Want to be a gunsmith? Listen to these nine tips.
As we discussed recently in our “Five Most Influential Gunsmiths in History” slideshow, the timeline of firearms is littered with skilled and creative people whose ideas and skills with metal pushed guns into golden age after golden age.
From Browning to Colt to Walther, our list could not only include a few of the many titans of the firearm industry, but it could include you!
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If you have ever dreamed of taking up gunsmithing, either as a hobby, a practical skill for repairing your own firearms, or a full-fledged career, the paths and steps listed here can help you accomplish such a goal.
View the slideshow to see what it takes to become a master gunsmith.
1. Study the technical tricks of the trade
Any field that involves building, design, or repair skills, from architecture to car mechanics, requires technical exactitude. This fact is especially true for gunsmithing, where the slightest technical slip-up could result in death or serious injury.
Therefore, if you want to pursue a career or hobby in the gunsmith field, you are going to need to understand the basic skills that professionals in this field utilize every day. Woodworking and metalworking skills are obviously huge factors here, as is an understanding of mathematics for getting the correct measurements and executing calculations for technical specifications.
2. Build up your collection of tools
Most diehard hunters and shooters already have a fair selection of gun repair, cleaning, and maintenance tools at their disposal. However, if you are going to be a gunsmith, you are going to need more.
From the basics (screw drivers, pliers, chisels and files, hacksaws, etc.) to the more specialized items (powerful drills and saws, lathes, buffers, sanders, grinders, etc.), professional gunsmiths invest a lot in their tools over the course of their careers.
3. Learn your history and follow current developments
The best experts in any field not only know the history of that field, but they also understand what sort of products or innovations are being developed in the here and now.
Take some time to read up on the history of guns, focusing especially on famous gunsmiths and the new developments they brought to the industry. All gunsmiths build on existing knowledge or ideas to propel the industry forward, so understanding where modern gun concepts came from is key. In addition, you must also understand where things are going, so subscribe to firearm magazines and keep an eye on gun blogs to learn about the latest products and industry players.
4. Attend trade shows and join firearm associations
If you want to be a hobbyist gunsmith, simply following things from afar might be enough. However, if you are looking to actually pursue gunsmithing as a career, you will want to go a bit further.
Attending annual conferences and trade shows is a great way to learn more about current or future developments in the industry, to network with other gunsmiths and firearm enthusiasts, and – if you are pursuing this as a career – to get your name out there and start establishing a brand.
Check out Wide Open Spaces’ coverage of the 2014 SHOT Show
Furthermore, you might consider joining firearm organizations like the National Firearm Association. The NRA takes care of their members and provide a wealth of information and opportunities.
5. Become a purveyor of gun safety
This may seem like a small point, but if you are going to be a successful gunsmith, it’s essential to have a commitment to gun safety.
Whether you are repairing your own guns or crafting and building a new gun design, always following safety guidelines, laws, and regulations (and never, ever cutting corners) could save you or a customer from a severe injury or even death.
6. Seek out educational opportunities
There are a wealth of classes you can take to hone your gunsmithing skills, covering everything from the basics to the high-level details. You can start building the skills early, taking woodshop, drafting, or other design courses in high school or college.
If your gunsmith aspirations developed after school, consider looking around for these courses at a local community college, just to make sure you have a solid groundwork of skills.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can look for an actual gunsmith program to push you into expert territory. These programs aren’t always easy to find, since not every college is accredited in the niche field of gunsmithing.
However, you can find programs on the NRA site or by simply doing some quick Google searching. If you can’t find a gunsmithing program in your geographical region, you might consider an online course. Whichever route you choose, make sure your gunsmithing course is covering the essential topics before you enroll, including mechanical skills, firearm design, gun repair, gun safety, and ballistics. (Note: you will have to pass a criminal background check to enroll in all or most of these programs.)
7. Look for apprenticeship opportunities
Speaking of practical experience, look for a gunsmith who would be willing to take you under his or her wing and teach you a few things. If you are looking for accreditation – which you can gain through apprenticeship as an alternative to an educational gunsmithing program – you will probably have to apply for apprenticeship through the Association of Gunsmiths and Related Trades and then acquire a certain number of work hours at the apprenticeship, which can take a while.
If you are just looking to build your skills, however, and have a friendly relationship with a gun seller or gunsmith in your area, then you may be able to set up a less formal mentor experience.
8. Gain experience from working on your own guns
Once you’ve begun picking up skills in your gunsmithing classes, begin to apply them by attempting repairs on your own guns.
You can learn a lot about firearm function and design just by taking an old gun apart and putting it back together, and you will want to test your practical skills on your own guns before you begin building your own items or repairing firearms for customers or friends.
9. Obtain a special license
A gunsmith doesn’t need a “gunsmith license,” per se, but he or she does need what is called a Federal Firearms License.
This document gives you the legal right to possess another person’s firearms for an extended period of time, by connection giving you the time you need to repair, test, or otherwise work on a gun that does not belong to you and for which you do not possess a permit.
The licensing process is quite strict, involving an on-site interview with a federal field agent who will inspect your gunsmithing tools and facilities and ask you a number of questions to make sure you are observing the best gun safety practices and that you actually know what you are doing.