D’Arcy Echols is a professional gunsmith and studied gunsmithing and graduated from the Colorado School of Trades. He built rifles by day in his own gun shop and was an instructor teaching the stockmaking course by night for CST. Echols gave the CST students a presentation of his involvement in gunsmithing over the past 30 years and evolving the role of the custom rifle maker.
Just before the Memorial Day Weekend I spent a day at the Colorado School of Trades giving three one and half hour presentations to the student body. I am a graduate of the School of Trades and was also an instructor for three years while I lived in Denver. I built rifles in my shop during the day and taught in the Stocking Making Dept. at night. I do remember having to monitor approximately 60 stocks being made at any given time as a real challenge. It was also a great learning experience for me to keep all those balls in the air. I don’t remember having to sleep at that age.
The core of my presentation was geared towards my involvement in the trade for the past three decades and the evolving role of the Custom Rifle Maker today. I also addressed the past, current and future outlook for someone wanting to enter this profession from my point of view. My intentions were to ladle out the some honest realities for those in attendance.
The Power Point Presentation contained 115 images that visually walked through many of the procedures used to build both my Legend and Classic Rifles. I discussed a variety of themes in regard to form, function, accuracy and marketing. I touched on the importance engineering, design, jigs, fixtures and techniques required for this line of work and how the majority of this tooling would need to be made as it would never be found in a Brownells or Midway catalog. While brief at best, the subject matter did give the audience a glimmer of what to expect in this profession. I can assure you it was not all peaches and cream. I hope it clued up and gave insight to some of those in attendance that may want to travel this same road. In the words of Angus & Brian Young “It’s a long way to the top if you want to Rock & Roll”.
During a break for lunch I walked onto the floor and as usual made a nuisance of myself. One thing was apparent and that was the administration had elected to step up and invest in some very nice equipment for the students. I was impressed with the machine improvements, noting the addition of CNC machining centers and a CAD design area set aside for the students to design a part in Solidworks, program the part and then make that part. The welding section has wisely gone to teaching the use of TIG, a paint booth was in place for painting fiberglass stocks and they hope to install an oven for baking Cerakote soon.
Walking among the benches it was apparent that little had changed in regard to the “hands on”part of the education. A lot of ground was being covered, as elbows and hands shaped, bent, beat, blended and transformed blocks of steel, wood and various synthetics into the finished projects. I didn’t see anything at that time that looked as if it needed life support which is a testament to the instructors.
I do feel that these trade schools should be much longer in duration akin to those in the Europe but the educational systems and funding are radically different in each case. Apparently most graduates will be hired by companies such as Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, etc, others will become employed by smaller sporting goods stores or independent gun shops while a few others are considering traveling as contract armorer’s for the military. I wonder if I could get a gig checkering M-24’s ?
I have stopped and visited CST every so often to make sure it was still there, looked, smelled and sounded the same. It does and I still feel a connection to this institution. For me it was the key to the door that has carried me a long way. My hat is off the administration, instructors and students and I thank them for their recent hospitality and interest.