How to become a gunsmith / get into the industry

Gil P.

Blank
Belligerents
Aug 16, 2013
601
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North Las Vegas, Nevada
Looking for some advice...

I've been in law enforcement for the past 6 years and, I've never really liked it. No passion for it.

What are your suggestions for getting into the industry? I'd like to become an apprentice gunsmith working on stocks, actions, barrles, etc. But I have no experience in this field.
 

acudaowner

Old Salt
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Minuteman
Dec 26, 2018
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I bought 1/2 dozen beaters that cost next to nothing and tried to fix them up . I made mistakes , who cares they provided a great learning experience also the chance to learn more about what I am trying to do at that time and show casing to me what i struggle with like patience when dealing with tedious tiny things . It also force me to talk to local gunsmiths to get there opinions and criticisms or compliments both were extremely useful . You could take classes not sure how that would work right now maybe online courses . I am hopping next to try and make my own stock probably a really bad one from the wood i have been collecting but i did love that part sanding and working with my hands . Good luck with what ever you decide to do .
 

RyanScott

Sergeant
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Oct 14, 2005
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My gunsmith friend always used to say that the difference between a gunsmith and a cheese pizza is the pizza could feed a family of four. Course, he’s getting $15,000 for a pistol now so it’s not always true.
 

Gil P.

Blank
Belligerents
Aug 16, 2013
601
101
49
North Las Vegas, Nevada
My gunsmith friend always used to say that the difference between a gunsmith and a cheese pizza is the pizza could feed a family of four. Course, he’s getting $15,000 for a pistol now so it’s not always true.
Does he work for himself? I wonder what the benefits are like at companies like McMillan.
 

sirhrmechanic

Command Sgt. Major
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Feb 23, 2010
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Trinidad state program is one of the best...

But most community colleges or trade schools have courses in machine shop operation, welding, etc. So you may be able to put your own course together.

Also... gunsmithing is a broad term. Many are jacks of all trades.... but what are you good at? You could learn engraving and if you have a knack for it... never be without work.

If you are good at wood shaping and carving and checkering... if you have an eye for stocks... similar.

I have a friend, Ed Parry who is world renowned for his Pa. and Ky. Rifles. They fetch thousands and he has a long waiting list. Through the NMLRA there are builders courses for muzzle-loaders and the field has a bunch of brilliant young Turks in it making amazing guns in the traditional manner. (No ffl needed, either).

If metalwork is your thing... the sky is also the limit.

You could go the Doug Turnbull route and become a master of conservation and restoration. There is a huge need for that as antiques remain collectible and hot.

Saying I want to be a gunsmith is like saying “I want to be an Artist.” But you have to pick your medium and your style and identify your passion before refining your talent.

One option, too, is to find a gunsmith and offer to be an apprentice. You can do it in spare time while still keeping your day job. Let a master guide you or at least help you find your niche. And starting off weekends/evenings/ off shift would let you build up a reputation, start accumulating tools and skills and a reputation before hanging a shingle and hoping work comes in. If you spend some years doing your job while turning your hobby into a business, the transition becomes simple!

Last, there are some good books from the 60’snand ‘70s when the trade was more popular or at least more talked about. I’d argue it is more popular now. But there were books like “Hobby Gunsmithg” and “Pistolsmithing” that had sections on how to turn pro. I still have copies as the subject fascinated me as a teen and it was one of the things I “wanted to be when I grew up.” I can send a list if you want to pm me.

Follow your dream! Do it! But research and find out where you want to be (or belong) in the trade before you make the final jump!

Sirhr
 

Reverie Ranges

11B3HB4 1997-2007
Belligerents
Minuteman
Dec 16, 2019
205
121
49
Vancouver, WA
Looking for some advice...

I've been in law enforcement for the past 6 years and, I've never really liked it. No passion for it.

