Gunsmithing classes

Discussion in 'Technical Questions & Information' started by Davejohn90, Sep 17, 2012.

  1. Davejohn90

    Davejohn90 New Member

    Jul 17, 2012
    I live in Maryland and I've always had a huge intrest in gun it's my dream to become a gunsmith. I have seen that I can get a degree online thru Penn Foster. for around 700 dollars. Is this my best POA or what do you think I should do. I'm up to any ideas.
  2. woolleyworm

    woolleyworm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2009
    SW Fort Worth
    While it will give you a good starting point, nothing can beat a hands on apprenticeship or knowing a good machinist to give you proper instruction. Not sure what skills you may/may not already have, but for $700, it would at a minimum get you a good start to repairing your own firearms and then work your way into a shop.

  3. Davejohn90

    Davejohn90 New Member

    Jul 17, 2012
    Alright I'm waiting now for so more information from pennfoster the second I can find out more I think I might do it.
  4. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA

    Most of these inexpensive courses teach you to do the mundane task of recoil pad mounting and like tasks. They do not teach you how a gun works so you can fix any gun for any problem. You can learn that by apprenticeship but it will take many years as your main task will be making money for the shop owner, not learning gunsmithing. As with anything the more you put in to it the more you get out of it.

    A much better approach than the cheapy $700 course is the American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) video master gunsmith series for home study. The first step in the course study is the theory of operation of guns. You progress through courses of study at your own pace, submit test results, and get certifications. It also includes hands on study on guns you might be able to procure or borrow. It takes months to complete but you have something more useful than how to install recoil pads. The AGI master course is not cheap but it is cheaper than attending a resident gunsmithing school for two or more years.

    The course is taught by the former head of a renown school of gunsmithing in northern California and the owner of a working gunsmith shop for something like 50 years (??). The man is good and knows his stuff. He is Bob Dunlap.

    You can get an idea of what it is all about by getting one of the AGI videos for a specific gun:

    The master course instructor is Bob Dunlap. Just make sure to pick an AGI video that he is on. AGI also offer a free introductory DVD so you can see what it is all about.

    This far superior to the course of study like the Penn Foster course and only one step behind a resident gunsmithing school. While apprenticeship is important to get experience, the better educated you enter it, the faster you will be able to go out on your own. According to AGI a large percentage of graduates open their own doors immediately and during their course of study with AGI and apprenticeship may not even be necessary if you can find enough customers quickly enough. Some of their graduates go to work for manufacturers.

    From this post you can probably tell I think limited correspondence source like the one you suggested at Penn Foster are a rip off. But that is my opinion and others many have a different view.

  5. GunHugger

    GunHugger Well-Known Member

    Jul 18, 2007
    SW PA
    Good advice from LD as usual.

    I'll add to it by saying if you want to do it right.

    One of the best schools in the country isn't far away for you.
  6. rhmc24

    rhmc24 Well-Known Member

    Dec 1, 2010
    Ardmore, OK
    Use your $700 to buy a bunch of junk guns and practice all the operations below until you can do them well. Then you will be ready for some organized gunsmithing study.

    From my notes, been there, done that - I think I posted it here once before -----:)

    Colt New Service (& others) Indexing Fix

    Old much used Colts don't index the cylinder with the barrel when you cock it slowly. Colt's design is such that the trigger pull makes it align, so all is well 'more or less'. A quick and effective fix I have done is to build up the second step of the hand. I brighten it up good, cut a strip of tin can a little wider and long enough to handle, seat it down over the flat of the hand 'step' and solder it in place. I use the silver-bearing low temp solder that is a lot stronger than ordinary solder.

    Then trim the excess, leaving the hand step longer by the thickness of the metal you soldered on. This will fix a pretty far gone one and you will usually have to file it down for most.

    It's a semi-derriere fix but the fix is only subject to compression and can easily be renewed after another several hundred cycles. Best, it doesn't modify the original part.


    I have repaired a lot of old colt grips using clear epoxy glue, not the 5 minute kind. For a simple crack I put the glue on the inside and let it fill the crack, wiping off what comes thru to the outside. If the cracked piece is loose I clamp it. Otherwise I would just settle for having the crack filled and the piece stabilized.

