CRATEX is by far the very best. I say this because CRATEX offers a vast variety of abrasive grits, types, and shapes to match my projects. The quality of the CRATEX products affords me the opportunity to provide my customers with the best quality product. Without the CRATEX products our work would be so much more labor intensive.
CRATEX Gunsmithing Tools
Equipment & High-Quality Abrasives for Gunsmithing
Gunsmithing is an impressive calling which requires passion, calmness, precision and accuracy. It is also a culmination of different sets of skills: knowledge in different types of firearms and their history, their design, function & repair, operating machines like a lathe or a mill, re-barreling and customizing rifles, refinishing firearms, mastering advanced skills and techniques, like welding, and lastly, knowledge in becoming successful in the gunsmith business.
But, no matter whether you are a five-star master gunsmith who works on guns for a living, or whether you take it as a hobby, you’re going to need some good-quality tools to get the job done.
This article is going to show you what it takes to be a gunsmith of any level and how CRATEX products fit in your gunsmithing work.
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CRATEX Products for Gunsmithing
Interview With a Gunsmith - Bill Poole from POOLE’S GUNSMITHING
Top 5 Essential Gunsmithing Tools
How to Become a Gunsmith?
CRATEX Products for Gunsmithing
CRATEX Abrasives and other CRATEX products are perfect tools for gunsmithing and their place in workshops of many gunsmiths has been well-earned over the years.
CRATEX rubber bonded abrasives are made of high-quality silicon carbide and are perfect for operations like: removing rust from old firearms, removing trigger serrations, removing stretches, rounding edges, cleaning up worn or damaged pistol and rifle markings and engravings, polishing flash pan, bolts and feed ramps, smoothing surface and getting almost mirror finish, jeweling a rifle bolt or pistol barrel, etc.
CRATEX abrasives come in four standard grit textures which differ in color: Course (green), Medium (dark brown), Fine (reddish brown) and Extra Fine (grey green). However, there is also the possibility to modify standard shapes and grits and get a modified abrasive tool that fits your needs much better.
Below you’ll find some of the CRATEX products widely used as gunsmith tools and equipment.
1. CRATEX Small Wheels
CRATEX small abrasive wheels are used for fine metal polishing, smoothing, deburring and many other uses in customizing and modifying guns. Small grinding wheels can be used for after hammer spur removal to create a nice, even surface on the back of the hammer. After that, sanding abrasives can be used to remove previous grinding marks and for contouring, and at the end, progressively finer grit wheels for polishing. Of course, small wheels can be used for polishing other parts of the firearm as well, like the trigger.
2. MX Abrasives
CRATEX MX abrasives are cotton-fiber aluminum-oxide laminate-bond products, which are much more aggressive than CRATEX rubber-bond abrasives. Their most prominent characteristics are the ability to hold shape and cutting action, so they are used for more aggressive prep work. MX abrasives are perfect for removing tooling marks left on parts from milling.
Recommendation: Use MX cone-shaped abrasives to remove marks and then use a fine rubber-cone for a smooth finish.
3. CRATEX Points & Cones
CRATEX abrasive points & cones are shaped and ready to use for polishing even hard-to-reach delicate firearm parts and angles. Easily carved, they are perfect to get into corners and rails. They can be used on a grinding tools for creating an even surface after metal removal jobs, like removing a revolver hammer spur, for working on the receiver to make the new bolt handle fit properly, for removing trigger serrations, for feed ramp work, for flare/fair ejection port work, throating the barrel, etc.
Recommended: CRATEX Kit No. 777 – Small wheels, points and mandrels
This kit contains a total of 80 different tapered edge and straight wheels, and bullet and cylinder points plus two wheels and 2 point mandrels, separated in four compartments by each grit texture for easy selection. This way, you can have all the tools you need for polishing, smoothing, grinding and deburring work on your firearm in one place.
Recommended: CRATEX Kit No. 227 – Cones and mandrels
This kit contains 18 CRATEX Cones (tapered, cylinder, pointed and bullet cones) in two grits (coarse and fine) and two No. 1341 cone mandrels. Excellent kit for grinding and polishing work on pistol or rifle when you need to reach some hard-to-reach surfaces or spaces.
4. CRATEX Abrasive Rods
CRATEX rods have various purposes in gunsmith work. One of the popular usages is jeweling a rifle bolt. The rifle bolt is mounted on machines like Jeweling Indexer or Wheeler Engineering Bolt Jeweling Fixture. The jeweling swirls are made by abrasive rods, which are placed in Drill Press Quill tubes. The bolt is then placed below the press, and rods are gently lowered down to touch the rifle bolt for a couple of seconds to create a jewel. The process is repeated for as many times needed to cover the entire surface of the rifle bolt.
Centerless CRATEX rods can also be used with Menck Damascening Tool that supports the whole length of the rod. Thanks to the extended design, this tool will allow jeweling around parts like firearm bolt handles or locking lugs. The abrasive rod has a close size control, a feature that will make the "swirls" always equal.
5. CRATEX Abrasive Blocks/Sticks
Abrasive blocks are an item that every gunsmith should own. Coarse grit silicon carbide blocks and sticks are great for removing material or sharpening tools, fast work when the fineness of the cutting edge is not so important. A beginner gunsmith should probably keep a distance from coarse grits and stick to medium or fine stones, which remove material smoothly and softly without digging into the surface. The extra fine grit can be used for putting a finish on firearm parts that are made from metal. Depending on the work, a gun smith can start with the coarse grit and work his way through the grits to the extra fine finish.
