How do you become professional?


January 7, 2003, 04:56 AM
My son has begun to express an interest in becoming a gunsmith and was going to spend money on one of those mail order courses. I've talked him into holding off until I get some more information. So all of you professionals on here, how did you start? Were you working for a manufacturer before striking out on your own? I doubt many people went the mail order route, but I've been wrong before.

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George Stringer
January 7, 2003, 08:44 AM
Okie, I think I'm the only smith left living, or maybe just the only one who'll admit it, who started out with a correspondence course. I was in the Marines when I took it with the idea of smithing being a second income for my family. I've never worked for anyone else. If the opportunity had been there and if I had been a seer and known that it would become my life, I would have opted for a gunsmith college. I think that is the best way to learn. When you are doing it on your own it's not all that difficult to misinterpret something you read and learn it wrong. I learned several things wrong in the beginning and bought a rifle or two learning it right. If there is a good support system then I a correspondence course would be ok. I have a couple of 'students' overseas who have copies of my old course. And I routinely get questions from them when they come across something that maybe isn't explained very well or they just don't understand. A college would be my first choice. Apprenticeship is OK but the education you receive would depend on the type of work that particular shop did. The AGI tapes, or the ones I've seen, are pretty good. The problem with correspondence courses is not only lacking support, or a teacher so to speak, but they are and can only be very basic. In addition to a course you would probably need several supplemental books that cover specific areas. George

Nero Steptoe
January 7, 2003, 03:15 PM
The simple answer is that you become a professional when you start charging for your services. "Professional", as a qualitative judgement, is purely subjective and means different things to different people.

One guy might have little formal gunsmith training and/or formal education, but might have only studied and worked on 1911 actions for a number of years. He might be the best in the business.

January 7, 2003, 03:52 PM
Many, many long years ago I found a gunsmith who agreed to tutor me in his shop part time to add to the knowledge I'd picked up working on my own guns and from every gunsmithing book then in print. He was an extremely talented tool and diemaker. When he introduced me to a customer who came into his small shop he would always say:"This is mister Lawson from Tacoma."
He taught me things that don't appear in any gunsmithing books. His favorite saying, when making a special tool or fixture was: "Poor people have poor ways." He seldom bought anything he could make in his shop.Long, arduous hours later, at dusk on a long ago Christmas eve he introduced me to a customer: "This is Mister Lawson...a Gunsmith from Tacoma." At that precise moment I knew I was a professional gunsmith. And, that pronouncement meant more to me than anything else in my life except for the night I was presented with my Masonic apron.

4v50 Gary
January 7, 2003, 04:24 PM
Touching story Pistolsmith. You apprenticed your way up the ladder and earned your position.

I think you can learn a certain amount from books or tapes, but hands on is a must and sometimes it's easier to have an instructor present (a master) to overlook and critique your work (that of an apprentice). If the local Jr College has machine shop classes, have him learn how to operate a lathe & milling machine and to tig weld. When he's done all three, he'll be ready for gunsmithing school. Get the fundamentals first and it's easier to go to a JC that's local than travel afar.

January 7, 2003, 06:49 PM
The machine shop thing was kinda the way I was pushing him, get some broad based knowledge that can lead to other things. There was a time when I wanted to be a guitar tech, and I got pretty good at it, but you don't get rich that way. I suspect gunsmithing is about the same. Hands on is a great way to learn, it's working for me, but I have a couple of rifles laying around now that are unfunctional due to my learning process. That don't work too good if they aren't your rifles.

January 7, 2003, 10:53 PM
I grew up working with tools. My dad had a full woodworking shop, and I got interested in my early teens in the "build your own gun/blackpowder" kind of thing. By the time I went to college buying & selling guns was a big part of my income. I'd buy broke stuff, fix it, clean it up, and sell it. I knew every professional gunsmith in at least 100 miles. Some of whom where extremely helpful, some who weren't.

I spent 4+ years in the military fixing everything from .22's to 8" guns. Lot's of parts replacing, some machineing, and some actual smithing. Troubleshooting became second nature.

Next I went to work for a big company with 6-7 gunsmiths on staff. They did everything from custom pistols to high dollar shotguns. The first years was strictly strip and cleans, refinish work, and minor repairs. By the time I left I was doing custom pistols, stockwork, and barrel work.

Spent a couple years working for a rifle manufacturer, and then several more for a pistol company.

I've taken gunsmithing instruction from 2 of the colleges & the NRA, machine shop courses at 3 junior colleges, bought the stuff from 2 of the "correspondence" courses, own most of the upper end AGI video tapes, and my library of gun books is pushing 500.

January 8, 2003, 04:08 PM
My two only gunsmiths with whom I'll let touch my competition hardware, (Except Tom Gordon and associates w/S&W Perf.Ctr), got their "sheepskins" in gunsmithing from Uncle Sam.
Bobby Jones of Jackson,Ms was a master armorer in the Marine Corp. He now builds World Class 1911's and S&W PPC revolvers in his spare time, he's a machinist at a foundry,for his full time job.

Likewise, David Sams of Cartersville,Va. formerly of Phenix City, Al (just across river from Columbus,Ga-Ft. Benning) is a career army gunsmith who was assigned to the U.S. ARMY Mkshp.Unit. He recieved all his training courtesy of the US Army.

The only draw back to this route is the competitiveness of the Military Services and lack of guarantee you'll get what you want.

I know several that have gotten degrees through the Colorado School of Gunsmithing at Trinidad Colorado. But, after leaving there, they still need the "hands on" experience.
Lacking the other two, going to a local Tech. school and getting a degree in Machine & Tool work, and then either work under a gunsmith, or get a job working for one of the manufacturers. The main appeal would be to have a "fall back" position, as Gunsmithing can be a fickle profession to be in.

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