Gunsmithing as a career


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mattw
August 20, 2006, 11:45 PM
I think that being a gunsmith would be a blast and something that I would love to do for a living. I have a few questions though for those of you who do make your living that way:

1.) I'm 19 and in college. Do I need a business degree or are there any type of college majors that would lend themselves to being a good gunsmith? Mechanical Engineering maybe? Do I need to be a physics, mechanics, or mathematics genius to be a gunsmith?

2.) Is it a realistic goal? Is being a gunsmith like wanting to be a pro football player? Do I need to be the best of the best to make living doing this?

3.) What type of start-up funds are needed? Am I going to need to assemble a small machine shop just to get my feet off the ground?

4.) Without getting too personal.. what are the average yearly earnings for an average gunsmith? I don't think I can be the next Ed Brown or Bill Wilson but is it realistic to hope for about $50k-$70k a year once I get established? Or will I need to work two jobs just to stay out of the red?

5.) Did I miss anything?



(Sorry if this is grossly off topic or getting too personal for some, this is career path that I think would bring me great joy and satisfaction. Isn't that what we're all after?)

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el44vaquero
August 21, 2006, 12:49 AM
I'd like to know this info as well.

PinnedAndRecessed
August 21, 2006, 01:15 AM
The subject has pretty much been done to death on this and other forums. The consensus is that it's not at all profitable.

But if you're determined, obviously you're going to need expensive machining equipment. A place to work. Your place will obviously have to be secure since there will be firearms inside. Costly insurance since insurers don't seem to like guns anyway.


Here's what one of our true experts said,

Here's the hard, cold facts about gunsmithing.

If you're planning on being in the business as a pro, you're not going to get there with a correspondence or some kind of online course.

Businesses that hire gunsmiths want people who they KNOW have learned the job and can do the work.
That means a diploma from a GOOD attendance school like Colorado School of Trades, Trinidad College, Lassen College, or one of the others.

Show up looking for a job as a gunsmith with a correspondence course diploma, and they'll file your application in the waste can.
This is just the way it IS.
They need PROVEN skills and knowledge, and you don't get that by mail or online.

You can get a correspondence course and start your own business, but I'll take any amount of money that you'll bust out in less than a year.

A machine shop course to teach you how to run a lathe and milling machine is very good to have, but DO NOT think that being a good machinist makes you a good gunsmith.
Most good gunsmiths are good machinist, but most good machinist's are NOT qualified to be gunsmiths, and often are terrible at it.

Military armorers are NOT gunsmith's.
For the most part, they're parts switchers. They remove defective parts and drop in new parts.
If a gun needs more involved repairs, they're sent to a higher level to the REAL gunsmiths.
True military gunsmith's have a much higher level of training, and are almost always career military personnel. Getting into this level isn't easy.
At the very top are the true gunsmiths working for military marksmanship or special operations units.
There are very few of these people and they're the absolute cream of the crop with many years of training and experience.

Some people recommend learning as an apprentice.
This can be a good way to start, BUT... It all depends on WHO the teacher is.
The person you apprentice with may himself be a hack, and may be teaching you to be a hack too.
You'll have no real way to judge.
Plus, unless the teacher is a nationally know gunsmith AND is known for turning out qualified students, his training is also worthless when it comes to getting hired.

Again, employers hire people with good credentials, and the word of an unknown gunsmith isn't good enough.

Starting up a gunsmith business takes BIG bucks for machinery and tools. You'd be starting off COLD with no customer base, and you'll starve out quickly for simple lack of paying customers.
Remember, something like 40% of all business's bust out, no matter WHAT they are or who's running them.
That's simply new business attrition.

Also, remember as a self-employed gunsmith, you're NOT a gunsmith.....You're really a business man who gets to spend a few hours a day doing gunsmithing.
MOST of your day is spent doing business man things like filling out forms for the government, talking to potential customers, ordering materials and parts, and dealing with unreasonable customers.
If you're lucky, you'll get to do a little gun work somewhere in there.

The only way to make it starting out on your own is to have a "day job" and gunsmith on the side.
Still, very few make it this way either.
It's tough to put in 8 hours on the main job, then come home and do a little gunsmithing, and STILL have to do all the business man stuff.

If you're really serious about this, bite the bullet and go to the best attendance school you can.
At least 6 months to a year before you graduate, start looking for a job.
By graduation day, you should have a FIRM job offer.
Go to work for a company like one of the gun makers, a custom gun maker, the government, a police department as an armorer, or for one of the industries who employ gunsmiths for research projects.

