View Full Version : How I spent my summer

October 12, 2015, 12:54
First off – this is long overdue. I had it written up before and wanted to put some more polish on it, then my computer crashed and I lost it.:mad:
Second – if you have an ax to grind or want to bash on the subject of this thread – find somewhere else to get that done. I am proud to say that the man is a good friend of mine.

This past summer I had a chance to do something I never would have thought. I had been dropping off and picking up firearms at Arizona Response Systems (ARS) for about a year and a half prior to this. While Mark Graham was cordial, he always seemed rushed and I felt like I was interrupting him. Since I am retired and no longer in school, I offered to come and help him, no charge – I just wanted to get out of the house and do something constructive. I guess I pestered him long enough because he finally said he would take me up on the offer. My dreams of being a junior gunsmith started with a shovel, hammer, wheelbarrow – you see where this is going? Mark is like a lot of business owners in that he works so much at his chosen profession that things around the place have to take a back seat to what the business needs. He decided to take a little time and take care of some of the things that he had been back burnering around his house. And we did. A lot. More than you would think. Landscaping, patio demolition, concrete – the list is long and it was a lot of hard work. And that is the first thing that really hit me about Mark – he is a very hard working individual (he worked my ass off :cry:). When he sets his mind to something he figures out a way to accomplish it. Either through research or trial and error he finds the solution. I think that ended up being about 3 weeks on those projects, but it was great for me because I got to know him better. And the more I got to know him, the more I realized how many people on these forums really don't. I think in life it is very easy to make a judgment call based on incomplete and false information, the whole 'judge a book by it's cover' thing.

Before I get into working in the shop – a few things that some people don't know about Mark. In his own words, he is an arrogant bastard. Good reason for that – he knows what he speaks of. He can be very abrasive; quite frankly (again in his own words) he has no time for stupid shit. Half the time I didn't know if he was ready to kill me or throw me out. But the more I was around him, the more I realized that his personality is what it is. While a lot of people go through life trying to be a social butterfly, Mark is content with his role as a social wasp.
Finally the day came that I got to work in the shop. Now before any of you freak out and think I built guns for him – I didn't. However, I did get to see a lot of your parts kits transformed in to works of art.
Honestly my first task at ARS was remarkably similar to my first day in the Army – I got to drive a broom around the shop. Then I got to use a magnet to sift through all the dirt and recover all of the dropped pins, parts and what have you.

Then came working with the blasting cabinet (AKs SUCK!). He had a lot to catch up on due to the time we had spent taking care of his home and property. And he started cranking out guns. The amount of specialized tools that he has made is incredible. His shop is divided into areas, each for assembling a different type of kit. When he builds, he concentrates on that type – whether it be AKs or FALs, each area has all the tools that relate to the particular parts kit. I did not think it was possible to build a gun that quickly, but as I looked at the bins behind me (the next ones to go in the blast cabinet) the pile continued to grow. If I blasted 10 kits, he built 30. It never ended. I got to where I really didn't want to look behind me. I got to work on just about every variant of AKs, Galils, FALs, L1A1s, HKs. A bunch. I learned quite a bit just media blasting them. When I would see something that caught my attention, I would ask Mark why this particular piece was made like that. And he would rattle off facts and figures (much as he does here). The important thing to me was that he took the time to teach me. I told him that I really wanted to watch him build an AK – he gave me a GP Guide to AK with DVD and said “Why waste your time watching me, watch the DVD and ask questions”. That was another part of his personality that I really came to appreciate – he makes you work at it, no freebies. He told me that he had read so many posts asking why can't you just do it this way, skip these steps, change this, etc. His response to these sort of questions, as most of you know, is no. If you have ever watched “That 70's Show” it's like Red telling Eric “Because Eric, you're a dumbass”. He's been there, tried that, figured out it didn't work. I cringe when I see someone ask about screw building an AK - his response to that in person is just as sharp and fast as it is on these Forums.

