Crafting a Career Change to Gunsmithing

As the world of firearms has opened up to women, so have the jobs that accompany their use and care.

by posted on September 28, 2020
Gunsmith 4
Image courtesy Trinidad State Junior College

Professional lives around the world were altered when the COVID-19 health crisis took hold, with employers and employees modifying how and where they work. Millions more lost their jobs permanently. Pandemic or not, if you are currently re-examining your career, it might be time to follow your heart. If you like working with your hands and love guns, perhaps you should consider becoming a gunsmith.

“There is a demand for gunsmiths all across the country,” says Laura Gowen, Gunsmithing Applications Intake Person, Trinidad State Junior College, Trinidad, Colorado. “We have produced several fine female gunsmithing students over the years, and encourage any prospective students to apply to the program!”

Image courtesy Trinidad State Junior College

While gunsmithing, the trade that repairs, assembles, modifies or build firearms, has been a traditionally male-dominated field, many women are happily discovering it is a rewarding career after all. Statistics show that more and more women are purchasing firearms—in fact, 40 percent of new gun purchases this year have been to women—and like any gun owner, they need them cleaned, repaired or modified.

“When a female firearm owner walks in to a gunshop, and sees a woman gunsmith, chances are they are going to be more comfortable with the encounter,” says Bob Thacker, president of the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School in Pittsburgh. “When a female gunsmith hands the firearm back to the customer, and she is happy with the work, her face lights up, it’s a wonderful feeling. That female gunsmith is fulfilling the shooting requests of another woman. It’s an incredible experience.”

Image courtesy Trinidad State Junior College

Gunsmithing as a Career
The gunsmiths I know like their profession because they say it combines technical, mechanical work with a type of artistry. “Gunsmithing as a career includes satisfaction earned from creating functional and often decorative firearms that customers will treasure for years,” says Gowen. “There is accomplishment in continuing a tradition as someone whose craft is unique and skills are always in demand.”

“Gunsmithing also has the advantage of diverse opportunities for careers,” notes Gowen.  “Students often find their love for stock making, lathe work, or decorative finishes are where their greatest satisfaction lies, and pursue careers tailored to those specific skills.”

A Call to Women
“We have more gunsmiths that are retiring today than we have people to fill those positions,” notes Thacker. “There are many openings on our job board that go unfilled. It’s a travesty we don’t have more female graduates.”

Image courtesy Trinidad State Junior College

Thacker said that in his experience, women possess all the skills necessary to become a good gunsmith, such as manual dexterity, fine motor skills, and good communication skills. “They are also excellent problem solvers, and can be very analytical,” he said. “I’ve also noticed that women often have very high standards, and can be extremely precise when it comes to working on firearms. Man or woman, those are necessary skills in repairing and modifying firearms.”

Images courtesy Colorado School of Trades

Virtual vs. Hands-On Learning
There are two main types of gunsmithing schools—in-person, and online, or virtual learning. According to Thacker, the in-person school has its advantages. “There’s no doubt in my mind that in-person, or hands-on learning, is superior to virtual learning, especially when it comes to the trades, such as gunsmithing,” says Thacker. “When you have to learn how to operate heavy machinery, it’s nice to have an instructor looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doing it correctly. That’s not possible with online classes.”

Gowen agrees. “Our gunsmithing instructors firmly believe that hands-on learning is the most effective method of attaining a solid understanding of the craft.”

Program Details
Some gunsmithing schools are private, and others are community colleges that offer gunsmithing as part of their community college curriculum. Depending on which school you choose, programs can run anywhere from a few months, to two years in length. Trinidad State Junior College, which also offers an NRA Summer Gunsmith Program, has a two-year gunsmithing program. Total cost of tuition, room and board varies on whether you are earning a certificate or a two-year degree.

Pennsylvania Gunsmith School offers a 16-month consecutive program, and regularly meets with industry representatives to fine-tune what topics they should include in their classes to increase the chances of their graduates finding employment.

Topics covered at most gunsmithing schools include:

  • Firearm function, design, and repair
  • Cycle of operation
  • Polishing
  • Bluing
  • Checkering
  • Custom stock making and finishing
  • Recoil pad installation
  • Stock repairs
  • Welding
  • Lathe work
  • Custom barrel fitting
  • Sight installation
  • Reloading
  • Custom alterations

Where Could You Work?
As a gunsmith, you can open up your own shop, or work with others. You can also work for any gun manufacturer, such as Springfield, Ruger, Winchester, Smith & Wesson, etc. Gunsmiths are also employed by government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the U.S. Secret Service.

Gunsmithing Schools

*These NRA-approved affiliated schools also offer short-term gunsmithing courses to aspiring gunsmiths. These courses are held during the spring and summer months, and can range from several days to two weeks. Prices vary according to the course and school. The number of students are limited in each course, and due to popularity, they fill up quickly. Upon completion of the course, you will receive a certificate of completion from the school. However, you must complete the long-term gunsmithing program through one of these schools to receive an official certification as a gunsmith

About the Author: Maureen P. Sangiorgio is an NRA-Certified Firearm Instructor/Range Safety Officer.


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