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Old November 8, 2023, 02:51 PM   #1
rickyrick
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Is Gunsmithing a Viable Business With the Increase in Gun Ownership?

Seen a local Facebook post with someone looking for a gunsmith that isn’t backlogged and got me to thinking if there is an increased demand for gunsmiths these days.
I’ve never needed a smith, but thought it might be an interesting career for some people.
I’m not even sure of the path one would take to get to a point that they could hang up a shingle and work for themselves.

I’ve driven past gunsmith shops, and seem like they are closed most of the time.
Just curious.
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Old November 8, 2023, 03:22 PM   #2
Paul B.
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My gunsmith just upped stake and quit. He'd ben threatening to do so for a couple of years. Didn't even tell his boss and was long gone. I will say that he was quite elderly and crusty as hell but his work was superb. He was the metal man in the shop and the boss did the stock work.
One of my youngest daughters High school boy friends went to that gunsmithing school in Colorado and immediately got a job in one of the local LGS here in town. He was pretty good and did an excellent trigger job an a Winchester mM70 I had. He quit shortly after a year and went into another trade. Never did find out why.

I think going to one of the schools is a good idea but once out, you either work for another smith or hope you have the money to get all that equipment you need. You know lathes, iling machines etc. They don't come cheap. I hate to be a drag but ai had the same thoughts as you way back in the mid70s. Even had the gunsmith teaching me until he passed. I tied to buy the shop but got outbid. I wish you luck.
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Old November 8, 2023, 03:39 PM   #3
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I've always wondered why it is so hard to even find a gun smith and when you do they have guns stacked up everywhere waiting for attention. It seems like an opportunity for a national chain of gun smiths, but probably doesn't make sense. On this site we imagine a gun smith tricking out our 1911 or building us an awesome custom hunting rifle. However, most folks just want a scope mounted and sling swivels installed not sure that pays the bills.
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Old November 8, 2023, 07:20 PM   #4
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The major reason there aren't a lot of gunsmiths around is there's a huge outlay for equipment plus all the licenses, versus the income, which is not great.

There's an old not-joke....."There are two things that you can't feed a family on...A large pizza and a gunsmith's salary".
When you figure out all the time spend talking to customers, ordering supplies, doing businessman functions like keeping books and doing taxes, and finding the time to do some gun work, most gunsmiths are lucky to make minimum wage.

The only gunsmiths who own Rolex watches or drive a nice car are people like Bill Wilson who own big companies with other gunsmiths doing the actual work.

The only people making a fair living work for people like Bill Wilson.

It a trade where you have to offer absolute top level work AND are able to do it fast.
The people who can't do top level work, or just aren't fast, don't last.
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Old November 8, 2023, 10:58 PM   #5
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Lots of people want perfection, want it for nothing, and want it yesterday, and throw fits when a gunsmith hits them with reality and it bweaks their widdle hearts...

If you can put up with that, in addition to doing the work well. maybe you have a career in 'smithing.

Most often, their biggest gripe is the wait. Take a look around your area. How may garages that do mechanic work are there? how many specialty shops?? Tires, front ends, trannys, body shops, etc. And how about auto parts shops??

Now, how many gunsmiths in that same area??
One? Two? Three within a day's drive? Less??
Any gun parts places in your area,?? they're more scarce than gunsmiths!

Even an AR "gunsmith" who does little more than assemble parts is semi skilled work, and skilled craftmanship in wood and metal is a whole different level entirely.

Even jobs that seem simple to the customer might require the skill and experience of years to do flawlessly, and of course, anything less and the customer isn't happy and tells the whole world everything you do is crap, and these days, on the internet....

There's a reason (actually several) why younger folks leave the trade and why the old timers are often crusty curmudgeons...

The old saying that a good gunsmith rarely gets rich but seldom starves really doesn't apply well these days.
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Old November 9, 2023, 09:48 AM   #6
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I've known several, including a few kids just out of, or about to get out of Gunsmith school in Colorado (there are two schools).

They all have jobs lined up.

Bill Wilson pays his smiths very meager wages, so do some of the other big companies. The solo guys who are top notch have carved out a niche with superb quality in a single line. Like lever actions, 1911s, etc. General gunsmith is a hard place to be with the current state of the clientele and everything else involved as others above have already detailed.
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Old November 9, 2023, 11:14 AM   #7
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There absolutely is a paying market for skilled gunsmiths, especially people that can do proper stock work.
The good 'smiths are dying (or already dead). We're left with a country full of guys that can thread a barrel, drill and tap for scope bases, and polish Glock internals; but they can't time threads to fit a barrel, can't inlet a stock, and make intentionally-weird anime jokes if you ask about checkering.