What are your suggestions for getting into the industry? I'd like to become an apprentice gunsmith working on stocks, actions, barrles, etc. But I have no experience in this field.
Don't quit your day job to quickly and don't jump into a field without experience. Definitely look for a local gunsmith for an apprentiship; likely no pay as their wages aren't excellent (well, you live in Vegas, so there is better pay there).
More likely, you should look into local Community College for a machine program as gunsmiths pretty much need this skill. If you are more into stock building, look into classes on fiberglass and carbon fiber manipulation. At least machining is a desirable and transferable skill that can cross over to many different fields of you decide smithing isn't for you.
I have figure most people figure out what they really want to do after they turn 40, on wife 2+, and have run out of money to switch jobs (due to wife 1).
Really figure out your passion and research exactly the requirements.
 

HeavyAssault

(Insert Title Here)
Belligerents
Minuteman
Feb 14, 2011
574
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Alabama/Georgia/Virginia
I'd suggest getting under the wing of someone with experience, or a certified training program. Get your FFL started now. Learn as much as possible, plan on a ten year plan to have your own business. Hope you get it done!! Good luck.
 

1moaoff

Safe space provider? Nope!!!
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Nov 16, 2008
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cincinnati, ohio
Local smiths that work on everything it seems are a dying breed. Nit because they dont have a place in the industry, more because of specialization of the industry.

There will always be the need for small shops doing misc work. However that seems to be where the horror stories come from.

I own a business and we are specialized into a couple niches.

What specifically do you want to do as a smith?
 

FisherT&C

07 Manufacturer/ Lathe Operator
Belligerents
Minuteman
Jan 1, 2020
110
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Montana
Learn to be a CNC programmer, so you can always find a job.
Or retire from law enforcement with a pension so your basics are covered. Then take a course in manual machining and do an AGI at home study to learn firearm design and function. Enjoy your retirement.
Or Find a sugar mama, or daddy.
 

E. Bryant

Gearhead
Belligerents
Oct 25, 2010
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MI
Go into the Gunsmithing sub-forum, look for one of the posts where a newb asks "What kind of lathe should I buy?", then pay attention to the responses from guys who are currently in the biz.
 

THEIS

Hi, Sincerely
Commercial Supporter
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Nov 27, 2017
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Enon Louisiana
hoplitearms.com
Hi,

Specialization is the key to success in the firearms industry.

Jack of all trades will live on "cup o soups" in this industry.
Master of singular specialty will live on Wagyu steaks in this industry.

CNC Programmer/Operator is the backbone of the precision rifle specialty trade, not some "gunsmith" knowledge of where this/that spring goes.

Sincerely,
Theis
 

Josh.scofield

Private
Hessian
Minuteman
Oct 26, 2019
27
11
6
My advice would be to get a good non gun related day job that pays decent and keep guns as a hobby. I got my ffl/sot about 6 years ago and bought a brand new grizzly gunsmithing lathe for my home shop and started threading barrels. The lathe and tooling alone just to thread barrels was about $10k. That’s not including license and other startup costs. I had 3-4 local gunstores taking in work for me and I’d average 3-4 thread jobs a week locally at about $50 to $75 apiece depending on what it was and the store usually doubled that. It wasn’t enough money to justify the cost and my day job eventually got to where it was paying enough that I could only work one job then go home and shoot.
 

Josh.scofield

Private
Hessian
Minuteman
Oct 26, 2019
27
11
6
That’s not even considering the time it takes to learn how to do the work. Muzzle threading and action accurizing is high level machine work, if you don’t have ten years machining experience most people won’t give you the time of day. Also, the risk is extremely high, crashing a thread means your buying a gun or barrel.
 

Natty Wertz

I build stuff
Minuteman
May 5, 2020
4
4
6
What is the consensus on AGI's courses? I've already got a good day job but I'd like to start my own gunsmith business on the side. I've been doing small odd jobs for years, mostly for myself. Simple stuff like installing two screw sling studs, recoil pads, LOP adjustments, scope mounting(yes, the legitimate way involving lapping, torque wrench and levels) and some cleaning. Actually, come to think of it, I've manufactured picatinny rails and drilled/tapped receivers too, and done Express sights.