CRATEX also offers dressing blocks, which are important if you own a Grinder. Dressing blocks will keep the grinding wheel surface clean and square.
6. CRATEX Large Wheels
For every serious gunsmith, Grinder is one of the top must-have power tools, and CRATEX 6” large grinding wheels can make a perfect package in cases when you are doing cleaning, surfacing, polishing or grinding work. You’ll use this power tool and wheels every time you need to re-shape parts (like recoil pads), sharpen or modify your tools, shorten springs and screws, take off the rust.
Belt Sander is another power tool which is a money well spent. Besides the belt, the machine has a sanding wheel on the side, which is excellent for operations like sanding the rifle stock to fit recoil pads or for shaping them. Of course, a wide sander belt can also be used for stock sanding.
7. CRATEX Moto-Tool and Rotary Handpiece Attachments
Moto-tools are quite handy in a gunsmith workshop for doing a wide variety of small chores, and CRATEX tools are a perfect fit for Foredom or Dremel rotary machines. These tools allow you to mount a variety of different size of attachments suitable for engraving and polishing, mounting grinding stones, cut-off bits, etc.
As a gunsmith, you will certainly also need a small hand-held rotary tool. CRATEX offers a lightweight, stainless steel, high-quality and precision air tool called CRATEX Rotary Handpiece, which in combination with CRATEX abrasive and cut-off wheels, points and cones are used for precision grinding, cutting, finishing and polishing operations on firearms. The small power tool can be used for shaping stocks, modifying parts, cutting slots in screws, polishing internal parts, cutting off metal pieces and cutting holes in your firearms, etc.
CARTEX tools can also be mounted on rotary pieces of different manufacturers, like Dremel, Craftsman, Foredom, etc. in case that’s what you currently have in your workshop. But, if not, CRATEX Rotary Handpiece is a tool to invest in.
8. SPEDECUT Cut-Off Wheels
Spedecut resin-bonded abrasives are double-reinforced cut-off wheels with high tensile strength fiberglass layers on both sides that can be mounted on a hand grinder and used for grinding or cutting off firearm metal parts. For example, Spedecut can be used for making cuts in the receiver while working on de-milling of the trigger guard, cutting off hammer spur, cutting off existing bolt handle to later install a new one, or cut off inadequate factory bolt knobs to replace them with the ones that can provide faster operation.
Interview With a Gunsmith
Welcome, Bill! And thanks for accepting to do this interview with us. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, maybe something we can’t find on your website?
- My hobbies have always included firearms, however my second love is motorcycles. I have experienced road driving, hill climbing, flat track and motocross racing. Fishing and other outdoor activities have been enjoyed during my lifetime. Last but considered the most important is my sole-mate/wife, Debbie. We met in high school and have been together through all of life sharing business and pleasure. I have been trained as a machinist, certified welder in metal and plastics and experienced in most home remodeling tasks. I have held a patent in plastic welding equipment and I’m considered an expert in containment products for concrete joints. I was CEO of J P Specialties, Inc. for a 35-year period.
How long have you been working as a gunsmith? Can you describe your beginnings?
- I have been gunsmithing for over 35 years. When I moved from the Illinois to San Clemente, California in 1982 I discovered the San Clemente Trap & Skeet Club. After joining the club I participated in many trap and skeet shoots. Many of the club shooters brought me their shotguns for repair or modification. We opened our first retail store in San Clemente and began working with the local police departments and military from Camp Pendelton doing repairs. Several years later we expanded our business and moved to Laguna Niguel. In 1989 we moved the business to Lake Elsinore, California where we purchased a 5,000 sf building. In 2012 I was retired and we moved to Prescott, Arizona. 3 years later we moved to Wickenburg, Arizona where I came out of retirement and opened our new 2,200 sf retail gun store with complete gunsmithing service known as “Poole’s Gunsmithing/ Arizona Custom Firearms”.
Can you describe your (or your team's) day on the job as a gunsmith? Or your typical work week if more suitable?
- We have one full time, professional gunsmith who has over 14 years in special operations military experience whom we employ, my wife and myself. My day starts at 8 am and ends at 4pm. A day on the job is filled with multiple challenges of repairing/restoring all types of firearms. We have repaired firearms from the late 1800’s to present day. Since opening our new store in April 2017 we have repaired over 400 firearms. In the course of a day we are selling new, used or consignment guns. We handle transfers, background checks and discuss technical questions. All gun work is test fired in our bullet trap. We are authorized by the Game and Fish Department of Arizona to sell hunting and fishing licenses.
What gunsmith service do you provide the most at Poole’s Gunsmithing: repair, engraving, customization or some other? Do you work mostly with guns or rifles?
- At Poole’s Gunsmithing we repair all types of firearms and restore them to a safe shooting condition. In addition we discuss with our customers what type of custom firearm we can build to order. We offer long range rifles, target pistols or revolvers and concealed carry. We manufacture our own “Match” AR15 platform rifles/pistols. Our name “Poole’s” and our logo appear on the lower receiver. Poole’s works in conjunction with the best bluing service and engraving service, offering a full service gunsmithing shop.
What's the last project that you did that was especially challenging?
- The most challenging work is usually the older double barrel shotguns. These would be from the early 1900’s to 1940. There were many brand names that were private labeled for department stores and hardware stores. Obtaining schematics and parts is a challenge. These guns require custom made parts and hand fitting for each and every particular gun.
Can you name the most important factors to become a successful gunsmith?
- Apprenticing, formal training, patience, testing your work before returning the gun to the customer. No short cuts. Upfront accurate quotations for your repairs.
What is your advice for those who just started with gunsmith school and career?
