Becoming a Gunsmith: Job Description & Salary Info

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Gunsmiths earn a median salary of about $39,000. Is this worth the education and training requirements? Learn the truth about this occupation by reading job postings from real employers to decide if becoming a gunsmith is suitable for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming Gunsmith

Working as a gunsmith can be an appealing career opportunity if you are a firearms enthusiast or have a strong interest in repairing or restoring firearms. Following is a list of more pros and cons that can help you determine whether or not this profession is right for you:

Pros of Becoming a Gunsmith
Can work with various types of weapons*
High school diploma is the minimum education required*
Good earning potential for education requirements (top earners made about $60K as of July 2015)**

Cons of Becoming a Gunsmith
Exposure to firearms residue*
May need to meet age requirement to gain employment*
Possibility of accidentally firing weapon and causing bodily harm*
Risk of injuries from using certain machinery (grinders and milling machines)*

Sources: *Job Postings from Nov. and Dec. 2012, **PayScale.com.

Career Information

Gunsmiths are responsible for repairing and maintaining various types of firearms. This usually includes taking weapons apart for cleaning, using machinery to build and refinish parts and inspecting firearms to ensure all components are in optimal condition. Some employers may require you to be at least 21 years of age to work in this field. According to job postings, gunsmiths often work on domestic and foreign firearms. You may also work on other custom pieces and sporting weapons, such as rifles and shotguns. In some instances, you may teach or assist lead instructors with armorers classes (which typically cover maintenance and servicing) on firearms systems. Your job might also involve performing clerical functions, such as taking inventory, maintaining ammunition supplies and updating weapons catalogs.

According to PayScale.com, the salary for gunsmiths with 1-4 years of experience was about $24,000-$60,000, as of July 2015. Statistical information pertaining to the job outlook for gunsmiths was not available. However, data was available for similar occupations, such as millwrights and machinists, who also use tools to repair equipment and make parts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), millwrights were expected to have 18% job growth over 2012-2022, while machinists were projected to have a 9% increase in employment during that same period.

What Are the Requirements?

You typically need a high school diploma or GED to work as a gunsmith, according to job postings. For positions that require several years of experience, some employers may request that you have formal training from a certified gunsmith program. To perform your job successfully, you should have good manual dexterity to use machinery and tools to make repairs. You should also have basic knowledge of mechanic shop safety procedures and firearm operation principles. Some gunsmiths work for sporting goods and outdoor recreational companies, thus requiring these professionals to have strong selling skills. Additionally, you may be required to teach courses on firearms, which entails having good communication and interpersonal skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings revealed that employers look for candidates who have experience using machinery and tools to repair firearms. Employers also look for gunsmiths who have experience with factory armorer systems. Following is a list of job postings that can give you some insight into what real employers were looking for during November and December of 2012.

  • A major industrial company in Kentucky sought an entry-level gunsmith with knowledge of shop safety procedures, gunsmithing machinery and gauges. The candidate needed experience using tools such as files, hammers, grinders, latches and punches. Job duties included assembling and disassembling domestic and foreign firearms, inspecting and repairing small arms, preparing metal parts for refinishing, taking inventory of ammunition and assisting lead instructors with armorers courses.
  • A Georgia engineering and construction management company wanted to hire a gunsmith with a high school diploma or equivalent education. The candidate would be responsible for repairing foreign and domestic small arms, building custom pistols and participating in factory armorers courses. The employer looked for someone with knowledge of internal and external ballistics, gunsmithing machinery and tools and the ability to understand blueprint drawings.
  • An outdoor retail merchandiser in Pennsylvania sought an applicant with five years of experience in gunsmith services who was at least 21 years of age. The candidate would be responsible for managing the gunsmith department, preparing firearms for display, repairing firearms and meeting sales goals. Job requirements included completion of a certified gunsmith program and possession of a high school diploma or GED.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can stand out and improve your job prospects by completing a gunsmithing certificate program. Many community colleges offer basic and advanced courses in areas such as rifle and shotgun triggering, blueprint reading, custom barrel fitting, firing mechanics, hand tools and metal refinishing. You can also take professional courses from the American Gunsmithing Institute. Topics covered in these courses include Smith and Wesson revolvers, disassembling and assembling techniques, auto-pistol feeding and trigger repair.

You can also stand out by obtaining a professional certification as an armorer. For example, the Sig Sauer Academy offers factory armorer certification courses for Sig Sauer pistols. Courses cover topics such as adjustments, installation and inspection procedures.

Alternative Career Paths

Industrial Machinery Mechanic

If you enjoy working with your hands to repair equipment, then you might also consider becoming an industrial machinery mechanic. In this position, you will perform duties such as repairing and replacing defective parts, disassembling and testing machinery, calibrating equipment and reading technical documents. You typically need to complete at least one year of postsecondary training to become an industrial machinery mechanic, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that from 2010-2020, these professionals were projected to have 19% increase in employment. As of May 2011, the BLS found that industrial machinery mechanics earned a median wage of approximately $46,000.

Millwrights

You can also work on heavy machinery in an industrial environment as a millwright. The BLS noted that these professionals usually complete an associate's degree program in industrial maintenance or a 4-year formal apprentice program. As a millwright, you may work at a construction site, factory or power plant. Typical job duties include adjusting, disassembling, installing and repairing complex machinery and equipment. Your job will also involve using cutting and welding tools and equipment such as cranes, forklifts and hoists. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that millwrights earned a median wage of about $49,000.

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