Between The Berms: Want To Be A Gunsmith?

Mar 23, 2012
When Brownells first announced in 2007 that they would be holding a career fair for gunsmiths, two things immediately came to mind. The first was obvious: Why hadn't somebody thought of this sooner?
The 6th Annual Brownells Gunsmith Career Fair takes place April 27-28 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Brownells
A career fair for current and would-be gunsmiths, the colleges that train them, and the companies looking to hire them, was a great idea. And while nowhere near the size of a SHOT Show or NRA Show, you could easily see that in time the event could take on similar importance within the industry. The second thing that came to mind was even more obvious: Of course it's Brownells that's organizing and hosting it, who else would it be? Brownells is synonymous with gunsmithing. Starting back in 1939 as Bob Brownell's gunsmithing shop, then expanded in the mid 1940s to selling supplies and tools to gunsmiths, the entire business was built to support gunsmiths. In 1951 Bob finally closed his own gun shop and went into suppling gunsmiths full-time. Today you can tour any firearm manufacturer's facility and you're probably going to find the ubiquitous brown canvas shop apron embroidered with the Brownells logo draped around the technicians and gunsmiths servicing guns. Look to their workbenches and you'll likely spot the telltale blue handle of a Brownells screwdriver lying next to a disassembled gun, with the rest of the screwdriver set standing sentry-like in the solid oak bench block, each seemingly waiting their turn to be called into service. I suspect that if you asked the folks at Brownells they would probably confirm what most assume to be true, that every gun company in the industry has an account with them. The same is almost certainly true for nearly every single gunsmith shop in America. Earlier this week I spoke to Scott Folk at Apex Tactical Specialties - which built its reputation on the ungodly brilliant revolver work of Randy Lee, and now both buys from and sells to Brownells - and I asked his opinion of the company's influence on the gunsmith trade. He summed it up this way: "You might as well slap a cross on the cover, because the Brownells catalog is the Holy Bible of gunsmithing."
Frank Brownell addresses the crowd during the 2011 Brownells Career Fair. Photo courtesy of Brownells
I am sure you will never hear Bob Brownell's son Frank, now Chairman of Brownells, or his grandson Pete, the CEO, refer to their master catalog in quite that fashion, but you can probably bet most gunsmiths hold the book, which Bob first published in 1947, in equally high regard. But it's not just the catalogs, shop aprons or tool sets that have endeared Brownells to gunsmiths. The relationship with gunsmiths has developed over years. "Brownells traces its roots to Dad's gunsmithing," explained Frank Brownell in 2008 when the company launched a new website dedicated to gunsmith career advancement. "He used to say, 'Show me a town without a gunsmith, and I'll show you a town without hunters or shooters.' We want to help gunsmiths in every town succeed." The company has a deep appreciation for the gunsmithing community, from the casual hobbyist all the way up to the Master Gunsmith whose work represents the crossroads where artisan-level craftsmanship meets engineering excellence. And their business has always been Brownells' business. In fact, if the National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the firearms industry, then Brownells, in many ways, has become the de facto trade association for gunsmiths. Simply consider the various programs Brownells has put in place to support the trade.... Six years ago Brownells started hosting the Gunsmith Career Fair, which continues to grow in popularity and importance.
Brownells is helping gunsmiths everywhere find jobs, and hire others. Photo courtesy of Brownells
In early 2008 they launched, a free site for gunsmiths where they can list their business, and gun owners can find a skilled repair shop near them. Gunsmiths can also post job opportunities, while those looking for a job can post their resumes. Immediately after announcing, the Brownells Business Advantage was introduced. The BBA was developed specifically "to make gunsmiths and gun shops more successful and profitable." Through the BBA, gunsmiths can save on the various vendor services that drive up costs, like processing fees for credit cards and UPS shipping charges. Partnering with the Joseph Chiarello Company, the firearms industry's go-to insurance experts, the program provides business and product liability insurance through AIG. In 2009 the company formally established its Law Enforcement Division and launched the following spring, making sure, no doubt, that every police department armorer around the country knew they had a place to turn for support. Add that to the volumes and volumes of gunsmithing knowledge and expertise that the company has accumulated since Bob Brownell first published Gunsmith Kinks, and what you have in Brownells is a repository for all things gunsmithing. Being a gunsmith is not a get-rich-quick scheme. There is no chain of gunsmith shops, or a gunsmithing franchise you can buy into. Gunsmiths by their nature are small business owners, often sole proprietorships working out of their home or garage.
Frank (r) and Pete Brownell are on-hand throughout the career fair. Photo courtesy of Brownells
And while the only 'big business' within gunsmithing is arguably Brownells itself - a very successful family-owned company that today stands as one of the major members of the overall firearms industry - the relationship it has with gunsmiths is hardly that of lone customer to big corporation. It is more of a one-to-one relationship. This longstanding personal relationship that Brownells has built with the gunsmithing community over three generations explains why the upcoming Gunsmith Career Fair is such an important industry event. The 6th Annual Brownells Gunsmith Career Fair takes place April 27-28 at the Marriott Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa and will draw established gunsmiths, collegiate gunsmithing programs and their graduates, firearms companies, experts from the ATF, representatives of the American Custom Gunmakers Guild, and major retailers for a veritable Who's Who of the gunsmith community. ...And all at the invitation of a family that has put the success of others on equal footing with that of their own business. Kinda makes you want to be a gunsmith, doesn't it? - Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network Got shooting sports news? Send us an email at