Join Date: May 4, 2001
This is an often asked question, here's a response I've posted before:
I was a professional watchmaker and gunsmith. Here's some pointers:
Forget the internet and mail order schools.
At best they can help you learn to do some hobby work on your own guns. They will not prepare you to work on other peoples guns and a "certificate" or "diploma" from any of them is worthless.
Apply for a job with one and you'll be lucky if they don't laugh in your face as they throw it in the trash.
Very few gunsmiths will take on an apprentice these days, and in order to have any value in the trade, the gunsmith who teaches you has to have a well known reputation in the industry as a gunsmith and as a teacher.
Since most gunsmiths have no real reputation outside of a few miles, a recommendation from them is worthless when applying for a job.
It can take years to learn as an apprentice and in most cases you won't be paid.
The way to learn the trade is in a top school.
You'll have a pro Master gunsmith/teacher looking at your work and telling you you're doing it right or wrong, and how to do it faster/better.
As much as possible, get close to the teachers. There's a LOT more they can show you if they know you're interested and not the typical student.
TAKE SOME BUSINESS CLASSES.
A great many people fail at trade businesses because they know nothing about running a business.
Remember, you will not be a gunsmith......you'll be a businessman who happens to run a gunsmithing business.
A large part of your day will be spent doing businessman functions like filling out paper work for the government, doing tax work, ordering parts and equipment, talking to prospective customers, being talked AT by dissatisfied customers, and spending only a limited amount of time actually doing gunsmithing.
Always remember, over 50% of all businesses fail, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE OR WHO'S RUNNING THEM. This is just normal business attrition. Not knowing about how to operate a business guarantees you'll fail.
The smart move is to work for another company or store that offers gunsmithing for a few years.
While you spend eight hours doing actual gun work and really learning the trade, the owner will do the businessman functions.
This will allow you really learn the trade, which the school will only get you started on. It will allow you to build up a reputation in the trade and build a prospective customer base.
You can take time to identify a good area to open your own shop, and you can buy the VERY expensive tools and equipment over a period of time.
It will also allow you to save enough money to tide you over the starvation period new trade shops go through.
In most cases, for at least the first year you'll spend a lot of time just sitting there waiting for some work to come in. Meantime, the bills keep coming in and you can get awfully hungry.
Too many new trade shops starve out from lack of income before they can get an established customer inflow.
After you've learned how to do good gunsmithing FAST, bought the equipment, have a reputation in the trade, found a good place to open up, and have some customer base established, then you can take the risk of opening your own shop.
And it's ALWAYS a risk. Remember the more than 50% failure rate for all businesses.
As for salary, there's an old joke:
"How's a large pizza and a gunsmith alike....... Neither can feed a family of four".
The only gunsmiths who make much money are those like Bill Wilson who own big shops employing a number of gunsmiths.
When you take into account the hours spent doing businessman functions and actual gunsmithing the average self-employed gunsmith is lucky to be making minimum wage......This is NOT a joke.
The only gunsmiths who make good money and benefits are those who work for someone else, preferably in a big shop like a Wilson's.
A self-employed gunsmith has to be a person who can get personal satisfaction from the work, and can be content with not making a lot of money, not having the nice car, the nice house, the nice vacations, the nice Rolex, etc.
On the skills part of gunsmithing, you have to be one of those odd people who get satisfaction from constantly trying to do a job better, and always thinking you could have done a better job.
People who are the type who think "It's good enough" usually fail.
A lot of people want to be good watchmakers or gunsmiths, but not everyone has the talent. The school will, one way or another let you know if you're cut out for the trade or not.
This may be a blunt statement from an instructor, it may be hints that your work isn't up to standard, or it may be in bad grades.
Realizing you're not cut out for the trade depends on how well you listen to them and whether you're willing to admit it to yourself.
An amazing number of people in these technical schools simply refuse to accept it. In that case, your time and a large amount of money will be a total waste.
We NEED good gunsmiths, and the trade is a satisfying one on a personal level.
If you're serious, squeeze everything you can out of the school, take the business courses even if you have to do night school at a community college, and don't jump into opening your own shop until you're fully prepared.
About a year before you're due to graduate, start looking for a job. Most of the schools will help in job hunting, but it's largely up to you.
The day you graduate you should at least one FIRM job offer, and at least several strong possibilities.
The fools and boobs will wait for graduation to start looking.
There are a surprising number of sources for jobs beside gun shops. Many of the big custom shops like Wilson are often looking, Cabela's and other big retailers often need people, gun companies often are looking for GOOD people, some industries and companies you might not expect employ gunsmiths in research and government contract work.
Most police departments don't employ gunsmiths. They send cops to gun company armorers courses to be parts replacers. Unless you're a cop, most won't accept an application, but a few do, so it can't hurt to check.
The government and military do employ gunsmiths but these are only very top, experienced people, and usually ex-military people.
Here's the American gunsmithing schools.
The one's with the best reputation in the industry are the Colorado School of Trades and Trinidad. Some of the others are also very good.
Colorado School of Trades
1575 Hoyt Street
Lakewood, CO 80215
Lassen Community College
P.O. Box 3000
Susanville, CA 96130
Modern Gun School
80 North Main Street, P.O. Box 846
St. Albans, VT 05478
Montgomery Community College
1011 Page Street
P.O. Box 787
Troy, NC 27371
Murray State College
One Murray Campus
Tishomingo, OK 73460
Pennsylvania Gunsmith School
812 Ohio River Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Piedmont Community College
1715 College Drive
P.O. Box 1197
Roxboro, NC 27573
Pine Technical Institute
900 4th Street
Pine City, MN 55063
Trinidad State Jr. College
Trinidad, CO 81082
1100 East Sheldon Street
Prescott, AZ 86301