Welcome everyone to the TFB Armorer’s Bench! As mentioned in the little blurb, this series will focus on a lot of home armorer and gunsmith activities. In this article sponsored by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal, I list off my picks for the 10 essential tools for the at-home armorer/gunsmith. Let’s dive right in!
TFB Armorer’s Bench: 10 Essential Home Armorer/Gunsmith Tools
Welcome to our recurring series of Armorer’s Bench which is made possible and brought to you by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal who are our sponsors. Here, we at TFB hope to inform, entertain, and even inspire any would-be gunsmith or armorer out there. Ideally, with the information I provide and with the help of our sponsors, you can have some useful knowledge pertaining to the conservation and improvement of firearms technology while at the same time sharing experiences and teaching each other new tips and tricks along the way in the comments. Digging deep into what it is to be an armorer or gunsmith has significance but what is important is what those people do to show they’ve earned that title. I am happy to share my experiences and knowledge and hope it is informative!
Make your personal safety a priority:
- Practice proper gun safety. Always make sure before the firearm hits your bench that it is unloaded and safe to be handled.
- Wear the proper safety equipment. The main one would be safety glasses (decent ones) since parts are often under spring tension and you may work with high RPM tools. Other honorable mentions would be latex gloves or a respirator when working with potentially harmful solvents and oils. Also hearing protection when working with loud machinery or test-firing firearms.
- Modifications, alterations, and customizations will void your firearm’s warranty 9.5 times out of 10. Please take that into consideration before attempting any at-home gunsmithing.
- If you are unsure about proper safety practices, disassembly procedures, or warranty standards, stop, put down the tools, and consult a competent gunsmith.
Arm yourselves with education! I definitely do not recommend relying heavily on the internet. All too often is the draw to a simple quick fix or answer from the world wide web but as most of us know, not everything on the internet is true. I encourage you to go out and get yourselves reliable reading material on guns, especially ones that talk about specific guns. Books simply talking about the history of a gun could unlock all sorts of insight into potential issues that may be present. Have a book talking about a Springfield 1903? Maybe it discusses heat treating issues a batch had. Beyond that and on the more technical side would be books on disassembly like the ones from Gun Digest. One of my teachers in college Kevin Muramatsu actually did a lot of the work that went into these books and they are always handy if I ever get stumped.
2. Parts References
Aside from those other types of books, I would look into sources of exploded parts drawings and parts references. This is a good way of learning what parts are called, how they work together, and where in a gun they are located. Once again, Gun Digest puts out a good exploded drawing collection. I know that Numrich did as well once upon a time but I am unsure if they still do. I often go to Numrich’s website since their interface is easy to work with finding parts and seeing where they are at.
3. Measuring Tools
Okay, so this one is kind of cheatsy but it is a necessary evil. If you are the type that makes stuff from scratch or needs to know the dimensions of something, it is good to have the right tools for the job. A caliper is a very versatile measuring tool so that is my top pick of any. I recommend going with a dial caliper since I have noticed the digital ones can be kind of finicky. Frankford Arsenal makes digital as well as dial calipers and I recommend checking their products out!
Quick Tip: When using a caliper, make sure you always use that one for that specific project. If you use one and then another they can be off by critical amounts of measurements!
4. Pencil and Paper
Pretty plain Jane pick but an obvious one. If you need to write down perinate information or trace or label something do it! I prefer pen but it often makes a mess because you can not erase it and I am impatient by nature so I end up changing my mind pretty often.
This seems to be a tricky thing for most beginners to grasp since (in the gunsmith world at least) the hammer is supposed to be wielded in a way where its own weight provides the force needed to do a job. In other words, If you need to punch out a pin and you are using a 4oz hammer and it is just not doing the job, maybe do not just hit harder. Get a bigger hammer. I recommend having a bunch of different hammers available. I am talking several different weights of ball-peen hammers start real light like a 4oz. Kinetic hammers, brass hammers, and nylon-headed hammers. Wheeler Engineering makes hammers with interchangeable heads as well as different-sized hammers for gunsmithing specifically.
Some may regard it as a pinnacle tool. Guns typically have pins and pins need to be punched out with punches. Aside from just pins, there may also need to be things moved out of dovetail cuts or persuaded by a fine point in a certain direction. I recommend having different types of punches too! Brass punches, nylon punches, steel punches, roll pin starter punches, and roll pin punches. At the very least brass would be ideal for gunsmithing. Wheeler Engineering has several punch sets and hammer and punch combos available at the link here.
