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Premium Member
330 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First of all, I have done a search on this topic here, as well as several other forums. So I do apologize in advance to the moderators if this thread in inappropriate due to its repetitiveness or being in the incorrect subforum.

So here's my situation. I'm 24 and currently in school here in Austin,Tx after four years in the Marine Corps infantry. I was talking to my buddy/roommate the other night and it became apparent that I really have no goals; which explains my lack of motivation for most things. I was thinking about learning a tech skill like automotive technology or something along those lines. And he said that I should learn something that I actually like. The first thing to pop into my head was guns. Guns are the one consistent thing that I enjoy and makes me happy; aside from a cold beer, scotch on the rocks, or a neat bourbon. I'm not even a amateur gunsmith by any means, but shooting, and cleaning, and taking them apart just makes me feel good.

So I started looking into what it takes to become a gunsmith. I actually have been doing this for a little while now. There is only one true/professional gunsmith here in Austin (as far as I know), and I doubt I could be an apprentice under him with credentials that state "I can take my guns apart and put them back together without screwing it up."

Then I started looking at gunsmith schools and realized that there are only a handful in the country. The closest one to me is the one at Murray State College in Oklahoma. This one appeals to me the most because 1) It's only about a 6hr drive from here, and 2) because they offer NRA gunsmithing and armorer classes during the summer; separate from the school curriculum. I have read many a post about how this school, as well as others like it, is a great stepping stone for professional gunsmithing. I have also read, though rarely, that these schools are a joke and hold no real value to the trade. Any clarification on this would be greatly appreciated.

I understand that one should not expect to get rich off of a venture such as this. Making a ton of money, although nice, has never been a concern of mine. I also understand that if I do decide to turn it into a business, that it is a business first and foremost. An optimist look for me would to, after complete the schooling, start as a armorer for local PD or even as an apprentice for the one (presumably) gunsmith in town. And even if that wouldn't be the case, I could always get some crap job I hate, but at least have an enjoyable and fulfilling hobby to look forward to.

Really, I guess my main question would be, what's the real scoop on these schools, and are they worth it? And also as a slightly off topic question: I currently have 2 1/2 years left on my post 9/11 GI Bill. Will I be able to use my benefits for this particular subject? My research says it should, but has anyone actually used it for a gunsmithing school?

Again, I apologize if this topic is too repetitive, but any help on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

5,072 Posts
You GI benefits are applicable to accredited schools.

The best are Colorado School of Trades and Trinidad Jr. College both in Colorado.
These are internationally known for turning out hard-core professional gunsmiths.
The better schools do make real gunsmiths.

Here's a link to a listing of the good schools.

Here's my "usual" on becoming a real gunsmith:

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 other top schools.

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 know 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 new 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 business man 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 business man 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, don't 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.

There's an old joke about gunsmiths and pizzas: Neither can feed a family of four.

Premium Member
330 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks a lot dfariswheel. I actually came across your "usual" several times while searching the forum. The Colorado School of Trades is another one I had a close I on, as their focus is primarily gunsmithing without the added requirements; which I am currently undergoing.

5,072 Posts
One other thing I should have added:
If you plan on ever going into business on your own, sign up for some business courses.

This is something most people never think of, and I've seen a number of gunsmiths that had the talent but busted out from lack of knowledge on how to operate a business.
Remember what I posted above. If you go out on your own, you're not a gunsmith. You're a businessman who happens to run a gunsmithing business.

Another good point to attending one of the better schools is that if you just don't "have it", they'll let you know one way or another, unless you're really dense, (which I've also seen).
With all the low pay, aggravation, and heartburn, its still one of the more satisfying careers.

Premium Member
330 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
This is why I come here: People more knowledgeable than willing to lend a helping hand.

I hear that a lot; and not just from the gunsmithing stand point. Turning ones' hobby into a business. I think that's why good musicians end up producing crap; to make a buck. But then again, a man's gotta eat.

And as far as low pay, aggravation, and heart burn. The military helped out with most of that. The latter will probably be brought on by my college diet and age. Thanks again. It is much appreciated.

And, I just sent in an info request to the Colorado School of Trades. Hopefully I hear something soon.
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