Spend some time working for the OTHER guys. THEY'LL be doing all the business man stuff while you put in a solid 8 hours gunsmithing and really learning the trade.

After you've built up your skills, established your reputation as a known quantity in the industry, built up a customer contact base, and bought the equipment a little at a time, THEN you can go out on your own.

However, you're STILL subject to that 40% bust-out rate for new businesses.



That was from here:

http://thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=212573&highlight=gunsmithing+career

Sounds like you should stay in college and get a marketable degree. Play with guns in your spare time.

dfariswheel
August 21, 2006, 02:11 AM
I wrote the above article and I stand behind it.

Per your questions:
1.) I'm 19 and in college. Do I need a business degree or are there any type of college majors that would lend themselves to being a good gunsmith? Mechanical Engineering maybe? Do I need to be a physics, mechanics, or mathematics genius to be a gunsmith?
As above, go to a gunsmithing school. Everything else is strictly bush league. Would you hire someone to repair your aircraft engine who learned how by a correspondence course?

2.) Is it a realistic goal? Is being a gunsmith like wanting to be a pro football player? Do I need to be the best of the best to make living doing this?
You don't have to be the equivalent of a starting quarterback for the Packers, but you need to really know what you're doing, and be able to consistently turn out EXCELLENT level work.
The world is full of so-so people, but the better people are rare and well known. Setting out to be just an "OK" gunsmith won't cut it.

3.) What type of start-up funds are needed? Am I going to need to assemble a small machine shop just to get my feet off the ground?
Go out and price the cost of GOOD lathes, milling machines, vises, and hundreds of small tools from hammers to files. Then price your Federal Firearms license, State and local licenses, a shop or store, and all that entails. After your heart slows down from sticker shock you'll have a better idea.
Start off small with small jobs, and you'll likely STAY small with small jobs due to lack of equipment to do the higher end work.
Without the bigger more equipment-intensive work, you'll likely bust out quickly.

4.) Without getting too personal.. what are the average yearly earnings for an average gunsmith? I don't think I can be the next Ed Brown or Bill Wilson but is it realistic to hope for about $50k-$70k a year once I get established? Or will I need to work two jobs just to stay out of the red?
$50k-$70k?? DREAM ON.
Only the VERY high end big shop owners like Wilson with multiple gunsmiths turn over that kind of money.
Unless you work for one of those big shops you won't be in gunsmithing for the money.

Onmilo
August 21, 2006, 08:54 AM
Ditto what dfariswheel said on both posts.
I have been gunsmithing for over twenty years mainly in other peoples shops and part time on my own.
I had my own gun shop for four years and made more money selling guns than doing 'smithing projects.

I am a Machinist by trade, still do that full time, I still part time gunsmith both independent and for a local shop and farm a widows property too.

You can earn fairly decent spending money working as a gunsmith but rich is something very few achieve by doing gunsmithing alone.

I am not trying to sound negative either, I love working on firearms and it is rewarding and if you wish to give it a try full time by all means do, but have a back-up career plan if things don't work out the way you hoped.

CTD99
August 21, 2006, 09:00 AM
The military offers good training, and they pay you while you learn.

Owen
August 21, 2006, 09:07 AM
ctd99, the military does have gunsmiths, but very few. As another poster stated, they work for the the marksmanship units and the special ops groups. Everybody else is just a part switcher.

Joining the military and expecting to be placed on the path to the high end gunsmith positions is probably wishful thinking, unless you already have training in that field.

Mossyrock
August 21, 2006, 10:55 AM
Do you know the difference between a gunsmith and a large cheese pizza?


A large cheese pizza can feed a family of four.

(Courtesy of Chuck Rogers, one of the best pistolsmiths in the business)

Koobuh
August 21, 2006, 09:14 PM
Related to this question, what qualifications would one need to start looking for a job as a law-enforcement armourer? I presume that you might simply join the force and try to get into a training program, but it may be a better route to have qualifications beforehand.

s&w 24
August 22, 2006, 12:54 AM
there are a few ways to go

1) work for a large chain store sporting goods store.
pro) regular paychecks and hours with vacations and days off
con) you will never never get time off for hunting season and you
get the customers that don't know enough to ask the right
questions
2) Work under another established gunsmith
pro) you learn from the older gunsmiths in the shop far more than you do
at gunsmith school and you get to work on a large assortment of
jobs to perfect your skills
con) low wages,long hours, new guy gets the crappy work,and it's hard to get in with the bigger names

3) open your own shop
pro) its your own shop you can do as you please
con) it your own shop it all falls on you and unless you break
in with the big boys it's tough to make ends meet

dfariswheel
August 22, 2006, 12:56 AM
Depends on the department.
Some small departments use a local gunsmith, some give the job to whatever officer is willing to spend his off duty time to do it, and will attend the armorers class for the gun they issue, and many just return guns to the manufacturer.

