How to Become a Gunsmith: School, Training & Salary


When we think of a gunsmith, our thoughts are sucked back to the old days in dusty and dimly lit workrooms. We see a man dressed in Colonial style digs, yep, including those cute little knee high tights with the tassels on the hem. So maybe our imagination got away with us a bit there, but you see it now, we know you do. Gunsmithing has come a long way since the beginning and is a pretty cool profession. Come along with us while we tell you all about it.

How to Become a Gunsmith

So you have decided that you want to be a gunsmith! Great, that’s a good start. Now you are likely wondering how to become a gunsmith and what the next steps are. Well good thing we are here, because we are going to give you all the details. Here we go!

As a gunsmith you will be responsible for the making, maintenance and repair of guns. You’ll need to have a pretty wide array of skills in your tool box. You should also be prepared to spend a good deal of time hunched over your latest project in a small work area.

Now let’s take a quick look at the three most important steps to follow in order to become a gunsmith:

Step 1: Pass a Background Check

Anyone that is considering becoming a gunsmith will first need to successfully pass a firearms background check. This background check will show that you do not have any prior felony convictions. Convicted felons are not allowed to have guns and you will not be able to enroll in a program since schools are required to ensure that their students are able to carry a gun. Domestic violence convictions (this includes misdemeanors) and restraining orders are also factors that will disqualify you from passing a background test. Lastly, you will also be unable to qualify for a firearm if you have ever been declared mentally incompetent or have been committed to a mental health institution.

Step 2: Complete a Gunsmith Program

To become a gunsmith you will need to have an associate’s degree, technical diploma or certificate in the field. You can get one of these degrees, diplomas or certificates from an accredited college or technical school. For the most part these programs will range from 6 months to 2 years in duration. The courses will focus on the mechanical skills that are needed to make and repair guns. Some of the other curriculum that will be covered during your schooling will be classes on various elements of guns, soldering techniques, metallurgy and reverse engineering.

Here are few examples of this type of program:

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Step 3: Obtain Federal Firearms License

Now that you have completed the hard part of getting the schooling out of the way, you are in the home stretch! It’s time to get your federal firearms license. This type of license is required by law and will require an application, background check and requires that you are at least 21 years old. There are also some pretty stringent ethical and legal requirements that you will have to abide by in order to become licensed. Part of the requirements for the FFL is for all gunsmiths to have a separate building that is not attached to their residence to perform all work. A field agent will come out to check your digs and ensure that they are in compliance with all federal regulations. There is also a required personal interview that will have to take place before the application can be approved. We know these seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, but it is for the benefit of all involved that these stringent requirements are met.

Gunsmith Requirements

It’s pretty important to know what the requirements for becoming a gunsmith are. Knowing the requirements will allow you to start trucking right down that path without anything stopping you. Having all your duckies in a row will get you in a program and working that much faster.

One of the more important requirements that cannot be avoided when pursuing a job as a gunsmith, is the need to be licensed. This is the most recent information that is provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). According to the ATF, a gunsmith will need a license to personally customize, engrave and work on guns. There may also be state, county and city firearms laws that may need to be adhered to as well as other licenses that need to be obtained.

There are some required skills that will need to be had in order to become a professional in this field. Having a knowledge of technical math and algebra will be helpful in this job. You can thank your high school math teach for your mad math skills and you are proof that someday you will indeed need some of that algebra. It is super important for gunsmiths to have a good amount of knowledge of how to operate a gun as well as firearm safety – After all it’s all fun and games until someone loses a toe while hand crafting a gun.

Being that much of your income will come from clients that are requesting specific items, you’ll probably want to have a decent amount of customer service skills. Some additional required skills that may be helpful during your time in this position are:

  • Steady hands
  • Attention to detail
  • Dedication to precision
  • Ability to use necessary machinery
  • Knowledge of metal working and wood working
  • Decent amount of experience in grinding, polishing and filing firearms
  • Soldering and welding techniques.

What Does a Gunsmith Do?

By now we know how to become a gunsmith and what the requirements of becoming one are. Seems like we are missing something pretty important in this puzzle though, doesn’t it? Yep, we need to know what it is exactly that a gunsmith does. Well buckle up because we are going to tell you!

A gunsmith is a skilled tradesperson that will specialize in the handcrafted design, construction, service and repair of handguns and rifles. Gunsmiths have the ability and skills to completely fabricate a weapon as well as custom parts. This unique ability to make a gun that suits the users preferences can make you a hot commodity if the job is done well.

