Bill Graham’s story did not seem like it would lead to him attending and graduating from Piedmont Community College (PCC) with his Gunsmithing Certificate or receiving the 2020-2021 Outstanding Student in Gunsmithing award. But that is where he is, at PCC with endless potential as he begins the next chapter.
Graham’s story began in Lincoln, Nebraska, before he moved to Asheville, North Carolina for a change of scenery and to pursue his degree in music engineering and performance, focused on both acoustic and electric bass. Graham met his future wife at UNC Asheville, then after they were married, they moved to the NC triangle, where he worked for Walt Disney, a YouTube-like startup distributing user-generated video content, and a healthcare IT management role for 17 years ending at IBM Watson Health in Durham, North Carolina as Director of Technology Services Organization. It was not until Graham was impacted by a routine IBM layoff, that he decided it was time for a change, time to do something that he had a passion for. His passion to repair and restore antique shotguns.
“About 15 years ago, my father handed me his grandfather’s .22 rifle, which had been deteriorating in a closet for decades,” Graham said. “I took it apart to clean it, had to learn to put it back together, and learn how to refinish it. I developed a relationship with a gunsmithing mentor and became aware of my passion to take something broken, honor where it came from and who made it, repair it, restore it, and make it usable again.”
During his corporate work life, Graham worked to restore shotguns as a hobby, while beginning to talk with his wife about what their hopes and dreams were for their future lives. They decided that it was a good time for Graham to attend night school to formalize his gunsmithing training, and eventually launch a business dedicated to his passion.
“I chose PCC because it wasn’t too far away from my home in Durham, but another reason was the availability of night classes, which allowed me to continue working,” Graham said. “My objectives were to learn more fundamentals, the official ways tasks are performed, and have access to machinery to gain a deeper and hands-on understanding of how to use gunsmithing tools. After taking a tour, I knew PCC’s gunsmithing program would provide exactly what I was looking for.”
While enrolled at PCC, Graham built three rifles through the “evolutionary-styled” learning process, where the curriculum incrementally builds students’ skill sets, using lessons and tools from the first project throughout the entire certification. But gunsmithing gave him more than a working knowledge and guns. Graham said, “It built my self-confidence and confirmed that I could learn something completely new, and excel at it, at 55. It taught me patience, focus, and that I could do something that I really loved for a living.”
Graham said the gunsmithing instructors, Lennie Moore and Spencer Riggan, were instrumental to his success in the classroom and workshop. He said they each have their own approach and specialties when it comes to teaching, which ultimately adds more to the gunsmithing program, as it makes them “greater than the sum of their parts.”
Riggan said when Graham started, he already had a good foundation, he listened well, and was always eager to learn something new. He explained that Graham is setting himself up for success by easing into the business, but Riggan is also confident in Graham’s abilities as a gunsmith.
“Bill’s going to do well. There’s plenty of people out there who need work done and there are increasingly fewer gunsmiths available to do it,” Riggan said. “I foresee Bill going far. He doesn’t give himself enough credit, but he is very good at what he does, and he’ll do nothing but get better with time.”
Now, Graham has graduated and launched his own shotgun restoration business ‘Nice Old Double Gunworks,’ but there is another next step in the story. Graham was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from the American Custom Gunmakers Guild (ACGG) to take him to Iowa for a weeklong summer course on double barreled shotguns to further his learning and understanding of gunsmithing and restoration.
“Receiving this scholarship was not only validating, but a tremendous blessing,” Graham said. “During the application process I could be myself, tell them my story, and evidently that had enough value to convince the ACGG it would be a good investment for me to attend one of their classes.”
Even after graduating and receiving his certification, Graham is not finished with PCC. He plans to continue to take Continuing Education courses to utilize the gunsmithing workshop on campus, while his budding business begins to bloom.
“When I’m fixing something that’s been broken or neglected, I feel that I’m honoring the work of the original crafters, and it’s a privilege to be able to reverse the wear and put years back on the gun to make them useful again for the foreseeable future.” Graham continued, “If there are people with a family heirloom, like Granddaddy’s old shotgun, and I can make it usable for future, nothing would make me happier than to provide that service.”
For questions, details, or to tour the gunsmithing workshop, call Teresa Arwood at (336)-694-8071. To apply and register to take courses visit piedmontcc.edu.