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Here’s a question for all the preppers out there: how much do you know about repairing and modifying your own weapons? This is an important question, as your guns will only be able to defend you in a SHTF scenario if they are in proper working order. And the longer that the S keeps H-ing T F, the more likely it is that your weapons are going to break down in a manner that makes them difficult or impossible to use.

You don’t have to be worried about the end of the world to think about taking up gunsmithing. In fact, many firearms enthusiasts have taken a keen interest in gunsmithing simply because it can be a lot of fun. But more than fun, it can also be a way to make yourself a little coin, either on the side or as a replacement for a job you’ve lost – or one you’re dying to get rid of.

When we think of trades, we often don’t think of gunsmithing. However, there are a number of private companies and public institutions where you can learn everything you need to know about it. You’ll have to put your time in, have a business plan and have an aptitude for the material, but there’s potentially never been a better time to get into gunsmithing – with five million new gun owners in the United States in 2020 alone, you’re going to have a lot of potential customers in your market.

What Do Gunsmiths Do?

“What do gunsmiths do?” might sound like a question with an obvious answer. But as with most simple questions, the answer has a bit more depth than one might immediately think. So what exactly is a gunsmith and how do they spend their time? This is a question you must know the in-depth answer to before you even start moving the pieces of your life into order to get yourself on the path to a career in gunsmithing.

First, a definition by differentiation: an armorer is someone who merely replaces parts on a firearm. A gunsmith does much more than that. A gunsmith can repair and modify weapons, but he can also design them and create them from scratch. This is a far more detailed and nuanced skill set than simply trading one worn-out part of a firearm for a new one. Those with a creative bent will be attracted to the last two parts of a gunsmith’s job description: If you’ve ever wanted a weapon to be a very specific way, but didn’t know how to make your stock weapons to your own specifications, you can start making guns for yourself. And if other people have the same spec desires for their weapons, you can make a handsome living making guns for those people as well.

What this means is that gunsmithing is effectively an interdisciplinary craft. You will need to learn the finer points of both machine working and woodworking. Engineering skills are not optional. In practice, you will be making what might seem like maddeningly minor adjustments to firearms to better equip them for the personal purposes of the shooter. But to the gunsmith, these minor differences are a world apart from one another. Even when you perform simple repairs, you will likely be fabricating the necessary parts in your own workshop rather than simply swapping out spare parts that you have lying around.

Some gunsmiths focus much more on cosmetic alterations. This would include refinishing and creating intricate decorative carvings on the weapons. But even these will be cutting off a ton of potential customers without intricate knowledge of harder skills with regard to weapons design and repair.

Many gunsmiths start out working in gun shops rather than starting their own businesses. Others work in factories and armories designing and repairing weapons. Most gunsmiths have an area of specialization (such as pistols or hunting rifles), but will generally know a lot about repairing, designing and modifying weapons of all kinds.

Specializations Within the Trade of Gunsmithing

We mentioned that there are areas where you can specialize in the trade of gunsmithing. It’s worth diving into what the major areas of specializations are so that you can gain a greater appreciation of whether or not the trade is for you, as well as what kind of gunsmithing you might like to go into.

• Engraver: There’s no two ways about it – highly customized and aestheticized guns are just cool. And if you want to work simply with making guns more beautiful, this is a specialization area that might appeal to you. You’ll have to have a strong aesthetic sensibility. Since most of this work is done by hand with engraving tools, a steady hand and attention to detail are absolutely necessary. The downside is that most of what you do is going to be abstract spirals, leaves and dogs. Keep in mind that everyone who walks through your door will almost immediately say “I want” – which means you won’t get a lot of opportunity to do original designs of your own choosing.

• Stockmaker: A stockmaker makes customs stocks either because of aesthetic considerations or because a sportsman needs something highly specific. Stockmakers will work with shotguns more than anything, as these require highly customized stocks for the serious sport shooter. Stockmakers also often design and fabricate stocks for disabled shooters. Oftentimes, this specialization is combined with that of a checkerer, a gunsmith who specializes in adding checkering to stocks.

• Pistolsmith: As one might expect, a pistolsmith is one who specializes in the design, fabrication and repair of pistols and revolvers. This specialization actually requires you to know virtually everything about gunsmithing, but you will only be working with pistols. You will, however, learn a great deal about the specifics of how different crafts and trades apply to pistols as opposed to other types of firearms.

• Finisher: A finisher works with the finish of a firearm, subjecting the metal to a series of chemical processes (bluing, browning and Parkerization are three examples of this). This creates an aesthetic effect, of course, but it can also make the gun sturdier and more resistant to the elements.