- Take the career seriously. Plan to work as many hours as necessary to provide quality work. Always remember the firearm you are working on can take a life or save a life; make sure it is reliable.
What are the essential gunsmithing tools in your shop you can’t work without?
Machinery would be a precision lathe, baldor buffer, disc & belt metal grinder, fordem motor/shaft, barrel vise, milling machine, abrasive blaster, heat treating furnace, air compressor and hundreds of specialty hand tools.
What type of abrasives do you use in your shop: rubber wheels, points, cones, etc.? Please describe the purpose of the use: polishing, grinding, finishing, etc. Why do you need abrasives and in what phases do you use them?
- Belts and discs for the grinder to remove metal fast. Hard 8” wheels for polishing flat surfaces and deburring on receivers and parts. Sewn cloth 8” for use on the buffer for polishing parts. Loose cloth for high luster polish on stainless steel parts. Baldor buffers are handy for polishing large parts.
Depending on the abrasive shape, what size (diameter) and grit type are mostly used by gunsmiths?
- When using a foredom shaft drive tool we use diameters of ¼” to 5/8”. The shape most common is a cone shape or drum shape. Rubber shapes in medium or fine to polish. MX for more aggressive prep work.
You use MX abrasives (aluminum oxide abrasives). What is the main difference (advantage) between those and rubber abrasives? Why other gunsmiths should try MX mounted wheels and cones?
- MX is perfect for removing tooling marks left on parts from milling. Feed ramps on pistols that have machine gouges on the ramps cause jamming. Use MX cone shape to remove marks and then polish with the fine rubber cone or hard felt with the right compound.
Did you try some other Cratex products, like Spedecut cut-off wheels or Brightboy abrasives?
- We use the Cratex small diameter round pencil shaft rods for jeweling metal parts.
How did you learn about CRATEX products? Official website, forum/blog, recommended by other gunsmiths?
- Started using Cratex abrasives in the mid 80’s after visiting “Tussey Custom” in Tustin, Ca. Terry Tussey is one of the best pistol smiths in the country and turned me on to Cratex. He now teaches gun smithing in Nevada.
When did you start using CRATEX abrasives?
Why did you choose our products instead of some other manufacturer?
- Cratex is by far the very best. I say this because Cratex offers a vast variety of abrasive grits, types, and shapes to match my projects. The quality of the Cratex products affords me the opportunity to provide my customers with the best quality product. Without the Cratex products our work would be so much more labor intensive.
What do you like the most? A) Quality & Material? B) Price? C) Customer service? Other (describe main benefits using CRATEX abrasives)
- A, B & C I like them all. The main benefit to Cratex is that it works!!!
Is there anything we could do to make you a more satisfied customer? (product improvement/online store/website/other)
- Yes, mount the rubber cones & drum shapes to a fixed shaft. This would prevent the rubber abrasive from dislodging from the existing shaft design.
Would you recommend CRATEX products to others, and if yes, how would the recommendation sound?
- You have tried other products, now buy Cratex for the results you have been looking for.
Top 5 essential gunsmith tools
As you might imagine, a serious gunsmith is always on a lookout for new tools and gadgets, and therefore, he owns an impressive selection of tools and machines which help him do his work and take his creations to the next level. However, even if you are not a professional or a gunsmith at all, but you own firearms and you wish to do minor work or modify your guns from time to time, you’re still going to need tools for gunsmithing.
In this line of work, there are some tools you cannot go without, so we focused on basic tools every gunsmith (both serious and weekend hobbyist) should own. Then, we thought about the non-gunsmiths as well, and came up with a list of Top 5 Must-Have gun Smith Tools.
1. Gunsmith Screwdrivers
Each gunsmith, firearms hobbyist or a gun owner should invest in some specialized gunsmithing screwdrivers. Why? Because hardware store screwdrivers are not same as screwdrivers made for gun smiths. Ordinary screwdrivers are not well suited for gun work and can damage screw edges and can damage the finish as you apply pressure, while specialized screwdrivers have tapered and beveled heads, which fit properly in most screw slots found on various types of guns. The blade needs to fill the screw head completely, as a perfect fit provides control, eliminates tilt and wobble, and prevents you to injure you hand and your weapon.
The two types used most often are magnetic-tipped and fixed-blade screwdrivers. Screwdrivers with magnetic tips have hollow magnetic ends, which hold the screw against the bit, and are quite handy when you’re working with the smallest gun screws. Fixed-blade screwdrivers provide more strength and maximum control.
We can suggest Brownells, as they have a wide selection of different single screwdrivers and sets, both with fixed blades and magnetic tips.
2. Gunsmith Pin Punch Set
Pin punches are designed to easily remove roll pins from firearms which are encountered during the repair or assembling. You can purchase one pin punch, but it is recommended to buy a whole set, in order to have an appropriate size punch at hand (using the wrong size punch can cause the pin head to flare and can ruin the firearm surface. It is also recommended to have steel punches as well as brass punches. Brass punches won’t mar the surface as you tap in a pin, because it is much softer than the steel pins.
The balled tips of pin punches, like the ones from Grace USA, help locate the punch on the pin and they protect pin ends from damage during removal or installation.
Professional gunsmiths have an entire assembly of different types and sizes of punches, including at least starter punches, drift punches, pin punches and roll pin punches. It doesn’t matter whether you have one or many punches, important is to invest money in quality (brands like Brownells, Starrett, Craftsman are high-quality). Cheap punches will bend and brake plus get your workpiece in danger.
