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Reader CA.Ben writes:

I’m a second year mechanical engineering student at a private California university. After graduation, I am fleeing this state for a more firearms-friendly locale (I’m thinking Idaho). My goal is to eventually work in the firearms industry. Right now though, I am interested in adding to my firearms knowledge, which is made difficult by the – surprise! – lack of firearms-based classes at my university. Lately I’ve been searching for good literature on firearm history and development. I own a copy of the 1975 reprint of R.K Wilson’s classic Textbook Of Automatic Pistols, and am trying to expand my library. What literary recommendations do you have for someone in my position?

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  1. The first book that got me started is “The Worlds Great Small Arms” by Craig Phillip. It covers all sorts of firearms and has hundreds of illustrations, many full color cutaways showing high detail of the internals. I bought it in eighth grade (Im a junior in mechanical engineering at UK) and it is still the corner piece of my collection. By the way I’m looking to design firearms too.

    • Did you ever follow your dream and become a design engineer? If so connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m looking to hire a design engineer for fire arms

  2. If you are at all interested in the mechanics of reloading, try glen zediker. He has a number of books on reloading for competition as well as a few on the mechanics of the ar15 service rifle.

  3. After you have read these suggested book start looking into how new materials and construction methods can be used to make firearms and components. Look into the application of Graphene into firearms once graphene becomes more low cost and plentiful. Look into plastic welding techniques like ultrasonic and lazer for composite firearms because those are the future (think Glocks). You are in a awesome position to learn and do some cool stuff.

  4. petroleum engineering 101, 102, 202, 203

    If you are an engineering mind….do something different that actually makes good money. Do the gun related on the side for leisure or extra income.

    Word of experience here…if it can give you satisfaction go where the money is

    • Do the gun related on the side for leisure or extra income. I want to +1 this. Do some stuff on the side as project guns and/or proof of concept examples that you can show to people not just what looks good on a resume. Look into the story of how Ronnie Barrett got started. also, learn some basic ‘how to run a business’ skills as you might have to start your own. Learn personal finance too.

    • This is probably the best advice out there. Speaking as someone who’s seen behind the curtain of the industry, there’s no money in it and more trouble than most sane people would care to deal with. I wanted to be in the industry, but honestly it’s a lot like enjoying bratwurst and then getting a job in a sausage factory. I think I’d much rather work a regular 9-5 and then do gun stuff as a side gig and work on my projects stand-alone in my own little design studio/shop.

      Also, if you’re going into the gun world I suggest reading “Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat”. It applies.

  5. I’d write to a few firearm firms, ATTN the head of their r&d or production units, and ask them.

    Don’t be obsequious (eg I’ve always dreamed of working for your company, always loved your products, etc., unless its true and you add some real details about why) but do basically repeat what’s above and ask what they’d recommend.

    Me, I’d recommend getting a copy of Machine Tool Practices by Kibbe et al., and taking whatever machine shop classes you can find. That’s not specific to firearms design but getting a good foundation in machining will make you a better design engineer in general.

  6. Check out the Jerry Kuhnhausen books. They are shop manuals for various firearms. Won’t teach you anything new about materials, engineering techniques, etc. But a good source for detailed schematics, etc and just a wealth of info.

  7. Thanks for posting this. I’m graduating in May 2014 with a degree in engineering and would love to find a job in the firearms industry. Seems like many of the job openings require about 5 years of experience unfortunately. I would be interested in hearing from those in the industry about how to get an entry level engineering job.

    • Network among gun manufacturing people, but don’t ask for a job. Ask for information. Questions like “what skills will I need, what should I do to prepare,” etc. Ask who else you should talk to to get more good info. Use Kipling’s six faithful serving men and ask questions calculated to get useful information.

      As long as you don’t present yourself as a job-seeker, and you stay on mission, you will be able to talk to interesting and powerful people who can put you on the right path.

    • Did you ever follow your dream and become a design engineer? If so connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m looking to hire a design engineer for fire arms

    • Did you ever follow your dream and become a design engineer? If so connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m looking to hire a design engineer for fire arms

  8. “Cartridges of the World” by Frank C. Barnes – currently in its 13th edition. This book will give you excellent thumbnail sketches (1/2 to a full page plus) of most current and obsolete cartridges, plus interesting articles on firearms, reloading, ballistics, etc. Then go online to and and check out their book lists.