A good 'smith is needed by many people.
But you must, somehow, establish yourself as skilled, consistent, and timely, before it will be profitable enough.
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Old November 9, 2023, 12:31 PM   #8
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All but the youngest of us would remember cobblers and getting our shoes re-soled. I live in a metropolitan area and I know one, and I wouldn't call him a great one. A lot of that comes down to the way shoes are generally made now; they often aren't made so they can be re-soled.

Manufacturing methods changed the market.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frankenmauser
The good 'smiths are dying (or already dead). We're left with a country full of guys that can thread a barrel, drill and tap for scope bases, and polish Glock internals; but they can't time threads to fit a barrel, can't inlet a stock, and make intentionally-weird anime jokes if you ask about checkering.
Is the way the market has changed made gunsmithing skills less commonly needed?

The impression I have from my partners in their 90s is that a lot of what normal people had was surplus that skilled people could turn into silk purses. A cut down Mauser with a new stock can be a beautiful thing, but you would have to know how to blue, polish and perform a quality of woodworking that furniture manufacturer's no longer see. Trigger work wouldn't have meant logging on and ordering from Timney, but working with the pieces that came with the rifle.

A lot more people may have many more guns now, but these newer designs seem geared for ease of assembly and the parts aftermarket is enormous. I can make a gun from parts, and I probably have below average mechanical skills.
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Old November 9, 2023, 04:56 PM   #9
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Fewer gun stores have a true gunsmith on staff for several reasons.
-Product liability lawsuits. Led many manufacturers to require broken or defective firearms be returned to the factory or a factory authorized service center for repair. They don't want some unknown guy messing with the repair.
-Glock and polymers. Drop in parts that don't need hand fitting. This makes it easy for the DIYers.
-The Internet. In 1980 I had to look at back issues of the American Rifleman to see an exploded diagram of a Remington Model 51 or Ruger MkII. Now I can Google a firearm and find the original owners manual, 3D renderings, YouTube videos and thousands of tutorials on how to make a machine gun by filing the firing pin.
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Old November 9, 2023, 05:16 PM   #10
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There are very few real gunsmiths (artisans) left, mostly gun mechanics, who are just parts swappers. The last two “professional “ jobs I had done (one by a nationally renowned shop) were very disappointing. I have a bunch of little projects I would pay someone to do, but there just isn’t anyone qualified. Some are things I should just do myself, but I’m not patient and don’t have that perfectionist trait.
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Old November 9, 2023, 08:16 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zukiphile
I can make a gun from parts, and I probably have below average mechanical skills.
We should team up. I can make a pile of parts from a gun.
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Old November 10, 2023, 12:46 AM   #12
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I think gunsmithing can be roughly equated to performance car shops. Every major town has a few of them, most are very niche, and the customers using them are asking for very specific things. The average car owner won't need a gear change or a supercharger install. The average gun owner won't need major work beyond some drop in parts. And if they do, they're more likely to take a small loss and make it someone else's problem or send it back to the factory for work.

I think if someone were to do an online only version of gunsmithing, advertise it, and only take mail-in projects it could work. Shipping costs back and forth would eat profits. You might need some specialty. A good example is Redman's Rifling. I sent a Broomhandle Mauser for a bore reline. Very niche. But odds are, I'll never need his work again.
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Old November 10, 2023, 10:01 AM   #13
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Gunsmithing

A true, skilled gunsmith is not just a part changer. Part changers fall under the definition armorer.
A skilled gunsmith can contour a barrel blank, thread and fit it to an action, chamber it, mount sights on it, and blue it. He can also fabricate a part if he has the broken one to use as a pattern.
These are skills that take years to aquire and take more than a few hand tools to accomplish. Having been gunsmithing since 1980 I can tell you that most people have no concept of how much equipment costs, how much time it takes, or what skill is needed to do any serious gunsmithing work.
I was able to do gunsmithing work part time because I was a full time toolmaker/machinist.
I couldn't have raised a family on what I made gunsmithing.
.My grandfather was a gunsmith from 1933 to 1972. Had my grandmother not been a schoolteacher they would not have had a home or food for the first 15 years or so. He also worked 7 days a week at it. When I told him I was interested in pursuing the trade he told me being a toolmaker/machinist would be a better trade to raise a family....
The problem with gun repair is that 3/4 of the guns coming in are obsolete and new parts are usually not available. Finding usable parts is a challenge and few people are willing to pay to fabricate a replacement part. Many times the cost to repair one of these is more than the gun is worth or more than the owner is willing to pay.

