Class offers chance to rebuild, refurbish guns

Hannah Grover
The gunsmithing class reconvenes on Wednesday at the machine shop at San Juan College in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — If you ask Kevin Simmons and Rick Brannan what kinds of guns they prefer, you get two very different answers.

Simmons is a fan of older guns, while Brannan prefers the new stuff.

But despite that difference of opinion, the two men work together to lead a popular gunsmithing class at San Juan College that teaches students how to manufacture parts to repair and refurbish firearms.

The four-credit course is under the Encore Program, which offers opportunities for senior citizens, though the class is open for anyone 18 or older.

Brannan teaches the class on Tuesdays and then switches to being a student on Wednesdays when Simmons teaches. That gives him time to work on his personal project: a gun pieced together from other guns.

Wayland Moore prepares to machine a stop for his shotgun on Wednesday at  San Juan College in Farmington.

Over the decades, the gunsmithing class has been a consistently popular one at the college. The class, which has been offered since the early 1980s, fills up each year. This year, there are two sessions, one on Tuesday evenings and the other on Wednesday evenings.

“It’s pretty much a core of individuals that always take it,” said Bill Lewis, dean of the college's School of Trades and Technology.

​Often, the students own older guns that are not in working condition, such as a 1912 shotgun one student brought into the Tuesday class.

“A lot of the old guns, believe it or not, have a lot more quality than the newer ones,” Brannan said.

Despite that, Brannan prefers newer models, such as the AR-15 rifle. Much of that preference stems from the 20 years he spent in the U.S. Navy, including two years in Iraq.

“When your life depends on a gun, it makes a lot of difference,” he said.

Simmons said the class places an emphasis on the machinery behind gunsmithing, teaching students how to create the necessary parts to make their firearm of choice potentially work again.

Students learn to operate the lathe, mill and other shop equipment to refurbish, repair or build a weapon.

Despite its focus on firearms, ammunition and working guns are not permitted in the classroom.

“Safety in all of our programs is first and foremost,” Lewis said.

That's one reason for the small class size — no more than 15 students. That also allows the instructor to closely supervise students at they use large tools.

The gunsmithing class is among a group of hobby classes the college offers. Other classes include woodworking and automotive repair.

Brannan, who also teaches a woodworking class, is taking an auto shop airbrush class and plans to use his newfound skills to airbrush the firearm he is making in the gunsmithing course.

He added that hobby classes are popular because they provide “something to do with people who have the same interest as you.”

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

Daniel Morgan demonstrates how to thread a rifle barrel on Wednesday at the machine shop at San Juan College.

Hobby classes teach new skills

FARMINGTON — San Juan College offers a variety of classes to teach students new skills.

While some are credit courses, the hobby classes usually do not transfer or count toward degrees.

"People are generally taking it for personal enrichment," said Liesl Dees, the director of the Community Learning Center.

Gene Bennett, for example, teaches a framing class that shows students how to make professional-quality frames for pictures, documents and certificates.

“We’re really fortunate to have this class,” said Bill Lewis, dean of the college's School of Trades and Technology.

When Bennett closed his frame shop on 20th Street, he donated his equipment to the college and later decided to teach at the school. He said his class provides students a chance to frame items at a low cost.

He recalled one student who framed his grandchild’s artwork.

“He had a lot of fun,” Bennett said.

Dees also remembered that student.

“What struck me is he really created some keepsakes,” she said.

For more information about classes offered through the college Community Learning Center, go to

Metal shavings at the machine shop at San Juan College in Farmington are seen on Wednesday.