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Old October 2, 2012, 10:19 PM   #1
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Is Gunsmithing a good career and any schools in Washington/Oregon?

I heard that Gunsmiths is a dying breed. I love to attend a school in the Pacific Northwest. There are many online courses, but not sure if that is the best way to go versus attending a accredited school. Can this be a rewarding career? I hear gun sales are up huge due this year. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Last edited by Balco; October 2, 2012 at 10:48 PM.
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Old October 3, 2012, 09:55 AM   #2
Glenn E. Meyer
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This made me curious so I found:

Is that a good salary in today's world?

Most smiths I know are associated with stand alone stores.
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Old October 3, 2012, 10:06 AM   #3
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Not to discourage you but If you are talking about trades that is not necessarily all that good; a Union Journeymen Pipefitter makes a lot more than that here in the Windy City. Electricians can make even more than that. The hours are long though; the jobs are tough and dirty.

If your area is not really a Union area then the traditional trades pay a lot less too so Gunsmithing starts to look more attractive.
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Old October 3, 2012, 10:11 AM   #4
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Here in Idaho I've been told as a gunsmith you'll never have a lack of work but you'll never make lots of money, average income but stable at least. Agree with the union job if you want higher income, the union negotiations inflate wages like crazy

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Old October 3, 2012, 10:20 AM   #5
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Balco - I think that the key word in your question is "rewarding." Other trade jobs probably will pay more, maybe even much more. And they might be reasonably reliable. But you have to commute, maybe long distances, you can't control the noise, you might work for a jerk.

If you think you'll love gunsmithing, happiness in your work and with the people around you counts a lot. It is likely that in the process of gunsmithing you would pick up skills useful for side handyman work, and I'd imagine that from time to time you can come across some really good deals on purchases.

I'd balance that with the cost. If the gunsmithing school wants to finance your education with one of these loans that will haunt you forever, versus learning to be a plumber or electrician at the employer's expense, that is a huge difference. When a school says, "Don't worry about the tuition, we'll help you!", then I'd worry about the tuition.
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Old October 3, 2012, 11:49 AM   #6
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Is that a good salary in today's world?
Actually, that number is a bit optimistic. As others have mentioned, there's the cost of schooling. Then there's the period of apprenticeship, during which wages are much lower.

Depending on where he sets up shop, a gunsmith may also have to purchase his own machinery and tools. That can eat a couple of years' pay.
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Old October 3, 2012, 07:10 PM   #7
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This is an often asked question, here's a response I've posted before:

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

Forget the internet and mail order schools.
At best they can help you learn to do some hobby work on your own guns. They will not prepare you to work on other peoples guns and a "certificate" or "diploma" from any of them is worthless.
Apply for a job with one and you'll be lucky if they don't laugh in your face as they throw it in the trash.

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.

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.

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 a 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.
The one's with the best reputation in the industry are the Colorado School of Trades and Trinidad. Some of the others are also very good.

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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Old October 3, 2012, 07:46 PM   #8
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I enjoy reading your posts. I used to have an acquaintance who was a jeweler with an interest in guns. I always thought that his skills at putting small bits of metal together, and putting fine finishes on metal, would translate well to gun work. Your experience as both a watchmaker and a gunsmith seems to confirm that you can definitely apply skills with metal in tight spaces, and with small turning parts, in both directions.

I think your point about being a business man first, and a gunsmith second is very important.

Tom Lynch

PS I have this Omega of my dad's...
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Old October 3, 2012, 07:49 PM   #9
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DFW - thanks, great post - saved to my WP forever. Heartily agree about the need - I don't know of even one outstanding commercial gunsmith in my county. I have to go at least two counties over to find one.

As for the OP, I suppose it would help a whole lot if you are not a breadwinner raising a family.
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Old October 12, 2012, 01:23 PM   #10
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It's funny because you would figure that a gunsmith would make much better money, especially with there not being many out there. I was thinking that a business savvy gunsmith would probably make good money compared to the old experience gunsmith that grew up doing this in their community.
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Old October 12, 2012, 08:15 PM   #11
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It all comes down to TIME versus price.
It depends on how many GOOD jobs a day you can do, versus the amount of money you can charge in your area, versus how much business you have coming in every day.

It also depends on how many jobs you can do AND keep up on all the businessman functions.
If you have a wife who can take care of the business end of it you can do more jobs and make more money to support both of you.
Every minute you spend not actually working on a gun is lost money.
You have to spend some time talking to the customer and doing other things.

Fact: There are no rich one-man gunsmiths. Want to make good money? Be a Wilson or one of the guys who run big multiple gunsmith shops. They do little to no gunsmithing themselves, they're businessmen.
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Old October 12, 2012, 08:32 PM   #12
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Was told that all gunsmithing graduates at Trinidad State get job offers.
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Old October 12, 2012, 09:01 PM   #13
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Thanks for the informative post Dfariswheel.

Having spent 25 years as a machine repair shop / job shop machinist, this is the part that hit home:

"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."
.44 Special: For those who get it, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation is possible.
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Old October 13, 2012, 10:52 AM   #14
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Gunsmithing is always a good trade. It may be slow right now getting started, but it'll start dominoing. If they outlaw guns at some point then your business will triple and so will your prices (sic). Not saying you should break any laws, I'm just sayin...

And with all the crap on the market nowadays you should have plenty of job security, lol.
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Old October 14, 2012, 08:40 PM   #15
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I think the key is to do it on the side and make a few bucks to supplement your normal income. You gets to do something you like and make some money doing it.
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