Interview: Master Gunsmith Brett Evans
I first met Brett Evans of NW Armswerkes back in 1998. I had read a couple of books and was ready to build my first .308 Sniper Rifle. I wasn’t a Sniper, but I had extensive training in long range shooting and really wanted a quality stick, so I decided that having one built would suit my needs.
I started my journey by going to local gunshops and seeing who they would recommend. I got several leads, but when I called most of the ‘smiths that were recommended, I usually got a serious brush off, because I wasn’t prepared to book the rifle that minute, or I got someone who was so arrogant that it wouldn’t have mattered if he built weapons for God himself, I still wouldn’t have given him my money.
After about two months of searching, a guy in one of the gunshops I was at pulled me aside and told me to call this guy who runs a little shop in Bonney Lake. Said he knew more than everyone else put together and was one hell of a great gunsmith.
I called Brett and after about 5 minutes on the phone, to my surprise, he asked me to come to the shop and sit down to talk about my rifle and how I wanted to proceed.
The conversation that followed was over an hour, and resulted in me coming back two more times for follow up talks before ever putting money down to start the build.
I found Brett to be a true perfectionist. As he worked, he explained what he was doing and why it was important to accuracy for the customer’s rifle he was working on.
During my second trip he was aligning a barrel to cut a chamber. I had no idea what this entailed, so he explained it as he went. I watched as he took over a half an hour, adjusting and re-aligning the barrel to within 2/10,000th of an inch variation between the front of the barrel and where the cutting would be done on the chambered. He explained that the flatter the barrel was, front to back, the better it would shoot because the more in line with the land and grooves the chamber would be. It suddenly made perfect sense, but up until then, I had never given it any thought. Obviously this guy takes this stuff serious.
After I had booked my first rifle, I started stopping by from time to time, to learn a little more and see what project Brett was working on. No matter who the customer was, he was always working towards the perfect application of science and technology. He always took the time to explain to me what he was doing, even though I am sure I was in the way, and he never shied away from a question on the quality of the components.
After awhile we became friends and at one point, when I was between contracts, I started showing up to his shop during the days to watch and learn. One day he handed me a rifle action to break down and that is how I got my start doing some basic apprenticeship around his shop.
In my time with him I have learned much about the man, his military service, his background, some of his funny stories about operations abroad or things that went sideways. I suspect he has a photographic memory, or close to it, though he continues to deny it. I have never seen him take the easy way out of a problem in the shop, it just forces him to work harder at a solution. I consider him a true perfectionist, in search of his perfect canvas, his perfect application of parts and the perfect finish product. To his credit, he never feels he has done it, which forces him to continue to pursue it, and that is one of the things that I consider to be truly remarkable about the man. No matter how much adulation someone has for him concerning his last product, he doesn’t let it go to his head, he remains grounded in what he does and knows that the next project could be even better.
I have the utmost respect for the man & his craft. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Q: You basically grew up in a gunshop, correct?
A: Yes, my father had a small sales and gunsmithing operation, so I got involved with it at a very young age.
Q: You have been gunsmithing for how long?
A: Over 30 years.
A: Some day I will be a professional and make money doing this. *laughs*
Q: When did you decide to chuck the rat race and do gunsmithing full time?
A: I guess I was about… 9. I figured working for other people was going to suck pretty early on. *laughs*
Q: Your shop is well known in our part of the country, but perhaps not as well known in other parts, can you tell the readers a little bit about your specialty and the kinds of products you turn out?
A: NW Armswerkes is known nationally and internationally primarily as a Tactical Rifle shop, but we actually do all manner of precision rifle work. Boltguns. Sniper Rifles. Benchrest Rifles and lots of AR work. Our goal with each rifle is to turn out the best possible product within the customer’s price range. Not everyone can afford a Mercedes, but we strive to get you Mercedes performance without the expensive name tag.
Q: About how many titles have your weapons taken over the years, any ideas?
