I recently began to wonder about retirement. I’m in my 50s, self-employed, and middle-class. My father worked for the same company for 45 years and retired on a comfortable pension, but I don’t see that happening to me. Unlike years past, there isn’t any real loyalty between employers and employees anymore and retiring after long years on the job is more of an exception than the rule now. To add to this concern, there is the reason I’m self-employed. I’ve never performed well under the thumb of a boss. However, I have been able to excel when working for myself. Not to knock the job, but flipping burgers or being a Walmart greeter just doesn’t suit me as I look forward in getting older.
No Faith in Social Security or Pension Plans
Given the economic precipice that we seem to sit on, I have no faith in social security or in any pension plans. I also don’t want to just sit back and relax after all these years of work. I may not be able to keep up the physical pace that I once did, but my mind is still sharp and I am still driven.
A Hobby to Pay Bills in Golden Years
My self employment has come about because I took hobbies that I held interest in and turned each of them from a mere hobby that paid for itself into one that actually paid the bills. Honestly, it’s time to do that again, this time planning for a hobby to pay the bills in my golden years.
Gunsmithing a Natural Choice
Gunsmithing was a natural choice for me. I enjoy working on firearms, and it doesn’t require heavy manual labor. As my body ages, I can still maintain an income. However, in order to take it from a mere hobby to a business, I had to step up my game. I needed more knowledge and skill as well as the ability to work on other people’s firearms. So how was I to go about that?
Choices in Learning Gunsmithing
There are basically three choices in learning gunsmithing:
- Apprentice with a gunsmith,
- Attend a gunsmithing school, like Colorado School of Trades or Trinidad Community College, or
- Online, distance, or DVD learning.
Apprenticing With a Gunsmith
Apprenticing with a gunsmith could work, but it also presents difficulties. I would like to learn from the best, and I am unaware of any really good gunsmiths in or near my location. Of those gunsmiths that I do know, I would only trust my firearm to a handful of them. I’ve seen some of the work that others produce around here, and I’m not interested in mediocrity. Of the remaining gunsmiths, commuting on a daily basis would be difficult, though not impossible.
Getting one of them to take me on as an apprentice is a different story. I’ve spoken with a few, and while they are more than happy to have free labor for menial tasks, they don’t really want to share their knowledge or the work. I’ve also spoken with a few people who hang around the gunsmiths over time, and none of them had gained any appreciable knowledge. The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for whatever reason, the local gunsmiths are not (or don’t want to be) teachers of their skills.
Attending a Gunsmithing School
Attending a gunsmithing school was out of the question. There is no gunsmithing school within a reasonable commuting distance of where I live. I’m already running two businesses that require my full time attention. I can’t just pick up and move my family to another location just to attend school. It’s a nice thought, but that was a choice that would have been valid years ago before I had the responsibility of a family and a business.
Online, Distance, or DVD Learning
What is left is online, distance, or DVD learning. I spent some time researching the various options and was quite surprised at the number of schools that offered some form of online or distance learning. But after reading reviews, recommendations, and details of each program, one stood out above the others. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) had the most complete system and appeared to be the most respected. What initially drew my attention to them was their DVD’s, which they sell through Midway and Brownell’s. While there were many who questioned the value of an online gunsmithing course, those DVDs seemed to be respected by all as a means to quickly gain knowledge about a specific firearm.
I made my choice. AGI it is then. As a bonus, they are also one of the sponsors of SurvivalBlog’s Non-Fiction Writing Contest.
Addressing Some of the Negative Aspects of DVD Learning
Before I go into the program I chose, I’d like to address some of the negative aspects of DVD learning that I found online. There were many threads spread throughout many different forums on the Internet that discussed AGI. I’ve collected some of the concepts that I saw reoccurring with people and then addressed each of those:
- You can’t learn gunsmithing from a DVD.
