The conclusion of the interview with Gene Kelly, President of the American Gunsmithing institute, and Robert Dunlap, Master Gunsmith and Senior Instructor.
For those of you who have never seen or heard this interview before, it is a fascinating look into the life of Master Gunsmith Bob Dunlap. I’m sure you will learn something you didnt know before about him, and gunsmithing, whether you are a professional gunsmith or just a “tinkerer”.
If you missed Part 1 of this interview CLICK HERE.
The interview continues with another question from a listener:
Next question we had here was “How long does it take to become competent?” I’ll let some of our students answer because some of these guys started gunsmithing almost right away. Dave Strum.
Dave: I started shooting in the high school gun club and tinkering on cars. 10 to 12 years ago I got into muzzleloaders. Having to fix the kit I purchased kicked it off. I started buying books and started thinking about something for retirement. People started bringing me their guns, which they still do. I had seen ads much like the other guys. Something that might be a little different: my current fulltime employer has a schooling program and encourages you to retire early. This particular spot is where AGI and the personnel there really stood out in getting the paperwork correct for my employer. If you don’t cross the T’s and dot the I’s exactly the way they want, it is not going to happen. I can’t say enough good things about Cheri and the other personnel making sure everything was up to snuff.
Gene: Thank you for that. I’m sure they’re all going to be hitting me up for raises after that.
Robert: Well, they should.
Gene: Thanks Bob.
Dave: I gradually worked on some modern guns after starting to watch the videos. It just took off—a local sporting goods store wants to refer things to me because three local gunsmiths retired or closed.
Gene: Yeah, it is really a vacuum out there, a lot of them are retiring.
Dave: There is no one to turn to. I could probably be at this fulltime now if I wanted to.
Gene: Did it take you long from when you started watching the videos to doing some repairs?
Dave: Oh, no, no, just within probably weeks; especially if you happen to have access to that gun and are able to disassemble it right in front of the TV, that confidence comes very quickly, very quickly.
Robert: I want to butt in for just a minute, Gene. I went to Lassen, of course, and we didn’t learn a whole lot back then. I went to work for someone and started making mistakes, serious mistakes right away because of lack of theory. It was about five years before I considered myself a gunsmith. That was a hard five years and the guys in the AGI course have all that theory that took me 15 to 20 years to get. They’re starting off with at least five years experience except for their hands. They still have to train their hands but as far as the ability to fix it they are at least five years into it.
Gene: That knowledge gives you that five year quantum leap ahead. Once you’ve been through it you can grab the index to find what you need in the 108 hours of material. Dave, do you use the index?
Dave: Oh regularly; it’s the shortest distance to get what you need. I even put a small DVD player on the bench with me, if it’s needed. I took it to work with me quite often, watched them at lunch. It sounds ridiculous but that half hour or so really adds up.
Gene: That’s investing in yourself and that’s what people have got to do. It doesn’t take a lot of time, just regular discipline. We tell people to watch an hour of video a night. They will be through in no time.
One of the biggest compliments I ever had was from a guy who was disappointed in some other course. He said “I knew this was real when I opened the box, read the tests and couldn’t answer a single question on the page.” He said “At that point I knew I was in for something real.”
Dave: I haven’t taken anything from—you can’t call them competitors because there really isn’t any competition but I had tried to talk to some about funding from my present employer and they were clueless. They wouldn’t really even respond to me.
Gene: We’ve done that and we’re also now approved for veterans that are 30% or more disabled.
Dave: Can I comment about guys learning to work on guns? Something you can buy dirt cheap are the Chinese air guns. You can chop the stocks off, grind recoil pads, well, if you mess up so what? The thing cost you 30 bucks.
Gene: Bob said to me a number of times: you need to be ready and fearless to break a few things. We back up the course. Are you still willing to do this offer Bob? If somebody messes something up they can send it to you, you’ll fix it, charge them for it but you’ll tell them what they did?
Robert: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Gene: People need not be afraid to get their fingers in their guns. Particularly with a lot of the cutaways we use, you see how everything works inside. I better get to Meshet and ask him a couple questions. Hey, Meshet, I understand that you got started a year ago, is that right?
Gene: Okay, there is something special about you, I think you are our youngest gunsmith right now. You’re not as young as when Bob started but you’re not a whole lot older. How old are you right now?
Gene: If you don’t mind sharing with the group, you have a reading disability. Is that correct?
Meshet: Yeah, I’m dyslexic, auditory and visual.
Gene: How are you doing on the program? What is working for you?