A: I know of 12 National or World Titles for certain. Beyond that, I am not really sure. Once you have a rifle set a World Record, everything else kind of blurs in the background.
Q: What are your proudest accomplishment pieces?
A: Without a doubt the weapons that I have currently in action with our troops ( Army, Navy & Marines ) overseas.
Q: How many species of animals on this planet have a price on your head?
A: *laughs* I don’t know about that. We don’t really turn out many hunting rifles, but I have people who have taken my rifles to Africa, Australia, India, Alaska, Europe. Pretty much the world over to go hunting.
Q: Do you have any entries in Boone & Crockett?
A: I have a customer, Ron P ( Last name withheld waiting on permission ) who has a couple of entries in Boone & Crockett that he has taken with my work.
Q: You have produced Sniper rifles for the Spec Ops community right?
Q: Any teams you can mention, names you can drop?
A: None that I care to name by name. You can let the readers know that NW Armswerkes has several contract accounts with the Army, Navy & Marine Corps, along with a contract account with the in country Federal Government as well.
Q: Understood. What is the configuration of an average “SEAL/Delta/HRT/Uber Team rifle”?
A: Almost always a Remington 700 ( occasionally an Accuracy International); blue print the action; H-S Precision Stock built to shooters’ specs ( length of pull, weight, accessories ); Kreiger Barrel; Almost always Leupold optics package; Pelican rifle case with complete cleaning package and tools.
Q: If there was one book that you could have every customer read BEFORE they come talk to you the very first time, what would be it and why?
A: Book? Or literature? I would definitely recommend getting Precision Shooting magazine, they are an excellent source. They offer a book through them directly called “Precision Shooting @ 1,000 Yards” that is pretty much the Tome/Bible for modern long range shooting. Generally if a new customer has read some of their stuff, they are much better informed about what they want to try and it’s easier for me to tailor their rifle package for them.
Q: What are some sources for reading that our readers might want to check out concerning long range shooting ( tactical / benchrest / whatever )?
A: The “Benchrest Shooting Primer” is a great book to get started in Benchrest style shooting. Very basic stuff, but filled with a wealth of knowledge.
There is a book by Spicer ( Note: Mark Spicer ) called Sniper: The Techniques & Equipment of a Deadly Marksman” that once you get by the cover title is really a great and informative read. One of the best works on the subject actually. Of course Plaster’s ( note: John Plaster / Ultimate Sniper ) book. The Chandler Brothers ( Iron Brigade Armory ) have a couple of good books on the subject.
Q: What is the number one worst question you get asked by new customers or potential new customers?
A: *laughs* What’s the best ammo for my gun.
Q: What are a couple of good questions a new customer should ask a perspective gunsmith to decide if the guy is right for them?
A: Good question. The first thing I would recommend is you find out if the guy is actively engaged in the type of ‘smithing you want done. You could have the best 1911 guy in the world right down the street. That doesn’t mean he is going to be able to turn out a great Benchrest rifle for you. Another thing to ask is if the guy is currently properly equipped with the necessary equipment and tooling to perform the job. Some guys have a lathe and that is it for garage gunsmithing. You really need some good equipment to turn out a really good product. The next thing I would recommend is that you sit down with the guy and have an in-depth discussion of the type of shooting you expect to be doing with the finished product. Discuss climate, conditions, ammo type you are thinking of, and what you will be doing with the rifle. After all, you don’t want a $1,000 hand finished wood stock if you are going to be dragging it behind you on a creep at Sniper School. Last, but not least, visit his operation and see the condition of not only the material, but of the work he is currently doing. If he has four stripped pistols on a bench, no rifle work to be seen, but is talking about turning out a sub-moa tack driver for you, ask some more questions.
Q: How long of a backlog should be considered “normal” in getting a custom rifle built?
A: 12 months. If you find someone that has no backlog and can make you a custom stick inside of a month, ask yourself why.
Q: What is your current backlog?
A: 14 Months.
Q: So, this isn’t a Wal-Mart shopping situation and craftsmanship takes time?