I would both agree and disagree with this statement. I’ve sat through classes in colleges and universities, both good and bad. If you start with a class from a professor who doesn’t care about his program or his teaching lessons, there isn’t much you’re going to get out of it. If you sit in a class that has a a knowledgeable teacher who cares about passing on the learning to you, you can get a lot from the class. But in the end, what you get out of the class is directly related to how much effort you’re willing to put into it. That goes from the selection of the class itself to the gleaning of information presented in the class. You have to be motivated to pursue skill and knowledge.In that respect, I would disagree with the poster’s statements that you can’t learn from a DVD. In reality, there is very little difference in watching a DVD and sitting through a lecture. As an aside, I noted that in the sample DVDs, there was considerable close-up imaging of firearms and the working parts of them, including cutaway views of the insides. While not impossible to do with projector technology, I’ve yet to sit in a lecture that would allow you to see that level of detail, let alone rewind the lecture and watch it as many times as you need. In that respect, I disagree with the poster. DVD learning is valid and in many cases superior to the standard lecture.On the other hand, gunsmithing requires hands-on skills to let that knowledge sink in and become second nature. However, this is no different than an actual school. Often lectures have labs associated with them. Both are required to glean the knowledge. So how do you get the lab (hands-on) experience from a DVD course? AGI actually has several answers to that question. You probably own several firearms. You probably have friends and family who own firearms and who will let you work on them, even if it’s just dis-assembly, cleaning, and assembly.
In addition AGI presents several methods that you can use to gain access to other firearms, though they require you to obtain your own FFL. Again, you glean information comparable to the effort you put into it. If you just attend the lectures, you will miss out. You have to be motivated to acquire and work on firearms, as there is no instructor to just hand you one to work on. If you are motivated, it can be done.
- No one will hire you with a certificate from AGI.
I would agree with this statement completely. If someone is hiring you because you walked in and plopped down a certificate from any gunsmithing school, I would wonder about the quality of work that they performed. The certificate is for your ego. What matters is the skill. You shouldn’t be hired until you can demonstrate skill and/or proficiency in the task, unless your are being hired as an apprentice. That applies to regular schools as well as online schools. Diplomas are by and large meaningless, unless you have the skill to go with it. If you are applying for a job, you better be willing to demonstrate those skills.
- You have to attend a real school.
I disagree with this statement completely as well. I’ve homeschooled my children, and I would put them up against a public schooled child any day. The days of the education monopoly of brick and mortar schools are ending, and online/distance learning is the future. If you don’t believe that, ask these same brick and mortar schools why they are all offering distance learning as part of their program. If they are not, they’ve missed the boat.
- You can’t make money at gunsmithing unless you work for someone else. If you try, you spend too much time running a business and not enough time working on guns.
There may be some truth to this statement, depending upon your concept of gunsmithing. If you plan on working for someone else, I don’t see a problem here. If you are planning on running your own business, you do have to be a business-man. But that goes for any self-employment. Self-employment is not for everyone. When you work for someone else, you generally put in your 40 hours and then go home. When you work for yourself, it’s a whole different ball game. I’ve never worked as hard for anyone as I have for myself, but I enjoy what I do and I get the flexibility that I need. Some weeks I work 40 hours, but 60 to 80 hours are more normal. It depends on your personality though.My father tells me that he needs the stability and structure of steady employment. I thrive on the ups and downs and challenges of self-employment. It just depends on how motivated you are and what you enjoy. I couldn’t stand to be trapped in a job working for someone else. The business aspects are not that difficult. You just have to do them and be aware that there are consequences if you don’t. As a business owner, you wear many hats: that of an accountant, salesman, janitor, security, bouncer, and many more. If you don’t like that, don’t start your own business.
Objectives I’m Hoping To Accomplish
I have some objectives I’m hoping to accomplish by learning gunsmithing. I want to:
- Learn a useful trade that I can continue to perform in my golden years,
- Be able to support the lifestyle that I am accustomed to,
- Be self-employed, and
- Share my experiences with those who wish to know.
A Weekly Column
I’m going to write a weekly column as I go through this program, letting the readers know how all the aspects of program work for me. I will monitor the comments on the blog as I write these articles and answer any questions you might have as best I can. I promise to be honest and frank about my experiences.
Let’s use this as an experiment in distance learning and specifically how AGI works. They have quite a few online programs and are developing more in other trades.