View Full Version : and now for something different, gunsmithing as a career

Joe Portale
December 27, 2001, 10:34 AM
I mentor a young man as part of a Youth at Risk Program conducted by my employer. This is a good kid, that has had some bad breaks in his life. He has a strong aptitude in mechanical skills and we have tried to capitalize on this. To try to help him find his nitch, he worked as summer help in my motorpool garage and the guys loved him. My mechanics are a bunch of rough necks that drive out any student aid slakers pretty quick, but this kid cut the mustard. Unfortunatly, or fortunatly the kid learned that he hates to work on cars. (good to find out at 16 and not at 46 I guess) On one of our outings, I took him shooting a few weeks ago and he loved it. He started asking questions about a career in the shooting sports. I really do not know anything about the business end of the gunsmithing trade and was hoping to get some input from the 'smiths on this group.

I would like to know things like, industry income expectations, how long it took you to build your business, did you work for a master gunsmith before hanging your own shingle, if yes, how many years, future trends for the trade, job expectations in the future, and is the generalist gunsmith a dying breed?

If you feel more comfortable discussing business related things in private, please contact me off the list at my personal email. [email protected]

Hopefully, after the holidays I can get this kid to sit down with one of the better self-employed gunsmiths in town. And arrange for him to tour the gunsmith school at Yavapi Community College in Prescott. But until then, I would like to hear what you guys have to say.

Thank you for your time.

December 27, 2001, 11:28 AM
A thought for your young friend: Occasionally I work with the Weapons Battalion at Quantico. Their armorers are excellent and range in grade/experience from young buck sergeants on their first shore tour to world-class salty senior staff NCOs -- a few with unbelievable expertise both as competition marksmen and as first-rate gunsmiths. Obviously, their primary hands-on experiences will be limited to standard military issue small arms, although the Corps' competition teams use a few non-standard firearms (such as continued use of 1911A1s :) :) ).

It may be worthwhile for this young man to check with the local recruiters re the applicable MOSs/NECs and related training opportunities for small arms maintainers. I am not suggesting that a single enlistment -- with both formal training and experience -- will result in a master 'smith, but it doubtless can provide an excellent start.

4 Eyed Six Shooter
December 27, 2001, 11:38 AM
There is always room for a another quality gunsmith. How long a business takes to get off the ground depends on the population in the area, number of other established gunsmiths in the area and the professional appearence of the new business as well as the quality of work done by the gunsmith. 3 years is a minimal number for most new businesses.
I went to the Colorado School of Trades and found it to be an excellant school. My observations were that the older students with a history of some mechanical background and some life experience did much better than the young students with no experience. My suggestion would be for your young friend to work for a gunsmith before going to gunsmithing school.
I worked two days a week for a gunsmith for abouyt 6 months before going to school. I worked for free, telling him that I would sweep floors and do anything else he needed to be done just to get some experience prior to going to school. He was a great gunsmith, ready to retire and I learned much from him.
Without work experience it is tough to go to a school then jump right out and open your own business. As good as the schools are, they cannot teach you all you need to know to open a full service gunsmithing business.
My suggestion is for your friend to get some work experience with a professional gunsmith, go to gunsmithing school and then go to work for a gunsmith after graduating until he has gained enough experience to go out on his own.
I opened a part time business in a small town. There is not enough population yet for me to go full time. My shop has been open for 3 years and just keeps getting busier all the time.
I love gunsmithing, the satisfaction of doing custom work as well as the general repair work. It would be a great business for your young friend. He will not get rich doing general gunsmithing work but can make a reasonable living. Good money can be made if he finds a nitch he can get really good at and gets the work from the customers who are willing to pay big money for superior custom work. Good Luck and Happy New Year-John K

December 27, 2001, 01:55 PM
The Corps, those antiquated, unPC, unrepentant, macho relics insist on using an outdated, superannuated relic like the 1911A1?

One more reason to love 'em!;)

December 28, 2001, 06:50 AM
FIRST, he needs to become a master machinist (CNC, Mazak, etc.)

December 28, 2001, 09:09 PM
The pup needs to definitely become very familiar with machine tools to become a gunsmith. Most important is the capability of running a metal lathe and a milling machine.

If he can take metal shop classes to learn about manual lathes and milling machines it would be preferable. If he can do that he can then advance to the next step of learning cnc machines and machining. In all likelihood, as a gunsmith he will never need to know cnc techniques unless he finds the niche that can make him familiar with this and the machine tools capable of making him a few million bucks.

Master machinist? No, that takes a lifetime to achieve. But, it would be necessary for him to know how to use metal working tools competently.

BTW, Mazak is a manufacturer. Not too many gunsmiths have the wallet to afford one of those.

Just doing my part to add some sense to the posts from the internet experts with a few thousand posts.

December 28, 2001, 11:04 PM
I disagree that a person needs to be a 'master' machinist before entering the gunsmithing field, but a basic knowledge of lathe and mill work is essential. Often the best source for that is OJT, on the job training, so I'd see if the kid could get on either part or full-time at one of the many many small barrelshops or gun manufacturers in your part of the country. The Prescott area is well known for it's firearms-related industry. School is good, yeah, but OJT goes a long way. Plus it gives the kid a chance to see if he's really into that field before pluggin' a bunch of money into school.

Happy Holidays