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Want to get into gun smithing...don't know where to start.

Discussion in 'Maintenance & Gunsmithing' started by PlanckEpoch, Jun 21, 2013.

  1. PlanckEpoch

    PlanckEpoch Portland, OR New Member

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    I hope this is in the right forum...

    Hey everyone. I'm a new member and a new shooter...and I come to this realization that I really, REALLY like firearms. I don't really want to be just a shooter though, and I'd love to do more with firearms. To that end, I'm thinking of getting into gun smithing, and maybe use my skills it to supplement income in the years to come. However, I have no idea where to start. I'd love to know if anyone has any information about starting.

    Basically, I'd like to know:

    --What kind of education or classes should I take?
    --What kind of experience should I have before getting into this field?
    --Are there any kind of books or manuals that would be helpful?
    --Are there any instructors, or gun smiths that do instruction, or will this be a self taught, self practiced activity?
    --Will I need a machine shop style set up, or could I get by with punches, wrenches, spanners, and other tools?
    --Do I need to attain any qualifications? Any certifications?

    As I said, I'm a rather new shooter...I have just under 2k rounds under my belt. I understand that I won't be getting into this right away, but I'd love to start building a foundation of knowledge and basic skill, and then go from there and see where life takes me. Any help here would be appreciated. Thanks!
  2. thirtycal

    thirtycal Camas, WA Active Member

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    Overall, waiting to see where life takes you isn't a great strategy. It's nice that you really like firearms. So do a whole bunch of other folks. You're looking for a conversation, so I'll start it with a dose of reality. For 99.9% of the cases I've observed over 20 years of really liking firearms, gunsmithing isn't a career. It's a hobby. There are unusual exceptions, but in literally all of those cases, those gunsmiths were very specialized and did one or two very specialized things really well. Or, they offered a completely unique service that was only offered by a handful of people in the country. Yes I said in the entire country.

    There are three must-haves:

    1) You must be a machinist, and all that implies.
    2) You must understand local, state, and federal gun laws inside and out
    3) You must be good enough to establish a reputation.

    Assuming you can master items 1 and 2, it's item 3 that turns out to be a pretty big hump.

    Basically, just have fun and work on your own stuff. There's no formula or Devry course that will do anything more than you can do for yourself. The only other generic path I can think of for someone like yourself would be to find some apprenticeship, which would be unpaid and frustrating and probably impossible to find.

    There's no reason to think you need to turn a hobby into a career unless you need money. And if you need money there's alot better career fields to apply yourself to. If you're going to do an apprenticeship, go into low voltage electricity. The pay is good (once you're a Journeyman), and jobs will find you (at least as much as they can in a crap economy).

  3. speeddemon94

    speeddemon94 The Rogue Well-Known Member

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    I am a gunsmith. I have several certifications, and I have been taking apart guns since I was 10. I've picked up all of the machinist skills, over many years beginning in high school, and continuing on through the military, not to mention a lot of trial and error on my own time.

    That being said, I don't have a "practice", though I am headed toward manufacturing. I have done side work for friends and their friends, but for trade, not cash, as well as extensive work on my own stuff. I don't talk about it a lot, but when people handle my firearms, they know that I do quality work. I've got a line up of stuff to do when I get done with my current endeavors...But I will at that point have a Class 7 FFL and all of the proper licenses to do that kind of work for money.

    It takes a lot of work, and even more practical experience, tons of trial and error. Guns will be broken. And even then, it's not for everyone. Plenty of people get into the field, and find that they don't have the fortitude to deal with the detail work that is involved. If you make a mistake, on a 1911 for example, you can easily turn it into an extremely dangerous, magazine emptying, deathtrap.

    If it's something you are interested in, start by taking some machining classes at a community college. Then do some research and polish the feed ramps on something. Work your way up slowly, on your own stuff. I would not recommend doing anything to anyone else's guns until you have 150% confidence that you can do it without screwing it up.
  4. PlanckEpoch

    PlanckEpoch Portland, OR New Member

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    Hey, thanks a ton people. I'm not adverse to taking a dose of reality. That's why I asked in the first place...I always figure it's better to ask and prepare than to jump in feet first into something like this. Thanks a ton really. I doubt I'll quit my day job, and yeah, I'd love doing it as a hobby.
  5. MountainBear

    MountainBear Sweet Home, OR Well-Known Member

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    Go to school. There aren't many old school guys who are left to apprentice with. I will mildly disagree with speeddemon on one point. Learning machining is a good start, but after that, you really should go to school. You can play with your own stuff, but working on other peoples without a license can get into gray areas, legally speaking. Going to a school will give you the opportunity to work on enough other kinds of guns. Its just to difficult to get that experience working on your own guns unless you are independently wealthy and can afford to buy everything you want. The exception here would be if you only wanted to be a niche gunsmith. If you only wanted to work on one kind of gun, then you could go the route speeddemon recommends.

    There are several good schools on the west coast including Susanville (if you can stomach California), Trinidad, and Colorado School of Trades. They are not cheap, but its 1.5 to 2 years of what amounts to a basic apprenticeship. But it will broaden you horizons more than trying to learn things on your own or doing one of the correspondence courses.

    Like speeddemon, I also am a gunsmith. I had no machining skills starting school at Colorado School of Trades. Its still not my strongest area, but I do well enough and I have a good eye for detail. I treat all projects like they were for me or my family. Nothing leaves the shop unless it passes inspection. That eye for detail is what you need...
  6. Velzey

    Velzey Estacada, Oregon Gunsmith Gunsmith Bronze Vendor Bronze Supporter

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    I am a working gunsmith! Here is how I did it.

