Comparing Smiths

agabriel

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I'm a pretty big fan of custom gun work and I'm curious to get thoughts around the topic. Lately, I've been fortunate enough to be exposed to more cool custom guns developed by different people. I've always believed that people are the link to the quality and I'm curious how people critically think about the results. With that said, I'm really curious how others develop a hierarchy between different competent gunsmiths. What are the small details that stand out to you?

Where do one person shops fit? Where do you fit larger shops (e.g. Wilson, Les, Nighthawk, etc...)? Do they need to produce parts used across the community (e.g. Chen, Gray, Cajun, Langdon)? What about moving past 1911s? As a tangent, I'm also really curious when you think small shops will start churning out more 2011s?

Anyway, I'm really curious what you're looking for in a custom gun. How do you evaluate the results of others. I'm game to talk about actual gunsmiths, but am more interested what you notice and appreciate about the results.

Anthony
 

M1911

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I’m not sure I would call Wilson Combat a gunsmith shop. Yes, they employ gunsmiths, but mostly they build production guns, not full custom. I’m not slagging on Wilson — they build excellent guns. But if you have a vision for a 1911 to be built your way, then you would go to someone other than Wilson.
 

agabriel

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Personally, I'm looking at who they market their work to.

Is it a guy that wants a premium safe queen, or a guy that will shoot tens of thousands of rounds a year in competition?

So in truth, the primary person I've worked with for the last 20+ years literally does zero marketing.

I'm curious if you can expand more - do you hold the safe queen in higher value or the competition? I'm assuming competition because it is carrying out a purpose?
 

not new guy

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Quality (fit, finish, etc.) and reliable function in the finished product are prerequisites, but beyond those I think the best smiths have a distinctive, appealing style. For example, I’ve never actually handled one of Lou @ BEC’s guns, but they all seem to look cool as hell, and the fit and finish look impeccable. If I was in the market I’d definitely be checking them out.
 
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There are really several different types of smiths

Individual artist - I would agree that Greg Derr is the pointy part of smiths when you are talking about artists who can take an existing gun and turn it into a work of art. This especially shines when a classic guns like a Colt is customized or restored from neglect and abuse (like traditional chome over copper plating).

High end non-custom manufacturer - Nowlin, Wilson, Nighthawk - Great stuff built to a higher than normal (for mass market gun) quality standard. There are varying degrees of what is made in-house vs. subcontracted. But, you don't get "full custom" other than choosing parts of a few standard options, or anything that attaches. These firms will be very polite when they decline your request for a custom serial number.

Custom manufacturer - builds the gun from scratch to your manufacturer. Each is made to order, as there are too many choices to stock every combination. You wait a long time (a year or so), pay through the nose, and are told something like "13 characters max and must contain a digit" when you ask about a custom number. They (as well as the high end non-custom manufacturers) can do things that are not possible on an existing gun - even the great Greg Derr (Is his middle initial "O"?) cannot transubstantiate the steel of an old Colt into 4340, and match the width of a slide to exactly the width of a slide mounted optic (Cmore, Sig Romeo, Trijicon, etc.). This is the niche Infinity/$vigun$.com occupies. I have a tight relationship with the factory and shop dogs, so I am a bit biased here, but many other share the same view regarding their quality.
 
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SJan

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I'm curious if you can expand more - do you hold the safe queen in higher value or the competition? I'm assuming competition because it is carrying out a purpose?
I'll use the SEMA car analogy.
A custom car is built, to the average person who isn't a complete car nut, it's a beautiful show car. But it was pushed off a trailer, it doesn't drive, it doesn't even start. "Bluetooth ignition system" "Bluetooth drive shaft" "Bluetooth brake lines." Yes, it's still a car, still an expensive beautiful show car, but it won't win a race, it won't even go get groceries.

Then there is a fresh built race car, built for the sole purpose of performance. Maybe it is also in beautiful show ready condition, but none of the performance was sacrificed.

SVI is probably the one shop that makes both guns (the same gun)

There are many small shops or one man operations that build hi end 2011 race guns. One that I'll mention is Rafferty custom, John Vliegar is currently in Thailand with his, competing in the IPSC world shoot.
 
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The 2011 style (2011 was actually a product name used by STI, and the name is probably owned by Stattaco) went off patent years ago and there are not only independent smiths building on the platform, but numerous manufacturers manufacturing to that design (some are likely subbing out and have a BATFE variance to have their name, rather than the sub contractor, on the frame).

Besides subtle differences such as the actual steel used, all the metal grips have been independently designed. The original plastic grip was used by STI/SVI. I'm not sure if that grip is even available any more. If you have a change to examine various 2011 style guns of different manufacture (SVI, Stattaco, Atlas and Phoenix Trinity come time mind - there are others), compare the grips. Some of the manufacturers also offer various surface patters and grip styles.
 

Supermoto

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I look for the following in a gunsmith.

Excellent reputation for building a gun that will 10s of thousands of rounds, still be accurate, tight and not beat itself up. Many can build a gun that runs, but will eventually beat itself to death because parts aren't fitted perfectly.

Then I look for smooth lines and smooth blends. If I am going to be gripping a gun as hard as I can during dry and live fire, I don't want any hot spots around the grip, grip safety or thumb safety. I'm still going to have to fit the gun to my hand, but the smith should know what needs to be done to make it a shooters gun.

Then it is comp and slide cuts, weight and how the gun balances.

Last it is aesthetics of the gun, don't really care for fancy cuts or designs, as it is a tool and not a show piece. But I do want a smith that takes the time to blend all the following.... frame, slide fit, ejector extractor fit and grip safety. Basically, looking at the back of a 2011/1911, if everything isn't perfectly blended, then I don't have faith they will take the time to do a frame, barrel, slide fit correctly.
 