In big departments, they usually hire graduates of the big gunsmithing schools, or have officers who are assigned to the armory and who are sent to the gun makers armorer classes.

Getting hired or assigned as a big department armorer is very difficult, and often comes down to who you know as much as being able to do the job.

Many or most of the manufacturers armorer classes are like military armorers: They teach people how to switch parts.
The skills today are much simpler due to the automatic pistol which has parts that are almost true "drop in".
In the old revolver days, the skills were of a higher order, but the makers still taught parts switching.

Most makers intend that the armorer be a first line who can do minor repairs by installing parts, and anything over that is to be returned to the factory where a REAL gunsmith will repair it.

Jim K
August 22, 2006, 12:49 PM
FWIW, I don't believe you could start up today for under $50,000 investment and I would feel better with $100,000. Equipment is expensive. Just check Brownell's catalog for the price of simple things like chambering reamers, not to mention a a good lathe, milling machine, drill press, etc. And don't forget that start-up capital includes money to live on until the business begins to pay off, usually at least a year.

Then add in the cost of setting up a business - purchase/lease on premises, security work (bars, burglar alarm, etc.), advertising, and so on.

I STRONGLY advise NOT trying to work out of your home, even if zoning laws will allow it. Keep home and shop separate unless you and your wife like being wakened at 2AM by some clod who just remembered his shotgun broke last year and he needs it fixed before the season opens at 7AM.

And remember that business about business. Gunsmithing is often a hobby business, which means the proprietor knows a lot about the hobby, and nothing about doing business. He fixes his "buds" guns for free, stocks up on the wrong stuff, can't keep books, and doesn't know if he is making money or losing it. He is unaware of zoning laws, OSHA, Social Security, income tax, business tax, sales tax, city and state licenses, and all the other stuff a businessman has to put up with. Most folks talk about an FFL. Sure you need one. But that is the least of your worries and the easiest to get.

Jim

JesseL
August 22, 2006, 05:03 PM
What would y'all say to someone who has inherited a small gunsmith's shop, including a Bridgeport vertical mill, South Bend lathe, drill press, and too many small tools to count (action wrenches, chamber reamers, files, hammers, punches, gunsmith's screwdrivers, etc)? :D

Though I'd rather still have my Grandad :(

NateG
August 22, 2006, 08:34 PM
I've never worked in a gunshop, so take this with a grain of salt. That being said...

It seems to me that a major (the major?) block to a profitable gunsmithing business is that a large number of folks do it as a hobby primarily. The way they see it, they're funding their hobby with paying work. They might spend the money to buy the tooling to do the projects on their own gun, and then take some jobs here and there to pay some of the cost of the tooling. I know a guy who makes the most beautiful custom rifles I've ever seen, has about as much business as he wants to have, but still has only made a profit two (or was it three?) of the past five years. He's retired from his "real" job, so as long as his gunsmithing isn't too much of a money sink, he's happy.

So, if you're a 20-something college kid looking for a career, you obviously have to make enough profit to live off of. However, you're competing with folks who are just trying to fund their hobby, or just to break even.

Jim K
August 22, 2006, 09:17 PM
Excellent point, Nate. Even if the competition isn't retired and doing gunsmithing as a pastime, there are lots of wannabe gunsmiths working for next to nothing just for the fun of it. They usually don't last long and often mess up some nice guns but they are still competition for people who have to make a living.

I don't know how many times I have heard, "What do you mean X dollars? I know this guy who will do the job for a fourth that." That "this guy" will mess up the gun doesn't dawn until the owner is looking at a sight hole drilled through the chamber, or a bolt with the lugs ground off to "adjust headspace." Then, he brings the gun to a real gunsmith to "fix this up where the factory made a mistake." The yahoos never admit to having actually paid the jackleg gunsmith to botch the job.

Jim

Jim Watson
August 22, 2006, 10:03 PM
As the local radio announcer's crusty old farmer alter ego said when asked:
"Luther, what would you do if you won the lottery?"

"Waal, I guess I'd just keep farming as long as the money lasted."

Kind of like gunsmithing.

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