SDI Graduate Feature: Tommy Wilson, Pistolsmith

  • Joey Upper

Tommy has been acquainted with firearms since he was young, first coming to know and love them with a shotgun he was introduced to at 11. He owns that shotgun to this day.

Obviously, with his time in the military, his experience with firearms would branch beyond shotguns and hunting fare. 

“With Uncle Sam,” Tommy recalled, “I got introduced to a little bit different firearms based off of  my entrance into the military.”

Wilson served in the United States Air Force for more than two decades. 

“I was a security forces member for 19 years. Then I became a first sergeant for my last three years, or many people would know this as an adult daycare provider,” he said with a laugh. 

That’s 22 years total. 

Taking firearms apart, cleaning them, and putting them back together was the extent of his work within the mechanical aspects of gunsmithing for quite a long time. 

“I didn’t get into the mechanics of firearms until later in my life,” he said. “The military gave me the opportunity to shoot a lot of different things.”

It was not until Tommy made the switch from active duty, to National Guard, to civilian that gunsmithing became something of a real interest to him.

“(I) actually found (SDI) when I was a government service employee,” he said. “ I enjoyed my job, really enjoyed my job, but I was at a point where I was like, ‘OK, where is this really going to take me? Am I enjoying what I’m doing?’”

Wilson realized that, while he did enjoy his job, he was not working his passion. Working within the field of firearms technology would be a better fit. During that time, he found us through some of our influencers. 

“I actually heard about SDI through YouTube – IV8888, and also through Hickok45. Watching their YouTube channels, they always talked about SDI, and I was like, ‘OK, so what does SDI have for me?’”

Tommy enrolled and earned his Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate. 

It wasn’t always easy. Like a lot of our former and current military students, reacclimating to the school setting wasn’t something Wilson took lightly. 

“Getting back into coursework was the biggest challenge for me,” he noted. 

The first time he was in college was the year 2000. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer security, but as he had not kept up to date with technology, he decided to go a different route.

According to Tommy, he’s not a young man anymore, and the idea of returning to school after such a long time was daunting.

Once he dug in, however, he found that not only did he have the ability to succeed – he had a blast while doing so! 

“I enjoyed (all of the classes),” he said. “That’s not just me being me. They were really all enjoyable. I learned a lot from every one of them.”

Tommy has found a full-time job that he enjoys that is not always within the world of gunsmithing, but he does work part time in the industry and takes a great deal of satisfaction from that. What he does part time is really special.

“One of the things we talked about in our curriculum is that being a gunsmith, there’s a lot that you can do in the gunsmith world,” he said of his chosen gunsmithing path. 

“Trying to tackle all of it from a new business perspective – sometimes you set yourself up for failure. So, with that in mind, I wanted to tackle a small portion of it, so I had a friend who is a competitive shooter out here … and we were talking about how I could focus on pistolsmithing, because a lot of people just really don’t do that. So that is where I am at right now. I am a part-time pistolsmith.”

In working with pistols, Tommy has found the ability to continue doing what he loves while focusing his craft to help him carve out a portion of his local market and continuously improve. 

As for any students looking to get involved with Sonoran Desert Institute, Tommy was straightforward: 

“I would definitely send them (to SDI). Actually, my old coworker is an SDI student. He’s getting ready to graduate. So when I mentioned it to him before I even started, he looked into it. … The way the curriculum is laid out, and the way the program is laid out … it was easy to get in, maneuver around, and do what you needed to do. I will tell anybody that’s going to do online school, just stay dedicated and you’ll get through it!”