A gunsmith brings his knowledge to NC

CorrespondentSeptember 25, 2013 

Think it’s unlikely that a renowned gunsmith would leave Beretta USA in Maryland to work in Fuquay-Varina?

Pete Valentine, 70, recognized as one of the nation’s top gunsmiths, holds forth at Sovereign Guns on North Main Street in Fuquay-Varina. He’s been there for two years.

Walk into Valentine’s shop in the back of Sovereign’s large showroom and you will wonder if any work goes on here. Tools are tucked away in drawers according to size. The workbench is clear except for one rifle, a 1909 pump 22 which Valentine is restoring.

“I’m obsessed about neatness and being able to find a tool without having to search for it,” he said.

You could say Valentine lives by efficiency, cleanliness and good lighting. These are the bywords of his trade.

But why is he in Fuquay-Varina? Simple answer: He married a North Carolina woman who lives in Wake County.

If you doubt his status as a noted gunsmith, take a look at his resume: apprenticed under two world-class gunsmiths; headed the parts department and gunsmithed at Firearms International; lead quality control at Garcia Corp., where he was responsible for gun manufacturing and imported guns; served as gunsmith supervisor for Beretta with duties including production, engineering and manufacturing; and worked for a couple of shooting sports retailers in the Maryland area.

It all adds up to close to 45 years of experience. And don’t overlook Valentine’s part in developing Beretta’s M 9 pistol used by America’s armed forces for many years.

“Being a part of that was very rewarding,” he said. “I was involved in developing other firearms at Beretta but I can’t discuss that. It’s classified…I also had a lot to do with the redevelopment of the automatic loading shotgun at Beretta, redesigning certain aspects.”

After growing up in England and Maryland with no exposure to guns, Valentine fell in love with firearms in 1965.

“I got interested in shooting through my brother-in-law and bought a varmint rifle for shooting groundhogs,” he said. “Then I started collecting guns and spending money on repairs when it occurred to me, ‘If he could do that I can do it, too.’”

Thus was born a fledgling gunsmith who started in retail sales with a renowned gunsmith in Maryland.

“He saw I was eager to learn, that I was talented with my hands and head so I apprenticed under him for several years,” Valentine said.

Today the most common gun problem he sees is rust.

“A gun should be cleaned and lubricated every time it’s used,” Valentine said. “A lot of people disagree, but it’s a machine and it needs cleaning to prevent rust. If I had my way I’d change my car oil every time I drove it.”

Valentine says few true gunsmiths exist today who can do it all: make a stock, finish wood, finish metal, operate a machine shop.

“You understand the importance of safety and know how to look for problems not mentioned,” he said. “And secondarily you’ve got to spend time to pass on the trade.”

Valentine does not look highly on gunsmiths produced in trade schools.

“They think they know it all when they graduate and don’t want to be taught,” he said.“I’ve interviewed countless trade school grads and the ones I’ve hired have lasted about two weeks. It took one an hour to mount a scope on a rifle; he couldn’t turn a screw.”

Valentine says he has found success with prospective gunsmiths “who come off the street wanting to learn and know little technically about guns.”

He holds two goals in mind when applying his trade: “My job is to make the owner of this business successful and to replace myself. Otherwise, I’m just burning time.”

When a gun comes in for repair, Valentine says fixing the problem is the first step.

“I think past the repair and fix anything I find that is wrong. A gun does not go back to the owner until I can leave it better than I found it.”

When buying a new shotgun, Valentine favors the Beretta. He likes Remington rifles and for a handgun Beretta, Star (now defunct), and a Ruger revolver.

“Expensive guns [usually] are better,” he said. “They don’t wear out. It takes many hours to put together a fine side-by-side before it even gets to the engraver and the wood goes on. A $30,000 gun might take a year to make. It’s all handwork.”

Valentine loves to go afield target shooting and hunting.

“I enjoy all kinds of hunting – birds, varmints, big game (deer, bear, boar). I dove hunt and do a lot of grouse and quail hunting in Ohio, West Virginia and eastern North Carolina,” he said.

Hunting and firearms are not Valentine’s passions; it’s fishing. He goes twice a month every season of the year except summer, when it is too hot.

“It’s relaxing and rewarding and I learn from every hookup,” he said. “I fish very scientifically. I learn the fish and log what I did to catch the fish. I’ve learned to think like a fish.”

His favorite angling is fly-rodding for trout and bass.

“I’m 100 percent catch and release,” Valentine said. “I love to eat fish but not the ones I catch. I want to catch them again and want others to catch them.”

As for the future, Valentine predicts a gradual decline in his trade.

“In another 50 years there probably will be no gunsmiths. I see it happening, a time of inexpensive, throw-away guns,” he said.

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