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Old April 26, 2010, 10:11 PM   #1
dchi
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How much do gunsmiths make $$$?

Im about to graduate from Trinidad State Jr College. I just attended the Brownell's career fair. There were 5 other gun schools there. I had the best custom pistols there at the show. I got 4 job offers but they were not what I was hoping. They were on the average of $12 an hour and no peice rate for work even though those shops were charging $65 and hour or $2500 for custom gun. They offered to pay for most tooling and some insurance. This is sad, my wife makes $9 working at walmart and she's been there only a year.

What should I ask for????

BTW I had one company offer me $23 an hour but they have no benefits at all and the don't pay for any tools and if you break something, you buy it.

Last edited by dchi; April 26, 2010 at 10:18 PM.
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Old April 26, 2010, 10:35 PM   #2
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You have to be in business for yourself...

I'm not in any way in the gunsmith business, but you aren't going to make any money until you own your own business and make a name for yourself.
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Old April 26, 2010, 11:02 PM   #3
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I've been warned that going straight into buisness straight out of school is a bad idea. Im good at what I've been taught at the school but its just the basics. I've built 2 1911s, one revolver, a sporterized mauser, one tactical bolt gun and done about a dozen repairs and some stock work. I think it would be wise to work on a few hundred guns before trying to go out on my own. All of the places that I interviewed with had senior smiths that would contiue my training. No problem I can accept $12 in training but they said raise are like a $1 year. $20 after 8 years as a skilled proffesional is a joke. In 2018 things are likely cost twice what they cost now.
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Old April 27, 2010, 12:57 AM   #4
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Welcome to the real world. From the list of things you worked on, I don't think you could be called a skilled professional. If you break it, you buy it does not seem unreasonable either. If you want to work for someone else, that is the way it is. Why would I pay for your training if you are going to leave and start your own business? More money? When you don't come over to me and ask a question every two minutes is when we talk more money. That is how an employer looks at things. Nobody cares if you have good intentions because you are selling your skills and the employer is looking for a fair price to pay for them. I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the sooner you learn the better.
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Old April 27, 2010, 03:31 AM   #5
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its called "payin' yer deeeeeeeeeeeeews"

Granted Im not a professional gunsmith by any stretch (machinist, who moonlights).
But same goes for fellas who are straight out of trade school, all apprentices think they're gonna make 30 bucks an hour right out of the gate...........wrong, you get 65-75% of journeyman wage for right out of school, next year if you pass your stuff you make 10 percent more and so on.

But in all seriousness, I have worked for shops during my apprentiship that PAYED less but TAUGHT more and freely, and its a sound investment for anyone wanting to learn.


The few real smiths I know do it for the love of the craft and most have side jobs eather machining, farming, guiding or whatever.

Chances of you getting rich off of this gig are slim and the time to create a name for yourself is long. I wager Tunrbull and Bowen didn't become widely known over night, or over a year.

Last edited by hickstick_10; April 27, 2010 at 03:37 AM.
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Old April 27, 2010, 04:01 AM   #6
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How much money can you make?

How many jobs can you do well?

I tried my hand at professional gunsmithing a while back. Here's a bit of what I found out...

1. Most of your jobs will be done with a good cleaning. You would be surprised at the stuff that builds up in a firearm.
2. Attention to detail is your friend. Work on each and every gun like it is a family heirloom of yours.
3. Be willing to work long hours. I mean LONG hours.
4. You will be investing a lot of money in tools. Buy the best ONCE, not cheap over and over.
5. One of the most important things I learned is how to be mature enough to pass up work I could not do. People will respect your honesty.
6. Never, EVER do patch work. No Bubba jobs! Do it right, or don't do it at all.
7. Don't overload yourself. It's easy to do, trust me.
8. Do NOT get into the trade looking to get rich. Do it for the love and the feel of good steel, the smoothness of the action of a well built arm--and never lose your affection for them. Don't worry about the money--trust me, if you invest the time and yourself--your heart--in each job, the work will come to you.

