The "High Road" to Becoming A Gunsmith


Wolphmans Brother
April 9, 2012, 01:23 AM
Howdy Folks,

I have committed myself to achieving the goal of becoming a professional master gunsmith. Right now, I'm 23 years old and have had a passion for all things firearms since I can remember. I was the kind of kid that watched hours and hours of gun shows with my grandfather and uncle instead of watching the saturday morning cartoons. Anyway, I'm moving to Hebron, KY (just outside of Cincinnati, OH) at the end of April to start a new job. I have searched the net for any gunsmithing schools in the Cincinnati area and except for the "online courses" (which are a complete joke for someone looking for a real, hands-on education) the closest school is the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School. Thats not a problem, like I said I have committed myself to this goal. My question is while I'm working in Cincinnati, what kind of machine/tool/woodworking classes should I take that will prepare me the best for having a head start when I go to the PGS? The PGS says that prior experience in those areas is not necessarily needed but is advantageous so why waste time in KY right?

I fully understand that being a master gunsmith, I will not be "rolling in the benjamins" as they say. Thats fine, fortunately material status means very little to me. I can be content as long as I'm enjoying what I do. I also realize that I may not be able to become a full-time gunsmith right away and I may even need to find an experienced master gunsmith that is willing to take on an apprentice who will work for cheap or even free.

Many thanks for your time and information!

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April 9, 2012, 02:49 AM
The most usefull background IMO would be in machining. Learn the machinist trade and you will have a great start.

Another place to start is with assembly/disassembly knowledge. You can purchase manuals for various firearms and they make good reading as a passtime. Pay particular attension to how parts are related and how they function .

Woodworking is another discipline you can start to learn by reading books.

I am not a master gunsmith, but much of my early knowledge came from reading everything I could get my hands on related to firearms and their function. Most gunsmiths that want to become masters at the trade will end up specializing in some sort of way. You'll know where that fits you at some point along the way.

In the mean time - read, observe, and read some more. Then find some projects to get your hands dirty . If you can find a position as an apprentice along with the schooling that would be great. Good luck with the schooling and with your future endevors.

April 9, 2012, 08:57 AM
Woodworking, almost any machining class, welding to start.

Take some business classes as well unless you're planning on working for another shop as an employee. A lot of gunsmiths and dealers fail because they know guns, they like guns, and they can't run a business.

April 9, 2012, 11:14 AM
Not sure woodworking classes will help much. Any technical or manual trade skills would be helpful, but cabinet/furniture making does not apply to stockmaking that much.

I'm sure there will be 99 posts saying I am wrong. I used to think differently, until I tried making a few stocks myself and asked a lot of questions of real professional stockmakers.

I would focus on learning to run a lathe and mill, and doing projects that require you to file straight and level. Get a block of steel and practice filing it down while keeping it square and level. That is how master gunsmiths start out in the Austrian and English apprentice systems.

April 9, 2012, 11:34 AM
Learn to be a machinest and your will be in good shape.

April 9, 2012, 12:52 PM
Look at the curriculum here:

April 9, 2012, 01:46 PM
Learn to be a machinist. Not only is it good basic knowledge of how to make things from metal, it will also give you a trade to fall back on in tough times. As mentioned welding and fitting courses will also be advantageous. Whatever you decide, best of luck!

April 9, 2012, 02:02 PM
Not sure woodworking classes will help much.
They do for the guys who don't want a new stock on "pappy's old shotgun", they want the original one repaired.... and they don't care that it'll cost more to fix than to replace. Hey, it's their money, we just take it. :D

April 10, 2012, 10:37 AM
Maybe you could somehow get in touch with a graduate from PGS and ask them as well. Also you could probably find out easily enough what machines they use and start looking for courses that utilize the same machinery. Just a thought. Good luck.

April 10, 2012, 10:56 AM
yes onlines are a aided the ticket...learn to read a set of calipers

April 10, 2012, 04:31 PM
computer aided the ticket...learn to read a set of calipers
If you want a good trade that will be a lead in and back-up to Gunsmithing I dont think you could go wrong becomming a Machinist.
With Industry leaving the US, a tradesman like a Machinist is going to be able to work a six figure income with his tools and a good reputation. Now add on to that Gunsmithing and your in tall cotton.
Good Luck.

April 10, 2012, 05:34 PM
I've talked to my share of gunsmiths who are actually making a living at it and the concensus has been to follow the route of a machinist, learn to run CNC machines and learn to weld.

If you want to survive as a gunsmith, take business courses and learn accounting and cost analysis

April 10, 2012, 08:44 PM
As a current, young (25) machinist, I can say that it's a decent trade to learn. I don't know about a 6-figure income, but Machinist's related jobs are getting harder to fill. It is definitely turning into an applicat-favored job situation.

If you are moving to Kentucky, for training schools, look at JCTCS public colleges. (Jefferson Community & Technical College System) The state of Kentucky combined all of the community colleges and technical schools into a single network, so enrolling in one gives you course and lab access to every other public college in the state. Most of the KCTCS technical schools, to my knowledge at least, have well regarded machine tool programs, and are affordable to boot. This is the best place to start with basic classes. -This is coming from my first hand experience...

If indeed you begin learning machine tools, forget learning avout CNC machines until you have a proficient skill set on manual machines. This basic understanding of manual machine tools is crucial, and is what will seperate you as a quality tool maker, rather than a button-pushing factory drone.

Once you get into CNC machines, put your biggest emphasis on learning the G&M code language and developing careful work habbits first, then, move into cad/can last. You will be captivated by all of the computer-generated programming software and see people totally absorbed in using this software to run their CNC machines - it is fool's work if that is all you know. A few years in the trade and you'll see what I mean...