  9. I have a couple very indepth out of print gun smithing books which discuss the manufacture of firearms from base materials. I will have to dig through the library and revert back to the site later. I would suggest wandering though the Brownells Gunsmithing library. They have everything from machinist books on guns to gunsmithing courses to individual books on certain types of guns.

  10. I didn’t know there were any universities that had firearms classes. It’s really a very small niche. Just take mechanical engineering or materials engineering classes.

  11. If you do relocate to Idaho, I’d start sending out feelers right now for possible employment opportunities.

    It’s a great place to live. I’ve been here 14 years!

  12. It’s sad you live in CA. I am very lucky to live in Atlanta, GA. Honestly the best way to learn is by doing. I too am an engineer/computer scientist and build firearms as a hobby. It’s an expensive hobby though. I started out taking guns completely apart, studying the design ext. Then I got into building AR’s, 1911’s, bolt action rifles from parts. Then I reached a point where I really needed to get a CNC machine to make the things I wanted. Luckily I have been a member of IEEE for a while and knew lots of people with CNC knowledge and access to CNC machinery. You would be surprised at the amount of IEEE members that are gun enthusiasts. I guess it’s because our minds think logically and mostly objectively. I would recommend getting a hold of armors manuals and studding them while in CA. Once you can move to a free state look for a SOT. Be honest and say you want to watch and learn this and that. Offer to be a free gopher after you work your real job. You would be amazed at how many small SOTs love sharing there knowledge and free help to do the bitch work is a major plus. You will be introduced to XYZ who introduces you to ABC and so on. I think you will find most people in the industry are really, really nice. I’ve meet so many interesting people that will bend over backwards to help me. It also helps that people in the firearm industry are people that tend to have that scientific/objective/empirical evidence/logical mindset. Oh yeah one more thing, transfer to Georgia Tech. We have the best mechanical engineering programs in the world.

    • I used to be a member of IEEE.

      Quit the organization when I notice that Spectrum had one article after another written by liberal arts majors who didn’t know a newton from a kilogram. Last I looked in on their website, it has gone only downhill since then.

  13. 1. Get a solid foundation in mechanical engineering. Take optional courses in MatSci. Learn how to use FEA simulation packages, the principles of sampling, destructive testing etc. Learn a couple of CAD/CAM packages – eg SolidWorks.

    2. Get a grounding in machining and manufacturing. Learn how to program CNC machines at the panel in G/M code. Too many engineers coming out of schools today have never gotten dirty. If you’re an engineer who has a clean shirt at the end of the day, odds are you’re not connected much with reality.

    3. Now you can start worrying about guns in particular. Go through Midway’s and Brownells’ list of books on gunsmithing and gun design. There are several out-of-print books that have been digitized into Google Books that are interesting. I should make up a reading list of books for people who want to be serious about gunmaking and gun design. It isn’t a small list, and some of the books aren’t in English.

  14. The best advice I can give? Leave the library. Find someone in your area that teaches beginners. Assist them with classes to see what problems end users have. Learn what gun features make guns hard and/or easy to use. Do a “ride along” with some experienced competitors, look at the mods they make to their gear and learn why those mods matter to them. Take a class in human factors. Learn about hand strength and sympathetic movement of the hand muscles and upper body strength.

    Ultimately most gun owners like or dislike a gun based on how usable it is as a tool. If you don’t understand the user perspective, you’ll fail as a designer.

    There’s still a huge market need for guns that can be operated and comfortably shot by people with weaker grip strength, weaker upper body strength and smaller hands. It doesn’t help to make a small gun if it has a 10 lb trigger and a 16 lb recoil spring, or has so little mass that the user can’t maintain grip on it when it cycles. The laws of physics limit some of those parameters, but IMHO that’s the greatest challenge to the industry now.

    • This comment here is exactly why so many cheaper designs fail. Proportion and purpose in design is key. It has to do more than just “work”.

  15. Hatcher’s Notebook. I read it cover to cover and use it as a reference often. It’s great for people who want to learn how firearms function in detail without being drowned in layers of advanced technical jargon from the get go. Hatcher’s anecdotal writing style is great.

    • If people want to see what it really took to create a whole new rifle design, then Hatcher’s “Book of the Garand” is an even better text.

      • I had no idea he published other works I’ll look into that one. Could you recommend a good book on the inner workings of the AR15, M16, etc? I’ve always wanted to learn about the platform but thought the Army technical manuals would be a bit too much too soon.

