Wrightsville man shows off gunsmithing chops on Discovery Channel's 'Master of Arms'
The first time Michael Crumling built a firearm, the operation was far from high-tech.
"I found a set of plans from, like, the '70s, and it was the kind of plans you’d buy out of the back of a magazine," he said. "Like, mail away $10 and they’d send you back these four sheets of paper."
Crumling, 29, of Wrightsville, said he made photocopies of the patterns, cut them out, traced them onto a few sheets of metal and put the pieces together according to the plans.
Five days later, he had his first handgun.
"I just kind of kept going with it and immediately started a second one, because the first one was terrible," he said. "I was going to school for fine art at the time, and I decided that once I got out of school, I wanted to go find a gunsmithing job."
Nearly a decade later, Crumling has built his own business, Mike's Custom Weaponry, where he offers grip re-texturing and custom artistic engraving on all sorts of firearms. And as a hobby, he continues building his own personal guns from scratch.
Crumling will be featured in an episode of "Master of Arms," a new competition TV show on the Discovery Channel, which is tentatively scheduled to air on Friday, Nov. 16, at 10 p.m.
The episode had been set to air Nov. 9, but a Discovery representative said Thursday, Nov. 8, that the network had rearranged its program schedule. The network declined to comment on the reason for the change.
Crumling said the show creators approached him over the summer and asked him to be a contestant.
In the episode, Crumling competes against two other highly skilled gunsmiths to build the best American long rifle — also known as the Pennsylvania long rifle or the Kentucky long rifle, depending on who you ask — almost completely from scratch and without any power tools.
Yes, that meant he had to break out the old-school hammer and chisel for the engraving.
"It was pretty tough," he said.
The contestants were provided with a lock, which is the ignition mechanism of the rifle, and the barrel, which the bullet travels through after the gun is fired.
Aside from those two components, each part of the rifle was crafted on the spot.
Even when he's not using a hammer and chisel, Crumling's engraving is all done by hand. He uses a pneumatic air engraver, which is basically a handheld, ultra-miniature jackhammer.
Local history: Crumling said he didn't realize until he returned from shooting the episode that the American long rifle has such a rich history in York and Lancaster counties.
He mentioned that at one point, there were more than 100 gunsmiths in Lancaster dedicated specifically to building the long rifle.
"This is the area for these rifles," he said. "It’s hilarious how unaware I was of this and how much I learned after."
Crumling said the term "gunsmith" is a generic term for anyone whose work or craftsmanship involves firearms, but there are a number of specialties within the field.
He likened it to describing someone as a "painter." Some people paint houses, some paint landscapes, and others paint portraits or still-life images or murals. Some people even paint parking lines.
Similarly, some gunsmiths specialize in surface finishing. Others specialize in specific materials. Still others, including Crumling, specialize in engraving and texturing.
Crumling said he knows of two other engravers in the region, but neither of them works with firearms.
"A lot of my customers, the first time they come to me, they say, ‘I’ve never had a gun engraved before,’ and they have no idea where to start," he said. "I think it’s very quickly becoming a lost art."
Over the course of his career, Crumling said he's worked on about 1,500 firearms, either on his own or in conjunction with other gunsmiths.
Most of his customers at Mike's Custom Weaponry are from out of state, and he said his business growth is thanks to word of mouth.
'Master of Arms' experience: Crumling said there's a certain camaraderie within the firearms and gunsmithing field, and that, for the most part, everyone likes to share techniques and talk about their work with one another.
He said it's not a cutthroat environment, and he's kept in touch with his two competitors from the show.
Unfortunately, he said, he wasn't permitted to keep the rifle he made for the episode, but he's excited to watch the competition play out on screen.
He'll be watching with a gathering of family and friends.
"I think it turned out well, and I’m proud of everything that I did there," he said. "I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot."
Crumling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.