Down to a Science - Pleasant Grove gunsmith prides himself on precision
GRANT HINDSLEY, Provo Daily Herald
Michael Gerulat checks a custom bolt action on a rifle in his shop in Pleasant Grove on Tuesday.
PLEASANT GROVE -- Gunsmithing meshes perfectly with Michael Gerulat's personality, hobbies and business sense.
Before he started his own custom rifle business, Utah Rifle in Pleasant Grove, Gerulat had a history in engineering that first brought him into missile defense systems.
Trajectory, spin, and all the equations that he uses in his own engineering business, translate perfectly to his new-found passion of gunsmithing.
It all started about 10 years ago after Gerulat brought an older Ruger 3-Screw revolver in to a local gun shop to have the barrel changed. He said when he picked it up the barrel was full of vice marks and the bluing was scuffed.
“I said, you know what, I’m technical enough, I’m an engineer, I have an engineering business. I should be able to do gunsmithing,” Gerulat said.
And so it began.
Though Gerulat took several engineering classes in college at Purdue and had a short stint with a mill and lathe, he brushed up on his skills at a technical college in Kaysville.
For three years, Gerulat frequently met with a master gunsmith from Texas and spent hours on the phone and the Internet learning from him. He learned the rest from every book and video he could get his hands on.
“Then all of the sudden what started out as kind of a hobby, turned into a business,” Gerulat said.
Years later, Gerulat has it down to a science. Literally.
“I use formulas, twist rates on the barrels, figure out ballistics,” Gerulat said. “Having known ballistics from the missile defense world, it’s just kind of transferring that to a little bit of a slower and a bit smaller projectile.”
Science and precision are a key component in Gerulat’s custom rifles, he said. Every piece of the firearm from the action to the barrel is created or re-machined to extreme precision and tolerances.
Gerulat chooses to only use “match-grade” barrels which he special orders depending on the rifle. The barrels, from the breach to the muzzle, don't vary in straightness any more than one ten-thousandth of an inch. According to Gerulat, the barrels are an “an order of magnitude and a half” better than their factory counter parts.
Gerulat will take apart old bolt actions and re-machine them on his lathe so pressure is evenly distributed and the tolerances are slim. He prefers his triggers to only require a single pound of pressure to fire, where a factory gun has around 10 pounds.
Gerulat’s love, and care, for rifles and gunsmithing stem from a deeply embedded work ethic, he said. He splits his time between running his engineering business full time and running a full workshop by himself while keeping customers happy
“I’m a driven, type A personality,” Gerulat said. “When I start a project, I want to finish it. There are nights where I wouldn’t sleep. I’d get worked up about it.”
“I build every gun like I’m building it for myself,” Gerulat said.
But stakes are high with vintage rifles and custom parts can cost hundreds of dollars, so Gerulat now chooses to work as slow and deliberately as possible.
“Normally when you get a problem, it’s when you try and rush something. It’s just a matter of taking your time, doing it right the first time,” he said.
Gerulat originally hails from Michigan, and various engineering jobs brought him all around the country in his years after college in Indiana at Purdue University.
He spent time in California, Utah in the '80s, Philadelphia, Penn., and Huntsville, Ala. nicknamed “Rocket City” for its ties with missile development for the government.
“The opportunity came up years ago to come back to Utah and I jumped at it,” Gerulat said. “We are here to stay, this is home.”
Now a gun enthusiast, Gerulat didn’t fall in love with hunting until moving back to Utah more than 10 years ago and making friends that were hunters. Since then, he has been hunting with and collecting rifles. His collection includes rare gems such as an 1800s Wells Fargo sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun from a stage coach and a rare Winchester Model 70 Pre-64 .458 Magnum African hunting rifle.
Michael Gerulat poses for a portrait in his shop with one of his favorite rifles, a Winchester Pre 64 Model 70 .458 Magnum African Hunting rifle, he has collected over the years, in Pleasant Grove, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The rifle had a production run of only 1200.
“There is a lot of history in guns that I have worked on for World War I, World War II. You kind of wonder if the gun could tell stories," Gerulat said. “A lot of old Colts and stuff like that, the old Winchesters, if they could tell a story it could probably write a book.”
Sometimes Gerulat will get older folks who bring in family heirlooms they want to see restored. He gets immense satisfaction from taking a generations-old rifle, cleaning the rust off and restoring it to how they remembered it as a kid.
However, it is the science and engineering factors of gunsmithing that keep Gerulat going. Even with a life stuffed full of design and precision, Gerulat manages to stay fresh by jumping between his career in missile defense and building rifles.
“Rather than being at the computer all day with the engineering business, it’s nice to go out in the shop and create something with your hands. It’s therapeutic,” Gerulat said.For more information on Michael Gerulat's custom rifles, check out www.utahrifle.com