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Old April 28, 2010, 10:53 PM   #26
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Well I got alot of opinons but nobody has laid down any numbers.
Have YOU bothered to figure them out on your own? Apparently not.
that makes me think that many of you are not trained as smith.
Do I have a piece of paper on the wall that says I paid a school and showed up every day? No. I do have 10 years experience assembling ARs, building bolt action rifles, a few years of machining, plus 3 years as an 07 FFL Class 2 SOT under my belt. I can speak with knowledge about the industry and as an employer in such.

I don't care what school you went to, what your GPA was, how many awards you won, or if you slept with the deacon's daughter. Out of school you have no experience in the real world of the industry and you aren't worth much as you are a huge liability. You are worth the bottom rate and not a penny more. You want more money you have to earn it. You have to prove to me you are worth it. That fancy piece of paper from the school isn't worth anything to me.

Gunsmithing is a business of reputation and experience. Little else. A local gunsmith has messed up a lot of guns. Simple stuff like a D&T for a scope mount. So many people still talk about that from 4 years ago and won't go to him anymore. That shop is losing thousands of dollars per year in gunsmithing revenue because of that mistake.

But I think a fair wage might be $15 with benifits. Im no bubba, my work was good enough to win me a scholarship.
Then by all means hold out for the company that will pay you $15/hr with benefits, since that's what you think you are worth. Trouble is the employer will pay you what they think you are worth, not what you think you are worth.

And Im way better than 5 other schools out there based on what I saw at the Brownell's career fair.
Telling you right now get off your high horse. Your work was judged better than other "gunsmith trainees". I'm not impressed. Gunsmithing is a profession of humbleness. Just get the job done right, get paid, and move on. The gun industry does not cater to the "I'm so awesome" attitude. They will tear you to shreds.

But I know I am no way experianced.
This is why you aren't getting $15/hr plus benefits. My machinists start at $10 per hour no benefits. Perks are guns can be bought for cost plus $20. That's it.

I have about $3000 in tools now but no lathe, mill, tanks, belt sanders, drill press etc. I guess I would still need to get another $2000 in hand tools and guages. Many of the shops out there already have mauch of these things in there stores already.
If you aren't intimately familiar with this machinery, you aren't worth much as a gunsmith. A certificate from a gunsmith school is not a talisman that says you are a gunsmith. You have to prove it. You do this with experience.

Going to gunsmith school isn't experience. It's an awareness course. Sort of like you go to school for Criminal Justice, but you learn to be a cop by being a cop and walking the beat. You aren't a gunsmith until you are in the field and your mentor says you are. It's a title that is tossed around a lot. I have seen a lot of "gunsmiths" in my day, but very few gunsmiths.

As far as overhead in the gun stores. The rent, lights have to be paid regardless if there is a smith there or not. Their main buisness is to sell guns. The guns on the shelf are the overhead. Those guns sitting on the shelf could be better use earning interest if they don't sell quick. The counter help cost you a days wage no matter if he sells a gun or not that day. And he usually has to sell at least 1-2 day just to break even for the shop to cover his wage. But the smith generates income for the shop for just by being there. Ever shop i've ever checked is back logged with work. So he should be billing customers $65 X 8 hours everyday. Even with tooling costs, insurance and electricity and $12 and hour does not even come close to $65 and hour charge rate.
Quite clear you have no idea how a business is run and how the industry works.

So that said, only those who are working as trained proffesional gunsmiths need to answer. No home smiths or self taught guys with machinist backgrounds. I want to know what the smiths out there who work for big gunshops make.
Wow. You are something else. Take a look at the Brownells catalog for their average gunsmith shop charges. That's what they charge based on their experience, reputation, local market, and materials plus their overhead. They set their fee by their overhead.

I forgot to add, Im 38 working on my 4th career. I also have a BA in criminal justice, was a production manager, in public safety and a field service tech. I was making $10 with full benifits straight out of school in 1995.
Nothing stands out there.

