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Gunsmithing as a career?

2131 Views 14 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Gary Smith
I have considered going to school to learn the trade, my question is, is there enough work for everyone that wants it, or do you have to bust your ass to make a name for yourself before you make any $$. I am an A.S.E. certified Master Automotive tech, motorcycle tech, and tinkerer so I know I have the apptitude for it but, I need to make money like everybody else does. I would appreciate comments from other smiths or recent graduates of gunsmithing schools.
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Hi Mr.Angry,
I think I'm qualified to speak for a few gunsmiths out there, as I did custom work for many and got to know them pretty well through the years. These are all good smiths and do fine work.

I know only one that's pretty well off but the bulk of the his money is made in parts. If you come up with some nice parts, get someone else to manufacture them and collect the money to supplement your income you can do OK , sounds easy but its not, I always keep in mind no ones going to pay for doing nothing, gotta always be producing.

Most guys get by Ok and very few are driving new pick-ups. Problem is fine gun work involves a lot of hand work and is very time consuming, pretty soon your find there is not enough hour in a day. There will be long learning curves and you will have to pay for your mistakes and other peoples too. Done right your have more work than you can handle and people will seek you out, but again, in this business you are kind of limited on what you can charge, you can't charge a guy 400 bux for a trigger job you spent 10 hours on.

I try to limit my business to flat out machine work to eliminate the hand work but that isn't that great either.

Bottom line is you could find a little nitch in the market and do very well. If gunsmithing is what you want to do, go for it, you may not be driving the latest model truck but you'll be happy.

My 2 cents, there are a few good smiths here on the Forum that will be glad to help you out. Pete

Metal Smith

The only thing I know for sure is what I can measure!
NRA Life Member

[This message has been edited by Metal Smith (edited 11-08-2001).]
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Thanks for the input, after doing auto repair for 20+ years and being a car dealer for the last 10 I still am not driving a brand new truck! I think the best thing for me would be to learn some of the basics and then decide if it should just be a hobby instead of a career. I think I would enjoy doing it but then again I used to enjoy working on cars too. Can a mechanically able person learn enough from books and video to get started? Thanks again, Joe
Pete pretty much hit on the nose. About the only thing that I can add is from the perspective of a part-timer. I come from a similar employment background as you, although mine is as a construction equipment mechanic that migrated into management.
Pistolsmithing is certainly a skill that you can learn. If you have experience doing woodworking or any craft type endevour that required you to work with straight lines and curved surfaces, you'll have learned things that will help you with some of the hand work, like blending a beavertail. Get a couple of books and video tapes and a project gun. Start with jobs that don't require a ton of tooling (like a beavertail installation) and see how your skills and temper
fit with working on pistols.
I do this part-time, probably 20 hours a week, max. Pistolsmithing pretty much pays for my shooting habit and helps with putting two kids through college. I love the work, but am good enough with a calculator to realize that I can't replace my income from my day job, by pistolsmithing. Hope this helps.
Good Luck!
John Harrison
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Good advice.

There is a way to do it full time eventually but in order to do that you'll need a gun shop. If you are only smithing, you have a finite amount of time to produce income.
With a store you can suppliment your income greatly by selling guns, ammo and accessories. It would take you @ $50 an hour three hours to make $150. You could sell a kimber to someone and make the same money in a few minutes time. Realize too that your not going to be able to charge people for all the time it takes to do some repairs as you encounter problems with parts and such.
As always, the money is in sales.
I started learning to smith a few years ago. The only reason I started was I couldn't afford the prices that it cost to get good work done. I have since progressed into a relatively good gunsmith. I buy tools as I need them, or can afford it. I just work on local stuff, and I don't advertise. Over the past few years I have gotten enough work to work about 30 hours a week without any advertisement or anything. People will find you if you are good enough. Word gets around, it doesn't matter if it good or bad, it gets around, trust me. I am reluctant to go full time, because if I had to smith for a living, it wouldn't be fun anymore (to me).
I feel that if you could find a nitch that very few people do, you could be very productive. I myself specialize in S&W revolvers, Beretta's, and any bolt rifle. I have just started "learning" the 1911. When I first started, I screwed up more stuff than I fixed, but that is what it took for me to learn.
I am in the same boat as you. I would love to do this full time. I know I could make a go of it. But like I stated above, if I HAVE to do it to make the house payment, I don't think I would enjoy it anymore.

As far as learning the trade? Books helped me alot. Basic smithing (triggers, repairs, etc..) is not hard to learn if you have a good mechanical mind. Custom work (checkering, barrel fitting, etc..) takes a "feel". That just comes from doing it. I don't think that it can be taught.

