How to Become a Professional Gun Designer (2023)

February 4, 2020Ian McCollumCommentary23

The introductory clip was from my interview with Tony Neophytou, a talented and successful South African firearms designer (his work includes the Neostead 2000, Inkunzi PAW, and NTW-20 rifle). He doesn’t mince words; it’s a very difficult field to succeed in – and I regularly get inquiries from high school and college students asking how they can do what he has done.

My answer, in short, is that is you enjoy hands-on fabrication you should get an education as a machinist. If you don’t enjoy that work, you should pursue a career unrelated to guns and make them your hobby. I think that has a much better chance of leading you to happiness and success. For a more detailed written take on the question, I would refer you to my blog post on the subject.


  1. Be named John Moses Browning.


    • Best thing you could come up with ? Very disappointing


  2. A very good talk about the reality of how to pick a career, bring young people down to earth to be realistic on what they should focus on in education to career choice. Not to make mistakes in picking a career they would end up hating ,or not being very good at.


  3. Living near the Browning Arms Museum and reading about John Moses Browning–and how he prospered–that’s enough for me to second Ian’s recommendations. Do something that will pay your bills and do guns as a hobby. Browning claimed that he was blessed to be in the right place at the right time with the right talents. Browning’s father was a gunsmith in the days before Colt and Winchester and Remington became big manufacturing concerns. Patent laws had teeth back then, but Browning grew up on the frontier and away from most of the lawyers. Even so, the big companies spent more on lawyers protecting their intellectual property than they did on R&D because if they hadn’t, then they lost their patent rights and in essence threw away those R&D expenses. Even the US government lost a firearms patent fight with Mauser over the M1903 Rifle. Visit the Browning Arms Museum on-line at:

    Look at the large number of firearms Eugene Stoner designed. How many of them survive today? There’s the M16 family–wildly successful. There’s the AR-7 as built by Henry Repeating Arms. You might mention that the L85 family is based on Stoner designs. But look again–Stoner and ArmaLite sold the AR-15 to Colt because they ran out of money. The AR-7 wound up being manufactured by Charter Arms and then another company before eventually winding up with Henry Repeating Arms. See Ian’s posts on the L85 here on Forgotten Weapons. It’s almost as if everybody but Eugene Stoner wound up profiting from Stoner’s guns.

    I am an experienced military armorer–in the Army a unit armorer is a supply function and the general support armorers are often civilians (due to troop ceilings and expertise required for below depot overhaul). I fell into that through a back door. My support battalion in Fort Riley had to provide its own specialists from within due to how we deployed. I had joined Mensa while in Berlin because I kept getting accused of cheating when I passed Army tests–the Mensa card did keep me out of the stockade (cheating is serious business) but I seem to have wound up with a lot of school slots such as tracked vehicle driver (I became my battalion tracked vehicle driver instructor afterwards), the unit armorer course (I was on my battalion’s combat rifle team and did some small arms instruction in classroom environments and then served as a safety NCO on live-fire ranges), and took part in unit training with Air Defense Artillery and the scouts. I speculate now that my sergeant major was using me for bragging rights–because I was at the top of each course. These schools benefited my battalion because I could pass on what I learned to others, perform the service functions (breaking track is okay as long as it’s done in a garage and not in the freezing mud) and most of those skills I could use at my primary support job. I still use some of those–I volunteer at an Air Force museum once a week and my skill at aircraft recognition helps the gift shop because many of the items they stock come from overseas suppliers and the gift shop staff needs help identifying aircraft types. In the Army my “gunsmithing” was a part-time job. Out of the Army I volunteer at a public rifle range as a range safety officer. There’s not many paying jobs for gunsmiths–unless I set up my own shop, and then it’s a business.

    Do something that will pay your bills. Do something that will fund your passion. If you are in the right place at the right time with the right talents, you’ll become rich and famous. Or you’ll make someone else rich and you might become famous.


  4. good advice. i did the same with the “want to be a gun smith” but then i learned basically that is not teachable skill. about the only way to do that is to become a known competition shooter then start offering action jobs. which is a long road. some have done it like Mike Mink but it takes a lot of dedication and money. and it will not last forever. then back to square one.


  5. Based on my experience I can say – Ian is spot on. Indeed, there is a precipitous difference in doing something as a hobby and doing it as a profession. Believe me, I was in it too. And I was pretty good at it, even have some patents with my name on it. But, at the end – so what!

