We have all seen the guy in his yard, working on his own car, day in and day out, with no success. Stubborn pride prevents him from getting professional help with his mechanical issues, and he is likely causing more harm than good by addressing problems above his pay grade.
The same stubborn pride that backyard tinkerers suffer from is found in some gun owners. They strip apart their firearms and hammer parts together. Fine mechanical parts are mashed or ground down, and precise tolerances are ignored or exceeded.
It’s said that the two loudest sounds in the world are a gun that goes click when it should go bang and a gun that goes bang when it should go click. Mess around with your firearms beyond your knowledge of maintenance and repair, and one of these two sounds will echo in your ears.
Is that a chance you want to take? Is that a chance you want to trust your or your family’s safety to?
This is where a proper gunsmith comes into play—with a strong emphasis on proper. A gunsmith is not just someone who knows guns; rather, he or she is someone who has been properly trained in how to assemble, disassemble, modify, fix and maintain firearms.
Training is more than reading “how-to” manuals found at gun shows or watching YouTube videos. Just as you wouldn’t trust the vehicle you drive your family around in to the guy working on cars in his backyard, you shouldn’t trust the firearm you use to protect your home to just anyone.
Here is how to locate a quality gunsmith and research what they can accomplish with some common firearm types.
Select a Shop
Search your local Yellow Pages (if you still have one of those), and you’ll likely find numerous listings for firearms stores. A firearms store is not the same as a gun shop. The guy working the counter at your firearms store might know little about firearms but talks a big game and is a salesman first. Think of a gun store as an auto dealership and a gun shop as the service center around back.
If you are new to firearms, you might wonder what to do with your firearm if it doesn’t work as intended. There are many gun stores that would sooner ship your long gun or sidearm back to the manufacturer than look at it themselves. Many gun stores are in the firearms industry only to make money, not help the customer.
A gun shop, on the other hand, is generally staffed with shooters who know pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns inside and out. Rather than putting you out in the cold without a firearm en route to the factory, they’ll often diagnose the problem and fix it right there—sometimes, while you wait for just a few minutes.
It’s easy to locate a quality gun shop via modern technology, but you shouldn’t believe only what you hear online. Beyond looking up customer reviews, talk to those who use firearms regularly and professionally, and find out whom they use to keep their work guns running. Seek out the gunsmith or gun shop responsible for fixing your local police department’s firearms or where big-box stores send trade-in firearms for inspection or repair before reselling them to their customers.
Listen to the advice of the oldest guy at your shooting range. He has likely seen gun stores and shops come and go. He probably also has an opinion not formed by Internet gun celebrities, TV training or the opinions of newly minted pistol-permit holders working behind the counter.
“A firearms store is not the same as a gun shop… Think of a gun store as an auto dealership and a gun shop as the service center around back.”
Before you leave your granddaddy’s pistol in the hands of a stranger, visit that gun shop and do some recon. You should gauge how well the smiths interact with customers; make small talk with people waiting while their firearms are worked on. Use your gut instinct to determine if that shop is the right one for you.
Some gunsmiths are known for their work on one type of firearm, but a competent gunsmith will be able to address concerns with any rifle, handgun or shotgun. Ask to see samples of their work, and take note of what their specialty is. Ultimately, make your decision based on the sense of trust you have in their work. After all, if you are using their firearm for self-defense, you are trusting their work to ensure the firearm doesn’t malfunction when it is needed most.
Jody Joseph and John Napierski, the gunsmiths behind JoJo’s Gun Works, have a combined 37 years of experience working with firearms. Both have carved a niche for themselves in Southington, Connecticut, since 2006, serving recreational, semi-professional and professional shooters, as well as the law enforcement community. They have earned a reputation for creating firearms that perform as incredibly as they look. Their custom work has been delivered to all parts of the country as far away as Alaska, and even the Colombian police department is armed with their work south of the border.
JoJo’s Gun Works is located in New England in the center of American firearms history. Jody, a gunsmith graduate of the Colorado School of Trades, is the chief builder of 1911s for competition, carry and collection. John is the gunsmith who handles most of the modern polymer pistol jobs, as well as AR15 builds. Additionally, there are five other employees with various specialties who work at JoJo’s; these include custom grip and stock building, grip reductions and machining.
JoJo’s is a full-time gun shop that is “closed only seven days a year” and not a part-time operation. It is a Class III manufacturer in all firearms and an FFL dealer. The employees on JoJo’s staff enjoy shooting as much as they do working on firearms. In fact, some of their work has been featured in the pages of American Survival Guide over the past few years, including a customized Smith & Wesson Model 66, M1A and the Remington 870 Police.
JoJo’s has both a showroom and storefront and will also accept orders via phone and e-mail.
JoJo’s Gun Works
122 Spring Street D9
Southington, CT 06489
Common Services/Fixes Offered
A quality gun shop will be able to address problems encountered with any type of firearm. If you are uncomfortable with working on your own firearms, speak to your gun shop about the problems you’re encountering. The gunsmiths there might help educate you so you can self-diagnose the issue and address it.
If it is an issue or modification you would rather let a professional handle, these are some common examples of problems encountered on various platforms.
“It’s said that the two loudest sounds in the world are a gun that goes click when it should go bang and a gun that goes bang when it should go click.”
