What is a Gunsmith?

A gunsmith takes guns that aren’t working properly and brings them back to their original condition to ensure proper function, safety, and appearance. This can be done by either fixing, replacing, modifying, or creating parts. Gunsmiths can also apply engravings, carvings, and other decorative features to an otherwise finished gun.

Gunsmiths interact with a wide variety of customers and remain abreast of, and comply with, federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, and requirements.

What does a Gunsmith do?

Ensuring that guns work and function safely is the primary technical responsibility of a gunsmith. They strictly observe gun safety handling procedures, and also ensure safe mechanical operation of the gun.

They assess the firearm, determine where the shortcoming or failure is originating from, repair any deficiencies and bring the firearm back within specifications. Often, the part malfunction or safety concern is often hard to see with the naked eye or is so small that it has to be systematically determined.

A gunsmith holding a gun.

A lot of the work that general gunsmiths do involves metalwork, woodwork, fabrication, and parts fitting, and to a smaller extent large machine work like lathe turning, milling or drilling operations, grinding, sandblasting, and other material preparation as well as chemical work.

Gun deficiencies include:

  • Improper assembly
  • Missing parts
  • Cracks
  • Bore obstructions
  • Improper headspace
  • Improper timing
  • Safety-mechanism malfunctions
  • Worn sear edges
  • Deformed firing-pin tips

Gunsmiths can specialize in different areas, such as:

Custom Gunsmith Builder/Designer
These gunsmiths build guns from raw materials and shelf parts to meet their customer's specifications. They often do custom work for professional target-shooters, sports shooters, or anyone that wants custom features added to their firearm. They also build firearms for hunters and shooters that want more than what is offered by standard gun manufacturers. They work with engravers and other artists to produce unique finishes and decorations.

However, some highly skilled gunsmiths can complete all firearm modifications without anyone else in the industry helping them.

These gunsmiths apply chemical processes (like browning, bluing, Parkerization, etc.,) to develop corrosion resistant surface layers on the steel part of the gun, and may also apply case hardening (a combined chemical and heat-treatment process) to low carbon steel parts. This results in a thin, very hard surface layer with a tough, malleable core. This process can introduce rich colours into the carbonized surface, known as colour case hardening, and is prized for its rich mottled blues, purples, browns and grey tones.

The coloured surface layers are subject to wear and may also fade with time. Renewing this colour case hardening to the specific patterns of the firearm when it was new has become an important sub-area of the gunsmithing field.

These gunsmiths carve gun stocks from wood (usually walnut is used; but sometimes birch, maple, and apple wood is used). They fit stocks to the metal parts of the gun as well as to the customer's body dimensions.

The fit is vital with custom made shotguns, as the shot cloud's impact is largely determined by the way the stock fits the shooter. This calls for a very high level of skill and craftsmanship, as the finished product must be visually pleasing, fit the shooting customer perfectly, and be able to withstand high levels of recoil from firing many thousands of rounds.

Wood gunstocks may be fashioned with automated machinery while high end gunstocks are hand made using saws, chisels, gouges, rasps, and files, and finished by sanding, scraping, staining, oiling, or lacquering.

These gunsmiths use checkering tools to create an ornate pattern of small raised diamonds in the wood surfaces which are to be gripped. Tiny saws designed to leave a v-shaped groove (of approximately 60 to 90 degrees) in the surface of the wooden gunstock are used. The area to be checkered is covered by one set of grooves parallel to each other. A second set of parallel grooves is then executed across the first set, at approximately a 30-degree angle, leaving the area covered with small, pointed diamonds.

Gun Engraver
These gunsmiths use hand-powered tools to engrave metal. They use hand-gravers or die-sinker's chisels to cut designs or pictures into the metal surfaces of the gun. The gun engraver must first be an artist that can come up with the desired design freehand on paper, and must have a thorough knowledge of human and animal anatomy, perspective, botany, and composition. The size and geometry of the parts must also be considered, and harmony between all these factors must artistically agree. Typically, the customer must be consulted and must approve the design.

The design must then be cut freehand into the tough hardened steel surfaces of the firearm. Other metals (such as gold and silver) may be inlaid and engraved to further the design. Designs usually consist of scroll-work, or may be of purely abstract spirals. Top grade engraving is very expensive. However, tastefully designed engraving always adds significantly to the value of a firearm.

These gunsmiths work on pistols and revolvers, and are proficient in a range of skills such as woodworking, checkering, machining, metal finishing and metalworking. Often a pistolsmith is called on for the customization of a handgun making it better suited for its intended purpose. Standard model target pistols can receive extensive reworking by skilled pistolsmiths resulting in greater accuracy than the standard versions of the same arm.