    When you do something as a hobby, you have completely enjoyable and unadulterated activity you are in control of and you can enjoy and build on, or use it something non-related.

    And you can chat about it on FW to benefit of all. Good luck!


  6. I was a Design Engineer for an ammo company for 30+ years and I dealt with my counterparts in the gun industry on a frequent basis. This is what I would recommend if you want to be a gun designer. Get a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and learn modern CAD programs. Having a great interest in firearms is great but a sound education in engineering is better. Your first design jobs will be assigned by senior people at the company and they will guide you to some degree. Everything easy has been designed so future designs will likely be more complicated and hence the need for CAD. Incorporating existing ideas into new designs is important so studying the designs of the past helps a lot. After getting your education get a job with any company that makes guns or OEM gun parts and get some experience. Having lots of successful projects in your past builds a reputation that can be sold to the company you really want to work for.


    • “Everything easy has been designed so future designs will likely be more complicated and hence the need for CAD.”

      True, but not only CAD; there is myriad of engineering tools, such as kinematics-analytical equipment based of photo-electronics, temperature variation sensing and avaluation, fluid analysis and so on.

      Also, as you may observe on current developments, direction is toward optimization with objective to squeeze maximum performance out of existing propellants combined with minimum weight of system. Difficult task indeed. If you manage to get that far, your ‘enthusiasm’ will gradually dissipate and it will become a “job”, just like any other.


  7. Mind you, it’s important folk try to at least understand; Explosive generated emp, nuclear pinch shells etc otherwise the Terminators will only have them.

    Yes those Sarah Conner told us about, weee!


    • No patent infringement; You can be assured “they” do not exist already. Whatever they are, Zap!!


      • Want to know more? “Starship troopers”


        • Top movie of ’97, imo.

          Even better book, I recommend everybody to read it, or, to be honest, I listened audio version.


  8. Well explained, Ian.
    I went through a long learning curve from age 14( learnt to shoot) to early 20s( startedcollecting Milsurps and SeriousGun books…in the meantime, did Medical School, practised 3years, changed to Food Manufacturing &Vinegar Brewingforcloseto 20years, Then Law School
    (JD) and Bar for 11 years.
    In all that time, taught myself “Gunsmithing” (fitting, turning,milling, etc) with the aid of books,
    MODEL engineering journals, esp. “The Model Engineer”
    (UK since 1898) and good choice of Machinery…and a Home Workshop.
    Also in 1989, got into Film Gun Supply ( incl. MGs).

    Now “retired” fromthe Law
    (2015…Heart valve and other issues), I have concentrated on my “gun business” (Obsolete Cartridge cases, projectiles-film gun hire and building MGs)
    But like they say in the film industry, “Don’t give up your day job”…in my case, a good retirement inheritance, and investments, and the business of “Guns” can self sustaining, at least.
    But it has been a long hard road…
    Doc AV
    PS, Ian, please contact me on for further info on some of your Forgotten Weapons videos…esp. Italian SemiAutos…”9-round strippers and Magazines”


  9. Dual use technology makes for strange weapon makers

    Two examples are TRW M14 rifles and Food Machine Company M113 armored personnel carriers


  10. A modern “arms designer” spends a lot of time on stuff such as, say, optimizing the shape of a locking lug to make the casting process of the bolt head more got to like that kind of work, else find a different job.


    • This is so much true!
      Its not just a design, its how its made what makes or breaks it.


  11. Historically, I think the answer is – become a dentist. An inordinate amount of old gun design seems to have been done by them.


  12. I brought the idea of shotgun silencers to France as agent for the uk hush power shotgun silencers. I only sold 2 and everybody told me there would be no interest from the public. This was in about 1990
    Well it took almost 30 years but 2 years ago the french government legalized silencers for hunting and look at the number of silenced shotguns for sale


  13. Being a weapon designer can be an interesting job. Thank you for your post.


  14. I can give you a hint on how you can reach out to professionals without any problems or difficulties. For example, this is how I now make orders without much difficulty and problems. I just remember how long I’ve been searching and selecting. I wanted to find professional people who will not plagiarize, etc. I, for example, here without any problems. That’s why I and others recommend to get acquainted, because many students because they work just do not have time to write these endless works. And this is exactly the best solution for now. Inexpensive, fast and without plagiarism. What could be better, really? Good luck!