    For worse problems with Colt grips, like a piece missing, cracked away from a corner, etc.: I fix them by cleaning and roughing up the broken surface, wax a piece of foil and place it on the gun frame. Use plent of wax to avoid glue running away or sticking. Put the grips on, position them to avoid run-off, then fill the missing area with epoxy mixed with lamp black or carbon black. It may be necessary to do more than one application to get a good fill.

    After it hardens, like overnight, you re-shape the area and polish it. An invisible repair is possible. If your job extends into the checkered area you are on your own, depending on your skill and artistry.

    After notes: Do a couple dry runs on scrap the get the hang of it before you risk messing up a job. Epoxy glue is very tolerant of mixing in color so long as it is not water based. Artist colors, powder and liquid, oil paints and acrylic work OK. Any additive weakens the glue but strength is not much of a factor in grip repair and only a little of the black is needed.

    Fix Chamber on .22RF Dinged by Firing Pin

    This issue comes up now and then, with various suggestions offered. A simple fix I have never seen mentioned is this. A #1 drill, is .228", the same as many22 chamber IDs. On a #1 drill, grind a flat half an inch long or more, maybe .040" deep, along the side of the drive end of the drill. Smooth the transition edges from flat to round and polish them. Lube the chamber and your tool, insert it 3/8" or more and turn it to lift or iron out the ding in the chamber.

    Sounds 'quick and dirty' but it works. There are dirtier methods that can work too.

    The same 'flat to round' method is workable making a tool to raise a dent in a shotgun barrel.

    Repair Mother of Pearl Grips?

    Like any other repair, the extent of damage can affect the quality of repair. The procedure is simple for the usual small knocked off corners. Basically I grind the surface of the break and glue in a piece of MOP and re-shape/polish it. An almost invisible repair is possible,

    First need is a piece of MOP to glue in. Old pearl buttons are a good source. In big-city department store button shops I have found a huge variety. I've paid couple bucks per button, generally several on a card. Your grandma may have just what you want. Maybe internet auctions.

    The 5 minute epoxy is best. It is water-transparent when it sets up. The slow one has a yellow tinge. With a reasonably good fit, the joint can be invisible.

    My best accomplishment is a pair of S&W N frame MOPs, damaged. The curved part at the top was badly chipped away with some missing. I found a big old pearl button, the kind with a thread tab on the back and no thru-hole. I carefully ground away a good fit to the grip and to the gun and epoxied it in place. It defies detection as a repair.

    Antiquing Iron

    Applying or creating an antique finish on iron is a subject with infinite variables. Describing procedures and appraisal of result are at best subjective. Perceptions and word meanings vary with individuals.

    Starting with a surface that is free of rust and tool marks, if I have done any welding on it such as lengthening a barrel, I heat the welded area to a bright red and let it cool and restore the heated surface to the aforementioned condition. The reason is that the joint is now three different metals. I have found that the 'heat' makes it less likely that the difference will show in final finish. I have proven to myself that it works in some cases.

    I then raise a rust usually by applying a Gun Browning product made by Laurel Mountain Forge available from black powder shooter suppliers. I try to avoid perfect application. I just blob it on, some wet some not, avoiding straight line and pattern. In several hours of household temp and humidity a good rust develops. I then take it off without abrasion, often with the side of a wire wheel that burnishes rather than scrapes. Steel wool works also. I let it set overnight and light rust will form again, then I remove it again, then lightly buff it to almost bright. I then heat it till it 'sweats' and cool it in water. I do that three times to quell after-rust. The result is the old off-color bare iron look often seen on guns cleaned ages ago.

    The 'light buff' brings it to almost a polish without removing whatever the previous activity installed on the surface. It is better to 'under buff' than over.

    The rust produced by the above can be arrested at any point if you see a result you like. If allowed to continue for a couple days a heavy rusty crust will form - possibly useful in some cases. Pitting results if the process continues. Unless some planned action is applied it looks like the intentional pitting that it is - too regular, too consistent, etc.