7. Bench Blocks
Bench blocks can be super helpful kick butt items for any bench. Some even have built-in slots/jigs for doing specific operations. For me, a bench block is more than just a quality of life sort of tool. It helps you do the job easier and faster, yes but it also helps you do it right. It’s the third hand you never had. One that lifts up your item enough to drive out a pin or at the very least get it started.
There are different types of bench blocks too. The most common will be of plastic so it can take abuse and also be nonmarring. Wheeler has a couple and they have those little qualities of life additions that can help make special jobs a breeze. Other than plastic ones, I personally own a metal jewelers block which is useful for fixing mucked-up flathead screws especially. Besides those two you can make homemade bench blocks from things like a cut up and drilled out 2×4 or my personal favorite: hockey pucks! Take a hockey puck and drill a bunch of different-sized holes and boom you have a bench block.
8. Screw Drivers
This one is an easy one and done as far as I am concerned. There is a myriad of screwdrivers out there that you could roll with. The biggest thing with guns is it really does pay to have those special tapered bits. Wheeler makes a great screwdriver kit. If you are going all-in on it definitely get the 89 piece kit like I have. It comes with some specialty bits that make life easier. Aside from that, there are micro screwdriver sets as well as torque wrenches that are useful. Another necessary beast would be an extra-long flathead for those buttstock screws.
9. Files and Stones
When I went to school for gunsmithing I remember a teacher saying the thing that really makes a gunsmith a gunsmith is the ability to make a new part with nothing more than a set of files. A file is an underused tool in most garages and benches but for the machinist and gunsmith, it is 100% necessary. It can be used to deburr but also to shape. At one point in school, I made a Mauser trigger from a piece of stock with a file and drill. For me, a good set of files can be priceless.
10. Vise and Vise Jaws
This one is one that I always preach because it really is a quality of life thing but only just. I go crazy if I do not have some sort of vise to be my third hand holding my workpiece. Tipton makes excellent gun vises and I would recommend the Best Gun Vise or the Ultra for sure. Besides literal gun vises, a standard workshop vise is a must for me. If you yourself check this box make sure to pick up a set of rubber/soft vise jaws that attach with magnets. I’ve seen people use aluminum, wood, or a thick folded pad but some good rubber jaws are the way to be.
Honorable mention: PPE/Safety Equipment
It is obvious that you should wear safety glasses when working with guns but I would not call them an active tool so that is why they are not in the top ten. Just make sure to be safe and mindful when working with things that are under spring tension, can be loud, or sharp. Accidents happen.
As always, thank you for reading TFB! Be safe out there, have fun while shooting, and we will see you next time for the TFB Armorer’s Bench brought to you by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal! Also, let us know what you think in the comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.
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Tired of trying to secure your AR parts while installing a pin, detent or spring? The AR-15 Bench Block is the answer! Specifically designed for AR-15 assembly and disassembly, the AR-15 Bench Block is the perfect tool. It securely holds the upper receiver, lower receiver, front sight and charging handle during assembly, disassembly and maintenance.
Includes 2 hammer bodies and 8 hammer faces with each hammer body: metal, brass, nylon and rubber.
The Wheeler® Hammer and Punch Set includes a polymer/brass combination hammer, eight precision brass punches, four steel punches and two plastic punches. It comes in a handy molded case. It makes for a great tool for driving pins or drifting sights at the shooting range, or on your gunsmithing bench.
The last screwdriver set you’ll ever need, the Wheeler 89 Piece screwdriver set has it all. The durable custom-molded case features 54 hollow-ground flat bits, 15 specialty bits, 8 allen, 4 phillips, 3 torx, 1 2 1/4 shaft extension, and a hex-to-square drive adapter. The hollow-ground bits have a concave shape that allows for insertion all the way into the screw slot for maximum contact. The kit also includes 2 non-slip, over molded plastic handles with a convenient hinged storage case complete with a bit location guide and is constructed from durable S2 tool steel.
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The Tipton® Ultra Gun Vise features a completely modular interchangeable design to allow virtually any shape firearm or crossbow to be cleaned and worked on with ease. The ball and socket articulating clamp pads allow for the pads to adapt to any surface. The dual clamp technology rigidly holds any firearm shape in place, while the rigid steel tube frame structure allows for complete access to your firearm or crossbow. The front and rear clamps are both height and length adjustable, and feature fast-turn knobs allowing for quick clamping. The solvent-resistant accessory and tool trays are movable and removable to stand up to even the toughest jobs.