Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Sportsmen, competitive shooters, and casual firearm enthusiast a like will, at some point, find they need the services of a skilled gunsmith. The goal of this post is to provide you some insights and guidance for seeking and obtaining these services.
First, What is a Gunsmith?....a Few Facts and a lot of Opinion!
I want to make this very important point up front before moving on...A firearm is a complex precision system which harnesses the considerable energy of a violent explosion to propel a bullet downrange at high velocities and accurately deliver it on target. Any work done on a firearm, even seemingly simple things, must be performed by someone who have the considerable skills and knowledge required for the task and the complete understanding of the systems they are affecting.
Historically gunsmithing is one of the higher crafts of old, combining knowledge and mastery of other trades and skills like blacksmithing and metallurgy, fine woodworking, watchmaking, engineering, chemistry, etc. As with other early trades and crafts, you could typically only become a gunsmith through a lengthy apprenticeship under a respected master gunsmith.
Unfortunately, today anyone can proclaim themselves a "Gunsmith", as there are no trade organizations or agencies that provide and govern meaningful certifications for the trade. In the US there are a few trade schools that offer gunsmithing courses with "certificates of completion" if a student successfully completes the course requirements. These courses are far from comprehensive and not terribly rigorous....but its something.
Many good gunsmiths gained experience and training as an armorer in the military or law enforcement agencies or working for firearms manufacturers and large custom and semi-custom shops. Armorers are basically just gun mechanics and the skills and knowledge developed in manufacturing are typically narrow and limited to the product line. However, some very talented smiths come from these backgrounds.
The main takeaway here is that this trade is a very mixed bag where a lot of independent gunsmiths today are completely self taught. The fact that someone calls themselves a gunsmith is almost meaningless without evidence of their knowledge, skills and reputation.
Where Can I take My Gun For Service or Modification?
If your firearm is relatively new, most of the manufactures will make repairs on current and some previous production models. Some have lifetime warranties, but most do not. Unless this is a repair/replacement of a defective newly purchased gun, you can expect to pay something, and in most cases, this will be expensive and time consuming.
If you don't have a brick and mortar, reputable gunsmith shop near you check with your local, larger retail gun shops as some have in-house smiths that can perform limited repairs and modifications on-site. This is usually a pretty safe bet for relatively simple work.
For general gunsmithing work, if the above options are not available or acceptable, then you will need to find a reputable shop outside your local area and ship the gun to have the service or repairs performed. Obviously, this is not ideal, but there are many fine shops out there that take in outside work. With a little research, you can find a reputable shop to perform the work, but this option isn't for simple or minor repairs. The cost and hassle of shipping the gun and then finding a FFL to receive and process the gun back to you, can be prohibitive.
There are many business out there that specialize in tuning, upgrading and modifications to firearms commonly used in the completive shooting sports, but typically have a very narrow focus on select guns or services and most do not do general gunsmithing work.
As you may have gathered, for many gun owners, especially those in smaller communities or gun adverse states, don't have an abundance of options for getting work done on their favorites hunting rifle, shotgun, etc. and with the explosion of interest in firearms and record gun sales, this problem has only been exacerbated. Perhaps the market will provide better solutions to this need, but as of now, its a growing problem.
What Can I expect to Pay and How Long will it Take?
Quality Gunsmiths don't come cheap and you can expect to pay roughly $65 to over $100 an hour depending on the type of work performed. This may sound very expensive, but if you understand that a full service gunsmith must invest in some very expensive equipment and specialized tooling as well as posses the substantial skills and knowledge required, the costs are well justified.
Most people think having work done on a gun is similar to taking a vehicle to a mechanic. While there are some parallels, there are many more differences than similarities. Guns exhibiting intermittent malfunctions or accuracy issues are not easily or quickly diagnosed and while there are a few bodies of work a gunsmith can reference to aide in the diagnosis, the vast majority of time, it boils down to the smiths own experience, intuitions, and a lot of trial and error.
Except for very straight forward simple work, don't expect a quick turn around when having work done on your gun. A good gunsmith is always busy and typically have many weeks or months of backlog.