January 29, 2022
By Robert Dunn
Gunsmith, GCA Community Moderator
When I was a kid, going out for the evening with my family was a special occasion. Two of the things that we would always do is go to the Public Library to search for books and then head to the gun store, as they were down the street from one another. So, I guess from an early age, I began to associate the two events together because many of the books that I would get from the library were books about guns and weapons. By the time we got to the gun store, it was usually around closing time for them, so we would look around for a while and my Dad would buy a box of shotgun shells or maybe some reloading components. I remember that it was almost painful to see the long line of rifles and shotguns and not being able to bring one of them home! Once back home, I must be honest, I looked at the photos in the books far more than I ever read them.
My Dad would give me his Gun Digest books and Shooter’s Bibles when he was finished reading them. I would go from page to page and dog ear the pages that had photos of my favorite guns in hope that one day, I would own them. Some things never change, as I still read aand collect books and about 98% of them are firearms related. Some of these firearms books simply have beautiful photos of beautiful guns and some are about the history and development of firearms but most of my books are directly related to Gunsmithing. To some folks, that might seem like I have very narrow field of interests, but in reality that could not be farther from the truth. To the educated, Gunsmithing encompasses an extremely wide range of interests and skill sets!
When I think about Gunsmithing, my topics of interest actually include; woodworking and stockmaking, metallurgy and heat treating, blacksmithing and forging, gun collecting and appraising, checkering, engraving, physics, mechanics, design, function and repair, ballistics, ammunition reloading, lead casting, machining, welding, barrel making, rifling and Gunsmithing itself. With that being said, that opens up a pretty big window of books to select from. My goal in this article is to narrow the selection down to what I view as the quintessential books to own that will be of great service to your Gunsmithing career and education.
I would like to start by recommending a book written by the President of the American Gunsmithing Institute, Gene Kelly. The name of the book is Becoming an American Gunsmith; Your Path to Personal Freedom & Financial Security. There is a lot of information packed into this little book, such as; how to become a Certified Gunsmith, the concept of Design, Function & Repair and how these concepts will enable you to repair firearms, how to set up your shop, what tools you will need to get started, what you need to know to become a Gunsmith as well as some other valuable resources.
The next two books are biographical, but I think that they are important, as they will provide Gunsmithing inspiration to both the budding Gunsmith and the seasoned professional. The first book, John M. Browning: American Gunmaker, is about one of the greatest firearms inventors and gunmakers that the world has ever known, John Moses Browning! The book tells the story of John Browning growing up and becoming a gunsmith and inventor from an early age and documents many of John’s accomplishments throughout his life.
The next book, P.O. Ackley America’s Gunsmith, is was written by Fred Zeglin, Gunsmith and American Gunsmithing Institute Instructor. This extensively researched book about Ackley’s ideas on reloading, wildcat development, cartridge choices, rifle accuracy, barrel making and his life as a Gunsmith will prove to be inspirational to anyone that has an interest in Gunsmithing. .
The next book that I would like to recommend is actually a gun parts book that contain hundreds of firearms schematics that will help you from everything from finding and purchasing specific gun parts, to giving you a look into how guns go together by reading the schematics. This book is extremely useful in aiding both the disassembly and assembly of many models of firearms, including handguns, shotguns and rifles/carbines.
Along the same lines of receiving insight on the assembly of various models of firearms, The Official NRA Guide to Firearms Assembly is another resource that will save time and frustration when trying to put the dreaded bag of gun parts that customers like to bring Gunsmiths when they have given up hope of ever getting the gun back together themselves! These books have detailed exploded views and illustrations, as well as interesting history and data. This handy two volume set of books can be purchased directly from the National Rifle Association at this link .
The next few books are published by Brownells and they will be an asset to any Gunsmithing book collection. First off, a lot of information about gunsmithing tools and products can be learned by simply reading a Brownells catalog. The information describing the various Gunsmithing tools and products gives you a clear understanding of what the product does. The Brownells catalogs are another invaluable book that is a must have for any Gunsmith. I have described the catalog as my longest wish list of Gunsmithing tools! The Brownell family has contributed a lot to the Gunsmithing community over the decades and if you like tips and tricks, these Brownells books will save you hours of experimenting. I would suggest purchasing the 4 volume set of Gunsmith Kinks books! These books will put a smile on your face, as they are filled with humor and great advice.
