Gunsmith Wages?


November 18, 2007, 11:01 PM
I hope this is in the right forum, but I'm not really sure (Sorry, I'm new here).

Well, to put things bluntly, my situation is very complex. However, I want to spare everyone the drama and basically say that I want to pick up a trade fairly soon. I've always had a very deep interest in firearms and find myself pretty familiar and comfortable with them. I feel I would enjoy being gunsmith. The question is, what kind of training can or should I take and how much money will I get out of it?

I've researched the topic and believe (although I could be wrong) that, ideally, it's best to work for a store - but this is all still relatively gray area for me. Can somebody point me into the right direction? Can I lucidly make money doing this? How should I get trained? How long will it take? Should I just give up and consider installing air conditioners?

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November 18, 2007, 11:32 PM
I'm speaking from ignorance, but I would 1st look into getting on as a apprentice machinist. best of luck, jj

Jim K
November 18, 2007, 11:36 PM
If you want to make money, install air conditioners- HVAC guys make good money; the work is steady and the field is growing. If you want long hours of work, with small reward and lots of frustrations, take up gunsmithing.

The trouble is that I doubt you have any idea what that work entails. Jobs working for others are few and far between and the pay is not great. (One reason is that a lot of young people will work part time for little or nothing!) Setting up shop on your own sounds attractive, but requires capital and a lot of things you have probably never thought of, like training in how to run a business.

The subject has been covered extensively on this site, so I suggest you do a search on "gunsmith" and read what has already been written.

Believe me, liking to tinker with guns is not enough to make a business work.


November 18, 2007, 11:46 PM
It's more than just enjoying tinkering.

I was told that there were schools/apprenticeships you could undergo. As far as I can deduce, the schools at least would not exist if it was THAT hopeless of a trade. But then again I don't really know, it just seems logical.

I'll do more internet seeking on it, but I've actually kind of stayed away from internet research at this point and have actually gone to people and talked to them about it (Gun shop owners and etc). I was under the impression that I could be employed by a store to do work and make some extra $?

November 18, 2007, 11:46 PM
What is the difference between a gunsmith and a pizza?

A pizza can feed a family of four.


November 19, 2007, 12:09 AM
Here's my standard response to the question:

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 known 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 businessman who gets to spend a few hours a day doing gunsmithing.
MOST of your day is spent doing businessman 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 businessman 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 businessman 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.

Last, DO NOT expect to make a lot of money as a gunsmith.
If you figure it by the hour, most self-employed gunsmiths are making not much more than minimum wage.
Few if any of them are working ONLY 40 hour weeks.

November 19, 2007, 12:28 AM
I have no intention of starting my own business or anything. I'm also steering clear of "online courses" and etc.

Thanks for the info though, very helpful!

November 19, 2007, 04:16 AM
In the UK it is about 5-6 years depending on ability.Average hourly rate for a good gunsmith $120-$150 per hour plus VAT.Top gunmakers,smiths is double.Engraving by hand is a dying art,always in demand,top money for a good one,they have waiting list of up to 4 years...

November 19, 2007, 09:11 AM
As a gunsmith who owns his own business, and graduated from an attendance school (Pennsylvania Gunsmith School), I can tell you that there are jobs in the field... you just have to be willing to work in out of the way places.... Oh, and everyone will tell you that they know of this guy who makes $$$ doing it, but in reality that is 1 of 100 or so he knows.

The largest employer of gunsmiths at this time is Gander Mountain. They are always looking to hire for two reasons. First off, they have a high rate of attrition, sometimes corporate doesn't understand the time it takes to do something, and assumes you are wasting time. Also, they only pay $15-18 an hour, and why would anyone put that much blood, sweat and tears into something they love, to do muzzle crowns and scope mounting for the rest of their life?

In my experience, go with what the other people have said..... take up another job and if you are really inclined, do it for a hobby....

Other wise, go to school, and open up for yourself... a gun shop with the ability to fix things in house, to warranty all new and used guns that come out of the shop, can make a go of it, so long as you are honest, charge a reasonable price, and be willing to lose money for the first 2 years or so.... I spend most of my time behind a counter, and I let my apprentice, who has been through gunsmithing school do most of the small jobs.... of course I oversee everything. If a large job comes in, I do it, and he helps and learns about it... and why I did it the way I did.

Case in point: A customer wanted a receiver re-barreled and re-stocked in a pretty standard cartridge. The problem was the action. He wanted a Lee-Enfield redone in .303 but he wanted a bull barrel, scope and laminated thumb-hole style stock on it. I did the barrel removal, the threading and chambering, and the basic stock inlay.... The apprentice did the refinishing, the completion of the stock and drilling and tapping for scope mounts.