A: Well, not only that, but you have to factor in the parts and the resources available. You can plan on a 4 month wait for barrels and stocks if you want a standard application. If you want something super high tech, or totally custom, you can plan on waiting twice that long just to get the gear into the shop.
Q: Let’s talk parts – Name some of your favorite products that you use yourself, or recommend and why?
Leupold Glass – Great product for the price and great warranty. Excellent company to do business with.
Kreiger Barrels – They always respond to requests for info in a timely fashion and they make one of the best barrels on the planet for accurate firearms.
H-S Precision and/or Bell & Carlson Riflestocks. Both companies turn out really great products, they make affordable and custom versions of their main product lines and they do good with customer feedback to improve their products.
Q: If you could have ANY single product to build a rifle for yourself on, assuming you had the time, what would that product be?
A: *laughs at “if you had time and repeats it”*
Probably a Schmidt & Bender Tactical Rifle Scope. It’s probably only 15% or 20% better than Leupold, but at twice the price.
Q: I know you are big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, if he were alive today and you had a chance to build him a rifle, but you had to collaborate with one other gunsmith ( living or dead ) who would you choose? Why?
A: John Vest of Oregon. John and I have worked on a couple of truly custom, uber expensive rifles before and he is an exceptional wood stock guy. His pieces are works of art that deserve their own case by themselves.
Q: Name the single most influential gunsmith or inventor in the history of firearms. Why?
A: Hands down John Moses Browning. The man was light years ahead of his time and is truly the Godfather of Modern Firearms. Honorable mention would have to go to Charles Newton ( Note: of Newton Rifle Fame ) for the obvious reasons. Living? Bob Greenleaf, who pretty much single handedly redesigned the Savage Model 110 and saved the company.
Q: Let’s talk personal gear. You are a guy that has held just about everything there is out there. You have been tested and qualified with a who’s who of modern weapons, both foreign and domestic, what does Brett Evans carry on him when he travels and why?
A: Full sized 1911. – Why? Durability; Reliability; Accuracy; and Power. If you have a properly tuned 1911 at your side, everything else is just a pistol.
Q: Assuming a Katrina situation hit this neighborhood, absolute lawlessness – What would you recommend as your SHTF package?
AR-15 per person with 500 rounds each piece
1911 .45 per person with 200 rounds each piece
.12 gauge shotgun per group with 96 rounds
Q: What should every self sufficient homeowner include in their homes?
A: Most people get hung up on the weapon aspect of that sort of question, but one of the key things to remember is that you need to be able to feed yourself during that time frame. I would suggest 6 to 8 weeks of food, water and medical supplies ( including prescriptions like blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. ) A lot of the food can be canned, so you don’t need to worry about spoiling, and if you know the bad times are coming, fill up your tubs with water before you lose the ability. Plus you can buy 5 gallon water jugs from any water supply place, even the grocery stores sell them here, that you can have on hand to fill up should you need too.
Quick thought Q & A –
The world is in crisis at the moment, with conflict raging almost everywhere. Assuming that The Allfather, Odin himself looked ahead many years ago knowing this would occur and opened his hand, giving to man what, in these categories? Firearm? Caliber?
A: *laughs* This is going to surprise you ( he says, pointing at me ) I think the AR-10 in .308 caliber. Neither of them are the absolute best out there, but the combination of the two gives such diversity to the soldier that I think it’s the best package going right now. Much better than the standard AR-15 and head and shoulders above the AK. You have the ability to reach out and touch someone, but you also have the serious one stop knock down/out ability with that big bullet ( 168 grain / 173 grain ). ( He’s right, I wasn’t expecting that answer )
Q: If you HAD to recommend one model in the following categories, bone stock, with no work done to them, to a customer and have them know they were getting their monies worth, what would they be?
Q: Pistol? – A: Kimber 1911
Q: Shotgun? – A: FN, some of the best built shotguns going today
Q: “Assault” Rifle? – A: Cheap? SKS. If they have some money to put down, an AR platform. Rock River Arms would be my first choice to someone without a gunsmith available.
