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Old August 21, 2008, 03:06 PM   #1
Join Date: August 21, 2008
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'Smithing as a business

I am 14 months away from retiring a state entity and I am planning on working in a sub-contractor type role for a friend.
I am currently working for his retail firearms business on a part-time (weekend) basis in sales and doing some minor repairs. He would like to expand his business over the next couple of years and has asked me if I have any interest in pursuing the gunsmithing end of things. I have agreed that I would have an interest and have been taking some classes and have purchased a lathe. I am also converting my garage into a shop and starting to get the ball rolling.

I technically have to have my own FFL for the following reasons:
1- To do work in anyplace other than the retail shop, I legally must have a FFL.
2- If I posess a customers weapon for more than 1 business day I must do what is known as "A&D' the weapon. Log it in a "Permanently Bound- Aquisition and Disposal" book. Only a FFL can do that.
3- If I charge for my services legally I am a "For Profit" business and must have a FFL.

I do not want my name on my buddies FFL for the following reasons:
1- It is HIS business and liveliehood.
2- Very hard to be "Partners" with friends. The friendship always suffers and I won't do that.
3- I want to retain control of my end of the business.
4- I have absolutly no desire to be in the retail end of this business. Too risky and not enough profit for the aggrevation.
5- I would hate to possibly do anything to compromise his situation as I would hate for him to compromise mine.

I am ok with my City and a home based business. The gal that I spoke to with the City knows of 2 other "Smiths and so it is not a problem. She kind of gave me the impression all the City is worried about is it's $15.00 annual Business License fee and annual Tax statement (Not too much to worry about as far as business tax- I will charge for Labor only and no tax on labor in CO. If parts are needed the customer will purchase them through the shop).

A little background on me. Beside being a Student Assistant in Metal Shop in Highschool I went to school for the machine craft(Basically Lathe and Mill at the local Community College) back in 79 or 80. Worked as a machine operator on and off for 7 years. I also spent about 4 years as a heavy fabricator and gained my welding certification. Then I went to work for the State Highway Department and have only monkeyed with a machine occasionaly, mostly building Harley parts and such. Anyway I am 14 months from retiring from them and for my retirement plan I will be doing some gunsmithing and working at a buddies gun shop.
I have always worked on firearms for as long as I can recall and built a few custom smokepoles right out of highschool.
Taking some classes in the gunsmithing and decided to look for a lathe.

Any way sorry for the long winded post but I did want to give you experts a bit of backgroud on me and what my plan is.
I am open to all advice.
Due to the nature of product we are dealing with (firearms) I will have to obtain my own FFL license to legally perform work for customers at my home shop. His retail shop will be the point of customer contact and I will bring the work home with me. I will be responsible for my own trade/business name and appropriate license/tax etc.
We are not looking at a partnership type arraingment as he is already established and I want nothing to do with the retail end of this business other than working at the shop as a member of the sales crew.
They want to look at me as a sub-contractor to them and their shop. I dont really have a problem with this as it still allows me some freedom as far as my own business. I figure I will have to do some other machine/fabrication work on the side to make ends meet.
My question is (A couple)
What do you guys see as pitfalls in this type of arraingement?
What protections do I neeed to put into place?
I have never run my own business before and dont have a ton of experience with it. The Mrs. will be the accounting end (she was an office manager for 10 years in retail) and I will be the hands on mule (which I am happy doing).
I am looking for any advice that you guys can pass to me. I really want this to work and dont want to see it fall on it's face.
I figure you guys run your own shops and have seen plenty fail.
I want to be one of the ones that might not get rich, but gets a decent slice of the pie!
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Old August 21, 2008, 06:35 PM   #2
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1. If you're going to be making money, you'll also need some no-BS insurance.
These days, people sue with the drop of a hat, and they'll drop the hat.
This includes botched gun insurance, lost/stolen gun insurance, and the customer falls down the steps insurance.

2. You better REALLY know exactly what you're doing, as in you better be a well-trained expert. If you haven't done something before, better not do it on someone else's gun.
Ruin your own gun, no big deal. Ruin someone else's..... see Number One above.
In other words, figure out in advance exactly what services you plan on offering, and make SURE you actually know how to do a professional job of it.
Strongly resist the inclination to take in something you don't know about.
This is how you get in over your head.

2A. Line up a "lifeguard" gunsmith.
This is another pro who you can turn to if you do get in over your head.
As example, Colt revolvers are complex and difficult to understand.
I was a "lifeguard" to other gunsmiths who took in a Colt repair, then realized they couldn't figure out how to repair it and were in over their heads.

2B. Know when to say "No".
People will regularly ask you to do things that are unsafe, inadvisable, uncertain, or illegal.
Know when to turn work away.

