Change is a constant in life and the firearms business, and so it isn’t really a huge surprise that the Remington Custom Shop has experienced some growing pains of late— especially as its parent company, the Remington Outdoor Company (ROC), has been going through a series of big changes itself (including moving a huge part of its manufacturing capabilities to Huntsville, Alabama, in the last 18 months).
Actually, the changes to the Remington Custom Shop are pretty significant, too, and they include:
A recent move of the Shop to Sturgis, South Dakota, and closing of the facility in Ilion, New York
- Combining the Remington Custom Shop under one roof with custom operations for Dakota Arms, Marlin, and Nesika (all ROC companies);
- Making custom 1911 pistols a large part of Remington Custom’s offerings;
- And, changing the way the Custom Shop operations and offerings work.
“For decades, the Remington Custom Shop turned out some very high quality rifles and shotguns,” said Carlos Martinez, Senior Manager for the Custom and Premium Firearms division, and the person heading up the new combined custom shop efforts for ROC. “No question about that. However, the Custom Shop also got to the point that it only offered you certain models and certain things they would do to them. So you could order a Remington 700 Rile ABD Custom Model or a Remington 700 XYZ model. But those were your choices—take them or leave them, essentially.”
Martinez took over the four custom shops with a different operating concept in mind.
“You want a Remington 700 with this contour barrel and you want it threaded for a suppressor, but you want this type and quality of wood for the stock, plus a specific checkering pattern? We can do that. Or maybe you’d like a Marlin 336 lever action with the action fine-tuned, hand-checkering and a color-case hardened receiver? We’re on it!”
In essence, if you want it done to a firearm and they have the capability, the new custom shops will do it.
Martinez sees big things possible with combing the four gun making custom operations, and he and his team have dived headfirst into restructuring the custom process for each firearms line. But he’s also the first to tell you: the legacy of the Remington Custom Shop is a storied one and deserves recognition, especially in this Remington’s 200th Anniversary year.
The Early Years
Technically speaking, the “Remington Custom Shop” opened its doors at the Remington facility in Ilion, New York in 1962. Soon afterwards, Remington was publishing Custom Shop catalogues showing the many and various custom work it could do on a variety of Remington rifles and shotguns.
But custom work was being done by Remington long before the official launch of the Custom Shop. Remington itself was founded by Eliphalet Remington in 1816 in Ilion. According to Remington historian Roy Marcot, “Gun engraving started in the 1860s, performed by in-house engravers on a variety of pistols, rifles and shotguns. Occasionally very special work was farmed out to high-quality outside engravers.”
“Custom Work” was either handled by the various departments in the late 1800s to early 1900s or in repair departments. In the 1930’s engraving and checkering work was being done in Department 55, Building 52, 2nd floor at the Ilion plant. By 1936, the Remington annual budget mentioned the “Remington’s Checkering & Engraving Shop: A.L. Lowe – Supervisor.”
“The actual ‘Remington Custom Shop’ was initiated in 1960 as a means of providing special firearms, mainly rifles, to improve Remington’s prestige,” said Marcot. “The original project was to show a one-percent return on investment. But return on investment was considerably better than the project estimate. In addition, the shop showed reasonable operative earnings in 1963 on firearms produced. Factory profit on $80,000 gross to June 30th [of 1964] was $18,000.”
The Custom Shop offered firearms like the Sportsman 58 F Premier Grade, a gas operated, semi-automatic shotgun. For $1,750, a person could get a hand-engraved receiver and barrel, gold inlaid game scenes, custom hand checkering, and matching American walnut stock and fore-end.
The Custom Shop stayed in operation at Ilion until the end of 2015, when the facility was closed and much of the equipment was moved cross-country to the new Sturgis, South Dakota, location.
200th Anniversary Sets
For its 200th Anniversary, Remington has created several Bi-Centennial firearms sets, which include an R1 pistol, a Model 700 Rifle and a Model 870 Shotgun, each of them exquisitely hand-engraved and gold inlaid. The sets were slated to be offered at various charity and fund raising auctions through 2016. When I was in Sturgis in March, I had a chance to view—and actually get my hands on—one of the sets.