  15. I am currently studying to be a designer. It is very difficult to keep up with all the subjects and make time for the really needed subjects. And writing an essay pissed me off. I decided to look for experts to help save my time. If I sat for weeks writing, I would not be able to master even half of my assignments.


  16. Hi, guys. I think I have a great idea for gun. I don’t have much money to get started. Just seeking any more advice. Thank you.


Leave a Reply


What degree is needed to design firearms? ›

Education Requirements

Like other mechanical engineers, firearms engineers usually have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, and some continue with a master's degree program.

How much do weapon designers make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $161,000 and as low as $23,500, the majority of Weapon Designer salaries currently range between $47,500 (25th percentile) to $109,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $143,500 annually across the United States.

How do you become a weapon designer? ›

The requirements to become a weapons engineer vary by field, but you need at least a bachelor's degree in an engineering field, such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or optical engineering.

Can anyone design a gun? ›

No, a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use. However, a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution.

Is weapon designing a good career? ›

Since it is a highly specialized field, you can expect very good salary even at the entry level. In addition, since the employment is necessarily in the military, you enjoy a number of perks and benefits as well. Weapons engineering is not a common field of study.

What is a gun designer called? ›

A gunsmith is a person who repairs, modifies, designs, or builds guns.

What job builds guns? ›

A weapons engineer is a professional who designs, develops, tests, and manages weapons, as well as weapons systems. They mostly either work for the federal government or for private military contractors, such as Lockheed Martin.

Where can I study weapon engineering? ›

Top Colleges for Weapons Engineering in India
  • Defense Institute of Advanced Technology, Pune.
  • Institute of Armament Technology, Pune.
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
  • Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
  • Manipal Institute of Technology.
  • SRM University, Chennai.

Are gunsmiths in demand? ›

Gunsmith Projected Growth In The United States

There are over 4,439 gunsmiths currently employed in the United States. There are 11,589 active gunsmith job openings in the US based on job postings. The average salary for a gunsmith is $44,684.

Can you customize guns in real life? ›

Firearm modification is commonly done in order to enhance various aspects of the performance of a firearm. Reasons for these modifications can range from cosmetic to functional, and can be simple operations that the owner can perform, or complex operations requiring the services of a gunsmith.

Do gunsmiths make custom guns? ›

Gunsmiths build, repair, and customize firearms like handguns, rifles, and shotguns. They can perform simple tasks like disassembling, cleaning, inspecting, and reassembling a gun, but they can also do complex work like refinishing metal, engraving designs in wood and metal, and design custom firearms.

Do gun manufacturers make good money? ›

Yes, gun manufacturers are profitable.

While the industry does make a considerable amount from consumers, its profits are also heavily propped up by the U.S. government. In fact, gun manufacturers make far more than the shop owners who sell the guns to consumers.

Can you legally build an AR 15? ›

AR-15 build FAQs

The ATF has long held that it's 100% legal to build your own AR-15 (and most guns) at home for personal use. You need special paperwork to build a short-barreled rifle (SBR), which is considered an NFA item.

Can you legally own a Glock switch? ›

"There's not a real perfect name for them because they're not a legitimate device," Milanowski said. Owning a Glock switch, even if it's not attached to a gun, is illegal under federal law since it is considered a machine gun.

What is the ATF ghost gun rule? ›

Under the rule, manufacturers and dealers of ghost gun building blocks must be federally licensed, the building blocks marked with serial numbers, and purchasers must pass a background check before buying these parts from a licensed dealer. The rule does not ban the possession of ghost guns altogether.

Do weapons engineers make a lot of money? ›

How Much Do Weapons Engineer Jobs Pay per Year? $74,000 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $127,000 is the 75th percentile.

What type of engineer makes guns? ›

Weapons Engineers design, develop, test, and manage weapons and weapons systems on behalf of the federal government.

How much does weapons engineering pay? ›

The national average salary for a Weapon Engineer is ₹67,490 in India. Filter by location to see Weapon Engineer salaries in your area.

Who is the most famous gun designer? ›

John Browning—The Prolific Gun Designer

Other than Samuel Colt no American gun designer is perhaps as well known as John Browning, and no other gun designer in the world is credited with so many revolutionary designs.

How much do Glock gunsmiths make? ›

How much does a Glock Armorer make? As of Feb 4, 2023, the average annual pay for a Glock Armorer in the United States is $36,265 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $17.44 an hour. This is the equivalent of $697/week or $3,022/month.

