Secrets to Operating a Successful Gunsmithing Business

gunsmith, Sig SAUER gunsmith

Whether you open your own business or are employed by a big company—like this gunsmith at Sig SAUER—working on firearms can be a fun and rewarding career. If you’re going to strike out on your own, however, there are some keys that will help you more efficiently turn a profit.

By Gene Kelly
President, American Gunsmithing Institute

Gunsmithing can be a wonderful hobby, but it can also become very profitable if you keep in mind a few of the secrets to successfully operating it as a business. Here are a few of the secrets of prosperous gunsmiths.

Know what you want to get from the business.

The key to success in any business venture is knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. While that sounds really simple, it isn’t. Most people have only a vague idea of what they want to accomplish when they start on their own, and gunsmiths are no different. They know they want to be their own boss, they want to have the fun and thrill of fixing firearms and they want to make money. But, beyond that, they probably haven’t written down actual goals, like the amount of money they want to generate by the business, both gross and net, much less converting that to the number of sales, repairs, services, etc. they need to do each month to cover the expenses and put a nice profit in their pocket.

This isn’t difficult to do, shouldn’t be scary and it is covered thoroughly in the complete American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) Business Success Tool Box Course. If you are interested in gunsmithing as a hobby or as a way to supplement your retirement income, this process becomes slightly less necessary. Your goal may be just to enjoy repairing guns and to bask in the admiration of those who are less skilled—nothing wrong with that. However, if you want to generate a significant income from your gunsmithing business, THIS is the precise spot where you need to start.

The ability to efficiently diagnose a problem—or recognize when a component is not to blame for a malfunction—will help speed gunsmithing operations. That’s just some of what you learn if you take AGI’s Professional Design, Function and Repair Gunsmithing Course.

The ability to efficiently diagnose a problem—or recognize when a component is not to blame for a malfunction—will help speed gunsmithing operations. That’s just some of what you learn if you take AGI’s Professional Design, Function and Repair Gunsmithing Course.

So set some simple and basic goals to start. Don’t overcomplicate things. Think about how much you would like to put in the bank each month (profit).

Know your operating costs, and decide on and maintain adequate profit margins to meet your goals.

Most gunsmiths fail simply because they don’t charge what they need to cover overhead and still make a significant profit. They seem to be afraid to charge what their knowledge and skills are really worth. They often price a job low, because that is what the starving gunsmith down the road is charging and he has been charging that for 20 years, or, “This gun is only worth X, so I can only charge Y.” Wrong!!! The market will bear more than you think. People WANT to SPEND MONEY on their gun. This is one of the key areas I work on with our students and now some of them are making six figures a year.

Once you know what your personal objectives are, then you need to have some idea of what your total business costs will be. Again, don’t overcomplicate it in the beginning.

pile of empty brass

Although it may seem relatively insignificant in the beginning, as ammunition prices continue to escalate it could quickly erode your profit margin. If your particular specialty requires lots of test firing, you might include it in your preliminary hourly billing rate.

I am going to oversimplify this (the course goes into greater detail), but basically you need to know your overhead and general costs such as rent, utilities, advertising, etc. for the month. Let’s just say you’ve done the calculations and determined your overhead is $1,000 to keep it simple.

Next, divide that by the number of hours you will be doing paid work. So a typical work month (40 hours per week, 4  1/3 weeks) averages 176 hours per month. This is assuming you are going to be 100-percent productive, and we all know that no one ever is. So you need to adjust that number by a performance factor. Take for example, if you were only able to bill 50 percent of your time, that would be 88 hours a month if you are working full time. So take your total overhead ($1,000 in this example) and divide it by 88. Bingo! You now have your per billing hour overhead cost (in this example $11.36 an hour).

Now, take what you want to make in net profit each month (let’s say $5,000) and divide that by 88 (using the same 50-percent billable hours figure) and you will end up with your second number, $56.81. Add them together and you get the minimum hourly rate you need to charge to meet your profit goal (in this case $68.17 an hour). Does that seem like a little or a lot to you? If it seems like a lot, then you really need to take my Business Success Course.  But, it may surprise you that you can actually charge less than that per hour and make more net profit if you become more efficient, which I’ll address in a minute.

Market your gunsmithing services.

I hate to pop your bubble, but the truth is when you open your doors as a gunsmith (or any other business) the whole world will not suddenly come running to your door to have their guns repaired. How can they if they don’t know you are offering gunsmithing services? It never fails to amaze me that some gunsmiths think they don’t have to do any advertising at all to be successful.

