Do you find yourself interested in the idea of designing, building, and repairing firearms?
Perhaps, you are fascinated with guns, or you collect them. Either way, becoming a gunsmith might be a great career path for you.
The historically rich field of gunsmithing has survived over 800 years and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Whether you want to explore gunsmithing as an additional skill, a hobby, or a professional career this has everything you need to get started.
What Does a Gunsmith Do?
A gunsmith is a professional craftsperson who develops, creates, restores, or repairs various types of firearms. They are highly skilled in metalworking, woodworking, and even machine operation.
The exact details of a gunsmith’s day will vary depending on their primary focus.
For instance, one gunsmith may focus on the repair and restoration of firearms, while another may work for a large company like Smith & Wesson developing new firearms—and these two smiths would have very different daily tasks.
Some actual gunsmithing tasks include:
- Assembling or disassembling firearms
- Inspecting, cleaning, and lubricating firearms or removing corrosion
- Repairing guns
- Customizing or upgrading guns
- Adding or touching up engravings
- Fitting barrels
- Gun engraving
- Replacing barrels or firing mechanisms
- Modifying pull weight and other trigger mechanisms
- Designing or drafting firearm components
- Testing new designs or elements
All the above may be niche specific.
Many gunsmiths specialize in one particular type of firearms, such as a pistol smith, who works exclusively with pistols and handguns.
Common Types Of Gunsmiths
These gunsmiths typically own their own businesses and design or build custom firearms on a by-client basis. They may also offer aftermarket modification services.
Gun finishers take assembled firearms and make them ready for long-term use by applying protective coatings.
Stockmakers design custom or replacement stocks for guns, typically from various wood types. A checker is a subset of stock making, involving the application of a checkered grip surface.
Another specialization focused on customization, gun engravers are hired to cut pictures, words, or designs into the metal portion of guns. Engravers often offer other services as well.
How To Become A Licensed Gunsmith
To become a licensed gunsmith you will need to be 21 years of age, attend a gunsmith training program, and obtain a Federal Firearms License.
While the type of job you’re interested in and the type of guns you’d like that job to involve can impact the finer details of the necessary steps to become a gunsmith, the foundation of your education and career are likely to start the same no matter what. Let’s take a look.
Attending a gunsmith training program is highly recommended. To attend a modern gun school, prospective students will need a high school diploma or GED.
There are many community colleges and trade schools that offer gunsmithing courses. Certificate programs typically take around six months to complete, and many are available online.
You can also obtain an Associate’s degree at some schools which will take about two years. This type of program ensures that you acquire all the fundamental knowledge and skills to become a professional gunsmith. Upon finishing an associate program, you’ll be ready for an entry-level gunsmithing job.
Keep in mind that regardless of the gunsmith program type you choose, the necessary skills and topics are the same, including:
- Identification and evaluation of firearm functions and designs
- Repairing guns of all types
- Guns & public safety
- Assembling and disassembling firearms
- Firearm customization
- Knowledge in math and chemistry
- Ballistics and ammunition
- Troubleshooting common issues with firearms
- Common tools in gunsmithing, including hand and power tools
- Metal and woodworking
The National Rifle Association (NRA) also sponsors gunsmithing courses through several partner schools.
Certifications + Licensing
All gunsmiths are required by federal law to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). An FFL allows another person to take another person’s gun into their possession.
You’ll also need to undergo extensive background checks before earning a license and certification. This is usually done through the National Instant Criminal background Check system.
To get an FFL, federal law requires:
- Be 21 or older and a US citizen
- Not have any criminal or drug-related charges on your record
- Have a physical location for carrying out gunsmithing-related business
- Ensure that state or the local law does not prohibit gunsmithing-related activities in your location
- Comply with regulations in the Gun Control Act (GCA)
Individuals who have forsaken their us citizenship or have been adjudicated as mentally unqualified, and ex-servicemen who were discharged discreditably can’t obtain an FFL. Convicted felons cannot be gunsmiths.
The FFL certification process takes a few weeks or months, depending on background check processing times.
Internships + Training
After completing a gunsmith program, applying for a formal apprenticeship or on-the-job training is the next step. This training will help you gain more experience with gunsmithing. Short-term classes focus on a specific kind of training, which may only take a few days. While these classes award a certificate of completion, it won’t always count for college credit.
If you have no plans to enroll in a gunsmithing certification or degree program, an apprenticeship program can serve as an alternative. However, keep in mind that many apprenticeship programs still have educational requirements.
Unlike other skilled professionals, many gunsmiths even begin their careers with part-time jobs assisting professional gunsmiths rather than completing formal apprenticeships. Working with a skilled artisan will allow you to learn directly from an expert and acquire skills and knowledge that books can’t teach.
Plus, these gunsmiths will let you observe how they work. They may also teach you other necessary skills that a gunsmith must possess, including patience, gun safety, and attention to detail.
There are many options to get a gunsmithing certificate or Associate degree.
You can find a gunsmith program either online or at a local community college.
The costs associated with your training will vary based on whether you enroll in an educational program, opt for certification alone, seek an apprenticeship, or some combination of all the above. College programs are typically in the $5,000 to $15,000 range.
For example, the Murray State College in Oklahoma City offers a two-year Associate in Arts Degree in gunsmithing, which costs around $8,000. This rate is for Oklahoma City residents only. Non-residents will pay $9,000. At Trinidad State Junior College in the city of Colorado, they offer a one-year undergraduate certificate in gunsmithing with an average tuition of about $6,600. This excludes the books and other supplies that the school estimates will cost approximately $4,000.
