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, gunsmithing might be right for you.
Gunsmithing is among America’s oldest and most venerated trades, as firearms are firmly ingrained in our culture—after all, they were instrumental in our independence. While many advances in firearm technology occurred in the states, guns date back long before the colonies were settled, originating in the 1200s in China!
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, here’s everything you need to know to become a gunsmith, including what a gunsmith is, what they do, what skills are required, and more.
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.
Here are some examples of typical gunsmith duties:
- Assembling or disassembling firearms
- Inspecting, repairing, cleaning, and lubricating firearms or removing corrosion
- Customizing or upgrading guns
- Adding or touching up engravings
- Fitting barrels
- 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 Gunsmith
Other than the vast array of skills involved in gunsmithing, working as a gunsmith typically requires formal education, a license, and experience in handling a firearm.
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.
Gunsmithing education requirements aren’t quite as cut and dry as something like becoming a doctor—there’s more than one way to become a gunsmith.
Most options require a high school diploma or GED at the least, and after that, you can explore certificates in gunsmithing. Many colleges and technical schools offer gunsmithing programs. Certificate programs typically take around six months to complete, and many are available online.
On the other hand, some colleges also offer associate degrees in gunsmithing. Completing a gunsmithing associate degree program will take about two years. This 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 program type you choose, the necessary skills and topics are the same, including:
- Identification and evaluation of firearm functions and designs
- Firearm check-up and repair
- Safe handling of firearms
- 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
Certifications & Licensing
All gunsmiths are required 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. To get an FFL, you must:
- 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.
The FFL certification process takes a few weeks or months, depending on background check processing times.
Internships & Training
After taking up the required education in gunsmithing, 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 and attention to detail.
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 vital 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, hacksawing, spring forming, and groove cutting are necessary to refurbish and make mechanical components. Keep in mind that the ability to operate various types of machinery is vital to smithing. Advanced knowledge of woodworking and metallurgy are recommended.
Steady hands and excellent hand-eye coordination are needed to handle small, delicate components and advanced machinery.
Critical Thinking + Analytical Skills
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.
As a gunsmith you may be working with a manufacturing or design team as well as customers so having great personal skills is extremely important.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Gunsmith
Like any career, gunsmithing has both pros and cons. Whether the advantages will outweigh the risks will depend solely on you.
- 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.
How Much Does A Gunsmith Make?
So what is an average gunsmith salary?
Gunsmith wages tend to vary drastically because employment options are so widespread. For instance, working in a gun shop, you might make as little as $12 to $15 per hour, but professional gunsmiths can make $60,000 a year or more!
As mentioned earlier, the average 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 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.
Like most aspects of becoming a gunsmith, the costs associated with your training will also 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 typically settle in the $5,000 to $15,000 range. Here are a couple of examples to give you a better idea of what to expect.
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.
Apart from tuition, you’ll need to pay for gunsmithing books and other related materials that often cost around $1,400.
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.
Online programs tend to cost less (typically closer to $1,000) but obviously lack hands-on experience. They may be an excellent option if you are currently working at a gun shop or in an informal apprenticeship.
Gunsmith Licensing Costs
In addition to school, you’ll also need to pay for a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Application fees vary based on the type of license. 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 manufacture your own firearms, 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).
Below are some resources to help you get started in the automotive field!
American Gunsmithing Institute
The American Gunsmithing Institute is an online educational resource that allows you to learn from home. They have a varietyof programs to help you build a career in the industry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about this career. If you have other questions that are not listed here – please email us or leave a comment below and we will be sure to add it!
This career does require you be at least 21 years of age, you can begin your studies at 18 – but to actually do any work as a gunsmith you will need to be 21.
You do not need a federal firearms license to take a course or educate yourself – but you DO need one if you plan on doing gun repair as a business or career in any way.
There is no guarantee that all aspiring gunsmiths will land their dream job, but luckily, the skills and education necessary to become a gunsmith lend well to a wide range of in-demand jobs.
Here are some suggested alternative career paths for aspiring gunsmiths:
- Gun or ammo sales
- Firearm safety instruction
- Jewelry making
Ready to Pull the Trigger?
Becoming a gunsmith requires practice, patience, and diligence, but the work can be engaging, interesting, and monetarily rewarding if you stick with it. If you have decided to pursue gunsmithing as a career, it’s important to understand what that entails fully—we hope this guide on how to become a gunsmith has helped in that regard.
If you’re not sure gunsmithing is the right path for you, feel free to explore our other employment overviews. At Blue Collar Brain, we aim to be your go-to resource for vocational and trade career information, because a cubical isn’t for everyone!
*Salary Source: Economic Research Institute