Gunsmith Training: Starting the Class, by R2

This week, I officially started the program. The first disc in the course is the student orientation disk. I realize that this is kind of an obligatory meeting, but I’ve always wondered why colleges and universities do this sort of thing.

New Student Orientation

When I went to college, the university had a “New Student Orientation” for every incoming student, and it always seemed like a waste to me. The new student is so overwhelmed that they will remember virtually nothing from the meeting. The paperwork handed out is what will be referred to. Even if you look at it like a cheerleading sort of class, it doesn’t make much sense to me. Why cheer for your school, when I’ve already made the decision to spend the money and attend. It just seems a waste of time.

That is what I expected, so I almost didn’t view this disc. But I’d made the decision to go through this whole course exactly like they had recommended. I popped the disc in and was pleasantly surprised at the content.

Gene Kelly’s Message About Their Repair Shop

Gene Kelly, AGI’s president, was first up with a short welcoming message. The most important aspect of his message for me wasn’t his welcome though. Right up front, he let me know that AGI also runs a repair shop. If I get into trouble on a firearm, they are there to help me out. Even if it means that I send the gun to them and have them fix the gun and repair my work/mistake, they are there to help.

My biggest fear is accepting a firearm and not being able to repair it or messing it up. One bad job can ruin your reputation in your community. The chances of this happening are much greater when you are starting out. Note that this is not a free service. If you send them a firearm, they will repair the original problem and whatever you did to the firearm, but they will charge you normal repair rates for the work and the parts. It’s going to cost you, but you can learn from the experience and save face with your customer. That takes a huge worry off of my shoulders while starting out.

Introductory Discs

After the orientation disc, there was a set of Introductory discs. This is where you get your first taste of Bob Dunlap, the primary instructor in the course. If you have a tendency to mentally skip ahead, you’ll be in trouble. I’ll talk about that in a minute. Bob speaks with a slight slur and you really have to pay attention to what he is saying. I found that if I didn’t concentrate on his words, they sort of melded into background noise sort of like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. This may not be an issue for you, but it was for me. I had to work pretty hard at staying awake, and with the introductory discs it wasn’t easy.


These discs lay the foundation work for someone who isn’t very familiar with firearms and firearm related talk/equipment. Do you know what the objective on a scope is? What about a trigger bow? For those who are very familiar with these terms, this will be about six hours of material that you’ve already heard, probably speak, and are very familiar with. If you don’t know all that much, this is a critical foundation for the rest of the course. At least that is what I thought when I watched them. I have to admit, my eyelids became heavy, and I struggled to make two hours of video on three successive days of course work. It didn’t really help that most of the firearms that Bob spoke about were those that I didn’t have access to.

Q&A and Workshop Tips

It was with a heavy sigh of relief that I made it to the fourth introductory disc. This one was quite different. This was a Q&A with various instructors at AGI about common questions that they get, along with a section on workshop tips. The questions were interesting to me, and I did learn a few things.

The shop tips were invaluable. With me being in the process of setting up my shop, they couldn’t have come a better time. Some didn’t apply to me, some will obviously apply at a later date and many were invaluable now as I made decisions on what machines and tooling to purchase, how to set up the bench and shop and other items. I think this was actually more about meeting the instructors, but the tips were worthwhile.

First Test

After watching all of the videos for the introduction, I logged online and downloaded the test per the instructions included with the package.

The Test

It was a multiple choice test (with some true and false questions thrown in), but it was not at all what I expected. The test is an “open DVD” test, meaning that you can look answers up in the DVD and paperwork if you need to.

I expected the test would be easy to knock out and more of a formality. Most schools are like this. What they are really after is your money and once they’ve got that, they really are not interested in whether they teach or not, or even if you attend. Every school I’ve attended in the last 30 years has fallen to this habit. They got your money, and they want you to spend more. As a result, they realize that test results are important to your ego and they make sure you get the right answer. I’ve even sat in classes where the test was given orally by the instructor and the students were told which was the correct answer.