3. You better have EVERYTHING in a legal contract.
When customers get angry, and lawyers get drawn, friends and non-contract business partners tend to get UN-friendly fast.
Have everything legal UP FRONT, and make sure it's clearly understood who's responsible for what.
These days a hand shake won't protect you if things go south.

4. Watch out for miscommunication.
Are YOU going to be talking to the customer or will he?
If HE talks to the customer, what are you going to do if he hears one thing, and you hear another?
As example the customer tells him to drill and tap for a specific scope mount, but he tells you to drill for a different mount.
Aways be prepared for finger pointing between the customer, the shop and you.

5. Keep your bookkeeping ducks well lined up.
In other words, when he accepts a gun in HIS shop, he has to book it in, then book it back out to you.
You do the work and book it back to him, and he books it out to the customer.
If the customer brings it to you, but picks it up at the store, make sure you get it booked properly in and out.
The ATF looks for paperwork mistakes to ruin FFL holders.

6. Make sure you have a State tax number and USE it properly

7. You'll need to quickly figure out how many hours you'll need for a job, and price it accordingly.
Too many failures simply underestimate the hours and lose money on jobs that eat up time.
You have to be GOOD, but you also have to be FAST.

7A. Learn how to quote realistic repair times to the customer.
People get mad when you tell them 3 days, and a week later it's not ready.
However, people also don't like being told it's going to take TOO long.
Remember, parts houses can be slow and can send you the wrong parts.

8. Forget working a 5 day, 8 hour week.
You'll work longer at night, and on weekends if you get the business and are a success.

9. Figure your business, and stock parts accordingly.
It's nice if you have a big 1911 business and can stock firing pins and other 1911 parts, so you don't have to wait for a parts house to come through.
However, parts cost money, so you can't afford to buy too many parts, or parts you won't use.

10. Either have an iron-clad agreement with the shop, OR get your money up front.
You'd be amazed at the number of people who will have you order parts, or leave a gun for repair, then never pick it up.
Parts and custom accessories should always be money up front unless you have a HARD understanding with whoever you're really dealing with.

11. Don't get so interconnected with the shop that they can take you down with them financially OR legally.

11A. When something doesn't smell right, either from the customer or the shop..... It usually isn't.

12. Be honest with yourself.
If the business isn't making money, GET OUT, and do so before it takes a bankruptcy.
It may take a year or two to show a profit. After that, it isn't a business, it's a hobby. It it was intended to be a business, GET OUT.
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Old August 21, 2008, 06:56 PM   #3
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Insurance for this will not be easy to come by. Many companies see it as a 'products/completed operations' nightmare. There also comes into question how they insure the customers property once it leaves the shop, transported to you, and then back to the shop.
"Every man alone is sincere; at the entrance of a second person hypocrisy begins." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Old August 21, 2008, 08:49 PM   #4
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Dfariswheel pretty much nailed it.

My experiences pretty much mirror his. Heres my list:

1) Forget favors. Youre in this to make money. Does the grocer you repaired a gun for bring you a bag of steaks? No? Does your buddies shop say "we'll have our smith look at it" and have you go over a new gun that just doesn't seem to work? Is that a paying job? For some reason the gunsmith has this reputation for not needing food or rent money. What's the difference between a Gunsmith and a large pizza. Answer: The pizza can feed a family of four.

2) Watch your friends and customers. I'm not saying yours might be a thief, but I've seen some slimey stuff. Don't do anything dicey. "Oh, yeah, my wife was a housekeeper for this dude that died, and she took his .45 while they were waiting for the coroner.." as you just finished entering it in your bound book. You could get sucked into making tons of court appearances through no fault of your own. Is he going to pay you back for that? Doubt it.

3) Control the access to you. I spent way, WAY too many hours pulling all-nighters because the "Master cartidge designer" (who happened to live in section-8 housing and near as I could tell didn't own any guns) wanted to tell me about his newest brainstorm. Tell him to beat it, politely. Also, emails and phone calls need to be screeened- consider having slots in the day when you communicate (say 1-2 hours, yes-hours) in the morning or evening. You might have to park your car next door and close the blinds to get work done.

4) Sorta like #3, watch out for the time-killer-customer. An "I gots this here 3-in-1 rifle that wont function" could turn into a time-suck. instead of going round and round explaining to him why you can't charge him enough to diagnose and repair his .22, make up a hand out and with Gun Parts Co's address and phone number and a polite explanaion *why* you can't accept work like that. $150.00 in labor to repair a $75.00 pawnshop find. "What's it worth?!" It's gonna be worth a lot LESS if you keep pointing at me...

5) Partnerships. How's it going to feel when you have to declare bankruptcy because of them? That's right, let's get that out in the open. When they start pulling moves like "Well, uh, it's 4:00 and the feed store is only open another hour, so, Gotta go" and you know they drove right by the place on their way IN at 10:30 this morning. So there you sit working, answering ALL the calls, dealing with ALL the customers, getting nothing done. What if he just decides to stop showing up on a regular basis? What if he decides to get a second job? What if he gets a divorce? What if he wants you to buy him out at an inflated price? Who will keep an eye on your gear if you land in the hospital for two weeks while Mr. Partner is going through your stuff? Partnerships suck big time.

