It's possible to make a living at anything. Depends on what you consider to be "a living", how good you are at gunsmithing, how good you handle customer service, how quickly you establish a reputation, and whether guns are legal for the next 30 years.
Ok, as a useful answer. Self employment is the exception, not the rule. How are your book keeping skills? How are you people skills? How much liquid assets do you have..IE cash reserves? What do you know of guns and machining? Know anything of finishing metal? Are you good with your hand and a quick study?
Do you have an area of focus? Going to build handguns, rifles, be a finish or restoration person?
Bottom line? You can be the best "maker" in the world If you business skills and cash flow suck you will "die on the vine". You can have exceptional people skills and be a whiz bang accountant and you "might" survive even with slip shod work.
I love my work.....most days anyway.
It is not for everyone. Like my buddy Hackathorn loves to tell me, "all you pistolsmiths are a little different ". He doesn't mean it in a kind way. I suspect the stress of earning your living via several different tasks is part of the difference.
first of all, i am not a gunsmith. i am however self employed; there are a lot of things common to all self employed people.
1. you have to find your own health insurance if you aren't covered by a spouse's policy.
2. you have to learn to lisen carefully the first time;customers do not have much confidence in someone who will not listen to them. it is very rude to want someone's business but not be willing to listen to what they want.
3. if your are not wealthy to start with, get used to lean times and really get know your banker. nothing is set in stone and the best laid plans can go awry. money is easy to borrow, seldom as easy to pay back.
4. your spouse really needs to understand the irregularity of a self employed persons income. the checks don't come every friday, etc.
5. do not do too much extra work which you do not get paid for, make that none. it is very tempting when you first start to do a little extra to impress a customer for a little good p.r.. the p.r. is that this guy is a fool and lets take advantage of him until he learns better. if you do it too much you go out of business or have customer base that is spoiled rotten, expect more and more for nothing.
6. customers will expect you to be a mind reader at times; goes to being a good listener.
could go on, but wife needs the computer, hope this helps.
Pay special heed to that comment about giving stuff away - you will find yourself spending all your time doing things for nothing. It's a real danger. If you don't get paid, don't do it. People that ask you to are just trying to screw you over.
There are many ways to skin the proverbial "gunsmithing for a living cat" and maybe we are or not going about it right. You be the judge.
My husband is first a master class machinist who loves to smith. He knows metal and how it works as well as how metal works with metal. He has had a regular job in the same company ( big international corp ) for many years but home smithing is where his heart is so for a "retirement" living he is going to smith from the home. He has his own state of the art milling machine, lathe and too many toys and tools to mention and plans are in the works for a new home shop/garage.
For some time he has been smithing at the local range an doing custom work at home. He even keeps the local PD's guns working. More recently he has gained a small inroad with the Dallas PD by working on a few of their personal guns. His philosophy is to do custom work very well and in a timely manner, build a customer base one satisfied customer at a time and stand by what he does.
I have some first hand experience here, since starting Tromix in June of 1999, I have still not made any money. Good thing I still have the day job. Anyway, the biggest problem in the start up has not been my customer service or quality by any means. Its the fact that most start-ups do not have the tooling required to roll it out in the black. Sure the profit margins are decent on the Tromix AR-15 Sledgehammer rifles, but I am continually upgrading tooling and buying new tooling for more R&D projects. Many of my R&D projects fail, and thats a total loss. If I were to do it again, I would leave the "custom" out of the picture and simply build one single variation of the Sledgehammer gun and leave it at that. Toying around with new R&D work has really set me back.