Meshet: I think it is just awesome the way Bob has got it. You can go back and if you think you missed something you just pick it right up where you want to start.
Gene: Are you able to fix some guns?
Meshet: Yeah, I’ve picked up a couple guns from a local dealer. I have a .22 and a couple handguns.
Gene: What’s worked best for you?
Meshet: When you’re working and you don’t know what to do, go right to the DVD.
Gene: Okay, right on. I appreciate the fact you’re getting started this young. I wish I would have gotten started that young. I think you have a whole bright future ahead of yourself. I think this is something that you feel you can learn even with your disability.
Meshet: Yeah, I do.
Robert: The best student I’ve had, that had the best hands of any student I’ve ever had, was dyslexic. You couldn’t believe what that kid could do. He made a rifle barrel, .86 caliber and he made the rifle jig and rifled the barrel right there in school.
Gene: So Meshet, go for it, right?
Gene: Okay, the question is how do you get certified as a gunsmith? Well, we test four different areas. We have written tests for pistols, rifles, shotguns, and rimfires. So each of the 108 hour master – the core part of the master gunsmithing course, which is the design, function, and repair section taught by Bob, is broken into those four sections—pistols, rifles, shotguns, and rimfires. We go through design and function on every one of those guns, showing you how it works, then full disassembly, reassembly, troubleshooting and repair. You’ll be certified in each section and then you get the final certification.
They were asking about the course being updated. There are two components to that. One is the core of what we teach doesn’t change. When you learn design, function and repair on the single action lock breach automatic, you know the 1911 .45 auto, that gun is not changing much. So when you go to a similar system that might use a cam lock system or something of that sort you are still going to understand the main principles behind the system and then you’ll just start to learn about each of those other additions. We do continually add to the course.
Do you need a lot of strength? Can you do this if you are disabled? And the answers to those are yes. You do need some strength in your hands to turn a screwdriver and to use a lightweight hammer and that type of device but it doesn’t require people to have the physical level that many jobs do. In fact, we have had a number of rehab organizations pay for people to become a gunsmith. You might want to check into that.
Here is what you don’t want to do: a lot of people run out, start a business, they rent a big shop, they take out a big yellow page ad. We’re going to keep you from doing the wrong things because part of what we add as value to our course is marketing information in the master level two that keeps you on the right track.
One of the things I promised you was secrets to making money. The first thing is to know the fastest way to analyze and repair the gun. When you look at something, if you’ve got to start from scratch and try to figure out how the gun works you’re already behind the time game. If you understand the system, you can pick up the gun and say “I haven’t seen this one before but I’m looking at it. Okay, that’s a tipping breech, that’s a cam-lock system, that’s this and that’s that.” You can then move right into the repairs.
The second way to do this is knowing how to attract customers at a low cost. Many of the people, once word gets out, will be coming to you but there are some ways to attract customers at a low-cost. Third way, you need to know where to get parts quickly and reliably and we provide the sources for that. If you have guns sitting aside, waiting for parts for an extended period of time because the folks aren’t reliable or you don’t know the right way to order the parts, you’ve got money sitting there that could be turned or people getting upset, so we include those sources.
Alright, here is a biggie, it’s knowing what jobs to take and what to pass on. The broken .22 that you have to make a part from scratch because its 75 years old and nobody has any parts. The person only wants to pay you 20 bucks, that’s what you’ve got to pass on. There are other jobs that you’re going to want to outsource. As you learn to specialize a little bit, you can be a general repair gunsmith and you can do some additional specialization but there are some jobs, like maybe bluing for example. If you’re just getting started maybe you don’t want to offer bluing so you can outsource that kind of work.
The next item, not charging enough; don’t leave money on the table. When your reputation expands you can raise your prices. Basically a gunsmith should charge somewhere in the area about what an automotive shop is charging. So it’s directly reflected in the cost of living in your area. Some gunsmiths charge as little as $35 an hour and some charge $80 an hour or more. I know one custom barrel maker who consistently makes $200 an hour because he is good.
The last one is working with dealers in your area. I forget who said this earlier but many of the gun shops around do not have someone competent to truly gunsmith and they really desire a relationship with somebody who can make them look good, bring them a profit, bring their customers back, keep them happy and at the same time they are willing to give you the work. Why get started now? Many people are interested in doing this as retirement. It’s a whole lot better to get started right now, get up to speed and then you’re ready when retirement comes around. If you put it off, years slip by and pretty soon you’re there without a plan. Start planning right now and get going. I’m going to give you a little outline now of what is involved in the master gunsmithing course.