6) Who controls the books? Are you accepting their version of the finances? Can you refute them? What agreements did you make up front? Could you spot someone moving money out of your business? What do you do then?

7) Exactly what work CAN you do? The more moves you have the more you can bring in. Are you a fairly skilled machinist? Do you have any real polishing experience? Ever worked on one of those before? If you only do one rebarreling a year how good can you really be at it? Can you attract more business to make it more feasable, or do you refer people elsewhere?

8) Can you churn? You've got 3 guns that'll need refinishing as part of their work, 3 straight-up refinishing jobs one of which the customer wants on Saturday, AND that bolt-action rifle you've been putting off...yeah, he'll be at the airport from Japan on Friday night and leaves Saturday for Africa. What's your favorite caffeinated beverage? I prefer Diet Coke, myself.

9) Are you a natural salesman? What's your advertizing style? (note: mine is "just-plain-folks" fyi). Do you have any experience attracting business?

10) There's a reason Heinie and Milt Sparks have waiting lists or limited production- they had the sense to know they were getting buried. There is such a thing as "Too much of a good thing". Make real promises and keep them. Communicate if you can't.

11) Know when to walk away.

I hope this doesn't sound too negative, but I learned the hard way.

Honestly, I loved the time I spent doing the job, and I *might* consider doing something related to the industry again, but going back into the straight-up gunsmithing again- probably not.
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Old August 21, 2008, 09:02 PM   #5
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You should look into the gunsmithing program at the Colorado school of trades. Nobody will give you gunsmithing insurance without professional training.

Good luck !
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Old August 21, 2008, 09:33 PM   #6
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How many tools of the trade do you posess? I know it's a rather trite question, but the worst thing you would want to do is to open a shop under a lot of debt.
How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished?
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Old August 22, 2008, 12:24 AM   #7
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Thank You very much for the well spoken and thought out replies. You have touched on a number of things that I have thought of and I have put those thoughts onto paper. In the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, "Allow me to retort"

Insurance- Already have that end covered with J. Chiarello & Co., Inc. As long as I have a letter of reference from the course I am taking and from the shop I will be working through they said it should not be a problem.

Knowing what I am doing- Believe you me, I could not agree more. I am not about to "Let my mouth write a check my a$$ cant cash". I have put in writing to the shop what work I am comfortable doing and will accept. I realize that I will have to take on all different aspects of the art but I will only take what I am confident of being able to do first class. Luckily the shop owner has a few "junker" firearms that he has given me "artistic leeway" of and he has already told me that they are expendable. Nice to have a bit of a learning curve to play with. With it will come expansion of my skills and the perfection that the trade requires. Not to sound arrogant but the items that I have built for myself and what items I have done at his shop are first rate, professional work.

Lifeguard 'Smith- I have 2 other 'Smiths locally that have agreed to take on jobs that I can refer to them. They are happy to take in the work and they are happy to refer some of the lighter work to me that they have too much scheduled work to deal with it.

When to say no- Kind of goes hand in hand with the second paragraph. I will not allow an unsafe firearm to leave my shop nor will I allow an illegal one in.
If a customer expects me to cut corners then they need to find another shop to do the work. I will not jeopardize my liveliehood nor my family for that $100.00 bill. I do have my integrity. Without it I nor my business are nothing.

Legal Contract- My attorney, who is working up my LLC is also working on a contract between the two entities. Friends are friends, but business is business.

Communication- On my work orders that I have drawn up and presented to the shop owner outline of the work requested is very detailed and specific. Having worked for a governmental entity for nearly 20 years and having been a supervisor for 5+ years, I understand the importance of "Idiot Proofing" task's. Not to say that mis-communication wont happen, but I think I can take clear steps to minimize it.

Good point on the book keeping - I was under the assumption that any work coming in for 'Smithing, I have to A&D it on my end. I will double check on the requirements for that. Thank You again.

State Tax # - I am working on it and have the accountant working on it and said requirements as well. I know that the tax issue is critical to any business and especially anything firearms related.

Time per job- I have listed prices per hour and have worked in a job machine shop before. I am well aware of time and money and how it affects the bottom line. For a while I am sure that it will be touch and go, I will make some and I will lose some time but knowing that coming in is part of the battle already. Like my hockey coach told me in high school: "Accuracy first, speed second- With the accuracy the speed will come. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, fast is quick." It works.

Work week- I know the hours are nothing for the pay. I have had enough of working for the "Man" and while long hours, they will be MY hours. I will work on MY terms.

