A friend wants to become a gunsmith.

My friend Scott signed up for the Yavapai school of professional gunsmithing. The first challenge was the list of required materials for the first semester, which is beyond his current resources. Part of the list is the expected tools, the other is the unexpected, varied firearms. We are trying to figure out if anyone, organizations or individuals, would be able to sponsor his education or advise on other ways of making this happen. I would appreciate any advice or assistance extended to Scott.

Machine Shop Tools
 Roll away tool chest 18” Deep x 30” Wide x 34” Tall max.
 Dial Calipers
 0-1 Micrometer
 115 pc. Drill Set (The cheap imports won’t work)
 Center Drill Set
 Tap Set (Brownell’s gunsmithing set)
 Tap Wrench,
 60 degree thread pitch gage,
 60 degree center gage
 55 degree center gage
 6” flexible steel rule 16R
 Carbide Scribe
 Dial Test Indicator .0005
 Magnetic indicator base (mighty mag) w/1” indicator
 Indicol or equivalent
 Combination Square,
 Edge Finder
 Gunsmith Screwdriver Set (Brownell’s or Midway)
 Assorted 20 pc. end mill set
 Three 5/16 or 3/8 High Speed Square Tool Bits
 10-12” Bastard Cut File
 File Chalk,
 Ball Hex Wrenches,
 Nylon/Brass Punch,
 Pin Punch Set,
 Nylon Hammer,
 Small Ballpein Hammer (4-8oz.)
 Hacksaw w/24 or 32TPI blade
 12” Cresent wrench
 Tapping Fluid for Steel
 Tapping Fluid for Alum.
 Dykem Layout Fluid, (Blue)
 One padlock 1/4 dia
 Safety Glasses
 Notebooks, Pen/Pencils
 Browning A5 or Remington 11
 Win.12
 Ithaca 37
 Rem. 870 or 1100 series
 Mossberg 500 (aluminum receiver cannot blue but OK for shotgun class)
 Recoil Pad to fit your shotgun Brownells Approx. 20.00
 Rem 700
 Win 70
 Savage 110, 112, 116 etc.
 Marlin 336 or 94 Win. (some 94’s will not hot blue)
 M1 Garand or M1A type rifle
 AR-15 type rifle (hard anodized cannot refinish at school)
 One Mauser 98 Bolt Action Rifle the metal should be complete.
Metal Refinishing
Four weapons made of steel (no stainless or
aluminum). Any number combination of rifles, shotguns or handguns.
 Your rifle from the rifle list will work if it is steel & needs refinishing.
 Your shotgun from shotgun class will work if it is steel & needs refinishing.
 Any blued steel pistol or revolver in need of refinishing.
 Rubber Boots
 Heavy Rubber Gloves
 Long Sleeved Shirt (Sweatshirt)
 Particulate Respirator (Suitable for grinding dust & wood dust)
 One bottle of slow rust bluing solution. Brownells
 One gal. WD40 with spray bottle
 One package each of 120, 240, 320, 600 grit wet and dry sand paper.
Note: It is not necessary to purchase all of the above guns for the above classes. They
may be borrowed from friend or family.
General needs
 A personal lap top or a tablet. The facility is wireless.
 3 feet of 1 ¼” mild steel round stock (hot or cold rolled)
 1 foot of ¼” x 4” cold rolled flat stock
 A couple, nasty old used screw drivers for regrinding.
 Also plan on about $100.00 for other misc. project materials.


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29 Responses to A friend wants to become a gunsmith.

  1. Ian says:

    My blunt advice would be that unless he has a remarkably good reason, he should not go to gunsmithing school. It’s great if you have a preexisting connection to a good job in the field, and otherwise it’s a ticket to either unemployment or a lot of really bland drudge work (cleaning guns, mounting scopes, fixing revolver hands, replacing extractors, etc). It will not lead to building custom guns or other cool and fun careers.


    • Lyle says:

      “It will not lead to building custom guns or other cool and fun careers.”

      It certainly can lead to building custom guns and other cool and fun stuff, if you just do it, rather than counting on someone else to “put you” into that position out of the kindness of their heart.

  2. staghounds says:

    If they will be returned after repair and refinishing, I’m good for a couple of steel pistols. He ought to get plenty of broken guns donated! Craigslist might be a good resource for the tools.

  3. Paul Koning says:

    Interesting to see center drills listed. Not that they are expensive, but it’s not obvious what you’d do with those, unless you’re going to turn stuff between centers, or otherwise mount stuff between centers — which aren’t listed.

    • Ian says:

      I often used center drills to mark/start holes. They are much shorter than regular bits and offer better precision for starting holes (less flex and walk).

      • Paul Koning says:

        That makes sense. But if you’re going to buy the tool, spotting drills are better for that job, less fragile, more rigid, and probably less expensive.