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My first comp gun was a 45 built on a single stack 45 by Guy Hammond of AZ (RIP). Gun looked great, worked great, but.... After a year or so the hold the slide stop in egged. This is a common mistake when the smith uses a link that it too long to get a super tight lockup with no wiggle rather than doing it the hard way and is non -repairable (though Greg Derr could probably find a way). I don't know if harder steel would help, but its one of those quality things that can be hard to spot.
 

mac1911

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I'm a pretty big fan of custom gun work and I'm curious to get thoughts around the topic. Lately, I've been fortunate enough to be exposed to more cool custom guns developed by different people. I've always believed that people are the link to the quality and I'm curious how people critically think about the results. With that said, I'm really curious how others develop a hierarchy between different competent gunsmiths. What are the small details that stand out to you?

Where do one person shops fit? Where do you fit larger shops (e.g. Wilson, Les, Nighthawk, etc...)? Do they need to produce parts used across the community (e.g. Chen, Gray, Cajun, Langdon)? What about moving past 1911s? As a tangent, I'm also really curious when you think small shops will start churning out more 2011s?

Anyway, I'm really curious what you're looking for in a custom gun. How do you evaluate the results of others. I'm game to talk about actual gunsmiths, but am more interested what you notice and appreciate about the results.

Anthony
Gunsmiths
No bull shit works well for me
Getting the job done when said and with price to work out come.
30 years ago there seemed to be more gun smiths in my area.
Oddly enough a lot of repairs 30 years ago where not always done by “smiths” local furniture repair guy 30 plus years ago was the go to stock work guy.
In the past 12 years Greg Derr is the only smith I have used. Always done well by me even on my not so custom work.
 

agabriel

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The 2011 style (2011 was actually a product name used by STI, and the name is probably owned by Stattaco) went off patent years ago and there are not only independent smiths building on the platform, but numerous manufacturers manufacturing to that design (some are likely subbing out and have a BATFE variance to have their name, rather than the sub contractor, on the frame).

Besides subtle differences such as the actual steel used, all the metal grips have been independently designed. The original plastic grip was used by STI/SVI. I'm not sure if that grip is even available any more. If you have a change to examine various 2011 style guns of different manufacture (SVI, Stattaco, Atlas and Phoenix Trinity come time mind - there are others), compare the grips. Some of the manufacturers also offer various surface patters and grip styles.

Full disclosure. I think we are starting to get past the 1911 as the custom platform. I'm really impressed with some of the things available with other platforms.

With that said, I'm cognizant that Caspian has probably been the biggest enabler for custom 1911s. So since Caspian doesn't really seem to be innovative anymore, I'm curious to see who will fill the void. Some of the STI/SVI stuff from back in the day was wild. It is neat to see how much of it is folded in to Springfields' stuff.
 

M1911

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So why? Do you have or have you handled any of his work? How would you compare it against other gunsmiths and why? I will certainly agree his work and marketing seem good. But... I've never handled his work.
Greg has worked on several of my guns. He fixed several problems on my Wilson 1911 competition gun. I bought that gun well used and put thousands more rounds through it. He didn’t do any cosmetic work on it — replaced a broken rear adjustable sight, staked a front sight that was drifting, replaced a loose ejector, etc.

He also did more extensive work on a S&W Model 19. I bought this used. It had worn bluing near the muzzle. But the worst issue were a couple deep pits on the left side of the gun, just above the grip. I had him chamfer the cylinders, reduce the size of the hammer spur, perform a trigger job, change the front and rear sights, and reblue the gun. When it came back it was immaculate. The DA trigger is now superb. You can’t even tell where the pits used to be. The bluing (which I think he sent out) is spectacular. No, this isn’t a full custom gun, but I think his work was spectacular.

I’ve used a few other local gunsmiths in the past and not been satisfied with their work. I’ve always been satisfied with Greg Derr’s work.
 

DarkJoker33

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My 2 cents,
They won't count anywhere,because I'm still a newbie.

But I'm disappointed in the custom gun market.

It's essentially flooded with variations 1911/2011's.

I'm not counting glocks because it's the same as 2011.

Sig,beretta,arex have a good idea of a semi exchangeable fire control group, but its still all premanufactured parts assembly.
Same systems being recycled in and out.

In the beginning shops like wilson,langdon,nighthawk etc would all be "custom" boutique type of places. My opinion is they have advanced from that to mass market manufacturers.

In my eyes a custom gunsmith could make a gun fr the ground up.
With one off designs and not replicate something that already exists.

That's not to take away from custom shops that put there special sauce/twang on it.

Engraving can fully be an art by itself.
 

M1911

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In my eyes a custom gunsmith could make a gun fr the ground up.
With one off designs and not replicate something that already exists.
That’s not realistic. No gunsmith has the time and engineering to design a new type of action. No gunsmith has time, money, or equipment to forge their own receivers. Can they take a receiver (like a Remington 700 clone or a Caspian 1911 lower) and build a custom gun from that, using carefully chosen parts? Sure. But make their ejector, extractor, sear, hammer, barrel, trigger, trigger guard, etc.? The time and cost would be prohibitive.
 

paul73

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The time and cost would be prohibitive.
i think people like greg do not do it for time and costs alone, as there are much easier ways to make money than making art.
dunno, any non-mass serialized labor here becomes so rare, it is difficult to talk about it. and as soon as any work becomes mass-serialized, it gets outsourced out to a cheaper labor market.
 
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