The Artisans: Joe Smithson

March 18th, 2017 5 Comments


If I were going to make an argument about which man-made item most closely approaches perfection when it comes to the integration between man and tool, I would be torn between a handmade musical instrument and a custom firearm. Both can be mass produced and will achieve admirable results in a competent owner’s hands, but when handmade, either is capable of transcending its basic function. Think of a Stradivarius. Think of what Eric Clapton can do with a great guitar, or what Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix could do.

I’m certainly not going to compare music to hunting, but that same integration, where the tool becomes an extension of its owner’s will, is also applicable to fine, custom-made firearms.


Joe Smithson is one of the preeminent custom rifle makers in the world today. He is a graduate of Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, the school renowned for the gunsmithing program started in 1947 by P.O. Ackley of Ackley Improved cartridges fame. Smithson was able to study under some of the best gunsmiths in America, and went right from college to an apprenticeship with the legendary Jerry Fisher. Then he opened his own shop in Farmington, NM, before ultimately moving up to Provo, Utah where he now turns out works of functional art in wood and steel.


These are the kinds of rifles that are reminiscent of the guns the legendary and intrepid explorers of Africa and India carried, only those men would have been unable even to imagine the degrees of perfection and the technological advances that have come since those long-ago days.

Take a look at some of Joe’s masterpieces at

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As they say you learn something new every day, I had no idea even that gunsmithing was taught in colleges. I guess I just always thought they had special trade schools to teach that craft. He does do really beautiful work have to admit that.
    Nancy Darlene

  2. Anonymous says:

    The NRA has a list of Gunsmithing schools in the USA ( Unfortunately it only lists three so there really aren’t enough. Most who enter the trade now are probably produced through machinist schools though as that is what the manufactures mostly hire.

    • Anonymous says:

      One correction: I missed one school so it is four. One is in CA. That must be interesting given all the restrictions CA has on ownership.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    you only have to put in the r i g h t fotos….
    then it works….;) 😉 😉


  4. Anonymous says:

    Joe Smithsome makes some very nice rifles.

    For about twenty years I used a Marlin 45-70 as my primary big game rifle for North America hunting. A great caliber… mostly flat trajectory out to 100-125 yards depending on the load. Used mine with just iron sights. Harvested many white-tail, mulies, bear, elk, etc… never over penetrated and transferred all that kinetic energy into serious knockdown power. A few years ago I subscribed to Col. Cooper’s scout rifle theory and made a change to a Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle in .308. I really enjoy shooting that Ruger.

    With all that said, I’ve always wanted .416 Rigby. I certainly don’t have a need for something in that caliber, and I doubt I will ever make it to Africa for an adventurous hunt on the Dark Continent… but I still would love to have one to ‘plink’ with, if you know what I mean. I think it would just be fun to shoot.

    TD Bauer

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