Justin Spangler was the fifth continuous generation of his family to grow up and work on his family’s dairy farm, located in New Berlin, Pennsylvania. The farm house was a stone house constructed for defense against marauding Indians in the 1770’s and became known as Beatty’s Fort. Accounts have been documented regarding wounded local settlers seeking refuge in the structure. Needless to say, history has been very vocal in an everyday aspect early in his life. His father, Daniel Spangler, owned and operated the family’s dairy farm where Justin learned countless skills regarding general mechanics while helping with the maintenance and operation of the farm. His mother, Donna Selfridge Spangler, is a graphic artist who owns her own business which focuses in Fraktur – a traditional folk art exclusively practiced by the Pennsylvania Germans from the 1750’s to the 1850’s.
He began building progressively involved woodworking projects at age 12 – his early projects include an 8” Newtonian Telescope and an all-wood Appalachian Mountain Banjo. Kit Ravenshear, a gunsmith and “Contractor to HM Royal Armouries”, had begun working with Donna in 1989 publishing graphical and literary resources for “Antique Guncraftsmen”. These publications include short manuals for woodworking, springs, metal work and “Kit Bits”. Full scale drawings of period correct military arms were also created as resources for gunsmiths and historians that were available to the general public. In 1993, Kit invited Justin to work in his shop and actively learn the historical gunsmithing trade. Kit’s concern was that the information that has been re-discovered by his generation in the recent past was not going to be passed to the next generation and would be lost. Justin spent a few days each week assembling hardware and working with materials in Kit’s shop while watching him work on his current projects. Regrettably, Kit passed away in June of 1998, just as the two were acquiring parts to begin work on Justin’s first complete antique reproduction. At Kit’s request, he was cremated and his ashes were fired out of a mortar cannon that he had owned.
David Wagner Jr., another local gunsmith, friend and contemporary of Kit’s was also present at the memorial service. Dave had worked in the rifle shop at Colonial Williamsburg for 12 years. During his time in the rifle shop at Colonial Williamsburg, he completed an entirely hand made rifle, a challenge that few people accept and fewer succeed. Dave and Justin struck up a friendship and Justin began working on a rifle in his shop. Justin’s first piece was influenced by the early Reading school of gunsmiths – a piece which he finished at the age of 17. Their friendship continued while Justin went to college at Penn State University for his undergraduate degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and his graduate degree at North Carolina State University in the same field. Dave always offered a constructively scrutinizing eye for Justin’s work. He also encouraged Justin to work on projects that further challenged his skill and problem solving abilities. Dave passed away suddenly in February of 2005, forever marking the loss of a good friend and generous gunsmithing resource.
His two mentors have taught him many lessons, most importantly that a true master is always a humble student of the trade – you have to keep learning and re-evaluate the techniques and procedures in the interest of history. Justin currently works as an Environmental Engineer in Lititz, PA doing stream and wetland restoration throughout the east coast. He has built rifles of the Reading, York and Lancaster schools in addition to a handful of silver mounted Queen Anne Screw Barrel Pistols. He continues to refine his skills by pursuing different projects in the historical gunsmithing arena. Due to his part time gunsmithing status, he does not actively solicit orders but currently considers a limited amount of contract work.