Last edited by jcj54; November 12, 2023 at 04:32 AM.
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Old November 10, 2023, 11:28 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zukiphile
I can make a gun from parts, and I probably have below average mechanical skills.
We should team up. I can make a pile of parts from a gun.
I choked on my dinner when I read this.

I have a different opinion (what a surprise, right) I think if you are really prepared to devote yourself to the science--and art--of gunsmithing I think you can make a good living out of it. Why? How many really good ones do you know that are reasonably close to where you live? If you do a good job at a fair price--people will be beat a path to your door as your reputation spreads fast (or conversely, if you screw things up your business could run dry quickly). Your biggest problem will likely be handling volume/turnover. You might consider apprenticing to get lathe time and learn the ins and outs of that. The only downside I can think of is you'll also have to deal with the drudgery of licensing and records-keeping. The other possible downside is you might not be able to do a good job and still have all the casual range time you want. There are worse things in the world than making money doing something you love.
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Old November 10, 2023, 12:16 PM   #15
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I've never known a full time gunsmith. Every single one that I've known had a regular job and did gunsmithing on the side. And many of them were very good. But they didn't make enough working on guns to live on.

Currently I only know of 2 men who work on guns, both are retired from their regular jobs. And one of them only works on handguns.
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Old November 10, 2023, 01:15 PM   #16
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Thru my rose-colored glasses with absolutely no experience in gunsmithing or running ANY kind of business I see four gunsmiths (guys or gals) going in together to buy the necessary equipment and setting up shop in a moderately large metropolitan area (like the Twin Cities, Minnesota). Perhaps a couple of the significant others of the 'smiths could take on the administrative duties of answering phones, running the front desk (and calling for help if expertise is needed to do an estimate) and maybe even handling the bookkeeping chores.

1. Would everybody 'get along with each other'? (This might be REALLY important.)
2. Would there be enough business to keep them all busy? (I think there would.)
3. Would one or two of the 'smiths really get into the work and become THE expert and would this cause hard feelings?

I dunno. Just a thought experiment.

I do know that in the Twin Cities I left a revolver with target sights that needed a new rear sight blade, not the whole sight, just the flat metal blade with the notch in it that fit into the actual rear sight on the revolver and after six weeks I went back and retrieved it from the smith who said he still had no idea about when he could get around to it. His initial guess of a couple of weeks was off he said.
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Old November 10, 2023, 02:09 PM   #17
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Quote:
...after six weeks I went back and retrieved it from the smith who said he still had no idea about when he could get around to it. His initial guess of a couple of weeks was off he said.
That's common in all service businesses these days. What it really means is "something(s) came along that pay a lot more--so your measly job gets bumped to the back of the que, but we're happy to hold onto it and keep stringing you along for the sake of future income."
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Old November 10, 2023, 02:44 PM   #18
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Most clientele are not real good at understanding what goes into "shop flat rate"

They equate the charge to the Gunsmith's hourly wage.

If you hire a shop with a lathe and a mill and a grinder and a skilled machinist,

Would you expect a $100 + an hour flat rate?

When you consider the time that goes into meticulous hand fitting of wood to steel or steel to steel that is up to the cosmetic standard we demand in our guns, is it likely a job can/will take 4 hours? What about cure times? Then doing the next step? How long does a glass bed job or a "rubbed oil finish" take?
When I mount a scope for myself ,It starts on a surface plate with a dial indicator. I might re-machine the bases because I insist the bases are flat,true and the same height to less than .001.
I don't like flexing scope tubes.
If all that took 3 hours,its a RARE customer who would accept a $300 charge for mounting a scope.
Obviously,I'd fail as a gunsmith. I'm too slow. ,I'd have to work for less than oatmeal.
But what I can do is my own work. I can take whatever time it takes.
My reward is I get what I cannot afford to pay someone else to do.

Last edited by HiBC; November 10, 2023 at 03:02 PM.
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Old November 10, 2023, 03:08 PM   #19
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Expensive Equipment?