Try to find work in a Job-Shop first. This will afford you the best learning experience early on, which will translate into above average skills. Stay out of a production shop where you are tied to a certian machine, as you will likely not learn anything. If you wind up in a dead end job, move on. That's why your toolbox has wheels...

As far as woodworking goes, stocks and forends would be a form of carving, not your general flat-sided millwork or cabinet work. I would focus your career training on machine tools I were you.

Any more questions on the tool-and-die and/or machine tool trade, feel free to ask.

Jim K
April 10, 2012, 09:21 PM
I will add to the comments about learning the machinist's trade. If the gunsmith job doesn't materialize, general machinist skills are always in demand. If you plan to set up your own shop, though, save all the pennies you can. Some folks seem to have the idea that all you need to be a gunsmith is a mill bastard file, a screwdriver set, and an FFL.

Some estimates of the cost of setting up a reasonably well equipped shop run to $100,000, with $50,000 as the low end. (As an example, a set of chambering reamers for one caliber costs close to $100, today.)

Sure you could start off telling folks you can't do this, you can't do that, but it won't be long before they don't bother asking. Or you could farm work out, but again, if your customers find out (and they will) they will just ship the work off themselves and elimiate the middleman, you.


April 10, 2012, 09:31 PM
My question is while I'm working in Cincinnati, what kind of machine/tool/woodworking classes should I take that will prepare me the best for having a head start when I go to the PGS?

Accounting 101. Business management. Business law. The Small Business Administration used to have some useful information. You'll also need to know about federal, state, and local taxes, zoning and use restrictions... and you'll also need to know about sole proprietorships, limited liability corporations, and partnerships. Just to start off...

The smith schools promise to teach you what you need from the beginning. Instead of duplicating that, you might want to concentrate on the "business" part.

Lots of people negotiate the minefield successfully, but some of them are fairly well shell-shocked by the end of the first year...

April 10, 2012, 09:38 PM
Toolmakers are the best gunsmiths. Call a toolmaker a machinist and you might get a pair of calipers up side the head. The metalwork is the most important in my opinion. Few people can do both good stockwork and good metalwork.

April 10, 2012, 11:51 PM
There have been some good points made here, however, the above post made probably the best. Almost every gunsmith, even a general gunsmith, has something they specialize in. In school, I had friends who specialized in 1911's, Com-Bloc weapons, dangerous game rifles, stockmaking, metal fabrication, etc.
The nice thing about gunsmithing school (at least at Colorado School of Trades) is that after you go through all the different aspects, you have time to find a specialty. Before getting a chance to experience all the aspects of gunsmithing, its hard to know what you really want to do. I went into the school thinking I would want to specialize in one thing and ended up concentration on something completely different.
So while all the suggestions are valid in terms of welding, machining, woodworking, and business classes, you may not know what you want to do until being immersed into all aspects, so whatever you choose, it may be smart not to delve too deeply into anything until you know. At least that was my experience...

April 11, 2012, 04:21 AM
That is a good point about gunsmithing vs. stock making. They require a very different set of skills. Acquiring profiency in both metal working and stock making (wood carving) skills, plus building and running a succesfull business could take 15+ years, if all you ever did was work, practice, and dream about your work... Realistically, we're talking about a life-long list lf achivements here. Not impossible, but you need to unserstand the time frames needed to gather the level of skill required for all of the disciplines possible. Focusing on one aspect for now would be wise.

I might also add too, that if you picked tool and die as a career, you might be content staying in that field, and leaving your gunsmithing as a hobby. It's been good to me, so after a few years in the shop you'll have a better idea of how, or rather how far, to pursue the gunsmithing.

I can tell you this about my experience in tool and die though. It can be rewarding if you like working with your hands, enjoy learning, and don't mind working hard. There are many different avenues within the trade, and there are many opportunities to make a good living. Okay, that's enough for now. :)

April 11, 2012, 02:37 PM
After you get your basic skill set down, the best thing for an aspiring gunsmith to do is try to find a working gunsmith to apprentice with. That is where the real learning starts

April 11, 2012, 04:03 PM
Having taken this class a few years ago, I would also strongly suggest the following class, as I've noted that most folks in the firearm industry would benefit greatly from it:

Shadow 7D
April 11, 2012, 04:24 PM
Local guy said comeback after you are a journeyman (at least) machinist or have you degree, until then, best you you'll get in my shop is sweeping.

Consider the cost and value of a custom rifle, an apprentice bungles that, well, how much is a shop out on something like a Mannlicher (not the current Steyrs, but the true classic mannlicher)

4v50 Gary
April 11, 2012, 08:01 PM
Learn to be a machinist. Learn to weld too. If you want woodworking skills, take some gun building classes from the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. They taught me to take a plank of wood and carve it into a gunstock. You can also learn to engrave and do silver wire inlay with them.

Wolphmans Brother
April 12, 2012, 12:48 AM
Maybe you could somehow get in touch with a graduate from PGS and ask them as well. Also you could probably find out easily enough what machines they use and start looking for courses that utilize the same machinery.

^Great idea. I'll call the school and find out what they have and see what all the tech schools in KY use.

I did check that school in CO out and its an awful temptig excuse to move out west for a year and change...hmmmm. All these responses are great guys. This is why I joined THR.

Sergei Mosin
April 12, 2012, 02:13 AM
One of my uncles, now passed on, attended the Colorado School of Trades gunsmithing school after he was wounded in the line of duty while a Detroit police officer. He then ran his own gun store and gunsmithing business for a number of years before returning to law enforcement as a dispatcher and armorer. If he were still with us I'm sure he'd highly recommend the School of Trades.

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