Some companies that sell munitions and firearms also like to employ gunsmiths. They do this for new product designs, to change existing ones and to even find errors in the existing products to ensure the safety of the users. The military is also known to hire gunsmiths to work on and maintain their firearms too.

Much like the guns that they work on, the job duties of a gunsmith will vary from person to person and will likely be dependent upon where they are employed. Those that own their own gun shops will probably receive a lot more custom made jobs that will take a good amount of time depending on the detail involved. Those that are employed through companies may find themselves doing a lot of repair and maintenance work.

Gunsmith Salary

There is a bit of information missing it seems when we searched for what the salary expectations are for gunsmiths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is usually our go to source for this kind of thing, but they didn’t really have any information for this very specific career path. We suspect that this is due to many in this profession choosing their own rates based on what they are doing and building. Don’t worry though because we did find some information that you will find useful.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2012, metal workers earn an annual income of metal works is 32,947.20 or $15.84 an hour. The lowest 10% of earners in this field made $20,987.20 and the highest 10% earned $50,273.60 a year. Now we know that there is a difference between metal working and the gunsmith profession, but they do have similar skills sets required. It is the closest legitimate information that we could find that gives a clearer picture of the income that you may be able to expect.

Of course there will be things that may hinder or help the annual pay. You may want to take into account the state you are in because there are some states that have a larger gun buying/carrying population. These states may be ones you will want to reconsider if you are not already located there.

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Gunsmithing Schools

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You will likely want to go the distance and get a degree at an accredited gunsmithing school before trying to get a job. There is a surprising amount of schools out there that offer both on campus as well as online courses. There will surely be a school out there for you and you’re sure to gain a ton of experience that will have you ready to enter the job.

Pennsylvania Gunsmith School

The Pennsylvania Gunsmith School offers a Master Gunsmithing Program. This program is pretty intense as it crams in what is usually a two year academic year course study into a speedy 16 months. Packing this much learning into such a short time with such intensity, actually removes the need to spend what likely feels like an eternity in an apprenticeship.

At the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School you will learn and form a solid foundation in your craft. During your time at this school you will cover proper layout, hack sawing, filing and gauging techniques. You will also cover gunsmith welding, soldering and brazing. The amount of knowledge that you will gain to hone and nurture your gunsmithing craft will be priceless.

Yavapi College

The Yavapai College in Arizona offers a pretty extensive Associate’s in Applied Science Degree in Gunsmithing. This program is best suited for those that are really serious and passionate about working to become the best custom gunsmith you can be. This is a two year degree program that will teach a lot and lead you on the path towards employment or to an apprenticeship.

As with any gunsmith program, you will cover a lot of ground with the hopes of having a positive experience loaded outcome. You will learn how to safely operate hand and machine tools that are common to the gunsmithing trade. The use of measuring tools such as micrometers, indicators, verniers and various gauges will be covered too.  There is a lot to learn for sure, but the course is spread out over a reasonable amount of time and you’re sure to be locked and loaded upon completion.

Trinidad State College

The Trinidad State College is located in Colorado and offers a two year gunsmithing degree program. This degree program was designed with the intent to train all of the students in the basic and advanced skills needed to be a successful gunsmith. A little side note that wasn’t mentioned on the other college sites that we have introduced you to, is that all enrolled students must be legally able to own a firearm.

During your time as a student at Trinidad State and in the gunsmith program you will learn some basic and advanced level skills. Some of the things that you will learn will include bench metal, machining operations, gun repair and stockmaking. There will also be some coverage of specialized areas like checkering, revolversmithing, competitive rifles, shotgunsmithing and pistolsmithing.

Gunsmithing Jobs

Gunsmithing is a skilled trade that takes a lot of work and dedication. There isn’t a huge job market with a ton of positions open though. From all of the research we have done on this topic we have been able to deduce that there are two types of jobs that gunsmiths will have the most success with.

Job numero uno is to own your own gun making shop. It’s pretty awesome to work for yourself and own your own business. You get to make your own hours, call all of the shots and make your job work around you and your lifestyle. This is a good option for gunsmiths because it can be a bit difficult to find a job and to bring in a steady income. Being an independent business owner is the sure fire way to accomplish those things.