That is not what this test was. Bob (and the other instructors) may have spoken about reasons for a particular problem on a gun. Then, the test question might ask you which was not a reason for that problem, or there might be a question relating to something that Bob had thrown in on what seemed to be a relevant but off-hand remark. If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed that entirely.

Able To Recover By Rewatching DVDs

I found that I could only answer about 2/3 of the questions from memory. I’m sure watching the videos while nearly dropping off to sleep didn’t help much. I ended up re-watching the six hours of introduction a second time, but this time making sure I paid attention. Ha! Try that in a brick and mortar school. I messed up, but I was able to recover by re-watching the DVDs. This is one definite advantage of taking a DVD course.

Test Options

When it came time to test, you have two options. You can download the paper test and then send it in to be graded, or you can take the test online. If you send it in, it takes three to four weeks to get your results back (and the certificate, if you passed). If you test online, you instantly get the results and can download and print your certificate. I found the best approach to be a combination. I downloaded the PDFs for a paper test, took the test itself, looking up answers that I needed to and then logged online and copied all of the test answers over. That gave me the time I needed for the test but also the instant results I wanted. Let’s call that whole process a lesson learned and ability to adjust accordingly.

Gun Club of America

I wanted to take a moment and talk about one of the services offered by AGI that seems to get mixed reviews from people. When you buy the course, it specifically states that you get a “One Year of Gun Club of America Silver Level Membership”. I found a variety of negative comments on this throughout the Internet. That meant that I needed to look into it a bit further.

Recognizing What Online Reviews are

As I’ve shifted many of my shopping habits from brick and mortar stores to online shopping, I’ve learned a few things about how people respond. Because you don’t have the ability to handle whatever product you’re buying, the reviews are very important, especially the negative ones. But as you look through the negative ones, you begin to realize just how ignorant some people are. They leave nasty reviews on products that performed exactly like the manufacturer intended them to, but because it wasn’t what the customer wanted or perhaps the customer didn’t read the instructions, the product takes the hit. After a while, you become pretty adept at recognizing these types of negative reviews from the actual reviews where the product didn’t work the way the manufacturer intended.

Continuing Services Practice

I found this to be true with the Gun Club of America. At the heart of the negative reviews was the fact that AGI has your credit card number and when your free trial is up, they will bill you for your membership in the club. While not specifically stated, it was easy for me to infer that this is what would happen. It’s standard accepted industry practice, and many companies that offer continuing services do the same thing. You get a free trial and then they bill you. That’s even how my Sirius/XM radio subscription worked when I bought a vehicle.

Why you would be upset at a company that tells you they are going to do this is beyond me. Yet, yet there are plenty of them out there. There are even people who in the reviews tell you that they called AGI up and yelled at them on the phone and were upset that AGI stopped the subscription, refunded the money, and then hung up. I certainly won’t take phone abuse from customers in my business, and I don’t see why anyone would expect AGI to do so. For the record, AGI has been nothing but helpful through the whole purchasing and set up process.

Worthwhile Membership

So the bottom line, is the Gun Club of America worth it? Certainly the free membership is worthwhile. As a beginner, I think the continuing membership is also worthwhile though. I get a forum where I can ask questions just as if I was in a classroom and have professionals answer me. They are not just the professionals that work for AGI either. The monthly DVD you get is worth it as well. AGI has an entire library of DVDs where a specific firearm is profiled, and you get to observe the fieldstripping, dissassembly, and assembly.

HDTV Format

I should note that all of the videos that I looked at through the GCA website were produced in 16:9 HDTV format and were much more pleasant to watch than the course DVDs. Each month’s edition contains one of these firearms and you also get access to the online library of past editions. That in itself is a worthwhile resource and well worth the monthly price when you have to start paying.

By the way, when you want to quit, there is no reason to get mad. The link to stop your subscription is online in the club members pages, or you can just call AGI and have one of them suspend your membership. They are easy to work with. For me, I’m going to continue the membership when the free trial expires until I no longer feel that I am getting benefit or benefiting others.