Would the AGI courses help with gaining a foothold for starting my own business, or is it a waste of time and $$?
 

chevy_man

Gunny Sergeant
Belligerents
Minuteman
Jan 25, 2019
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Start as an apprentice for someone that's in their 50's. 20-30 years from now you can buy them out and you'll know 90% of what you need.


Look at Mark Novak. He is always slammed because he can fix anything, but he specializes in collectables and antique military arms. He can build a stock from a stick, machine and weld well enough to make his own parts, and generally figure out how anything works.

If you're not already mechanically inclined and can easily disassemble and assemble stuff by yourself without a book or instructions it may not be for you.
 

TheGerman

Oberleutnant
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Jan 25, 2010
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I couldn't imagine setting myself up in having to deal with most 'gun people'.

Gunsmith is latin for tard magnet.


P.S. - You don't get rich by having broke customers.
 
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WhiskeyWebber

Pb Splash Technician
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Mar 26, 2010
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My advice would be don't leave your day job until you can't afford to keep going to it 5 days a week.

If you can't turn a profit part time, that probably won't change when you eliminate your day job.
 

WhiskeyWebber

Pb Splash Technician
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Minuteman
Mar 26, 2010
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Texas
P.S. - You don't get rich by having broke customers.
True! And don't ever think that you can start with low prices and work them up as you gain credibility. Once you have a Customer base, it's a one in a million chance of raising prices and keeping those same Customers. They were bottom feeding for a reason...
 

sirhrmechanic

Command Sgt. Major
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Feb 23, 2010
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I was told in the past:

"In order to start making a small fortune in the gunsmithing industry, begin with a large fortune"
Tell that to Doug Turnbull who now has an airplane collection...

Or Engraver Winston Churchill who now gets $100 - 200K a gun...

Or Kirk Merrington, London trained and probably the finest restorer of doubles in America.

More than a few guys making precision rifles have done pretty good, too!

The key is to specialize and to become the best. To innovate. To build a following. And to quote The German... to find an area of specialty which caters to rich clients! Doing a $20,000 gun for one patron is better than doing 1,000 $20 scope mountings for 1,000 dweezils... 50 of whom will turn out to be deadbeats and 5 of whom will try and sue you.

Just a few thoughts!

Cheers,

Sirhr
 
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sirhrmechanic

Command Sgt. Major
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Feb 23, 2010
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What is the consensus on AGI's courses? I've already got a good day job but I'd like to start my own gunsmith business on the side. I've been doing small odd jobs for years, mostly for myself. Simple stuff like installing two screw sling studs, recoil pads, LOP adjustments, scope mounting(yes, the legitimate way involving lapping, torque wrench and levels) and some cleaning. Actually, come to think of it, I've manufactured picatinny rails and drilled/tapped receivers too, and done Express sights.

Would the AGI courses help with gaining a foothold for starting my own business, or is it a waste of time and $$?
Most of the 'mailorder' courses are a waste of time. You would be better off at your local community college doing machining, welding, woodworking.. or using your vacation time to go take some gunsmithing courses (they are out there) that are intensive and a couple of weeks long.

There are plenty of skill sets that can be learned online! I don't think gunsmithing is one of them.

And, of course, there is always self-teaching. Buy $50 crap guns and work on them. Checker them. Polish them. Machine on them. You can't hurt them! You will end up with some neat, pretty guns and skills... and your eye can tell whether you did good or not!

Look at some of the stuff @buffalowinter does that he posts in vintage. I have a Swiss K31 that he turned into a scheutzen rifle and it is a thing of beauty. Incredible! You want to see a guy with an eye for lines, stocks, proportion... precision. There you go! What can YOU do with a $100 sporterized Enfield that is garbage to anyone else? You will get more out of hands-on try-and-try-again than all the mailorder "I found my gunsmithering school on this pack of matches" courses on the planet.

Cheers,

Sirhr