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story.lead_photo.caption Guy Joubert (right) and Neal Trout inspect a Glock handgun’s polymer frame at Wilson Combat in Berryville. The company now offers custom gunsmith work on Glocks. - Photo by David Gottschalk

BERRYVILLE -- Wilson Combat -- known for its custom 1911 pistols made with metal frames, grips fashioned from exotic materials and hefty price tags -- is now offering custom gunsmithing work on Glock handguns.

Glock Ges.m.b.H. is a privately-held Austrian pistol company known for its reliable, reasonably priced, polymer-framed handguns.

Guy Joubert, head of product development at Wilson Combat, said offering custom gunsmithing on Glocks is another step as Wilson Combat continues to broaden its scope. A team of gunsmiths will work on the Glocks and the company will hire more employees, if needed, to handle demand. The Glock project will not interfere with the company's traditional work, he said.

"We're testing the waters right now," Joubert said.

Formed in 1977 by competitive shooter Bill Wilson, the privately held company headquartered in Berryville in Carroll County has gone through major expansions in the past few years. It employs about 165 people, including about 50 gunsmiths.

Reaction to the news on social media and various websites dedicated to firearms was quick and varied.

Some folks were ecstatic they could send their Glocks to Berryville to get the Wilson treatment, including trigger jobs, the installation of after-market parts, custom slide work and laser stippling on the Glock's polymer frame. Others were less enthusiastic, worried the new service would slow production of Wilson's bread-and-butter products. Some were dubious of giving the blocky Glock the full Wilson treatment, likening it to putting lipstick on a pig.

While Wilson Combat is best known for its 1911-style pistols, the gunmaker has been expanding its offerings for years. The company sells AR-15-style rifles, tactical shotguns, ammunition, magazines, custom gun parts, holsters and other shooting gear. Wilson Combat has made after-market parts for Glocks, including sights and match-grade barrels, for years.

In 2014, Wilson teamed with Beretta to produce the The Beretta/Wilson 92G Brigadier Tactical. The pistol is built at Beretta's plant in Maryland and goes to the buyer fitted with custom parts made by Wilson Combat. The collaboration with a major gun manufacturer was a first for Wilson Combat. The pistol, and later variants, are sold through Wilson Combat and the some of the company's dealers.

Joubert said Glock offers a huge market of potential customers for Wilson Combat. He said the idea to begin working on the popular handguns was "kicked down the road a while" but really began to take shape in February.

Work on the pistols include simply changing sights, to more complex work like installing an after-market trigger in the handgun, to a full work-over that will "Wilsonize" the pistol. Joubert said services vary from $100 to $1,000, depending on what the customer wants.

In his book Glock: The Rise of America's Gun, Paul M. Barrett, an editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, said the Glock semi-automatic pistol, with its light weight, capacity of up to 17 rounds and easy-to-master controls, came to America around 1984, just when law enforcement officers, typically armed with six-shot revolvers, felt outgunned by criminals.

He noted slick marketing to law enforcement and Hollywood's love affair with the new gun has made the word Glock synonymous with handgun in modern culture. Over the past 30 years, Glock became a global giant, selling in the U.S. to both law enforcement and the civilian market, offering 25 models that the company routinely improves and modifies. Last month at a trade show in Milwaukee, Glock showed of the company's fifth generation, or Gen 5, of its top-selling G17 and G19 models. While prices vary significantly, many Glock pistols can be purchased for $500 to $600.

It's unclear exactly how many pistols Glock sells in the U.S. annually. The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported in 2016 that a little more than 5.1 million firearms of all types were imported into the U.S., a bit shy of the 2013 record of 5.5 million. Of the 2016 total, 3.7 million were handguns. According to the report, 1.3 million handguns were imported from Austria in 2016, where Glock is based.

IBIS World, a market research company, reported in June that the U.S. import market for all firearms for 2017 is expected to generate total revenue of $6.9 billion. Austria is expected to be the largest importer with 12.5 percent of that market, followed by Italy with 9.1 percent.

Brandie Collins, a spokesman at Glock's U.S. headquarters in Georgia, said Glock is not working directly with Wilson Combat but noted the aftermarket for Glock pistols is robust, likening it to the popularity and demand for iPhone accessories.

Jared Phillips the gunsmith in charge of the Glock project for Wilson Combat, said he and his team are in the research and development stages and making sure they can get as much performance as possible out of the Glock product. He said while Wilson isn't the first custom gunmaker to work on Glocks, Wilson Combat's reputation rests on the quality of the upgrades it performs.

"We've started with a good platform," Phillips said. "We might be a little late to the game, but we have to do it right the first time."

He said working with the wide variety of Glocks, each with its own specifications and dimensions, makes the job a unique challenge.

"We're bouncing on the diving board getting ready to jump," he said.

As part of its services, Wilson offers laser stippling on the polymer frame of the Glock -- designed to improve a shooter's grip as well as make the pistol look more exotic. Wilson recently purchased a machine designed for fiber laser engraving and cutting to do the work.

"We wanted to give it the Wilson look," explained Neal Trout, design engineer with Wilson Combat. "It's a sexy pattern and we're not working with a simple, two-dimensional surface."

Working with the polymer is trickier than working with another material, like metal, he said. Wilson Combat had to start from scratch and couldn't lean on what it knew about working on other types of firearms.

Photo by David Gottschalk
A laser was used to engrave a pattern on this Glock handgun. Wilson Combat in Berryville takes orders for custom work on Glock guns.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Hunter Villines, a gunsmith at Wilson Combat, disassembles a Glock handgun at the company’s workshop in Berryville.

"There was a lot of experimentation getting the process dialed in," Trout said. "Right now we're pushing the envelope for what we can do but there's a lot more potential beyond this."

SundayMonday Business on 09/03/2017

Print Headline: Gunsmith to customize Glocks

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