The master gunsmithing course, level two, brand new, expanded package includes everything you need to get going. That is the key, the knowledge, the ability to look up whatever gunsmithing repair you need to do and have that gunsmith in a can, if you will, on those DVDS, having that master gunsmith available to help you out. In addition there are other components that give you the balance of knowledge you need on the machine and welding sides.
You get about five hours of a complete overview that talks about specialty gunsmithing tools—how to use them, filing and stoning techniques, proper use of hand tools, firearms parts and proper terminology, descriptions and know how on functions and locking systems, basic ballistics, cartridges, powder, different types of pressures and so on. Then you move into the meat of the course for 108 hours of detailed step by step design, function, and repair taught by master gunsmith, Bob Dunlap. It’s our belief you can’t fix it unless you really understand how it works. That’s what this course teaches you. It teaches you everything you need to know to understand the system and including specifically about 136 major models of firearms.
You get a federal firearms license gunsmithing starter kit which is all of the repair tags, the booklet, the gun laws and the paperwork to fill out and apply. We’ve added a trigger job and repair system. This is an advanced course that goes step by step through and gives you a focused look on about 14 different major types of trigger systems and how they work. Understand it clearly and then you’ll be able to understand how to do the repairs.
We teach you all about professional metal finishing and hot caustic bluing. Step by step, master gunsmith Gene Shuey goes through that. He also teaches you the slow and bluing rust process. This is really probably the most expensive finish you can currently put on a firearm. Then we go into pillar bedding techniques. Darrell Holland who also teaches the machine shop course I’ll get to in a moment, covers all of the techniques and step by step process of doing that. We created what we call “A Day at the Bench with Bob Dunlap.” That is an equivalent of sitting side by side with him a whole day and looking over his shoulder as he talks about the different types of repairs and how he approaches the repairs. That gives you the feel for what you’re going to be—
Robert: This also shows me doing the repair.
Gene: That’s right, exactly. Then we get into the complete machine shop course. A lot of people had said to us “Yeah, it’s great. I understand all of the conceptual aspects now of how the firearms work and how to fit repair them but I also feel like I need some machining skills.” So we went and spent another year plus with Darrell Holland putting together a complete machine shop course and that is included in our master level two. It is so in depth that I guarantee you after—it is 30 hours in length—that you’ll be able to walk up to a lathe and start turning out the parts.
Then we go into stock refinishing, everything you need to know on that including the stuff to get started. Making Glocks Rock: that’s where master gunsmith T.R. Graham teaches everything about refining Glock pistols. He spends three and a half hours on that. Glass bedding, how to do it step-by-step the right way.
Building the ultimate 1911—this is a hot series. Basically it is 12 ½ hours by Gene Shuey on everything to build a carry gun, a custom carry gun, a limited class competition gun, and a wide body high capacity race gun. Custom barreling bolt action rifles, master gunsmith Darrell Holland takes you through that. It’s everything from how to turn and threading, chambering, crowning, fitting, and blueprinting an action. Rifle scopes, we teach you everything you need to know about rifle scopes. Super Tuning the Factory Rifle is included, which shows how to achieve the greatest accuracy from a standard factory rifle without rebarreling. There is how to heat treat carbon steels and case harden metal parts, how to make coil springs, learning how to make flat springs. All of that is another 28 hours total in addition to the 108 hours of the core course and the 30 hours of the machine shop course.
Then, to get people jumpstarted in this business we created a couple of videos called the “Moneymakers” and I can’t even go into what all is on that. But basically it is a concentrated four hours of “this is behind the scenes. These are the jobs you really do fast in the shop that make you money.”
We also include the new welding course which covers gas welding, mig and stick welding and tig welding. Pulling this all together: we have this master two level course, everything you need right now to get started whether you’re going to do it part time, fulltime or as a retirement.
As a master gunsmithing student you are going to learn complete design, function, and repair on hundreds of different models of firearms. The master gunsmithing course teaches you more than you could learn in four years at a gunsmithing school and I know that personally. Some of this you would never learn there because this is real world gunsmithing instruction, taught by guys who have truly done it and they know what they’re teaching. Plus you have the advantage to review it anytime you need it in the privacy of your own home.
You can get complete course information, a sample introductory video lesson or to get started right now, give us a call at 1-800-797-0867 and speak to a student representative. To learn all of the details give us a call at 1-800-797-0867, or for international students give us a call at 1-707-253-0462. You can also go to our website at www.americangunsmith.com.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call us. It is our mission to help as many people as possible, people just like you, to learn these skills so that they can become successful in helping to preserve our freedoms. God Bless, and may God Bless America.