Essential Tools of the Home Gunsmith, Part 2

In part 1 of our home gunsmith guide, we looked at essential tools required for performing basic work most any home gunsmith would do. In part 2 of our guide, we’ll expand our home gunsmiths capabilities while focusing on the most common tasks he or she is likely to encounter. Tasks like installing scopes and sights, detailed stripping and cleaning, trigger work and common rifle builds. In this guide, and eventually our part 3, the home gunsmith is likely to start specializing in their tool selection based on preferences and end goals. Some may wish to work mostly with pistols, others with rifles. Regardless of what direction you specialize your shop for, many of the tools we outline below will have uses across a range of firearm types. Others are more specialized but are cheap enough to merit having on hand.

 

Vice Blocks, Bench Blocks, and Specialty Tools

Vice and bench blocks are one of those tool categories that seemingly multiply like rabbits. As a home gunsmith, you’ll likely add blocks and jigs for every firearm type you own. Eventually, you’ll just start making the simple ones yourself out of wood, thermoplastics, clay or other exotic materials. Initially, most will get use out of vice blocks as a sort of “third hand”. If you’re working on pistols, something like the ProMag vice block for Glocks would make a lot of sense. ProMag also makes a magazine block for AR-15’s as well. These types of blocks are great for holding firearms steady while cleaning, assembly / disassembly, or modifying and mounting parts that don’t require much torque.

If you’ll be planning to install AR-15 flash hiders, barrels, gas blocks or other items that would require torquing heavily on the receiver, you may wish to specialize a bit and get something like the

Wheeler bench block
Wheeler bench block

Geissele Reaction Rod. This will hold the barrel / upper by sliding into the barrel extension directly, which is substantially stronger than the aluminum upper receiver. The last thing you want to do is bend or crack and upper on a nearly completed rifle.

After vice blocks, I’d pick up a couple of bench blocks. A Bench block is fantastic for removing or replacing pins, as the notches and grooves will give you the pass-through clearance to drive a pin all the way through. A good first set of tools in this class would be something like a Wheeler Universal Bench Block and AR Armors Bench Block. I started out using a roll of tape laid on its side, while semi-effective, these are a class of items that are relatively easy to make yourself, should you already have a skill set in wood or thermoplastics.

In part 1 of our guide, we picked up hammers, punches, and gunsmithing screwdrivers. Now that we’ve added vice blocks and bench blocks, a small contingent of specialty tools may be in order.  Tools like an AR-15 armorer’s wrench will open the door to virtually any task you may need to accomplish on an AR. Glock front sight tools, 1911 barrel bushing wrenches, and other specialized tools can be added as needed to further round out capabilities on various firearms.

Bottom Line: Vice and Bench blocks will make your life much easier and save you money on refinishing your firearms later. They’re cheap, and it’s like growing another set of hands. Invest in a set early. Look into the specialized tools only as the need arises. Don’t spend money on “just in case”.

Parts Washers and Ultrasonics

Cleaning is one task, gunsmith or not, we can all relate to. Being a home gunsmith, sometimes you’ll need to take that task to another level. I’ve helped a buddy restore more than one old gun to working order just by cleaning off old gunk, rust and debris from triggers, mating surfaces and moving parts. For our purposes, I’ll assume you’ve already got a nice array of brushes, bore snakes, cleaning rods and the like. After the basics, a stainless steel parts basins is a great first entry. They’re impervious to most chemicals, come in a variety of sizes and can be had fairly cheap. Letting parts soak in various solutions will solve many issues you’ll likely run into.

Ultrasonic cleaners are the next step up from parts basins. Ultrasonic cleaners are fantastic for a number of tasks. They’ll strip 100% of any old oils, dirt and gunk out of a firearm in short order. They can clean parts that may be difficult to reach otherwise, and they are also often used for cleaning suppressors and spent brass. They’re also a great time saver if you’re a high volume shooter and typically go out with a variety of firearms in each trip. Watchmakers often use ultrasonics to clean parts without having to completely disassemble a watch. Doing the same thing to time-consuming trigger assemblies is a huge benefit. For certain home gunsmiths, the money spent on an ultrasonic cleaner could be better utilized elsewhere. For those of us doing a significant amount of cleaning, or cleaning items with difficult access issues, they’re invaluable.

Bottom Line: Pick up a decent set of metal bins for cleaning and oiling. They’ll have additional uses if you expand into painting and other tasks. Save the ultrasonic cleaner budget for other tools unless you fit into the use case of high volume or use suppressors.