    Cleaning some areas while others progress can give some control of this. For example a well used gun gets a new repro part. Rust and allow whatever pitting is likely to harmonize in its worst areas while arresting the process in the most handled and exposed area.

    None of the pitting I have done is severe enough to duplicate nature. I have helped it by working the surface with dentist's burrs about 1.5mm dia. in my flex cable setup. I also have a little hammer I made of half inch drill rod with both faces very slightly convex, roughened as described, hardened that I can use where applicable. Another little tool I made is a 'flail' driven in the same manner. Eighth inch shaft terminates in a hub with six hardened flail elements pinned loosely to it. I use it most where space allows because it is variable in speed, proximity, etc.

    There is not much predictability in that I probably don't always follow the exact same procedure. The work surface probably has its own effect, job to job. Reminds me of the admonition that if what you are doing isn't working - do something different.


    We have seen checkering repaired by inletting a piece of wood and checkering it to blend with the original. To do a good job that way is beyond our skill and patience. I had a nice 1911 with a couple patches of checkering damaged or gouged out. Instead of inletting wood, I filled the areas with a batch of glue/sawdust mix, leveled it off and extended the checkering to cover the added area. Since then I have used this method on several 1911s, a 1905 and two Savage .45ACPs.

    Here is what works for me, the glue fill and a little tool I made. I use clear epoxy glue, not the 5 minute kind, mixed with sawdust to make a paste thick enough to almost peak up when you pull out the stick you mix it with. You don't want it to run after you apply it. You can mix light wood sawdust with dark to get different final color. It is a good idea to do a couple of test batches to learn how it looks when it is set up and cut into. For a patch quarter inch square a couple of drops of the epoxy mixed with about twice as much sawdust is a good working amount. Mix glue then add sawdust.

    Clean the area on the grip with alcohol or acetone and apply the mix. After it sets up, either overnite or under a light bulb for couple hours, carefully file it level with the surrounding checker area. Maybe protect around it with scotch tape while filing.

    With the tool you make described below, you use the part without teeth as a guide, while you carefully hold it in line with the cut you are making. Little by little draw the cutting area of the tool over and into your now-hard patch material. Don't go too deep till you have established your overall recheckered area - then do all your cuts to match the depth of the original part.

    I made the tool from a strip of 1/16x3/8" spring steel because I have a huge amount of it. That might be a little thicker than it need be, but don't use too thin. One edge I filed a sort of knife edge of about 60 degrees to fit, more or less, the valleys between the checker diamonds. The sketch shows it at "A". The first 3/4" is left smooth, polished a little, and about 1/2" or a bit more has the teeth filed in about 1/16" apart, the far end is wrapped with tape for a handle. The working end "B" I rounded to protect from damaging the original grip. When your job is almost complete you can grind the end off square "C" to work into cuts that end abruptly as against the screw hole diamonds on a 1911.

    The tool is so simple you will probably experiment with other configurations. Because it seemed right for me, I made the teeth to cut as shown but could be otherwise. I can imagine when it might make sense to have the teeth out on the end, with the guide section inboard.

    The epoxy paste filler cuts much like hard wood. As with anything for the first time, it is good to check it all out on scrap to get a little experience before attacking a serious job. This applies as much about the final color match as it does to the checkering job workmanship.

    Shotgun Dent Remover

    Ran across this in my junk box - memory lane. This is not the best dent remover but it was simple, quick and works. Old shotgun was pretty good but had this dent. To make a simple mandrel, I turned a 2" sleeve to fit in the barrel diameter, put in on a rod and did a little weld on the end. I filed a flat on the sleeve so it would go in along side of the dent. The flat is tapered a bit as I got a "feel" for what I wanted behind the dent. About mid-point fits the depth of the dent.

    Located the well lubricated mandrel centered under the dent and turned the rod. It lifted the dent. After removing the tool the dent wasn't obvious to look at but I could still feel it . I put the tool back in and turned it to the 'lift' position and tapped around the dent area with a polished hammer face. Checked it again less to feel. Repeated a couple times till I could no longer feel it. Bore was not bright, so I could not tell if it would pass the distant light bulb test.

