Shooting Essentials: How to Find a Good Gunsmith
A good gunsmith may not be part of your shooting gear, but it’s certainly an essential component to keeping your shooting life smooth-running and fully functional. From critical repairs and precision help updating and accessorizing to annual detailed cleanings of your firearms, a gunsmith can ultimately be a key factor in keeping a fine shooting firearm from turning into a paperweight or museum relic. But just as you wouldn’t trust your important car or home repairs to just any random person (at least I hope you wouldn’t), you should do a little homework before your gun breaks or you need help mounting a sight, rail, stock or other item before a hunting trip or shooting outing. It’s not enough that a guy (or girl) calls themselves a gunsmith and works in a gun shop; you’ll want to be sure they have the right skills and can perform the work you need with your specific firearm(s).
Walk into Oceana Pawn & Gun in Virginia Beach, VA, on any given day and odds are you will find a guy or two loitering around the half door to the gunsmith shop, shooting the bull about guns with firearms expert Kurt Derwort as he works on one of the many gunsmithing projects with which the store’s customers keep him busy. Derwort was a Naval Special Warfare Armorer for 22 years. In that role, he provided gun repairs, maintenance and upgrades to firearms used by our nation’s most elite soldiers at the Navy’s nearby Dam Neck Fleet Training Center. It’s where the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), better known as SEAL Team Six, is headquartered. Derwort is also a lifetime hunter and shooter, spending many mornings before he has to be at work, either at the skeet range, the rifle range or out hunting ducks, geese and more. Needless to say, he knows his way around a gun.
I caught up with Derwort recently and asked him what a gun owner should look for in identifying the right gunsmith and why finding the right gunsmith is so important. First, Derwort nods toward the obvious.
“You want to find a good gunsmith to be sure your stuff will fire right every time you pull the trigger. Parts need to be the right ones, not rigged to a gun they aren’t intended for. Bolts need to be tight. When fitting items, measurements need to be precise. When you’re in the field [it] isn’t the time to realize something wasn’t done right,” Derwort says. He adds that there are a number of projects gun owners can do themselves; from installing a scope or sling to breaking down a gun and giving it a complete, intensive cleaning. But all of those projects can usually be done better and with much less hassle—and often at little cost—by a professional who is guaranteed to do the job right, pending you have the right gunsmith.
And how do you know if you have a good gunsmith? Check references, look at the shops website to get a feel for the services they offer, hang out in the shop and speak to some of the other customers you see coming and going and even talk with the gunsmith.
“Talk to the guy. If he doesn’t have time to talk to you and listen to what you need or are looking for, he may not be the right gunsmith for you,” Derwort says. The veteran armorer isn’t suggesting that larger shops where gunsmiths toil and tinker behind closed doors don’t do good work, but he prefers getting to know the people he trusts to work on his most prized possessions. He also strives to deliver that same opportunity to customers at his shop, where his door is always open when he’s in. Of course, be respectful and don’t monopolize a gunsmith’s time either. Remember, he is on the job and trying to get work completed.
It’s also a good idea to check a gunsmith’s background. Did the guy take an online course to learn gunsmithing, or like Derwort, has he worked with tools, machines or firearms directly for much of his career?
“I think it is much easier to get a guy who has worked in a machine shop and teach him to be a good gunsmith that it is to take someone who has taken a gunsmithing course and teach them how to machine parts for a gun,” he says.
Lastly, find out how long it generally takes for a repair or modification to be made. While this can vary according to season, you want to avoid dropping your firearm off into a black hole where it will collect dust until the gunsmith can get to your project. Derwort often asks for a couple days to perform most work, though can oftentimes make small repairs or do quick inspections for a customer right there while they wait.
Regardless, do your homework now, before you actually need a gunsmith. That way, when you do have a repair or need to trick out your next rifle or handgun with accessories that may be beyond your skill level to install, you will already have the right man or woman in mind for the job and they can get it done and get you back out shooting in short order.