a person not be self sufficient. we all know that Guy that wont even clean the firearms he owns him self and would rather send it to the gunsmith.Please if you know this Guy elaborate on them?

    • wichitawesome

      I am the guy this article is about. I consider myself quite proficient with firearms, but lack the machines to cut threads and mill slides.

  • Cal S.

    Yeah, I had an interesting experience with an in-town customs shop. Had a hunting-length 20ga. I needed cut down to home defense length. Got a quick estimate at just $45-$55 from them. Went back two days later and got a bill for $120 by the same person that had estimated the job originally. I was completely shocked. This person knew what had been estimated, and hadn’t bothered to call me (on the same line they called me to tell me it was done) to tell me that it was going to come in at double what they estimated to give me a chance to change my mind. I pleaded my case to the person, and eventually we came down to $75. Very satisfied with the work, but the communication could have been a lot better.

  • USMC03Vet

    haha if I needed to be any more paranoid about getting work done on my firearms.

    Anyone recommend a good cerakote place in Michigan?

  • Bal256

    A couple of weeks ago there was an article asking us to support our local business. Now here is a story with a prime example of why many of us don’t.

  • Rick A

    My gunsmith retired. He did great work, had a quick turnaround, and work was always as expected or better. I only used him once or twice a year…but sometimes it’s nice not sending stuff half way across the country. The machine shop that has done some projects for me will not touch firearms for liability reasons. Bummer.

  • The_Quartermaster

    My .22 tube feed rifle has been in with the best local gunsmith for 6 months now.
    All I asked for was to make it run as it should.
    Isn’t that an awfully long time?