Figure your business- I eventually want to specialize but for now will have to take what I can do. As far as parts, the overhead of them will not be my problem. Any parts needed will be ordered through the shop. I will not have a hand in the retail end other than selling my services and occasionally selling his firearms when needed (Gunshows etc).

Ironclad agreement- Working on it with the attorney. Parts will be on a pre-paid basis whenever possible and I have a clear clause in my work order as to firearms left unpaid for or abandoned over 90 days. I do see a need for a contingency for unseen issues with a firearm. Maybe a deposit for work? Not sure yet.

Interconnection with the shop- I will be my own LLC, working as a sub-contractor to the shop. Two seperate entities working together. Hopefully if he crashes it wont crash me and vice versa.

Something not smelling right- Pretty good gut instinct and being pessimistic helps. I always try to see the worst of a situation and let the good be proven to me.

Honest with myself- This can be a tough one for me to be sure. But the longer I am in the firearms business the more honest I am getting with myself.

Favors- I dont work for free so dont ask me to. Like at a Gunshow and some clown that I have never seen before asks the age old line "Is this the best you can do on price"? My answer to them: "You dont expect to negotiate on your paycheck-dont ask me to negotiate on mine". At first it was akward to me to be that callous and blunt and I was afraid of running off a customer. But to tell you the truth, most of the customers just laugh and say "Fair enough" and buy the item. The ones that get pissy are ones not worth having anyway. As far as work I do for the owner of the shop, we need to discuss that but it is very clear that ANY repair work on a new firearm is between the customer and the manufacture. We are not a warranty station.

Dicey items- Hopefully my gut instinct and integrity will shine through here. I have a lot to learn but I can usually pick up on something that is "Not right".
Not worth losing my A$$ over a $100 bill.

Access to me- The only time customers will have access to me is during regular shop business hours. I will doing the majority of work out of my shop at home and the only way they will contact me is through the shop. As far as the shop goes, I have made it very clear that I do not nor will not accept keys for the shop. Dont even ask me, I wont do it.

Timekiller customer- Like I said, I have a lot to learn and surely I will encounter this one. At which time I will learn. I have already learned that the customers you give the most time to are the ones that will spend the least and therefore arent productive customers. I am learning when to walk away from them.

Partnership- Aint gonna happen. Ever. Like I said above, friends are friends but business is business. I wont mix the two any more than is absolutley needed. That is why I will be working as a sub contractor.

Control of the books- My LLC, my 'Smithing business, my FFL = MY BOOKS!
My wife and I will do the books. She has 20+ years of retail management and financial experince in a retail enviroment.

What can I do- Anything if given time and research (I would like to think anyway). And it will be first class or I wont do it. I worked as a machinest for 7 years and then as a heavy fabricator for another 7 before working for the State. I have the skill's required to do most of the aspects of the 'Smithing art. I will admit there is a helluva a lot I dont know. But I have worked with firearms since an early age, built muzzleloaders in high school and have worked on every firearm I have ever owned (which is a lot). I have the good fortune of being able to apply what I read to my hands very well, regardless of the subject. Again, I will only do what I and also the shop owner are comfortable with.

Can I churn- I am sure that I will be a bit on the slow side at first, but with having been a machinest and fabricator in a past life, I know what multitasking and prioritizing is for profit. Accuracy first-speed will come.

Sales style- This one is funny. Up until a year ago I had never been in the retail world. But since working at my buddies shop I have really begun to enjoy it. I like working with the people and have become pretty effective as a salesman. On numerous occasions we have had customers come in looking for a $400.00 pistol and have left with a $750+ 1911. And they felt good about it because I was able to sell them on the fact that you will be happy knowing you put your money into the best product you could. And they have all come back and asked for me by name and purchased more. Sell the customer on what is right for THEM, not the shop. The shop owner and his wife give me crap that "I could sell a fudge bar to a guy with white silk gloves and make him feel good about it". As far as attracting business, so far my work and style has spoken for itself. If you get one positive customer, you may gain one from it. If you get one negative customer you are sure to lose 10.

Getting buried- I know I am a long way away from that problem to be sure.

Know when to walk away- When it gets to that stage I will hopefully learned to run!

Tooling- I already have a shop full of tools from when I was a machinest. Just picked up a beautiful lathe for $3k. Really dont need too much to get the ball rolling. I think my biggest expenses will be my attorney and converting my garage to a clean shop. Can you say sheetrock and insulation? Arrrrgh!

Sorry for the long reply but I figure if you guys are willing to put forth the effort of the statements you have, then the least I can do is reply in a like manner.

I know this will be a tough slow process. I have about 14 months before I retire from the state and I am planning on using that time to get a solvent business running. I know I wont be able to hit the ground running but I sure want to at least have my feet under me.

