Becoming a smith.


January 1, 2003, 09:45 PM
How do you do it? Is there an apprenticeship program? Correspondence course?

Is AGI reputable? Would you become a smith again, knowing what you now know?

My brother's curious and I want to be supportive, but I don't have a clue as to the inner workings of the business.

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January 1, 2003, 11:14 PM
There are some schools, the most noted in CO., wher you can get hands on training. I started as a sort-of machinist when working for the feds. I got intrested in shooting, started building my own home shop, retired and got part time work at home doing prototype development for some intresting organizations. I read, talked, tryed out things, got better and more sophisticated tools, read, talked to more people, you get the picture.

So now I do a bit of smithing, have a shop which includes a CNC mill, hardness tester, furnuce, 12x36 lathe, all the toys. I've been doing it for 11 years now, and as the Old Master said, "They say it takes 20 years to make a goodsmith". I'm still learning!

The most important question is why? If you want to do it for money, well, I've heard that you can spend your entire fortune being a gun smith. Do it for fun, do it for the love of craftmanship, do it to simply learn more about what you enjoy. It is not a social endevor, not something you do to build close relationships. It is solitary, sometimes tedious (try balancing the trigger pull on a Ruger Red Label), exhasperating (see broken tap post elsewhere)! And the reward is the pleasure of doing nice work.

I would say that if you brother likes working with his hands, likes guns and the people associated with them, and is a good listener, give it a try. But don't give up your day job!

J Rhines
Seneca, MD

January 1, 2003, 11:28 PM
I forgot the AGI part of your question. I subscribe to American Gunsmith, the pub of the American Gunsmithing Association. I find the magazine to be well worth the money. I have no opinion about the AGI smithing course, as I have never seen it close up. But I have watched a few of their tapes on various techniques. While the production quality is not what I would call professional (the sound is not well done, the camera work looks like it is all done single take, etc), the info contained is first rate, again well worth the bucks.


J Rhines
Seneca, MD

January 2, 2003, 01:39 AM
I've heard this so many times I actually kept a post I made elswhere. I was a gunsmith before I bought the AGI tapes, and I used them. They're good. To my mind in some ways better than what you get at some schools. The following schools are at the point of closing due to los enrollment: Lassen, Colorado, and Yavapai. Every school has a different focus. Unless you live very close to one of them and cannot aford to travel it would be wise to see which school ciriculum actually fits your ideal.

You can make a living, but you won't get rich.

I don't know what school you’ll end up at, but check out They offer a video course that is very good. Good enough that it is approved as a secondary education. It is the only correspondence course so approved.

While on their website sign up for the newsletter. They often have a list of places looking to hire gunsmiths.

Their website also links to every school that offers resident gunsmithing courses.

If you are going to be a gunsmith you need to ask yourself the following questions.

1. What kind of gunsmith do I want to be? A repairman is drastically different from a guy who builds double rifles from scratch.

2. Can I live happily with my family on a lower income? Gunsmiths are paid much less (on average) than car mechanics.

3. Can I sell myself? Can you convince anyone your work is worth $60/hour? If you cannot act as the salesman, the worker, and the accountant then you are going to have to pay someone else to do those for you. You'll have to be the collection agent also.

4. Can I afford the tools? You will need a shop, a lathe, and a mill plus about $15,000 in hand tools to run a decent shop.

5. Am I and my family willing to live in a low rent neighborhood? You know why there are no gunsmiths in most big cities? Because they can't afford to be there.

6. Am I willing to put up with the constant regulation and inspection by the government, which a failure to follow will put me in jail? You will get to know your local, State, and Federal employees, perhaps too well.

7. Am I willing to give up a majority of my hunting and fishing time? Hey, that's the busy time of year, and you have to work.

8. Can I afford a million dollars of liability insurance? Followed by...

9. Do I have a good lawyer?

10. Can I afford to go to school for 2 years just to be considered an apprentice? (In Europe an apprenticeship is longer, and then they work through the trade, something we do not have in the US.) The schools will prepare you, but that's only a start.

11. How am I going to test my work? If you have to drive to a range you can count on one day a week where you are not in the shop working.

12. Do I really want to work weekends for the rest of my life? Got to. That's when your customers are off and can bring stuff to you.

13. Do I know anyone in one of the firearms guilds and local business associations? If not, start going and meeting them. They are going to be your peers.

If you can do work fast enough, and can get enough work in to make $60/hour, you might make it. Remember, time talking on the phone, to the customer, or even eating, doesn't count.

For example: The fastest repairman I know fixes an average of 15 guns a day. Many shops can't even get that many in. Now think about the time involved for each deal. you have to listen to the customer tell you what's wrong. Write it up, log it into your books, and start work. Find out what really is wrong, make the part, repair the part, or find someone who has the part and order it. Do the repair. Call the customer, explain all of that, justify the costs, and get paid. Log it out of your books. Now try to do that in less than an hour, time & time again.

