From King's To CAD/CAM
Last week a local gunsmith died. Trapper has long been the go-to-guy in this area for a customized, combat ready 1911, AR15 or 870. His various entities have been known as TTI, Trapper's Triangle, and Yellow Tavern. A friend has one of his 870s and I used him years ago to cut and recrown the barrel on a 700 Remington and to refinish an AR15. There will always be a need for folks to refinish and repair guns, and even to do some customization, but is there still a need for the guy who can turn a standard 1911 into a combat or competition-ready weapon?
Back in the early 80s, if you wanted a 1911, you pretty much got a surplus GI one or a Colt Gov't model. If you wanted it tuned up, you either sent it to King's or Pachmayer, or else you ordered parts from them and did it yourself or with your local gunsmith. If you waited until the early 90s, Cylinder & Slide, Ed Brown, or a few other nationally known ones could do the work for you. During all that time, if you wanted an AR15, you got a Colt, and customization was pretty much limited to sticking some optics on top. And then came Kimber.
Kimber was known for their target grade .22 rifles. Then they figured out that computers and machines could do the work of skilled artisans, and they produced a factory 1911 that had all the bells and whistles of a custom shop special... at half the price of a basic Colt Gov't model. After the so-called assault weapons ban went away in 2003, manufacturers started using the computers and machines to make AR15 variants. Today, you can buy off the shelf, anything from an original design 1911 to a 2011 race gun from dozens of makers. You can also buy AR15s in any caliber and any configuration from dozens of makers as well. Both of these guns can be had in every price range.
Do we still need custom shops to trick out and slick up our combat weaponry? I don't know, but I'd like to think so. There is a long tradition of them, dating back to sporterized Mausers, Enfields and Springfields. Retro smithy's work on six-guns and lever actions for the SASS crowd. The 1911 is a hundred year old design and the AR15 is crowding 50... neither has any end in sight. Who knows what new designs lurk in our future? I'm guessing that many of them will also need customization.