The next Brownells book on the must have list is The Encyclopedia of Modern Firearms, which contains 1600 exploded views, blue prints, cutaway photos and drawings to help you in your Gunsmithing journey. When you are working on a gun and find that you are missing a part, many times the gun itself will tell you the dimensions that are needed to fabricate a gun part for instance a revolver’s hand or pawl. Other times, you will be hard pressed in figuring out what the missing part looks like.
Well, this next book, LeeRoy Wisner’s Handbook of Hard-to-Find Gun Parts Drawings, is written by Wisner and published by Brownells and it is a rare and hard to find book! This book is such a time saver when it comes to fabricating unknown gun parts, it is a must have for the working Gunsmith. You might have luck finding it on ebay or on amazon.com and when you find it, I would recommend buying it, because it won’t still be there in the morning!
If you are in search of technical specs and other insightful information about Gunsmithing and working on specific models of firearms, Jerry Kuhnhausen’s collection of Shop Manuals that he wrote are a fine resource. Everything from history to specifications to trouble shooting and repairs can be found in the Kuhnhausen book series.
There is a two volume set of books by James Howe entitled The Modern Gunsmith Volume I and Volume II. These books were a part of my Dad’s collection and served to challenge my abilities from the time I was a kid. These books have great information on a lot of pertinent Gunsmithing topics, such as; tools and handmade tools and their usage, selection of wood for gun stocks, designing and laying out a gun stock, stock bedding, checkering, laminating, heat treating, engraving, soldering, brazing and welding, repairing firearms, machine shop tools, principles of steel, barrel making, etc. This set of books can be found at various used book shops online and they show up on ebay.com periodically.
If you wanted to know more about English Double barreled shotguns, I would suggest W.W. Greener’s book, The Gun and its Development. This book has interesting chapters on the history and development of firearms, but it really showcases the shotgun technology of the 19th Century, especially in England. This is a very informative book and a great resource for old world shotguns.
Another excellent book that you can’t do without is Small Arms of the World by Walter H.B. Smith and older editions by Edward Clinton Ezell. This is an excellent reference book and though it is primarily a military small arms book, it does include some civilian designs. There are at least 12 editions of this book and they differ from one another, so owning a few different copies is recommended.
I think that it is important to understand reloading, cartridges/calibers and ballistics if you are a Gunsmith and there are a few books in this are that I would recommend. The first books is Metallic Cartridge Handloading; Pursuit of the Perfect Cartridge written by Mic McPherson. This is a very well written book that covers everything about reloading handgun and rifle cartridges plain and simple. I highly recommend this book.
Advanced Gunsmithing, by W.F.Vickery is another book that should be included on every Gunsmith’s bookshelf! This book is indeed a classic and the extended title of this books says it all, “A Manual of Instruction in the Manufacture, Alteration and Repair of Firearms in-so-far as the Necessary Metal Work with hand and Machine tools is Concerned”. I am pleased to own Bob Dunlap’s first edition publishing of the book from 1940! I cherish this book and the information that is contained within its pages.
The next book is a must have for any Gunsmith and it is an often overlooked book written in 1948 by Julian Hatcher, The Hatcher’s Notebook. Just reading about the author’s accomplishments in the beginning of the book is enough provide inspiration to one’s career in the firearms industry. This book contains great information about the development of ballistics. There is a lot of information about both automatic and semi-auto weapons, barrels, headspace, recoil, ammunition and much more.
I must also recommend the Blue Book of Gun Values by S. P. Fjestad for anyone who is interested in Gunsmithing. The most recent edition is 42 and it contains over 2,500 pages of information. This is a must have book because it is smart to know the value of the firearms that you are working on and though you may not have the desire to become a full time firearms appraiser, you will inevitably be asked the value of various firearms that are brought into your shop for repair.
There are so many more books about firearms and their designs that will help you in your Gunsmithing career, but what is listed above are the ones that I would buy first for my library. In Part #2 of this ongoing series of blogs about Gunsmithing books, I will discuss more specific books in regard to the various manufacturers of the firearms themselves. There are specific books about Winchester rifles, Springfield rifles, Marlin firearms, Mausers, Garands and more recently about the ominous assault weapons like the AK-47 and M16 rifles and their semi-auto civilian models. Part #3 in this blog series will be about the sub topics of Gunsmithing, for instance; stock making/wood working, checkering, engraving, heat treating, barrel making, muzzleloaders, machining, welding, etc. The above list of Gunsmithing books represent a wealth of information and will definitely put you on the right path for learning more and more about Gunsmithing!