About 20 hours work in all.... and he got $20 an hour + benefits. What kind of customer has that kind of cash to pay $400 in labor costs, not to mention barrel, stock, reamer and of course the all important overhead???? The job ended up costing the customer over $800, and I may see 2 customers like that in a year.... and they are usually repeats.

If you decide to go your own way, make sure you are in an area that can support you!

November 19, 2007, 02:26 PM
I agree a little with dfariswheel but picking a good gunsmith to apprentice with is not that hard, I would look at his business is it thriving is their a lot of returning customers? Look at the work coming from the shop is it decent?
Not all smiths build guns most repair guns, blue, and refinish stocks, and do a very good job and if they run their shop as a business they can make a very good living. Attendance schools are better then correspondence courses by far, but an apprenticeship is better then either when it is possible to get one.
Below are some links to look at.
It has been a very good trade for me and I wish you luck.

Jim K
November 19, 2007, 03:08 PM
Ieszu writes about whether you want "to do muzzle crowns and scope mounting for the rest of their life?"

The sad fact is that most of the business is just that. Building $50,000 rifles for itinerant kings just is not a real common thing, and jobs like that don't come to startup gunsmiths.

So, unless you specialize, you will take what comes along. Cleaning swamp grass out of duck guns, mounting chokes, replacing hammers, trying to get junk .25 auto pistols to work, bending bolts on Mausers so you can mount a scope, drilling and tapping, installing recoil pads and sling swivels, installing beavertail grip safeties on 1911 clones, etc., etc. If you want to see what is involved, just scan this forum and look at the times someone advises a poster to "take it to a gunsmith." Those are the kinds of jobs you will get, and have to take if you want to survive.

If you choose to specialize, then you can make more money, but you will have tough competition from the nationally known specialists. You can turn down some work (like Saturday night specials or old breaktop revolvers) but if you turn down too much, you get a reputation as being "too good" to work on plain people's guns, and business will suffer.


November 19, 2007, 03:20 PM
I agree with the majority of the above posts.However,if you wish to specialse,IE: stock maker,engraveing there is always work to be had.Yes you need the small jobs,but through these come larger one's.Why don't you look at a few months abroad with a good gun house,great for the CV and experience.Austria has some great schools and gunmakers,England for the traditional art of gunmaking.In Europe gunmaking and smithing is a dying art,there are some very experienced men and women in the trade.
You must be comitted in this trade and have the patience of a saint.
Good luck to you...

November 19, 2007, 04:02 PM
Thanks for all the replies. I'll share my story:

I graduated early from high school and started college at age 16. I didn't find it very valuable and left after finishing my first semester. A whole bunch of stuff happened and I got engaged, then I felt called to go back into college (where I am currently). After some careful consideration, I realized that I won't be able to begin my career until I'm about thirty - until then my only means of support would entail leeching off of mommy and daddy while being otherwise unable to fund myself (besides maybe McDonald's or something). I don't like this idea. I'm instead thinking about finishing out this semester, leaving, picking up a trade, making enough money to buy property within the next 3 or 4 years (land value is extremely low where I am, so one can live extremely comfortably for rather cheap), getting married, and finally returning to school and finishing my degree while my wife (who will be certified to teach music at this point) can help support me.

I feel this idea is beneficial because I'll be able to begin living my life sooner, I'll always have a trade to fall back on, and I don't really like school. I kind of wanted this trade to be something that I know I would enjoy (such as working with guns), but I don't think it's going to be worth it.

Thanks again for the help though, but it looks like it's air conditioners for me.

November 19, 2007, 04:26 PM
Don't get me wrong... you do need the smaller jobs to keep a business afloat.. I specifically talking about Gander Mountain, and how they never give the "good" jobs to people and they pay very poorly.

I enjoy those easy jobs because once you are good at them, you make easy money fast, with quick turn around.... I have dropped my cost for a crown on a gun to $25 and you can usually get it next day, sometimes even can be done while the customer waits. Of of curse, for blued guns, they get delayed for the bluing tanks to be used... just too expensive to heat up the tanks for a crown....

But why would a person want to do nothing but that all day for someone else? If you are going to do it, do it well, and get all the real world experience you can....

I personally volunteered to work for free for a gunsmith 4 hours a day to build my skills... I wanted to learn all I could, and that made the gunsmith happy for an extra set of hands that didn't cost anything.... See if there is one in the area you hear good things about, and learn form him... even if you don't go to school for it, what you learn can help you fix your own guns, and know when to bring them in to be fixed....

November 19, 2007, 04:29 PM
FWIW, I don't know anything about the gunsmithing trade, but I have been an HVAC service technician for the last 10+ years. It can be a very lucrative trade. Just remember that you will be working in the heat to make someone cool and frezzing you a$$ of getting them heat. I won't go there with attics and crawl spaces. By the way, I like my job!

November 19, 2007, 05:36 PM
"I was told that there were schools/apprenticeships you could undergo. As far as I can deduce, the schools at least would not exist if it was THAT hopeless of a trade."