  16. Get yourself an affordable (older) copy of Jane’s infantry weapons. It is the most comprehensive volume I’ve ever seen.

  17. There are a lot of book out there about guns, but not really that many that will apply much for a designer. One in particular I would highly recommend is Chinn’s 5-volume set entitled “The Machine Gun”. It’s horrendously expensive, but happily it’s in the public domain and you can get pretty much the whole thing in PDF:

    Chinn gets into a lot of very good technical information on subjects like pressure curves, locking system timing, and such.

    For general overview, Wilson’s pistol book is good, and Edward Ezell’s “Handguns of the World” is excellent (and cheap). I would also recommend reading John Browning’s biography (“John M Browning: American Gunmaker”), just for historical perspective.

  18. Many of the books mentioned will have great drawing of various parts of many many guns. While your location may preclude working on the real thing or even going to the campus machine shop (These days it’s probably in the robotics department.) nothing will prevent you from making models of things like trigger systems locking methods etc out of wood and plastic. Also get into courses that teach you to actually machine metal and the features and limitations of modern CNC production. A firm grounding in materials science is also needed today. And as others have said try to handle disassemble and assemble as many different designs as you can… Perhaps a summer job at a movie prop house that does a lot of firearm work as an intern might be found. Museums with firearms collections need people to clean and care for their guns… There are ways around the problem even in California … Good luck and keep in mind that many great designers of guns were gunsmith/tinkers first… It just that today and going forward materials science is and will be a growing part of the art as well understanding modern automated manufacturing methods… Going forward thos two items will be vital to be kept fully abreast of their development through your entire working life.

  19. Oh yes patent drawing and descriptions are available for free on the net I use google patents but there’re is a vast repository of things gun design related for free on the net

  20. Try getting an apprenticeship with an experienced gunsmith. You’ll have access to his books and gain experience working on a firearm as well plus you’ll be able to learn how to tear a gun down to a bare frame and build it back up which will help when it comes time to build one from scratch or design one from scratch.

  21. (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers) has PDF copies of the Saami/ANSI standards books. They are very useful for caliber info and pressure data etc. for firearms design.

    Books that I would recommend for someone new to gun design that want a technical minded gun are:

    The Bolt Action: A Design Analysis, Vol. 1 Hardcover
    by Stuart Otteson
    (Out of print and costly, you might get Vol1 or 2 from a library to look at before buying a copy.)

    Hatchers Notebook as mentioned earlier in Milsurp’s comments. Also agree with Ian’s recommendation of Chinn’s Machine Gun Volumes, which are great, I am proud to own the first 4 volumes and bought them when they were only really expensive, some volumes stamped “declassified” and such.

    Understanding Firearms Ballistics by Robert Rinker is good.

    Depending on if you want to be a “gun designer” or gunsmith they are somewhat different things.

  22. Amazing, not one person here mentioned 3D printing? WTF?
    If there’s a more cutting-edge, real life technology that presents such a wide range of opportunities for the future, then I haven’t seen it. Read what you can about guns, but get down with the new 3D printing possibilities just around the corner.

  23. The Modern Gunsmith Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by James Virgil Howe
    Advanced Gunsmithing by W. F. Vickery
    Harold Hoffmans books
    Modern Gunsmithing by Clyde Baker

  24. I’m currently reading Hatcher’s Notebook and I recommend it. iraqveteran8888 called it the “holy grail of gun books” in their video on firearms books. It has much detail, particularly on USA service rifles of the period it covers, but It doesn’t cover postwar designs. At least my NRA Library edition doesn’t. There are some other good recommendations in the comments here but I won’t suggest anything I don’t have direct experience reading. I plan on reading more technical and design-oriented books, but much of my other reading is application-oriented. I recently read Massad Ayoob’s classic In The Gravest Extreme, I’d say it’s a must read for those who carry a weapon in everyday life. It’s an expert’s wise perspective on when the use of lethal force is advisable- only in the gravest extreme of mortal danger.

  25. Thank you everybody so much for the suggestions and advice. I now have several new books pending on my Amazon account.

    Also, the general advice you guys give is top notch. I am applying through my university co-op program for a 7 month internship at several firearms companies. Hopefully one of them pans out.

  26. Would love to hear how your job efforts turned out…did you get into the firearms industry in any capacity? Did you move to Montana? Do you still frequent this site? So many questions!



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