Please continue with the feedback. It is appreciated and thank you again for taking the time to reply.
I am a captive audience
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Old August 22, 2008, 01:59 AM   #8
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I'd reconsider working out of your home. Find a decent industrial court with enough parking and low rent. Like I said, somewhere where you can park in the *next* court over when you need to pretend to not be there.
Hopefully with a decent sandwich shop within walking distance, and probably a 7/11 so you can go make a Diet Coke run at 4:15 AM. You want some guy who is headed out to the duck blind at o-dark thirty to "just swing by" your house and see if his other shotgun is ready to go? You know, when your hobby turns into your lifesyle, something changes- you've HEARD every "I missed that buck by that much" story.. you won't want to deal with it on your day off. Keep your home address and phone number a closely guarded thing.

And getting back to "know when to say no" it's not just about the unsafe or illegal, it's also about the customer asking for goofy things. Millett sights mounted a mile high on a carry gun, "can you cut into my barrel a little so this 50 mm scope will fit on these low rings?" and so on and on. That work you do in your first couple of years will follow you around for years...maybe "haunt' is a better term. Try explaining that 16" barreled .300 Win Mag 10 years down the road. Start working on that "Oh crap, this guys an idiot" sixth sense...gun shows are a perfect place to work on that.

I'd spend some serious time studying the work of other smiths. Look closely at the *details*. Try to develop a "What was he thinking?" sense when you look over work. Go to matches where the type of gun you specialize in is shot- who are the known smiths- what do they do that you like/dislike? What does he do that you cant beat? Is he turning away work you can do (say-a rifle shop that doesn't do 1911 work?), and so on. Believe it or not, sometimes your competitor will be the guy that bails you out of a jam- nurture those relationships. When he dies or quits you never know what you can work out.

I'd also be really careful working on other smiths work. If you can straighten out some mistake the original smith made, hey- more power to you, but more likely than not you'll just end up sharing the blame.

Oh, and get ready to have about 10% of the guns handed to you be loaded in one way or another too.

You might think about going to Colorado School of Trades. You'll have an amazing amount of experience when you come out 2 years later. I never got there, but the guy I worked for did, and he was a fountain of information because of it.
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Old August 22, 2008, 09:31 AM   #9
Join Date: August 21, 2008
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Sage advice indeed.
I would rather go to Trinidad for school. Unfortunately I am not in a position to move. We get students from the C.S.O.T. coming into the shop from time to time and I must say, the majority are not the brightest bulb on the string. I have done a good bit of research into schools and it seems that C.S.O.T. is slipping a bit. I have also spoken to a couple of 'Smiths that have had a couple of their students work as apprentices for a short time. Neither was impressed. Their is a big difference between somebody sitting in a classroom and having a teacher tell them what to do versus actually being able to do it
Another bad thing is the fact that they dont offer evening classes like they used to.
I would love to be able to to attend a "Brick and Mortar" school although with the wifes job and my being 14 months away from retirement I just dont see how it can be done.
What I have been working on though is the shop owner "Sponsoring" me to attend a few factory sponsored Armorer's courses. He has said that he is working on it.
Plus I am already planning next summer to head down to Trinidad for a couple of their NRA week long courses.

Working out of the home- A possibility a couple of years down the road when the shop owner plans on building his own shop, but for now it will have to be from the home. Like I stated above, the only customer contact will be at the shop I work out of. That is the only # they will have and the only place I will accept and return work. No "Can I just slide by and pick it up" crap, regardless of who it is. Not negotiable.

Agreed on the goofy things. So far I have been pretty good at dissuading customers from the goofy ideas. I have a pretty good knack for being able to explain in a non-offensive manner the pitfalls of silliness.

Loaded weapons- I make the customer open the action before before my hand touches it. We had one rifle come in with a stuck, live round. I did not even allow the customer to bring it in to the shop. We went to the parking lot and I took the rifle (AR-15) apart and took the upper minus bolt and carrier directley to the safe in the storeroom. Removed the round at the shop that evening after we had closed. Wolf ammo in an AR-Bad idea.

Please keep your thoughts coming.
I am on step 7 of about 300 to get this thing rolling and I am listening to all of you.
Thanks again gentlemen.
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Old August 22, 2008, 10:09 AM   #10
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Lot's of good advice here. Others have stressed the insurance aspect, but I see no harm in re-enforcing it.

I'm not a gunsmith, but ran a couple of my own businesses. One of them was a machine shop. We thought we'd make some after-market motorcycle parts. Insurance agent came unglued! He said that when someone crashes on a motorcycle, regardless the cause or who may be at fault, their attorney is going to sue everyone that made anything attached to that bike. The maker then has a choice; pay the $20K demand or pay the minimum $50K to defend yourself! This may or may not have been a stretch, but it made me go into it with eyes wide open. You should do the same.

That said; good luck to you and enjoy yourself.... you'll be retired!
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Old August 22, 2008, 11:14 AM   #11
Jim Watson
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I am not a gunsmith, but I lived next door to the town's leading repair gunsmith for a while. He had a setup like you plan, well equipped shop in his basement; no customer contact, everything coming and going at the local old fashioned full service - including guns - hardware store.

