View Full Version : Getting started as a Gunsmiths. Suggestions?

March 1, 2011, 12:00 PM
Hey everybody my name is Steve from Hampton, VA. I have been closely involved with firearms as a passion and I have been closely involved in maintenance through the military as a job, loved both, but after much debate have realized that to be truely passionate about my job why not make it about firearms. I am very thorough and precise and really believe Gunsmithing is for me. I have tossed around the idea of starting up my own Gun Store/Gunsmithing after I retire from the Navy, but am thinking of just starting now with Gunsmithing as a hobby/apprenticeship to further my knowledge in firearms. I have done a little research and thanks to the USN tuition assistance I wanna start up college and get my degree, but I don't want to just get my degree in anything. I understand that there is an A.A.S. for Gunsmithing however they do not offer it anywhere around where I live and I don't want to rely on learning a hands on trade without doing hands on training. I have decided on going the route of A.A.S. Technical Studies of Specialization in Materials Science (Study of different metals) as a way to learn all about the different metals and composites a Gunsmith can use at his/her disposal to customize firearms. I looked at the schools the NRA (I am a Life Member) and they do have some classes just south about 4 -5 hours I can take for specialized training (1911, Ar-15, etc) as well as the basics. I also looked into taking some classes from a Vocational College for Machinery (Mills, Lathes, etc), just to kind of boost my own knowledge and to have it on my resume. I am sure everyone on here has heard of TAOGART (The Association of Gunsmiths & Related Trades) and thanks to them have learned alot about the certificates and requirements, my questions are these:

How accredited/reputable is this organization and are there any other ones like it?

If from, or aware of, Virginia area, more in particular the Hampton Roads area, who is a well known Gunsmith in the area? Preferably one with good business ethics and reputible in the Gunsmith community.

Any other information anyone could offer would be great! Especially if you took the same or similar route I am trying to take. Thanks for hearing me out!

March 1, 2011, 05:19 PM
You have already done a lot of research and thinking on the subject.
Two thoughts come to my mind.
With any business, some actually business management knowledge is vital. Do consider taking some small business managment courses.
And, you will need to keep beans on the table. Starting part-time while holding a job might be the way to go. Starting from zero is like climbing a mountain without ropes. Especially gunsmithing. Customers need to learn about you and build confidence. Good luck.

March 1, 2011, 05:53 PM
The best degree program according to many is the program at Trinidad State Junior College, Trinidad, Colorado. We have two local smiths that went there 10yrs ago with no prior training and they really are top notch gunsmiths.

The schools closest to you are Piedmont Community College in NC, Montgomery Community College in NC and Pennsylvania Gunsmith School in PA.

I'd say the best place for "first hand" information would be going to the Gunsmith Career Fair put on by Brownell's. Here is the link:


If you can't attend a school, finding an apprenticeship is the way to go. Don't waste money on the "online courses."

March 1, 2011, 07:51 PM
Yea i definitely dont wanna do online. The particular degree i want will allow me to take some small business classes as an elective credit and I am definitely going to have a couple of backup plans before getting out of the Navy. I think it will help alot havin a retirement check at 40 though with full medical benefits for me and the family.

James K
March 1, 2011, 10:34 PM
One suggestion is to do a search of this site (and others) on "gunsmith"; a tremendous amount has already been posted on the subject, mainly about the need to be a businessman, not a hobbyist tinkerer. And the need to learn gunsmithing. Too many folks think all they need is a mill bastard file, a screwdriver and an FFL. We have too many of that kind, learning on customers' guns.

You sound like you are taking a sensible approach and of course your retirement income will allow you to keep eating while building your business. Except in a very few places, if you do good work and keep good customer relations, you will soon have more work than you can handle.


March 2, 2011, 12:50 AM
Here ya go, Chief:


What's yer rate? 5 years as a main space Machinist's Mate here. Adams class DDG.

March 2, 2011, 12:51 AM
BTW, I don't think you could go wrong by getting yer AA at Colorado School of Trades.

March 2, 2011, 02:17 AM
Sorry, Chief. Guess I didn't fully read your post.

Best of luck in your endevors.

LongRifles, Inc.
March 2, 2011, 10:06 AM
First, I welcome you in your quest.

Second. Unless you have a large sum of disposable capital be prepared to starve for awhile. I made $225 a week when I began.

I'm prolly making about the same now that I'm self employed. :)

Equipment costs are huge. Schools are great to some extent. They also fill a guy's head with delusional thoughts. I was once the ram rod at Nesika Bay Precision. They gave me 5 first year graduates from G/S school. With the exception of two, it was the worst experience of my life.

Your NOT going to graduate and slide into a 50K a year job. Never happen.

Not trying to discourage, just being realistic. Product liability insurance, overhead, leases, inventory tax, use tax, state/federal witholdings, etc will erode your bottom line quickly.