Once a large enough batch was done, the park tank was fired up and I got to watch that process. And again I felt like I was always about 4 steps behind Mark. Very cool to watch him work though. No wasted movements. If anything was not anally perfect, it was put back in the pile (You know, the one behind me that never went down?). It was also surprising to me that he would look at a parts bin, place the name of the owner, and relate stories of other firearms he had built for that guy, or those guys. I mean years of repeat business.
From parkerization, the firearms are either finish assembled, or they go on to get Metacol treatment. All the while, the furniture of the kits is being worked on as well. I honestly don't know how he keeps track of what goes with what, but he does. I really don't know how he maintained that record with me 'helping' him. Once the rifles are finished, the furniture is put back on, everything is tested and inspected – then they go to oil bath. He has his own formula for this solution as well. Another of the experiments that has been proven.

Then the best part – range day. Some guys take a new rifle or two and a hundred rounds or so to the range. Mark takes a Chevy Blazer full of ammo and rifles, enough to arm a third world nation. I don't know what his record is, but I do know that no matter how many he takes, they are all fully tested for function and sight adjustment. He doesn't put his name on anything that doesn't pass his standards. The best range day I had was when he brought his PKM (belt fed) and RPK74 along. I have fired a lot of automatic weapons during my service, but these were two new ones for me. Both are very reliable, and an absolute blast to shoot.

I watched him fix small issues with receivers, barrels, parts fit – things that the average owner would never even know about. But to him they were things that just needed done. It didn't matter if it was a rare parts kit, or a run of the mill beater – they were all treated the same. In my mind that separates someone who just throws firearms together from a gunsmith that takes pride in his work.

I was also afforded the opportunity to refinish my two FALs. He said that if I got them through parkerization, he would Metacol them if that was what I wanted. The parkerization wasn't a stellar job, but it was my first time actually doing it and I was pretty proud of that. He just rolled his eyes when he looked at my work. The original plan was to park both, leave the L1A1 parked and to Metacol the Stg. My park job on the L1A1 sucked ass, but the Stg was great (I thought, anyway). Soooo, they both got Metacol treatment. Then I took all day to reassemble them. I said that it was because I was being meticulous. I got the eye roll again. Going back on one of the earlier points ( no freebies), as you all know there are quite a few 'fiddly' parts putting a FAL back together. After I chased the various parts around the shop enough, Mark would grab the rifle, say WATCH, then put it together in about 10 seconds. I thought great, that's done. No, that was just a demo – the rat bastard took it back apart and went back to doing what he was doing (laughing at me). I tried his patience, but I finally got them. :biggrin:

As some of you know, I recently moved back to my home state of Oregon. GP had already refinished a Rock Island 1911 and my PSL for me, as well as letting me have shop time to do my FALs. But he kept insisting that he needed to do more to balance the books before I left. I kept saying 'fix my CETME”. He kept responding “I don't work on Century CETMEs”. He finally gave in. And he worked on it. And worked on it. And cussed me. And worked on it some more. And cussed Century. And cussed me some more. He told me he would have been money ahead if he would have bought me an HK91. But as most of you know – he doesn't quit. And then one day he called me and said “Come and get it, I don't ever want to see it again”.

I am not a professional writer, so I hope I didn't boor anyone with my rambling. I had a great time working with Mark, and I am proud to call him my friend. Here's some pictures of the above mentioned firearms. Before anyone says mag foul, I haven't unpacked that box yet. I have been up to my ass in working on this house before winter gets here. All of the rifles' magazines were refinished as well.

Oh yeah, a couple of weeks ago I got a surprise package in the mail from ARS – a 5 round CETME mag. I hope it didn't trigger PTSD for him.......:rofl:

If you want a pile of parts turned in to a masterpiece, ARS is the place to go.

PS - he wouldn't stamp ARS on the CETME. Something about his hypocrisy only goes so far, I think.