• Custom Builder: Custom builders work with creating custom guns designed from scratch from the ground up for highly demanding customers who need weapons made to very exact specifications. This could be anything from highly specialized weapons for sportsmen or people looking for a very specific and stylized weapon for their personal defense or private target shooting. It might sound like the most generalized specialization and, indeed, it might be, but it requires a great deal of skill and knowledge to do successfully.

You might have an eye on specialization from the word “go,” but the likely case is that you will begin your career as a generalist, learning about different specializations as you go and eventually moving your career into one of them. Still, if one of these jumps out at you as much more interesting than another, you should focus on that and do the various steps that it will take to get there whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Where Can You Learn to Become a Gunsmith?

There are actually ample opportunities for you to learn how to become a gunsmith, but they all fall into four broad categories:

• The Military: Most people don’t know that the military will train you to be a gunsmith. It’s perhaps more honest to say that the military will train you to become an armorer, however, for many this is the first step in their career as a gunsmith. But there are bona fide gunsmiths in the American military, and while the positions are limited, they are certainly available. For example, highly smithed weapons are required for snipers. Every branch of the military has a place where you can study gunsmithing.

• Apprenticeships: This is a bit of a harder road, as you will need to find a practicing gunsmith with the skill set you are seeking who is looking to take on an apprentice. However, for many people it might be the best option, either because they don’t have the ability to enter the military or to take time off of work for schooling. As an apprentice to a master gunsmith, you will earn a wage while you learn your trade and you will learn in a very hands-on environment. This can be a highly effective way of learning and will fit certain types like a glove.

• Formal Education: There are two ways you can learn gunsmithing through formal education: First, you can attend a local community college with a gunsmithing program. Second, if no such program exists near you, you can enroll in a correspondence program that will allow you to distance-learn gunsmithing. In addition to these options, there are a number of programs through the National Rifle Association where you can learn the basics of gunsmithing. While this might not make you a master gunsmith, it will give you a basic set of tools that allow you to hit the ground running when you start a more formal and intensive course of study.

Each of these options has their own perks and detriments. You will have to evaluate your own situation with regard to finances and location to determine which is the right path toward becoming a master gunsmith for you and your family. In addition, while you're waiting, it can be fruitful for you to learn basic machine working skills, as these will be used extensively by you in your training as a gunsmith.

Continue reading Gunsmithing: How to Make Money From Your Firearm Knowledge and Tools at Ammo.com.
 
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A caveat to those that want to work as a Gunsmith...with all the knowledge, training, skill and prowess the price of liability insurance is eye-opening. Of course, it depends on what you are planning on doing as a Gunsmith. If you are going to do trigger-jobs, install aftermarket triggers, rebarrel, rechamber or chamber barrels look out! This is an added expense on top of your rent and utilities and advertising...not trying to be a downer. I did it; and with all businesses you have to spend to make...do your research and see if it is viable for you.
 

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I've toyed with the idea for quite a while as I have done a fair amount of working on my my own fire arms and building numerous bolt action rifles. However the amount of government regulation and antipathy to the gun industry as well as liability concerns have kept me from it !!
 

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A friend of mine just jumped in with both feet on this a couple of months ago. AGI course material and is working on getting FFL and local zoning etc etc.
I wish him well but......
This is the second time he's tried to make a hobby into a business.

I don't know how well he can deal with the public.
 