Tooling & Resources

As I’m putting my shop together, I’m going to start listing the tools that I find I need and am collecting (or saving for). The tools included with the course are very basic and don’t allow you to do much other than assemble and dissassemble firearms. I’m seeing a need for tools that remove or add metal as necessary, so I’ll be sorting through priorities on that list.

In the meantime, while not strictly firearms related, I’ve grown tired of hacksawing metal for projects. When I was working with aluminum it was okay, but steel is a different story. I recently started a project that needed used a 3.5×3.5×6” chunk of hot rolled steel bar. Cutting that with a hacksaw was a daunting task, and cutting it straight was mind boggling.

Power Bandsaw To Save Time

I’ve been saving for about a year to buy some large tools and this week I dipped into that fund to purchase a metal cutting power bandsaw from Grizzly. It was not so much the physical labor of cutting that annoyed me; it was the endless hours that drove me crazy. If time is money and it takes time to cut such a large chunk of metal, I could justify this expenditure relatively easy.

Chinese Import Tariff Fee

Sadly, the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports is hitting home. As I perused Grizzly’s web site, I noticed a new charge appearing in the prices of the heavy equipment. There was now a “tariff fee” added to the price, generally about 1/8 of the price of the machine. Prices were generally about 5% higher than those listed in the 2018 catalog, even without the tariff fee. Nope, no inflation here…Move along.

I also had an opportunity to purchase a used copy of F.R. “Bob” Brownell’s “Encyclopedia of Modern Firearms: Parts and Assembly”. I don’t know if it will be useful or not, but it was in good shape and current through 1988.

See Also:

The American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is a DVD/distance learning educational source that specializes in gunsmithing. They offer programs in professional and practical gunsmithing, welding, machine shop including instruction on the lathe, vertical mill and general machine shop. In addition to the complete gunsmithing course, they also offer informational DVDs on specific firearms and armor’s courses for some popular firearms. If you are interested in taking any of the courses or just learning about them, you can request information online or just call them at 1-800-997-9404.


  1. Thank you for writing about your experience with this online course. Always thought the learn at home method was a bit dubious, but you’re taking an honest effort at using this course and were brave enough to lay out that kind of money for it.

    After attending a lot of training over the years starting to think online courses might be the best for busy people. Once you sit through a two-hour class being power pointed to death you start to think your time could be used better elsewhere.

    Have gotten more with Hands-On training although as a young man was always put off by dealing with grumpy old codgers. However in the later years that might not be such an issue since I myself I’m turning into said grumpy codger 🙂

    Good luck with the course and look forward to your future installments.

  2. I own a gun business but feel a little embarrassed about my lack of in depth knowledge. Luckily I have hired skilled dudes but still, I’ve been reading gunsmithing books but just not getting what I need. I’ve been following this thread with piqued interest as I’ve been interested in the program from AGI but always nervous about “online video training courses” as they are in this industry, almost never valuable.

    1. Brandon, so far I’ve been pretty impressed with the course. I’m not unfamiliar with guns, having grown up around them, but this course has been pretty informative. I’m still just in the beginning stages of the course, but I have learned a tremendous amount.
      I does have a few drawbacks, but with the combination of the online helps and the ability to call the main line for help (which I have done already), it is working out well.

  3. You mentioned a potential longer term need to refer back to some of the discs. You could make a second list with of catches your eye with the subject/topic, disc number, timestamp.

    1. Fred, the index is awesome for referring to particular firearms. Written notes are also very good. I take notes on things that catch my eye and then transcribe them into a bound pocket notebook that I picked up at Walmart. The notebook fits in a shirt pocket, has a semi-flexible cover with a ribbon bookmark built in. it also has an elastic band that wraps around the pages and keeps it closed. I’m finding it a very useful resource for keeping either directions on how to do things or where to find information. I keep it with me almost all the time.

  4. A very dear friend and co-worker of mine, truly a mentor for many years, passed away last month and left me his gunshop in his will. I’d rather have my friend back but God made a choice and I accept that. [I took no possession of any weapons as the family wanted them and I have enough of my own. I just received the rest of the inventory.]