Open sign

Just because you’re open for business doesn’t mean shooters are going to beat a path to your door with work. You’re going to need to market your services.

However, a big advantage for gunsmiths is that you can spend a lot less on advertising than most other businesses because of the huge demand and the lack of qualified gunsmiths. But you have to do it smart and let them know you are there, open for business and qualified to repair or customize their firearms.  Again, I extensively cover marketing in the Business Success Course. But, as a head start, here are four simple and extremely low-cost ways to get a ton of business:

•Business Cards, hand them out everywhere and post them letting people know you are an AGI-Certified Gunsmith.

•Post and mail a simple brochure (AGI can help you by providing you with a standardized brochure) to gun shops, pawn shops, ranges, gun clubs and take them to hand out at gun shows. Everybody needs a good gunsmith—people share news about them faster than hot stock tips.

•Create a proper yellow-pages ad (don’t buy an ad without listening to the AGI CD on how to create effective yellow page ads and certainly don’t listen to the ad sales rep) .

•Have a simple but effective website presence, with the five key components covered. (AGI has a turn-key system that can help with that, too.)

Just these four simple things can generate a lot of work.  There are even more powerful tricks I reveal in our success courses. You also need to know how to “Sell” your work and services. Whoa! You may be thinking, “I hate selling,” but “selling” is not a dirty word! It just means knowing how to best help your customers make a good decision. If you are honest and want to actually help your customers, then you need to know how to do real selling.

Know how to rapidly do repairs and customizing work.

I won’t spend a lot of time on this point, as it is what the entire AGI course is all about. In brief, you must be able to understand the firearm design, quickly analyze the problem and then make the proper repair. That’s what you learn if you take AGI’s Professional Design, Function and Repair Gunsmithing Course. If you haven’t watched the Professional Course Introductory video lesson, then go to for complete details.

M4s, ARs

By batching similar jobs you can run your gunsmithing business more efficiently and improve your bottom line.

Understand the lifetime value of a satisfied customer.

To acquire a new customer takes time and some expense. A satisfied existing customer will bring you business for many years and at very little cost in marketing. Again, let’s do some simple math. Let’s say a customer’s gunsmithing job is $100. He is happy with the work you did, but you only did that one job and never see him again.

That customer was worth only $100. But most gun owners own a lot of guns, so what if you kept in contact with that same customer and he did $100 worth of business with you twice a year for 20 years. The lifetime value of that customer would now be $4,000! Now, what if you could increase the transaction size (dollar amount) of each job and do work for them more often? That same customer could now easily have a lifetime value of more than $10,000. How many of those customers would you need to meet your financial goals?

But, you have to have a simple way to keep them coming back again and again spending more and more money. I reveal how to do exactly that in the Business Success Tool Box Package, which is available with the AGI Master Gunsmithing Course.

tax forms

Seek the advice of a professional tax consultant to ensure you’re taking every lawful deducation possible for the operation of your business.

Extract maximum benefits from the business, “tax free!”

Quite frankly, I am like most everyone else and really hate to pay taxes. But, I do. However, I first take every legal deduction I can so I pay less. You probably could too, by legally deducting many of the expenses you are already spending your hard-earned money on, such as your truck or car, phones, computers, guns, ammo, range fees and memberships, travel, meals, rent, tools and many other items—as long as they become legitimate business expenses. As a part-time or fulltime gunsmith, many of these items do become write-offs and business deductions. You will need to check with your personal tax advisor and everyone’s situation is different so this is NOT legal advice. But in an audio interview with a CPA and tax specialist we reveal “Tax Secrets That They Don’t Want YOU to Know About.”  Again, it is in our Business Package and education is the key.

Leverage your time and resources.

OK, so how can you make more money per hour? Well, I have a number of proven answers to this question and I am only going to share a couple of them with you here. First of all you can charge a  “flat rate” per job and get faster at the work itself. (AGI developed an exclusive Gunsmith’s Flat Rate Manual showing you what to charge per type of job included with the Master Gunsmithing Course.) Second, you can batch your work, doing similar jobs at the same time—bluing, trigger jobs, bedding, etc. You organize your time and tools and therefore get more done faster. Another biggie is knowing which jobs not to take. Trust me, knowing how to make this decision properly will keep you out of the poor house!

Well thought out workspace, like this gunsmith station at Quantico's USMC Precision Weapons Section, will make day-to-day operations more efficient and, ultimately, your business more profitable.

