I started with AGI’s Professional Gunsmith Course – Level 1. This base course is listed at $4,997, but I have seen it with significant discounts on sale. I’m currently looking at a catalog that has pretty much everything in their inventory at a 30% off price. However, this catalog and its prices has already expired.
How You Find Deals
So how do you find out about these deals? Well, you have to get on their mailing list, for starters. Fair warning though, AGI is excellent at marketing, and they very seldom let a sales lead slip through the cracks. I know this annoys many people, but as a self-employed person I really respect the marketing effort. If you’re on the list, you will receive a ton of promotional material, both through the mail and email.
You don’t really have to worry about them going out of business, because they aggressively recruit. You need to sign up for their informational kit, placing yourself on their list in order to catch the sales. Otherwise, you will be paying full price.
Having just had a child that went through the college selection process not too long ago, I will say that AGI’s marketing is no different that most brick and mortar colleges. I don’t let it get under my skin..
They send new product announcements and also coupons, enabling you to purchase at a discount. Not too long ago, they retired a number of videos and you are able to pick those up at a deal as well.
Consistent Contact Information To Avoid Duplicates
The company is very responsive to sales inquiries. Make sure when you contact them that you are consistent in your contact information. Otherwise you will end up with duplicates of everything.
Course Materials Arrived Quickly
The course materials arrived quickly. It was ordered on a Wednesday, and the following Monday I had it in my hand. I was planning on taking a picture of the box opening, but there really is no need. Their advertisement is accurate, and everything shown in their promotional pictures is indeed included in the package. My package looked exactly like the promotional pictures with the exception of a different color of binder.
I hadn’t really paid attention to the full package details, because I was focused on the instructional video parts. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the hand tools included in the package. There was a full set of Grace Tools screwdrivers with wooden handles along with two sets of punches and two hammers.
One set of punches are Grace brass punches, and the other set is a general purpose set of Grace punches that includes several different sizes as well as a center punch and a 1/16” tapered punch that will allow you to get the really small pins moving before you move to the 1/6” straight punch.This keeps you from bending your small punch when starting the pins.
The small, ball-peen hammer is four ounces and just the right size, while the brass hammer feels like it’s six ounces, though it might be an 8-oz one. Both are decent quality, and for the small work they are designed for I suspect they will last.
I’m not a real fan of wooden-handled screwdrivers. The wood tends to absorb oil and solvents that invariably get on your bench and hands. Over time they have a tendency to look bad. I prefer a hard plastic handle and already own a good set of Brownell’s Magna-Tip screwdrivers, but I’ll keep these as a backup. I’ve been using the Magna-Tip for about 15 years now and much prefer them, both for their ability to have a bit that fits practically any screwhead and for their ability to replace tips when you have to modify one or lose one. I do wish that the kit included these instead. Yet, from what I have seen, part of the course is teaching you to grind your screwdriver to fit the screw. We’ll see how that goes
Only Real Complaint About Tools
My only real complaint about the tools is that the AGI coffee cup, which is included in the package, is only a 12-oz cup. What gunsmith drinks coffee in such small quantities? I don’t know any! Though I don’t think I drink a whole lot of coffee, I usually make a 32-oz pot (using a french press). I pour half of it in a 16-oz coffee cup and the other half in a 20-oz thermal stainless steel cup, which I use to refill the regular cup. Maybe I can use the AGI coffee cup as a punch or pen holder.
Included in the package were several different supplies, such as a package of Acraglas Gel for bedding rifles and a can of Gun Sav’r Gunstock Finish. I’ve never used either one of these products and am unfamiliar with them, so I’ll report how well they work when I do use them. I’m looking forward to learning how to bed a stock and have several of my own firearms that could use that.
This is the meat of the course and the whole reason why any of us are willing to shell out the money. I spent most of the day selecting videos and popping them in the DVD player to get a feel for the course. I discovered that AGI’s promotional and sample videos are a true representation of these, though the actual videos are usually a better quality than the samples. Furthermore, I’m finding that while AGI pushes very hard on their marketing, their products seem to deliver exactly what they say they will deliver.
Three to Four Hour Videos With Close-ups Plus Cutaway Firearms in Operation
As I skipped around the video, I saw a significant number of close-ups along with cutaway firearms showing the mechanics in operation. Each course video appears to have 3 to 4 hours of lecture on them. I didn’t look at all of them, but I did view selections of a fair representation of them to get a feel for the instructional style.
The instruction DVDs are organized into an introduction plus four categories, which include: Pistols, Rifles, Shotguns, and .22LR Rimfire Rifles. I’m curious why that rimfire section was broken out of the Rifle section, but given that there are eight DVDs in that section alone, I’m betting that it will be pretty comprehensive.
Quality of VHS Tapes
One thing I did note is that the videos were obviously mastered in the day and age of VHS tapes. They are nowhere near HDTV quality, and the ones I viewed didn’t even approach standard DVD quality. It’s like watching an old color TV set. You can enlarge the screen, but there is always a fuzzy quality to the video. When NTSC and VHS were cutting edge, I’m sure the quality was excellent, but they don’t even compare to the modern DVD and especially not the HDTV quality most people have become accustomed to.