    I have done handloading in the past, and learned how to field strip an M-14 in basic training, and with my friends help built my own M-4 chambered in 5.56mm. I m NOT by any means a gunsmith, and I am NOT a proficient or experienced handloader by any slight imagination; though I really want to become a good handloader since I now own enough material sans any weapons other than the ones I owned prior to his passing.

    My friend was an accomplished gunsmith, and in our chosen profession a very experienced professional; an old codger who took me under his wing and taught me a thing or two, and I’ve been practicing my profession for 47 + years. He hunted almost every continent on earth, and maybe some that aren’t given the tools, dies, etc. I now own.

    I have never considered being a gunsmith, at my age a career move wan’t in my plans, retirement was. Because of your posts my curiosity was piqued and I took the plunge into looking up AGI; I now get interesting tips and articles everyday in my email, and lots of advertising too. I’m thinking maybe God wants to let me “retire” to a home business and leave my profession that has become a “JOB” after so many years. I have tools that I have no idea what they are for, I have stock of parts some new, some obviously used, and above all things my friend kept meticulous records on everything; that he bought, when he bought,cost, and receipts on everything. The powder and bullets, and brass has date bought, opened if opened, (almost 95% of the powder has not been opened) …. did I mention hand tools and stuff that I still can’t identify, and I’m a mechanic / electronics engineer by trade.

    I’m going to skip ahead and read your posts and consider how to pay for the master gunsmith course if the Lord leads me that way. This whole journey started on a very sad and painful way. I’ve outlived a wife, two children, parents,etc. and losing someone you had daily fellowship with for many years is just as painful. God has blessed me with a wife now who seems to be mildly amused at my situation though. Your post seems to be something beyond just another persons adventure; this event in my life is definitely on the God shelf, and I pray that you win the blog contest since it obviously reaches out beyond just the screen. Thank you for your posts. Keep well, and may God richly bless you. If the Lord leads me to taking the course I’ll let you know, I’m certain it is worth the costs, but I need to be 100% certain I’m following His will, not mine.

    1. What a mixed blessing. I’m sure the loss of the friendship is grievous, but it is really nice that his hard work won’t go to waste like so many in estate sales. I’m glad my posts have been of help and am pretty impressed at this program. All the best to you as you make decisions.

  5. I took the plunge five years ago, retired and bought the entire AGI course with tools. I set up my shop, applied for my FFL and got it. Set up my DBA. I have been gunsmithing, essentially by word of mouth, for five years and enjoy every minute. The DVDs and other books like the Jack First parts books are very valuable. And I have never failed to find needed information on a gun via a YouTube search. Very pleased with my decision to go with AGI. And no, I don’t work for them. I do work WITH them every day.

    1. Mike,
      Hardly. Becoming a gunsmith is a lot more than just watching and comprehending the videos. There is skill that is involved. The videos give you a foundation, but you have to work on firearms – lots of them. The DVDs will give you head knowledge, but you need to translate that to physical skill. AGI gives you considerable help in that area, but you need the drive to do it.

  6. Study tip,don’t sit in your lounger to watch the lessons but setup a straight back chair with a table or desk to take notes on (you may flash back to school) but it will help get in the right mental focus to pay attention and retain the information.

  7. This is some great information about what is really involved in the AGI courses. I am currently enrolled at Sonoran Desert Institute taking classes. I am enrolled in their Firearms Technology Degree program. It is just learning the fundamentals of firearms and ammunition. The information is pretty useful and I have learned a lot. Maybe I should start up a review on SDI so others can see what can be learned through them.

    What is the exact course you are taking?

    I am looking at gun smithing as my retirement since I don’t think SS, my military retirement or my federal job retirement will be available when it comes time for me to retire.

  8. @CT

    The course I’m taking is the Professional Gunsmithing Level 1 course. The idea being that if I like it I can add Level two, Level three, or even the Enhanced Master Gunsmith course if I want to.

    I have the same fears about SS and retirement. I highly suspect that everything I have paid in to those things is just a loss. I’d be bored without something to do in retirement anyway 🙂

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