That's a bad assumption in general. The purpose of many trade school is to make money, not to get their students jobs. Some of them prey on people's hopes, extract the tuition money, and leave the students holding the bag. Here's an NY Times piece ( and a Creative Loafing article (, or you can read my friend Kat's experience ( The one relative I have who went to vocational school (for medical transcription) never found a job in that field.

November 19, 2007, 07:19 PM
Jim Keenan is right there is a lot of small mundane jobs to do in gunsmithing but they do pay the bills.
One thing you might want to look into is stock work and checkering, they require less equipment and less time to learn, I know several people that checker and are booked up for months, they make pretty good money as well.
Insurance is a lot less to.

November 19, 2007, 08:27 PM
I don't want to discourage anyone from a career in the firearms field. Here is my story, I loved mechanics diesel/gas got a job doing it, began to hate it, got in to computers, changed career to computers, I can barley stay online long enough to send this reply. Loved guns all my life, Gunsmithing that will be only a hobby for me.


November 19, 2007, 08:56 PM
I worked several years for a nationally-known riflesmith, one of the best. It could be interesting at times, but most of my work was mundane, machining parts. He has done very well for himself and his family, but he is also a top-notch machinist and worked hard for many years building up his business and reputation.

As for me, I don't have the drive to do that. A job opportunity came along in the semiconductor industry and I took it. I was making far more money from the very start. Along came a wife, then a couple little kids (climbing on me right now); life is good and I never looked back.

My advice would be about the same as most of the others. HVAC is a good trade to get into. If you have exceptional drive, ability, and patience, gunsmithing could work out for you, otherwise you will find less frustration in a good job that pays the bills, and enjoying your hobby as a hobby.

Jim K
November 20, 2007, 07:13 PM
Hi, Oakville Shooter,

I have never been an HVAC guy, but I understand from reliable sources that it is not the crawl space that is the problem, it is what is crawling in the crawl space. (Eeeeaaakkkk!)


Big Az Al
November 21, 2007, 03:39 PM
Pay is highly dependent on the level of skill,

The way he said he put it when it came up in a workshop he was teaching,

"There is a fairly well established price stucture for size and type of work, as a beginner, It will take you longer to do the same work that it takes me, so I am well paid, and your thinking about getting into another profession!"

There are a number of jobs that a smith does at a flat rate scale, the better a smith is at doing these jobs the higher his rate of pay.

And as another smith once said, "I was thinking these flat rates are to high, AFTER THAT job I think they are not high enough!" this guy is good! but sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes it eats you!

November 24, 2007, 12:09 PM
Speaking as a gunsmith with 26+years experience,the only way to make money is to have own shop and find a speciality that not just everybody can or will do.

November 24, 2007, 02:07 PM
Senior Member

Join Date: 11-23-03
Location: n az
Posts: 199

What is the difference between a gunsmith and a pizza?

A pizza can feed a family of four.

I have been doing amateur gunsmithing for 10 years.
I have bought ~$10k in tools, ~$10k in parts, $20k in project guns, and put ~$300k in engineering hours into it.

I have made ~ $50.

That is better than I am doing with my guitars, as a musician.
But the guitars and amplifiers are increasing in value @ 3% compounded, just like my guns.

If a guy was good enough to be a gunsmith in a ordinary gun shop, it would be a low paying occupation.
The really successful gunsmthings that sell their fancy work to very rich men make money like a school teacher.
Most guys can never reach that level of jewelry like craftsmanship and self promotion.

If you open a gunsmithing shop with a few guns for sale, you will quickly find that gunsmithing pays negative money and selling guns makes positive money.

If you see that it costs $50/hour to have a car worked on, and you can work on cars, why do you get $15/hour and not $50/hour to work on cars?
Because someone else is finding the work and paying $50/ square foot/ month for business space.

Just how good are you at self promotion, negotiation, and sales?

If I am the bottom 10% in engineering ability and can get top 1% in engineering income, how do I do it?
Sleaze ball tactics. I ask myself, "How desperate are they? How much money do they have?" With a straight face I give them a sky-high estimate/rate/bid/invoice. And when I hire others to help me, I think nothing of marking up their wage rate 400% on the bill.

How sleazy are you?
Maybe self employment in a difficult field is not for you.

November 24, 2007, 04:19 PM
StalkingBear Sez:the only way to make money is to have own shop and find a speciality that not just everybody can or will do.Agreed. My smith is a Grand Master IPSC shooter, has his own shop, and specializes in full custom STI/1911 builds, mostly for IPSC and cops. He's been at it for a while, and has built a dedicated customer base, and a reputation for perfection.

To do full customs, you need to be a good machinist, and have good machine tools. You'll need some of the same skills and tools for run of the mill jobs.

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