It was not a glamorous business. Very little blue steel and walnut or advanced aerospace composite and alloy; mostly well used hunting guns. You are not going to be making centerfold projects for the gunzines.

His constant worry was not doing the work or keeping up with the overhead chores, it was getting parts. You have to be able to get replacement parts. A lathe is very little help fixing a gun full of stamped, cast, or MIMed parts; or even an older piece made when machinist was a low paying job.
Parts were an aggravation when he started out, and did nothing but get worse as time went on. A 1970s Stoeger's parts catalog is a thing of wonder compared to current lame attempts.
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Old August 22, 2008, 11:48 AM   #12
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A lathe is nice, but it's hard to beat a nice milling machine for manufacturing versatility. You might want to look for one.
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Old August 22, 2008, 06:29 PM   #13
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Couple of more I remembered.

1. Beware of customer supplied parts.
Often they are improper or defective.
ESPECIALLY barrels, revolver cylinders, etc.
As example, revolver cylinders MUST be supplied as an assembly of a cylinder and an ejector, and the ejector must be "long" enough to allow precision fitting to the frame.
Revolver barrels are often bought at gun shows or from used parts houses.
They often are defective for reasons that aren't apparent until you actually try to fit them.

2. Always use the RIGHT tooling.
Many good revolvers have been ruined because someone tried to use a hammer handle as a revolver frame wrench.
Some of them were gunsmiths who didn't have the tools and tried an "expedient" method.
If you don't have the special tooling, either buy it, PROPERLY build it or pass on the job.

The best there are, are the Jerry Kuhnhausen Shop Manual series.
Beware of the older books.
These were written in the old days when parts were impossible to get and a mans time wasn't worth much.
These books can be recognized by the amount of info on heating and bending, soldering, and parts making.
These days, with plentiful parts, many of these techniques have no place in a modern shop.
Unless it's an odd-ball or antique for which there are no parts, do it the RIGHT way, which is the FACTORY way.
The old "get it to work SOMEHOW" methods are not valid on modern guns.

4. Get to know the better parts houses, and Brownell's.
They can be a font of information and help.
Brownell's is very good with technical info.

5. Get struck or unsure? There are a few people on the gun forums that really DO know what they're doing.
You can usually pick them out of the crowd.
Don't be afraid to ask, but filter the info to be sure it's valid.
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Old August 25, 2008, 01:34 PM   #14
Join Date: August 21, 2008
Posts: 91
Books books and books!
Roger that for sure- Actually got pretty lucky at an indoor flea market. Bought a bunch of gunsmithing books for $5.00. Older stuff but still some sound theory. I already have Kuehnhausens series on the 1911 and M1A. Good stuff.
I am accumulating as I go.

Slowly getting the ball rolling and working up a business plan and going through the paperwork.

Keep the advice coming!
This is a great reference!
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Old August 25, 2008, 04:03 PM   #15
James K
Join Date: March 17, 1999
Posts: 23,836
Very good advice. Perhaps I could test your patience by adding two items.

Working out of your home is OK (assuming it is legal) IF the shop protects your name and location. You don't need some idiot waking you up at 3AM on opening day to fix the gun he broke last year, and you don't want your family in the middle of a "drive in" (through the wall) raid by gang bangers looking for guns. Those are the main reasons I strongly recommend not having a gun shop or gunsmithing shop in your home.

The second item is something I have only seen in one shop, but I think it is a great idea. When you look at a job and realize that you are being asked to do something unsafe or that the gun itself is unsafe, the customer won't get the gun back until he signs a statement saying what is wrong with the gun, why it is unsafe and that you advise against firing. That way when he blows his damned fool head off, you have a paper saying he had been advised of the danger.

Jim K
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Old August 25, 2008, 06:06 PM   #16
Join Date: August 21, 2008
Posts: 91
Discretion of my home will be addressed in the contract between myself and the shop owner. We are both private folks and respect our families so I am not too worried about him disclosing that fact.

As far as subject # 2, I have already had to deal with that- here is a text copy of what was given to the customer in regards to his unsafe firearm:

Let it be known that pursuant to a request of detail cleaning by the owner: ________________________________________________of the following .45 caliber carbine, serial # ______________________
The following deficiencies were discovered upon initial inspection:
1- Firing Pin is bent.
2- Extractor is broken
3- Bolt face exhibits deep impingement from a foreign object.

Further inspection/cleaning of the firearm identified above was performed after telephone consultation with the owner on XX-XX-XXXX.
Upon further inspection/cleaning it was discovered that at the approximate mid length point of the barrel bore a substantial bulge is present in the bore with a subsequent bulge on the O.D. of the barrel at the same point.

