We count on our firearms to function flawlessly whether hunting, target shooting, or, of course, in a critical self-defense situation.
Those who collect firearms likely perform the required maintenance. Other firearms are often ignored and even abused. Hunting guns may get thrown into a case while wet or bounce around in the back of a vehicle. Concealed carry handguns may be carried, collecting dust and lint.
So, when rust appears and the grime has accumulated to the point where the firearm will no longer function, who are you going to call? Perhaps you have even disassembled your firearm and can’t get it back together. Maybe you just feel like yelling “Is there a doctor in the house?”
Enter Bob Fannin, aka “The Gun Doctor.”
Fannin has been a firearms enthusiast for many years. His background is in machine shop trades, welding, and salvage specialties. Combining the two led him to pursue an education in gunsmithing. He is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School (www.pagunsmith.edu) and a certified master gunsmith.
“The school lasted 16 months and covered every aspect of gun work,” Fannin said. “The first semester was bluing, the second was stock making, third semester was machining, and the last was to build two custom guns. I managed to build three. I also had 35 repair projects during this time. It was five days a week 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There was lecture period once a week with the rest being work at the bench.”
Fannin has returned for additional AR-15/M-16 training. The rest of his work has been a lifelong learning adventure, working full-time as a professional gunsmith for more than 12 years.
I asked Fannin about common mistakes gun owners make.
“It is often just a lack of maintenance like so many things,” he said. “Even if you don’t shoot guns, they need to be checked and cleaned on a regular basis. You have to do maintenance whether it is shot or not. Firearms should be properly cleaned and stored in a dry dust-free environment. In those conditions, if the gun hasn’t been shot, then once a year is probably enough. If you use a gun sock, then it should be one that is silicone impregnated since they seem to work better. Never store a gun in the plastic foam-lined gun case. These are made for transportation and not storage. Just bringing that into the house from the cold will cause moisture in the foam. Moisture will lead to rust.
“Some people think the gun is clean if they just run a patch down the bore and wipe it off,” Fannin continued. “After a good amount of shooting, especially on semi-automatic firearms, there is dirt, grime, and powder residue in the action and trigger mechanisms. The firearm needs to be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned. Hopefully the owner has the manual for proper disassembly and re-assembly. Many people still want to clean from the muzzle end of the barrel. That is hard on the barrel and can damage the crown on the end of the barrel. The crown is extremely critical. If it is damaged and not square with the bore, gas from the powder will leak out one side and the bullet or shot will not go where you wanted it to go. Firearms should always be cleaned from the breech with the exception being the traditional muzzleloaders where there is no breech access. The barrel on a gun is made for everything to go out the muzzle. When cleaning a gun after just a few shots or a lever action firearm that is harder to break down, I will use a bore snake. I pull that through from the breech to the muzzle. Hunting guns that have been used all season and out in the weather definitely need to be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned before storing. When I clean a firearm, all the pieces come apart. Sometimes that is best left to a professional. Everyone should remember that a little oil is needed but too much oil is bad. Oil is a dirt magnet.”
Fannin’s work includes a wide variety of jobs.
“I do a lot of trigger work,” he said. “Some makes don’t lend themselves to trigger work and don’t have the components for it. Trigger swaps, extended slide, and extended magazine releases on many handguns are very popular. I do hot bluing but not rust bluing. I also don’t do rifling.”
He does refinish stocks often with a high gloss finish.
“I use polyurethane for most stock work,” Fannin said. “Customers often ask how many coats I put on their gun. I don’t know as I don’t count them. I put on coats until it looks the way I want it to look. I use a fine sandpaper or 0000 steel wool between coats. I made a heat box to dry the stocks. Sometimes I brush and sometimes I will spray onto the stocks. However, I don’t do stock checkering. I simply can’t do that work to my satisfaction.”
He recently acquired a stock duplicator to add to his equipment. He is currently in the process of getting it operational. Fannin’s shop is complete with the necessary machines, bore camera, and cleaning tools required to both inspect and repair firearms.
I took a 1903 LC Smith shotgun to The Gun Doctor because of his experience on double-barreled shotguns. I’m not comfortable nor qualified to take apart the side-lock action and the three-position safety. Friends who had him work on their side-by-side shotguns recommended him.
“You are not unique in your love of these old shotguns, however it is a specialty crowd,” Fannin said. “There are not a lot of gunsmiths in this area with experience on the older shotguns. The guns offer some additional challenges. Sometimes finding the schematics and parts can be difficult. Some parts can be found or they may have to be made. Everything was hand fitted on these guns.”
Fannin’s work must satisfy him before the firearm will leave his shop. He will not do anything to a customer’s gun that he wouldn’t do on one of his firearms.
“It seems like I am always backed up and very busy,” he said. “That’s good for my business.”