KEVIN TATE: Rebuilding works once made by the hand of man

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Inside the shop that stands next to his home, Ed Graham takes the remains of what once was and visualizes what could be again.
Part chemist, carpenter, woodcarver, machinist and metallurgist, the lifelong wizard of repair plies his trade. Art and science combine ahead of a steady drive of clever imagination, yielding refinished products ready again for the test of time.
“My No. 1 thought always is, if it was manmade one time, it can be done again,” Graham says, reaching for a cigar box a customer dropped off.
Under the lid, a distinctive slide and barrel from a Colt Model 1911 are clues an accompanying batch of parts may belong to the same, a classic handgun the owner hopes to see rise like a phoenix from utter disintegration under Graham’s care.
“They’re jigsaw puzzles,” he said. “To take a pile of pieces and restore it is the challenge.”
It’s a challenge that’s only intensified for Graham in a profession of more than four decades and counting.
“I started doing gunsmithing 43 years ago in June,” he said. “At that time it was technically seasonal. I had to keep other jobs along the way to pay the bills because customers would drop off their gun at the end of one hunting season and might not come pick it up until the next year’s hunting season was about to open.”
It didn’t take long for the seasonal aspect of his shop to span the full calendar. Today, the work is steady year round.
“If people had told me 40 years ago I’d be in this situation with this much business, I would have laughed at them,” he said. “God has blessed us with a talent to talk to people, and it’s just fascinating.
He does his work with considerable help from his wife Gloria, who scours the internet for original parts to use in restorations. Parts that can’t be found have to be made.
“America was built on ingenuity,” Graham says. “It’s just an intriguing fascination I have with seeing something that’s torn up, and seeing if I can give it a new life. I would do it 24 hours a day, six days a week – I won’t work on Sunday.”
As a stress reliever and creative outlet, Graham began tinkering with friction turkey calls a number of years ago, a project that quickly got out of hand.
“I need to make 200 calls right now,” he said, standing orders pressing against what remains of his free time.
Still, the firearms take precedence.
“When I come out here, it’s always a challenge and it’s never boring,” he said. “I usually have four or five guns on two work benches waiting on parts or drying. There’s always something. I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the fascination of it. Even though it’s an old craft and an old art, I like the challenge.”

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point