Reprinted with permission from American Handgunner
By Ted Yost
Where are tomorrow’s gunsmiths coming from? It’s a common question, and one with a lot of different answers. There’s the gunsmithing schools, informal apprenticeships, and let’s not forget — the Internet. While most of the shops we become familiar with are one-man concerns, there are some bigger shops that are doing a lot to further the gunsmithing trade. I’m fortunate to have one of the nation’s best right here in my backyard, and recently dropped in on the Robar Team to gain a little insight into their thoughts on the question.
Robar’s gunsmithing and firearms division was established over three decades ago as the brainchild of Robbie Barrkman. An innovative and talented gunsmith, Robbie was also my predecessor at Gunsite. He operated the Gunsmithy as a laboratory to develop weapons mods and gunsmithing practices, many of which we still use today. I know I owe a debt to his ingenuity.
In 2016, Robbie sold the firearms component of the company to his longtime friend and retired USMC Lt. Col. Freddie Blish. While a company’s ownership may change, the mission and philosophy remain. Freddie is committed to leading his crew forward, and promoting their growth both as individuals and as members of an extremely talented team. Industry partners have become an important part of the operation of the shop. Gunsmiths receive training at Gunsite so they can get a better understanding of the capabilities of their firearms, and how their work affects the performance, durability and handling qualities of a firearm. Robar also works closely with Ernest Langdon and Jeff Gonzales, both noted experts and trainers.
Employing a cadre of gunsmiths and keeping them all busy and profitable — while also investing in training and development — is a daunting task, and one exemplified at Robar. With a staff of 16, things move as smoothly as I’ve ever seen in a gunsmithing shop, and I’ve seen quite a few. Everyone knows and does their job well, from parts ordering to QC checking and final shipment — projects flow as seamlessly as possible. A well organized office is as important as a well organized shop, and Robar’s office staff is efficient and friendly. Communication with the customer is very detailed, and completion estimates are something they really strive to meet.
Walking through the shop, I was impressed by the fact while the benches were segregated to some degree by job descriptions, the projects on the gunsmith’s benches were a blend of their “specialty” mixed with other jobs simply needing to be done. This is a testament to the diversity of skills and the knowledge every ’smith must be able to do every job, not just the one they like the best, or are most efficient at. It’s what being a valuable member of a team is all about.
There’s a lot going on at all times. I saw benches with rifles and pistols underway, benches covered with Glock’s in various stages of grip reduction and customization (I believe Robar was the first, if not one of the first to offer this service, and they still do a large number), and others with projects ranging from revolvers to shotguns. Another area of the shop has benches manned by the gunsmiths who do all the disassembly, prep and reassembly for the hundreds of guns coming through the shop to be refinished in Robar’s proprietary NP3, Roguard and Poly T2. I enjoyed meeting and talking with several of the gunsmiths — a very interesting bunch, to say the least.
Marty Enloe, 14 years at Robar, is a rifle specialist, but was working on several handguns to help pick up another ’smith who was out with an injury. His pistols looked great and the rifles must be even better.
Jesse Bollinger is a handgun guy, well versed in 1911’s and revolvers. He’s also extremely proficient with the H&K P7, and shared a Swiss Luger project he’s beginning. Can’t wait to see that one!
Jodi Gritus has chosen one of my favorites as a specialty, the Browning Hi-Power. Jodi is a graduate of Yavapai College’s gunsmithing program, a 3½ year smith at Robar — and a mom. Pretty impressive, but what gets your attention is the work she does on the Browning. It’s nothing short of amazing, with welded beavertails, imaginative texturing and perfect triggers.
Moving from trees to forest, one thing seems to stand out about the work at Robar. It’s an important concept all too often missed these days — consistency. The people are consistent. Robar’s employees have an average of 10 years on the job. The style is consistent — no fads or gimmicks, only time-proven detail still speaking to the Barrkman influence. The quality is consistent, regardless of who does the work. The standard is the company’s, and Freddie sees to it you get what you expected. The finish is also consistent. In-house finishing means you can count on the research and development, stringent application processes, and durable quality Robar is famous for.
First published at American Handgunner