I do love what I do but I have to look out for me so I have to ask.
So you spent time and money on being educated about a career path without knowing or having any clue how much your starting wage/benefits package will be nationwide?
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Old April 28, 2010, 11:10 PM   #27
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Harsh....but well said Freakshow10mm
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Old April 29, 2010, 12:31 AM   #28
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First off...Les Baer, Bill Wilson, and Ed Brown, are probably pretty happy having decided to work on guns for a living..

If your just looking for salary figures...that's silly...gunsmiths come in all stripes..part timers to guys sitting at Springfield making TRPs and Pros all day... if it's something you want to do...there is a way...
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Old April 29, 2010, 10:15 AM   #29
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I considered hitting "Ignore" and getting on with my life, but I find that I am unable to let the OP's follow-up comments slide by.

If you want to know what the shops are hiring people with your time in trade and experience for, ASK THEM. Comparing your worth to that of a working smith is asinine. It is called apprentice wage or entry level. If you have no experience in the real world, you start with everyone else.

I am a working gunsmith. However, it is not my full time job. In the past 3 months I have worked on, or built, in excess of 20 firearms. These range from parts replacement repairs to fabrication of parts and/or complete firearms. My "hourly rate" for this work might buy me a cup of coffee if I bothered to figure it out. I don't try to feed my family as a gunsmith for the same reason that I do not teach public school: Compensation does not equal output.
I do not have a bought and paid for piece of paper on my wall saying that I am "trained". I do have 20+ years of accumulated knowledge working on guns and the good fortune to work under, and with, some very talented gunsmiths.

I do resent the fact that someone who took a love of guns, a failed career, a holier than thou attitude, the ability to follow simple instructions, and some basic mechanical skills and has turned it into a "I deserve more than everyone else because I did well in school" attitude, with a healthy dose of "My credentials are better than yours". You are starting out as a rookie smith. Your work in school might get you into the shop. It shows that you have the basic aptitude for the mechanical skills involved and that you can complete an assigned task with supervision.

If you are so good, Hang out your shingle and start your own shop, then you can pay yourself whatever you feel you are worth.

Part of that $65.00 an hour shop rate also goes towards covering any screw-ups (real or perceived) the brand new smith makes. Things do happen. Parts fail, screwdrivers slip, finishes get scratched, customers from hell,... All need to be made right to stay in business. The shop usually only gets paid to do the job once.


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Old April 29, 2010, 01:13 PM   #30
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No home smiths or self taught guys with machinist backgrounds
Wow. Here's a question for you...

What do the following people have in common?

Bill Wilson
Jim Clark Sr.
Jim Clark Jr.
Les Baer
Bill Laughridge

and about 99% of the American Pistolsmiths Guild

have in common?

Answer: To the best of my knowledge, ALL OF THEM ARE SELF TAUGHT GUNSMITHS.

One gentleman I know is named Ed Masaki. He is a quite modest, Hawaiian gentleman in his 70's now. He started off as a watchmaker and jeweler.

Sometime between doing that, serving in WWII and now, he decided on accurizing pistols for competition.

He's not too well known if you don't shoot NRA Conventional Pistol. But if you do, his work is legend. I was fortunate to befriend this gentleman; I own two of his handguns. Both are flawlessly executed, and both will hold a 1.5 inch group for 5 rounds of .45 ACP--at 50 yards. Yes, I said and meant YARDS.

His custom pistols sell for almost as much used as they do new--which averages about $1700 each.

However, he is the most pleasant and humble man I kinow. At Camp Perry, OH, for about the last 4 years, he has been holding classes on how to build target 1911 pistols. The cost for attendance? FREE. Walk up to him, and tell him about a problem with a pistol. He'll tell you how to fix it--FREE.

As others have said, lose the attitude, fella.

I'm a self-taught gunsmith. But I will never make money off the things I work on--simply because I love to work on guns, and I never charge enough to offset my time. Within the last month, I fixed a Taurus revolver--for free--and two Smith and Wessons--for free. I have helped repair quite a few handguns and rifles at the range. My wife's nephew had a Mossberg with a horrible trigger pull. I asked to see it; an hour later I handed it back to him with a clean 3 lb. pull--without touching ANY of the sear or hammer contact surfaces.