    Caution against turning with the end of the mandrel at the dent, wants to be in the middle. In lifting a dent you are pushing it out using the opposite side to support the push. Too close to the end risks making a bulge opposite the dent. Mid placement of the mandrel spreads the push over a large area.

    The reason the mandrel didn't push out the dent and required tapping as described, is the metal had bit of spring to it that made it want to go back to the dent position. Tapping relieved that.


    This is a recollection of my procedure in lengthening muzzle loading gun barrels. It is what works for me, rather than a statement of the 'best way'. Not a tutorial, it assumes a user will have 'how-to' experience for details. All this should be taken as suggestions with variation according to need.

    Muzzle bores are often larger than the parent bore of the barrel, so cut back to the true bore.

    The added barrel should be a bit smaller bore than the original to allow boring to match the original, best from the breech end if possible.

    The piece to be added should be turned to be concentric to the bore. Old barrels seldom are and it is important to have at that part of your job concentric for later use.

    To assure concentricity of the original bore and that of the added piece, turn an alignment bushing to fit the two bores. The bushing can be of hardwood which will burn with welding and can be pushed out. There can be advantage in using a steel bushing instead of wood. A deep welding job is easy to assure. It should be made with a hole thru its center to assure concentricity when boring it out.

    The joining edges are ground back to an angle on each mating end to give a "V" in which to weld. Use electric welding, MIG, TIG or stick to localize heat. Weld first a good deep tack on one side, check straightness of barrel, then another good tack at 180 degrees away. Then complete the weld.

    Barrel will need some adjustment to be straight. This is a reason for having turned the added piece concentric. Chucking it in the lathe will quickly show how much correction is needed. Usually it can be done cold. Use heat on the original side if heat is necessary.

    Bore as necessary to get the same ID throughout the bore. Clean up tool marks or, depending on intended use, accuracy for shooting, ream the bore as necessary.

    Sometimes it is practical to make a dummy breech plug, find center, and turn the added piece between centers as close as possible before going to manual finishing.

    Once the job is complete & during the prep phase before final finishing, heat the joint at least half inch each side to a red heat. That tends to make the differences in the three steels less obvious in final finish.

    Injection Notes

    A badly wormed stock can be reduced to a shell exterior with a sponge-like interior. Drilling into it, the drill moves without resistance most of the distance, but occasionally encounters firm partition-like areas that are drilled through. Rather than the usual drill chips, a sick-looking powder is dusted out afterward.

    To do a thorough job one must give access throughout the interior to the injection medium. In past jobs I have started drill holes under where metal would conceal the entry, drilling in several directions so as to crisscross through the interior. Sometimes I have had to drill exposed holes - needing concealment afterward.

    A previously untouched injection project will be covered with worm holes. In the injection process the holes will leak. To reduce the loss I plug the holes with waxed round toothpicks. The wax allows their removal, otherwise the stock would be freckled with the white dots of cut-off toothpicks.

    I had a max-challenge years ago on a very historic early flintlock carbine. I filled it with a marine epoxy product intended for marine wood restoration. Came out weighing probably twice its original weight. It came to me broken in two at the pistol grip area. I first epoxied it back together then put in a dowel the full length back to the butt and drilled and filled for hours. Many more fillings forward into the fore end.

    On simple jobs I have used clear epoxy glue thinned a bit with alcohol.

    SEARS & HAMMERS - Older Guns

    When replacements are not available we repair What's there. Hammers have cock notches worn and sears the engaging surfaces broken or worn. One way to repair is to weld on more material and re-shape it back to where it works again. After a lot of shaping work you have to case harden it if it is to last.

    In most cases there is a way without welding. Before doing any work I carefully scribe around the part on a piece of flat metal to have a record in its as-is condition.

    For hammer notches I cut into the notch area and solder in a piece of steel to replace the worn area. For the full cock notch it can be a piece of spring steel, old saw blade, etc. I try to do the cut an eighth inch or more deep. I make the piece to be installed oversize and big enough to handle and solder it in with low-temp silver bearing solder. Then it is shaped to what it needs to be by referring to our scribing. My sketch may make this a bit clearer.

