We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Dave Williams, head of Research and Development with Springfield Armory, for an exclusive interview for The Armory Life. Williams is not only one of the company’s longest-serving employees, but also a highly respected 1911 artisan and all-around firearms expert.
The depth of knowledge that Williams brings to the development of new Springfield Armory firearms, combined with his impressive tenure with the company, gives him a unique perspective on not only the history of the company, but also its future.
We’d like to thank Mr. Williams for taking the time to do this Q&A session with The Armory Life.
The Armory Life (TAL): Please tell us a bit about yourself, for those of our readers who might not be familiar with you and your background.
Dave Williams (DW): I’ve been a firearms enthusiast from a very young age. At 8, I took part in my first deer hunt. At 9, I harvested my first — and best — whitetail deer, a 24-point South Texas monster. My interest in the mechanical aspects of firearms started when I was around age 10 or 11.
One of my first big projects was to refinish the stock on a rifle I owned. Around age 13, I took on the task of restocking my dad’s sporterized 1891 Argentine Mauser. From there, I “fixed” several more of his guns. This helped improve my skills, but was not the best for my dad’s collection!
While still in high school, I worked at a local high-end sporting goods business called “The Sportster” in my hometown of Tyler, Texas, in the “Armory” department. Two years later, I was promoted to the “Armory” manager in their new store that opened in Longview, Texas. My experience at “The Sportster” is where I first developed my interest in competitive shooting as well as honing my gunsmithing/repair skills.
After a few years there, I relocated back to Tyler to work in the family construction business. All the while, though, I maintained my interests in competitive shooting and building custom 1911’s for myself and friends. Soon, this pistolsmithing adventure became more of an actual job and less of a hobby.
TAL: How long have you been with Springfield Armory, and how did you get started there?
DW: I began my career here at Springfield Armory in the fall of 1991. I answered a national advertisement in American Handgunner magazine for a pistolsmith position at Springfield Armory’s Custom Shop, and a few days after submitting my resume I received a call from the leadership inviting me up for an interview. I was offered a position as a custom pistolsmith, and I relocated to Geneseo from my hometown of Tyler. The rest is, as they say, history.
TAL: Can you tell us a little bit about your early days with the Springfield Custom Shop?
DW: The early 90’s was a great time in the world of competitive shooting. Action shooting was all the rage, and its popularity was growing exponentially. Our custom shop was a leader in technology, innovation and design for products such as state-of-the-art compensators, sights and red dot mounting systems.
We designed a proprietary 1911 frame specifically for mounting red dot optics that were becoming, and to this day are, a must have in IPSC/USPSA and bullseye competition. Springfield Armory-built pistols have been used to earn countless national and world shooting championship titles.
And Springfield had a huge part in those sports, with us sponsoring the best of the best in all shooting disciplines. We had the likes of Allen Fulford, one of the only civilians to achieve a Nation Championship shooting bullseye; and other greats such as John Farley; Roger Willis; Jim “Fleetwood” Fulwood; and Ricardo Rodriguez to name just a few of our bullseye team members.
On the action side of shooting we had Brian Enos, Chip McCormick, Doug Koenig, Kippi Leatham, Jerry Barnhart, Jack Barns amongst many others, and — last but not least — the greatest pistolero to cast his shadow on this planet, my friend Rob Leatham. It has been an honor to build equipment for many of these legends in the sport!
Around 1994, I was given the opportunity to become the director of the Springfield Armory Custom Shop, a title I proudly held for nearly 25 years.
TAL: And now you are head of Springfield’s Research & Development (R&D) department, correct? Can you tell us about how long you have had this role, what you do, and a bit about your team?
DW: I was given the honor of being named the director of R&D in 2016. This was something of a natural progression for my career considering all the cutting-edge firearms development/enhancement we had been doing in the custom shop.
In R&D, we configure, build, test and designate design parameters, as well as prototype new and future platforms and models of products for the company. With new models and platforms, extremely thorough testing and evaluation are required. We do extensive endurance, reliability and function testing as part of this. It’s not uncommon to fire 30,000 to 40,000 rounds of ammunition through a prototype test pistol.
Building conceptual prototypes is really rewarding. Taking a design from paper to steel is extremely fulfilling and something I really enjoy. I have a great team. These guys are gunsmiths, machinists, innovators and — seemingly, from what they can achieve — alchemists. Most of the R&D team has been with Springfield for many years, in several cases even for decades.
TAL: Clearly, the company has experienced a great deal of growth in your decades with the company. And now you’re located in the new Springfield Armory manufacturing facility in Geneseo. Can you tell us a bit about the changes you have seen over the years?
DW: It’s been quite a ride! We might have started from humble beginnings, but the company has grown exponentially over the years. The company was started in 1974 by the Reese family, with patriarch Bob Reese and his three sons making up the entire production team building M1A rifles in those early days.
A few years later, the company expanded into the 1911 market. In those days, I believe they were making 500 or so 1911 pistols in a year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we are doing today.
And part of that growth is our brand new 200,000 sq.-ft., state-of-the-art manufacturing facility here in Geneseo. We employ the latest, most sophisticated machining and manufacturing processes in the industry. We have grown from four employees in the beginning to many hundreds of them today.
TAL: What are some highlights of your time with Springfield Armory? I believe you were involved in the development of the Professional pistol for the FBI contract, correct?
