View Full Version : getting into gunsmithing

June 7, 2009, 09:25 PM
When I think about that I imagine an incredibly steep mountain to climb, but its a thought that has been on my mind for a while. I'm in community college for liberal arts which basically means I'm still at the stage where I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Whenever I think about some long term job or career that I'll have in the future I can't imagine anything that really tickles my fancy.

But then I always remember guns. I guess they are my passion I've come to realize. All I read is basically this forum and any other interesting articles I come across. I simply love learning about new designs and all of the mechanics. I love reading about peoples new ideas for their guns and just all of the endless possibilities there are. I've really come to appreciate the art of gun designing and making that design come to be.

So whats it like gunsmiths and store owners? What would I have to do if I ever chose this career? Is it incredibly difficult this day in age?

June 7, 2009, 10:37 PM
Good question; I'm also wanting to hear about gunsmithing as a career...

Shane Tuttle
June 7, 2009, 10:56 PM
Moving over to The Smithy....

June 8, 2009, 12:25 AM
What's it like? Hard.

Seriously. It's a niche business. And on top of that, you're probably going to be self-employed, which raises the difficulty factor. Vacations? How long can you afford to stay closed? Do you want to hunt when everyone wants you in the shop? What type of work do you want to specialize in? Is there a market for that? Is it on the way up or down? What's your back-up specialty? How much equipment can you buy up front? And so on and on....

I worked for a shop that was initially pretty successful, then 1992 hit and the 1911 work evaporated along with our customers incomes. I bailed and built custom paintball stuff for three years, while the guy I had worked for struggled for a while, then had a great run with custom Colt Mustangs. He died bankrupt without health insurance, FWIW.

If it's calling out to you, hey, go for it. But get some small business classes and machine-shop classes in first. You can make more in a lot of other fields.

June 8, 2009, 12:53 AM
The only two tools you need :D

1. Dremel

2. Rubber Mallet

I have a lot of respect for those who go into business for themselves in Smithing but it does seem like a hard career choice and also doesn't pay that well (from what I hear).

June 8, 2009, 06:55 PM
what kind of requirements are there with registering with the government?

I've also heard that it doesn't pay well, but honestly I would rather do something I enjoy and make just enough rather than hate my job and sit on a ton of money.

I really have no concept of the specializations there are and also the market research. I mean the obvious these days is black rifles and ammo but what else is out there?

June 8, 2009, 07:07 PM
Here's an old post I did on being a gunsmith:

Here's the hard, cold facts about gunsmithing.

If you're planning on being in the business as a pro, you're not going to get there with a correspondence or some kind of online course.

Businesses that hire gunsmiths want people who they KNOW have learned the job and can do the work.
That means a diploma from a good attendance school like Colorado School of Trades, Trinidad College, Lassen College, or one of the others.

Show up looking for a job as a gunsmith with a correspondence course diploma, and they'll file your application in the waste can.
This is just the way it IS.
They need proven skills and knowledge, and you don't get that by mail or online.

You can get a correspondence course and start your own business, but I'll take any amount of money that you'll bust out in less than a year.

A machine shop course to teach you how to run a lathe and milling machine is very good to have, but DO NOT think that being a good machinist makes you a good gunsmith.
Most good gunsmiths are good machinist, but most good machinist's are not qualified to be gunsmiths, and often are terrible at it.

Military armorers are not gunsmith's.
For the most part, they're parts switchers. They remove defective parts and drop in new parts.
If a gun needs more involved repairs, they're sent to a higher level to the real gunsmiths.
True military gunsmith's have a much higher level of training, and are almost always career military personnel. Getting into this level isn't easy.
At the very top are the true gunsmiths working for military marksmanship or special operations units.
There are very few of these people and they're the absolute cream of the crop with many years of training and experience.

Some people recommend learning as an apprentice.
This can be a good way to start, BUT... It all depends on who the teacher is.
The person you apprentice with may himself be a hack, and may be teaching you to be a hack too.
You'll have no real way to judge.
Plus, unless the teacher is a nationally know gunsmith and is known for turning out qualified students, his training is also worthless when it comes to getting hired.

Again, employers hire people with good credentials, and the word of an unknown gunsmith isn't good enough.

