View Full Version : Gunsmithing
February 10, 2008, 05:27 AM
This may seem like a strange topic for art of the rifle but here goes. When I get out of the Corps. i intend to become a precision gunsmith building competition level rifles. I'll have about a year in the states after I get back from Iraq and I wanted to begin school. My question is would it be worth the time and money to attend an online gunsmithing course such as sonoran desert institute. I intend to attend Trinidads two year gunsmithing program regardless. Any info you have would be much appreciated. SEMPER FIDELIS
February 10, 2008, 06:48 AM
Before going to gunsmithing schools, you should get as many gunsmithing books you can find and read up on how to fix and modify rifles as well as putting together new ones.
The NRA has some pretty good gunsmithing books and I have a book called Pistolsmithing, by George Nonte(?) that helped me to fix a lot of handgun problems. It's a bit dated, but the information is still good. Other books include "The Accurate Rifle" by Warren Page.
After you've read up on how to do gunsmithing and what hand tools to buy, get yourself some checkering tools and practice on flat pieces of wood, graduating to cheap rifles or old used stocks.
Read up on the latest techniques for bedding, lathe work, milling machine use and other basic techniques.
Then, if you're still very interested in gunsmithing work, either try to go to work for a gunsmith or go to a gunsmithing school. Working for a gunsmith has a lot of benefits, namely, real-world knowledges on todays market. Schools can be good, but you may waste a lot of time and money learning how to do things for which there is little market in todays gun world.
That's my two-cents, not that I've ever been a full-time gunsmith, but have done a lot of part-time gunsmithing, firearms repair, and accurizing. Gunsmiths in Maine don't seem to get very rich, many of the ones I've known could only afford to do it part-time.
The worst was a blacksmith/gun repairer-destroyer in Oakland who butchered his last gun many years ago. I have him to thank for getting me into gunsmithing. There was no other way I was going to get my guns to shoot the way I wanted them to, with the money available.
February 10, 2008, 12:35 PM
The Trinidad school has been around for a heckuva long time. Decades. I doubt they'd have lasted this long if they weren't good.
Google for Bo Clerke's website. He's a high-quality barrel-maker in Raton, New Mexico. You might email him and ask his opinion.
Lots of good literature. Brownell's "Gunsmithing Kinks" and others, the how-to books on disassembly/reassembly of rifles, pistols and shotguns. Other books like Hallock on the 1911. Wouldn't hurt to get a copy of the Sierra reloading manual just because of the large amount of information on exterior ballistics.
February 10, 2008, 02:07 PM
Until you can write your own paychecks via gunsmithing, and considering the oportunities you have for career choices and GI Bill- take a look at machinist schools and jobs. They tend to pay well around here, and the professional contacts are an incredible asset. Getting out of uniform isn't as easy as they make it sound. Even though you have to alter it- keep constant focus on your career roadmap. Were you an NCO? If so, keep your notes and select what is applicable for keeping your personal and business affairs in perspective and put those ideals into practice. Job field competition is stiff on the outside, Uncle Sam taught you what others pay consideralbe sums of money to learn- straightforwardness, professionalism, and self esteem/discipline will propel your career roadmap much faster than nickle and dime courses. Good luck and drive on!
February 10, 2008, 02:47 PM
I recommend becoming a machinist first, right now the demand for machinists is on the rise.
Every skill you learn as a machinist will transfer over to gunsmith; lathe, mill, welding, filing, drill&tap, threading, etc.
The most successful gunsmiths I know didn't get that way overnight. Usually it takes quite a while to build up a customer base. Altho if you start building competition winning rifles that usually helps.
But you can't go wrong with becoming a journeyman machinist.
February 10, 2008, 03:08 PM
Hard part about becoming a machinist these days is most jobs available will have the inexperienced guy running put 'n' take on CNC machines. You really want to start on conventional (manual) engine lathes and milling machines.
You can teach yourself a lot about machining at home with some equipment, study, trial and error and practice, but you'll be better off getting a job in a shop.
BTW: You can learn enough to help you with gunsmithing pretty quickly, but in my experience, it usually takes ~10 years for someone to be really good at machining.
February 10, 2008, 03:10 PM
I went to gunsmithing school and dont regret it a bit. I had three picked out and went with an in-state collage. Before the internet all there was was mail schooling, and you can not get the hands on training that a school setting gives you! In fact it was all open book tests, didnt remember the answer go through the book and get the answer. Anyone willing to take the time and go to school will get more out of it than any other way. You'll get all the basics with function of firearms, machineshop, wood working, and so on! Best of luck to you...
February 10, 2008, 03:16 PM
I would recommend an attendance school and it sounds like that is what you've settled on. IMO, don't waste time with the on-line/correspondance courses. They add nothing of value to your resume. The Trinidad program is excellent, it was started by P.O. Ackley back in the late 1940's so that should tell you a lot. I attended the Colorado School of Trades in Lakewood, CO. In researching the different options, CST appealed to me more because you go for 14 mos. straight (no extended Christmas break or summer vacation) and you don't have to screw around with other classes like English, Biology, etc. Trinidad is a state JC so students there are required to take other classes that fulfill the curriculum the state has established. At CST, it's pure, straight forward gunsmithing and you aren't burdened with any superfluous crap. It's privately owned and it's more expensive but I think the trade-off is well worth it. You complete the program sooner and, as a result, get into the field sooner. However, CST, Trinidad, Murray St., Lassen, and others are all well regarded by the industry so I don't think it matters where you end up.
