Education: Learn to Become a Gunsmith
The average person might not think twice about hiring a handyman or mobile mechanic off of Craigslist, but the same can’t be said of a gunsmith. The amount of implicit trust that’s required to hand over a firearm to someone cannot be understated. But if you’re trying to cut your teeth as gunsmith, it’s difficult to know where to go, what to do, and how to get started.
The Federal Firearms License
As long as you haven’t pulled off the bank heist of the century or burned your ex’s house to the ground in a fit of rage, there’s a chance you may be a good candidate for a federal firearms license. Jokes aside, it’s a process you need to prepare for well in advance. While you may think it’s as simple as filling out a form and waiting for the background check to give you the all clear, the assessment isn’t nearly so simple.
Be prepared for an interview and no short amount of scrutiny. A good rule of thumb is: if anything on your social media profiles would warrant a sigh of disapproval from your grandmother, take it down before you ever think about turning in your paperwork.
Get ready to lay all of your cards on the table. If you’ve had any mental health struggles, be prepared to clarify when the interview comes. Were you dishonorably discharged from the military? Were you in a fight in the eighth grade because someone just wouldn’t keep their hands off of your pudding cup? Okay, that last one probably won’t come up, but anything is fair game, so be prepared.
You can find the paperwork you need here.
A Note on Education
Everyone knows the formula for success in a skilled trade: Get an education, get an apprenticeship, join the requisite professional organizations, and get working. The problem with the formula, of course, is that the age-old path to success often has more than a few detours- and no shortage of pot holes.
For starters, if you’re looking into your educational options, and time and distance have put limitations on where you can go to school, you might be considering online options. If you’ve asked yourself what the real value of online education is when you’ve got tons of YouTube tutorials available to you, you’re definitely asking the right questions.
The issue with modern education isn’t how the instruction is delivered, but who is delivering it and what expertise they have to offer. Find out who’s teaching the courses at schools you’re interested in, what they’ve achieved, and seek out their students wherever you can. Ask all the questions you can. Would they recommend the program to you? What would they do differently if they could start over? What weren’t they prepared for? Education is a big investment, so shop smart.
It’s worth mentioning that your future customers aren’t likely to know anything about the school you attended- or even care, for that matter. So why even bother? Because education is going to give you a clear pathway into apprenticeships. We’ve all heard that it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts. And while that’s only partially true, it’s true nonetheless. You need to get to know people who have the same ambition as you.
School is where you find out about opportunities, and that’s what you need to get started.
If your goal is work as a gunsmith in retail or manufacturing, and you’ve got a journeyman’s certificate in hand, you may be well on your way. However, if your goals are more entrepreneurial, you’ve got a little bit of a challenge ahead. Electricians and carpenters are often enthusiastic about having an extra pair of hands around, but Gunsmiths with busy schedules can be likely to find another person in the workshop to be more of a hinderance than anything else. So how do you get a foot in the door?
You Need Specialization
No matter what it is you’re trying to do in life, there’s a strange cognitive dissonance that makes us believe that we need to have a wide skill set to get started- which couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re learning French, you don’t need automotive vocabulary to order off a menu in your favorite restaurant. If you want to paint with watercolors, you don’t need to be an expert in anatomy to paint landscapes. Concordantly, you don’t need to be an expert in every facet of firearm maintenance to be a gunsmith. And it should come as no surprise that the gunsmiths you’d like to learn from also don’t know everything. To put a more positive spin on it, they have specialties.
Specialties aren’t always simply a matter of experience. Gunsmithing gear doesn’t come cheap, and no one who is just starting out should have the goal of owning a fully-decked-out workshop strait away. That just isn’t a reasonable expectation to have. Even the professionals you admire would probably say they wish they had a few more tools around- and that’s where you come in. Are you really great at engraving, but want to learn how to float barrels from the best? If you can find a great gunsmith who doesn’t have the engraving chops (and/or gear) that you do, then congratulations. You are officially useful to the very people you need to connect with.
You should specialize in something that’s accessible to you and that you can enjoy doing. Find others that do the same, gain a new skill, rinse and repeat. If you’re still working on making professional connections, you can find a directory of qualified gunsmiths near you here.
Joining professional organizations not only adds to your professional credibility, it also plugs you into contacts and publications that you might not otherwise have. That said, choose an organization that aligns itself with developing professional skills rather than pursuing political goals. Separating professionalism from politics is becoming increasingly difficult, but unless your goal is to ‘get involved’ so to speak, it’s best not to get distracted from the task at hand. Do your research. Find where the professional organization of your choosing gets its funding and if they meet your standards for reputability.
Joining an organization is typically a financial commitment, so don’t support anything that doesn’t benefit you. And that financial component is precisely why I’m not name dropping or endorsing anyone. It’s your money, not mine, and no one should influence your choice. Money is finite, and funds that could be put towards new tools and education should never be spent on something that you feel you have to do in order to succeed. So much of what we do in our academic and professional careers is based on what others expect of us, and meeting those expectations doesn’t always equate with success in my experience.
Not matter what anyone tells you about how to become a gunsmith, your path might be different. Get the expertise you need, get licensed, and get going. If you haven’t already read my previous article on how to network, and you think you can stomach a few more words from me, it might be worth a look. Some of the suggestions there may be obvious, but little things aren’t always evident when you’ve got your sights set on big goals. Keep your expectations and your steel well-tempered, and get out there.
Images courtesy of Oleg Volk
Written by: Lanna Perkins, Education Writer