Demand for the gunsmithing trade
BY Sarah smith
Roy Holland isn’t sure his mid-life career switch was a calling or response to a growing and unfilled need.
In either case, the Park Rapids gunsmith is going gangbusters this time of year.
He’s had to set aside the pistols and shotguns to concentrate on hunting rifles.
“It helps to be crazy,” the genial man laughs. “It’s like jumping off a cliff. There’s a lot of demand for the service.”
While working at L&M Fleet Supply, Holland said he knew about six excellent gunsmiths that had recently retired and he urged them “to get back in the game” when customer demand seemed to outpace supply.
When he got no response he stepped forward.
“I understand why they retired now,” he said with a wry grin.
He began home study courses through the American Gunsmith Institute and became certified to repair general guns and handguns.
He tends to understate and underrate the importance of his services.
“I clean, inspect and repair parts,” he shrugged. “Like someone who services a car.”
But he grudgingly acknowledges that there is artistry and a certain ornate quality about working on older guns. He’s not an artist, he maintains, but a craftsman.
He’s also adept at the ever-necessary search for parts, some purchased in Europe.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to get them there,” he said of the hunt for parts.
And because European markets are more bureaucratic and oppressive, he must wade through red tape sometimes, he said.
Holland is certified through the federal government, but contracts his work through Smokey Hills Outdoors Store in Park Rapids.
There, he has a ready supply of prototypes that he can use for research purposes. He uses them as standards to measure tolerances.
Last year he repaired 300 guns, he estimated. He works half- to three-quarter time.
If a customer brings him a gun, “I try to get it done within a week,” unless the search for parts lengthens the time.
Some weapons can be fixed in a day.
Holland has made a significant investment in the tools he uses, which he considers more priceless than many of the actual guns he works on.
Under federal law, he must keep a detailed log book of everything he repairs – no cash under the table jobs. The feds can inspect his log books any time and yank his certification if they aren’t up to snuff.
He belongs to a network of senior gunsmiths and occasionally taps into it for advice or to send along repairs he thinks someone else may be more qualified to do.
“I send the really challenging work” out, he said. He calls it “cooperative repair.”
The Laporte native has hunted small game most of his life, but has also hunted deer.
He’s learning about gun cultures in America and abroad and prefers the domestic market.
Gun ownership is a macho culture ingrained in generations. Male gun owners tend not to admit they know little about their weapons, he said. It’s a matter of pride.
But ignorance is expensive.
“The most neglected guns I have (for repairs) are the most expensive,” he lamented. “Guns can malfunction horribly if not maintained.”
Most guns he’s taken in are filthy and the safeties don’t work, he said. That’s a dangerous situation.
Female gun owners seem more open to assistance, admitting they don’t know much about guns.
“It secures the woman’s future,” he said, having a working weapon. “I find that very rewarding.
Guns, especially those used in the north country of Minnesota, should be cleaned every time they’re out in the field, Holland suggests. Minnesota has “fine dust and pollen and pine tree pollen that plugs up trigger groups,” Holland said. New and old guns both show dust and pollen clogging.
Guns “tell tales of sorrow, woe and horror,” he said. “They’re historical because of where they’ve been and what it’s done. There’s some drama in it.”
And guns appreciate in value, he said, “better than a 401(k). The value holds or grows.”
The only dissonance in his career sounds at times when he can repair an old gun while Smokey Hills staff would rather sell a new one to the same customer.
And the best time for those repairs? Mid-winter.