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Old January 2, 2020, 08:02 PM   #1
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Learning the smith trade

When it comes to learning the trade of gunsmithing, which method is money better spent?

Option A
Buying projects to work on and learn how to do the work, by actually doing the work. Gathering information from available sources like books, videos, the internet, etc.

Option B
Signing up for courses like those offered by SDI or AGI. These courses because of a limited budget.

Either of these would then be followed by apprenticeship or internship under an actual smith if available, doing dogwork at a shop and building experience and skills actually working the job.

As a potential consumer of such a service, I personally would rather go to a person who has actual hands on experience and relevant examples of work completed. A certification is a nice piece of paper but is no substitute for experience. I've learned as much by applying to jobs related to the four entertainment business degrees I've accumulated from formal college.

I've been doing my own work on my own firearms for a few years now, and I'm a hobbyist machinist, self taught.

So what do you guys think?

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Old January 2, 2020, 08:56 PM   #2
Bill DeShivs
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All of the above.
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Old January 2, 2020, 08:58 PM   #3
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Neither, especially option B. The answer is move to Trinidad Colorado and go to school.
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Old January 3, 2020, 12:35 AM   #4
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Avoid the correspondence/distance learning options and the tinkering until you become a master. Since you are on the West coast, look into Lassen Community College in Susanville, CA. In 18 months, you can have an associates degree in gunsmithing.

Which school is best? I have known people who went to CST, Trinidad, Sonoran Desert Institute, Piedmont, and Lassen CC, and I can say unequivocally that none of them were significantly better than another right after they graduated. When you graduate with an associates, you will have hands on knowledge of some of the most common tasks, machine time doing the most common machine work, a basic knowledge of use of hand and power tools, and a great deal of uncharted territory. I have seen great work from people who never went to a trade school or technical college, and I have seen crappy work from people who went to any one of the "best" colleges. You will not be a custom gunsmith when you graduate, you will be a beginner. Find someone you can apprentice with and you may turn out to be good.
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Old January 3, 2020, 02:40 PM   #5
T. O'Heir
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Keep in mind that there are no entry level jobs doing anything these days. All those companies whining about not being able to find skilled employees are talking about experienced(usually 5 to 10 years of paid work.) people. They've been refusing to train new guys for 40 years too.
Avoid the correspondence/distance learning options, period. Those places are in the business of selling videos. You cannot learn to be a smithy from a video. Nor can you learn to do a trigger job on a 1911A1 pistol(just an example.) if you don't have one to work on. Those videos and mail order places think everybody has access to such things.
Nor can you learn to use any machine without one or via a video.
The days of being able to find inexpensive milsurps to learn on are long over. Refurbishing beat up commercial hunting rifles might help, but you still need money for that.
Go talk to your local Community College and see if they offer a course.
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Old January 4, 2020, 09:03 PM   #6
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Here's an old post I did about all this.
This is sort of a "Dutch Uncle" post......

I was a professional watchmaker and gunsmith. Here's some pointers:

Forget apprenticing.
Very few gunsmiths will take on an apprentice these days, and in order to have any value in the trade, the gunsmith who teaches you has to have a well known reputation in the industry as a gunsmith and as a teacher.
Since most gunsmiths have no real reputation outside of a few miles, a recommendation from them is worthless when applying for a job.
It can take years to learn as an apprentice and in most cases you won't be paid.

Forget the internet and mail order "schools". At the very best they can give you just enough knowledge to do hobby work on your OWN guns.
They cannot prepare you to do professional work on other peoples guns.
What they do best is take money from your wallet.
Apply for a job with a "diploma" or "certificate" from one of these places and you'll be lucky they don't laugh in your face as they pitch your resume in the trash.

You can't really learn a complicated, intricate trade this way.
Look at it like this; if you owned a very expensive sports car you routinely drove at extremely high speeds, would you allow a mechanic to work on it who learned his trade on the internet or by mail?

The way to learn the trade is in a top school.
You'll have a pro Master gunsmith/teacher looking at your work and telling you you're doing it right or wrong, and how to do it faster/better.
The schools with the best reputation in the industry for turning out top students are Colorado School of Trades and Trinidad Junior College.
Some of the other schools are also good.

As much as possible, get close to the teachers. There's a LOT more they can show you if they know you're interested and not the typical student.

A great many people fail at trade businesses because they know nothing about running a business.
Remember, you will not be a'll be a businessman who happens to run a gunsmithing business.
A large part of your day will be spent doing businessman functions like filling out paper work for the government, doing tax work, ordering parts and equipment, talking to prospective customers, being talked AT by dissatisfied customers, and spending only a limited amount of time actually doing gunsmithing.
Always remember, over 50% of all businesses fail, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE OR WHO'S RUNNING THEM. This is just normal business attrition. Not knowing about how to operate a business guarantees you'll fail.