Job option number 2 is to try to get employed or at least get an apprenticeship with a private gunsmith shop. Finding a smaller gunsmith shop that is privately owned may be your best bet because they may be more apt to give trade school graduates a shot. Do be aware that you may have to start out doing small jobs before you can get really showing your skills. Remember to be the squeaky wheel and get yourself noticed and heard. Hopefully instead of getting oil squirted at you, you will get a job and some money.

Gunsmithing Tools

Every gunsmith needs some awesome gunsmithing tools, right? So we thought we would toss this little tid bid of information at you as well. It will help you know what you will need once you are out doing your own thing in the world of firearm building. So here we go. Take some notes and make a wish list while you are at it!

Dropping Some History on You – A Brief (ok not so brief) History of Early Gunsmithing

Gunsmithing is a super old profession that dates back all the way to Colonial times. This used to be a pretty time consuming and painstaking job, but creating firearms was necessary given the climate of the country at this time. Not to mention that most sources of animal meat had to be hunted or put down with a gun, so in order to eat, guns had to be made.

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In the early days of the gunsmith profession, it could take as long as 400 hours of labor to forage the pieces, carve the stocks and engrave the metal. Now that is dedication if we have ever heard it! Being a gunsmith took (and still takes) a great bit of skills in metalworking, woodworking and metal casting. There is also an element of artistic ability that was needed to add a personal and creative touch to each firearm.

Working conditions for these hardworking fellows left much to be desired and were likely a bit of a health hazard. The shops they worked in had pretty lousy lighting and were most often overly crowded with tools, equipment and materials. We are sure that once you tossed a workman or two in, it made the conditions even more cramped. No thanks! Claustrophobia…party of 1!

Gunsmith’s would on occasion take in additional repair work to help out those that were in their communities, which was rather nice when you consider how much work they were putting into their every day job. To aid them with the tremendous amount of work that was to be put into every single firearm, apprentices were often brought in. This was like a work study program that was born out of a symbiotic relationship between gunsmith and apprentice. The apprentices would remain working under these terms for several years (usually from early adolescence into early adulthood) until they were ready to venture out on their own. In some cases the apprentices would stay on as full gunsmiths when possible.

In the early days of gunsmithing, handguns were usually made and imported from England. They had larger shops and were able to turn them out faster because of it. Luckily the handguns were pretty inexpensive, so Colonial gunsmiths were able to repair, rebuild and personalize them for a pretty low cost. Rifles were a specialty of local gunsmiths during this time and were not imported nearly as often.

The larger the gun the larger the price tag. There were some firearms that were on the larger side and were said to have cost as much as a full set of clothes. Oh how times have changed! Due to the intimate and intricate method of building guns to the exact measurement and specification desired, these old time guns fit the owner like a glove. Each rifle was sure to match the man shooting it.

Final Grade

Do remember when you were a kid and you would dash out to the mailbox as soon as you saw the mailman drive away? You knew that your report card was in there and you wanted to snag it before your parents did. You wanted to gauge how many weeks of grounding you would have to endure or if it was worth hanging on the fridge. Are we giving you flashbacks yet? Well have no fear because this report card that we are sending your way will only help you to ultimately decide if a career as a gunsmith is still in your future. So with that, we now present you with our final grades for this career path:

  • Debt vs. Degree: C

The degree to debt ratio is not so hot. This is mostly due to the fact that schooling is somewhat expensive and the income brought in from a career as a gunsmith may be hit or miss.

  • Degree Difficulty: B

The actual course work for becoming a gunsmith is more than doable. This is mostly a hands on, technical degree and you are more than likely going to get the hang of anything that is thrown your way.

  • Happiness Quotient: A

The job as a gunsmith is one that is often chosen because of a real interest and passion in the field. With that being said, you’re likely to be pretty darn happy while crafting guns and doing what you love.

  • Job Outlook: C-

The job outlook for gunsmiths gets a big fat thumbs down from us because the expected growth is on a decline. There is only a projected 6% of growth to be expected between 2012 and 2022.  

Want to see more careers like this?

Sources and Recommended Reading

Sources to us are the mac to our cheese, the peas to our carrots and the ice cream to our cone! We love our sources and always to try to give credit where credit is due. We know about a lot of things but how to become a gunsmith was a wee bit out of our usual wheelhouse. Having said that, we feel like we nailed the information for you and we couldn’t have done it without these bad boys that are listed right below these ramblings! So click on our wayward sons!

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