Well thought out workspace, like this gunsmith station at Quantico’s USMC Precision Weapons Section, will make day-to-day operations more efficient and, ultimately, your business more profitable.

Other ways of increasing your income and leveraging your time include having other gunsmiths work for you on a percentage basis. You can also specialize in customizing certain types of guns—getting higher dollars for those projects—and you can implement simple processes that maximize your efficiency.  Combine a dozen other methods, and this can result in huge income growth with more freedom.

Hopefully this information helps you realize there is more to being a successful gunsmith than just knowing how to turn a screwdriver. It isn’t really all that complicated if you know what to do. I have so much more to share with you, but there isn’t room for it all in this article, however it is available to you through the AGI Business Success Programs and the Business Coaching I do.

There is a real need for qualified gunsmiths, and I wish you the very best if you choose to get involved in this exciting profession.





{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Joseph Foret September 27, 2020, 2:12 pm

    I have been a tug boat captain for the last 25 years, I have used a lot of different military firearms in the army and always wanted repair and service so I purchased the enhanced master gunsmithing course I’m excited about starting the course and open my own shop by next year and with AGI help it will happen just wanted to say thank u to AGI, Joseph

  • Keith Romero May 2, 2018, 2:58 pm

    I see so many comments about AGI, mostly good and some bad, but the bad never really seems to know what they are talking about. Until you actually see what they provide: they are old and new videos, but you’re not going to find this complete kind of stuff on youtube. They say just graduating thru the course will not make you a gunsmith. That’s agreed. But Geez, you will end up knowing a whole lot more than 99 percent of gunsmiths. For myself, I’ve been a Contract Welder, a draftsman and a machinist in all my years of working and it sure makes being a gunsmith an easy choice that you can be extremely good at.

  • John Plouvh April 3, 2015, 9:30 am

    I can attest to AGIs good quality videos as well. I took thier master course. There is some good advice here. However, the demand for gunsmithing services is a little overplayed. Its like realestate, very area dependant. Nobody is going to beat your door down to get thier gun fixed. Having said that, if you establish a good reputation you will have steady business. Like, me. However I’m an exceptional troubleshooter.

    J. Plough

  • Josh August 13, 2013, 11:37 am

    I have been considering purchasing some of the AGI courses to get more knowledge on the subject. However, I was wondering if you can run a gunsmithing business out of your home? Do the laws vary from state to state? Thanks, Josh

    • J. Plough April 3, 2015, 9:37 am

      Its area dependant, you will need a FFL, and the ATF will require you to have a city businesses license or county permit. I live in a gun friendly zone and it took a few phone calls to my county supervisor to get my permit approved. They were friendly calls but it wasnt a rubber stamp process thats for sure. Apparently, a few years back another permitted gunsmith blew his garage up while smoking and reloading. Lol
      J. Plough

  • Randy March 14, 2013, 1:15 am

    Gunsmithing is a fun thing to do. I used to own a gun store and did gunsmithing on the side. I was a toolmaker for 25 years before going into that business so I had machining experience. The thing that suprized me was how many people would pay just to have their guns cleaned. I charged $20 for a handgun, $30 for a rifle. That’s for 15 minutes work. Most of the other work was just replacing broken springs, screws, etc. and installing/bore sighting scopes. I very seldom ever had anyone ask for a trigger job, let alone something I wasn’t capable of doing. I knew another gunsmith close by I sent things to if I got backed up or took something I couldn’t do. Actually, I’d rather get back into gunsmithing than sales, fewer headaches, more fun, and potentially more money.

  • Joseph February 13, 2013, 12:12 am

    First I want to see I in no way get anything from AGI for this post.

    I am a graduate of the AGI Professional Gunsmithing Course and am a AGI Master Gunsmith student. There is a lot to learn with this program but the great thing is that you can return to the videos over and over again until you understand it all. I have worked in the Firearms industry in one form or another for 20 plus years From sales to gunsmith Really more like parts replacer to running Big Box Store Gun departments and I thought I knew guns, however when I finally received the Professional Gunsmith Course the first thing I did was take out the tests and see how far I could get through the tests without watching the videos. I found out FAST that I had a way to go before I was going to pass any of the test and meet the AGI standers. It took me about 5 – 6 months of going through the program before I finally finish the Professional course. And it was well worth it.

