Global Overview

In many countries of the world, the possession and ownership of firearms by civilians is highly restricted or outright illegal. The practice of gunsmithing is therefore typically restricted. The only firearms-related repairs are by individuals trained and employed by the military or police. These individuals are known as Armorers. Typically, their skill level is usually far below that of the artisan Gunsmith. Where the Gunsmith frequently has to design, manufacture and fit parts ranging from small internal parts and assemblies, the Armorer usually only has to replace standard interchangeable parts belonging to only one type, series, or family of military-related firearms.

In the regions where ownership is permitted but very limited and highly restricted to those individuals able to afford the high costs of acquiring and owning a firearm despite the expense, those firearms that are allowed tend to be fewer in number, but with levels of craftsmanship and decoration that approach that of an art object instead of simply a device to expel a projectile. Gunsmithing in these regions (as in Germany and Britain) is concerned with the hand crafting of completely custom-made firearms, tailored to the requirements of the owner, and the expense of this type firearm can exceed that of a typical residential dwelling.

Germany has a tradition of hunting, but this is generally a very expensive undertaking that limits its participation to the "well-heeled and Noble". Firearms possession is highly regulated by the Police, and most hunters have only one long gun, and perhaps one pistol. This has led to the development of the "Drilling," a multi-barrel gun that may incorporate a double-barreled shotgun above with a high-powered single-shot barrel below. These typically have highly sophisticated breech mechanisms, precise fitting, and are hand-engraved by artists specializing in this work. The stocks are usually fitted to the individual and are very expensive wood with highly-figured grain.

United States of America

In the United States of America, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms is the primary Federal Agency overseeing all legitimate businesses that deal with firearms. The ATF is in charge of the licensing of all legitimate firearms dealers and Gunsmiths in the US that engage in business with the public. The issuance of a Federal Firearms License (FFL) involves a thorough background investigation and an inspection of the Gunsmith's premises by an Agent of the ATF. The fee for a FFL is currently $200.00 (for 3 years). The ATF requires all gunsmiths to record all repairs, noting the serial numbers, type of firearm, caliber or gauge, and full particulars of the owner, with an accepted form of Identification ID to be presented and recorded in the records. Gunsmiths are required to maintain these records in a permanent, non-alterable form. The ATF inspects the premises of all licensed gunsmiths, with unannounced visits at periodic intervals. The ATF is granted the power by the US Government to initiate the prosecution in US Federal Court of gunsmiths that wilfully omit or violate these provisions. Punishment can range from losing their FFL (and therefore the privilege to engage in any firearms-related business), to fines and in severe cases, such as conspiring to supply the criminal element with black market weaponry, imprisonment in a Federal prison.

These laws may also vary by:

  • firearm type (handgun?
  • longarm? rifle? shotgun?)
  • firearm model (semi-automatic?
  • full automatic? caliber?)
  • intended modification (minimum barrel length?
  • magazine size? fully-automatic?)
  • customer or recipient (legal owner? felon? background check?
  • quantity of firearms (how many per week? per month?)
The primary technical responsibility of gunsmiths is to ensure that the weapons they work on function safely.

They accomplish this firstly by always properly observing gun safety handling procedures: both in their own actions, and in the actions of their customers and the people around them.

They accomplish this secondly by inspecting firearms to ensure safe mechanical operation. Gunsmiths use their in-depth knowledge of firearms to guide these inspections: either repairing deficiencies; or notifying customers of unsafe conditions and taking steps to prevent catastrophic failures.

Some of the ways that even properly handled firearms can fail and endanger their users and those around them are:
  • Improper Assembly -Missing Parts
  • Cracks: all cracked parts are cause for concern, but especially so in the chamber-area, bolt, bolt-lugs, or buttstock.
  • Bore Obstructions: being either dented or bent barrels, or foreign material in barrels.
  • Improper Headspace: dimensions concerning the relative locations of the chamber and the bolt are not within specified tolerances.
  • Improper Timing: (applies to fully automatic firearms and revolvers).
  • Safety-Mechanism Malfunctions: potentially allowing a firearm with the safety mechanism supposedly engaged to unexpectedly fire.
  • Worn Sear Edges: potentially allowing a firearm to unexpectedly fire when the safety mechanism is disengaged.
  • Firing-Pin Tips Deformed: leading to the possibility of primer-rupture.
Common Tasks

This list is not comprehensive. Many failure modes are dependent on the particular model of firearm.

* (listed in approximate, but not exact, order of increasing difficulty)
  • Keep records of all customers, firearms, and transactions to satisfy ATF requirements, though this doesn't apply to pre-1800 gunsmiths.
  • Disassemble, clean, inspect, lubricate & reassemble.
  • Remove corrosion and touch-up finish.
  • Repair burred or damaged parts with files & stones.
  • Replace defective parts with factory-made replacements, hand-fitting as necessary.

Add after-market customizations:

  • sling-swivels
  • recoil-pads
  • iron-sights
  • scopes
  • grip caps
  • butt plates
  • Repair and re-finish wooden stock parts.
  • Checker or re-checker grip areas.
  • Deepen or clean up worn or damaged engravings & markings.
  • Re-crown damaged muzzles on a lathe. -Repair dented shotgun barrels.
  • Install (solder) or repair rib on shotgun barrels, or repair double-barrel assemblies.
  • Measure & correct head-space dimensions.
  • Check for excessive bore erosion.
  • Troubleshoot and repair feeding, ejecting & firing problems.
  • Test-fire firearms with conventional loads to ensure proper operation.
  • Fabricate wooden stocks to customer specifications and body dimensions. Fit same to existing receiver and barrel.
  • Glass-bed actions to stocks to improve accuracy.
  • Remove existing metal finish, and re-blue metal parts.
  • Fabricate replacement parts from metal stock.
  • Modify trigger-pull weight through careful stoning of trigger mechanism parts.
  • Fire proof-loads through weapons to insure sufficient strength of parts under over-load conditions.
  • Replace worn barrels, which have fired so many rounds that they are no longer of the specified caliber (which leads to loss of accuracy).
  • Change caliber or cartridge of existing rifle, by changing barrel, and modifying receiver.
  • Re-cut rifling and change caliber of existing barrel.
  • Design and build complete rifles by fitting stock barrels to stock receivers; fabricating or purchasing additional parts as needed, and fitting same to rifle. Fitting custom stock to same.
  • Design and build a complete rifle starting with several pieces of blank steel and a slab of walnut; using nothing more than a lathe, saws, files, chisels, & rasps.

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