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To illustrate the point, he pulled down from his walls a 19th-century British shotgun and a famed Civil War-era Smith carbine. “Just look at some of this, look at the finish, that’s what I’m talking about,” he said. “The way the craftsmen built these, that’s what we try to do. You get such a good fit and finish compared to slapping them together like these manufacturers do anymore.”

“Here’s another one of my customs,” Dell said, brandishing a Marlin Model 25 .22-caliber rifle. “This one was very rusty - in fact, I had to file out a lot of the pitting that was in the barrel and reshape the barrel again, and we took it all apart, I filed down everything, polished it back up, sandblasted it and then DuraCoated it.”

Jobs like that can take a couple of weeks, he explained. So can cleaning jobs.

“A lot of times people come in with weapons covered with oil and dirt and dust and it coats the whole gun, you can’t even see how good the finish is underneath it, but we’ll clean them all up,” he said.

Dell said that he’s worked on tens of thousands of firearms during his career, and prefers working with metal to wood. “Metal is a lot easier,” he said. “Wood, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. The grain grabs your cutters, you can get moisture getting in there and splitting it, you can find rotted areas in the wood or oils that get in that can rot the wood.”

“But that’s all part of the challenge, and that’s enjoyable,” he said, adding that when the truly vintage firearms come through his store, “I just love getting them in my hands. I’ve been handling and cleaning them so long you know what to do, although maybe you take your time and think twice or three times before you do anything. You’ll even take and grind screwdriver bits to exactly match the screws, so there’s a lot more effort that goes into some of these high-end guns.”

Nowadays, Dell considers himself an artisan. “There are less and less gunsmiths,” he said. “It’s a tough skill to learn.”

To that end, Dell said he currently has an opening for an apprentice gunsmith.

“It’s an unpaid position but I put them through a course that I pay for and teach them in here,” Dell explained, “so after a year or a year and a half, they’re a certified gunsmith. The thing is, you can take the course, but unless you have guns to work with on a regular basis, you don’t really retain a whole lot, so that’s why it would be really valuable for someone.”

He also said that his 18-year-old son, under Dell’s tutelage, has been gunsmithing since he was 8, and he’ll “probably be surpassing me in a few years,” so perhaps Dell will be able to hand the family business down to his son someday.

But that day likely isn’t coming soon, because even though Dell has plenty of skill, he doesn’t consider himself a master gunsmith. “There’s always more to learn,” he said. “It’ll never get stale.”

To find out more about the myriad gunsmithing services Tim Dell offers, visit Dell’s Firearm Specialists online at www.dellsgunroom.com.

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