What guns do FBI agents get? ›

Agents carry Bureau-issued or approved handguns and may be issued additional equipment as needed. Those in specialized areas like the Hostage Rescue Teams may also be issued weapons that fit their duties. Agents are allowed to carry personal weapons, provided they do not violate the policies regarding firearms.

What is the gun industry called? ›

The arms industry, also known as the defence industry, the military industry, or the arms trade, is a global industry which manufactures and sells weapons and military technology.

How long does it take to become a weapons engineer? ›

a bachelor's degree in mechanical or electrical engineering. advanced training in a subspecialty. research experience in mechanical or electrical engineering. three to five years of experience in a weapons facility.

What qualifications do I need to be a weapons engineer? ›

How to become a weapons engineer
  • Obtain a bachelor's degree. Weapons engineers are highly qualified individuals and invariably possess a bachelor's degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field. ...
  • Complete a master's degree. ...
  • Consider gaining a PhD. ...
  • Gain experience. ...
  • Get licensed.
Jul 9, 2022

What is a weapon engineer called? ›

Weaponeering is the field of designing an attack with weapons. It is a portmanteau of weapon and engineering.

Is there a lot of math in gunsmithing? ›

They must know how to precisely cut and shape materials to meet their needs, as also needed in gunsmithing. A certain amount of math skills are involved in this career. Firearms manufacturing plants are often in need of educated employees in the field of gunsmithing.

What is the best state to be a gunsmith? ›

A general rule of thumb emerged from the data — head south if you are looking to get one of as many as 141,500 jobs generated by companies that make, distribute, and sell guns.
These are the ten best states for the gun industry according to our data:
  • Georgia.
  • Idaho.
  • Arizona.
  • Florida.
  • Indiana.
  • Alaska.
  • Missouri.
  • Louisiana.
Mar 26, 2018

Where do gunsmiths make the most money? ›

Highest paying cities for Gunsmiths near United States
  • Alexandria, VA. $36.83 per hour. 6 salaries reported.
  • Katy, TX. $23.05 per hour. 11 salaries reported.
  • Phoenix, AZ. $22.76 per hour. 5 salaries reported.
  • Mesa, AZ. $20.76 per hour. 7 salaries reported.
  • Tyler, TX. $19.12 per hour. 9 salaries reported.
  • Show more nearby cities.
Feb 27, 2023

What gun is the most customizable? ›

Remington R1-1911. Even beyond the Glock, the Remington R1-1911 is one of the most customizable guns around. It's been around for so long, it might've been the first gun ever customized.

Is it legal to have a gun replica? ›

The Firearms Act 1968 makes it an offence to sell any imitation firearm to a person under 18. There is a defence for a person charged with this offence if they can show that they believed the buyer was 18 or over and had reasonable grounds for that belief - for example, seeing convincing proof of age.

Is it illegal to mod a gun? ›

Firearm holders may not make any cosmetic modifications to their weapon as well. For instance, a gun cannot be modified to imitate a toy weapon, but camouflages or other decorative enhancements may be within the law. Other lawful changes to a weapon may be adding certain types of scopes, handles, and grips.

Can you make money building custom guns? ›

How Much Do Gunsmiths Earn? Before you head down this path, you should also know that being a gunsmith pays decently, but you're never going to get rich doing it. The average salary for a gunsmith is between $39,935 and $43,280 as of 2020.

Can you make a good living as a gunsmith? ›

You Can Earn a Lot

While the pay isn't the best at first, the annual pay can increase over time. Nationally, a gunsmith is paid around $31,910 each year. It's less than many other professions, but the good thing is that the amount can increase over the years.

How profitable is it to be a gunsmith? ›

Gunsmith Pay

A gunsmith who is just starting out may fall in the bottom 10 percentile earning a median annual salary that's less than ​$26,460​. Those in the highest earning 10th percentile, such as someone pulling down a master gunsmith salary, annually earn upwards of ​$60,010​.

Who is the largest gun producer in the world? ›

In 2021, Lockheed Martin was the world's largest arms-producing and military services company, with arms sales amounting to over 60 billion U.S. dollars. Arms sales constituted almost 90 percent of total company sales in that year. Raytheon and Boeing followed on the places behind.

What is the average gun owner salary? ›

Expected Lifetime Earnings: $1,586,424

The whole making-money portion of this job mostly depends on your salesmanship skills, as well as the type of weapons you sell. Averaging around $38,000 per year, weapon sellers aren't exactly rolling in it (source).