Be creative, be dilligent, and be frugal.

Good luck.


James K
March 2, 2011, 03:15 PM
"Product liability insurance, overhead, leases, inventory tax, use tax, state/federal witholdings" and:

General insurance (for when you wreck that H&H presentation grade double rifle or the shop burns down with all your tools and a quarter million dollars worth of customer guns); OSHA compliance; security, including alarms; local zoning law compliance; local and state business licenses; the list can go on forever. Capital costs are high. Just a set of headspace gauges will run $90, a chambering reamer about the same, and that is for each caliber. You can run through $50k pretty quickly just setting up a shop. Sure you can farm out work, or rent reamers, but every customer who has to wait too long is a customer lost.


March 2, 2011, 08:20 PM
Thanks everybody to all the replies:

phydaux: Not a Chief brother that would be nice...currently an OS2 soon as I hit OS1 my LDO package will be ready to go. Currently serving on CVN-77

Everybody Else: As far as the business aspect goes I don't wanna start up in that until a little bit down the road. My equivalent Navy Job in the civilian world with my clearance will get me at least 60k (I've been keeping an eye on it). I am very fortunate to have a dad who is a self employed business owner so I have been picking his brain. Just trying to get ready for this deployment so I am just learning more about guns for now. Downloaded a couple of schematics that show the entire layout of some weapons. Getting the basic terms down pact for now. I kind of figured that it would be a rough start which is why I'd like to start networking and doing small jobs for now just to make a name and hopefully that will soften the blow of starting up my business. Thanks again Everyone!

March 2, 2011, 10:17 PM
OS2? What's your time line to retirement? You can't have more than 12 years in.

Anyway, you've got one huge advantage right off the bat - You're on a CV. Those babies have huge machine shops on them. Make friends with an MR1, and ask him to show you how to use the lathe & mill (drill presses are easy cake).

Now this is key - JIGS! The advantage to having access to a lathe & mill isn't that you directly use them to work on your guns. The advantage is that you use them to make the jigs that make your common, every-day gunsmithing tasks easy. There are all kinds of common jigs. Yes, you can just buy them at MidwayUSA & Brownell's. But at $100 a pop it's better if you can make them yourself.

Check out homegunsmith.com. I'm willing to bet they've got drawings on all kinds of jigs for different jobs. Between you and your new MR1 friend you should be able to just crank those out.

Just one WestPAC or MED tour, and you could end up with thousands of dollars worth of jigs, plus invaluable lathe & mill experience.

James K
March 2, 2011, 10:18 PM
"Getting the basic terms down pat..." Not hard on military weapons, but drives folks nuts in civilian firearms where what one maker calls a hand another calls a lever and a third calls a pawl.


March 2, 2011, 10:20 PM
Also, talk to an HT1 and ask him to teach you how to TIG weld.

March 2, 2011, 10:31 PM
I'm gonna cap off my advice with something that isn't really all that popular, so take it with a grain of salt.

Use some of your next re-enlistment bonus at AGI. Their master gunsmith course comes with a machine ship course and a welding course, all on DVD.

The gunsmith course will cover a lot of theory, but you won't get any hands-on. That's what volunteering at a local gunsmith shop will do for you.

The machine shop & welding courses, you can get the hands-on right there on the USS Bush.

Wish you luck.

No, actually what I really wish is that I had the gunsmith bug back when I was still in the Navy, and I still had all those things at my fingertips.

Best of luck,


March 9, 2011, 07:32 AM
Hey Phy thanks for your service. It's a new Navy now though man and they don't particulary like other rates doing those kinds of jobs...I know it's stupid. I have about 7 years in and up for 1st in September.

March 9, 2011, 03:10 PM
"It's a new Navy now though man and they don't particulary like other rates doing those kinds of jobs"

If your ship's anything like mine was, then I think you'll find that two months into a 6 month Med cruise things get a lot more relaxed.

William T. Watts
March 11, 2011, 12:36 AM
I've completed the Gunsmith course of study at Trinidad St. Jr. College, I can recommend the College and they do have a first rate Gunsmithing program, be prepared to lay out some serious cash. My two years 1999-2001 I spent more than 20k and left school with 10K in student loans that had to be repaid. The two years in school coincided with the stock market tanking and combining that with a heart problem that required surgery I never was able to put in my shop. Wonderful two years and lots of memories, sometimes things don't turn out quite like we plan!! William T. Watts Class of/2001

March 11, 2011, 03:47 AM
Mick, I havent read through all of the posts but I think someone has already mentioned Colorado School of Trades. My father in law went there years ago and is a top notch gunsmith. Im already enrolled there and will start after this deployment. I havent been there myself but based on my father in law's knowledge and skill and my experience with their staff (very professional and easy to work with) tells me I cant go wrong with them. Something to check out.

March 12, 2011, 02:09 PM
I will second TSJC !
I went in 82-84
Excellent school