Selecting a PistolSmith

by Teddy Jacobson, PistolSmith
Sugarland, TX
reprinted with permission

In a world of compromise, I will not. This is written to help the gun owner and not intended to offend anyone. Anyone can become a Smith, all that is required is a class 01 Federal Firearms License. At one time there were about 285,000 licensed FFL holders, at this point in time there are around 75,000. There is no licensing criteria to become a GunSmith or a PistolSmith. There are no Quality of Work Certification certificates that are required.

I regret the burden is on you to seek out a Smith for your needs, it will not be easy. There are many Smiths that bought a reputation with advertising money, sure they can buy that reputation but a person must earn it and maintain it. There are many PistolSmiths that are earning big money just working on a 1911 pistol that is almost 100 years old, and some do some very nice work. There are Smiths that do all their work using major machines, and without these Bridgeport Milling Machines and Lathes, they are out of business.

The following are questions you must ask, if you are looking for a PistolSmith you must know if that person works as a full time Smith and for how long has he been doing this. After all your life depends on your questions and your decisions. Always ask how long the Smith has been working on your particular model and how many he has already worked on. Do not be shy, its your life that depends on your selection. Ask if he's a full time Smith.

Always ask him these four major questions,

1. What does he recommend?

2. How long will it take?

3. How much will it cost?

4. Does he sub out the work to some one else?

There are some additional questions you could get into such as will he be available by phone and ask to speak to a few of his customers. You could always ask him how he learned his trade. Ask whether he has been featured in a major publication through out his career and or by what organization. Remember once you decide to let some one work on your handgun, your life is at stake. There are so many wannabbee Smiths out there trolling for work that have very limited qualifications, do not make a quick decision unless you feel confident in the persons quality of work, reputation, honesty, attention to detail.

Ask if the FFL is under his name or is he working as a Smith under some one else's FFL and at what location. To see how right I am just ask people if they have had a gun ruined by an incompetent wannabbee Smith. I am not trying to offend anyone, this is the real world. I am just trying to make you aware of what you are really getting into. Aesthetics are wonderful but it is what is on the inside of a handgun that is so important, thats what really counts.

If you see a price list that offers you different levels of refinement at different levels of pricing, a red flag should go up immediately. Why not do it right for one price like I do.

I went into a gun shop about 15 years ago, the owner was a good friend of mine. In my left hand he put an S&W revolver and said this is my $75.00 trigger job, and in my right hand he put in another identical S&W revolver and said this is my $45.00 trigger job. I worked the actions and they were identical everywhere. He refused to tell me what the difference was, he laughed and walked away taking both revolvers. I asked the Smith working in his shop that actually did the work, who was also a friend of mine what was the difference and when we were alone he said the only difference was the kind of car the customer drives.

Once you have selected your PistolSmith be sure to get a written estimate of the work being done on your handgun. Be certain that the Smith will not charge for additional phone conversations. Ask the Smith not to cut any coils off your springs, and all engagements must be cut using a jig, and not by eye, he is to return all your parts when the job is finished.

Now its your decision, if you do not want your old parts or springs it should be your choice not his. If you are going to work on a revolver be sure you make it clear that the single action is not to be less than 3 lbs.

Do not allow anyone to put their mark, stamp, or logo on your handgun without your permission. If some one is going to sub out your work, think twice, why pay a middle man to make a profit when he is going to have some one else do the work. I have seen horror stories regarding Smiths that have other people do the work they were incapable of doing themselves.

Example: If you have a 1911 semi auto mill spec. pistol and the Smith tells you that you need a new barrel and you need to refinish everything and you need internal work and front strap checkering and sight work, etc. Well, if the Smith subs out all the work, not only will it take a very long time, and an unknown person does your front strap checkering (20,25,30, LPI) then another person installs your barrel and who will install your sights and who does the refinishing, etc. etc, etc. Now you have an assembly line product, is that what you want? You now have a pistol that unknown people all over the country have worked on, is that what you want?

Get everything straight before you decide. I am going to make more enemies by educating you. Hope you can realize my honest concern in this matter. Do not let any Smith use inferior parts. I intend to get into this parts selection in upcoming commentaries that will really open your eyes to this multi million dollar business.

If it's a 1911 pistol, Do you think that your beautiful checkering on the front strap or on your trigger guard or the spur of your hammer will give you the superior handgun to walk away as a winner in a social encounter. Remember the police will confiscate every handgun involved in a shooting and engrave the case number on your frame. That will do wonders for the value of your beautiful handgun.

It is what is in the inside of your handgun that really counts, the rest is just for bragging and conversation. Isn't that the most beautiful gun you have ever seen? Yeah right, but what does it look like inside?

Just ask the street cop that just used his beat up handgun to save his life or the Military commando that used his worn out M9, that allowed him to go back to his unit to fight another day.

Get real, it's the internals that are so very important.

We need to cover a few more topics on this subject to help educate you.

GET IT IN WRITING FIRST............ No factory or Smith can guarantee 100% reliability when using reloaded ammunition because of the unknown competence of the reloader. Most reloaders that sell ammo are only interested in how many rounds they can crank out in an hour so as to make more money.

Having a revolver worked on is quite different than talking about a semi auto. After your revolver has been worked on, you must check that in the Single action mode your "hammer will not push off" the engagement, it should hold about 30 pounds of forced finger pressure. If it fails, the Smith did not do his job properly. You now have a very serious problem. You must check your timing or indexing of each chamber, it must lock up before your hammer is pulled and reaches its most rearward travel and it locks into place in the SA engagement mode. The cylinder bolt must be locked in the individual notch at each chamber.

You must check all chambers immediately upon receiving your revolver back from the factory or a Smith or a Plater. There are many more checks that I will cover at a later time.

In semi auto work, most of it involves 1911 pistols, here everyone seems to be an expert. Customizing or modifying 1911 pistols is where the money is at and has become a major business in America. They once asked Willie Sutton the famous bank robber why he robs Banks and he said, Thats where the money is.

You must know before you start your work project, are you preparing a street gun or a target gun, there is a world of difference. Street carry people want a super reliable pistol with about a SA of 4-1/2 lbs. Target people want a super light trigger pull with a 1 inch group at 25 yards, not that they can even shoot that well, its ego. If this is the case, you best specify what kind of accuracy you expect and what trigger pull in pounds you want. Get it in writing, I will not do target guns for people as a general rule, I will not give anyone a super light trigger pull.

Request a target of your pistol being fired after its completion using the factory ammunition of your choice. I personally do not take jobs like this.

In a 1911 you must make sure your hammer does not follow down the slide, and your disconnector works properly, as does your thumb safety and your grip safety. You should never need a tool to insert your slide stop, any Smith telling you to use a tool to help push the detent pin in the plunger tube while inserting your slide stop is a fraud. Look at all the frames that are scratched right under the slide stop, because they are not set up properly.

Never let any know it all wannabee superSmith who never worked as a pro full time Smith remove any of your series 80 firing pin safety parts because he is incompetent to give you a good trigger pull using these factory designed and installed safety devices.

There is no reason to discard the over travel set screw in an after market trigger if you know what you are doing.

I am sure this will make me a lot of friends, but the truth must be said, "it is what it is".