3. Gunsmith Hammers
Hammers are used for hitting pins and getting them in their place. Of course, gunsmith hammers are designed to do so without leaving a scratch or chipping the surface of the gun. Most commonly used hammers are brass hammers, because brass won’t damage the steel and marks left by it can be removed quite easily. Brass hammers are used mostly for driving stubborn pins, freeing up choke tubes or tapping frozen screws.
You buy combined hammers, with heads made out of brass on one side and nylon on the other as nylon can be used during delicate jobs which require precision and carry danger of ruining the gun finish.
Second options is to buy ball-peen hammers, since they provide excellent balance and control during precision work on the one hand, and maximum striking force applied to a small area when using the ball-peen side. Experienced gunsmiths say that a small 14-ounce ball-peen hammer would be sufficient for most work.
Some also invest in gunsmith rawhide mallets like the C.S. Osborne mallets because rawhide hammers deliver precision blows which protect pins, punches and soft parts of the firearm and won’t damage wood nor metal. Dead blow rubber mallets are also recommended for minimizing the damage of the surface in cases where you need to apply some pressure, and a 14-ounce mallet would do the job perfectly.
Special packages: You also have the option to purchase these top 3 basic tools in a gunsmith tool kit, like the one from Grace USA. It’s a basic firearm care tool set which includes screwdriver and brass punch sets and an 8-ounce brass hammer.
Screwdrivers, punch pins and hammers are considered basic tools in case you want to just take the firearms apart and put them back together. However, 2 more tools are considered essential if you want to take good care of your firearms and want to make your job a lot easier.
4. Gunsmith Vise
Every gunsmith or firearm enthusiast should invest in a good vise, as it is essential for holding a firearm still during repair work or assembly. Many coat vise’s jaws with leather, because the leather protects the firearm’s finish additionally, while others purchase protective soft magnetic jaws, like the ones here. Soft jaws are used, for example, for clamping down barrels and are designed to hold them firmly enough to get the job down without damaging them. Hard jaws (for example, made of heavy duty phenolic) are also handy and are used to clamp down heavy pieces without damaging the finish of a gun.
There are all kinds of bench vises for gunsmithing, like the ones that are fastened to the workbench or the ones that are secured to a block of wood. There are also vises that can be positioned both horizontally and vertically and that can be adapted to any job you are conducting whether sanding, soldering, stock work or drilling. It is especially useful when you work on small parts, like holding a trigger sear for stoning.
You can get by with small, temporary mounted clamp-on vise, but it’s always better to invest in a medium size (4-6 inch jaw size) vise which is permanently mounted on a workbench with a strong foundation. Make sure you attach it to your workbench in such a way that it allows you to approach your workpiece from every angle. After all, vise is one of gunsmith’s essential tools on his workbench, so invest in a good vise with rotating heads.
5. Bench Block
Bench blocks are used to stabilize parts of the fire weapon and prevent them from rolling during pin driving or pushing, which makes any detailed work much easier to perform.
Bench blocks are produced in various sizes, some are shaped based on the specific models of guns, and the holes in them let pins drop free. Because bench blocks cannot damage the firearm’s surface, they are made of materials such as wood, nylon or polyurethane.
If you do a search on Google about gunsmithing salary, you’ll get a pretty straight answer $32,267 on average per year. Since this figure came out from five years old research we decided to dive deeper into these numbers and check firsthand how much money you can make as a gunsmith.
Is Gunsmithing a Good Career?
Like any other professions gunsmiths can earn a wide range of salaries depending on many circumstances, but most important is the experience and how long you are in the business. A simple fact is that gunsmithing is definitely not the highest paid job in the US but you can earn a decent living from it.
According to PayScale research that is updated on September 27th, a gunsmith earns on average a wage of $15.51 per hour. The range of total pay goes from $24,520 to even $62,948. Six-figure gunsmith salaries are rarely reported and can be achieved by true experts and master gunsmiths.
Factors That Affect Gunsmith Salary
How much money you can make depends on a lot of factors. They can be general for sure and influence your wage in the same way as other on a national level, but we’ll stress most important related to gunsmithing industry. Of course, we’ll assume this is your full-time job and not a hobby.
- Factor #1 – Experience. This isn’t a #1 factor without a reason. As time goes by you will gain experience and be able to work on a delicate project like gun restoration, design, customization, etc. Working on complex projects (and doing it them right) will put you in a position for a higher hourly wage.
- Factor #2 – Reputation. There is no need to explain why reputation is important for every job. As you gain experience and skills your portfolio will become richer. A successfully completed task will build your reputation but be patient and don’t expect miracles to happen overnight. Building reputation needs time.
- Factor #3 – Specialization. One of the factors that have the biggest impact on gunsmithing salaries. When you acquire basic knowledge as general gunsmith it is the right time to think about specialization. Engraver, custom designer or finisher are just some of the fields where you can focus and become an expert. Engraving whole or just part of the gun is more paid than simple gun cleaning.
- Factor #4 - Do you run your own business? Running your own business usually means a higher salary (few gunsmiths reported $100,000 income per year), but this also brings some other risks as well. You need to worry about benefits, tools and breakages. Your paycheck is not guaranteed when you are your own boss. On the other hand, you have flexible working hours and freedom to work on projects you find tempting. Starting your own business just after graduating is maybe a not such a good idea. Consider the fact that tools can cost you more than $10K.
- Factor #5 – School (certifications and training). Owning associate of occupational studies degree in gunsmithing or certificate and advanced training program can be a real boost to gunsmith salary. Additional degrees can put you in a position to ask for more when negotiating with a potential employer. Check Chapter 4 to see the best gunsmithing schools in the US or download our eBook with ALL gunsmithing schools with their contact information.