  4. Gewehr98 says:

    I have a Kahr K9 that is in desparate need of refinishing, plus an extractor repair…

  5. Steelheart says:

    Here’s a link to a FB gunsmithing group that should be a good resource. Yes, I’m an admin there but no, I’m not a gunsmith. I just know how to run a gun group/forum etc.

    I’ve never seen any postings there about needing all that stuff for people who are asking about going to a school.


  6. JHat says:

    That’s a pretty hardcore startup list; much worse than my two year Tool and Die program. If students are responsible for consumables like chemicals and steel stock, is the tuition at least manageable?

    @Ian: How do you feel about center drills versus spotting drills? Our CNC training favors spotting drills, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of using center drills outside of lathe work…

    • JA says:

      I was trained to use center drills to start holes on the lathe, mill, and press, simply because they are less likely to snap or wander.

      I will admit that I do not think I’ve ever used a spotting drill, so I cannot compare result.

  7. JA says:

    I’d suggest spending a bit more than the minimum on the dial calipers and micrometer.

    It can make a big difference in final results and ease of use.

  8. revjen45 says:

    As a graduate of the Lassen Community College program in 1982 I would advise him to have a wife with a good job. I can’t complain, since my degree in Professional Gunsmithing got me an aerospace job as a Manufacturing Engineering Planner (from which I will be retiring this Summer), but Gunsmithing has a tremendous failure rate. He will need a reliable source of income other than Gunsmithing for at least 5 years and the ability to recognize when he should consider another line of work. If this discourages him, he wouldn’t have made it anyway. If it doesn’t I wish him all good fortune and prosperity.

  9. Tom in Wisconsin says:

    A gunsmithing school that requires WD-40 and a gallon of it at that? Setting that aside, I would also recommend against gunsmithing as a school choice. The money could be much better spent on learning to be a machinist or a welder. Neither of those rule out working on firearms and will likely help out considerably both in income and/or general mechanical skills.

    • Paul Koning says:

      I missed the WD-40 line item. That’s really weird. It’s hard to imagine a gunsmithing application for WD-40. It’s not a lubricant, nor a cleaner. For loosening screws that are rusted hard into place? I suppose that’s possible, but no way would that use a gallon of the stuff.
      I’m beginning to wonder if this outfit is qualified. Are there other ways to learn the trade? Apprentice programs, perhaps? Given what I’ve been reading here, if I were looking to learn that field I would much rather look for a good gunsmith who will take on an apprentice/assistant.

      • Miles says:

        Both Yavapai and Trinidad college gunsmith degrees are considered top notch in the trade and are frequently listed as prerequisites for civilian gunsmiths (equipment specialists and smallarms repairers) in the civil service.

      • Tom in Wisconsin says:

        ATR, Kroil and Mouse Milk are all far superior for any of the uses you list. WD-40 has no business being used on anything. As for other ways to learn the trade, you are only limited by your imagination and effort that you put into your search.

    • Ralph says:

      WD-40 is used as a lubricant for machining (turning/milling/threading) aluminum, and sometimes steel. If the student is expected to do some practice cuts on machine tools, and the bar stock they list is a good indicator, I suspect this will be where the student will blow through WD-40 like beer at a lawnmower festival. If the school had specified two cans of the stuff, I’d suspect it would be used for the usual lubricating reasons. The quantity they’re suggesting could, I think, only be used by someone learning how to use a lathe and mill or the school is intending to teach the students how to flatten/lap parts using the wet/dry sandpaper and a surface plate (or some cheap granite countertop drops).
      The alternative cheap lubricant is kerosene. If I’m right about the purpose for the WD-40, the school probably doesn’t want 2 gallons times x students of kerosene sitting around their shop just waiting for a fire. Not that kerosene is particularly dangerous, but WD-40 has a bit higher flash point.

      Again, assuming I’m right based on the sandpaper, WD-40, and bar stock, then the school may be intending to teach actual smithing rather than gun part assembly. I’d be more impressed if they had required Casenit and stainless foil for heat treating instruction.

      • Paul Koning says:

        I’ve never heard of WD-40 for use as a cutting lubricant. It would seem rather dangerous if used on power tools (being rather flammable) and in any case there the main ingredient is water because you need coolant. And not for tapping, either; there are specific tap fluids, these days politically correct ones that may not work as well as the older sulphur-based ones.
        Kerosene does show up as a listed cutting lubricant in 80 year old textbooks, but only for some metals and some operations. I forgot which ones — cast iron, perhaps? Not steel, as far as I remember.

  10. Miles says:

    Unless the young man in question has a federal civil service GS-1710 Ordnance Equipment Specialist position lined up, he’d do well to consider spending the money for a machinist/tool and die maker course if he’s interested in hands on machinery work.

  11. David says:

    Yavapai may be THE gunsmith school out there, and while there is the possibility of dreary “fit my recoil pad” moments, a motivated student can do much more.