 

Trigger Gauges, Sight Pushers, and Bore Sights

Fisher Handgun Sight Tool
Fisher Handgun Sight Tool

After cleaning parts, the most frequent two tasks I perform are installing sights and optics, and doing light trigger work. I probably install optics more than any other single task I do. Several tools pop to mind that are invaluable. First is a set of laser bore sights. These have saved me a lot of time and ammo costs trying to zero new optics. Laser are simple, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money here for a big net gain. When I first started, I grabbed a set of NcStar Cartridge Bore Sighters. I still use these today, having never found a reason to upgrade. I will say they’re too dim to use beyond 25 yards during the day. Hasn’t been a factor for me as I typically work on stuff at around dusk after my day job. On the same subject of optics, I’ll typically also use a set of levels to ensure both my weapon and the topics are actually aligned properly. I often use Xtreme Hardcore USA’s Tank and Action Level. Both are great products, heavy duty and obviously portable.

For pistols, it’s easy to spend an ungodly amount of money on sight pushers. I searched long and hard and opted for Fisher Solutions Handgun Sight Tool. For roughly $60 and free shipping, you can’t find a better tool. Fisher now offers an “XL” model that comes with a huge array of clamping blocks and shims for $92 if you need a tool for a large assortment of handguns. Not paying a pro gunsmith to change out a set of night sights even one time will almost pay for this tool. I can’t recommend it enough.

Lastly, a trigger pull gauge like the Lyman Digital is an essential tool if you plan on doing even the most simple trigger work. I use these gauges all the time. Trigger replacements, adjustments, polishing jobs, spring swaps etc.  When we’re talking about mere ounces of adjustment on the lighter triggers, there is no substitute for an accurate gauge. You simply can’t do it by feel when it might be 15 minutes between adjustments and tweaking.

Bottom Line: I hate to say it, but you’re going to need everything I mention above if you want to have a functional home shop. Everything I discussed above is affordable. Chip away at these items as needed. Add them to your Amazon wishlist and let others buy them for you during the holidays.

 

Picks, Scrapers and Parts Trays

Another set of tools I use daily, regardless of the job I’m doing, are picks, files, and parts trays. While I have many bins of plastic containers for small parts, my most used parts tray is the cheap magnetic variety from Harbor Freight. You can pick these up for mere dollars in all manner of sizes. They’ve probably saved me at least $100 in preventing lost pins, springs, and doodads. The first time you lose the only gas block pin you have is the last time you’ll be without one.

A set of dental picks in both metal and plastic are great for a number of uses. Cleaning is one I use them for frequently though you’d be surprised how useful they are at placing or removing small parts in tight spaces. I use picks at least as frequently as I use something like needle nose pliers. I often use my plastic picks in scraping out carbon in 90-degree angles or other tough spots. You can’t go wrong with a cheap set in both materials.

Along this same line is a cheap tool that makes cleaning up AR-15 bolts and carrier groups much quicker. The Real Avid AR-15 Scraper is always within reach on my bench and comes with me in my range bag whenever I go out. It’s a nice all-in-one cleaning tool that’s about the size of a pocket knife and covers all surfaces of the BCG and bolt. With how popular the AR-15 is today, it makes sense to carry a few specialized tools to save time rather than staying generic.

Bottom Line: Most people will have these items if they’ve taken care to expand their cleaning kits. If you have Nickel Boron, Chrome or Titanium coated Bolts and BCG’s, pass on the Real Avid Scraper. If you use mil-spec phosphate, snag it as part of your next order. It’ll be worth the time savings.

 

Dremels and Hand Files

This one may raise some eyebrows, especially considering this guide targeted at the home gunsmith. However, Dremels and files are fantastic tools to have around. The operator of the tools simply

Dremeling AR15 Hammer
Dremeling AR15 Hammer

needs to understand that anything you can do by hand, you can do with a Dremel… At 8-15,000 times the speed. That’s both good and bad. The beginner home gunsmith will undoubtedly ruin a few parts early on by being overzealous with the speed and application of a rotary tool. However, learning how and when to use one will be a boon later. Polishing, grinding, buffing and shaping are all tasks that you’ll want to do at some point, and a Dremel is a great tool when it’s used properly. I’ve cut, polished and buffed several parts and wouldn’t do it any other way. Just always remember that you can never put material back, so be careful in what you remove.

Bottom Line: Rotary tools are useful in everyday life. If you don’t own one, think about getting one at some point. Until then, hand polishing and hand fitting via files is often better for those just starting out, and hand files never stop being useful. Start here and look at rotary later.

 

Final Words

Through this second part guide, we’ve begun to specialize and expand the tools in our home shop. At this point, you should have the tools to do a huge range of jobs yourself. As you continue to expand your shop, we’ll cover additional tools in part 3 to really expand our shop, including Kydex forming, Duracoat and Cerakote and more. Check back soon for our 3rd and final guide in this series.

Jesse

Jesse is a long time adventurer, entrepreneur, shooter and general technologist. Drawing knowledge for GS Kinetics through a long history in the private sector tech industry and as a Fire Fighter / EMT for more than 15 years.