GRAD SPEAK: Zachary Brokaw – “In The Business of Fun”

  • Drew Poplin

In this crazy, fast-paced world, it is easy to lose sight of things. The firearms community is not immune to this occurrence. Think back to when you first fired a gun. Ask yourself why you got interested in firearms in the first place. Chances are, you will say, “Because I enjoyed it.”

SDI graduate Zachary Brokaw is a man who knows that what he does is for someone else’s enjoyment. 

“At the end of the day, I sell fun. I work on somebody’s hobby. I’m not selling life insurance. I’m not selling auto insurance. That’s the stuff people don’t want to think about paying to have done. I sell fun, so I want to make it a good experience for them.“ 

Finding SDI

Brokaw has a long history of selling fun. Before enrolling at SDI, he worked in manufacturing and producing motorcycles. But like so many, when COVID-19 hit, Zach found his way to SDI. 

“I went home and was like, ‘What am I gonna do? I got unlimited time and no income. It’s time for me to get my FFL, and I can do that as a retirement thing.’”

But Zachary knew that he needed to gain some more credibility as a gunsmith. As he says, “It’d be a lot more weight behind my name if I can be like, ‘Hey, I’m actually a trained gunsmith and I have a degree. I went to gunsmithing school.’” 

After graduating in 2021, Brokaw started his part-time gunsmithing business, 963 Machine. Zach operates in what he refers to as “a niche market,” where he specializes in building custom AK rifles. But just because he does gunsmithing on the side doesn’t mean that he doesn’t stay busy. 

“I turn down more work than I take on just because if I overload myself with work, I’m sitting on somebody’s rifle. And if they can find somebody else to do it in a more timely fashion, I don’t want them to feel that they’re locked into me and I’ve taken a deposit or anything. So typically I only keep two firearms on my bench. My customers respect it a lot.”

Lessons Learned at SDI

When I asked the outgoing Brokaw what lessons he learned at SDI, he expressed gratitude for how the school helped him realize the virtue of patience. He explained, “Patience is probably the number one thing. And especially with SDI. Some of these projects that they give you… a guy could take it and just do it all, start to finish. Red eyeing it, drinking coffee over three days. But the way that it’s staged…you have to turn everything in stages. Then have it graded, and critiqued, and then go from there. I could see the quality of the output of work that I would do completely rising exponentially, just because of the fact that it taught me to just slow down.”

Zach’s patience and knowledge would, quite literally, be put to the test while enrolled at SDI. Among all of the courses, he felt that the Ballistics classes were “both probably the most challenging and the most rewarding classes.”


Zachary can be seen here practicing the principle of having fun


He continued, “They were classes that really challenged me a lot. I’m a very hands-on person, so I really loved the fact that all the labs and everything was sent out. I’m not gonna say they were easy. It meshed really well with my style of learning… the material, and the way that SDI presented it to me, I was able to excel in it. I’m not out there making mile-long shots, but I know the equations to be able to make that mile-long shot.”

Finally, I asked Brokaw what he would say to anyone who was considering enrolling at SDI. After a brief pause, he replied, “First I tell ’em that it’s something that I definitely am glad I was able to experience. They’re gonna get you ready for things you wouldn’t think you would even want to take on or aspects of the industry that you normally wouldn’t even have thought of doing. It’s a good experience. It’s not an easy program to go through by any means. It’s not an impossible program either. Nothing good ever comes easy.”

Loving Life

Nowadays, Zachary Brokaw is still quite a busy man. He is the father of seven children. He drives hours each day for his main job and is working on firearms on the side. But for the joyous Brokaw, he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I’m blessed, man. We’re all blessed. As long as I’m on this side of the dirt, that’s all that matters. I got opportunities to do all kinds of stuff, you know? So it’s just a matter of just taking the knowledge that you get, the experiences that you have, and just running with it.”

If you read Zach’s story and you too want to get involved in the firearms industry, don’t hesitate to check out our programs! And for more stories like Zach’s, you can read more about our graduates here.

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