I must admit to only skimming the thread.
Paying big money for machine tools? No No No.
Cheap, if you are not in a hurry and know where to look. If your skillset includes moving heavy equipment and you have the insurance machine tools can be damn near free.
It's tragic, those machines can't be run at a profit "these days" in the USA. Machine tools are nothing but heavy and very costly to move. Come and get it does still happen.
Not as available as a few years ago, but still out there. Do not pay big money for machine tools.
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Old November 10, 2023, 03:17 PM   #20
Bill DeShivs
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As someone who has experience in the gunsmithing, cutlery and jewelry trades, I can tell you that young people these days have little to no desire to work with their hands.

Most of my work is in vintage cutlery repair/restoration. Big fish/small pond thing. There are less than a dozen of us. I could take a kid that had the intelligence, desire, and mechanical aptitude and have him making an easy $150K a year working in his own back yard. Can't find one.

Solingen, Germany has no cutlers left. Maniago, Italy has no cutlers left. We are dinosaurs.

Same thing with gunsmiths and even jewelers.
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Old November 10, 2023, 05:38 PM   #21
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Quote:
That's common in all service businesses these days. What it really means is "something(s) came along that pay a lot more--so your measly job gets bumped to the back of the que, but we're happy to hold onto it and keep stringing you along for the sake of future income."
That is one business model (and one that puts profit before customer service) but there are others, that some gunsmiths actually use.

It might just be "sorry its taking so long for us to get to your gun, but we have 180 guns waiting ahead of you".

Especially if you're looking at a one man operation. Sometimes guns wait weeks or longer AFTER work has begun, in order to get the needed parts.

This can be extremely frustrating and out of the gunsmith's hands. Especially when its a small low cost but unique part and there is only a single source.

I've been in a situation where the part was only $1.50 and took less than 10 minutes to install, but had to wait 2 months for the factory to ship one to my smith. Not common, but it does happen.

And,. of course the entitled customer blames the smith.....

One of my relatives was a full time gunsmith (50 years ago), very good at what he did, ran a one man shop in his garage, AFTER retiring from a full career working at the paper mill. Did repair work and GI to sporter rifle conversions as well as buying and selling used guns. Gave outstanding deals, too, as it was his hobby he loved, pretending to be a business.

Those guys were getting rare back in the 70s and damn few exist these days. IF you're looking at gunsmithing as a full time career you can make a living at, its a damn steep hill to climb for a long time.
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Old November 10, 2023, 08:30 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BD
Most of my work is in vintage cutlery repair/restoration. Big fish/small pond thing. There are less than a dozen of us. I could take a kid that had the intelligence, desire, and mechanical aptitude and have him making an easy $150K a year working in his own back yard. Can't find one.
I'd bet there is more you know about your business than you realize until you try to teach it to someone. I don't just mean your skill in your trade, but how to do it so it pays.

I am seeing some shift away from the idea that every lad needs to get an undergraduate degree then a graduate degree, the universal path when I was in school. I know two 18 year olds who see a future in the trades. One is going to college anyway, but the other has found a stone mason with whom he will apprentice. He test in the top several percent of his class, but he won't spend $300k to learn about being lazy for four years and he'll being doing something that can't be outsourced to India.

Aside from social expectations, I don't think it's just not wanting to work with ones hands. It takes a certain temperament to work patiently, safely and precisely time after time.
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Old November 11, 2023, 02:34 AM   #23
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Quote:
As someone who has experience in the gunsmithing, cutlery and jewelry trades, I can tell you that young people these days have little to no desire to work with their hands.

Most of my work is in vintage cutlery repair/restoration. Big fish/small pond thing. There are less than a dozen of us. I could take a kid that had the intelligence, desire, and mechanical aptitude and have him making an easy $150K a year working in his own back yard. Can't find one.

Solingen, Germany has no cutlers left. Maniago, Italy has no cutlers left. We are dinosaurs.

Same thing with gunsmiths and even jewelers.
That's pretty much what I see around where I live. It extends to things even like plumbing, auto mechanics etc--nobody really wants to work at things that take manual skill. In fact, a lot of kids seem to not want to work at all IMO. They seem to want to pass go and go directly to retired billionaire. They are in for a rude awakening very soon.
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Old November 11, 2023, 09:02 AM   #24
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I've learned in life generally speaking when you want to take up something risky about 99% of the people you ask are going to give you reasons not to. I say screw that and go for it, because even failures are necessary to eventually succeed.
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Old November 11, 2023, 01:32 PM   #25
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I charge some $50/hour but I work very slow. Chases most away.

Others get it for free on a barter system.

Others take their work elsewhere.

I have large lathe and mill - which works well for 36-42" long barrels, chambering, threading for action and muzzle brake, and milling flutes for cooling and weight reduction.
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