- Factor #6 – State where you are doing business? Location of your shop or workshop (combination of retail gun store and gun repair shop) you are working for, along with local demand in most cases means different salaries too. Gunsmith salary in Texas is much higher compared to one in Mississippi. One of the highest paid states for gunsmiths is New York with $85,000 salary per year.
A lot of good gunsmiths do blogging as gun experts. They write specialized articles for online gun magazines, blogs or even forums. Some of them are great forum administrators. Since these blogs and forums have large audience many of them earn extra bucks renting web space for gun and armor shops.
Advice for Beginners
Like every other profession, gunsmithing has some specifics and uniqueness. Master gunsmiths have several pieces of advice especially for those who just graduated and are looking for their first job as gunsmiths:
- Don’t worry about the money. As you are just starting out making $12 per hour plus benefits is very good.
- At the beginning of a carrier you need to learn as much as possible. Don’t think you know everything just because you have a gunsmith degree or certificate!
- At the beginning, your will mostly work on gun cleaning. Don’t let that discourage you.
- Invest in the best tools you can afford. Never buy cheap ones!
- Invest in knowledge, accept new things (like using software for gun designing) and be willing to work long hours.
- Don’t accept work you are not capable to do, breakages will cost you a lot!
- Pay attention to every detail. That is the only way to build a reputation.
- Respect and adopt knowledge and experience of older gunsmiths. Learn their tips and tricks. It is not just about book knowledge.
- Don’t overload yourself!
- If you are going to sell guns as well, you need to be a good businessman too.
- Try to specialize in finishing, engraving and other gun customizations.
- Start creating your own knowledge base and library from the day one.
Don’t let figures mislead you. Read this interesting interview with the gunsmith, Ben Worthen. He describes how he got started, his education, what his working week looks like and finally how much money he can make as a gunsmith.
Jobs for Gunsmiths
If you are looking for available gunsmithing jobs in the US we recommend to do a search on Indeed.com and check if there is something interesting for you. According to this website, there is a big demand for gunsmiths in different positions and specializations across the US. Browsing opened positions you can have better insights on average gunsmith salary since you can filter results by Salary Estimate and Experience Level.
How to Become a Gunsmith
You can say that a gunsmith is a person who repairs, customizes and/or builds firearms, but it won’t truly illustrate the skill set and width of knowledge a gunsmith must own to be able to do what he or she does.
A gunsmith can perform quite simple tasks, for example, inspecting, cleaning, disassembling and reassembling a firearm, but is also capable of performing complex tasks, including metal refinishing, wood and metal engraving, or design. Therefore, a master gunsmith must possess a wide range of skills which make him part fabricator, part mechanic, part metalworker and wilder, woodworker and part an artist.
First, a gunsmith needs to know his/her guns – must be familiar with all kinds of types and models of firearms to be able to customize their parts, analyze and improve their performance.
A gunsmith must possess knowledge in the use of numerous hand and power tools, measuring devices and machinist tools. Not only is machine shop knowledge required, but also knowledge in: mathematics, materials engineering, ballistics, chemistry, and, of course, running business.
And above all, a gunsmith must be a good artist, both when it comes to coming up with the design and transferring it on a piece of paper and engraving or carving the wooden or metal part of the firearm.
Since the road to becoming a professional, master gunsmith is a long and exhausting one, and since not all gunsmiths can possess all previously mentioned skills, many of them focus on becoming specialist in preferred areas: custom building/designing, finishing work, stockmaking, checkering, engraving, some specialize in work on revolvers and pistols only (pistol smiths), and some become manufacturers of certain types of gun parts and focus on distribution and sale to other gunsmiths.
But, how do you become a gunsmith in the first place? This chapter contains information on precisely what it takes to become a gunsmith.
Technical Skills of the Trade
Gunsmiths can create true pieces of art, but it’s not just art what gunsmithing is. Guns that are designed and build must also be safe and must function properly, as the slightest technical slipup could result in serious injury or worse.
A gunsmith must become primarily skilled in woodworking, metalworking and machinery. He or she must also get familiar with numerous other shop materials, as this knowledge is essential for creating good-quality guns.
This involves using various wood shop and metal shop equipment, such as drill presses, drills, hand rotary and air tools, cutting tools, grinding tools deburring and metal polishing tools, precision measuring instruments, files, chisels and so on.
Math skills are also important, as gunsmithing involves a lot of measuring, precise cutting and executing calculations for technical specifications, but mechanical expertise is essential. Namely, a gunsmith must understand how a gun works, must understand its components and how they move and work together. Understanding gun mechanics is crucial for assembling all parts properly, but also for identifying a problem when a gun isn't working as it was supposed to.
Being an engineer is not a must, but it is certainly recommended. You would learn more advanced calculations, ballistics and so on, which can be very helpful for the profession.
Interest in History and Production of Guns
As a gunsmith and a gun enthusiast you must be interested in the history of firearms. From the dawn of the firearms in the 1200s China to the long period of development of modern weapons to the introduction of automatic handguns at the end of 19th century, the history of firearms is extensive and impressive.
Not all gunsmiths are interested and familiar with all eras – some have more extensive knowledge of historical firearms and some lean more towards the contemporary period. Either way, gunsmiths are usually collectors or hobbyists, which means that the fondness they felt towards firearms developed a desire to repair or craft guns on their own.
Regardless of the preference and the knowledge base, gunsmiths are always keeping track with new developments, new models, accessories and manufacturers. Many of them attend conferences, events and trade shows to meet other gunsmiths, learn more and teach others more by sharing their experiences.
