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Gunsmith Bio's

2289 Views 9 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Metal Smith
I think a thread on our smith's biography would be very interesting! It'd be intriguing to ascertain how they started their careers. Chuck has given us a snippet of his career in another thread. I'll cut n paste it to here. If you want to add anything further Chuck feel free.

To all other smiths, post away!

Chuck Rogers
I got into the machining trade 30 yrs ago as a Tool and Die Makers apprentice.
Mid to late 70's found me in PHX working as a prototype aerospace machinist.
I moved to the hills of Prescott, elev. 5280ft, in the 80's and turned my hobby into a full-time cottage industry.

The machining industry has seen amazing changes in the last 15 yrs.
Computerized machinery now takes the place of human skill.

The best avenue for a pistolsmithing
start these days may well be apprenticing to a well-rounded 'smith. I don't know if the modern machining processes would be of value to a 'smith.
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Mike O'Hara (OCG1911)
My interest since I was kid has always been firearms at the age of thirteen I must have read John M Browning's book the American gunmaker ten times. In High School I took welding and machining for three years I also worked part time for my father to earn gun money. I purchased Browning's, Colt's and Winchesters.

I was always concerned with details the fit and finish of things My shop teachers voice bellowing in the back of my mind if it looks good it is good. I noticed the quality of the fit and finish of the Brownings vs The Winchesters of the day and wondered why it was acceptable for poor workmanship to be let out of the factory.

I understand things quite well these days and realize the value the dollar is gone and so is the era of quality factory workers. I got in to custom pistols in the 90's I bought every book and magazine on the subject I placed orders with all the big name shops I waited the long waits and paid the big dollars to only be let down by sub standard quality I definitely did not get what I saw on the cover of those magazines. This was the start I started building my pistols soon my friends and a steady clientele to keep things interesting I always felt things could be made close to perfection with patience and skill these are the principles I apply when building my customers pistols.

I owe special thanks to a few professionals in the industry for sharing there secrets with me Kurt Wickmann, Pete Single and most recently Larry Vickers and as of this week I have started conversing with Chuck (AKA) Pistolwrench, with the support of the best in the industry I am excited to continue to grow my business.

Mike O'Hara
My dad turned gunsmith once, late in life. He wanted his old 1903A3 to be "handier" so he hacksawed several inches off the barrel.

I took it out once. Shot at a javelina. That scared the little pig badly, but I never did find out where the bullet went.

Sorry for the slightly tangential post, but I often think of that episode when I hear about people getting into gunsmithing.

If God didn't want us to own guns, why did He make the 1911?
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I got started in this business a little bit backwards than the average ‘smith. Like most of us, I had an interest in firearms since I was a kid. My Dad was not a shooter, but had a couple of pistols around the house (including a Model 4 Walther that I inherited and cherish). Anyway, I survived my childhood fascination with firearms without injury and got interested in “Combat Shooting” from reading American Handgunner (I have Issue #1). There were no organized IPSC style matches around Georgia in the late ‘70’s.
When things did get going in the early 80’s, I started shooting the IPSC matches, but was poor as an escaped convict with two young children and a Wife to support. I remember days of digging bullets out of the backstop (after a practice session) to melt them down and pour them again. This long story actually goes somewhere.
I saw all these cool guns in Handgunner pictures and tried out all of the custom 1911’s that some of my friends owned. I couldn’t afford to pay a working ‘smith to build a gun for me. I was working as a construction equipment mechanic for a local dealership doing field service work on bulldozers, cranes and such. I decided that since these pistols were considerably simpler than the equipment that I worked on, that I should be able to figure out how to build myself a custom gun.
The state of the art 1911 in 1982 was a Clark Pin Gun or a Wilson Accu-Comp. I bought all of the books that I could find on the subject, which were limited to Bill Wilson’s first book and Ken Hallock’s book and I read all that I could. I got started with projects based more on a cost of getting tooled up rather than how easy the job would be. Hence, the first custom work that I tried was checkering, because the file was under $20.00 back then and there was no parts cost involved. I already had a vise and a lighted workbench, and after working up my nerve, I started checkering my first front strap. It didn’t occur to me to do the main spring housing first (since it was cheaper than trashing a frame). I got through that first front strap in one piece and moved on to other jobs on the same basis. I was fortunate to be befriended by a fine gunsmith and true gentlemen named Ed Pitt, who would patiently listen to my questions and steer me back on track.
I started picking up a little work from some of the local IPSC shooters and earned money to buy some of the more expensive tools, allowing me to become more rounded in the different jobs that I could do. Along the way, I was fortunate to make friends with Rusty Kidd (who developed the Aftec extractor) and other professional ‘smiths who gave me ideas, feed back and most importantly inspiration to improve and perfect my work.
I’ve definitely learned more than I’ve given back since I became aware of this forum last year. Pete Single, Chuck Rogers, Don Williams to name a few, have all taught me new tricks and it has been inspiring to see their work in the pictures they’ve posted.
Now days, I manage a company that drills blast holes for rock quarries during the day and do pistolsmithing in the evenings and weekends (and still try to get to the IPSC and IDPA matches). I usually build 4 to 8 complete guns a year, plus the normal workload of a sight job here, a beavertail there. Sorry this ran so long………
John Harrison
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Dang John! I could have sworn that you were a graduate of the "Braxton School of Dremology."
Hee, hee, hee!!
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OK, here's a little background on me..... I started on machine tools for a paycheck at 16, when I went to work at a local company making bandsaws, on the co-op program, which meant half a day at school and half a day at work. I had learned a lot of the basics in the basement with my father, and was taking machine shop in school. Father was a little bit of a gun tinkerer, but never did it for money, unless you could count when he worked at the gun plant (with Mom) in Saginaw during the war, making M1 carbines and Browning machineguns. Anyway, from the saw factory I went into the apprenticeship program as a Moldmaker's Apprentice. My card (which I have not seen for ages and never had to show it) says Toolmaker/Moldmaker. I started the program in 1976, and I remember doing some work there on my first .45, especially after one of the first issues of American Handgunner had an article by George Nonte about squaring the trigger guard. I did that to mine and thought it was pretty cool. Next I was making a piece to TIG to my trigger to make it a long trigger (which for some reason did not melt the silver holding the trigger to the bow). I decided after that that the rage for long triggers was for other people, I have not liked them since.

