Serious gun guys are, by nature, tinkerers. We like to change and—we hope—enhance our firearms. Pretty soon, if our modifications are successful, they attract the attention of our shooting buddies, and usually our gun-guy pride won’t let us refuse to help them out by working on their guns, too.
If you’re going to be a good DIY gunsmith, you need at least a few critical tools. Like any pursuit in life, good tools not only make your job easier, they make it possible. When it comes to guns, having the right tool for the task often means the difference between a modification beautiful to behold and a scarred-up travesty that will cause your once-loyal buddy to refer to you as a gun plumber.
Nobody wants that. So put your worn-out economy screwdriver down and back away from the table. We don’t want any gun to get hurt. Pop a top and take your iPad to the back porch to absorb a little evening sun whilst you peruse the following list of 10 tools that every DIY gunsmith should have on hand.
Ok, strictly speaking this is a product rather than a tool. But it comes first alphabetically, and any gun guy worth his salt has an Acraglas kit stowed somewhere and uses it regularly when accurizing bolt-action rifles. This is the gel version, which is much easier to manipulate, place and maintain in place than the liquid Acraglas.
It’s so easy to use that it almost beds itself under that needy bolt-action, and it has low shrinkage—less than a tenth of 1 percent—and eyebrow-raising durability courtesy of Nylon derivatives formulated into the product. Once fully cured, it shrugs off shock, impact, temperature extremes, moisture and your spouse’s contempt.
Plus, it readily mixes with atomized aluminum or steel particles if desired, and it dyes easily and evenly. Sold in 4-ounce “2-gun kits” and 16-ounce shop kits for $30 to $65.
Benchtop Belt Sander
While this is one of the most useful workhorses in your bandoleer of tools, it can also be the most destructive. A careful hand is needed when freehanding a gun part against a power tool of this aggressiveness, but when used with caution a good belt sander mounted firmly atop your workbench will save you countless hours of rasping, filing, and shaping.
Most any brand will work as long as it’s built tight and the belt tracks predictably. I use 50- and 80-grit belts for shaping stocks and cutting steel parts quickly, and a worn-out 120-grit belt for creating a smoother finish once shaped. I’ve built muzzleloader stocks, bolt-action stocks, myriad metal parts, and antler and sheep horn grips for handguns and knives on my benchtop belt sander, as well as a whole bunch of wooden swords for my kids.
It’s also useful for sectioning bullets for forensic analysis. This Rockwell available from Home Depot is a good example of the type you want, and boasts plentiful good reviews. Price: $149.
Brass Punch Set
Quit grinding the ends of 16-penny framing nails flat and using them to abuse nice guns. A set of brass punches enables you to drive pins and drift sights to your hearts content without peening and scratching the metal surfaces of your nice firearms.
Plus, the soft brass ends grip the end of a pin much better and slip and slide much less than does a steel punch. If the business end gets deformed from too much work, just grind or file it back to shape. This brass punch set from Grace USA includes eight punches ranging from 1/16th to 5/16th in diameter. Price: $34.
Harking back to the most ancient of tools, this brass- and Delrin-headed hammer will help you get your project completed without scarring it up as if it had been done by a caveman. The hand-turned soft brass head has little “bounce,” so it will grip a punch or part better than steel and deflect less.
In addition, it won’t deform objects accidentally impacted like a steel hammer would. Smears of brass left on your gun can be simply wiped off with gun cleaning solvent. Reverse it and use the Delrin side to tap—or pound, if the occasion suggests—directly on a stubborn part. The resilient hickory handle is turned in the U.S. and securely pinned to the head. Price: $22.
Brownells AR-15/M16 Critical Tools Kit
These days, more hardy souls are modifying AR-15 rifles and pistols than all other types of firearm put together. To get started building your own AR-Erector Set, you’ll need a few tools. This AR-15/M16 Critical Tools Kit from Brownells provides the basic, specialized tools you’ll need to avoid screwing up your gun.
Even if you’re a purist that is far too sophisticated to personally like AR15-style guns, it’s a sure bet that if you’re handy at fixing and modifying firearms, one of your friends is going to ask you for help swapping and installing new parts on his favorite modular shooting tool. It behooves you to own the basic tools necessary to do so. Price: $110.
Brownells Torx Driver Set
Seems everything has gone to Torx-head screws these days. For the most part, that’s a good thing—if you’ve got the correct-size tool for the screwing task at hand. Torx screws are more robust and less likely to strip than conventional notched screw heads or Allen-head screws.
However, working with the little L-shaped wrenches supplied in scope ring packaging gets old. Plus, you fumble a lot more with them, so you owe it to yourself and your fine firearms to pick up a set of proper Torx drivers. You’ll cross-thread fewer screws, scratch fewer guns and have more finesse when screwing (Get your mind out of the gutter).
This set from Brownells includes eight Torx drivers ranging in sizes T-6 through T-10 plus T-15, T-20 and T-25. Price: $30.
Chapman Deluxe Gun Screwdriver Set
Admittedly, this compact set of interchangeable bits is not quite as highbrow as finely machined individual drivers, but hey, it fits in the pocket of a jacket and includes most of the flat-head, Philips-head, and Allen-head bits you’ll need for working on guns. Plus, there’s a shank extension and a compact ratchet in the hinge-top case. Bits are ground properly for use with fine gun screws, and a size-chart sticker inside the case lid provides quick, easy reference. Price: $38.
Leupold Scope Ring Tool
Probably more hunting rifles in America wear Leupold twist-in scope rings than any other type of ring. Unfortunately, all too many of those rings have scars from being installed using a crescent wrench, and in a few really sad cases, the scope living in the rings is bent or dented from being used as a fulcrum to turn the ring into the dovetailed mortise.
This wrench is engineered to work on both 1-inch and 30mm rings, and turns in stubborn rings without leaving the slightest mark. Even if you’re a tactical or precision rifle guy that leans toward rail-type rings, you owe it to all your needy hunting buddies to have a Leupold Scope Ring Tool on hand. Price: $18.
Wheeler Engineering Torque “Fat Wrench”
Ever mashed the hex-head hole in a screw out of usable shape, or worse, stripped the threads from a hole in a rifle action? Or have you ever crunched down scope ring screws so tight that the optic tube within has been dented?
As gun guys, we tend to believe a little inner voice that whispers “tighter is better!” and we over-tighten most screws, sometimes with disastrous consequences. This interchangeable-bit torque wrench will enable you to tighten screws exactly to manufacturer’s spec every time. It’s potent enough to torque the stoutest action bolts to spec and fine enough to tighten small screws at very light torque, and it comes with a set of 10 common gunsmithing bits. Price: $66.
Wheeler Engineering Professional Reticle Leveling System
Some shooters and hunters want their scope’s crosshairs to “look” straight, reality be durned. This leveling kit won’t help them, but then, little will. If you appreciate precision, especially at longer ranges where crosshair tilt plays havoc with holdovers, you need level crosshairs. Few systems are perfect, but this reticle leveling system from Wheeler Engineering helps you come pretty darned close. Instructions included. Price: $66.