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Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

 
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  #1  
Old 12-07-2010, 04:39 PM
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Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

I'm in the process of a career change and am very interested in the gunsmithing trade. This site seems like a hotbed of gunsmithing action and I see several regulars on the boards.

I am hoping to attend Trinidad State's program which I hear is one of the best. My goal is to open my own shop but I understand and am prepared to be an employee for a couple years to get some experience under my belt.

Can I make a living at this? I read so much about keeping it as a hobby and once I finish all the business work I will be making around minimum wage. I'm not looking to get rich but better than mw would be nice.

Any advice?

Last edited by joe mac; 12-07-2010 at 04:57 PM.
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  #2  
Old 12-07-2010, 05:55 PM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

As a general gunsmith, most don't survive. After that, depends on how 'skilled' you are. I wouldn't expect to 'learn it all' by going to gs school. Seems most riflesmiths today have an extensive machining background. It fits what they do. I hear lots of 'dreaming', by some, who think that after they graduate they will automatically be the next riflesmith delux, probobly not, especially if the only machining experience you have came from gs school. They will teach you the basics, but, there's no substiute for years of experiance as a machinist and many if not most of the 'top' guys have been in the machining trade for years. Repair men, who actually make a good living, have a speciality like higher end SxS/OU shotguns or , maybe building/tuning 1911 style pistols. There are, already, dozens of 1911 guys out there with reputations established. So,there again, there has to be clientele for your services. Genuine stock makers are few and far between, so are the customers who appreciate and are willing to pay for their services. Stock making may not even be taught anymore, as synthetics have pushed wood aside. There is a huge demand for firearms re-finishing, bluing in particular. I'd guess 7 or 8 out of 10 bluing shops do just average to below average work. Only a few do 1st. class firearms re-finishing, it can be quit labor intensive, again, it would be building a reputation and clientele willing to pay for your sevices. 8 or 9 out of 10 of your customers don't know the difference between that 1st. class job and the average re-blue. And then, even if you have very high end skills, it takes 'business sense' to survive. Gunsmithing or any gunsmithing specialty is a very competitive business. Not trying to discourage you, just relaying what I know about the business.
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Old 12-08-2010, 01:51 PM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

I had a friend that served an apprenticship with Purdy in the UK. He specialized in doubles, and stayed busy all the time. When you went into his shop it was like going on an African big game hunt! There might be a dozen side by sides in various vices. He got big dollars for his work, and usually had a long wait just to get him to look a rifle or shotgun over. He also got more than twice the price per hour of work that the others got. Funny thing about him was that he didn't like working on bolt actions much (he worked on mine, but few others). Learned to love lever action rifles and falling blocks, and built several lever guns for folks that had deep pockets (about $3K a copy). Sad thing is that he's about gone right now. He has leukemia. He is as good as any gunsmith I've ever been around (that includes Ferris, Bill C., and a few other well known folks)
gary
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Old 12-08-2010, 09:20 PM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

I think any gunsmith will tell you your never going to get rich doing gun work. I've been in business building custom rifles for eight years now. I took machining at a vo-tech school in high school and attended Pennsylvania College of Technology in automated mfg. and tool and die. I worked in one of the top cnc shops for several years and learned more there than any where else. I've always tinkered on guns but in 2002 I had the opportunity to purchase a entire machine shop from a gentleman who was already building custom rifles and looking to get out of it. I purchased the shop with high expectations of making this my full time job. I learned real quick I couldn't do it without a reputation. I got into corrections and worked at a federal penitentiary for years while still doing the gun work part time. I'd work on rifles during the morning and afternoon and at 2pm I'd leave for my other job working 3pm -11pm. My shop grew every year and I got more and more clients. I finally got to the point where I was so overwhelmed with work doing gunsmithing part time I pulled the trigger and left my federal job to build guns for a living. I've been full time in my gun shop since May 2010. I don't make as much money but I'm much happier. I'm my own boss, I make my own hours, and I finally get to spend some time with my family. If you decide to pursue this as a career I'd recommend doing it part time at first and see where it goes. I've come so close to hanging it all up in the beginning, but stuck with it and I feel I've finally got the reputation I've always wanted.
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Old 12-09-2010, 09:13 AM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

There's a good responce from Kevin. And, consider the guy TM is speaking of probably 'apprenticed' for 15 years or longer at Purdy. I've been approched several times by gunshops to work as their 'smith in their shop. I can't imagine doing work someone else 'took in' as the guy at the counter is a salesman who likes guns and doesn't know what can be done and what can't (either economically or as a matter of practice). The custom shops at Winchester , Remington, and others have been pretty good places for gs graduates in the past, don't have any idea about now. Late last year I met a young man, in his early 20's who had just graduated from one of the schools. Not much opportunity in the area, I guess. He's now working as a gunsmith for a friendly government in the Middle East (Kiwait). But, he's single and able to travel and stay for extended periods. He says "he's finally able to put the skills he learned into practice as new parts are, many times, not available". Just more thoughts.
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Old 12-09-2010, 12:26 PM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

Quote:
Originally Posted by shortgrass View Post
There's a good responce from Kevin. And, consider the guy TM is speaking of probably 'apprenticed' for 15 years or longer at Purdy. I've been approched several times by gunshops to work as their 'smith in their shop. I can't imagine doing work someone else 'took in' as the guy at the counter is a salesman who likes guns and doesn't know what can be done and what can't (either economically or as a matter of practice). The custom shops at Winchester , Remington, and others have been pretty good places for gs graduates in the past, don't have any idea about now. Late last year I met a young man, in his early 20's who had just graduated from one of the schools. Not much opportunity in the area, I guess. He's now working as a gunsmith for a friendly government in the Middle East (Kiwait). But, he's single and able to travel and stay for extended periods. He says "he's finally able to put the skills he learned into practice as new parts are, many times, not available". Just more thoughts.
if you want to be a gunsmith, you must create a niche! Eric worked on English doubles mostly, and got really big bucks for rebuilding them. He did some of his wood, but most had it done by a very well known stocker we see in magazines every now and then. I met him thru a third party when he was in the hunt for a couple of odd sized reamers. I ground them for him with old reamers taken out of a big scrap tube. Over the years I must have made 250 reamers, and even a few pins out of A2 or 4150. The first rifle I had that he did any work on was a 6mm Ruger. The gun wouldn't shoot smaller than 3" groups. He had me bring it over to see what was wrong with it (closer to what was right with it). Then it was a 541 after than, and the list just grows. What I really wanted was a 19th century looking lever gun in 40-60, and he told me to find a good donor action. Never did find a good one
gary
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  #7  
Old 12-11-2010, 02:22 PM
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Re: Can I make a living as a gunsmith?

I am one of the little guys. If it were not for pride of accomplishment there would be very little pay off. For some reason gunsmithing takes a lot more time than other comparable machine projects. Customers can't afford my stocks and they can find what they perceive as good used rifles for less than the price of a good barrel installed. competition is fierce, liability is high and financial investment is large. So in short don't do it backwards. I can honestly say that most gunsmiths are able to hang in there for the long haul because there finances are not at the mercy of today.
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