Who is the number 1 gun manufacturer? ›

8 Best Gun Brands In The World Ranked
  • #1. Glock.
  • #2. Smith & Wesson (S&W)
  • #3. Springfield.
  • #4. Benelli.
  • #5. Beretta.
  • #6. Colt.
  • #7. Winchester.
  • #8. Wilson Combat.
Oct 28, 2022

Do I need an FFL to build an AR? ›

If you are interested in building AR's as a business, you will need an FFL license to sell to the public.

Can a felon build an AR? ›

People convicted of felonies, as well as some kinds of misdemeanors, can't legally possess a gun—homemade or otherwise. Federal law prohibits gun possession by anyone convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor.

What states can you not own an AR-15? ›

Three U.S. states passed assault weapons bans before Congress passed the federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994: California in 1989, New Jersey in 1990, and Connecticut in 1993. Four others passed assault weapons bans before AWB 1994 expired in 2004: Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.

How much jail time for a Glock with a switch? ›

The Glock switches have actually been illegal since 1986. And those who are found in possession of them can receive 10 years in federal prison.

Are Glock auto sear legal? ›

Just having an auto-sear is a federal offense. “Just the switch by itself is considered a machine gun under federal law even if it's not installed in a firearm. It's illegal to possess and you could be charged,” said Briggs.

What does SOT mean in firearms? ›

Special Occupational Taxpayers are a group of Federal Firearm Licensees in the United States who manufacture, import and/or transfer NFA weapons.

Does the ATF know what guns I own? ›

ATF does not maintain a federal gun registry, therefore, records are not kept on the sales of firearms, private sales or information on individual purchasers,” an ATF spokesperson told ABC News.

Does ATF track ghost guns? ›

More than 19,000 suspected ghost guns — or privately made firearms — were submitted to ATF for crime gun tracing in 2021, up from around 8,500 the previous year. The number of ghost guns submitted in 2021 is also 1,083 percent higher than in 2017, when just over a thousand weapons were sent in for tracing.

What is ghost gun loophole? ›

Dec. 27, 2022. WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is closing a major loophole in a new federal rule intended to regulate the sale of pistol parts that can readily be turned into untraceable homemade firearms, in an aggressive expansion of its crackdown on so-called ghost guns.

What type of engineering is for guns? ›

Weapons Engineering is a specialised field for mechanical and electrical engineering postgraduates. Weapons engineers work in military workshops or research and development labs. Their work involves: Design, development, research, production, repair and maintenance of weapons and artilleries.

What profession crafts guns? ›

Blacksmiths turn metals into weapons as well as mail and plate armor.

How much do custom gun makers make? ›

The most popular hunting states, including Alaska, Montana, Texas, Georgia and Pennsylvania, report gunsmith salaries between $61,000 and $79,000 a year. Independent gunsmiths can charge upwards of $40/hour for their services.

Who designs guns for the military? ›

Weapons Engineers design, develop, test, and manage weapons and weapons systems on behalf of the federal government.

Where can I study weapon engineering in USA? ›

The most common colleges for students to pursue their goal of becoming a weapons engineer are Florida State University and Oklahoma State University.

What is gun hobby called? ›

You don't have to be a world-class competitor to enjoy the shooting sports. The NRA has many events for the recreational shooter. There are opportunities to learn and sharpen shooting skills for women, youth, those just starting out, or gun owners who have been shooting all their life.

What is gun business called? ›

A gun shop (also known by various other names such as firearm store and gun store) is a business that sells firearms, such as handguns and long guns, to individuals in an open shopping format.

Is becoming FFL profitable? ›

Ultimately, being an FFL is a profitable business if you're prepared to put in the work and sell enough products. As a home-based FFL, you'll have the advantage of low overhead costs, making it easier to turn a profit. The ATF also doesn't require you to make a profit to keep your business license.

Is gunsmithing in high demand? ›

Projected job growth for gunsmiths is -8% from 2018-2028. There are over 4,439 gunsmiths currently employed in the United States. There are 11,589 active gunsmith job openings in the US based on job postings.

How much do military weapon designers make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $169,500 and as low as $21,000, the majority of Military Weapons Designer salaries currently range between $41,000 (25th percentile) to $98,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $131,000 annually across the United States.

Do FBI agents get rifles? ›

FBI Special Agents are required to carry a primary-duty handgun, and may be issued supplemental handguns, rifles, and shotguns.


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