Starting up a gunsmith business takes big bucks for machinery and tools. You'd be starting off cold with no customer base, and you'll starve out quickly for simple lack of paying customers.
Remember, something like 40% of all business's bust out, no matter WHAT they are or who's running them.
That's simply new business attrition.

Also, remember as a self-employed gunsmith, you're NOT a gunsmith.....You're really a business man who gets to spend a few hours a day doing gunsmithing.
MOST of your day is spent doing business man things like filling out forms for the government, talking to potential customers, ordering materials and parts, and dealing with unreasonable customers.
If you're lucky, you'll get to do a little gun work somewhere in there.

The only way to make it starting out on your own is to have a "day job" and gunsmith on the side.
Still, very few make it this way either.
It's tough to put in 8 hours on the main job, then come home and do a little gunsmithing, and still have to do all the business man stuff.

If you're really serious about this, bite the bullet and go to the best attendance school you can.
At least 6 months to a year before you graduate, start looking for a job.
By graduation day, you should have a firm job offer.
Go to work for a company like one of the gun makers, a custom gun maker, the government, a police department as an armorer, or for one of the industries who employ gunsmiths for research projects.

Spend some time working for the other guys. they'll be doing all the business man stuff while you put in a solid 8 hours gunsmithing and really learning the trade.

After you've built up your skills, established your reputation as a known quantity in the industry, built up a customer contact base, and bought the equipment a little at a time, then you can go out on your own.

However, you're still subject to that 40% bust-out rate for new businesses.

Last, DO NOT expect to make a lot of money as a gunsmith.
If you figure it by the hour, most self-employed gunsmiths are making not much more than minimum wage.
Few if any of them are working only 40 hour weeks.

Double J
June 8, 2009, 09:50 PM
--It's not cheap to make a living. I'm glad I don't have to do it anymore.

June 11, 2009, 01:08 AM
That picture's going on my wall, riggins. :D

Old Guard Dog
June 11, 2009, 08:22 AM
The legal factors are: federal- go to BATF website, local- need to comply with zoning and other business rules. All gunsmith schools will teach you about these rules.

June 11, 2009, 09:28 AM
As you are taking classes at a community college now a good start would be to take some machinist classes at your college. This will do 2 things for you. First, it will let you know if you have the aptitude to learn the mechanical skills necessary to do this, and second it will give you a good base of skills to start from.
Lathe and mill work is a small part of what you need to know to be a successful smith. If you don't have the skills to make what you can't buy you will only ever be a gun "mechanic" not a true gunsmith.(IMO)
This is not to disparage gun assemblers or mechanics. There are many talented and gifted craftsmen doing this work and doing it well. But a gunsmith has a different level of competence and skills.


Some of this has been stated in an earlier post but it still holds true

June 11, 2009, 06:00 PM
In the legal environment we have in today's society I would advise you to look at some similar field besides gunsmithing. There are far too many stupid consumers and greedy lawyers for smithing to be an enjoyable profession any more. Back before everybody went lawsuit crazy it was very different. In the years I worked on guns owned by people who would just walk in I spent a lot of nights thinking about what could happen with some of the customers I had. I don't think I would do it again now. You will need almost as much insurance as a doctor and won't make a fraction of the money. Think about this carefully. Dealing with the general public can be risky business.

June 13, 2009, 03:25 AM
Let me put in my .02 cents worth. I have been a gun not all my life, after retiring from IBM and being a amatuar gunsmith and plater most of my life found a real need for these services. The only way you can do this is to get your 01 FFL, living in Kalif there are more hurdles to jump then if in another state. I invested about 25k for the equipment I didn`t have, got the required licenses, that took 1.5 years all the time waiting and not working but finally made it. Realize I am just one person working at home doing custom plating, gunsmithing and building custom 1911`s have more business then I can handle, I turn down a lot of work that just is not what I do and have a 2-4 month backlog. I do everything myself, by hand one at a time, have a website and a good following. It seems there are a few large shops with many employees and a few more 1 man shops made up of guys my age doing all the work. It takes many years to learn the skills needed or there are a few schools teaching this but I just don`t see a lot of young people investing the time needed to get good, and thats too bad, thnx [email protected]