Bottem line is, you just have to try it and see if you are any good at it. Probably starting on your own guns. I find it hard to make people pay for my mistakes???
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Consider doing a seminar or two. The NRA sponsors quite a few summer seminars and they are spread around the country. Check with them to see if there is anything in your area.
God Bless
Jack Weigand
Hi Mr. Angry,

Let me suggest starting this out as a hobby first, get your tools and pay for your learning curve, find a little niche in the market that you’re good at and go from there. I think you will find when you branch out to things you’re not familiar with, things other than you specialize in, it turns out to be a NO money maker, but that’s your learning curve and that’s how you get experience.

To answer your question: yes, a person with good mechanical ability can figure this stuff out on his own. Just remember that guns are made on a machine and they are mechanical, study it long enough and you’re figure it out. When you get your milling machine remember any shape cutter you can grind or buy and put in the spindle you can cut.

I’m a prime example of a smith that has had very little formal training. This is one reason why I don’t refer to myself as a Pistolsmith, because I don’t think fair to those that had formal training. I do various types of machine work here and don’t follow most of the tradition method of smithing, so calling me a metal smith is about the safest.

I bought a Kuhnhausen shop manual when first started out and soon found out it was not much good to me, but that’s just me, I’m sure there are more good books & videos out there that will help you along the way. Jack Weigand just came out with a video on barrel fitting. There are a few smith offering courses which can cat-a-polt you into pistolsmithing. At times I wish I had formal training because I did my share of struggling. I personal know Jack and his machining ablity, I would go for his course first.
Hope this helps out, Pete Single

Mr.Angry, while I was typing this post I see you got a bunch of replys, told ya there's a bunch of good guys here to help you!

Metal Smith

The only thing I know for sure is what I can measure!
NRA Life Member
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I took one of Jack's 1911 accurizing classes this past summer and found it to be most informative. What I learned that was of most value to me, were techniques that have enabled me to increase the consistency of my accuracy jobs by minimizing the hand fitting to areas where it is really needed.
Check the NRA's web site to see what classes are available to you in your area. There are classes taught at Lassen Community College in Susanville, CA. that should be convenient to you. To get the most out of them, I recommend some experience with the particular gun that will be covered and an open mind.
I'm like catbird, I got started because I couldn't afford to have Wilson, Plaxco or Heinie build me a gun. I don't advertise either, prefering to keep a customer base that I can look "eyeball to eyeball". If you do good work, part-time, you will have all the work that you want, without advertising. I suggest developing a specialty for making a profit, because like Pete said, the trigger jobs on the SKS's and other odd/ unique jobs will kill you

John Harrison

[This message has been edited by Precision Gunworks (edited 11-09-2001).]
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Finally ,some real good advice from all who answered this post. I am an NRA Certified short term instructor in the art of the 1911 pistol. I am a self trained pistolsmith because the schools know very little about 1911 work. I have no interest in trying to figure out 10,000 types of firearms and would rather be a specialist.I only know one or two men who make any kind of a living building 1911's. I know a lot of men who make big bucks selling parts. That is where the money is. Building 1911's is a nightmare job and I'm very glad I gave it up sometime ago except for serious men who won't let me quit. When you hand someone a $3000.00 1911 and they say " Hey, nice grips" you will understand what I mean. The customer who buys a $3.00 magazine at a gun show and then calls you and says his gun won't run right. Try it as a hobby. I'm talking with Gunsite to see if starting the classes is viable but haven't got serious yet. There are so many good guys out there doing this work that you would have a tough row to hoe.
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Thanks for the help guys. I do have my own auto repair shop and it all sounds too familiar, I guess business is business. I would be glad to be able to repair my own guns and do some side work for a little extra income. I think I will try a project gun, because that is what I had first thought about doing. Any recommended reading or video from you guys would be appreciated.
I think there is a Caspian Video out that would be of some help to you. Also, Bill Wilson has a rather long winded one out that is fun to watch with guys doing a lot of work using their knees instead of the bench. He also can't spell barrel, but I'm a lousy speller ,too. Build a gun. That will start you on the basics. Can't answer questions until they come up and the Forum will be a great help to you.
It is easier to make a machinest into a gunsmith than a gunsmith into a machinest.

today there is a lot of machine work. sigth cuts, ramp cuts, port cuts, boring turning grinding...... A night school course may be a great help in your future.

the guys above give a lot of good advice.
Dave is right on, the forum is a great place to learn, I sure have!

geo ><>
You can make money at anything if you have good bussiness sence. If it makes you happy, and it sounds like it would, go for it, or just wonder what if for the rest of your life.
What's the difference between a gunsmith and a large pizza ?

A pizza can feed a family of four.

You've gotta love doing it.
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