Startup gunsmithing info

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Dec 24, 2002
I would like to get into gunsmithing as a hobby and down the road as a professional endeavor, and I'm wondering what you guys think is necessary to get started. At the moment, I'm a fairly avid shooter and mechanically inclined, but my gunsmithing experience is limited to some filing and sand-blasting (done with a shop's equipment - I was working there as a clerk). What sort of tools should I look for to get started with more serious stuff, and what sort of projects do you think would make good beginner's work?

Also, are there any particular types of jobs that make up most of the work of a general-service gunsmithing shop? I would expect a lot of drilling/tapping for scope mounts, but what else is most common?

I am no gunsmith tho over the years have undertaken small jobs for self. I am an engineer and so had a shop reasonably well equipped.

IMO there is a lot needed - simply because with guns - you can't make one tool do it all. Screwdrivers are good example - you need a huge number to suit the varieties of heads.

Files - many - like a generous number - from smallest needle up to bastards, and different cut patterns too. Good draw filing is a skill well worth developing.

Much these days can perhaps be done with a good parts inventory - Brownells and GunPartsCorp are your friends.

I personally think good aquired skills in general metal working are essential before ''doing guns'' - plus experience with and equipment for brazing and soldering.

Measuring equipment will make up some of your tool inventory too - dial gauges, verniers, go-nogo gauges, head space gauges - micrometers, internal and external ....

The list is long IMO.

However - if I were going this route, nothing could please me more than to find and be allowed, to watch, study and learn with - an accomplished smith. Learning by observation is so effective and better than purely learning by experience.

Could be handy to find an old shotgun and renovate it - not too much lost if it went wrong. Start simple - walk before running.

We need more good smiths all the time IMO - emphasis on GOOD!! ;) :)
There is a well respected gunsmithing school in Denver, you might want to take a look at it.

At the least take some machinist classes at the local Vo-tech school.

I would buy tools as needed for the jobs after I put together a reasonable toolbox with basics like screwdrivers and files and so on.
Buy lots and lots of gunsmithing books. My library continues to grow. Some are written for the home/hobbyist smith like yourself, others are written for the professional. Don't let those books scare you, just be aware that the processes they describe often require special tools.

Proper screwdrivers and files are a must. If you plan to work on one type of gun Brownells probably has an armorer's tool kit for it. I really like to tinker with 1911 .45 autos so over the years I've acquired jigs and tools just for that type.
The most important tool, after your brain, is a good sized, solid, work bench and a good 4" bench vise with soft jaws.
"...good beginner's work..." Iron sight installation. Having a dip tank for removing cosmoline isn't a bad idea either. Mineral spirits is cheap and works well. Learn how to do glass and pillar bedding too.
And, like Tinkerer says, books. A copy of 'Machinery's Handbook' is immensely handy. It contains a great deal of info you may never use, but you'll have it when you do. The NRA Gunsmithing Guide is another good book. Amazon carries both. Gun shows are usually good sources for books too.
If you want to do drilling and tapping, a bench drill press is required with a vise, Vee blocks, and/or jigs. Plus good quality taps.
Thanks for all the info, guys. Unfortunately, I don't know of any gunsmiths in my area that I can go hang around (which is part of why I'd like to make this a for-profit venture at some point). I'm thinking that maybe getting an 80% frame and parts kit would be a good way to start, as it would be fairly cheap and involve a variety of different skills.

I have a copy of Machinery's (had to get it for school), but no other relevant books. I'll look into getting some.

Also, any recommendations on brands of tools or good tool suppliers for this sort of thing?
I am thinking of doing a sticky on this.

First, you can't be a half-assed gunsmith. Make up your mind whether you are going to be a competent smith and business man or a tinkerer who will louse up jobs, make people mad at you, and get your socks sued off.

First, everyone talks about an FFL. That is the very least of what you need, and the easiest to acquire.