It is the conclusion of the staff of XXXXXXXXX that the damage to the barrel on the firearm identified above deems this firearm as:
It is the recommendation of the staff of XXXXXXXXX that the disposition of the firearm identified above be:
1- Returned to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX manufacturing's facility for further evaluation and or repair.
2- Destroyed by a means to render the firearm permanently inoperative i.e.; Diagonal torch cutting of the barrel and receiver in at least 3 places.
We further advise the owner with this notice/release that any attempt to operate this firearm may result in personal injury or death.

I hereby acknowledge that I have been advised of the condition of the firearm identified above and retain possession of the firearm with this knowledge.
Signature _______________________________ Date_____________

With this knowledge I agree that:
I, my assignees, heirs, distributees, guardians or legal representatives hereby release XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX or any employee, agent or contractor of XXXXXXXXXXX, or any of it’s affiliated organizations from any damages and or action whatsoever and howsoever that may result from any attempt to operate and or discharge the firearm identified within this document.
Signature _______________________________ Date_____________

Think that should cover that situation.
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Old August 26, 2008, 08:37 AM   #17
Join Date: August 21, 2008
Posts: 91
Yeah, except for the lawyer who then says his client signed it under duress as it was the only way he could get his property back. . .
Only in this case the gent asked us to ship it back to the manufacture for him.

What else would you suggest to cover such a possibility?
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Old August 27, 2008, 07:38 AM   #18
Senior Member
Join Date: May 20, 2007
Location: South East Michigan
Posts: 109
Score for help

I have not been on line much but found this a great thread. Say Hockey...have you heard of a group called SCORE???? This is a free service from retired business exects who help small business get going or fix what is wrong. It is not that they know gunsmithing...they know business, the ins and outs...IRS stuff, money stuff, legal stuff.

I know a couple of people that have used them with great results. If they are in your area I would contact them and see if they could help you find out legal, tax stuff, accounting the whole ball of wax to be sucessful. They have contacts all over the US and once on a project contact others to see how your business can benifit from there background in running a business.

One fella I know who was a very sucessful artist (carves world class fish) called them, took there advise and I mean followed it to the he is a very rich sucessful artist.

As for machine were smart to get to a local community college and take some classes. I would suggest getting back for a refresher class and focus on the skills you will need...taping small holes, precission locations, thread on lathe, dove tail cutting and what ever else ya need. I the mean while, there are used mills all over the place, pick one or two up and start getting the tooling to make it sing and make you cash.

Last edited by 45Dave; August 27, 2008 at 07:41 AM. Reason: lost ida.
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Old August 27, 2008, 10:12 AM   #19
Join Date: August 21, 2008
Posts: 91
The Mrs and I went to a SBA counselor who gave us a "Blueprint" for setting up a small business. He was very helpful and once we get all of the things in place such as LLC-Trade name registration-business license-FFL etc. we are going to have a follow up with them and later this winter go to a couple of workshops that they offer.
They are a great resource to be sure.
The mill will be in future plans but for now I need to focus on getting the garage set up and all the ducks in a row. If I have need for a mill I have a friend who has a Machine shop that for a 12 pack will give me free run of the place.

As far as a refresher machine course I would love to. Unfortunately all of the Community Colleges etc. in the area have dropped their machine course's. So I need to get my lathe set up and just start making some chips!
It will come back to me I am sure, and resources like this will be a big help when I get those questions.
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Old September 21, 2008, 10:45 PM   #20
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Join Date: September 27, 2007
Posts: 170
This is diffinitely a good thread. I have been saving money for a long time and I have a GI bill to go to the Colorado school of trades. I have a break in my current carear and own lots of guns to work on. But after reading of all the possible pitfalls, Im concerned to say the least. Im good with my hands artfull if you call it that but I lack the training. I've got 50K to invest in school and to set up shop when Im done. I have 3 possible locations to set up shop. 2 friends have large gun shops with extra room and no good gunsmiths in the area. The 3rd place has a great gunsmith and they may not need the help. But he's been there 25+ years and may be looking to retire. What do you think? By the way Im 37 years old and have full filled my dreams working as a police office, being in the millitary, and I have worked for 2 engineering companies. I hated the engineering jobs but the pay was pretty good. Im not looking to get rich, I want a job that I will enjoy for the rest of my life.
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Old September 22, 2008, 06:57 AM   #21
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Join Date: June 24, 2007
Location: West Central Florida
Posts: 207
Grymster2007 brought up insurance companies and product liability - after being self-employed most all my life, 17 years of which when my customer base was solely industrial & commercial and my primary work was design & fabrication of custom equipment, there isn't a product liability policy that's worth the paper it's written on let alone what they expect you to pay for premiums.

It doesn't matter what happens or why, if you touched it, looked at it or just happened to be in the general vicinity of where it is, you're going to wind-up at least partly responsible depending on how wide of a net the lawyers cast. Insurance companies are in the business of collecting money, not paying it out and they will use any excuse they can find to deny paying a claim just as they'll use any excuse to raise your premiums too.