    Once I finished the course I applied for my 07 FFL and started to form a new Gunsmithing business. 3 months after I finished the Professional course I signed up for the Master Course and truth be told I should have gone straight into the Master Course. I am currently working as a Full time Professional Gunsmith and making money. Will I say I owe it all to AGI no but I will say that without AGI I would have never been able to do it AND make money at it.

    As one of the other posts stated in this business you NEED to keep learning and AGI is one way to Learn and keep on learning.

    • Administrator February 13, 2013, 10:16 am

      I hope you guys read this comment. Until you invest in your first AGI course you just don’t understand how incredibly complete and clear they are. We have been blown away by every single one that we have reviewed. The material is absolute gold, archived for the ages.

  • Butch Ernette February 11, 2013, 6:19 pm

    Hey, this is goofy. I can’t read the article because of the Twitter, Facebook nonsense that pops up.

    • Administrator February 11, 2013, 7:56 pm

      What browser are you using?

  • Pat February 11, 2013, 1:50 pm

    Remins me of an old bit of advice: Do you know how to make a small fortune gunsmithing? Start with a large fortune! 🙂

  • Dustin February 11, 2013, 11:16 am

    As an owner of a Gunsmithing shop with a Retail side I can say a few things.

    One: AGI is an excellent course from what I can tell, the instructors are top notch from what I’ve seen. I attended Lassen CC and completed their Gunsmithing course which is 2 years and Bob Dunlap was one of my instructors during this time, I don’t believe that he would endorse or become part of a video course if it was not worth your time.

    Second: Continuing education in this line of work is paramount but the problem is we don’t have many resources,
    Yes trade shows are great such as SHOT but it’s not always feasible to attend a week long event. As for money well spent, I just took a look at the courses offered by AGI and if I had to do it all over again and couldn’t dedicate the time to 2 years non-stop in a classroom then I would certainly be looking at AGI pretty intently.

    • Administrator February 11, 2013, 11:52 am

      You should sign up for their monthly video course it is fantastic and they cover all kinds of new technology.

  • Nick February 11, 2013, 10:07 am

    I have been talking to American Gunsmithing institute (AGI) they seem to have a solid program. Different levels of training and you can do a little or allot based on where you want to end up. I have 15 years of machine shop time so that effects what classes I might take. Its all online with video classes and tests, etc. They give a certification at the end, for what its worth. \

    Maybe the author of this article has an opinion on them??


    • Administrator February 11, 2013, 10:09 am

      The author of this article is the founder of AGI.

      • Bill February 11, 2013, 3:45 pm

        Haha. apparently that guy didnt read the article that well.

        • Administrator February 11, 2013, 3:48 pm

          Welcome to the Prozac infused generation.

  • Carl Crump February 11, 2013, 10:03 am

    Thanks for the information and the fee video – I also order the video paying for shipping. I do want to learn to fix and repair, clean guns and look forward to starting the course. However, I hesitate the membership until I see with you have to offer and the costs of the course.

  • paul birkenstamm February 11, 2013, 8:25 am

    How does one learn to become a gunsmith?

    Making money is not my prime directive, however fixing, customizing and shooting are

    • Bill February 11, 2013, 3:52 pm

      Here’s an idea for you folks. My local gunsmith also reloaded and sold the ammo. also
      you could have the customer bring in his own brass and still make a really good profit
      You probably wont get rich but you will make a little and learn a lot.

  • Synergize February 11, 2013, 4:51 am

    As someone who coaches and offers private funding for entrepreneurial businesses myself, I must say how impressed I am with this article. Although short, it still manages to cover so many excellent components of starting and running a small business venture. Excellent explanation, presentation, etc.

    One thing I could add is always try to UPSELL to your existing customers: products such as special cleaners/lubes you recommend, optics, ammo (that you bought much cheaper in bulk), customizations that your customers might not even know you offer, etc.

    Another thing is that you can always do work for other gunsmiths too. Team up with your competition, NOT try to cut their throat. Together you will be stronger than against each other.

    I hope it helps. Much respect,

    • Dan February 11, 2013, 6:49 pm

      Mr. Perry

      I am about to sign up for the AGI master gunsmith course what services do you offer I am intrigued??? The hopes are to open my own shop. Just curious send me some info if you got something for me.
      Thank You Sir, Dan W.

      • Administrator February 11, 2013, 7:58 pm

        We are not AGI. Gene is a guest writer sharing some of his knowledge.

      • Synergize February 12, 2013, 3:39 am

        Hi Dan,
        Please check out my website. We can talk offline. Respectfully this is the GunsAmerica forum.

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