I've been actively working on--and studying the science of firearms, ballistics, and the internal workings of guns--since I was 8 years old. That makes 42 years.

I have had three military arms rooms where I did LOTS more than the TM called for to keep our unit's weapons in working order.

I'm also my Department's armorer.

I have contracted out for bluing some folks' guns--my specialty in that aspect is polishing and flaw removal.

And, I am the first to admit that I don't know enough about guns. I believe that if I was paid what I was worth as a smith, $10.00 an hour would be great!

Get humble, guy. Most of the REALLY good gunsmiths I know don't want your resume--as a matter of fact, show them attitude, and you're out the door.

Perhaps you should go and apply at Holland and Holland, overseas. I hear that their test of skill used to be quite simple. They weren't interested in your education--they simply handed you a block of steel and a file--and told you to create a 1" cube. No measuring tools--just your hands, a good file, and a piece of steel.

Can you do that?
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Old April 29, 2010, 01:56 PM   #31
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Take this for what its worth.

I've been in this trade in almost every capacity now for 12+ years. I've built rifles from scratch, done repairs, counter sales, managed, and now own a business.

I was the production manager for Nesika Bay Precision. I had 5 first year graduates from a gunsmith school for employees.

Reasons I'll never hire a gunsmith fresh out of school ever again:

1. The school fills the young mind with illusions of fantasy that manifest into unrealistic pay expectations.
2. They thought they new everything.
3. They resisted learning new ways of doing things.

A trade school is a number game. It's about job placement upon graduation and little else.

I'm guessing you bedded a rifle or two while there. I can promise you the day you walked into my shop I'd fire you on the spot if you even looked at me funny when I told you to forget everything they taught you. Take a look at what mine look like and judge for yourself.

Gunmaking historically has been a cottage industry. A guy in his shop/garage/basement tinkering on the neighbors guns gets a feel for it, gets and FFL and then starts a business. Nothing wrong with that but it also keeps the trade in the dark ages IMO and it will only reduce your income earning potential. Instead of gouging a client for that last nickel, maybe consider revamping how you do things a little.

Think outside the box. Now that you have the basics, learn the more modern methods to manufacture. Learn the software/CNC side of things. One day the bulb might just come on and you'll see the ENDLESS potential when applied to custom gun making.

First and foremost, humble yourself and make the decision to devote the next 5 years to actually learning how to put those fundamental skills to work in a profitable manner. I can promise you a file/dremel tool are the last tools I look for when building a rifle for my clients. I don't even own a dremel that I keep at work.

I didn't just fall into any of this. I starved on $250/wk for the first four years. Hated it at the time but I wouldn't trade it for anything now. Later, things started to happen and life has improved significantly since. Be diligent and take the view of the trade being a lifestyle instead of a 9-5 bill paying grunge of a job.

Good luck and welcome.


Chad Dixon
Gunmaker, Owner
LongRifles, Inc.
LongRifles, Inc.
"More than a business,
This is a lifestyle."

Last edited by LongRifles, Inc.; April 29, 2010 at 02:19 PM.
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Old April 29, 2010, 05:57 PM   #32
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Expert gunsmith = The guy that fixes the guns the other expert gunsmiths can't....

Having seen my share of screwed up firearms...turns out there is usualy only so many 'go to' guys when you really need help.....
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Old April 29, 2010, 11:30 PM   #33
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Funny how some of you get so angry so easily. I could have fun with this. I tried to close this thread and said no more replies needed. Feel free to rant if you want. I think some of you misunderstood what I was asking. Life is too short to get all bent out of shape.