I held a primary general liability, product liability and a blanket/umbrella policy - I was paying almost $28,000 per year with no employees just to have the paperwork to satisfy corporations I did work for. It doesn't matter if your work is even related to an incident because if I connected a machine in a plant and someone got hurt for any reason not even related to the machine I installed, the lawyers will go fishing for the deepest pockets or multiple pockets to dip into. It's the same way no matter what, you change the oil on a fleet truck, if that truck gets hit by another vehicle in an accident, despite the fact the truck you worked on is not at fault, there will be a lawyer trying to connect the oil change to the brake or steering system, maybe a smudge of dirt on the windshield just so they can lay some amount of blame on you. You install a new air compressor in a manufacturing plant and someone gets their fingers chopped off by a pneumatic powered machine, you will be named in the lawsuit. You connect an appliance to the utility gas line and the plant down the street blows up, you can bet you'll be sitting in court over it because when the lawyers go fishing, they cast very large nets.

If you get up every day worrying about getting sued, you'd better just get over it because you can be sued by anyone at any time for any thing. I've got 22 years in the volunteer fire & rescue, you stop at a car crash to render assistance, think the Good Sam laws protects you? WRONG! If you stop you become liable and can be sued, likely the court will throw it out but you'll still have the legal defense losses to eat. You play it safe and don't stop, you can also be sued for not stopping and rendering assistance. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

I've come to the realization that when you go do what you do, forget about getting sued, pay attention to what you're doing and make it right with yourself - the moral court holds more value than anything else. Do your work so you know it's right and no matter what happens, at least you will maintain a clear conscience. You can all the liability releases and other paperwork you want, aside from some small claims issues, all you're doing is wasting paper because nothing protects you from being liable even if whatever happened has nothing to do with what you did. You checker a stock and the wrist breaks, you're going to be sued. You put a scope on and the idiot pulling the trigger shoots his hunting buddy, you're probably going to be sued. Polish the feed ramp on a pistol and it blows-up from bad ammo, you'll be calling & paying your lawyer. The only real way of protecting yourself is to not own anything. Lease all your equipment, lease your workshop, if your house is paid-off put it in your wife's name only or lock it into a trust of some kind. Incorporate if you can afford it but remember, the cost goes well beyond the paperwork for the corp. itself, there are legal ad laws, notices of fictitious name, you'll pay higher business taxes at the local level, you'll pay corporate state & fed taxes and so forth ... all those payments have to come from somewhere. I used to put a note in large font on all my invoices from my former business: "Please note that approximately 53% of the total labor costs shown on this invoice are imbedded taxes."

I haven't been impressed at all with what I've seen come out of CSOT - based on that I've no desire to give them any of my money. The most recent graduate of CSOT I happened across could not seem to grasp the concept of why you move the front sight in the opposite direction of where you want the POI to go - then again, he had no idea how to run a simple metal cutting bandsaw or a basic manual lathe either - I wouldn't let him shoot any of my guns let alone work on them!
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Old September 22, 2008, 12:36 PM   #22
James K
Join Date: March 17, 1999
Posts: 23,836
Hi, Hockeysew,

Your "form" has the right idea but it should give the gun description, then a blank for the work requested (cleaning, repair, etc.). Then "In the course of following the above instructions, we have determined that the above firearm is inoperable or dangerous because" and a blank, then "Recommendations" and another blank. You can't cover all the possibilities on the basic form, you just leave areas to be filled in according to the circumstances.

Jim K
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Old September 24, 2008, 06:09 AM   #23
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Join Date: September 27, 2007
Posts: 170
I will look more into the school in Trinadad. Does anyone have some basic info such as cost for shop, tools, tuition and cost of living around that area? Just ball park figures as I have all the info already from the Colo School of Trades.
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Old September 24, 2008, 11:11 PM   #25
Join Date: August 21, 2008
Posts: 91
Thank you for all the suggestions gentlemen. Your wisdom in this arena shows.
There is definitley an incredible amount to cover when contemplating this huge step.
I ran into a situation where a customer brought in an AR that kaboomed on him shooting reloads. The rifle was completley destroyed. Bulged upper and lower, broken extractor etc. He said that his wife had been firing it and the bolt didnt close all the way so she used the forward assist to close it and KABOOM!
He wanted me to write a letter stating that the reloaded ammo caused the KB.
I drafted a form similar to the first one and merely documented the condition of the rifle and the case that was stuck in the chamber. I have my suspicions about the cause and yes they could be ammo related but I am no expert on forensics.
I know this guy wants to go after the ammo reloader and I am trying to insulate myself as much as possible from getting drug into it. I figure the safest play is to simply document the condition of the rifle and cartridge and leave my opinion out of it.

Lots to consider for sure.
Keep the ideas coming guys.
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