The smart move is to work for another company or store that offers gunsmithing for a few years.
While you spend eight hours doing actual gun work and really learning the trade, the owner will do the businessman functions.
This will allow you really learn the trade, which the school will only get you started on. It will allow you to build up a reputation in the trade and build a prospective customer base.
You can take time to identify a good area to open your own shop, and you can buy the VERY expensive tools and equipment over a period of time.
It will also allow you to save enough money to tide you over the starvation period new trade shops go through.
In most cases, for at least the first year you'll spend a lot of time just sitting there waiting for some work to come in. Meantime, the bills keep coming in and you can get awfully hungry.
Too many new trade shops starve out from lack of income, before they can get an established customer inflow.

After you've learned how to do good gunsmithing FAST, bought the equipment, have a reputation in the trade, found a good place to open up, and have some customer base established, then you can take the risk of opening your own shop.
And it's ALWAYS a risk. Remember the more than 50% failure rate for all businesses.

As for salary, there's an old joke:
"How's a large pizza and a gunsmith alike....... Neither can feed a family of four".
The only gunsmiths who make much money are those like Bill Wilson who own big shops employing a number of gunsmiths.
When you take into account the hours spent doing businessman functions and actual gunsmithing the average self-employed gunsmith is lucky to be making minimum wage......This is NOT a joke.
The only gunsmiths who make good money and benefits are those who work for someone else, preferably in a big shop like a Wilson's.
A self-employed gunsmith has to be a person who can get personal satisfaction from the work, and can be content with not making a lot of money, not having the nice car, the nice house, the nice vacations, the nice Rolex, etc.

On the skills part of gunsmithing, you have to be one of those odd people who get satisfaction from constantly trying to do a job better, and always thinking you could have done a better job.
People who are the type who think "It's good enough" usually fail.
A lot of people want to be good watchmakers or gunsmiths, but not everyone has the talent. The school will, one way or another let you know if you're cut out for the trade or not.
This may be a blunt statement from an instructor, it may be hints that your work isn't up to standard, or it may be in bad grades.
Realizing you're not cut out for the trade depends on how well you listen to them and whether you're willing to admit it to yourself.
An amazing number of people in these technical schools simply refuse to accept it. In that case, your time and large amount of money will be a total waste.

We NEED good gunsmiths, and the trade is a satisfying one on a personal level.
If you're serious, squeeze everything you can out of the school, take the business courses even if you have to do night school at a community college, and don't jump into opening your own shop until you're fully prepared.

About a year before you're due to graduate, start looking for a job. Most of the schools will help in job hunting, but it's largely up to you.
The day you graduate you should at least one FIRM job offer, and at least several strong possibilities.
The fools and boobs will wait for graduation to start looking.

There are a surprising number of sources for jobs beside gun shops. Many of the big custom shops like Wilson are often looking, Cabela's and other big retailers often need people, gun companies often are looking for GOOD people, some industries and companies you might not expect employ gunsmiths in research and government contract work.
Most police departments don't employ gunsmiths. They send cops to gun company armorers courses to be parts replacers. Unless you're a cop, most won't accept an application, but a few do, so it can't hurt to check.
The government and military do employ gunsmiths but these are only very top, experienced people, and usually ex-military people.

Here's the American gunsmithing schools. Some, like Colorado School of Trades and Trinidad Junior College have better reputations than some others.

Colorado School of Trades
1575 Hoyt Street
Lakewood, CO 80215
Phone: 800-234-4594

Lassen Community College
P.O. Box 3000
Susanville, CA 96130
Phone: 530-257-4211

Modern Gun School
80 North Main Street, P.O. Box 846
St. Albans, VT 05478
Phone: 800-493-4114

Montgomery Community College
1011 Page Street
P.O. Box 787
Troy, NC 27371
Phone: 800-839-6222

Murray State College
One Murray Campus
Tishomingo, OK 73460
Phone: 580-371-2371

Pennsylvania Gunsmith School
812 Ohio River Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Phone: 412-766-1812

Piedmont Community College
1715 College Drive
P.O. Box 1197
Roxboro, NC 27573
Phone: 336-599-1181

Pine Technical Institute
900 4th Street
Pine City, MN 55063
Phone: 800-521-7463

Trinidad State Jr. College
600 Prospect
Trinidad, CO 81082
Phone: 800-621-8752

Yavapai College
1100 East Sheldon Street
Prescott, AZ 86301
Phone: 520-776-2150
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