Next example: Say you want to just build custom rifles. You are going to need to convince 50 people a year to bring you $1000 in work. (remember the overhead). Now you have to be able to turn the work in a fairly rapid pace of one a week if you want to eat. Why are they bringing you the work? What is the advantage? How will you prove the quality? If you can't do any of that you won't get the work.

Next example: You just want to do finishing. That means polishing. Lots of it by hand. And lots of practice also, because if you screw up ou're going to have purple guns floating around. Or streaky parkerizing. (And for some reason customers aren't very understanding when it's there gun you've messed up). Now you will really have to comply with the local regs. Most gunsmiths send this out to keep from dealing with the Haz/Mat and pollution controls. You can expect a good health insurance premium also.

Yes, you can do this. But it is not just "liking guns and reading magazines". That will get you minimum wage at X-Mart. It's a job, and it requires you to know how to work with tools, metal, wood, plastics, chemicals, and people. Every good gunsmith I know can make more doing something else, but they do this because there's nothing else they'd rather do.

Hopefully you still want to be a gunsmith. I hope so, we need more of them. Good luck.

January 2, 2003, 02:19 AM
Interesting subject...

We have gunsmiths that are self taught (and now APG member), one that learned as an apprentice, an AGI grad, and formal school grad (in Oklahoma, cant recall the school).

In addition, our machinists, who have no formal gunsmithing training, do gunsmithing work...hands on training.

The important thing is hands on work AND a strong background in machining...that separates the wheat from the chaff...from just being a fixer to being able to make them...

And pay attention to Travelers post..if anything he is minimizing the aggravation and expense :)

January 2, 2003, 08:58 AM
His assertions are most likely right on the money. I had the luxury of having other regular income while persuing my smithing interest. Thus I could take my time and not overextend my skills or my time resources.
Another problem is location. I've been asked several times, "How can you make a living in Maryland?". The answer is, "You can't!". You should go where the work is. Not many sailmakers in Kansas.
The bottom line is, for a full time, food on the table job, you can do much better elsewhere. Like I said, you can spend your entire fortune being a gunsmith.

J Rhines
Seneca, MD

January 2, 2003, 04:29 PM
Traveler has it right. I did go to Colo School of Trades years back , which I think is the quickest way. But you certainly never stop learning.

January 4, 2003, 12:27 PM
The political climate being what it is, there are dark clouds on the horizon for gunsmiths. Every year, the schools turn out large numbers of 'smiths who cannot find a job.
If it were possible to go back and do it all over, I'd take ceramic engineering. Ceramics are a necessity in the aerospace field, in magnetics and many other fields besides pottery. One astronaut was chosen because he took ceramic engineering.

January 5, 2003, 01:04 AM
Based on pretty good research, including loooooong conversations with the heads of all of the major schools, the total number of graduates from all of the degreed programs is less than 50/year for gunsmiths.

I know of no major gun company that can find enough good gunsmith help. If you want to work for any major gun company, and are a graduate of any degreed course, you should have no problem getting an interview.

Heck, I'm not in the business anymore and I still get calls from companies hoping I know someone who wants a gunsmithing job.

There's work out there. But 2 years of gunsmithing college will get you a $25k/yr job with heath hazards and little future in some miserable part of the country. 2 years of IT schooling will get you $50k/yr (with $100k/yr in 5 yrs) anywhere in the world.

Basically you can work on guns, or you can afford to buy custom guns. That's the bottom line.

January 5, 2003, 08:44 PM
If you have a shop, you get more than 50 employment inquiries per year. Some come with re-training funds available from the state and others have studied mail order courses in gunsmithing.
While some graduates of the major schools can do some things I can't do, I can also do things they have never heard of.
The schools give a student enough familiarization with machine tools to find a job as a machine operator (as opposed to a machinist).
I have determined that even with a "degree" from a vocational school, the individual graduates would have to serve at least a four year apprenticeship to become familiar with the needs of clientele who expect many things that cannot be found in the textbooks or instruction courses. And, after serving said apprenticeship, they would set up their own shop and be in direct competition with the shop that took them in.
As the political climate becomes more skewed to the left, business will disappear. When I opened my first shop, you could count the number of pistolsmiths on the fingers of one hand. Today, there are thousands of them. And, that's the real reason you would have to live on poverty level income in the very near future.
Analyze the successful large gun shops and you find that they are making most of their money by selling aftermarket parts and tools to other gunsmiths. They are tool and diemakers, not gunsmiths.
If there are "guns" in the future, it will take a physicist to work on them. And, the laws will change, since particle beams do not operate "by the action of an explosive."

January 5, 2003, 11:02 PM
Reminds me of a tool and die maker I got to know. This was 15-20 years ago, and he's passed on since.

He called me over one day and asked if I wanted to see some of his old practice pieces. He then proceeded to bring out a handmade display case with a matched set of 1/10 scale minerature guns in it. A lever Winchester and a SAA Colt model. He told me he'd built them as a challenge. Everything was to scale,including the rifleing. (He'd made a small rifleing press to do the work). He even had scale dummy rounds that would cycle in the guns.

They were absolutely beautiful.

I said something along the lines of "you could be a major gunsmith" and he just laughed. He told me then there was no money in it.