DW: Over the years, there have been many great people and projects I’ve been involved with as part of my work with Springfield. One thing that I’m particularly proud of is the fact that we have built scores and scores of 1911’s for elite groups within the law enforcement and military communities.
That being said, the project I am most proud of was the “FBI contract pistol”. In 1996, the FBI issued an RFP (Request For Proposal) #6990 for a precision pistol for their elite regional SWAT teams and HRT. This was a competitive bid with an extensive testing protocol that eight manufacturers and custom pistol shops competed for.
After exhaustive testing, Springfield Armory came out on top and was awarded this prestigious contract. A 1911 pistol wasn’t specified, but the required specifications for accuracy, reliability, and durability demanded a custom-built, hand-fitted, precision platform. That certainly sounds like a 1911 to me!
That pistol quickly became the “most wanted” custom 1911 pistol available! Not only did we provide thousands of pistols for the government, but also produced the exact same pistol for civilian purchase, known the world over as the “Professional”. All pistols were built to the same spec; in fact, when building these pistols, we didn’t know if they were going to civilians or the FBI.
TAL: Clearly, you have an extensive background in custom work, particularly on pistols like the 1911. Did I see a plaque in your office stating you were the 2006 Pistolsmith of the Year with the American Pistolsmiths Guild?
DW: Yes. In 2006, I was honored to be selected as the American Pistolsmiths Guild “Pistolsmith of the Year”. Previous recipients of this prestigious award nominate individuals they believe are deserving of this recognition, and then the full membership votes for their preferred candidate.
It was a huge honor to be included in the fraternity of some of the greatest pistolsmiths in the world, such as Bill Wilson; Richard Heinie; Jim Clark, Sr.; Ron Power; Mike Curtis; J.D. Jones; and many others too numerus to mention. Also, we here at Springfield are privileged to have five guild members on our staff.
TAL: What is your favorite Springfield Armory gun on which you have been a part of its development? Or, conversely, what’s your favorite Springfield?
DW: That’s a tough question. I’ve gotten to build guns for people like Tom Selleck, a strong Second Amendment defender and all-around great guy. I also have to say the Professional is definitely a favorite of mine. And because we knew not everyone could swing the cost of the full custom Professional pistol, we developed the TRP line of pistols, directly inspired by the Professional. The TRP was configured with the same general configuration, but at a more manageable price point. That’s another one I really like.
The EMP pistol was another notable project. It’s a 1911, but scaled down around the 9mm cartridge. This gives it a much smaller grip circumference, and a smaller overall size. I was actually granted one of my first patents with the EMP, so that’s another reason it’s so special to me. Currently I have 13 patents, and a few more pending.
As the company has grown, we’ve added numerous new platforms such as the SAINT AR family, the SA-35, the 1911 DS Prodigy, the Model 2020 Waypoint bolt-action rifle, the Hellion bullpup, and much more. And this all complements our ever-expanding lines of 1911 pistols and M1A rifles.
TAL: On the flip side, what is one gun you wish Springfield would make? We’re talking wish list here.
DW: Boy, that’s another tough one. I’d love to see a precision model version of the Model 2020 platform suitable for some of the long-range rifle competitions. Personally, I’m a smallbore competitor and would love to offer both rifles and pistols for the discipline. We’ve got numerous new projects on the drawing board, but unfortunately, I can’t get into those. We’re currently evaluating some new cartridge designs for both rifle and pistol that are really exciting. Be sure to stay tuned!
TAL: What is your fondest memory (or memories) of having worked at Springfield Armory over these past three decades?
DW: Springfield Armory started out as, and still is, a family-owned business. And I can honestly say we truly are a family, here. This is apparent through the many “legacy” employees we have at the company. There are a dozen or so of them that have more tenure than I do, and dozens of others that have more than 20 years of service.
I think this really speaks to the sound leadership we have at the company, and how great a place it is to work. I’ve had so many great experiences and opportunities over the years here. It’s really fantastic — and a rare thing — for your passion to become your occupation! I have had the opportunity to travel the world and work with some great individuals, and love what I do.
Speaking of family, this is particularly true for me. I met my beautiful wife of nearly 30 years here at Springfield. She started at Springfield in 1981 and recently retired, beginning as a receptionist and working her way through the ranks to finish her long career in the advertising and marketing department.
One of her duties was getting requested firearms to writers for articles and for the entertainment industry. She had a great rapport with them and, as a matter of fact, one of “her” writers is a fictional novelist who named a leading character in one of his novels after her!
TAL: We think that with your long history with the company, you probably have a very unique perspective on what the future of Springfield Armory might be. Considering the changes you’ve seen so far, what do you see in its future?
DW: I believe the sky’s the limit for Springfield. We have literally scores of new projects on the books, and there are some really exciting newly designed platforms you’ll start seeing soon.
I’ve seen huge growth over the years, but in many ways, we’ve still remained the same family-owned company we always have been. Sure, we’ve gotten much larger and more sophisticated, but we’re still a family here in our beautiful hamlet of Geneseo.
TAL: Thank you, Dave, for taking the time to sit down with The Armory Life for this interview. We truly appreciate it.
DW: Thank you.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in!
Join the Discussion
Featured in this article
Read the full article here