BY: JIM GARDNER
Given your 'druthers, would you choose to go to
a self-taught doctor or one with a prestigious
sheepskin hanging on his wall? Yeah, me too. Like
a lot of things in life, the best way to learn
pistolsmithing is by seeking out qualified
When it comes to gunsmithing pistols, the
short-gun most guys want to learn about is that
ancient artifact from before the Great War, the
ever-popular M1911. Some want to try their hand at
making a living by customizing and repairing the
good old Colt, while others only wish to tune up
their personal guns. Regardless, where do you go
to de-mystify the beast?
Would you like to learn from perhaps the best
.45 man in the country? Or maybe from an
instructor who's been building noteworthy custom
1911s on a full-time basis for nearly 30 years?
How about keeping the class small, say six
students, to insure close personal instruction? At
the end of a five-day class would you feel okay
about taking home a fine custom .45 you built from
the ground up? If all that sounds good to you,
it's time to talk to the man with the moustache.
And that of course is, Bill Laughridge of the
famous Cylinder and Slide shop in Fremont,
Nebraska. Bill's not just a world-renown
pistolsmith, he's a born teacher as well. Classes
are held at his home shop in Fremont and at
several remote locations around the country, and I
recently caught up with him at a class in San
Diego. Asked why he teaches these classes, Bill
"Because there's not a real hunger for
this knowledge. After a lot of requests, I started
with short classes on trigger work. But there were
always guys who wanted to know more, which is how
this class evolved."
There's not much about the old warhorse you
won't learn if you just keep your ears open.
Starting with a stone stock, base model gun (Bill
has very good results with Springfield Armory
pistols), you'll begin by learning how and where
to polish-out took marks to produce that
greasy-smooth "custom gun" feel.
Dirty work comes next, including fitting a
beavertail grip safety, match trigger and long
ejector as well as lowering and flairing the
ejection port. To make that pistol feed
flawlessly, you'll fit and tune the extractor
before shaping and polishing the breech face, as
well as the frame and barrel feed ramps. All done,
just like the big boys.
Clean that pistol spic-n-span then stand by to
learn how to tighten slide to-frame fit, install a
Bar-Sto barrel ("They're the very best,"
says Bill), perform a flawless trigger job, fit up
and ambi-safety and install your choice of Novak
or Bo-Mar sights.
Thinking Cap Anyone?
It's gobs of work, but honestly, that's just
scratching the surface. Not only will you learn
how to accomplish all those jobs (and a lot more);
the best part of the class is in the form of
impromptu lectures from Bill.
Laughridge is a "hands-on" kinda'
guy, and his course outline doesn't include a lot
of long drawn out lectures. Instead he'll have you
at work as soon as your foot makes past the door.
Throughout the day a question or a problem with a
specific pistol will prompt a short but thorough
explanation, and that friend is the time to reach
for your notebook.
Bill's long experience comes through clearly at
those particular moments, and these little nuggets
of wisdom will help the practicing gunsmith keep
his customers happy; while preventing the home gun
crank from making costly mistakes. Keep that
pencil sharp and handy.
Not only is Bill sharp as a tack when it comes
to pistol work, he's funny too, which makes the
roughly 50-hour class fly by. Speaking of the
dangers of sloppy trigger work, Bill smiles:
"It takes only two tenths of a second to
empty a full magazine when one of these goes full
auto," Bill warns. "And let me tell you
boys, it's a religious experience!"
The wealth of knowledge and fun atmosphere of
the class left every student satisfied. Bryce P.,
a 20-year old from Texas attended the recent
class. He's considered gunsmithing as a
profession. "It was a great experience!"
Bryce exclaimed. Bill's a fun guy and I learned
everything I wanted to know."
Berge K. is a working full-time gunsmith. He
commented, "It's been a privilege to tap
Bill's knowledge. He's successful, extremely
skillful and more than willing to share his
experience." Berge recently completed two
years of instruction at a specialized gunsmithing
school and was very impressed with Bill's methods.
Matt C. is a peace officer in one of our
western states who hopes to build high-end
competition and duty guns after his retirement. He
shared his thoughts at the end of the class:
"It was an awesome class! Bill is just great;
he's fun and he sure knows what he's talking
about." Asked what was the most important
lesson he took from the class, Matt thought a
moment before grinning and replying,
Obviously such a learning opportunity is not
going to be inexpensive, but the opportunity to
draw on Bill's knowledge makes it well worthwhile.
As proof, one of the San Diego students was
attending for the second time, while another was
making arrangements for a second class in the near