Understanding the Importance of Gun Safety
Every gunsmith knows that guns are no toys and that they should be handled with respect, responsibility and according to standard safety rules and laws. All successful gunsmiths are committed to gun safety.
A gunsmith is responsible for more than just creating an impressive gun for a showcase. A gunsmith carries responsibility for creating a gun that is not faulty and dangerous for the user. It is important to always follow safety guidelines, laws and regulations to protect your customers.
Education and Training
Of course, the earlier you start, the more skills you'll develop over time. The best would be to start in high school by taking courses, such as machining, woodworking and drafting, as these will help you obtain basic skills needed for the trade. However, in case your high-school days are long over, and you failed to obtain such a skill set, don't worry as it's never too late to learn.
By enrolling in a gunsmithing school or by starting an apprenticeship, you take the next step towards transforming your firearm hobby into a rewarding career that involves learning about altering triggers and safeties, diagnosing accuracy problems and preforming important self-check procedures.
Here are different ways that can bring you closer to achieving your goal of becoming a professional gunsmith.
A good idea would be to start an apprenticeship to build basic craftsmanship and knowledge. So, how to become a gunsmith apprentice? Gaining hands-on experience by learning directly from an expert is a one way to go, so make sure you seek out a local, experienced gunsmith.
You can also apply for an apprenticeship status through The Association of Gunsmiths and Related Trades. TAOGRT tends to match experienced sponsors with students looking for getting gunsmith apprenticeship.
A great thing is that the apprentices are paid for their work. Quite often they start working for a minimum wage that increases over time and with experience.
To become an apprentice, you must be 16 or older, and you'll need to be able to legally own and possess a firearm in compliance to federal and state laws. If in high school, you'll also need to graduate and maintain at least a "C" average, combined with a permission from your legal guardians and school officials.
As an apprentice you'll learn how to safely use gunsmithing tools, such milling machines and lathes, you'll learn how to make fixtures, make and fit gunstocks, perform barrel work and action work, and learn all there is to firearms theory. Sometimes apprentices are required to purchase their own tools to use over the course of their training.
To help ensure proficiency, TAOGRT has developed certain standards like competency exams. There are specified numbers of hours that an apprentice must spend gaining experience in order to complete the gunsmith apprenticeship. Also, the apprenticeship will last a minimum of four years for a standard gunsmith training.
An apprentice can earn the certificate based on the fulfilment of the hourly requirements and the specialty. Possible certifications would be as follows:
- Firearm Repair Specialist
- Firearms Restorer
- Stock Maker
- Barrel Maker
- Firearm Engraver
- Journeyman Gunsmith
- Journeyman Rifle Smith
- Journeyman Pistol Smith
- Journeyman Shotgun Smith
- Journeyman Classic Firearms Smith
- Master Gunsmith
Colleges & Technical Schools
After you complete your apprenticeship, you can take your knowledge to the next level by rolling into a technical college or university that offers gunsmithing programs and proper credentials. Most of these programs last between 6 months and 2 years, and a background check is necessary for all students that apply.
The educational gunsmithing programs require students to spend time gaining hands-on experience in machine shops, they usually have the opportunity to get acquainted and work on different types of guns during their education, and some colleges offer their students an extra year of training in the form of working in or managing a gunsmith shop. You'll learn everything from mechanical and tooling skills, to diagnosing and repairing guns, safety procedures, and even chemistry and ballistics.
Some of the very best colleges and schools include Trinidad State Junior Colledge in Trinidad (CO), Yavapai Colledge in Prescott (AZ), Pennsylvania Gunsmith School in Pittsburgh (PA), but we'll write about best gunsmith schools in detail in our next chapter.
Online Gunsmithing Schools
Of course, there are a lot of students that are unable to attend gunsmithing classes on-site, so luckily, there are many online or distance-learning courses that are offered by many different schools and colleges.
Another benefit of online courses besides not being obligated to physically visit the college or school (which saves you time and money) is the possibility finish the courses at your own pace, which also means much faster than you would by attending traditional, on-site courses.
The online courses usually consist of several learning modules. The students are required to complete the assigned readings, practical exercises and online examinations in order to complete the course. The schools use various e-documents, such as PDFs, video presentations and demonstrations to convey technical concepts to the students. Some colleges offer textbooks, some video lectures and textbooks.
According to online reviews we picked top 5 best online gunsmithing schools to give you a place to start when researching the best school for you.
1. Penn Foster Career School, Scranton (PA)
The Penn Foster Career School offers you to build or refine your gunsmithing skills through affordable online gunsmith classes in as little as 3 months. The program includes over 50 short how-to and instructional videos which are an addition to your reading materials.
The program goal is to provide students with a working knowledge of basic gun repairs and modifications, so that they could gain an entry-level career in gunsmithing. The courses are about getting started in the firearms industry, identifying, evaluating and the history of different firearms, such as rifles, guns, shotguns, muzzleloaders and handguns, and metal- and finishing work.
The entire gunsmithing program costs $699 if paid in full (monthly auto pay option costs $779 and monthly mail payment option costs $884). The tuition includes: Snap-on tools discount, National Electrical Code handbook, mobile-friendly coursework, dedicated success coach, textbooks and study materials, unlimited student support, goal setting-progress tracking tools and career services.
Learn more about the Penn Foster Career School Online Gunsmith Training Program here.
2. Ashworth College, Norcross (GA)
The Ashworth College Online Gunsmithing School will help you gain hands-on techniques for troubleshooting, repairing and reassembling a variety of firearms, and provide instructions on basic shop setup and effective business practices. All students get personalized career assistance that includes creating an impactful resume, preparing for interviews and exploring relevant job opportunities.