Apart from tuition, you’ll need to pay for gunsmithing books and other related materials that can cost around $1,400.
If you are looking for something more affordable you can do an online certificate program with Penn Foster for under $1,000.
Online programs tend to cost less (typically closer to $1,000) but obviously cannot provide the hands-on training. Online education may be an excellent option if you are currently working at a gun shop or in an informal apprenticeship and already have skills in handling a gun
Gunsmithing Schools Near You
Below are some of our partner schools that offer gunsmithing programs that are close to you. Just click the button and they will contact you with more details about their programs.
Gunsmith Licensing Costs
In addition to paying for school, you’ll also need to pay for a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Application fees vary based on the type of firearms license you are interested in getting.
Levels range from 1 to 11.
Type 1 (Dealer in Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices) is the most common type and allows you to repair or sell firearms. The application cost is $200, with a renewal of $90 every three years.
If you want to do your own gun manufacturing, you’ll need a Type 7 license (Manufacturer of Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices), which comes with a $150 fee and is the second most common type. Renewals are also $150.
Other firearm-related activities, such as importing, require different license types with fees ranging from $30 (pawn brokering or ammo manufacturing) to $3,000 (importing, dealing, or manufacturing firearms and destructive devices).
Recommended Skills For Gunsmiths
Creating firearms is not as easy as 1-2-3.
If you are an aspiring gunsmith, you should possess the following basic skills and qualities. Most importantly, you need to have an interest and passion for firearms. Gunsmithing is not a skill that you can learn overnight.
Many smiths devote their lives to learning the intricacies of firearms. Be prepared to work hard and have patience.
Soldering metal parts, hacksawing, spring forming, and groove cutting are necessary to refurbish and make mechanical components. Having mechanical expertise will be a big benefit in this career. Advanced knowledge of woodworking and metallurgy are also recommended.
Steady hands and excellent hand-eye coordination are needed to handle small, delicate components and advanced machinery. Using a hand tool will be a normal part of your job so it is important you have the dexterity to use them, whether large or small.
Critical Thinking + Analytical
Being able to assess firearms and find issues they may have are a large part of what a gunsmith does. You should be able to troubleshoot and understand complex design schematics.
There are lots of measuring and calculating used as a firearm so having basic math skills will be an asset to being successful.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Gunsmith
The gunsmith work environment is generally an indoor job keeping you safe from the elements, but you will spend your days sitting for long hours and will be working with a variety of machines that can be dangerous.
And like any career, there are both pros and cons which we have outlined below.
- High earning potential: Since a gunsmith’s job can be dangerous and requires a high degree of skill, the compensation is typically above average. In 2019, gunsmiths had a median salary of $39,799, or around $21 per hour.
- Many career paths: As we’ve mentioned above, there are numerous types of gunsmiths and many career paths to pursue. Gunsmithing skills also lend well to other career options, such as jewelry making, engineering, retail gun sales, and more. Even if you decide gunsmithing isn’t right for you, your education won’t go to waste.
- A degree is not required: As long as you have acquired the essential skills and qualities to become an efficient gunsmith and obtain certification, having a college certificate or diploma is unnecessary to practice gunsmithing. However, keep in mind that the necessary training still takes time to complete.
- More job satisfaction: If you are a firearm enthusiast, working with various firearms types is likely to keep you engaged and lead to better job satisfaction. Gunsmithing also allows you to express your artistry and display your creativity—it’s a craft, not a job. Most people find the level of autonomy and self-expression fulfilling.
- Promote safety and security: At their core, guns are tools for safety and food security. A career in gunsmithing allows you to contribute to the safety of your community. It also enables you to truly understand your firearms, as well as how to repair, produce, and create ammo for them, which could pay off in an emergency.
- Exposure to firearm discharge residue: Firearm discharge residue, also known as gunshot residue, can contain substances that may be harmful to humans, such as lead dust, and too much exposure can put your health at risk.
- Dangerous machinery: Gunsmithing often requires operating advanced and potentially dangerous machinery, such as grinders and millers. This equipment is also loud and messy, which can lead to hearing damage or skin allergies.
- Risks of handling a firearm: No matter how careful you are, guns are inherently dangerous for obvious reasons. Accidental discharges and other gun-related accidents present a risk to your safety.
- Potentially difficult or dangerous customers: While many people looking to buy or repair firearms are upstanding citizens, guns can also be misused and attract more unsavory clientele than other skilled fields.
- Slow pay increases: While gunsmithing can be lucrative, it takes time to build a reputation. Many gunsmiths are self-employed, which can make for slower advancement in salary. Self-employment comes with its own long list of pros and cons and isn’t ideal for everyone. However, there are career options in the field that don’t involve running your own business.
What Is The Median Salary For A Gunsmith?
An experienced gunsmith can earn $60,000 a year or more!
The median salary in the US comes in around $39,935.
Salaries tend to be lower in the first four years and increase steadily after the fifth year. Your location and whether you are a certified gunsmith will also play a role in what sort of income you can expect.
Regions where gun ownership is higher, such as Texas and Alaska, generally offer better salaries.
Gunsmith Job Outlook
While the most common source of information on projected job growth, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), doesn’t keep statistics on gunsmithing specifically, they classify gunsmiths as “mechanics and repairers,” a field which is projected to grow by about 4% over the next ten years, gaining approximately 63,000 jobs.
Gunsmithing has maintained steady demand over the years and is generally considered a solid career choice.
Keep in mind that this point is often region-specific. Make sure that there is demand in your area if you aren’t comfortable with relocating.
*Salary Source: Economic Research Institute