I worked in some different shops throughout the years, as a moldmaker, mold designer, shop manager, but always managed to be working in a place where they were pretty lenient about doing "government work", personal projects, after hours. There were times when I really abused that, spending maybe 20 hours on a weekend in the shop. I rebarrelled my first AR15 in one of those shops in 1979 (and am still shooting that rifle). It was 84 or 85, probably 85, that I made my first compensated 1911, on the same old "test bed" gun that I had done the squared trigger guard on. While I was at it, I did my first machine checkering job, on that gun.

In early 1985 I bought the Bridgeport, Colchester lathe, and Harig surface grinder that still comprise the most important machines in my shop. In 1990 I got out of a plastics business I had started with some other guys and worked full-time on guns for about 6 months, just to take a break from plastics. When I got back into it, it was with a white collar instead of a blue one, and from late '90 to early this year, I worked at 4 different plastics companies as what they generally call a Program Manager, also as a Tooling Engineer. For the last half of this period I was pretty much dying to do guns full time, but it was very hard to walk from a job that was generally satisfying and interesting, paid well, and had all the standard benefits and then some. And, one thing I had missed during the period when I was doing guns for a living before, was contact with the outside world, moving around in places peopled with well-dressed professionals, travelling for business, and working in a world-class looking place. But, I finally started to get kinda tired of dealing with automotive customers, they are generally pretty hard to deal with (short on information, long on pressure, then short on money), and I figured better do it now or have to face myself in 5-10 years and be angry for not doing it.

When I was in high school, my Dad could see that my interest was turning from the hunting and sporting firearms he brought me up with, to military and police guns. I think it concerned him as he never much considered guns in a defensive or fighting context, maybe because of the gentler times that were his younger days. He was shocked and angry to learn that, at 18, I had bought, without consulting him, a .45 automatic and a Mauser HsC .380 (thank goodness he didn't find the AR15!). Now of course, he sees me putting these unpleasant guns to legitimate good use in competition, and he has come to see things my way with regards to self-defense being a legit reason to own certain types of guns, and that there is ample reason these days to give the subject study and forethought (note-- this is about the ONLY thing he has come to see my way; pretty much everything else we ever disagreed on, I have had to admit, he was right all along!). I am very fortunate to still have him around (he's 86). I like nothing more than to have him visit the shop and help out with a few ideas.

That's about it-- I do a lot of things the same as the other guys, and like the other guys, there are a few things I maybe do differently. I sure have enjoyed communicating with them here on the forum!

Oh yeah, two cats and a dog.

If I left anything out it might be on the fist page of my website--

[This message has been edited by Ned Christiansen (edited 08-02-2001).]