    This solder has about 3% silver and is many times stronger than the usual soft solder. It solders at about the same temp as common 50-50 solder which will not affect the temper of your hard steel inset. It may come as a wire with flux core or with separate flux bottle.

    For half-cock notches, you need overhang to keep the sear from pulling off. You can either cant the cut you make for the inset or make it of thicker material so you will have enough to file the overhang notch.

    Sear repair is basically the same. Make your scribe record. Then cut into the end of the sear, install the inset piece and rework it to the scribe shape.

    You may have to anneal the hammer or sear so you can saw it. That need not matter because the wearing areas are being replaced by your insets.

    Before starting I usually do a little sketch of how the finished work wants to look. That gives an opportunity to plan just how you want to do your cuts.

    In the old days, little pistols with spur triggers had a tiny flat spring for trigger return. Rather than make one, I usually just drill a little hole and install a coil spring. Cigarette lighters have a long flint pusher spring about .080 to .095" dia. that is ideal to make several pieces for this kind of job.

    Notes: In recent years files coated with diamond dust have become affordable. They will easily cut the hardest steel. Higher temp silver solder can also be used with the above method. It just takes more heat.

    Kid Gun Fixing - and Later

    This is mostly from the 1930s - not examples of gunsmithing.

    My first pistol fix was a .32 S&W top break with spur trigger. I found it in a wash tub of old dishes and kitchen utensils left in a vacant house. My precious find had the trigger spring broken. Not a problem, just stuff in sponge rubber behind the trigger - worked fine. Today I drill a hole behind the spring and put in a piece of the little coil spring you find in cigarette lighters that push the flint up.

    My uncle left a .22 Colt Police Positive almost worn out. It wouldn't line up with the bore even when the trigger was pulled all the way. I had made an electric arc torch using drycell carbons and an old battery charger for power. I could braze with it and would add brass on the hand to give length. It worked but not for long. Wear required doing it again. Eventually I got a new hand and star from Stoegers. Made a halfway decent shooter after I had a machinist thread a piece of rifle barrel so I could have a barrel with rifling in it.

    Cold blue in the bottle existed in the late '30s but it was something you had to buy. On our kitchen stove I did heat bluing using the top burners or the oven if it was a whole pistol. I still use the kitchen oven now and then for blueing and tempering big springs. The temperature is 560 F for either. We tried to 'park' a kids .32 Colt auto using phosphoric acid from the highschool lab and his mother's cast aluminum broiler. The gun turn out a sick looking green - which was nothing compared with his Mom's broiler that we ruined.

    When a gun wouldn't stand cocked we just filed the hammer notches deeper. When a sear or trigger was too short, Colt SAA for example, we ground away some of the side of it and brazed on a strip of hacksaw blade to give it length. An improvement of that idea still works - to retain originality in a historic piece, I shortened the trigger further and ground a slot down into it to receive a piece of spring steel, silver soldered it in, then reshaped it to original.

    I fixed the split fore end on a .22 using cross pegs and model airplane glue - not the greatest success. Today probably epoxy.

    In the 1930s there was no info available and even less resources so in almost every case it was just make-do.

    Bluing Small Parts

    We know about heat blue of screw heads, etc, where an instant too long will pass the critical blue point. I had a batch of screws and pins from an old automatic I was restoring as a collection piece. With a stroke of genius (maybe just a stroke) I polished them and put them in a little pan I made from bottom of a tin can. I covered the parts with Brownell's Black Epoxy Dye. Placed it straddle the jaws of the vise and heated it with my Mapp gas torch till the powder started turning gray.

    Let cool and cleaned I had beautiful charcoal blue. Seems easy and fool proof. Used couple tablespoons of the stuff.

    Not recco for springs or other heat treated parts due probable elevated temp.

    Another Method
    Polish the part, place it in the small metal tray used for tempering springs, add a little oil, heat from below till the oil catches fire, let the oil burn off,x clean and burnish.

    Some experimenting on junk parts before doing a 'job' will be time well spent.

