Why Gunsmithing (And Why Not?)

I mentioned this last month in “Trying to Learn” but never got around to posting it.


The world of computers, IT as it’s called now, has been a passion of mine since the day my dad brought home a Commodore VIC-20. I’m not sure there was ever a time when I said, “When I grow up I will be in the computer industry.” It was never really a choice for me – if anything it seems to have chosen me. At some point, 5 or 6 years in to my IT career, I was give a permanent vacation from the company I was working for, and with it an opportunity to start fresh.

I’ve always wanted to do something with my hands. To directly create something, and be able to step back from it and say, “my hands created that.” I credit this with a construction job I briefly held as a teenager. The work was horribly taxing, but in the end the whole crew could step back and look at what we made. Then we cleaned up and left. Glory, however short-lived. One giant deck on the Chesapeake Bay in particular really comes to mind.

While computers and other technology have always been part of my life, and always will, they are but a small portion of all the things I love. It was time for me to pursue something new. I had not, of course, left computers behind forever. I simply took some time to learn a new skill. So that’s why I left IT, but still leaves half of the question unanswered – why gunsmithing.

Part of this answer is obvious – as I said I have for some time now wanted to create something with my hands. I didn’t want a new skill that was at all related to IT, the whole point of the exercise was to go in an entirely new and different direction. I thought about some of the aforementioned passions, such as cooking, gardening, hunting, and a list of others that would fill volumes. Those three rose to the top of the list. Does anyone really make any money gardening? That’s not a career, it’s a hobby. It’s not something you leave the lucrative world of information technology to do, unless of course you’re retiring to Florida. I, as fate would have it, was already in Florida, and was looking to leave Florida in order to effect this change.

So, on to cooking. Strange thing about my love of cooking – I don’t think I have one. I have a like of cooking, but I’m not sure it’s a passion. I love eating. Love is an extremely overused word, but I don’t think I’m abusing it at all here. I think about food all the time. I’m always planning my next meal, even while in a middle a meal. I can’t stand making dinner plans at a favorite restaurant a week in advance, because that’s all I can think about for a week. It only follows that I would enjoy cooking, because the end result is, of course, food. And it combines two passions – eating and creating. Should be perfect, right? Well, no. I’ve worked in a restaurant before. Closing at 3:00 AM. Scrubbing kitchen floors. Dishes. Changing oil in the fryers. Did I mention closing at 3:00 AM? So it seems that while I love eating, cooking is really just a necessary evil, a means to an ends.

Hunting and shooting. Okay, so neither of them is a career, I know. But this brings us to gunsmithing. What is it really? It’s part science, part art. A gunsmith is an artisan. To create a gunsmith you need one part mechanic. Combine with one part machinist, one part whitesmith, one part woodworker. Add a little bit of chemist, some metallurgist, engineer, engraver, physicist, historian, blacksmith, sculptor, troubleshooter, toolmaker, welder and inventor. Now you have the makings of a gunsmith.

The trade is at least as diverse as any other. If you ask someone what they do for a living and they say, “I’m in Information Technology” you know almost nothing about them. Do they answer a help desk phone, run cabling, develop kernels, design networks? If you don’t know me you probably wouldn’t guess at this point that my specialty is phones. A gunsmith may specialize on a particular gun (down to the model) or maybe they only checker stocks, refinish antiques, manufacture barrels, or any of a long list of skills.

Gunsmithing has served as in introduction to many new worlds, new opportunities, new passions… Just not a new career. I have another way I sometimes define a gunsmith – a successful gunsmith is either a great artist or a great machinist. I am neither, and as such I’m not a practicing gunsmith.

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