How to become a gunsmith

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Jun 3, 2008
I just want to know what steps one should take. I understand that you must have the permits from the BATF but other than that I am lost. So really my questions are

1. How would one obtain such permits?
2. Do you need any certification such as taking a course to be able to obtain the permits?
3. If anyone has started from rock bottom and would like to share some helpful information it would be much appreciated.

You must have an FFL, as you mentioned. Contact the ATF or go to their website for info on that.

Sadly, there are no actual certifications for gunsmiths really. Anyone who can get the proper FFL paperwork can proclaim themselves a gunsmith....I have seen some pretty bad work from some people who claimed to be such.

I know that one of the larger gunsmith/gun parts suppliers is working with the existing colleges that offer gunsmith degrees, to develop an "industry standard" that would establish minimum requirements. Although it wouldn't be a "rule" it would be similar to automotive technicians being ASE certified, mostly just a public notice that they have met minimum standards that the certifying body has set forth. (I work for one of the colleges involved in the initial stages of me, it's still in the very early planning stages)

As a clarification, I am not a gunsmith but a machinist by trade. I work closely with the school's gunsmith instructor and am on the FFL as a back up in case something were to happen to him (I could legally get guns to proper owners and dispose of items properly)

From those that I have spoken to...incorporation is a must, due to liability issues and the like. Make sure you cover your 6 if you decide to go into business. That's the only advise I could offer on starting out.

PS....if you want info on our college, PM me. We are in south eastern Illinois so may be within distance for you to join in on some of the short clinics or whatnot even if you aren't interested in going to school full time.
I'm With you, man

I've been wondering this same thing for a long time now. I've always wanted to find someone who at least knows what their doing. The only advice I have ever received on this subject was to take a machining class at a local college.
A lot of that depends on what kind of gunsmithing you want to do. It's a fairly simple thing to learn to do action work and basic customizing on a few common guns (1911's, S&W revolvers, etc). A number of gunsmiths have made the bread and butter on exactly that. If you want to do serious custom work and engraving, that's a different set of training. If you want to be the local guy that all the hunters and shooters bring their broken stuff to, then that's a totally different set of skills. There are several gunsmithing schools across the country where you can learn at least the basics of common custom work and repairs.

To actually answer your question: As far as becoming a gunsmith, you need either years of experience or school and years of experience. I am enrolled in a school and believe me, reading how-tos and watching you-tube videos does not compare to getting the hands on interaction you need to be comfortable with working on a customers gun. As it goes with the ATF, you do not need any certificates to conduct a business but it would give the agent that will eventually interview you and more warm and fuzzy that you will be competent to do the job. The big thing with the ATF is that you are going to run a legitimate business. You have to comply with all there guidelines and regulations that pertains to the job. I personally have not started a business yet but have been trained. The one big thing that is drilled into us is that you must have a business plan enacted and stick with it. The number one killer of gunsmithing shops is poor business practice. But like I said, ATF does not require certificates. ATF's website will give you all the info you need to get the application process going. Hope that helps. Message me if you have any other questions.
I don't believe you need the ATF's blessing or an FFL to call yourself a repair type of gunsmith or to work on firearms for customers, at least, sporting firearms. If you build firearms (scratch) in house from purchased parts or make your own parts you will need a manufacturers FFL, a specialty type of FFL.

What the regular FFL does is allow you to buy firearm parts at wholesale prices from places such as Brownells. Also to handle/deal/buy new/used firearms for resale.

You may want to check with the BATF&E to be sure you can take in to your shop guns from customers and return those same guns to them without an FFL. That may be the sticking point.
Correction Irish. You do have to have an FFL to do anything that is going to alter a firearm. And in the ATF's eyes that's refinishing, replacing a part, or anything in the realm of altering a fire control group. You ABSOLUTELY have to have one if you are going to keep one overnight. In that case it is gong to be considered a transfer. You also have to keep all the records of those transfers for three years if the ATF were to audit you. Also that will entail you to apply for a Type 07 FFL for "Manufacturing of Firearms other than Destructive Devices".
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ATF requires a gunsmith to hold at least a Type 01 FFL (you can also do a Type 07 or 10 if you want to manufacture, not just repair).

As for where to get experience... the hubby worked for a major manufacturer for a lot of years, and they sent him to classes to get his certifications. At a minimum start with machinist and welding classes at your local community college. While you're at it, you'll need some business classes as well, unless you do like my husband did and marry someone who will run that side of things. Most gunsmiths and FFL's fail because they like guns, or like to work on guns, but things like invoicing, bookkeeping, taxes, dealing with customers, etc. drive them crazy.
Thanks for the post Bubbles.....that link surely answers the question of this thread. Certainly set me straight. Too much Govt regulation I believe!
Aside from apprenticeship and correspondence courses there is always the self taught option. There are a great many out there who do good work. However, there are many more who are butchers as there are butchers who come from Trinidad State as well.

If you get a practice gun (which almost has to be a 1911, that what RIA are for) and take things SLOWLY. Dont even think about touching the frame at first and work on the internal parts. See what you can do. Practice. Order replacement parts for that same 1911 in bulk so you can practice some more. Grip safeties, sears, disconnectors, thumb safeties, and such. Read, read, read.