    Restoration Costs?

    It would be a good thing for the collector community to define 'restoration', probably in a, b, c & d levels to deal with extent. For a large frame automatic there can be 10 to 20 hours prep time plus refinishing time and costs. Revolvers can take more time.

    Badly pitted slides will need surface prep which removes the markings as well as the pitting. Then the lettering etc has to be replaced plus blueing.

    In a lot of cases the gun isn't worth that expense. The owner would get out cheaper to just sell the gun and buy one in nice condition. Various factors affect such a conclusion such as collectibility of the gun in question, emotional involvement as with heirlooms, etc.

    A skilled restorer will want from $20 to $50 per hour or more depending on his part of the country and how hungry he is. My experience with replacing markings and blue can run from $250 to $500 depending on whether the markings are laser etched or physcally impressed and the type of blueing used.

    Spring Weld

    I had a small modern repro derringer with mainspring broken at the elbow. Beautifully made piece, one of a cased pair. I did my usual weld repair, carefully re-fitted the spring and re-tempered it. It broke first try - maybe my second or third spring failure in 30 years.

    I decided the spring must have been made of some modern alloy steel rather than basic carbon steel, which responded differently to my temper method. So I made a carbon steel (SAE 1095) duplicate of the broken piece, welded it in place, tempered it and it worked as planned. A learning experience. This particular spring was about quarter inch wide and .050" thick at the weld point.

    The flex part of the spring can not be welded and retempered due to the heat of the weld destroying the carbon content. So I weld at the part where it is static, that part of the spring that positions and holds the flexing portion.

    For this kind of fix, I taper the attach area so that there is a "fulcrum" about quarter inch away from the actual weld which is at the elbow. With the fulcrum point distanced from the actual weld, normal tempering works. This in effect shortens the spring somewhat which would give it more spring force and possibly over-tax its strength. I carefully thin the spring either in thickness or width (or both) to relieve its tension.

    As described above, I have usually made the new piece I weld on. That is much easier and quicker than making an entire spring. In a few instances I have cut the desired piece off another old spring.

    I use a MIG welder which produces a local heat. In the past I used stick arc welder doing the same kind of repair on big mainsprings for military pieces. Gas welding is slow and might produce too much general heat.

    For SAE 1095 steel, called clock spring steel, one heats it to red and quenches it in oil. I use SAE 30 oil. Then I put about a teaspoon of same oil in a small pan made from the bottom of a tin can, put in the hard spring, heat the underneath enough to get the oil to burn - and let it burn off. When it cools, I have my spring. There are a lot of sources for spring steel material. I also make springs of old kitchen knife blades and old carpenter saws, they can be quenched in water. Old files are a source of spring steel too. I once made a spring almost quarter inch thick for a wheel lock from an old file.

    SPRINGS General Info

    This is about springs you usually have to make because you can't buy a replacement. We deal here with carbon steel springs, typical in old guns. This is certainly not the only way and may not be the best way but it has worked for me for 50 years. Be sure to do some trial runs to gain experience with it before attacking your first serious spring job. Time and effort in experimenting and learning is rewarded by skill and confidence gained.

    A few basics:
    1. We anneal or soften steel by heating it to red and allowing it to cool. The usual steel with enough carbon to make a spring will be quite soft. Higher carbon content steel won't get as soft.
    2. We harden steel by heating to red and quenching, which is to say by plunging it into water while it is red hot and allowing it to cool there - a few seconds at least. High carbon steel such as SAE 1095 or clock spring steel is quenched in oil to avoid exposure to breakage in use. I use #30 motor oil, whether high carbon on not. Iron, without the carbon in it, will not harden by heating and quenching.
    3. Tempering makes the spring, reducing the hardness somewhat and makes it flexible. Bringing the hardened spring to 560 degrees Fahrenheit will temper it. Steel changes color with temprature and 560 degrees F is a deep blue. The best way to temper is by using an oven that assures accurate temperature control. Since I don't have one, here are the other ways I do it.

