This week, I continued in the AGI gunsmithing course, focusing on pistolsmithing. I’m really enjoying the course, though it is considerably different that what I had expected.
Call From Gene Kelley
Interestingly enough, I received a call from Gene Kelley, the president of AGI, to talk about the past articles and where I was going with the article series. Gene is a really nice guy, though obviously a driven person. The conversation only lasted a few minutes, but it’s worth noting that I did not receive pressure from him to say nice things about the course.
One thing that he did ask me to clarify was that AGI positions itself to compete against the brick and mortar schools rather than other online schools. While I have no experience with other online schools, I have had some dealings with brick and mortar schools, and I would tend to agree with his assessment that his course competes very effectively with them. At this point, I would have to admit that the intellectual knowledge passed on through the primary instructor– Bob Dunlap– is far superior to any other gunsmith (or gunsmithing school instructor) that I have had an opportunity to converse with.
The only real drawback is that you don’t have someone who hands you the next gun to work on. You’re going to have to do the legwork yourself to gain access to lots of firearms. But let’s face it; if you want to be a self-employed person, you’re gonna have to do this kind of legwork anyways.
Methods Used To Teach
I’m beginning to grasp the methods that are being used to teach too. Much of the functionality is common between firearms, and you really do need to follow the course DVDs in the order presented, as instructors build upon and continue to refer to previous videos. When Bob is profiling a new firearm, he often does not repeat instructions that he has previously given but rather tells you what video you need review in order to get that concept. I like that approach, as you have access to those videos and time is not wasted repeating things that you may not need. If you do need a refresher, you can always go grab that specific video. Now, we’ll move on to the course…
Single Action Revolvers
After a short section that finished up some of the automatic pistols, the course then shifted to single action revolvers. I’m not really familiar with revolvers, as I have always preferred semi-automatics. However, they are popular in this area of the country. Cowboy Action shooting is very popular here, so single actions will be critical to understand if I’m going to do this full time.
My Unfamiliarity With Revolvers
My unfamiliarity with the revolvers hit me big time though. I had to watch and rewatch much of this week’s videos multiple times to get a full understanding of the design and function of the inner workings. That turned my 10 hours of video into nearly 30 hours. Just watching the videos was nearly a full-time job, and that was before I started working on the firearms themselves.
One thing that struck me was just how fragile revolvers were. I had always thought of them as very robust firearms, but I was completely taken back by how easy it was to mistreat them and have them get out of alignment. In particular, the yoke really surprised me, not just in how easy it came out of alignment but how easy it was to put it back in alignment. While the work was easy, you definitely need to know what you are doing, because it’s easy to take it too far and damage the gun.
Things You Shouldn’t Do
Their operation is finicky as well, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I’ve seen many people work on their own revolvers over the years, and Bob was very careful to explain the things that you really shouldn’t do. (These are things I’ve seen done many times by many people, too.) A well tuned revolver is truly a piece of artwork and should be treated as such.
Colt Single Actions
The colt single actions were the primary guns talked about in this section. Bob carefully detailed every single piece, going over how it was designed and how it functioned. After detailing the parts, he then moved into repairing and tuning the revolvers. What struck me was how, unlike semi-autos, all of the pieces were interrelated and how adjusting one part caused problems in another area that you had to address. There was no such thing as a simple trigger job.
Bob showed how all of the adjustments on the parts interacted, and he explained which actions to take first and in what order to do them so that you minimized the effort required to repair them. In many cases, changing a part dimension by a mere two thousandths of an inch can mean the difference between the revolver working and not working.
Bob was also careful to point out that many of the parts were case hardened, but the hardening was only four to five thousands of an inch thick. If you filed through that hardening, you were buying a new part.
Double Action Revolvers
Smith & Wesson
After finishing the single action revolvers, the course moved into double action revolvers. Similar to the move from single action semi-autos to double action, the complexity of the parts went up, along with the functions that they performed. However, the basics were still the same. I found the hammer/sear relationship fascinating on a double action revolver and watched that section of the video many times.