Good gunsmiths know more about guns than most anyone ever will. They know the history, the technology and the mechanical parts they make up. Investment in good tools and jigs (for stoning) from Brownells is a must. Slowly you can establish a reputation.

You may even be able to work yourself in as a gunsmith at a gun shop and this will forgo the need for you personally to need an FFL. Since you usually have to have an incorporated business to get an FFL as a gunsmith.

You will need your own insurance most likely though as the business you work for may not put up for that.

Just something to think about.
My 80 year old semi retired gunsmith no longer has an FFL and he doesn't need one - no one does to be a gunsmith. It helps when it comes to getting discount pricing from Brownell's and shipping handguns via the USPS. Local business licenses depend on your location. IMO, becoming an apprentice with an established gunsmith for a few years will really help
The gunsmith needing an FFL really is a gray area. I would think if you were a one man shop you would have to have one because otherwise how could you possess another person's gun or accept work from someone across the country.

I suppose you could only accept work on a walk in basis so to speak and someone could hand their gun over to you and it could be assumed you now "owned" the gun until you gave it back to the actual owner. This sounds a little shady to me of course. Especially in places that have gun registration of some kind. If you had an FFL all these problems could be alleviated. Not to mention if you buy clunker guns and fix them or restore them to sell later, you would definitely need an FFL to do that in any kind of quantity.
Check this site out...they helped me alot. The website isn't call the phone number and they'll fix you up.
They tell you everything needed to get into the gunsmithing business. Real helpful people...good luck.
Not sure if this is right BUT. If you want to do gunsmithing as a job or a hobbie and have a shop and get paid you have to get a FFL. BUT if you do it for your self (fix or make guns for yourself) you dont need a FFL. You can fix you buddies guns for a 6 pack and not need a FFL cause its not a real doing the work for SOME person. Its your friend. So it depends on what you want to do. Like sometime I will go to upper VT to that gunsmithing school to learn how to advanced gun smithing, and tell you the truth is REALLY FUN!!!!
I do not need any particular license to be an automotive mechanic except those for operating a business. Same with being a gunsmith who works on local stuff. If you are wanting to get into all sorts of repairs, buying from wholesale folks, etc., they all feel better if you have a FFL, but it is not illegal if you don't. In the case of my gent - his dad was a gunsmith and he learned at his knee - he has 70 years experience and closed his official shop 10 years ago. He still works out of a shop at his home, using tools that were his dad's from the 1930's. He takes on work when he wants - is he violating any Federal Laws? Not unless he ships a handgun via the USPS - same as you or I
Sorry, the ATF disagrees with you. And they generally get the last laugh.
Q: Is a license needed to engage in the business of engraving, customizing, refinishing or repairing firearms?

Yes. A person conducting such activities as a business is considered to be a gunsmith within the definition of a dealer.

[27 CFR 478.11]
The world according to Boyd

According to Boyd's Gunstocks (see and click on any stock for any firearm) a gunsmith "is defined as a person who, at a minimum, works for your firearm manufacturers warranty or service center OR a person who has had 10 years or more of gunstock installation experience and has graduated from a gunsmith college with at least a two-year Associate Arts & Science (A.A.S.) degree in gunsmithing."

So I don't know of any real gunsmiths, do you?
Sorry, the ATF disagrees with you. And they generally get the last laugh.
Q: Is a license needed to engage in the business of engraving, customizing, refinishing or repairing firearms?

Yes. A person conducting such activities as a business is considered to be a gunsmith within the definition of a dealer.

[27 CFR 478.11]
Yep, an FFL is required if you take a gun from someone's hand to perform any work on it (to include Duracoating, etc)in exchange for funds or goods of any kind. If you don't have an FFL, you won't be in business for long once the BATF knows you are there...anyone that tries is gambling with being behind bars. I've been in a shop when the Feds show up to check paperwork, etc. and it's no different than the way they look at any dealer. The link that zoom6zoom posted pretty much says it all.

I'm named on the college's FFL paperwork and had to go through all of the interviews and such for the school receiving it, it was very educational. As you can imagine, a school, in IL, with an FFL is a new ball game even to the BATF. They weren't sure how we were/are to handle certain things and had to go up their food chain to find out about things as simple as the "no guns within 1000' of a school" deal. (Colleges don't fall into that it seems)

Every firearm that spends the night has to be logged into the books with owner info and serial number and also signed out when delivered. If there's a gun that is in the books but not in the shop....somebody had better be finding it in a hurry.
Here's an idea of what I'm aspiring to become. If you came to me today and said I want this type of rifle, in this caliber, at this size and I head back to the old workshop and make you a custom built rifle... That is highly accurate... and affordable.
Here's an idea of what I'm aspiring to become. If you came to me today and said I want this type of rifle, in this caliber, at this size and I head back to the old workshop and make you a custom built rifle... That is highly accurate... and affordable.
If the customer brings you an action, then you need an appropriate "gunsmith" FFL. If they want you to acquire everything and build need an FFL that extends to manufacturing. That's how our regional BATF investigator explained it to me.
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