    If you are careful enough with your propane torch you can temper your spring by color. You want the deep heat blue like that seen on heat blued screw heads, etc. After it is quenched and glass hard, you carefully clean it enough to plainly see the bare metal. Then carefully heat it with your torch. preferably in shaded daylight, until it is all the same color of blue. Allow to cool. If it is all the same color of deep blue you will have tempered it. If any of it shows a straw or lighter color it is too hard and will break rather than flex. If the color goes beyond blue to light blue or gray, it will have lost much, most or all of its flex and be too soft and will bend. Mastering this takes some skill, experience and judgment. Experiment and learn.

    I had to temper a mainspring I made for a French wheel lock, about 7" long. After heating and quenching in oil, I cleaned and put it into the kitchen oven, set the temp to a bit over its max and hoped for the best. After half an hour I looked at it an found it to be a beautiful blue.

    Most springs up to about 3"+ long, I temper by burning oil. I make a little dish or tray from a food can, cut off to leave the bottom with about half inch of the sides. I beat it to flatten the bottom so oil will not tend to collect around the edges. I set it bridging my vise jaws leaving the bottom exposed. In the little dish I put a half teaspoon or less of #30 oil, put in my hardened spring and heat from below. The heat is with my propane or mapp gas torch to get the oil to vaporize and soon catch fire. Just keep enough heat to make the oil burn off - without allowing your torch flame to touch your spring. When the oil is all burned away, leave it to cool. You then have a spring. A follow-on note; I have often read that as soon as the oil is burned away, the spring should be quickly put into a covering of insulation and allow to cool for hours. I have never done that and have had maybe 3 spring failures in 40 years, out of dozens I have made, none of them from tempering..

    Tiny very thin springs always gave me a problem. I finally got results in tempering by polishing a piece of sheet steel, usually about .050" thick, a couple inches bigger than the spring. I place my hardened spring on it and slowly heat it from below till it turns blue. Slowly heating is important so the spring can take on the heat of the sheet it is setting on. My latest use of this was making springs from .030" wire, in a form something like a safety pin, with the center making a full curl, the ends shaped to fit the work.

    Another tempering method for thin springs is to put quarter teaspoon of alcohol in a small dish (maybe a 2" diameter jar lid), set it burning and hold the part in the flame. Alcohol burns with no smoke and its easy to see the color change. As with most other procedures, some experiment to
    gain experience is helpful.

    Some general comments: You can buy spring stock from suppliers. Just be sure it is carbon spring steel if you plan to use these procedures. I collect carbon steel in the form of old kitchen knives, old files, old carpenter hand saws, most any cutting tools from early 1900s or before. I anneal as needed, cut, grind, file, bend (hot or cold) to shape my spring and temper them. If you use a file as spring stock, be sure to file or grind away all trace of the original file surface. Crosswise scratches, etc, on a finished spring propagate early failure.

    A few simple tests: Grinding on a bench grinder will produce sparks; iron with little carbon throws streaks with a few 'stars', the higher the carbon the more the streaks and the more 'stars'. Try this a few times to demonstrate. Heat and quench a piece of your proposed spring material. If it can be filed, or it will bend and not break, it won't make a spring. Conversely if it gets glass hard and brittle it probably is good for making a spring. Heat, quench and do one of the tempering methods on a piece of your stock as a trial. An example, I had to make a spring almost quarter inch thick. For material I used an old file. To be sure of it I annealed, cut off a suitable test strip, ground off the filing surface, hardened and did my oil-pan procedure (above). It withstood all the tests I could give it. The point of this is that it takes a lot of work to craft a spring and it is a waste if the spring material is not right in the first place.


    This is about simple carbon steel, which is iron with only carbon added. Other steels and most modern steels also have some content of other metals in them such as chromium, molybdenum, nickel etc. to enhance specific characteristics.

    Case hardening is usually done to low carbon steels to make it hard on the outside when the carbon content of the steel is not sufficient, or not wanted, to harden throughout. I do it in my home shop using a product called Kasenit. I heat the part to red, push it into the Kasenit powder, take it out and keep it red for half a minute or so, letting the powder 'cook' and bubble, then quench it in water.