Q: Long Gun? – A: This will be a bit of a surprise as well. Recently the Weatherby Vangaurd Sub-MOA has been a great value, and the FN – SPR is a great deal. However, Savage actually has a package now that I think is a better overall deal, for the money, in a factory gun. *pulls out the latest catalog* You can get the Savage #10 FCP with a 24” heavy barrel, all steel bottom metal with the Accu-trigger and an H-S Precision stock for $743. That’s a good deal. ( He’s right again, I had no idea he was going to answer with a Savage… LOL But, that is a hell of a deal on that rifle package for a beginning platform. )
Q: Last, if anyone is interested in your services, what is the best way to get in contact with you?
A: The best bet would be to shoot me an e-mail ( at firstname.lastname@example.org ). I usually return calls and answer e-mail in the evenings, so that gives me the precious daylight hours to work on customer builds. If anyone is interested in building up a rifle ( bolt, benchrest, AR, even hunting ) have them shoot me an e-mail and we can work out a time to talk about the specifics on the phone. We ship anywhere in the country and all over the world, so we would certainly love to build a few tack driving pieces for some of your forum members.
**NOTE: NW Armswerkes no longer runs a website because of the amount of spam and internet traffic that was eating into shop production. A decision was made to close the website down and make better use of the ‘smiths time building weapons for paying customers.
Q: G21.45 Asked: What 2-stage trigger would you recommend for a large-pin Colt 6920 LE:
A: I think Rock River Arms makes the best drop in two stage trigger going currently. They make a large pin version that will fit the Colt, but places like Brownell’s and MidwayUSA don’t usually carry it. You can order it directly from RRA though. Another choice would be the Armalite 2-Stage, I think it’s about $180. I would personally rate the RRA version higher and be more inclined to put that in my rifle though.
Q: Joshua asks: If you were going to recommend a 1911 Ambi safety to a left hander, would it be the Swenson style, the King/Kimber style, the Colt style or something else?
A: The Swenson style. The other installations involve actually trimming material away from a piece that doesn’t have much surface material to begin with and can lead to breakage issues. If I was putting one on a gun for a customer I would definitely recommend the Swenson style.
Q: Joshua asks: Do you believe that we’ve been spoiled by fitting jigs & such which let us produce firearms in quantity, instead of hand fitted quality.
A: Well, that question assumes that firearms haven’t developed along with the technology to make them. Technology has come a long, long ways since the inception of what we would consider “a modern firearm”. Could a gun smith in the old west produce the same quality rifle that could be made today? Could a pistol maker in 1920 turn out the same product that a CNC driven shop could produce today? Accuracy has gone through the roof with the advent of new technology, so the drive to produce even better weapons has caused the need for newer machines to produce tighter tolerances to in turn produce tighter spec, better shooting weapons. The cycle is perpetual and it’s a beautiful thing. On the other hand, most drop in parts require some hand fitting for quality firearms anyways, so there will always be a need for quality, skilled people in the Old World tradition.
Q: Joshua asks: .45ACP or 9mm Parabellum?
A: Totally depends on where I am being deployed. Having a shiny 1911 in .45ACP sounds like a great plan, until you step off the boat in Honduras, or Nicaragua or Libya and everyone is looking at you thinking one thing: American. Where as having a Browning Hi-Power in 9mm in those same spots probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. It’s all about situational deployment.
Final Question: If you could offer one piece of advice to the readers about the world of custom weapons and weapon building, what would that be?
A: Blanket Statement Advice? I guess I would have to go with you are going to get the quality out of something that you are willing to spend money on to put into it. “You get what you pay for” is tired advice, but in the world of custom weapons, it holds true. Now, that doesn’t mean you need a $300 match trigger when a $100 can be tuned to do the same thing, but if you buy all your parts at 7-11, don’t expect them to shoot with the guys who are setting World Records.
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