When Jim Brock was 7, a buddy came over one day, excited to show him the .22-caliber rifle the boy’s father had given him.
The gun didn’t shoot, he told Brock, because his dad had removed the firing pin.
“And I said, ‘Maybe we can make one,’ ” Brock recounted. So the boys went out to the garage, and with a nail, a hammer, a file and a hacksaw, they fashioned a crude firing pin.
“It worked,” Brock said with a mischievous grin. “And I’ve been hooked ever since.”
After retiring from a 22-year Army career (that did not include gunsmithing), Brock rented space in the Trap House, a now-defunct outdoor sports retailer, and set up shop.
“It was a huge success from the start,” he said, “and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
In 1980 he moved to his current location at 2104 N. Division St.
During a recent interview, Brock discussed his craft and how the business has evolved.
S-R: Do you remember your first gun?
Brock: It was a 12-gauge. I was 12 years old at the time, and I bought it myself. It cost me a week’s work in 1946, so probably six bucks.
S-R: Where did you learn gunsmithing?
Brock: I’m self-taught. I’ve also read about the major people in the industry and got hints from them.
S-R: What does a gunsmith do?
Brock: We’re like automobile mechanics. If something goes wrong with an engine, they get into it and fix it. The same with a gun. We replace broken parts, and if we can’t find them on old guns, we make them.
S-R: How has the firearms industry evolved in recent decades?
Brock: There are gobs of new guns out there, from .17-caliber all the way up to .50-caliber handheld guns. In the old days, the .50-caliber was a tripod-mounted gun that required a crew. No more.
S-R: There are other gunsmiths out there. What do you consider your niche?
Brock: My specialty is my knowledge of guns. People have known me for 41 years and know what I can do.
S-R: Guns seem to be more popular than ever in America. Are there more gunsmiths now than when you started?
Brock: No, there are fewer.
S-R: Why’s that?
Brock: Because it’s very expensive to get started. Nowadays you’d have to go to school for about three years. And to set up a shop like we have here would cost $200,000 to $300,000 for the equipment. So it’s a difficult business to break into. There are shade-tree mechanics out there who call themselves gunsmiths, and they can do certain things. But doing a major overhaul on a gun or building one from scratch takes more knowledge than the average guy has.
S-R: What do you like most about gunsmithing?
Brock: The mechanical end of it. I can look at a gun and tell you what parts are in it and how they go together. Those are things I find very interesting.
S-R: Who are your customers?
Brock: We get a wide range, but mostly today it’s hunters, whereas 20 years ago it was competitive trap shooters.
S-R: Beside repairs and some retail sales, what services do you offer?
Brock: We custom-build rifles from scratch. I designed a multibarrel rifle that runs about $3,500 for a stock and three barrels – (one each for) small game, medium and large game.
S-R: When was business best?
Brock: Back in the ’80s and ’90s.
S-R: Has the recession affected business?
Brock: A little bit.
S-R: How about publicity related to Olympic shooting events?
Brock: Yes. And I’ve had a couple of customers who were Olympic gold medalists. I took care of their firearms.
S-R: What is your business philosophy?
Brock: Keep busy and do what you love. I could retire anytime I want to, but I love what I do.
S-R: How do you relax?
Brock: Fixing guns. I also love to fish. But it’s been so darn busy the last couple of years that I haven’t been able to do any fishing.