I spent some time pondering this and I can see that in some videos, the primary instructor, Bob Dunlap, has dark hair and in the later production videos, he has greyed out. That tells me that the production of these videos spans a considerable amount of time. As far as I can tell, Bob Dunlap is an excellent instructor and has a vast store of knowledge and we may just be stuck in dealing with this substandard image quality. It kind of reminded me of opening an old book in that there is lots of valuable information on the inside, but it’s not necessarily the prettiest thing to look at.
Watching To See If Content Is Still Up-To-Date and Relevant
The image quality did bring up a concern that I will be paying close attention to. It looks like some of these videos could be older than 20 years, though there isn’t really a dating scheme so it’s hard to know. Certainly some of them are more than ten years old.
As I progress through the course, I’ll be watching to see if the content is still up-to-date and relevant. This isn’t like a computer course though. The firearm I currently carry is a basic design that is over 100 years old now (with some modifications).
Teaching gunsmithing on old guns is certainly acceptable, and 20 years is nothing when dealing with firearms that can be over 100 years old. I do, however, want to make sure that the modern arms are covered as well.
Cutaway Views Showing Operation of Firearms
The cutaway views showing the operation of the firearms was kind of neat, but a modern production would include computer-generated graphics, which would selectively pinpoint and show the operation that the videos sometimes struggle to show with the cutaways. All that said, Bob does an amazing job at getting the information across using nothing more than a screwdriver and a chalkboard at times.
There are also what appear to be “study guides” on the four main categories in the course. There are lots of pictures with much written description, and it appears that it tracks the videos pretty well. I’ll keep you updated on the usefulness.
Awesome Written Index, Valuable Far Beyond Initial Learning
One last thing that I wanted to mention about the course material was the index that came with the videos. With each video having up to four hours of instruction on it, the written index is awesome. I was able to look into the index, locate the aspect of a particular firearm I wanted to learn about, and go directly to that DVD, knowing what section to look for in the DVD. I can see that will make this course valuable far beyond just the initial learning.
Other Videos & Reference Material
The level one course came with some bonus material, like stock refinishing, building an M1 Garand, relining 22 barrels, gun cleaning secrets, and others. I haven’t looked through those yet. They don’t seem to be part of the actual course either. Bonus material is a good term for them. All told, there are nine bonus DVDs and one CD.
The set also came with a complete set of Jack First Gun Parts reference books. These are amazing! It would appear that for any firearm I could think of, they had a schematic and a parts list to order parts online. I didn’t even know these books existed, and I’ve been frustrated several times when I needed a part for an old firearm and couldn’t find it on Brownell’s or Midway. After researching them online, it seems that even though they list these parts, many of them are custom made and are not always in stock all the time. The exploded schematics of the firearms is worth its weight in gold though.
Over the years, I’ve collected exploded schematics from may sources, including The American Rifleman, manufacturer’s manuals, and any other source I could get my hands on. So far, these manuals have all of those schematics and more in them.
There is also a set of record keeping supplies that you will need if you pursue an FFL. The record book as well as the requisite tags to keep track of customer guns and even a pad of Repair Order/Invoice forms are all included. There is also a complete application kit and detailed instructions on applying for an FFL along with AGI’s recommendations on how to fill out the form and which license to apply for.
The package contains more introductory material that I anticipated. It’s obviously a one-size-fits-all package, and even if you know nothing about gunsmithing, it will get you started. If you already have an FFL and are used to working on firearms, you will probably skip the marketing material and the very basic stuff, going straight for the course. Hey, it’s a self-paced study, and you get out of it what you are willing to put into it.
Outside of the course, there seems to be a good portion of material letting you know that your outlay of several thousand dollars was worth the investment. I suppose that with some people, that sort of coaxing may be necessary as they may have second thoughts after spending the money. Me? I’m already committed, and I just scanned through the cheerleading stuff.
I do wish they had included a decent set of files though. I don’t need them, as I already own a good set of files, including needle files, but other than punches, I would think this is one of the most commonly used gunsmithing tools. The enhanced Level 3 course does include files and a whole bunch more tools though. Perhaps you don’t get them in the Level 1 course because if they are used inappropriately you can also destroy a firearms.
Again, I do wish they had more modern videos with modern production techniques used in helping to explain, but obviously Bob can get the information across without that.
Initially, my plan is to spend two hours a day with the DVDs. That is about as much sitting as I can handle with Bob doing a brain dump on me. Much more than that and I start struggling to pay attention. I’m planning on doing that five days a week and then spending the time I’m not with my family or business handling firearms. I have a number that need work, and I have many friends who are willing to let me work on theirs as well.
Two hours a day may be a bit aggressive, and I may have to back off of that, depending on how well I absorb the information. In all, I’m hoping for 10 hours of lecture a week and at least 10 hours of hands-on work with whatever firearms I can access every week.
I’m also asking Hugh to keep this article updated with links to the other articles in this series so you only have to bookmark one article to stay connected to my progress. I’ll see you next week and let you know how the course goes. I’m starting it tomorrow!
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.