I've inquired over several forums, and the consensus that I've got from the responses is to go your local junior college, take some classes in machining and welding (woodwork too if possible) and buy a bunch of busted or cheap rifles then start "experimenting".
Even better, find a local smith that is willing to take you under his/her wing as an apprentice.
I plan on starting with restoration of some cheap old mausers and mosins. Perhaps tossing in a FUBAR'ed WASR-10 or something.
Good luck, if things work out on my end, maybe someday in the future we'll be collegues in the field.