Apr 20, 2015

Brief History of the American Gunsmith

John M. Browning examines his creation - BAR
The gunsmith is an icon of American tradition as well as a foundation of the American history of firearms. Many know about the great gunsmith of all time, among many professionals around the world: John Moses Browning. He is most famous and remembered because he invented more firearms and their actions than any other gunsmith in world history.
Gunsmiths in the early American colonial period usually were immigrants from England, Germany and Netherlands (Dutch). They were actually blacksmiths who worked with metal to fashion things that colonists required, from nails to horseshoes to kettles to the famous Kentucky Flintlock Long Rifle. They also made knives for the kitchen, protection or hunting and swords. Essentially, gunsmiths were specialized blacksmiths and they did not just repair firearms but forged barrels and parts and made them. These became the first firearm manufacturers in North America – Canada and the United States.
If one studies the history of gunsmiths in the United States and elsewhere, one quickly notices that gunsmithing was a family affair, sons often following their father's footsteps; especially when after 1790, gunsmithing moved from becoming a craft to an industrial enterprise.
Richard Waters emigrated to Massachusetts from England circa 1632. A descendant stated in 1878 that Richard had become a gun manufacturer after becoming an American colonist, married the daughter of a gun maker, and the business became hereditary.
In the early colonial period, years of settlement, citizens were required to own guns and carry guns when traveling outside the village. [Shotgun News, 2001]
Firearms were a work of art, taking many man hours to produce from the standard blacksmith shop.
Williamsburg Gunsmith
During the colonial period most firearms came from England, so colonial gunsmiths spent much time repairing rather than fabricating. By the 1700s, however, this began to change and the long rifle became a popular firearm seen over American's mantel. It was adopted by the frontiersmen and used in the French and Indian War by colonial militia attached to British regular units.
The tradition of making long rifles from that period the way they did then is occurring in Williamsburg, Virginia, where the Geddy Gunsmith business was founded. Firearm collectors put themselves on a waiting list for these coveted firearms that cost on the average, $20,000. The idea is to preserve the trade so it can be passed on and the gunsmiths use tools and techniques acquired and used during the American colonial period. It is part of the recreation of history that enthusiasts do for Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments.
Silversmiths were another breed of specialized metal working, of which Paul Revere is the most famous because of his part in procuring liberty of the American colonists.
The Pennsylvania Rifle, known as the Kentucky or Long Rifle, was created by German gunsmiths who brought their talents with them from Europe to the New World. It was accurate and used less powder because the bore was smaller than the average, and most importantly it was affordable. The stock was often carved with beautiful designs, when it could be afforded, and the metal engraved.
Gunsmithing has not disappeared as much as blacksmiths and farriers, but there is a movement to keep knowledge that served Americans so well in another time. It is especially important to preppers who want to be ready just in case this technological age collapses and people are forced to live like they did in the 1800s. While they have gunsmith classes and schools, if one wants to learn blacksmithing there are schools to attend; a trade that was once taught in high school up to early 1900s.
Some blacksmiths today are artists who work with metal to produce pieces of artwork. Here on the Peninsula we have one of these artists and we also have the famous blacksmith who re-created the Ulfberht Viking Sword as it was made in the Viking Age.
Blacksmith, 1970s
If you want to be a gunsmith, especially a master gunsmith, you must learn about metals, machinery like lathes and mills, and a good background of blacksmithing certainly would help.
The difference between an armorer and a gunsmith in the firearm trade is the gunsmith tries to repair parts or even fabricates; while the armorer just replaces parts from the factory. The latter is a bit difficult with firearm repair required of guns that are no longer produced or the parts are not readily available – and expensive. Thus the reason why a gunsmith must know metallurgy to some extent, be able to use a TIG and gas welder, and some element of blacksmith knowledge.

Darrell Holland, AGI
The gunsmith has been valuable since the invention of firearms and will continue to be as long as there are firearms to work on.
Unfortunately, government bureaucracy has made it harder for gunsmiths and similar trades with the various regulations and taxes required to pay – and restrictions. Some of the restrictions are common sense when it comes to who to sell firearms to, but for the most part, as in other businesses, government just makes things more expensive and harder to stay in business to make a profit; and that is why people invest in businesses - to make a profit. It is not an evil venture as the progressive-democrat-socialist 'liberals" would have everyone to believe. It is no more evil than the worker who earns wages or earns a salary. The idea is to make a living at something one is good at and enjoys. Small business is the backbone of any country, while corporations play an important part in keeping more people employed. There are laws to safeguard and protect employees, consumers, and other businesses from things like monopolies. The problem is that over time the government has regulated, literally, business to death. It is because a government that is not limited in its scope and power becomes what our nation has become over many decades, and politicians do not seek to balance a budget by cutting frivolous expense, but instead seek funds through extended regulations, new taxation, and increasing taxation of existing taxes.
Protecting the Second Amendment is only part of what is required, a government that is not limited is just as useless and counter productive as it could ever be.
There are great gunsmiths today like Jack Rowe, oldest master gunsmith who was trained in England [see following video]. Then there is Bob Dunlap, Darrell HollandJack Landis and Ken Brooks of American Gunsmithing Institute and Larry Potterfield of Midway USA - and others that stand out in the field.

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