gunsmith's files and screwdrivers are his most precious tools. Buy the best and never lend them.
My "Masterpiece" if you want to call it that, was a single shot rifle. I made the entire firing lock from scratch. I made the mainspring. I made the hammer. I drilled and button rifled the BBL, made the stock, checkered it, finished it... etc. It took me TWO YEARS of effort "when not working on shop projects". I did each phase of the project in tune with what subject the old man was teaching me. I still think that any 'Smith worth the title ought to have done at least one project like this. It may seem archaic... but the result is a base of knowlage that is the foundation of all else. In the end I did not persue the profession, but I stll enjoy making things mechanical, and those lessons are used in a variety of ways both physical and metaphysical. Patience, persistance, problem solving, and pride in a job well done.
Masters teach Apprentices to be Masters. Journeymen teach Apprentices to be Journeymen.
Make sure that you work with Masters... they are damned rare.
As you stated, there are no short cuts in becoming a Master or Journeymen. Something todays generation tends to loose sight of. I am not stating that OP is looking for short cuts but just making a general statement so keep the pantaloons nice and loose.
NRA Life Member, NRA Range Safety Officer, IDPA Safety Officer, USPSA NROI Range Officer
As you are, I once was, As I am, You will be.