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BigEd63,
The public is another issue that can be difficult to deal with. I had most of my work coming from a gun shop west of me. The owner did not try and change my pricing, he added his fee for getting the work done. I did a bunch of rechambering the Ruger 77/22 Hornet to K-Hornet. back in the day. In a perfect world all you would have to do is ream a new chamber by reaming until the reamer just touched the rim...that was not how it was on a handful of these rifles. On two of the rifles I removed the barrel and set them back one turn, faced the chamber face and reamed the chamber to proper headspace...this was more costly due to time constraints. I was doing another one and thought that perhaps I could use hardened shims to adjust the headspace on the two-piece bolt. I was working at a bearing manufacturer full time and Gunsmithing weekends and 9am till 3pm; I was working 2nd shift 4 till12.
I spoke with one of the toolmakers and asked him if he thought my idea to use hardened shims would work and he said absolutely. I bought hardened ground shimstock in a few different sizes and made a shim punch. It worked as planned and it cut chambering times down and reaching proper headspace was very easy...One of the guys that paid more because his bbl had to be set back came in an was upset that his job cost more than his friends rifle that was not set back...I explained the process he wanted nothing of it...he couldn't or wouldn't understand that people get paid for time worked...he asked why I didn't just shim his bolt..I told him the rifles had only been made for 2 years at the time this was 1996..There was very little known on these rifles and how to adjust and accurize them..He was a board member of one of the local gun clubs, I offered him a deal. I asked him if he was happy with the rifles accuracy after the barrel work; he was. He said it shoots nice groups and I finished his statement with, Would it shoot better with a better trigger pull? He said most likely. I told him I'd do a triggerjob on his rifle all he had to pay for was the stock trigger...He agreed, left the rifle with me and I told him I'd call him when it was done. I had bought a half dozen triggers from Brownells, I drilled and tapped the overtravell screw and installed them. I put them in a Powers Trigger Jig and stoned them for initial fit, final fit is done as needed. I disassembled his rifle and removed the trigger. There was the usual side to side wobble, before fitting the new trigger I stoned it flat on bith sides where it contacts the trigger boss. I shimmed the trigger on each side and tried the trigger pull. It was good but could better, I removed it and stoned it a bit more, cleaned it and with a drop of light oil reassebled it. I was happy with the pull, the overtravel was adjusted and there was no wobble in the trigger. I reassembled the rifle and called the customer. He told me that there is no way it was done...I asked him to come and pick up his rifle. He came in and I handed him his rifle chamber open. He closed the bolt and gently pressed the trigger...snap. He had a ear to ear grin, he and I talked for about 15 minutes about handloading the K, types of bore cleaner, etc. Finally, he says Okay what do I owe you for the trigger job? I told him you already paid me. He said what? I said I told you all you needed to pay for is the trigger, I kept your trigger to modify we are good... He was happy and left. I took the situation where he was upset because he felt he paid too much to he sent me customers from the gunclub and he spoke well of my work...
One thing that I tried to do also is I refused work based on potential out come; one job in particular I remember. This guy came in with a Commercial Mauser action in an unknown stock that he wanted pillar bedded and glassed. I looked at the stock and asked who relieved all the wood around the action he said he did. There were gaps that would show the acraglas, he relieved all the wood around the bottom metal and there the acraglas would be prominent as well. I handed him his rifle and told him that I would not be interested in the job..he asked me why and I told him. I did not want my name associated with the glass job that in my opinion would not look professional. He left and I do not regret my choice...You will have the guy that wants his work done for next to nothing, I remember the guy that came in with a Marlin 100 a single-shot .22 rifle with no sights...he wanted a set of sights which I needed to order. On my job tags I had the statement that any gun leaving my shop will be checked for safe operation...no gun will be returned unless it passes a safety test since I am the last guy working on it. The sights came in I fit them to the dovetails and I start the safety check. I load a dummy ctg into the chamber and close the bolt, on this rifle you pull the striker back until it engages the sear. The trigger was pulled and it droped the striker; I pulled the striker back again and tried to open the bolt as the bolt handle started to lift it dropped the striker, not a safe gun. I removed the bolt and looked at it it needed to be taken apart. I called the owner and told him what I found, I told him the gun is unsafe and it needs to be rectified. He asked if I knew what the problem was and I told him I need to take the bolt apart to see if any parts in it need repair. I asked him if he wanted it repaired to safe condition he said Yes. Once the bolt was taken apart I discovered what the problem was, someone had cut coils from the striker spring, the striker spring acts as the safety by keeping the spring tension, light tension causes the striker to fall when bolt is lifted. I ordered the part it came in quickly and it was installed, the gun passed the safety check.
I call the guy and left a message on his machine that his Model 100 is done. He shows up a couple of days later and says he is there to pick up his gun, I get it out of the rack and hand it to him with the bolt open. He looks at it with its new sights and asks how much I said $75...he flipped out! I still have the work order, the rear sight was $11 the front was $10, the striker spring was $6...we have $27 in parts plus 2 shipping charges of $5.95 each that is a cost of $38.90 that I spent my mark up on used parts was only 1/3 so that brings us to $12.84 + $38.90 = $51.74 by profit is $23.26 .....not so lucrative when look at the time involved. Anyhow, he said I am not paying $75 for those repairs...I showed him the work order, the parts bought and the so-called profit margin...he said I was trying to screw him over and he wanted his rifle back. I told him he could have it when he paid me....I closed my business in 2001 as work in bearing plant was much more lucrative...I still have that rifle in my rack, he refused to pay and the gun became a reminder of dealing with the public...many were very decent folks...unfortunately you tend to remember those that weren't..
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I've toyed with the idea for quite a while as I have done a fair amount of working on my my own fire arms and building numerous bolt action rifles. However the amount of government regulation and antipathy to the gun industry as well as liability concerns have kept me from it !!
Well, that I can certainly sympathize with. You might imagine we're not all that keen about the talk of removing lawsuit protections from gun manufacturers. And California banning mail order ammo took nice little piece out of us as well. You don't go into the firarms industry these days looking for job security.
 
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