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Gunsmith Job Description, Career as a Gunsmith, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus training

Salary $18,000 to $35,000 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Gunsmiths repair and modify firearms to blueprint and customer specifications. In their work, gunsmiths use hand tools and machines such as grinders, planers, and millers. They may restore antique guns, convert old rifles to up-to-date firearms, or adapt factory-made rifles to the special needs of customers. Many gunsmiths work for gun manufacturers or sporting goods stores. Some are self-employed.

A gunsmith's work calls for many different skills. Gunsmiths must know how to handle and operate a gun. They must also understand the various assembly requirements, such as fitting the action (moving parts) and barrel into the stock (handle or butt end). They must be able to attach optical sights, pistol grips, and recoil pads, and they may be asked to install new choking devices. Carrying out these adjustments calls for skill in stripping the old finish from the barrel and action.

A historical gun or one with sentimental value may need custom-made components for its action. After making these parts, a gunsmith puts the gun back together and test-fires it. To improve fit between metal action and wood stock, the gunsmith may use a glass-bedding process, in which liquid fiberglass lines the carved-out stock. The metal parts are then set in.

Education and Training Requirements

High school students interested in becoming gunsmiths should take woodworking, metalwork, and technical drawing courses at school. Some trade and technical schools offer gunsmithing. Some of these schools grant a diploma, and others have a two-year degree program. Courses include algebra, drafting, technical report writing, metallurgy, ballistics, and machine tool processes. Considerable time is spent doing practical shop work, which covers parts design, barrel fitting, soldering, welding, and custom stock making.

A gunsmith cleans a pistol in a workshop that is equipped with grinders, drill presses, lathes, saws, drills, and various metalworking tools. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

Experience in tool and die work may lead to jobs in gunsmithing. Most gunsmiths, however, either complete formal studies in gunsmithing or serve as apprentices with a gun manufacturer. Applicants can send resumes to arms manufacturers having a gunmaking division, or contact rifle clubs or shooting sports associations for information on jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Since most gun workshops are quite small, there is not a clear ladder of advancement for gunsmiths. Having obtained some capital and experience, a gunsmith can set up his or her own business.

The demand for gunsmiths is fairly steady. Since there are relatively few expert gunsmiths, craftspeople with good reputations will find jobs.

Working Conditions

Gunsmiths work indoors in workshops equipped with grinders, drill presses, lathes, saws, drills, and various metalworking tools. Generally gunsmiths do not work under great pressure, although before and during the hunting season it can get busy. Test firing may be rather noisy, but routine safety procedures have removed most of the risks. Retail gun stores employ gunsmiths who spend time talking to customers as well as repairing guns.

Where to Go for More Information

National Rifle Association of America
11250 Waples Mill Rd.
Fairfax, VA 22030
(703) 267-1000

American Gunsmithing Institute
1325 Imola Ave. W., No. 504
Napa, CA 94559
(800) 797-0867

Earnings and Benefits

In 2006 the salary range for gunsmiths was $18,000 to $35,000 per year. Gunsmiths in sports stores usually earn more than the regular sales staff. Self-employed gunsmiths can set their own rates, which can be quite high. However, they must buy their own parts and tools, some of which are very expensive. They must also provide their own health insurance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production