BTW I never said I was or comparing myself to a pro-gunsmith in the field. Just what was normal for a new guy with some good looking work.
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Old April 30, 2010, 08:26 AM   #34
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Well said, Chad!
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Old April 30, 2010, 08:35 AM   #35
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Dchi, with such a unique and readily identifiable CV as you laid out in this thread, you better hope that non of your potential employers is a reader of the Firing Line. You're getting close to "drunken nude pictures on Facebook" level in making as ass out of yourself in front of a technical audience where a limited number of people talk a lot to each other.
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Old April 30, 2010, 11:43 AM   #36
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You should read the PMs he sent to a select few of us. Hilarious.
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Old May 6, 2010, 06:03 PM   #37
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Young man I graduated from TSJC in 1986. I nevered worked for anybody except myself in the gunsmithing trade.
I did get a job in a factory as appretence tool maker. I have worked in factory all my life.
Now I am a machinist (the only one ) for a pork processer (slaughterhouse).
I paid my dues myself with hard knocks and learning as I go.

You should take the 12 hour job and learn as much as possible.
You know just enough to start. That is the hard and fast of it.
If you want to jumb into it go to a bigger city and open up a retail gun shop.
YOu will strave or survive.
Sorry no easy answer for you. You have zero practical experence and that is what your employer will see. You have agreat potentional.

YOu want to make 15.00 to start. Ha that's good. Can you complete a .45 action job in half hour? Can you polish a Purdy to 500 grit in one hour?
See you have it in you but most peaple don't want to pay that time it takes for you to learn.

My advise to you is get a any job that pays the bills and start out on your own. Only do what you can and find a shop that can handle the rest and establish a releation with that place.

Of course this is just my opion and the spelling and grammer is all mine.
Good luck.
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Old May 9, 2010, 06:23 PM   #38
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How much do gunsmiths make $$$?

I'm not a gunsmith, but I've been a business owner for 31 years, and a 'gun nut' all of my adult life. I've know many gunsmith's in my town, and have a close relationship with both of them. One of these guys has just retired, and his main reason for doing so was he just got tired of dealing with the public, he wasn't a people person. He was a real good gunsmith, but he couldn't make a living wage just working on guns, so he also owned a gunshop. My other friend is retired from a public utilities company and started doing gunsmith as a hobby then went into business. He is just into repairs and doesn't sell new firearms, and he makes a living, but he has an income from the company he retired from. I would be surprised if anyone hired you and paid you even close to what gunsmiths make in wages when they work for themselves. First thing, you don't have any experience, and probably don't have your own tools. You maybe worth more than minimum wage, but it will be hard to find someone who will take a chance on you and pay you what you think you are worth. Business owners don't think like employees. If you are paid $12.00 per hour, what you cost the employer after he pays taxes and social security on you is probably in the neighborhood of $16 or $17 an hour, more if he is paying for health insurance. Believe it or not our government makes it very hard for the small business man to hire people and make a living.
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Old May 10, 2010, 09:56 AM   #39
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I have never been paid for gunsmthing with my $10k worth of gunsmithing tools and parts, but I have worked as a handiman.

One thing became obvious very quickly was that some other handymen I knew were better than me.

But I was better at finding work and negotiating money. I can find work and find workers to do it and put the deal together.

I will not mention his name, but there is a successful gunsmith in the greater Seattle area, who would have made even more money if he had been a crook err "commissioned salesman for a high profit product" in some other field.

I have been an engineer for 30 some years, and those years I hit the top 1% of engineering income were not because I was the best engineer, it was because I was selling myself as the best.

I could have made even more money if I had run a junk yard or pawn shop.
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Old May 10, 2010, 10:16 AM   #40
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I'd pick a niche and make it a second job until it pays better than your first job (including the benefits you will be responsible for). Checkering nice stocks can pay "well" once you are established and producing top self results. It doesn't require the overhead of tool purchasing that full service smiths need, although it will require some capital. That's not the only niche, but one that will give you access to people who are willing to pay well for excellent results. After that you can move into other jobs. Take a picture of each job to build a "resume". Whatever you start with....become the best in the business and the money will eventually come. If you accept mediocre results from yourself you will be unhappy, bitter and hungry. Once you really have your feet under you train the most highly qualified folks to come in and work their way up. Know some will leave you to start their own business, but if there's no bridge burning you will have referrals going in both direction. I'd guess 9/10th of smith shops fail pretty quickly. You'll never get rich quick and very, very few smiths ever get rich.
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Old May 10, 2010, 01:21 PM   #41
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I just paid $190 to have my septic tank pumped. It took an hour, including digging down about a foot. I don't know, but I am willing to place a small bet that the young man who did the work didn't get ten percent of the $190.