These firearms are truly works of art. The gold engraving on them was done by Jesse Kaufman, also of Sturgis, whom I had the chance to meet. Each Bi-Centennial three-gun set, Kaufman noted, represented hundreds of hours of his time and effort.
It’s a painstaking process. First, Kaufman had to draw the various patterns, transfer them onto the firearms, and then do the actual engraving using hand tools. He followed up on the engraving by very carefully, very gently hammering gold filigree wire into the many, many grooves.
The R1 1911’s, for example, would have a retail price of about $7,500.00 Martinez noted. I got to hold one, and was amazed at how crisp and clear the engraving was, and how the gold jumped out to the eye.
Masterful engraving is but one of the things the new custom shops can do to firearms. In rifles, for example, various grades and types of wood can be made into stocks, including top quality walnut and oak. Hand checkering of stocks and forearms is available, with patterns ranging from the basic to the very intricate.
On bolt actions, barrels and actions are “blue-printed,” a process that makes sure receiver and barrel are aligned 100-percent true. New triggers, muzzle brakes, various sights—you name it, the custom shops will do it.
The specific work that can be done varies by firearms brand. This is the very first time that Marlin Custom firearms have been offered and currently the shop only works on those models now in production, like the Marlin 336 lever action.
Within the next year or two, Martinez noted, the Marlin Custom Shop will be able to offer customers a variety of barrels and stocks not available in production models. At some point, he added, Marlin Custom Shop will be able to repair and refurbish older, collectible Marlins.
Nesika and Dakota Arms have pretty much been custom-made guns since the companies were established. They’ve always been made one at a time, for a customer base heavily skewed towards big- and dangerous-game hunters. In fact, the new custom shops are housed in what was originally the Dakota Arms manufacturing facility. ROC bought it many years ago, and moved Nesika operations into the facility later when ROC acquired that gun maker.
For 2016 and beyond, Martinez noted that both the Dakota Arms and Nesika lines will expand to include more stock, barrel and engraving options.
Martinez has plans to beef up tactical firearm offerings, too. Currently, his tactical firearms are limited to a Nesika Tactical rifle, and several of the Remington 700 bolt-actions with tactical looks and functions. As DPMS and Bushmaster are also under the ROC corporate umbrella, he felt it was quite possible that one day the custom shops could offer customized AR-style rifles.
Remington Custom Shop offerings also include numerous variations of the company’s R1 1911 platform. Custom Shop workers can apply any of dozens of Cerakote finishes and colors to the R1’s, as well as various after-market accessories like triggers, sights and grips, as well as numerous upgrades like additional serrations on the slide.
If you want a customized 1911 but don’t want to pay $5,000, check out what the Remington Custom Shop has to offer. The shop has already taken and completed a couple dozen orders, everything from veterans who were deployed overseas and wanted a handgun to honor their units, to local sportsmen’s clubs and other such organizations that award a custom pistol to a member for a special occasion or award.
“If you start with a basic R1, you’re talking right around $800,” said Martinez. “Then, depending on what you want, we can do a really nice 1911 that looks and functions great, usually for under $2,000. Of course, if you want more and better? We can do that, too.”
Future handgun offerings could be very interesting. Readers may remember, that Remington bought PARA handguns several years ago, revamped the manufacturer, produced some pretty nice pistol, and then—to the surprise of many—simply discontinued the PARA line altogether. Industry rumor has it that Remington will soon be launching new 1911 platforms that incorporate some of the previous PARA designs.
There’s even a rumor that Remington will be getting into the 10MM Auto game—a caliber PARA did offer–with a 1911 platform.
What will the Custom Shop be able to do with these new pistols?
“If there are new production model pistols from Remington, we’ll be able to do all sorts of really nice upgrades to them,” said Martinez. “And a first-year, new pistol with a low serial number that has custom work done to it? That could be a real collector’s item. We’d love to be a part of that!”