You'll be able to complete the entire program in as little as 4 months, and maximum in one year from the day of the enrollment. The program includes comprehensive textbook and study guides, including three textbooks on pistols, rifles and shotguns, and an exclusive access to a full-range of career tools. The students will gain basic understanding of the materials, tools and processes used for maintaining, restoring, modifying and upgrading common pistols, rifles and shotguns, learn to identify various brands and styles of commercially available firearms, learn how to identify various hand and power tools, and much more.
The price of the program in case of a full payment is $699, and for monthly pay $899 or $49 a month, which makes both options quite affordable.
3. Sonoran Desert Institute, Scottsdale (AZ)
There are two online gunsmithing programs at Sonoran Desert Institute – The Associate of Science in Firearms Technology and Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate.
The Associate program is a 60-semester-hour program, broken into four, 16-week semesters with expected completion time of 2 years. It is said to be the most comprehensive Schools of Firearms Technology program in the country. All subjects are grouped into 3 sections: Firearms Technology Discipline, General Business and General Education. The students will work with student service staff to select their personal semester schedules.
The Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program a 32-semester-hour program, broken into two, 16-week semesters with expected completion time of 8 months. The students will gain knowledge in Firearms Technology Discipline which includes everything from basic ballistics and introduction to firearms to finishes and engraving to machining and manufacturing and shooting sports management.
The total cost of the Associate of Science in Firearm Technology amounts to $16,980 (tuition $15,000 and educational resource fee $1,980), and the total Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program costs $8,990 ($8,000 for tuition, $990 educational resource fee).
There are also firearm technology individual/optional courses that are expected to be completed in 8 weeks and the price is $250 per credit hour plus $125 educational resource fee.
4. American Gunsmithing Institute, Napa (CA)
The Americal Gunsmithing Institute offers different courses for both hobbyists and career gunsmiths. The gunsmithing certification can be achieved in as little as 3 months. The students can choose their own curriculum – they can choose to go through the entire program or complete specific programs. All instructional videos are presented by experienced gunsmiths with well-established reputations.
The Certified Professional Gunsmithing Course has 4 options:
- Pro-Level 1 ($4,997) - 108 hours of design, function and repair instruction + bonuses;
- Pro-Level 2 (6,997) - Level 1 + complete machine shop course with materials + much more;
- Master Gunsmith ($9,997) - Level 1 + Level 2 + welding, certified 1911 pistol smith + Glock smith + how to build a semi-auto G-3, HK-91 & CETME Rifle + much more;
- Enhanced Master Gunsmithing Course ($14,997) - All previous levels + personalized gunsmithing website + much more.
5. Modern Gun Repair, Wilmington (DE)
The Modern Gun School offers two courses: Basic Gun Repair Course & Advanced Gun Repair Course.
The Basic Gun Repair Courseconsists of 31 lessons, 4 hands-on bench projects, $250+ worth of supplier and two specialty AR15 lessons. It represents an introduction to the industry, designed for anyone with an interest in gun repair, maintenance and design. The full payment price is $1,199.
The Advanced Gun Repair Course consists of 65 lessons, 7 hands-on projects, and $400+ worth of supplies. It offers a comprehensive education on the entire firearm's industry. The course price in case of a full payment is $1,499.
Federal Firearms License
You don't need a "gunsmith license" to be a gunsmith, but you do need a Federal Firearms License (FFL) if you want to become a licensed gunsmith. The FFL gives you a legal right to possess other people's firearms for an extended period.
Since you don't own a permit for other people's firearms, this license will allow you to maintain possession of another person's firearms for as long as it takes to repair, test and work on them.
The process of getting the license is very strict and involves an on-site interview with a federal field agent. First, you'll need to be over 21. Next, you'll apply for it through the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The specific form is called "ATF 5310.12 (Form 7) Application for License" and it can be downloaded from the ATF website. The basic license that authorizes you to work with shotguns, pistols, revolvers and rifles is "Type 1".
You'll also need to submit a copy of your fingerprints and a fee along with the application. The ATF will run a criminal history background check and the federal field agent is going to inspect your gunsmithing tools and facilities, ask you questions to determine whether you are experienced enough and whether you conduct the best gun safety practices.
The gunsmiths with Federal Firearms License must also meet bookkeeping requirements that are set by the ATF. Every firearm that is left with a gunsmith overnight, must be recorded and kept in the shop's "bound book".
Choosing school or college can be very hard. Some even call it a lifetime decision. There are a lot of questions you need to answer that is for sure. One of them, maybe major one is – should I follow my heart or head?
Society and surrounding have deep impact and influence on those who need to make this hard decision. With so many colleges in US young person can be really overwhelmed. Well, this is not the case if you like guns!
Gun lovers don’t have doubts. Gunsmithing is like an art, age is not important! If you are in love with rifles and revolvers there is no alternative or second option. You have already made your decisions – you are going to gunsmith school!
In this chapter, you will find out all relevant info about best gunsmithing schools in the US. We will cover school location, costs, certificates and degrees they offer or other requirements that are specific and mandatory just for gunsmith education. One of them is background check or prior military service.
According to this research from 2016. The United States doubled the number of manufactured guns. With skyrocketed arms manufacturing and estimated overall number of 300 million guns in the US, there will always be a need for professional and educated gunsmith.
5 Top Gunsmithing Schools
Simply googling “gunsmithing schools near me“ will not do the trick here. There are a lot of schools (private and public) with gunsmith programs but if you really want to be a master gunsmith capable to not just modify or repair but design and build custom guns you need to check those we stressed in lines below.