    I’m not familiar with the school’s requirements for firearms, but I’d talk to an admittance counselor about which requirements are hard for starting and which can wait or be waived overall.

    As time goes by, those with good craftsmanship, I mean GREAT craftsmanship, become less and less. We will always need those who can craft magic from mere steel, aluminum, and ::sigh:: plastic.

  12. revjen45 says:

    A 50/50 mix of ATF and acetone is probably the best and cheapest penetrating lubricant around. Back to your regularly scheduled programming…

  13. SportPilot says:

    CL and like sites for some of the tool’s, yard sales and pawn shops for surprise tool and broken gun finds. I realize the GSS will offer opportunities other then gunsmith work so more power to the friend in question. Others have already pointed out tool & die as well as instrument repair machinist schools. My thoughts are any CNC or other training can come after the fact. The two year associates program can also apply towards a ME/EE or like engineering core.

  14. Will says:

    Should we assume he has a slot in the Fall 2015 class? How soon does he need to acquire the various tools/tooling/equipment in the list?

    I may have a couple of the items listed that are surplus to my needs. Clarification of specifics may be needed, to ensure it is correct for classroom use.

  15. Warren says:

    I just bought a beater 870, and I guess I wouldn’t mind if someone went over it to check for parts that need replacing and refinished it. It’s got some rust – he might want to see pics if it before he accepts the job. 🙂

    How would shipping be handled? I hope it wouldn’t have to be shipped FFL to FFL – that can be pricey in my experience.

  16. Lyle says:

    Hang on to my Uberti Remington for the time being if it helps.

    I would like to put the bug in your ear, so to speak, that learning basic machining has a LOT of merrit, whether you intend to do gunsmithing, or any other trade or craft that involves cutting metals. Understanding the various features of a cutting tool, cutting angles and so on, and how to set the tool to the work, will go a LONG way, no matter what. I’ve employed several people who fancied themselves as machinists who didn’t understand the basics, and that caused them to flub up in several ways, for a very long time.

    YOU CANNOT BYPASS THE BASICS. I’ve seen it several times, where a person considers the basics as a waste of time. The basics, the real, fundamental, down and dirty, nitty gritty is EVERYTHING upon which all the sexy, cool stuff is based. Learn how to use a hand file, for example, to cut a lump of steel to a perfect cube to within a couple thousandths of an inch, and you’ll be the vastly superior CNC programmer and operator. Learn how to hand grind a cutting tool to all the proper angles for cutting threads, and then cut some inside and outside threads on a common screw lathe, mating them to one another, and you will have found the path to wisdom. Not wisdom, per se, but the PATH. Learn how to make a beautiful, inside square shoulder and so. Learn to make a running fit, a slip fit and a press fit in various metals. Learn heat treating, case hardening, color case hardening, and tempering, and how to judge temperature by color.

    Gunsmithing would be something you get into after getting a good handle on the basics. Maybe you have that already, but there it is in case anyone else is insterested.

    You know what I told a customer today? He said he had a “gunsmith” assemble his UltiMAK AK (he was having problems with it, you see). I told him that whenever I hear that dreaded “G-Word” the red flags go up, because a very disproportionately high number of the installation problems we hear about come from “gunsmiths” doing the installation. They second-guess the system you see, all to hell, rather than just chilling out and following the bloddy directions like a normal person.

    The proper definition of a “gunsmith” by the way, is someone who can take a random hunk of steel, and a dead tree, and turn it into an exquisite firearm. I’ve never personally met a gunsmith then, but I’ve dealt with big bunch of “G-Words”.

    • Paul Koning says:

      Using a file to that level of skill you mentioned is a classic test of metalworking skill. It was, I believe, considered normal in the early 20th century. As was, for that matter, the ability to cut a piece of metal to a given shape using a cold chisel and hammer.
      I’m a modestly skilled amateur, but I’m not even close to meeting spec for either of those skills.
      On the other hand, “gun smiths” per your definition can be found: from what I understand, there are hundreds of them in the Khyber pass area. At least, those are places where reportedly you can find craftsmen working in one room shops, sitting on a dirt floor with a vise and a file, turning metal into functional AK-47 clones.

  17. Pol Mordreth says:

    I don’t think he needs all those firearms. From the wording used in the “Metal Refinishing” section of the list he may only need one off each of the rifle and shotgun lists, plus 2 more of any type. Have him check with the school about that.


  18. Bill McKay says:

    I am in my 36th year as a gunsmith. Tell your friend to contact me if he needs help or guidance. I would be happy to assist.

    I will say that the comment about having a “working wife” is not too far from wrong.

    Schools are the only place for a young fellow to start out.

    As to tools and equipment, here again have him contact me and I’ll try to help him out.
    If it matters…when I started out one of my first projects was to grind and heat treat my own set of square blade gun screwdrivers out of junk standard blade screwdrivers. An excellent way to begin learning patience and attention to detail. Every apprentice I’ve started begins there.

    Regards, Bill

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