    At ten years old, I started on my own guns. Went to school to be a machinist....NOT a button pusher cnc machinist. Get really good at threading and drilling and tapping small holes. These days I dont even think twice when I drill and tap, or thread a $400 barrel. Learn to weld! all types!!!! I could not afford schooling, so after machining for a few years I found an older gunsmith in the midwest, he was going to be selling his shop. Well I worked part time for him in the evenings, for free. He taught me all of the finer points of headspace, sear angles etc etc etc. All the while I was working on my own firearms, and families.
    All of a sudden the old gent I was learning from died, family sold off everything. I managed to get a few items.

    Fast forward a few years, got my own FFL. Now I do gunsmithing for three local area shops. A few times a week I stop by and pick up repairs, and drop off what I have done.

    I have my own private shop at home, which has taken years to assemble. For years I searched sales and bought every book I could find on smithing, and firearms assembly.
    I have a large bookcase full of gunmaker, repair etc dating back 100 years.....read read read

    As for my shop.
    Precision metal turning engine lathe
    Bridgeport style verticle milling machine
    Bench grinders, so many that everyone that comes over goes wth do u need all those for! Each serves a purpose
    Tig welder
    Mig welder
    Oxy Act
    Stick welder
    huge air compressor
    every hand tool known to man
    and another $100,000 in tooling and headspace gauges
    and one big hammer to work on Jennings with!!
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2013
  7. speeddemon94

    speeddemon94 The Rogue Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, I'm good with that assessment too.

    Also, part of that "eye for detail", you've got to have a bit of natural talent in there as well.
  8. deadshot2

    deadshot2 NW Quadrant WA State Well-Known Member

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    I knew a guy who made a special tool for them. Made if from a pile driving "Head".

    Hoist it up 15 feet on the scaffold he built for it, place the pistol on the poured concrete pad, invite friends, serve beer, then at the appointed time, release the "Pile Driver". Great fun. Also works on Erma Luger 22LR's:cool:
    Velzey and (deleted member) like this.
  9. Straight Shooter

    Straight Shooter North Bend OR Active Member

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    I use my 12 ton press on High Points. Then I give them a credit towards buying something decent!

    I have found the best way to ruin a great hobby is make it your job. I no longer have time to work on our own stuff much anymore. It's good work but constant pressure from impatient customers and venders that can't deliver get's old. I still love seeing others enjoy what we do. Guess I really do love it.

    If you have the money to equip a shop then the AGI classes are pretty good. Most of the tools will fit in a top tool box. A couple small hammers, screw drivers, punches, files and stones are the main tools followed by a Foredom and then on to actual machine shop tools as you advance. I'm not talking about their assembly/disassembly or armorers videos but the actual classes with assignments and tests you can only get with paid tuition. It's not for everyone. Most people are better off in a class environment with actual in person instructors to give demos and tips while you learn the basics.

    An 01 FFL is what most gunsmiths use. It is for working on other peoples firearms. An 07 is for manufacturing and is taxed an extra 10 to 11 percent on the total sales. Not just the profit. A guy doesn't need it unless you are actually buying and modifying or building guns to resell.

    If you have to borrow money to get into it I don't recommend it. The weight of a loan makes getting started much harder.
  10. RVTECH

    RVTECH LaPine Well-Known Member

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    This is the route I will be going. Fortunately my shop is already well equipped, and I do quite a bit of hobby 'smithing for self and friends. I have built a nice shelf on my back wall for a TV to watch the videos, installing an LP stove and remodeling the layout for my benches. Heck a refer and a bed and I could live out there!
  11. Taurus 617 CCW

    Taurus 617 CCW Northern Idaho Member

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    I am a gunsmith, attended formal training, and now work full time for an indoor gun range. I also have experience working for an AR-15 manufacturer and trained as a tool and die maker. I thought I wanted to go the home business route at first but have since changed my mind. There are a lot of benefits to working for yourself and there are also a lot of benefits working for someone else. I have come to realize that it takes an enormous amount of money to keep things running. I have the added advantage of being able to test fire where I work. Since the range is already established, I had an instant customer base to work with. Here are some things I have learned along the way:

    1. Perfecting the usage of hand tools is paramount. (ie. learning how to file while not changing the angle or precision hammering at almost full strength without hitting the gun or your hand!)

    2. Formal schooling is just the beginning.

    3. A gunsmith is only as good as his reference library (electronic or paper).

    4. Having real world experience before going to gunsmithing school will help you advance further, faster.

    5. Never stop learning. I try to attend at least one new technical course every year.

    6. If you use a tool once in a year, rent it. If you use it several times, buy it. If you use it weekly, get the best there is.

    7. If it doesn't go, STOP! There is a reason why.

    8. A quality solid vise and work bench is a wise investment.

    9. Know when and when not to use a Dremel tool.

    10. Your customers can be your biggest profit and time waster simultaneously. Learning how to balance time at the bench vs. the counter will take you a long way.
    icandry and (deleted member) like this.
  12. P7id10T

    P7id10T Cedar Hills Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    ++1 to all the above.

    I can attest to ruining your hobby by making it your business.
    If you have smarts and good grades, get a mechanical engineering degree and then your PE. There are some schools where you have extensive hands on and access to superb machine shops.
    The skills you learn machining, working with hand tools and welding of all forms will be lifelong, invaluable skills.
    Plus, the money you make as an engineer will allow you afford all the goodies and cool tooling you need to be a smith.