At the end of this chapter, you can download eBook with the full list of gunsmithing schools in the US along with complete contact information.
1. Yavapai College Gunsmithing School Arizona
Gunsmithing program at Yavapai College started back in 1969. Today this is one of the most trusted institutions when it comes to gunsmith education. It is located in Prescot, Arizona. The school has been accredited by Higher Learning Commission and according to online reviews is among top three nationwide gunsmithing schools. Graduates easily find a job after graduation.
It is an important to admonish that all students who apply for certain programs must be 21 years old or more or have military service. This gunsmithing school in Arizona will teach you how to: disassembly and assembly handguns and rifles, measure, metal shop (use different machines and tools), metal refinishing, engraving, ballistics, install optics and many more.
After completing the program in 24 months students gain AAS degree in Gunsmithing.
There are two levels of certification: Gunsmithing and Advanced Gunsmithing. To achieve gunsmith certificate at this college you need to accomplish following courses:
- Apprentice gunsmithing,
- Journeyman gunsmithing,
- Professional gunsmithing and
- Master gunsmithing.
The advanced certificate requires accomplishing Guild firearm course, Competition firearms and CNC machining.
To calculate tuition cost use college calculator. Students have to purchase tools used over the semester but there are many financial options available from colleges like loans, grants and scholarships. According to tuition data from U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics 2015/2016 cost for Arizona residents was $15,256 or $21,880 for non-residents.
2. Lassen Community College Gunsmithing Program
Lassen Community College is one of the oldest gunsmithing schools in the US founded in 1945. It is located in Susanville, northeast California. Every academic year college welcome 22 new students for gunsmith programs.
At Lassen College, you can earn gunsmith degree in 24 months or four semesters. At the program completion students can gain six Certificates of Achievement and Accomplishment:
- General gunsmithing,
- Firearms repair,
- Gunsmith machinist and metal finishing,
- Pistolsmith and long gun.
Students are required to purchase their own gunsmith tools. The complete list of required tools can be found on this link. Students also need to provide guns for coursework for both semesters. List of guns required per year can be found at this here.
Because students need to provide guns and tools for their gunsmithing education cost can be pretty high. That is the main drawback, basic gunsmith tools and guns for the second year can cost several thousand dollars. Financing is available for some students that meet requirements.
3. Trinidad State College Gunsmithing Program
Colorado gunsmith school was found in 1947. by well-known gunsmith and columnist Parker Otto Ackley. Parker was also responsible for many firearm patents we use even today. Over the years Trinidad State College became home of one of the most advanced two-year gunsmithing program in the US.
Why is this program so popular? Employment rate after graduating from Trinidad gunsmithing school is more than 80%! But that is not all, well-balanced curriculum makes graduates prepared for every gunsmithing job.
Program cover following gunsmith areas:
- Machine tools,
- Hand tools, metal finishes and customization.
Students can choose between AAS degree in Gunsmithing or Gunsmithing Certificate. Students need 72 credit hours for A.A.S. degree and 57 credit hours for the certificate. Other certificates you can gain are Brownell’s firearm tech instructor, NRA Safety instructor, Gunsmithing Technician and Gunsmithing Fine Arts.
College is also a member of National Rifle Association (NRA) Summer Schools.
Tuition fee for TSJC’s Gunsmithing Degree Program is around $18K. The college offers different financial aids like loans and work-study programs.
4. Colorado School of Trades
Colorado Gunsmithing School deserved its place on our top 5 list of schools with fantastic gunsmith education program established 1947. College is located in Lakewood just a few miles from Denver.
For more than seven decades this schools sets highest standards with the custom approach to every student. If guns are your passion and you want to progress beyond conventional educational limits this can be a perfect place for you. It is easy to find former school students in almost every reputable gun shop in the US.
Upon program completion, graduates will receive an Associate of Occupational Studies Degree in Gunsmithing. The program is 14 months long.
Colorado School of Trades gunsmithing program is divided into 4 main courses:
- Basic course,
- Machine shop course,
- Stockmaking course,
- Design and Function course.
Students spent 350 hours for the Basic course to 800 hours for Design & Function course. A total number of hours is 1800. Most of the hours will be spent in 15.000 sq. ft. laboratory – 1505 hours. Other are utilized in classrooms.
To estimate gunsmith course cost please visit school net price calculator. Average cost is around $10K. This school also offer financial aids as loans, scholarships and grants.
School is not just gunsmith oriented. They value business aspects as well. All students learn how to succeed in gunsmithing career. School coordinators help students to prepare for job interview, write a CV and even start their own business.
5. Pennsylvania Gunsmith School
Pennsylvania Gunsmith School is located in Avalon, near Pittsburgh PA. This private school is accredited by ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Schools and Colleges) and had been teaching gunsmithing since 1949.
The Master Gunsmithing program last for 16 months and average annual cost for students receiving federal aid is $22,102. To get estimate training cost visit school net price calculator. Financial Aid is available for those who qualify - Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans. Graduation rate according to data from 2014. is 88%.
During 16 months students will be trained for entry-level gunsmithing jobs. Program evolves every year to follow latest gunsmithing trends but you should know that focus is on hands-on work. Instructors with vast experience in this field physically demonstrate skills and techniques that students need to repeat. Program cover rifles, handguns, shotguns and muzzle loading arms.
The program at PGS is fully gunsmith focused, therefore, other courses (like writing and English) are not required for program completion.
Use the link below to get eBook with the complete list of gunsmith schools in the US with full contact information: school location, official website, email, phone and email.