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Old May 10, 2010, 01:36 PM   #42
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I am willing to place a small bet that the young man who did the work didn't get ten percent of the $190.
I agree, but he probably wasn't whining that someone else had gone out and bought the pump truck so he didn't have to do it by hand.
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Old May 11, 2010, 01:06 AM   #43
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If the pump job was for a bank loan to prove there was a septic tank, a deal could have been struck on site.
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Old May 11, 2010, 01:32 PM   #44
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It appears that the voices of experience offended the young man.
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Old May 11, 2010, 02:27 PM   #45
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It appears that the voices of experience offended the young man.
More like crushed his rose-colored glasses view of the world as he thinks it should be........that's OK - a dose of reality now and again is a good thing
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Old May 13, 2010, 10:28 AM   #46
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Anyone ever notice that so many gunsmiths are "older" men. Does this mean we are going to run out of gunsmiths? I'm in my 30's and enjoy working on my own guns. Sure I'd like to be working on guns for a living, but it just wouldn't pay what I'm making in my current job field. I can easily see myself as a professional gunsmith after I retire. I suppose there are others out there like me, so in the future there will be a new crop of old guys working as professional gunsmiths. Meanwhile, we'll have a few decades to accumulate tools and experience, and make our mistakes on our own guns. If I wanted to go professional right now, I'd have to greatly reduce my standard of living.
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Old May 13, 2010, 11:45 AM   #47
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Gunsmith Crops

I had a Gunsmithing business. Here's what I learned.

1) It won't support a family of 4 as a single income household and send your children to college
2) It's a hobby with income potential
3) Not a bad retirement gig, unfortunately the customers don't understand a retiree's schedule.
4) If you aren't soured with people before you may be afterward.
5) You are making an income from, for the most part, an activity that is essentially a hobby to your clientele (LEOs and PMC/ESDs excluded) so your business model will always be more demanding than your clientele's need for your services (LEOs and PMC/ESDs excluded) . It's not like a Auto Mechanic, Doctor, Teacher, Firefighter, etc.

I'm retired now, I bought another Bridgeport Mill, Cincinnati Lathe for my own use, not to do someone else's work.
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Old May 13, 2010, 11:49 AM   #48
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Gunsmith Crops

I had a Gunsmithing business. Here's what I learned.

1) It won't support a family of 4 as a single income household and send your children to college
2) It's a hobby with income potential
3) Not a bad retirement gig, unfortunately the customers don't understand a retiree's schedule.
4) If you aren't soured with people before you may be afterward.
5) You are making an income from, for the most part, an activity that is essentially a hobby to your clientele (LEOs and PMC/ESDs excluded) so your business model will always be more demanding than your clientele's need for your services (LEOs and PMC/ESDs excluded) . It's not like a Auto Mechanic, Doctor, Teacher, Firefighter, etc.

I'm retired now, I bought another Bridgeport Mill, Cincinnati Lathe for my own use, not to do someone else's work. It works for me

The high turn-over is just because it's a service to a hobby.
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Old May 13, 2010, 12:04 PM   #49
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12 an hour is pretty darn good, especially just out of school. you are going to need to work for someone first. School didn't teach you nearly everything and you wouldn't want to open your own shop and ruin your reputation and crash& burn. My gunsmith makes good money but he was in the business for years before opening his own shop 20-25yrs. ago. He also sells guns and has the entire market in a town of 400,000. You also have to be a good businessman, not just a good gunsmith. All the skills in the world won't make up for poor business practices.
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Old May 13, 2010, 01:02 PM   #50
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Another very common trait is humility and being somewhat soft spoken.
Where the hell are those gunsmiths.

I'll take a good general machinist or wood carver over a recent gunsmith school graduate any day. It isn't like guns are magical, they are just another mechanical device no more complicated than the things other machinists work on. Any machinist who can't fix a gun should be pushing a broom.
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