Not sure if you have much say in the matter, but the Marines have a tremendous armourer program in Quantico. If the possibility exists, getting assigned there would give you a fantastic introduction into custom rifle building. That would be an awesome experience, IMO.
February 10, 2008, 04:28 PM
Learn how to use a milling machine and lathe at a JC before you get to Trinidad. That'll give you an edge in terms of machine operations and those skills will be useful even if you decide not to pursue gunsmithing.
February 10, 2008, 05:26 PM
Learn how to use a milling machine and lathe at a JC
Helpful if you really want to learn and have a good instructor and it might be enough for general gunsmithing, but I think you'd learn more, faster in a shop.
A lot of the JCs in my area have been canceling their machining programs. I sit on the advisory board of a local, inner-city JCs machining program and while they are trying, it's very difficult to find good students. The shop instructor usually has to try and teach them basic arithmetic before anything else. The bottom line is that I've been looking for entry level people from local JC programs for the past few years and have yet to find one I feel worthy of hiring. I've found better prospects coming out of small shops with just a little experience.
February 11, 2008, 08:25 AM
Our local Community College has machine shop courses, which I would recommend you take before going to Trinidad.
Also, I bought Roy Dunlap's book on gunsmithing 45 years ago, and still refer to it. It is a great book, one you should buy, and it is available as a reprint.
February 16, 2008, 04:35 PM
Hey everyone who replied thanks a million. From what you've told me(collectively) there are many options i could take and end up where I want to be. My work ethic will always be an asset and I think I'll go to an in house school. Trinidad or CST? Thanks again I'll catch ya on ther flip side.
February 17, 2008, 09:18 PM
Some of the folks here may be tired of hearing me say it, but go to that JC for some courses in running a business. Gunsmithing is one of several "hobby" businesses (car work and restaurants are others) that people get into because they know how to do the work but haven't the foggiest idea of how to run a business. The first result is predictable. They get into trouble with the licensing authorities, the IRS, OSHA, the P&Z commission, state and local tax people, and on and on. The second result is equally predictable; they go broke within a year, with their whole investment in equipment and work down the tubes. It is a heartbreaker and easy to avoid with forethought and preparation.
Gunsmithing is prone to other, almost unique, problems. Every minute you spend BSing with the customers is a minute you are making no money. Failure to do perfect paperwork can lose you your FFL or even result in criminal charges. Failure to carry proper insurance will bankrupt you if your shop is robbed or has a fire. And so on. Lots to think about, but better to do the thinking now rather than later.
Also, you are going into a highly competitive area of the gunsmithing business, and one with a limited market. My advice is not be too exclusive; if someone wants a shotgun bead replaced, don't say you don't lower yourself to do that kind of work. Money is money and until you can build up the type of business you want, you will be in no position to turn any away.
Lots of luck and best wishes.
February 17, 2008, 09:53 PM
Mr. Keenan brings up an excellent, often over-looked, point. Having some business savvy is imperative, regardless of the field or industry. I should have mentioned this previously, but CST does have a class that deals specifically with the unique business challenges that gunsmith's face. Is it an MBA level class - of course not. But, it does address things like proper licensing, real estate, EPA considerations if you plan on offering bluing, etc.
February 17, 2008, 11:11 PM
I'd try contacting individuals who are building the types of rifles that you'd like to build. They should be able to give you a good idea of the skillset required, and the most appropriate path to entering the field.
February 17, 2008, 11:21 PM
Jim & Pinto:
February 20, 2008, 03:51 PM
Another thing that often comes up is whether to run a gun or gunsmith business out of your home, where that is legal. I advise against it.
First, gun shops are magnets for burglars. You don't want to put heavy bars on your house, nor do you want to subject your family to the danger of a breakin by druggies looking for guns.
Second, you don't want to be wakened at 2AM on opening day by some clod who demands you fix the gun he broke last year so he can go hunting.
February 22, 2008, 03:16 PM
When I hire new employees I'm looking for machining expertise. If you aren't at least a qualified Journeyman Machinist, I don't need you.
Our apprentices are sent to the local community college and enroll in the 2 year Apprentice Machinist curriculum.
You stated that you wanted to build accurate rifles, and with out good equipment and machinists, it can't be done.
My background is similar to yours, and you can do what I did - learn what you need to know, get a Type 7 FFL, buy the equipment and tooling that you need to do the work correctly and to tight tolerances (dig deep into your own pockets, and have friends with money they are willing to loan because high quality machines are expensive), and go into business for yourself. The first couple of years will be rough, but if you build a good product, you can make a go of it.
I really didn't start to make money untill I had built the clientele and business to the point that it took 4 people working full time on the floor to keep up with the demand. As far as I can see it is damn near impossible to work a shop alone, and having a shop at the house limits your machines (single phase power). You have to have three phase power for your machines to get the most productivity.
We are currently in 5,000 sq ft, and 95% of that is the shop with 5% being offices, restrooms, and the employee locker room. The rest is all machine shop loaded with my lifeblood, so to speak.
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