A pistolsmith may also construct a completely hand fitted target arm using a serial numbered frame as the base. Specialist manufacturers supply parts possessing excess metal in certain areas so the pistolsmith can fit these parts together to exacting tolerances. The pistolsmith can then build extremely accurate firearms that exceed the usual accuracy of standard models of the same model. Some pistolsmiths only work on one or two types of manufacturers pistols, while the more highly trained pistolsmiths will work on more.

(Niche) Gun Manufacturer
These gunsmiths use their experience and skills to become small-operation manufacturers, specializing in making only a few types of gun parts. Some of the more important part categories are barrels, trigger assemblies, receivers, and locks.

Are you suited to be a gunsmith?

Gunsmiths have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if gunsmith is one of your top career matches.

Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

What is the workplace of a Gunsmith like?

As a general gunsmith, one could expect a large majority of time to be spent cleaning, disassembling, and examining all types of guns, and then performing minor parts replacement and obvious, straightforward repairs.

Gunsmiths may be employed in factories, by firearms manufacturers, armouries, military or law-enforcement agencies, sporting goods stores, or small gunsmith shops. Most gunsmiths work a regular 40 hour work week.

However, If a gunsmith is trying to restore or repair a gun for a customer that has a deadline, some overtime may be required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Gunsmith?

To answer this question, aspiring gunsmiths need to first ask themselves several other specific, targeted questions:

Do I enjoy technical work?
As a gunsmith, you must understand the inner workings of firearms and be able to solve technical, weapon component issues.

Do I possess the qualities and characteristics that I will need to obtain a gunsmith position?
To construct or repair the various components of firearms, gunsmiths must possess exemplary mechanical skills. Manual dexterity, excellent hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail are also required, due to the need to sometimes work with very small weapon components, such as levers and springs. Troubleshooting skills also come into play, as gunsmiths often have to identify and diagnose firearm issues.

Do I have the necessary customer service and marketing skills?
Being that much of your income will come from customers who request specific items, you will need to be comfortable interacting with a diverse clientele. In addition, you will be most successful if you operate your own business, which will demand that you have some degree of understanding of business management and marketing. Building and maintaining a wide professional network and a strong reputation is critical to success in this field. This can be achieved by attending gun fairs, industry events, or through volunteering at local gun related events, shooting matches, and gun clubs.

Does the gunsmith work environment suit me?
Gunsmiths work indoors in workshops equipped with grinders, drill presses, lathes, saws, drills, and various metalworking tools. Test firing is noisy. Other hazards include fumes, heat, and powder smoke. The environment calls for workers with normal hearing and no skin allergies.

What sort of lifestyle am I seeking?
While gunsmiths derive a lot of personal satisfaction from doing quality work, the trade does not typically support a flashy or extravagant lifestyle.

How long does it take to become a Gunsmith?

Although a gunsmith degree or certificate can be earned in two years or less, it often takes several years of practice for gunsmiths to achieve the level of expertise required to open and operate their own businesses. Some gunsmiths enter the field after gaining experience in the military or working as a machinist. This route, of course, adds time to the learning curve.

Associate degree programs in gunsmithing take approximately two years to complete and commonly include general education coursework in English, mathematics, and science. Certificate programs take less time to complete and do not cover general education courses. Some schools form partnerships with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and offer basic skills training via short-term or summer school curricula.

What are Gunsmiths like?

For most gunsmiths, their occupation is more than a job. It is very much a lifestyle. Without a love of firearms, or at least a significant interest in all things mechanical, it would be difficult to take on a position as a gunsmith and feel good about it. Most gunsmiths are extremely focused practitioners. They find great satisfaction in being able to manipulate the capabilities of a firearm. They attain a sense of awe and a feeling of legacy in knowing that their personal touch becomes part of every gun on which they work.

Are Gunsmiths happy?

Creating, repairing, customizing, and designing a variety of guns can prove rewarding and fascinating for individuals interested in working with firearms. Gunsmithing is certainly among the careers which for some practitioners start out as a hobby and transition to a way to earn a living that really does not feel like work.

The fact that this occupation does not require expensive, lengthy university studies is also appealing to many aspiring gunsmiths. The variety of work environments is another draw to the field; in addition to the possibility of establishing a private business, opportunities exist with gun shops, sporting goods stores, firearms factories, the military, and police forces.

Job satisfaction for gunsmiths may also come from combining a passion for firearms with a desire to promote firearm safety. Some gunsmiths find fulfillment in the self-expression which the field offers: those with artistic talents may take great pride in adding engraved designs and other decorative touches to guns. Finally, the popularity of firearms and the practical need for high-quality guns ensures job security and also ensures that the gunsmith’s skills will be useful throughout the U.S.

On the downside, industrialization and design improvement have, to some degree, curtailed specialization and artisanship in the industry. Most people can obtain a quality product at a reasonable price directly from a manufacturer, therefore reducing the need for custom gunsmithing. Still, among more affluent purchasers, there is a trend towards more expensive, much more elaborate custom firearms.

Gunsmiths are also known as:
Custom Gunsmith Pistolsmith