For the traditional wheelgun shooter, a gun shop can provide services no online tutorial or YouTube video can walk you through. Revolvers are known for reliability, but a quality gun shop can lighten the double- and single-action trigger pull, ensure the timing is correct, polish the cylinder and cut a dovetail into the front sight for night sight installation.
Many older revolvers have a finish worn to the white. A quality gun shop should be able to refinish one in any number of way including bluing, parkerizing or Cerakoting.
Whether you have a 1911, Glock or any pistol found in between, a quality gun shop can help fit the pistol to the user. Customized grip panels can be made from various synthetics such as Micarta and G10 or exotic materials such as desert ironwood or mother-of-pearl for form and/or function.
Grip reductions, undercut trigger guards and beavertail upgrades are some of the ways a master grip can be improved. Slide serrations, dehorning and customized porting of the barrel and slide are some common enhancements made to the slides of pistols found on the bench of reputable gunsmiths. Pistols with traditional gun bluing can be refinished with more-durable modern coatings and finishes to withstand the elements and holster wear.
“Listen to the advice of the oldest guy at your shooting range.”
The AR15, AK and M1A are three of the most popular modern sporting rifles. Their popularity makes them common firearms worked on in an average gun shop. While these rifles are easily maintained in the field and one can learn how to keep them running like an armorer, “armorer” status doesn’t equate to “gunsmith.” A gunsmith can cut barrels down for improved handling, install specialized triggers, properly build up stripped receivers with precision parts and tune any of these firearms to meet the needs of a competitive shooter, hunter or armed citizen.
Common modifications to modern semi-auto rifles include swapping out flash hiders and muzzle breaks, hand guards and modular stocks. A reputable gunsmith will have the specialized tools for assembly/disassembly that are considered too costly for the recreational shooter to own and use only once in a build. A Class III gunsmith will be able to equip you with Class III accessories such as suppressors and also manufacture your standard-length rifle into a short-barreled rifle.
Lever-action, pump-action and bolt-action rifles and shotguns can all use a tune up from time to time. Bolts can be jewelled by a proper gunsmith and peep sites installed. Barrels can be cut down to shorter legal lengths, free floated and re-crowned. Wooden stocks can be refinished if they are scratched and dinged, or they can be replaced with synthetic versions that might require slight fitting and bedding.
Lever-action rifles can be fitted with larger “trapper”-style loops and “scout” rifle mounts. Oversized bolt-action knobs are common modifications done to precision rifles to help the user manipulate the bolt with gloved hands.
Furthermore, a reliable gunsmith can cut down rifle stocks to change the length of pull for shooters of various heights and builds. As reliable as these repeating firearms are, there can be issues with extractors, firing pins, magazine tube springs and followers, as well as any other moving parts.
“Beyond looking up customer reviews, talk to those who use firearms regularly and professionally, and find out whom they use to keep their work guns running.”
Bore sight: The process of aligning an optic with the barrel using a muzzle-mounted device to make the sight-in process easier
Chamfer: Breaks the sharp edges of the chamber. Commonly done for revolvers
Checker: Criss-cross texture pattern for enhanced grip
Cocking serrations: Ridges added for manipulating the slide
Crowning a barrel: Contoured cut at the end of the barrel that improves accuracy and provides protection to the rifling
Dehorn: The process that removes exterior sharp edges for more-comfortable concealed-carry of pistols/revolvers
Failure to extract: A malfunction that causes a chambered round to remain in the chamber when the action is cycled
Failure to feed: A malfunction that causes a round to jam in the firearm’s action instead of loading in the chamber
Free-float barrel: Eliminate contact between barrel and stock to improve harmonics and accuracy
In the white: The unfinished state of a pistol prior to refinishing
It’s on the bench: This translates to, “Your firearm isn’t done yet. We’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Jeweling: A polishing pattern done on rifle bolts and actions to increase aesthetics for a similar reason chrome is added to a Harley Davidson
Kiss it up: A light touch with a file, polishing wheel or stone to remove just enough material—but not too much
Polish feed ramp: Improves reliability by eliminating any rough surface a bullet could become hung up on
Scallop: Machined texture similar to reptile scales
Stipple: Textured finish achieved with a soldering iron
Reliability Package: Process via which the firearm is inspected to see what is making it unreliable; includes feeding, firing and ejection issues
Trigger job: Enhances the feel of the trigger pull and can include lightening trigger pull, reducing reset travel, removing grittiness, etc.
Gun shop services don’t stop with the custom guns seen on magazine covers. What pays the bills for many gunsmiths are the small jobs not easily done and considered far less glamorous than working with high-tech black rifles and race pistols.
Many times, gunsmiths are hired to mount optics with the correct amount of torque for the rings and ring screws. Other times, they might do a complete disassembly and cleaning of a well-used firearm, including rust removal. A good gunsmith will be able to save you time and money at the range by bore-sighting your rifle properly.
Gunsmith services can include complete fabrication of hard-to-find parts for firearms, as well as welding and repairing broken parts. They can also help diagnose problems with firearms—such as parts installed incorrectly or removing squib rounds and other barrel obstructions.
Every shooter and firearms enthusiast needs a good gun shop. Murphy’s Law states, “What can go wrong, will go wrong,” and the chemical and mechanical processes that take place while shooting are susceptible to failure. Sometimes, all you have to do is swap out a particular type of ammo or a better type of lubricant. Other times, you need to ask your gun shop to diagnose the problem and fix it for you.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.