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Local gun smiths aim to add flair to firearms

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm


Leila Beem Núñez

The challenge, said Marty Smith, is to create something nobody else has.

Smith is the owner of The Gun Smiths, a Manchester business that specializes in the customization of firearms. The outfit, tucked away on Cat Creek Road for about two years now, also offers customization of other hard surfaces like automotive and marine parts, knives and a variety of home décor. The business also does gun modifications, and has a small retail showroom on site.

“The challenge for us is doing something that nobody else does,” said Smith, who a few years ago started the business with his two sons, Ian and Evan, after beginning a trap shooting team with the city schools and seeing the need for more firearm customization resources. “It’s making something that is completely unique.”

For someone looking to add some personal flair to anything from a handgun to a kitchen faucet, The Gun Smiths’ team deals particularly in the applying hydrographic patterns and in Cerakote coatings, adding pattern and custom color options, as well as durable finishes, to whatever a customer brings in.

Derrick Donnelly is the hydrographics technician. Hydrographic printing is also known as immersion printing or water-transfer printing and is the process of applying a pattern print to a three-dimensional surface, in this case a firearm or other object a person may want to customize. Customers walking in can get a glimpse of a few of the options displayed on the wall – from camouflage to snake-skin to oil-slick colors.

“There are literally thousands of patterns to choose from,” Donnelly said. “We’re even at the point where we can make our own prints now and send them out and have designs made of what we want.”

Once a customer decides on a pattern, Donnelly does his work from what he calls his ‘hot tub’: a hydrographics tank. The process begins by placing a film printed with the graphic image of one’s choice onto heated, still water. The water begins to loosen the thin film, and an activator is sprayed over the top. The object to be customized is then pushed through the now jelly-like film. When it comes out of the water, it is precisely covered in an entirely new pattern.

“[Hydrographic printing] been around since the 1980s, but back then it was just so expensive to do with the film and process that it was just never advantageous to do it on a smaller scale,” Donnelly said. “Nowadays with the advancements in laser printing, they are able to downscale it to where you can do it easily. They even have printers now where you can make your own patterns.”

The pattern is then locked in with an automotive paint, or a Cerakote coating. That’s where Denise Downes comes in.

Downes, an artist by trade, has been working with Cerakote, a kind of ceramic finish commonly used on firearms since the shop opened its doors at its current location. The Gun Smiths is a factory-certified Cerakote applicator, having received training on techniques like embossing, distressing and pattern application. The process is labor-intensive, as firearms have to be completely disassembled, degreased, baked, and grit-blasted down for a clean finish in preparation.

Downes said the finish is especially known for its abrasion and chemical resistance.

“Cerakote is the only finish the military accepts now. It protects it from salt water, protects it from all kinds of corrosion, basically. Your gun will never rust again – not in anybody’s lifetime, anyway,” Downes said. “It can go on anything, except for anything soft like rubber. But if it’s hard, we can do it – on wood, metal, plastic.”

In addition to being durable, Smith said, the Cerakote options available at the shop offer customers the chance to personalize whatever they have brought in to be worked on, with an assortment of over 90 colors, and even customization advice.

“A lot of people come in and don’t have a real fine idea of what they want, and Denise is there to help with that. She’s really good at helping to decide what colors look good together and what patterns they might want,” Smith said. “She can show them pictures of work, so then they get an idea and say, ‘that’s it.'”

The goal, Downes said, is to guide customers through all the options available to them so that next time they come into the shop, they are confident in what they want done. For Downes, who has previously worked in other artistic areas like airbrushing and character art, the creativity of customizing firearms is what she enjoys the most.

“I enjoy the artistry of it. It’s all about planting the seed, so that by the third or fourth time they come in, they know exactly what they want,” Downes said.

To take a look at customization options available at The Gun Smiths, visit their location at 1017 Cat Creek Rd., in the old On Target Reloading Center building. The business is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., mostly taking only appointments after 1 p.m. For more information, call (931) 450-2117. Pricing options can be found on their website,