    The 'cased' exterior is glass hard and the inside condition depends on how much carbon is in its steel. Obviously, if you case harden higher carbon steel, the interior could be glass hard too with probable brittleness.

    Carbon content determines what kind of heat treatment can be effective. Any carbon steel can be hardened somewhat by heating red hot and quenching in water. This hardness can give strength and can cause brittleness. Up to a practical point, the more carbon, the more the steel reacts to heating and quenching.

    Higher carbon steels are used to make springs, chisels, punches, etc. If you want to make a spring, you can often find suitable steel from old carpenter saws, carbon kitchen knives, files, etc. To make a spring you first anneal (soften) the steel by heating red and allow to cool slowly, not quenched. You then make your spring, fit and shape it, then heat and quench it. It is now hard as glass and brittle. So to "temper", I put my hard spring in a metal dish in a half teaspooon of motor oil, heat it from below till the oil catches fire and burns off. Allowed to cool in air, I have my spring. I have tempered springs in the kitchen oven by turning up to max to get the 560F degrees, watching/knowing that its temper is right when it turn deep blue.

    If you want to make a tool needing hardness, like a scraper or chisel, you want to polish it after quenching, then slowly heat it till it just begins to turn to a very light brown, let cool in air. Higher temp gives color changes as it changes to spring temp. Further heating softens the temper. It is worth while to note that higher carbon steels such as SAE 1095 (clock spring steel) should be quenched in oil rather than water. Before working on a steel of unknown carbon content, I do a test heat quench and temper to confirm its useful for my project.

    I have used my kitchen oven for tempering large pieces. It is better to use color to judge the temper because the oven thermo temp knob gives only approximate temperatures.

    I tried to write something here that the ordinary person can use with a little experimentation and care. I have some experience in that I have done the above scores of times over the past half century. It would take many pages to delve into the details of this subject.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2012
  7. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA

    You know fixing guns is more than just experience. Mechanisms in modern guns are usually not simple unless you understand the principals. That is what a good gunsmithing education gives you. You get a universal understanding so you can spot the differences in designs and figure out easily how they work. You can be a parts changer or you can understand guns well enough to properly fix them.

    There is a liability in gunsmithing. Do something wrong to a customer's gun and someone gets hurt, and you will find out about lawyers and courts. The fix is to become totally knowledgable about all guns not just specific ones or specific tasks. Only a good gunsmithing education can give you that. That education can be from a resident school or a comprehensive home study course like AGI's master course. It does not come cheap but it is insurance for your future.

    If all you want to do is tinker with guns then hit and miss education is probably just fine but if it is a career you seek you have to put forth effort and money, sometimes lots of it (ask a doctor about that). Go into gunsmithing unprepared and the word will get out after you do a few bad jobs. Today it is hard to find a good gunsmith that does competent work. I know I have yet to find one local to me in several location I have lived in the past 25 years.

    Do it right or not at all. We do not need more gunsmiths that don't really know how to fix guns. We already have plenty of them.

  8. soundguy

    soundguy Well-Known Member

    May 8, 2012
  9. bustedmp

    bustedmp New Member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Shamokin PA.
    I too was looking into gunsmithing schools. I did get an information packet from both AGI, and Penn Foster. I liked the AGI stuff much better. I took on a new job that I only work Friday, Staurday, and Sunday, so I am in need of something to keep me busy the other 4 days of the week. I thought why not look into gunsmithing. That is as far as I got though just looking.
  10. GunHugger

    GunHugger Well-Known Member

    Jul 18, 2007
    SW PA
    And don't forget to figure in the cost of tools and machinery...big cost. It takes a lot of repairs to pay for it all, many years worth. Well actually you are never done buying tools and equipment and maintaining what you have.
  11. soundguy

    soundguy Well-Known Member

    May 8, 2012
    sounds like restoring tractors! never done buying tools!
  12. Treeman53

    Treeman53 Member

    Aug 30, 2009
    Fairview, Pa
    I happen to be thinking of getting rid of my tractors in order to get more guns!
  13. soundguy

    soundguy Well-Known Member

    May 8, 2012
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