January 6, 2003, 02:21 AM
Analyze the successful large gun shops and you find that they are making most of their money by selling aftermarket parts and tools to other gunsmiths.

Thats a very good analysis.....

January 7, 2003, 10:58 AM
I too have been giving smithing a good look. What I have come to realize is that it would be a hobby only. I have started to take the AGI series and it is very good. I started to get my FFL about 1 year ago and was stopped by the county that I live in. They don't want a gun manufacturer in the county. It has taken almost that whole year the straighten that out. They also don't want a show room in the county. I have had to agree on limiting gun sales to 12 per year.

So, the present climate is not good for guns in general. This is a county that is mostly rural. At this time I still have not decided if I will get my FFL or not.

4 eyed six shooter
January 11, 2003, 04:51 AM
Good info from everyone. I took 2 mail order courses 10 years ago and tinkered until 4 years ago when I decided to go to Colorado School of Trades. Before leaving for Colorado, I was in ********** and found an old gunsmith who was going to retire in 6 months. I told him of my plans and offered to work for him for free a couple days a week just for the knowledge. He taught me much in that time. He offered to sell me his shop and stay on for another 6 months, but ********** is not the place to be in the gun business so I declined his offer. CST was a great experience. It gave me a good basic knowlege and provided the basis to start gunsmithing. No school will make you a professional gunsmith. That only comes from experience. I moved to a small community in Idaho. There are not enough people to support a full time shop here. I knew this before moving here, so I work a full time job and have a part time shop in my home. In the 3 years my shop has been open I have invested in a 36" lathe, mill/drill, disc sander, drill press, bluing/parkerizing set up and many dollars worth of hand tools. I am not sure if I have reached the break even point yet. Gunsmithing is a labor of love. You will not get rich, but I do love it. I have a wall of books that I refer to often and learn something new every day. Business keeps picking up as people learn that I do good work. It takes a while for people to trust you with their firearms. When I first opened, a man came in with a S&W revolver that had a bent crane. I am a S&W armour and know the guns well. He looked around and saw only a small lathe, drill press, grinder, and hand tools and figured that I didn't know my rear end from a hole in the wall because my shop didn't have all the goodies in it that he expected to see. He left without leaving his firearm. Being professional, having a shop that looks like a gunsmith shop, quality work and word of mouth will build your business, but it takes time. You had better not quit your day job for a while. I would say if you really love working with your hands and love firearms, go for it. I'm not sorry that I did.
One of the most importent things I learned at CST was what makes a firearm safe or unsafe. Liability is such a huge issue that you had better know what you are doing or you will end up in court, being sued for everything you own. You must be sure that every firearm that leaves you shop is safe and know which ones not to work on in the first place. If you decide to go into gunsmithing as your profession, my two cents is to go to a good school and then go to work at an existing shop to gain experience. Going from gunsmithing school right into your own business is much tougher due to lack of experience. I do not consider myself a master gunsmith and know my limitations. I always strive to learn more, read everything I can get my hands on and never hesitate to ask questions of gunsmiths more knowlegable than myself. Gunsmithing is a noble profession and one that you can be proud of.

January 14, 2003, 05:43 PM
Patrick Sweeny, in one of his books, shows him sitting next to his gunsmithing books. I thought I had allot of books, he has a wall full.

I have a few AGI tapes. They are very uneven. The 1897 tape is great, but the two Garrand tapes suck.

I like what J Rhines said, "20 years and you are just getting started" and he is right, there is no money in it.

January 14, 2003, 06:39 PM
How true! The only reason we are still here is that we specialize in lost causes.

January 21, 2003, 04:11 PM
Pistolsmith and 4eyedshooter,

Once I retire from the military I plan on returning to Oregon, Washington or Idaho, kind of not sure which one yet.

Where are you guys located so I know who to send my guns to...

Actually I was planning on taking a correspondance course in gunsmithing, just for my personal guns, plus the military will pay 100% tuition. In hopes of learning enough to get into the Biz one day.

After reading this post I don't think I want in the Biz now. But still want to learn something for myself.

4 eyed six shooter
January 24, 2003, 06:00 PM
Glockster35, Look in my profile for my e mail and drop me a line. I'm in Idaho a little ways from the Wyoming line. If you really love firearms, Idaho is a great state to live in. Sales between individuals is still OK. Just a NICS check for buying a new firearm. No restrictions on firearms like **********. CCW's are easy to get (background check and $100.00) and we have pro gun legislators.
Here just about everyone is armed. The local law enforcement doesn't give you any trouble as long as your a law abiding citizen. People here also have much more respect for each other. In my town robbery, muggings, thefts, assults etc are very far and few in between. When everyone knows that the other is most likely armed, most scum sucking low life criminals figure they will live longer elsewhere (places with tough gun laws).
Your mail order gunsmitthing course sounds like a good way to go. Look in the second hand book stores and on ebay for used gunsmithing books. Build up a good library and also join "The American Gunsmithing Assoc." They are on the net. They have a great monthly publication on gunsmithing and membership offers discounts on gun parts and accesories.
Good Shooting - John K

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