The only revolver that I own is a Smith & Wesson Model 686. It doesn’t get shot much, and I didn’t know that much about it. I kept it around simply to have a firearm that fired .38 special and .357 magnum. I was disappointed to find out how poorly I had taken care of it and how far out of tune it was. It still worked, but it was obvious that it wasn’t performing as well as it should have.
Using the data in this course, I was able to retune it to perfection. I have yet to take it out to the range and shoot with it, but the mechanical workings sure are smooth now.
The Chiappa Rhino double action revolver was placed in this series, and it just happened to fall as the last firearm I covered this week. I was unable to obtain a sample of this revolver to work on. Most had never even heard of it, but it was covered in detail. I must say that this revolver seems to break one of the trends of firearms. As firearm design progresses, things tend to get simpler and more reliable. Not so in the Rhino.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a firearm with inner workings as complicated at this gun seemed to be. There were linkages and levers everywhere. This looked like a firearm that had been designed by committee in an age where every conceivable safety device could be built in. While it was fascinating to see it taken apart, it definitely stands out as a firearm that I don’t want to own.
S&W Police Special
I had access to one S&W Police Special that I particular enjoyed working on this week. The customer asked for it to be tuned, but he had also engraved his name and social security number on the trigger guard. This was a common practice back before the SSN was used as a common identity number. I do remember my grandfather engraving his name and SSN on all of his tools, and the police often encouraged people to do this back then. It was a method that discouraged theft (or at least that was the story). It certainly made recovery easier. Fast forward 50 years and you definitely don’t want to do this now. Identity theft has become such a problem that you don’t want that SSN hanging out there any more than it must.
The customer asked if I would remove the engraving for him. He had engraved it himself with a vibratory electric carbide engraver, and it was obviously detracting from the beauty of the gun. I used a 120 grit sanding drum  on my new Foredom flex shaft tool  to remove the bulk of the disturbed metal. The rotary tool made it very simple to keep the trigger guard profile nice and rounded. I then moved to a 180 grit flexible sanding disk  to smooth it out and subsequently used the rubber profile bits  with an embedded abrasive to finish it off. I don’t know what grit the abrasive on these bits is, but it seems to be in the 400 grit range.
It did a beautiful job of taking the finish to a satin sheen. I did have to go back and repeat the process at this point twice, as it became apparent where the engraving tool had bitten deeper than I thought. Still, it only took about 10 minutes to bring it back to the satin finish. As a final touch, I used a felt polishing wheel with polishing compound to bring it to a shine to match the rest of the gun. Overall, I’m pleased with the results, and it only took about 25 minutes in total to remove the engraving. You can’t even tell it was there now.
I did order some Birchwood Casey Super Blue  to refinish the trigger guard. I had to repeat this treatment twice. The instructions required that the metal be scrubbed with fine steel wool  between applications, and all I had on hand was some fine scotchbrite . The thinking was that the scotchbrite would not be as aggressive as the steel wool, but I was wrong. I had to go back and repolish, then reapply the bluing compound. The second time I used steel wool, as suggested, and was very satisfied with the results. If you look close, you can tell that the bluing doesn’t quite match the original hot blue on the gun, but it’s not bad, and when oiled, the characteristic blotchiness of the cold blue process pretty much fades away.
General Condition of Revolvers
I think that revolvers are becoming a lost art though. I noticed that every single revolver I looked at was completely out of tune, with many of them having timing issues. Without exception, the yoke was out of alignment, and most were out of range as well. Only one revolver that came in was even remotely close to clean. I’d be interested to find out from those who work on these if that is normal or just unique to the area where I live. Even the revolvers that I looked at in gun shops and pawn shops were all out of alignment.
Next week, I get to cover the Colt Python, along with a number of other manufactures. I’m looking forward to that.
[Editors Note: This week AGI is running a sale with up to 40% on many products.}
The American Gunsmithing Institute  (AGI) is a DVD/distance learning educational source that specializes in gunsmithing. They offer programs in professional and practical gunsmithing, welding, machine shop including instruction on the lathe, vertical mill and general machine shop. In addition to the complete gunsmithing course, they also offer informational DVDs on specific firearms and armor’s courses for some popular firearms. If you are interested in taking any of the courses or just learning about them, you can request information online or just call them at 1-800-997-9404.