Good luck! Here's hoping that you will be immensely successful.
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Old April 27, 2010, 07:45 AM   #7
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You're coming out of Jr College, with zero experience, no tools, they let you handle things where one slip with a tool is $1,000 down the drain, and you think $12 with benefits is not paying you enough? In other countries you need 3 years apprentice ship with $5/h allowance (they don't even call it a wage) before you're even allowed to work unsupervised.
Sure there are people who charge $100 an hour, but those are the ones with 30 years experience or $100k in tools that produce perfect work.
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Old April 27, 2010, 08:44 AM   #8
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Quote:
How much do gunsmiths make $$$?
Just enough to starve.

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Old April 27, 2010, 08:59 AM   #9
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...Just enough to starve

That about sums it up. I had to move on to a similar industry to start getting paid what I considered a living wage.
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:00 AM   #10
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Gunsmithing Income

Bear in mind my frame of reference starts in 1977. I was trained as an Apprentice with a local Gunsmith who was trained in Austria. I swept floors, dumped chip tubs, ran errands...for free. I had a full time job as an Instrument-Controls technician with a Power Generation Utility. I was working for this Gunsmith on Weekends and evenings. The I&C position was an IBEW OJT position. It paid my bills. I never had any intention of Gunsmithing as a primary source of income. The IBEW position paid very well, about $70,000/yr in today's equivalent dollars. I started gunsmithing as an "armorer" for a local law enforcement organization. Initially, I made less than minimum wage as a 'smith. The one department, lead to another, to another, and so on. The one Sheriff had a thing for Commander sized 1911s and in 1980 you could not just go out and buy a Kimber, SA, Ed Brown, etc. So, I built him a Combat Commander. He showed the other local Police Chiefs and Sheriffs and that helped. I acquired 3 local gun stores repair work. I was also shooting IPSC every single chance, to promote my work. All the while working 40hr/ week in a Power Plant. After ~5yrs The Gunsmithing business was yielding ~80% of my full time gig. The Gunsmithing business had ZERO benefits. I was working about 30hr/week as a Gunsmith. I had a few rules:
1) I always had a Contract with the business'/LEOs.
2) The private Customer always signed a work order and paid for all parts up front.
3) The work order stipulated that the customer would pay in full prior to picking up the gun. He had 14 calendar days to do so after being notified in writing that the work was complete.
4) The first major cash outlay I made was not a Mill, a Lathe, a Shaper, or a Surface Grinder, it was a retainer for an Attorney.
5) Secondly, Egan, the old Gunsmith told me Finance nothing for the business, cash only.

I sold the business in 1986. I had also become a Class 3 Dealer ( a spin off of the LEAA days. In 1986 my retail component of the Class 3 was "done in" by the Feds. I sold the Mill, Lathe, Shaper, Surface Grinder, Indexing Fixture, and TIG welder and most importantly, contracts. My net after all the years afforded my kid's college education and paid off my home. Would I do it again? In a gun friendly time and place, like now. However, my experience shows that when we have a Democrat run Gov. Gun sales/spending are brisk, Get an all Republican, not so much. (Carter vs. Reagan).
Just my experience.
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:24 AM   #11
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You have received a wealth of information from the others that have answered your thread.

You question why some shops charge $65.00 an hour but only offer to pay you $12.00 an hour plus benfits, the short answer to that is, it's called overhead.
To put this in perspective my electric company had a 26% rate increase last year.
Now if you factor in the cost of fuel for heat, tooling replacement and maintenance, office supplies and equipment, shop (building) maintenance, the list could go on but I think you can see the shop owner is not getting a large percent of the $65.00 an hour he's charging.

Now if you decide to run your own shop and do it all yourself be prepared to put in a minimum of 80 hours a week if you want to do 40 hours of bench time. Keep in mind the bench time is the time you are getting paid for.
You set your shop rate at $65.00, pay all your expenses and when it's all said and done you are going to be back to being very close to $12.00 an hour for your bench time.

A very wise man told me that gunsmithing is more a labor of love then it is about getting rich, he was right.

I wish you the best in your endeavors.
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Old April 27, 2010, 11:00 AM   #12
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The national average salary for a gunsmith is around the mid-$40's. BUT...

As with any real trade, the first couple of years are considered apprenticeships. Regardless if you're an accountant, IT geek, carpenter, plumber, or gunsmith. To think that you will be making the average wage of the profession is unrealistic.

You should take the best offer that is presented to you. $23 with no benefits is equivalent to a low to mid-30K a year gig. The risk you have is health insurance & the cost of your errors, which can REALLY add up if you work on expensive pieces and Bubba them.

Quote:
dchi
How much do gunsmiths make $$$?
Im about to graduate from Trinidad State Jr College. I just attended the Brownell's career fair. There were 5 other gun schools there. I had the best custom pistols there at the show. I got 4 job offers but they were not what I was hoping. They were on the average of $12 an hour and no peice rate for work even though those shops were charging $65 and hour or $2500 for custom gun. They offered to pay for most tooling and some insurance. This is sad, my wife makes $9 working at walmart and she's been there only a year.

What should I ask for????

BTW I had one company offer me $23 an hour but they have no benefits at all and the don't pay for any tools and if you break something, you buy it.
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Old April 27, 2010, 11:09 AM   #13
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Here's some free advice - take it for what it's worth...

Take a job with the best company, regardless of wage 'cause the wage will be pretty darn close for an entry level position anyway. After 2 years jump ship. This is the only way to make any real money when working for the man. Wage increase will almost always be lower than an increase when you join a new company. Rule of thumb, don't jump ship for anything less than 10% - with a good company, of course. This is true is all the sectors I've worked in - heavy & light manufacturing, retail/wholesale, agriculture, & IT.

Quote:
dchi
I've been warned that going straight into buisness straight out of school is a bad idea. Im good at what I've been taught at the school but its just the basics. I've built 2 1911s, one revolver, a sporterized mauser, one tactical bolt gun and done about a dozen repairs and some stock work. I think it would be wise to work on a few hundred guns before trying to go out on my own. All of the places that I interviewed with had senior smiths that would contiue my training. No problem I can accept $12 in training but they said raise are like a $1 year. $20 after 8 years as a skilled proffesional is a joke. In 2018 things are likely cost twice what they cost now.
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Old April 27, 2010, 11:17 AM   #14
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pay your dews

Its just like any other job your fresh out of Jr College. If you would have gone in to IT you would be making about 12 to 14 an hour. There are not many jobs that you can walk out of JR College and start pulling down 50k+. I took me over 10 years in my field to start to make that kind of money. I have to agree with hickstick_10 you have to pay your dews.

Also dont get hung up on the fact they will be billing you out at 65 and hour. It cost alot to keep a shop open. There is over head for them. Lights, tools, taxs, all other expenses, and your pay. Nothing in life is free.
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Old April 27, 2010, 11:40 AM   #15
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Quote:
How much do gunsmiths make $$$?
I worked as a machinist/smith for 4 years, and I would have made more money working at McDonalds, but I would not have gotten to play with all the cool toys. We worked 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, and never got to go hunting or play with the guns we were building because we were busy during hunting season.

Of course, if I had been working at McDonalds I would have gotten to wear really cool clothes and learn to say "would you like fries with that?".

Quote:
They were on the average of $12 an hour and no peice rate for work even though those shops were charging $65 and hour or $2500 for custom gun.
Generally, you either get piece rate or a wage, seldom both. If the owner is offering $12/hour, he is taking a chance on you based on what he has seen of your work. Do a good job and earn him more money and he may pay more; get a chip on your shoulder and you may be out the door. If you feel that is exploitation, learn what you can from the best smith in the shop, then when you feel lucky, go out on your own. That will be a learning experience.

What the shop charges is not your concern unless you want to be a partner. Shop rate covers overhead (rent, lights, heat, etc), consumables (oils, solvents, sandpaper, bluing salts, shop towels, toilet paper, etc), insurance, advertising, and profit if any. 25 years ago, we were charging $60/hour and we still went broke, it's hard to imagine anything that costs almost the same as it did in 1985.
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Old April 27, 2010, 12:24 PM   #16
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I'm not a gunsmith, but 12$ an hour sounds pretty good for someone graduating jr college with only a little experience. That's about 24k a year, without overtime, working 40 hour weeks. I would say that's not to shabby. I don't know how old you are but look at what your friends make right out of college, I'm sure its somewhere in that ballpark. Just remember that the only direction you can move is up.

If it makes you feel better many of my friends are doctors now (interns, residents) and their average salary is about 40K, and they are working 100 hour weeks, no OT.


Also, how many years is a gunsmithing program?

Last edited by LSU12ga; April 27, 2010 at 12:32 PM.
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Old April 27, 2010, 08:30 PM   #17
dchi
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Well I got alot of opinons but nobody has laid down any numbers. that makes me think that many of you are not trained as smith. Everybody thinks Im trying to make $50k right off the bat, Im not. But I think a fair wage might be $15 with benifits. Im no bubba, my work was good enough to win me a scholarship. And Im way better than 5 other schools out there based on what I saw at the Brownell's career fair. But I know I am no way experianced. I have about $3000 in tools now but no lathe, mill, tanks, belt sanders, drill press etc. I guess I would still need to get another $2000 in hand tools and guages. Many of the shops out there already have mauch of these things in there stores already.
As far as overhead in the gun stores. The rent, lights have to be paid regardless if there is a smith there or not. Their main buisness is to sell guns. The guns on the shelf are the overhead. Those guns sitting on the shelf could be better use earning interest if they don't sell quick. The counter help cost you a days wage no matter if he sells a gun or not that day. And he usually has to sell at least 1-2 day just to break even for the shop to cover his wage. But the smith generates income for the shop for just by being there. Ever shop i've ever checked is back logged with work. So he should be billing customers $65 X 8 hours everyday. Even with tooling costs, insurance and electricity and $12 and hour does not even come close to $65 and hour charge rate. So that said, only those who are working as trained proffesional gunsmiths need to answer. No home smiths or self taught guys with machinist backgrounds. I want to know what the smiths out there who work for big gunshops make.

I forgot to add, Im 38 working on my 4th career. I also have a BA in criminal justice, was a production manager, in public safety and a field service tech. I was making $10 with full benifits straight out of school in 1995. I do love what I do but I have to look out for me so I have to ask.

Last edited by dchi; April 27, 2010 at 08:47 PM.
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:00 PM   #18
dchi
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It depends what school you go to. This one is 2 years with an optional 3rd year. Some places like the school of trades is about 14 months with no break. Trinidad is the oldest and largest and I think the best based on what I saw was the best work from 5 other schools. I checked the school of trades and it was a much smaller place with less than half of the machines here.
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:18 PM   #19
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Quote:
Well I got alot of opinons but nobody has laid down any numbers. that makes me think that many of you are not trained as smith. Everybody thinks Im trying to make $50k right off the bat, Im not. But I think a fair wage might be $15 with benifits. Im no bubba, my work was good enough to win me a scholarship. And Im way better than 5 other schools out there based on what I saw at the Brownell's career fair. But I know I am no way experianced. I have about $3000 in tools now but no lathe, mill, tanks, belt sanders, drill press etc. I guess I would still need to get another $2000 in hand tools and guages. Many of the shops out there already have mauch of these things in there stores already.
As far as overhead in the gun stores. The rent, lights have to be paid regardless if there is a smith there or not. Their main buisness is to sell guns. The guns on the shelf are the overhead. Those guns sitting on the shelf could be better use earning interest if they don't sell quick. The counter help cost you a days wage no matter if he sells a gun or not that day. And he usually has to sell at least 1-2 day just to break even for the shop to cover his wage. But the smith generates income for the shop for just by being there. Ever shop i've ever checked is back logged with work. So he should be billing customers $65 X 8 hours everyday. Even with tooling costs, insurance and electricity and $12 and hour does not even come close to $65 and hour charge rate. So that said, only those who are working as trained proffesional gunsmiths need to answer. No home smiths or self taught guys with machinist backgrounds. I want to know what the smiths out there who work for big gunshops make.

The smith does not generate income just by clocking in I assure you, if a small retail shop hires a Gunsmith they expect to lose money on this new hire for 2-6 months at least. . . .this is due to ramping up buying of tools and everyday disposables (oil, cleaners, degreasers, rags, paper towels, ect. . .)
Realistically the you will only be able to charge customers for 2/3-3/4 of the hours you are working. Also the new smith doesn't get much recognition locally on just his school projects, people ooh and ahh but that generally isn't what they will use a gunsmith for, you will get small crappy jobs for awhile, anywhere you go, people will put the new guy to the test. Not to mention your boss will likely bolster his advertising budget to get the word out that he has hired a full time gunsmith.. . . .

Sounds to me like you need to get your feet wet buddy, youre awful proud of your work by the sounds of things, but since your name isn't Bill Wilson or Doug Turnbull you don't have a lot to hang your hat on. . .

It is good to be proud of your work, you have to like it to make other people like it, but you are the new kid on the block, take the job that makes you happiest .. .

You may want to work for a big shop (Turnbull was hiring in December FYI, and I heard Wild West Guns was also shopping, Gander Mountain is always hiring somewhere, and they start at 13-15/hr + Beni's) But I started at a small shop, why?? Because I strive to provide the finest customer service possible, and I need customer contact to feel like I am getting the job done right.

Currently I cannot see myself moving to a larger shop, as after 6 Months of working at this small shop we are moving to a new location, where my side of the shop will be 3X bigger and the retail side will be 2.5X bigger . . .That lets me know I am not screwing the pooch here, and I stay busy.

Cost of living is also something you should take into consideration, upon Graduation I bought a house with my long time Fiance' $62K for 1650 square feet 3 BR 2 Bath built in the 1960's in a nice small town in rural NW Ohio

What Im getting at is you better take one of those offers, there are thousands of other 'educated' people with a lot more time in school than you or I that don't have ANY offers

BTW I Resent your comments about the others 'schools' work, being a Graduate of one, It is the individuals, not the schools that make great work, just like Colleges don't make geniuses. . . Have you ever made a stock from a blank of walnut?

Tell you what, if you really want to talk to a guy in your situation, shoot me a PM and we can go from there.. . .

Pennsylvania Gunsmith School Class of 2009

Thanks
Karl Beining
www.ottawaordnance.com
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:20 PM   #20
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Quote:
that makes me think that many of you are not trained as smith.
Excuse me?

There are a lot of people here giving you straight advice. No need for what some folks would consider a straight insult.

All of the gunsmiths I know and have met have one thing in common--an unconditional, deep affection for the art and science of firearms Another very common trait is humility and being somewhat soft spoken. Plus, a lot of fine, well known smiths have never seen the inside of a "formal" gunsmithing school--but the methods they use are taught at these formal schools.

While at Camp Perry 2001, I was talking with a younger gentleman about troubles I was having with my 1911 pistol. He described in detail what was happening--and told me to bring my pistol around later that evening. I wish I had. The gentleman's name is Jim Clark, Jr.

While at Camp Perry 2007, my .22 stage in the preliminaries were disastrous. I have a Marvel Unit 1 conversion on a dedicated frame--and it went full auto. I took the gun to the Marvel building, and a young gentleman named Travis Frerking examined the gun, told me what was wrong and fixed it--right there, on the spot--for the price of the parts.

Later, I found that my grip safety on the Marvel did not work. I bought a used safety from Springfield Armory, and fitted it. It STILL didn't work.

I walked back into the building, and asked for a brand new grip safety. Two guys were standing there, and asked what the problem was. I told them; they took the lower from the pistol and disappeared into the back room. They came back out later--in about 30 minutes--with a brand new, hand fitted grip safety. The price? 10 dollars! Who did the work? Two of the Springfield Armory custom pistolsmiths.

They could have charged me a mint--but all of the people mentioned above work for the simple satisfaction of doing a job well.

And unless you learn that vital lesson--unless you work on guns because they are a part of you as a person, and NOT because of dollar signs--you will have a hard time making it in gunsmithing.
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Old April 27, 2010, 09:55 PM   #21
dchi
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Thanks for the replys, no insult intended. I was just looking at a dollar figure. I have 4 offers sofar but 3 seemed way off and I was looking for some range so I could come back with a counter offer.
Just consider this thread closed for now.

Those of you that are already in the buisness, PM me. I can send pics of my work from 1st semester till now and my resume.
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Old April 28, 2010, 07:22 AM   #22
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dchi, one more point in determining overhead rates that got missed, your $65 also pays for the guy who spent 15 min taking the order, the 5 min on the girl doing the accounting, the cleaning lady and who else. All of whom don't generate billable hours.
You're getting hung up on a low starting wage; if you're good, you can count on 10% raises until you caught up with the average wage, or more. I paid 70k/y to a guy with zero formal training, just 40 years experience running tools. What was more than anyone without a PhD was making in our shop at the time.
Good luck, and post the pictures.
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Old April 28, 2010, 08:39 AM   #23
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I know a gunsmith who makes $30k a year.
I have interviewed many engineers for jobs over the last 25 years, and that gunsmith is technically smarter that almost all of the engineers I have interviewed.
If that gunsmith were an engineer, he would make over $100k.

I know a guitar player who makes $1k a year playing the guitar.
I have interviewed many technicians for jobs over the last 25 years, and that guitar player is technically smarter that almost all of the technicians I have interviewed.
That guitar player has a day job as a technician and makes over $50k/year.

I know a photographer who makes $1k a year taking pictures.
He has a day job as a surgeon, and makes over $100k a year.

I am an amateur gunsmith and have never made 5 cents doing gunsmithing.
I did make a rifle pro bono for the daughter of an American soldier in Iraq.
But I have made ~ $20k with my gunsmithing tools making test fixtures for jet engine starter/generator systems.

What does it all mean?
Going into gunsmithing for money is not as dumb as going into guitar playing or photography for money, AND you can make other stuff with the gunsmithing tools.
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Old April 28, 2010, 08:55 PM   #24
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Not trying to be rude, but being honest:

I'm a guy who changed careers after 15+ years in one field. I switched and became an entry level trainee instead of a manager of 20+ people, and it was HARD. Making much less than I was used to and working for people with, in some ways, far fewer qualifications is difficult

But the simple fact is that you're a beginner with very little actual experience in THIS field. You're going to get paid what anybody else with that level of education can be hired for, and you'll have to work your way up this ladder independent of your previous achievements.

Honestly, if you don't adjust your mind-set, this will be very, very difficult.

Just MHO, of course.

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Old April 28, 2010, 09:45 PM   #25
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I have been fortunate in the two places I have recently lived to have made the acquaintance of two gunsmiths - one with 48 years experience and several patents - the other whose dad was a gunsmith and he followed in his footsteps for over 60 years. Both of those gentlemen charge between 50 and 60 per hour, have set rates for basics like pad installation or scope mounting, can machine anything, including making custom guns or repairing out of date ones. Both have a sea-container worth of spare parts for fixing anything, can work on every type of gun, have the machinery, including bluing tanks, etc.

For getting started, consider what your skills are
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