If you decide to be a real gunsmith, you will need a training course. No, a video course is NOT enough, and tinkering a bit with your own guns is NOT enough. Then take a small business course. Gunsmithing is not about stoning a sear, it is about running a business and using your skills to make money.

Then raise some capital, because it will cost over 100 grand, probably closer to 200, to buy the equipment you will need to equip a shop and do the work right. That includes a good hollow headstock lathe, milling machine, top quality drill press, several post grinders, etc. Then add a bunch of headspace gauge sets at almost $200 each, welding equipment (electric, MIG, and gas) and a sight drill jig. You need complete US and metric drill sets (high quality, not hardware store junk), plus taps and dies. A heat treating furnace will run at least $600, a good large one is $1800. A bluing setup is expensive and even a Parkerizing setup that will handle a rifle is not cheap.

Now, think about those files and stones and screwdrivers some people seem to think are all that is needed to be a gunsmith.

You need insurance (may be hard to get), and someone to run the business end unless you are a qualified bookkeeper who likes 19 hour days. By that I mean a good bookkeeper, an accountant, and if you are open to the public, someone to run the counter. You can't BS with customers all day and get any work done. Believe me. And find a lawyer you can put on retainer if you get in trouble or some guy blows his own toe off and decides to blame it on the gun you fixed because everybody know gunsmiths are rich.

Then you need a place of business, properly zoned and licensed (no, not the FFL, the state and local business licenses, tax collection certificate, etc., etc.). You need security in the form of steel bars and an alarm system to protect your customers' guns, even if you don't buy or sell guns.

Even if it is legal to work out of your home, don't. If you do, expect to be waked up at all hours with guys demanding you fix their guns before the season opens in two hours. And remember, if you want to survive in business, YOU don't go hunting. YOU fix the other guy's gun so HE can go hunting.

Still interested? Still think you can hack it as a professional? Still think you can run a business you will enjoy and make money at it?

If you answer yes, good. We need more gunsmiths. There is a real need and a real demand for good gunsmiths. Welcome.

I was about to add a few comments - but Jim has beaten me too it - and done a 500% better job than me!

All I was gonna say is - don't skimp on tools re quality - with few exceptions - money invested in GOOD tools is a wise and worthwhile investment.

Harbor Freight will NOT serve your needs (much)!! :p
Hi, P95carry and guys,

I almost hate to post that info, though I have done it several times. I like to encourage people to get into the gunsmithing business, as good gunsmiths are desperately needed. But we need competent gunsmiths, not tinkerers.

I really hate to see people who have minimal skills in gunsmithing and no business knowledge try to set up as gunsmiths. I can name a half dozen who have done so, and have lasted anywhere from one to six months, losing thousands of dollars in the process. Few last over a year, and those who do might make it. Most fall into the trap of working on their friends' guns for free or ordering guns for their buddies and selling at cost.

Others try to work out of their houses, and create marital problems as well as business problems. Three of those half dozen not only failed in business, but failed in their marriages as well, as the wife got tired of having strangers in her house, and her husband working day and night and not bringing in enough money to put food on the table.

In a lot of cases, like many other "hobby businessmen" the "gunsmith" is primarily a hobbyist, not a businessman. He is happy as a lark working on what he knows and forgets that he has to make a living. He may get an FFL, but never heard of a business license, sales tax collection certificate, zoning laws, insurance, OSHA, EPA, tax deduction, self-employment tax, etc., etc.

The result can be disastrous in many ways. One of those guys I have mentioned before. He worked on 1911 pistols, convinced he had the trigger job down pat. When his guns kept dropping the hammer on loading and the sear was battered by the half cock notch, he decided the solution was to grind off the half cock notch! Needless to say, a couple of his guns went full auto, fortunately not doing any serious harm. He had no insurance and didn't think he needed any, so if he had been sued, he would have been broke the rest of his life. As it was, after the second incident, he was visited by an attorney and a couple of cops who "persuaded" him to get into another line of work.

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