Published July 09, 2010, 12:23 AM

Gunsmithing: It requires wearing many hats

WORTHINGTON — Some parents speed many hours on the road following their children’s athletic events.

By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Some parents speed many hours on the road following their children’s athletic events.

Some require a ton of travel, and others — much less.

With two grown kids, there is no more high school stuff to fill the evenings with, so I decided to travel out to Lakewood, Col. to see the school that my son is attending. My wife Kris and I jumped on the Harley Davidson motorcycle and logged 2,400 miles on this trek.

Brandon ended his Marine Corps enlistment in May 2008. He is now attending the oldest gunsmith school in the US.

It is called the Colorado School of Trades. It has been in continual existence since 1947. About 160 students are enrolled; 12 graduate and another dozen start every month. The program is a continuous, 14-month system, and students are allowed a set number of absence hours during that period.

The talent of a gunsmith is hard to describe. They are part machinist, part carpenter and part watchmaker, along with many other skills.

When we drove up to the school, I was kind of puzzled. The building looked like an old warehouse on the outside. I guess if you house hundreds of guns, it might be good to not draw attention to yourself. I visited on a Friday afternoon and the place was almost empty. There were about five staff members and 10 students working at different stations.

The program is broken into distinct sections, each one building on the one before. The first section is called “Basics.” This is where a future gunsmith learns the operation of and how to manufacture many of the fundamental hand tools needed in the trade. This section is 250 hours. An additional 100 hours are spent in cycle operations where every type of gun action is broken down and studied until its operation is completely understood.

The second section is called “Machine Shop.” For 400 hours, the student hones the skills necessary to chamber and thread gun barrels. There were 26 machine lathes and six machine mills in that part of the shop. I never knew all of the things that you could do on a machine lathe.

“Stock making” is the next section, and 350 hours are needed to manufacture custom stocks — both wood and synthetic. This is where the cabinet-making skills come in. I was able to see stocks in all phases of completion, and the fit and finish work was truly amazing.

“Design and Function” is the next section, and this is where most of the nuts and bolts of gunsmithing are learned. This is 650 hours of on-the-job training as an actual gunsmith. Students work on customer guns under the supervision of the staff, and get the opportunity to work on all aspects of gun work. The school fixes around 3,000 to 3,500 guns every year, and this is where students get the hands-on experience they need to perform in the real world.

The last section of the program is called “Specifications,” and this is 100 hours of shop work which allows the student to work in any area that interests them. It allows shop time to pursue the specialized areas of the trade. Some will work on gun customization, others will try high-tech accuracy efforts, and the list goes on and on. Once each section is mastered, then comes the final exam — and graduation, if successful.

When you graduate from this program, you’ll most likely find a job in a Cabela’s, Gander Mountain or another big firearms outfit. Others will land in a smaller shop, or even open their own business. The dream job for many of these graduates is to work for a major gun manufacturer like Remington, Glock or Smith & Wesson.

Where Brandon ends up is anyone’s guess at this time, but as I walked around this facility I saw a group of students that really wanted to be there and was very excited about their future prospects.

If you have ever taken a gun apart, you can see that there are hundreds of parts.

Everyone knows there are thousands of different guns.

This is a skill that I have always respected, and in a few months I hope that I will join the ranks of those who can get their guns fixed for free.

It is nice to know that right someone.

Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.

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