Written by Larry Good [seen shooting above] and reprinted with permission from Safari Club International Fall 2014
The week before I left for my NRA Training Counselor Development in Phoenix, AZ, I was contacted by a good friend who has been working with Robar Guns (ROBARGUNS.com) in Phoenix…
…she got me an invitation to tour their gunsmithing and re-finishing facility.
So, after my TC workshop, I hung around for an extra day on Columbus Day to do that. I am super glad I did!
Robar Guns is tucked away on the outskirts of Phoenix near the Deer Valley Airport. After a little SNAFU with Google Maps mis-directing me to a similar address, I arrived just after lunch to find a neatly-kept office space with friendly folks answering the door.
Robar’s General Manager is LtCol USMC (Ret) Freddie Blish. You know the place is going to be squared-away with a Marine in charge!
Freddie’s a very personable guy with a clear love of the industry and his job. His quiet enthusiasm was pretty infectious as he told me about their program, company history, and options that I might be interested in as a firearms dealer myself.
(As a result of this trip, Southwest Washington Surplus is becoming a Robar Authorized Dealer for gunsmithing and metal finishing services, as well as their custom line of firearms.)
The gunsmithing shop is a comfortable, well-lit environment that makes you itch to pick things up and play with them. Each ‘smith has a workstation tailored to their specialties. It’s not super high-tech, but very organized.
I put on my eye protection and walked into the shop with Freddie explaining the setup as we went. As I was introduced to everybody one by one, I was amazed as the volume of work they can get done while still maintaining an atmosphere so relaxed that anyone would want to work there. Every now and then someone would call out, “EARS!” before doing something noisy.
Custom modifications to customer guns were going on everywhere you looked. Glock too large for you hand? No problem- they’ll shave that down a bit and re-shape it for you. Need a little more tang on that polymer gun to protect your meatier hands from “slide bite”? No problem; they’ll add that for you! Trigger jobs, grip mods, new sights, glass bedding or cut-down barrels, each project in process was fun to watch being done with skill and confidence.
The gun vault is chock-full of goodies with examples of Robar’s custom line as well as customer firearms in for modification or re-finishing. I had to leave before I was irresistibly drawn into using a credit card on something I don’t have a spot for in my safe right now anyway!
Speaking re-finishing, my tour wasn’t over yet. Freddie took me over to the other side of the complex, where Coating Technologies, Inc. hangs their hat. This is Robbie Barrkman’s ‘other’ business in metal finishing. The two companies are legally separate but enjoy a very cozy relationship. CTI specializes in the NP3 metal finish.
NP3 is a proprietary nickle-phosphorous-Teflon coating that is very durable and most importantly: self-lubricating. It’s been a while since high school chemistry and physics for me, so I’ll leave the technical research up to the reader.
Suffice it to say this technology is not only used in Robbie’s gunsmithing work, but CTI’s main focus is actually the aerospace industry. In this same facility where your gun gets refinished, parts are being coated for attack helicopter tail rotors, 747’s, and before the space shuttle retired from duty, parts that went beyond the atmosphere.
The aerospace industry manufacturing process certifications that go along with those contracts apply to every single part of any kind that goes through the factory- or they wold lose their certification and their aerospace contracts!
After being thoroughly wowed and impressed by all the work going on, I was privileged to have a sit-down and chat with Robbie Barrkman himself. A thoroughly nice gentleman originally from South Africa, Robbie’s a very approachable and likable man.
He was one of LtCol. Jeff Cooper’s first instructors at Gunsite before starting ROBAR, and in addition to being a very experienced instructor has clearly done some serious hunting, judging from the trophies stuffed and mounted in his office.
Robbie also is a professional level photographer who has been published in many industry magazines and is often solicited when new products come out. As if that wasn’t enough, he seems to be a master wood-crafter as well! His office has some examples of furniture he has hand-made, that would not be out of place in a high-end antique store.
I spoke with him for quite a while before I had to leave for the airport, with never a hint that he was too busy for my relatively last-minute visit. I’m really looking forward to working with Robar guns in the future, if this is the kind of easy-going and personable business model they use.
I was also able to talk to Robbie about SWWSCI and he volunteered a raffle prize for our annual fund raiser in March before I could ask for one! Look for it at the annual diner – there will be a voucher for a firearm refinishing job. If you have a firearm you would like to have re-finished, this will be the prize to use your raffle tickets on!