A professional picture by the Arrogant Bastard (no mag foul here)
http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/rifles/Cetme/cetme-andres-01_zpsvb3tzpzt.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/rifles/Cetme/cetme-andres-01_zpsvb3tzpzt.jpg.html)

Around the shop, an IZZY HB being born
http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/20150624_122403_zpslpgchicx.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/20150624_122403_zpslpgchicx.jpg.html)

Drip dry FALS, straight out of oil bath
http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/20150624_122423_zpsatwfunhk.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/20150624_122423_zpsatwfunhk.jpg.html)

Some ready to go back to you guys, RPK74 and PKM with gecko camo
http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/20150624_122345a_zpso4fs1dnd.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/20150624_122345a_zpso4fs1dnd.jpg.html)

What happens when you say smile. GP with a Rhodied Rhodie. This is just prior to the "make it look like it was drug behind a pickup" part of the camo treatment. This paint job was an extra.
http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/20150618_132933_zpsc83r477h.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/20150618_132933_zpsc83r477h.jpg.html)

My hot mess

http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/refinish/rifles1%20004_zpskkzouqrs.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/refinish/rifles1%20004_zpskkzouqrs.jpg.html)

http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/refinish/rifles1%20003_zpskkfdkmwn.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/refinish/rifles1%20003_zpskkfdkmwn.jpg.html)

http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/refinish/rifles1%20001_zpsi0dgxmvi.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/refinish/rifles1%20001_zpsi0dgxmvi.jpg.html)

http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/refinish/rifles%20005_zps9k0fjz0q.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/refinish/rifles%20005_zps9k0fjz0q.jpg.html)

http://i288.photobucket.com/albums/ll166/andresere/refinish/rifles%20003_zpsscwmrcfm.jpg (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/andresere/media/refinish/rifles%20003_zpsscwmrcfm.jpg.html)

October 12, 2015, 13:09
Wax on, wax off Danyo San.:wink:

The experience of a life time.

Target, Target Ceasefire.

Driver backup.


October 12, 2015, 16:08
Cool, sounds like an education many would envy!

October 12, 2015, 18:29
Good for you Andre!

Regardless of whether one likes or hates Mark's personality, one must admit he is brilliant in his chosen field, does excellent work, and very GENEROUSLY shares his knowledge. You will find very few other business men in any discipline who will gladly tell you how to "do it yourself" for free and avoid sending them the work. That does take an "arrogant bastard" and has a merit all of it's own.

October 12, 2015, 20:26
I'm sort of envious :)

October 13, 2015, 20:40
:biggrin:Maybe Mark will start a new "Intern Program" 6-12 weeks freeby work force in the shop learning while pissing off the MASTER.:devil:

October 14, 2015, 08:06
over and over and over again?

October 14, 2015, 12:25
Cool. Looks like you had a fun summer and the guns looks good! :bow:

October 14, 2015, 14:50
BTW, the rifles are gorgeous.:fal::fal::bow::)

October 14, 2015, 20:00
Great write-up! You know Mark is going to have "students" sitting outside his place in the snow until he gives in and brings them in now, right? Look what you've started! :D

October 14, 2015, 22:23
This is an awesome thread!

October 19, 2015, 20:12
I really can't say enough good things about Mark. He is a true artist, and a hell of a guy.

L Haney
October 19, 2015, 20:25
I really can't say enough good things about Mark. He is a true artist, and a hell of a guy.

This makes me really miss Shlomo. He'd have some fine things to say about all of this. Three or four people would realize what was really going on, Mark would be one of them.

October 19, 2015, 20:59

Me too.

October 20, 2015, 05:04
Thanks for sharing, both the story and the pics.

October 20, 2015, 05:49
I love a story with a happy ending!
Thanks for taking the time to both, do what you did to help out and to post the story :bow:

October 20, 2015, 13:25
This makes me really miss Shlomo. He'd have some fine things to say about all of this. Three or four people would realize what was really going on, Mark would be one of them.

I sure wish I could have met him. World is running out of people like that :sad:

October 20, 2015, 18:27
Some men tell you about their life to gain respect, other men show it.

Gunplumber and Schlomo sound exactly like this. :beer: