View Full Version : Becoming a gunsmith

July 18, 2005, 09:20 PM
I am thinking about a possible carear as a gunsmith or just doing it part time. Does anyone have resources as to how to get started?

July 19, 2005, 12:16 AM
You didn't say how old you were, but I would suggest getting to know a local smith if there is one available. See if he has a need for a guy to do some basic work and clean up around the shop. You might get lucky and be able to help him around the shop and pick up some valuable info as well as decide if this is what you want to do. I then would enroll in a good machinist class and a good welding class. Then if you want to do the gunsmithing part time, you would have a career as a machinist and or welder to use as your living expenses and have the smithing on the side. You can check into the various gunsmithing schools on the net by searching for gunsmithing schools. Good luck.

Dave Sample
July 19, 2005, 12:17 PM
Save up about $100,000 for your shop.

James K
July 19, 2005, 12:22 PM
When/if you decide to go into business, take a small business course at a local school, like a community college. Learn at least a little about how to run a business. Believe me, the gunsmithing part is easy compared to knowing all the ins and outs of actually running a shop and making money. Think an FFL is all that is needed? How about a business license, sales tax license, zoning approval, etc., etc.?

And line up some capital, your own savings or investors'. I know some guys think all they need to be a gunsmith is a book, a file, a screwdriver, and an FFL. Get a Brownell's catalog and check the prices of even the most basic tools. Look at the price of even chambering reamers and headspace gauges. Then check the cost of machines - lathe, miller, drill press, grinder - that you will need to do a job right. Doing bluing is another headache, with all the OSHA rules about ventilation, hazardous chemicals, etc.

Some folks have accused me of trying to discourage new gunsmiths. I think that if simply pointing out some real-world problems discourages them, they cannot have been very determined. I have seen too many people who tried to convert a hobby into a business start up with high hopes, only to founder on the problems and economics of doing business. One I heard of saw no need to keep books, get a business license, pay estimated income tax, or worry about state sales taxes. His "business" lasted less than six months before he went bankrupt and almost went to jail.


July 19, 2005, 01:45 PM
Jim , you're a wet blanket. But in my life time I've seen many start their own business.Doesn't matter what business -lawyer, doctor, electrician plumber etc. Many fail because, while they may be expert in their trade, fail to take care of the business end of it. For a gunsmith the more you know the better off you are .I went to the Colorado School of Trades apparently now considered the best gunsmithing school. A machinest background is excellent too. But it's a continuous learning process. Though I had the formal training I kept it as a hobby and part time thing and continued as an engineer !

July 19, 2005, 02:20 PM
I left this one short becuase I didn't know the guy or his age or his desire. Mr. Keenan is absolutely correct in his statement though. It doesn't matter if you are the best trained man out there if you over spend and buy before you have the money to pay for it. Mr Sample is on the right track when he says get ready to spend a whole lot of money. Just this year, I have spent over $10,000 on tools and machinery and various asundries to do the work in my shop plus a new shop. This doesn't take into consideration the parts I have had to buy to do the work with. I have been business going on 8 years now and that doesn't come close to what I have spent through the years. It can hit you all at once or trickle in, but the needs will arise. I had to buy a new HF unit the other day for my welder. The one I have had for 20 years has gone out which happens all the time to machines. The new lathe cost me $4100 the other month with the new tooling that it needed. Those buffers and belt sanders wear out eventually as well.

The point of this is this. Of that $10,000+ that I have had to spend, most of it came in the last 2 months. Now for a guy who thinks he can start out and not spend the money for these parts, it can be done SLOWLY! It won't be easy. I have never borrowed money to set my shop up nor have I borrowed money to buy any of the machines or tools I have bought through the years. I have worked out of my back yard ever since I opened the doors. I have never had to worry about if the money suddenly stops coming in either since this isn't my way of earning a living, and believe me, there will be many many slow months in the future for a smith. Some you will be so busy and work so many long hours and at the end of the month you will barely be able to see a profit. Some you will do very little and the money rolls in because of the tpyes of jobs you have been doing. So yes, I would do like Mr. Keenan said and take a very good small business class, I did, and it has kept me going at times when I had to put out so much money that I asked myself a 100 times why was I doing this. Don't get me wrong, I make decent money doing what I love to do and would be doing it even if I wasn't working for the other guy. I think Mr. Keenan and others like us would be lax if we didn't sound like a wet blanket at times to let folks know the reality of owning your own business. It isn't like we have someone else paying the bills each month. It's still your rear end that will suffer if you have to file bankruptcy.

Dave Sample
July 19, 2005, 08:22 PM
I am going to repeat just this: It is the poorest choice of an occupation in 2005 that I can think of.

I have many pals who do this kind of work. They all are not wealthy people.

Never listen to folks who know what they are talking about. If this is what you want to waste your time and money at, Go Fer It! Git R Dun!

July 19, 2005, 08:55 PM
Ya wanna learn while yer working and can live like an animal for a few years, come join our happy team.


July 20, 2005, 12:09 AM
If I didn't have young ones in school I would take you up on that Wild. I have always wanted to move to Alaska, but alas, my tail is staying where it stays warm.

July 20, 2005, 12:46 AM
Wildalaska, if I was not married I would be on your door step, I would love an oportunity like that, I have worked in factories,and done lots of metal working, even was an optical lab tech...........
Alasks is the one place I have always wanted to live.

James K
July 20, 2005, 09:38 PM
Hi, guys,

No, I don't like to be a wet blanket. But I have seen the same question asked many times, and responses that consisted of "get an FFL and go into business, you will make a mint." Pretty unrealistic, IMO. Then there are the guys who want to set up a gun business so they can buy guns cheap and sell to their buddies at cost. Great way to make friends (or not) but also a great way to go broke, eating all the costs of the business while making zero profit.

Believe me, I want to see more gunsmiths, but I want to see trained, competent gunsmiths who also know their limitations, not guys who tackle every job with a bastard file and a 5 pound hammer. I don't look down on a gunsmith who tells me that a job is beyond his capability and that he will farm it out or refers me somewhere else. In fact, I respect him the more for not ruining my gun learning the trade.


Dave Sample
July 21, 2005, 03:38 PM
Telling the truth is not being a wet blanket. I went to real estate school twice. Once for salesman and once for a brokers licence. 93 % of the people that go to this school never make a dime in the business. 4 % make a few bucks before they quit. Only 3 % make it and most of them are not million dollar a year people. I worked 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. 18 hours was the usual days work. I never kidded myself about the school and the business. Then Jimmy Carter camer along and flushed us down the drain. I lost about $100,000.00 in that deal.

I live a few blocks away from a Gunsmith College. I see them in the hock shop and I have seen what they produce.

I am so glad I trained myself that words fail me.

July 21, 2005, 10:23 PM
I should have given more info. I am nearly 22 and I still haven't decided what I want to do when I grow up :eek: ! I realy just want to learn the basics, like how to tune triggers and detail-strip my guns, and maybe build my own race gun; but i understand that that is well off in the future.

Harry Bonar
July 22, 2005, 01:30 PM
Dear Shooter:
I take a little different track, and, of course I don't want to detract from others who have advised you - but, I will tell you this: first you need as secure a job in public works as you can find! Your family, if you have one is first. Then, you're dream to be a gunsmith. There are gunsmiths and then all the wannabes! The school is hard and you'll make many mistakes. However, with a good secure job that provides for God, your family and your dog go get-um!
Start small and realize that even the very,very best smiths, renown in their specialty die poor!
My son, Paul Joe Bonar was offered a job with Para, and several firms to name his figure - but old age, aurthuritis :) would catch up to him too! A drunken piece of crap ended his plans on Aug. 24th, of 03!
I wish you good coincidences - you will create them yourself - no such thing on earth as "luck."
We prize monetary reward far, far too much - the satisfaction of working with your head, hands and spirit are what count! Live your dream - when you are able too!
God Bless Harry B.

Dave Sample
July 22, 2005, 04:00 PM
Great post, Harry!

People do not understand a labor of love anymore. It is now all about the bottom line. I am glad I never tried to make money building 1911's.

I would be a failure.

James K
July 22, 2005, 04:38 PM
A labor of love is OK for people who 1) have a good steady job and do "labor of love" part time 2) have inherited 50 million bucks and can afford to play at working, and 3) people who won the lottery and also can afford to play at working.

But being a full time gunsmith while supporting a family demands more than being willing to work for fun. It requires a business sense in addition to gunsmith skills; many folks don't have that combination. If you don't have business sense, you fix your friends' guns for free, charge too little for your labor, fail to keep up with licenses, taxes and business regulations. If you don't learn quick, you soon become another failed business person.

If your skills are not as good as you think, and you believe in OJT, things can be even worse. Learning on the job can work out, but what happens when you goof and ruin a $20k shotgun? Believe me, the customer is not going to understand and forgive because you are new at the business. Or you work on a gun and create, or fail to fix, an unsafe condition and someone dies. Try telling the survivors and the civil court judge that you are just learning and won't do it again.


July 22, 2005, 04:52 PM
First of all let me say "hello". I'm new to the board and so far like it here very much. I'm 47 years old and and have been employed as a power lineman with a rural electric coop for over 20 years. My kids are all grown and on their own so at this point in my life I am relatively comfortable money wise (not rich by any means but comfortable). This post is very interesting to me since for years I have thought about getting into gunsmithing on a part time basis as a way to make a few extra dollars doing something I have enjoyed as a hobby for years.
I have a question for you gentlemen that have responded to this post who are currently in the trade. Would it be possible to make at least a little money at it by farming out the jobs that would require lathe or other machine work and doing the smaller repair jobs in house thus saving the investment of the more expensive machines? What percentage of the work you do calls for the use of high dollar machines and how much of it calls for parts replacement or other minor repairs. Thank you very much for any info you provide.

July 22, 2005, 05:26 PM
I started out doing exactly that. I had my files, screwdrivers, a good beltsander, a drill press, welding machines, a good chop saw for cutting off stocks, and several years of working on mine and my buddies guns. The first few jobs I did was simply replacing broken parts. I then got one in the shop that I would scratch my head over for a month trying to figure out what the problem was. I took it the smith that I had worked for and he showed me in a few seconds what was wrong with the gun. I learned a valuable lesson right then; e.g. if you need help with a problem, never mind asking for help. I haven't looked back since. I learn more each time I work on a gun so it is a never ending process as far as learning goes. You will never know it all even when you think you have.

As long as you don't need to do threading on a barrel or to make a firing pin now and then, you can get by without a Lathe for most gunsmithing. Most of the work done on guns can be done very well by hand these days since the manufacturers make tools that can do crowning and chambering by hand or with a wrench most of the time. That is not to say that the lathe won't do that work better, but you can do it by hand and turn out very good work by hand. There are all kinds of work that will come in that only needs a screwdriver and a punch to take care of it and a man that can figure it out.

I will say this and let others chime in here, if you want to open a business, by all means, take a small business class at the local junior college first. Learn how to make one run first before ever opening the doors. Make sure to get good insurance that covers you and your work as well as your shop and its contents. My policy is for 1,000,000 and I sleep better at night because of it. Then, make sure to learn all of the regulations in your county or city for running a business. Make sure to pay all fees and liscenses before hand as well as make sure you are up to date with the ATF and their liscenses as well. As they all will tell you, CYOA first and foremost and KISS. If you don't know what those mean just ask, because there plenty of folks here that will let you know. Best of luck.

Dave Sample
July 23, 2005, 01:45 PM
My goal was to build very nice 1911's without a machine shop. I hired machinist's to do what they do, and I did what I do. It worked very well for me.

Now we have pistolsmith/machinists. They do wonderful things. I am very glad that I did what I did back then.

James K
July 25, 2005, 04:34 PM
I don't think working out of your home is a good idea. I have never done it, so the experience is not first hand, but it is valid.

Some folks who have worked out of their homes tell me that there is no fun like some bozo banging on the door at 2 AM on opening day of deer season demanding that you fix his gun, now! Of course it broke the last day of last year's season, but he didn't bring it in until now because he didn't need it until now. They understand that shops close, but they can't seem to understand that a home shop is not open 24/7.

Also, if you get known as a gunsmith or gun dealer, your home also becomes a potential target for bad guys looking for weapons, not a good idea.

I advise folks to NOT work out of their homes, even if it is legally possible to do so. Get a properly zoned business address, and keep your home address to yourself.


July 26, 2005, 12:04 AM
I work out of my shop at home. I do this to keep my expenses as low as possible and I like to be able to walk out back to go to work. I have signs up that specifically say when I am open and closed. I have a big sign that reads closed and it means closed. My dog keeps bad guys out if they ever figure out who I am as well as the gate stays locked and the metal doors and no windows help prevent break-ins. I thought long and hard about this and like Mr. Keenan says, they will show up at all hours of the night or call and ask if they can come over. I never opened up after hours except one appointment was made to pick up a gun after hours by a guy I know that was leaving town and I had just called the guy to pick it up. I don't answer the phone after hours even though it rings in my house in case I am not in the shop. I never let the guys dictate to me when I am open, when the lights go off, the doors stay closed except that one time. It can be done if you stick to your guns and not give in. Do this once and the word gets out, the phone won't stop ringing and folks don't mind knocking on the door. I have a sign on the front door that says specifically no after hours business done. When they show up, I refuse to do business and ask for them to come back tomorrow. Some get PO'd, but most will be back the next day saying they were sorry for bothering me at home at that time of night. If you control things it can work out for you. I stay open most nights until around 6:30 anyway because some guys have other things to do when they get off work and will come in close to closing. They know from the signs that are up and me telling them that if they don't get here by 6:30, don't bother me until the next day. I tell them this when they bring me the gun as well as when I call them to come pick the gun up.

Dave Sample
July 26, 2005, 02:02 PM
What was bad for me were people" Dropping In" to bat the breeze and burn up my time. I made it very clear to all and sundry that they had to make an apointment, but that did not always work. I finally just closed it down. My time is $75.00 an hour. Period. Now I waste it in great gobs Online, but I like to waste it on the Internet.

Isn't that what the Internet is for?

James K
July 26, 2005, 02:57 PM
Another big enemy of the gunsmith is his own mouth. Most are friendly folks and don't mind chatting with customers. Good PR and all, but bad for business. Even when the chat involves what work is to be done, it takes time away from doing it. I see a lot of guys on here who think it is OK to keep after the gunsmith, dropping in every day to check on the progress of the work. I hope they realize that doing that delays not only the work for them but the work for everyone else.

That is one reason it is worthwhile for most smiths to hire a counter person, someone fairly knowledgeable on guns, to handle the BS up front and let the gunsmith work. Of course, it doesn't always work. I recall one guy who came in and demanded to speak to the gunsmith/owner. I told him the boss was tied up (he was doing a bluing run), but the guy insisted he needed to talk to the boss. So finally, I decided to interrupt the boss, and he came out as soon as he could. So what did the guy want to know? "What time do you close?", he asked. Anyone in the place could have told him that, or pointed at the rather large sign giving store hours.


July 26, 2005, 03:16 PM
I have a sign up in my shop that simply states this: " If you have a problem with your gun and want it fixed, fill out this form and it will be taken care of, if you have a problem and want it fixed, go see the shrink because I haven't got that expense availbale on the bill and it will be billed the the nominal fee of $200/hour." I wish I could afford to hire someone to help me with the general BS that goes on. It is hard to tell folks they aren't allowed behind the counter and in the shop when all they want to do is joke and kid around, but it has to be done now and then.

July 26, 2005, 08:23 PM
Forget the gun part, and learn how to cut metal...all guns are is metal parts, assembled to make a useful tool...Im a Diemaker, and gunwork is smokin easy compared to some of the work I do...

also, consider a specialty...this is where the $$ is..not embedding bubbas Rem 700 stock for 25 bux...I built alot of $3k race guns for guys, and alot of custom carry guns too...made good $$$ for the time I spent....

July 31, 2005, 05:56 PM
I think being an Armorer/Gun-Smith is a job that would suit me just fine! I have spent 15 years working Psych in Corrections, any idea how the vocation of “Gun-Smith” sounds to me? Nice and quiet! Plus, this whole shooting scene, is my scene. I think if done “right”, with a combination of classroom, hands on and a realistic apprenticeship, under the supervision of a “Master” of the craft, a few more awesome Smith’s would be available. One of the issues with Gun-Smithing is; it’s more then a vocation, like a mechanic, it’s an art also that takes years to master. BTW, anyone who wants to sponsor me through the SiG and Colt Armorer Schools, I would be eternally grateful and even re-name my kid after you! San Jose, CA seems to have only two (2) barely available “Smiths” considered reputable and millions of folks in the general vicinity. How can there not be money to be made there?

I’ve seen the “correspondence school” non-sense. “Be a Gun-Smith in two weeks”, yea right, let these grads work in landscaping! After they butcher a few prized items, they’ll need work something fierce!!!

Peace all …

JD :cool: :D

August 4, 2005, 09:42 PM
I'm just wondering if anyone know anything about Pennsylvania Gunsmith School ? :eek:

best regards,