Contrary to conventional wisdom, America is still home to some of the most skilled craftsmen and machinists in all the world and nowhere is that more evident than in the profession of gunsmithing. Americans are often derided for their consumerist tendencies and proclivity to throw away possessions and replace them with new ones. However, Americans take great pride in their firearms and often need a gunsmith to maintain, preserve and repair their expensive and prized possessions. If you are fascinated by firearms, enjoy shooting and working with machinery to create artistic masterpieces, gunsmithing may be the profession for you. And if you are interested in learning how to become a gunsmith, we have provided numerous resources for you to read and evaluate.
Eyes Wide Open
The purpose of Ditch College is to evaluate alternatives to attending college and earning a traditional four-year degree. We are not here to provide milquetoast assessments of different career paths, paint rosy pictures or mislead you. We want to arm you with knowledge and valuable information so that you can make informed decisions and be successful.
Simply stated, becoming a competent gunsmith requires hard work and dedication. And truthfully, it is going to be a struggle to earn a high income. We are not going to say that it cannot be done nor do we seek to discourage you. Do not think that you can simply graduate from an online gunsmithing school, open your own shop and start making six figures. It doesn’t work that way.
If you are primarily motivated by financial rewards or under the misguided notion that gunsmiths earn a lot of money, you need to reassess your understanding of the profession.
And do not under any circumstances think that you can graduate from an online gunsmithing school and consider yourself a competent gunsmith. We are not saying that learning about gunsmithing through an online gunsmithing program is a waste of time or money, in fact it can be a viable course of study, but you must realize that no matter the method of instruction you will need to hone your skills on-the-job for several years before you attain the level of mastery you must possess to earn greater compensation.
If you are interested in pursuing this career path because you truly believe this is something you will enjoy doing for a living than please continue reading and reviewing the rest of the material in this section.
Education & Training Options
There are three primary ways to become a gunsmith. The first option would be to take some online courses and earn a certificate in gunsmithing in a matter of months. The second option would be to pursue a comprehensive vocational education at one of the junior colleges around the nation that offer a program in gunsmithing. The final option is seeking out an apprenticeship with a local gunsmith.
CAUTION: Some other sites discussing gunsmithing mention The Association of Gunsmiths and Related Trades (TAOGART) as a potential source for finding apprenticeships. I am unable to locate any website or online listing for this organization and it now may be defunct. In fact, the website for the organization is now owned by a cybersquatter.
There are advantages and disadvantages for each route you choose to pursue and we will briefly touch on them here.
Online Gunsmithing Schools
Online courses are obviously far more flexible and afford individuals the option of pursuing this profession at their pace and comfort. They are fairly inexpensive and provide anyone with an interest an opportunity to get a taste of gunsmithing. The downside is that to truly be a great gunsmith and be marketable in the workforce, you will need to acquire some hands on experience and that is best done at one of the junior college programs.
If you are seriously interested in becoming a gunsmith, enrolling in an online gunsmithing program may be a very savvy choice because it will allow you to “test-drive the profession” with minimal downside risk. An online course can be completed in just a couple of months and it will give you a taste of gunsmithing and a feel for whether or not you find the subject matter interesting enough to build a career around.
However, junior college programs generally require you to take a full-time course load and thus make attending school difficult for those who must work a full-time job. Additionally, only a few junior colleges across the nation offer a gunsmith program and most readers will need to ultimately relocate if they desire to attend one of these programs. Attending a gunsmith school at a junior college will require an 18-24 month commitment, relocation for many individuals and obviously tuition and costs for supplies.
Some of these institutions are sponsored and affiliated with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and collaborate to provide top-of-the-line education and instruction. Additionally, the NRA provides short-term gunsmithing courses at five junior colleges throughout the country. Whereas, a typical college student would enroll in a semester long course, these classes or modules are broken into topic specific week long intensive courses.
The NRA sponsored schools of instruction are located in Northern California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana and North Carolina.
Learning as an apprentice to a local gunsmith may be the best option for those serious about pursuing this career because it can provide the hands-on experience you will need to become a skilled craftsman without requiring you to relocate. With that said, this route has its own perils. As someone seeking to become a gunsmith, you really are not trained to identify quality work, obviously. Therefore, latching on with a gunsmith who is limited in his skill set or simply not the most competent individual may sabotage your career and/or limit your growth. Even if they are competent in practicing their craft, they may not be very good teachers to learn from. Before signing on for an apprenticeship, you must do your due diligence.
Quality apprenticeship instruction will include tutelage concerning proper operation and safety practices of shop machinery, milling tools and related equipment. When engaging in the metalwork aspects of gunsmithing you will utilize milling machines that have borers, lathes and reamers as attachments. They are used for cutting, drilling and sanding. You may also be exposed to woodworking tasks related to the crafting and replacement of gunstocks.
Gunsmith apprentices need to have realistic expectations about their earnings and truly understand the purpose of an apprenticeship. As an apprentice you are trading your time and labor for reduced compensation that is supplemented with knowledge and instruction provided by your boss. In many ways, a new apprentice can be more hassle than they are worth; just think about the last time you asked a young child in the family to do a chore that you eventually had to do all over again to make sure it was done right.
Licensing for Gunsmiths
Gunsmiths who build and/or sell firearms are required to be licensed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). You may also be subject to regulation and licensure requirements at the state and local level.
Starting Your Career as a Gunsmith
Individuals who prepare themselves for a career in gunsmithing by acquiring an education and earning a degree or certificate must have a realistic expectation when it comes to beginning their career. It is unrealistic to think that one can simply open up a shop, put their name on the door and that business is going to pour in.
Gunsmithing is truly a labor of love and you are going to need to get on-the-job experience through a gun retailer or shop of some kind or through another channel. You are going to need to establish and cultivate relationships by interacting with customers, becoming a resource at the local gun range or for shooting clubs, and developing a relationship with local police enforcement associations. You must also remember that should you decide to open your own shop that you will also need to learn the requisite business skills that any entrepreneur must learn to be successful. This includes marketing your business, understanding basic bookkeeping and accounting so that you can budget expenses and track revenue.
As with most businesses, the start-up costs of setting up shop can and will be significant and in order to place yourself in the best position to succeed you will need to hone your skills working for someone else before going out on your own.