[This message has been edited by Ned Christiansen (edited 08-02-2001).]
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I am going to preface this with the statement “writing is not my strong suit”
Well it seems most of these bio’s start with some reference to dad so I guess that’s a good place to start. My dad was shooting smallbore at Camp Perry before I was born. So he was a shooter but, never saw any need for handguns. He also had a great shop in the basement. So I have been around Guns and machine tools all my life. I took machine trades in vo-ed school and worked in a tool & die shop the last half of my senior year (1976) instead of going to class. The boss had to give my teacher reports for grading purposes. But I guess that was a small price to pay for the slave labor rates he was paying me!! That first machine shop job was the pits. I ran a horizontal mill about the size of a house, roughing out punch blanks. I learned early that production shops were not what I wanted to do. I then got a job at Automatic Sprinkler (fire protection) in their research shop, here I did prototype work . This I really liked. Working with the engineers from the beginning to the end of a project and all the little changes and testing that went with it. It taught me a whole new way of thinking a project through. I then went to B.F. Goodrich and worked in their research shop in the aerospace and defense division. Talk about a cool job! Same deal here, start a project with an engineer and work through the thing right down to destructive testing. (My favorite part) I did that until “83” when my Dad talked me into taking a sales job at a printing company where he worked. The stress involved with a high pressure sales job drove me to shooting, for stress release. I started with IPSC and then learned about bowling pin shooting. Naturally I had to have a pin gun , so I paid a “professional” to install a set of Bo-Mars on a 70 series Colt. He butchered it so bad I decided I would learn more about guns and do the work myself from then on. (the rest as they say is history) Having the lucrative sales job made it easy for me to start buying equipment. I then started doing machinery repair for the printing company on the side. That paid for all my equipment. It is also where the name SDM Fabricating came from. My shooting buddies started having me do there custom work. It came to a point where I was doing more guns than machine repair. In “95” I quit the printing company and went full time Smithing. I don’t make anywhere near the money I used to , but I have never been happier working. Dad is still one of my biggest supporters. Still doesn’t see much need for handguns though.
Sorry to be so longwinded
Thanks for listening

Scott D. Mulkerin

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Scott, if writing isn't your strong suit it matters not: that was a wonderful story (and I enjoyed the preceding ones as well.)

God, why am I festering in an office? Like the Italian futurist Umberto Boccioni once said (I paraphrase) "Give us the smell of machines and oil and grease..."

I really appreciated your post
My path (as so many things about me) is different. My father took the government walking tour across Northern France and Germany. His rifle company was in the lines for nine months with their longest break being seven days. Of the men in his rifle company, he was the only one not to get a Purple Heart. He was just as glad to miss it, but the Army insisted on giving him a Bronze Star, Silver Star and recommendation for the Medal Of Honor. (Life would have been different, as I would have been on the automatic acceptance list to West Point had he gotten the MH, and I'd probably have taken that plunge.)

After the war, he went to college and got a degree, worked for Ford for 35 years and retired. Guns were an occasional toy to take on vacation and plink with.

For me they became an obsession. I was reading everything by the mid 60's, and after college (BS in Chemistry) I decided that being a bench Chemist for 30 years, a gold watch and a pension sucked. I had to get at least a Masters or better a Phd to continue, so I went into radio. I was everything at a radio station you can do without a 1st Class license, while teaching Tae Kwon Do at night.

I started working at The Gun Room, and learned a great many things from Mike Karbon. I then went to work at Northwest Gun Shop and learned gunsmithing from Dan McDonald. If it came through the door broken, we fixed it. Dan understood the essence of the scientific method, and applied it to gunsmithing. I learned by this simple method: Dan would drop a firearm on the bench and provide me with the customers complaint. "Look inside, see if you can figure out the problem, and tell me." The next step would be "What would fix the problem?"

Meanwhile I got to look over his shoulder and watch while he did custom work.

Dan and his father Ed left the business, I worked on my own, dropped TKD, radio, photographic freelancing and stringer work, and began writing. Along the way, I learned to use mill, lathe, surface grinder, program in four different languages (all forgotten/obsolete now) work a printing press, and spent two years as a test subject for the university of Michigan as an Auditory and Visual Response project.

I was in the first open IPSC match in Michigan (it had been a closed club before then) and beat Evan Marshal in it. I learned competition and gunsmithing at the same time, from 1978 to present, and have been President of the IPSC club since 1983. I first shot the USPSA Nationals in 1982, Second Chance in 1984, and the Steel Challenge in 1990.

Now I spend my time writing and keeping my own guns running. I practice when I go to the range to do testing and photography for an article or book chapter, and make what matches I can.
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Hello Everyone, I put a small history about myself on this post for Colt Shooter if anyone is interested: http://www.1911forum.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/003158.html
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