If you own more than a few guns, you should not only know how to maintain them properly, but also how to perform minor repairs. The bigger the collection, the greater these needs. While the vast majority of us are not licensed gunsmiths, we can still master some simple “home gunsmithing” tasks. Here are some of the tools you will need:
1. Quality firearm-specific tool kit
While most gun lovers build their toolboxes piecemeal over time, sometimes you just need a reasonably priced kit that puts everything you need for basic jobs at your fingertips. This should always include a quality brass/plastic headed hammer, a bench block, hardened steel punches, and both brass and plastic punches for non-marring jobs as well.
Weaver’s Deluxe Gunsmith Tool Kit has the essentials in a hard case at a reasonable price. It comes well-packed with 88 pieces, including a bench block, plastic/brass hammer, driver with various bits, and both steel and brass punches. Retailing at $102, the Deluxe kit is found online under $75. While you will need to supplement with additional gear for special needs, specifically more expensive punches and bits, this is the best starting point I’ve found.
Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge with Ruger trigger. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
2. Trigger pull gauge
Better triggers make better shooters, and a trigger pull gauge quickly quantifies whether we need to tune our adjustable triggers, upgrade our triggers, or have professional work done. The Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge provides accuracy within 1/10 of an ounce over a range of 0-12 pounds. Of the two mechanical and digital gauges I’ve used, this one is my go-to.
The large LCD screen is easy to read and the buttons make zero, clear, and averaging simple. Unlike other models, there are no weights or sliding pointers to worry about, and the whole unit comes packed in neat little carrying case. It’s fast, it’s accurate and I have yet to replace the batteries. Besides, Lyman is one of the best in the shooting/reloading industry for customer service should you ever need it. Their trigger pull gauge retails at $72.95 with actual prices just over $50.
Whether you play piecemeal or prefer a do-all kit, the beginning and ending of all good smithing jobs is a clean gun, done the right way with good equipment. In our search for the best cleaning kit where value meets quality, two clearly emerged: the TiptonUltra and the Otis Elite.
Tipton’s Ultra Cleaning Kit includes a three piece stainless rod, bore guides, 13-piece hard-cased jag set, and 13 piece hard-cased bore brush set. There are also nylon and brass toothbrush-style brushes, AR bolt carrier and action brushes, and cleaning picks, all packed in a sturdy polymer case. Retail price of $164 puts real world prices just over $100. Whether or not you own their cleaning kit, Tipton also makes a sturdy Range Box with built-in rubberized gun forks for light smithing and cleaning in the field and on the range.
Otis Elite cleaning kit. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
While I don’t often travel with Tipton’s kit, Otis’ Elite Cleaning Kit in its soft bag and has joined me on many hunts. It includes six memory-flex cables, 22 various bronze bore brushes in individual containers, optics cleaning gear, tubes of Otis Ultra Bore, patches, and a separate mini-tactical cleaning system. The kit makes quick work of anything from .17 to 50cal and .410 to 10 gauge. Retail price on the Elite is $149, but it can be bought online for $99.
4. Scope mounting kit
At some point, most shooters need to have scopes mounted on rifles, pistols, or even shotguns. Sure, you can take your guns into a shop, but if this is a common occurrence, why not learn to do it yourself? Two kits from Wheeler and Weaver make mounting optics simple, depending on what you need.
Wheeler Ultra Scope Mounting kit with laser boresighter and torque wrench. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
The new Wheeler Ultra Scope Mounting Kit includes a reticle leveling system, laser bore sighter, F.A.T. torque wrench with 9 bits and socket, thread locker and a lens pen. It allows you to quickly level, mount, and boresight. Your friends will love you. Every piece in the kit is heavy duty and comes packed in a hard case. Retail on the kit is $299.
Weaver offers a Deluxe Scope Mounting Kit for $149. While the quality of the tools does not seem quite as high as that of Wheeler, the Weaver kit includes a set of 1” lapping tools and compound. For those who prefer 30mm optics, they offer a 30mm-specific set as well. Weaver’s Deluxe kit also has a torque wrench with bits, thread locker, and a more budget quality leveling system.
The Weaver Deluxe does not include a boresighter, though they do make a Magnetic Boresighter retailing at $45 that I consider a must-have if you purchase this kit. If you’re new to mounting optics, Weaver includes an instructional DVD that can prove invaluable. Stay tuned to Guns.com for a more indepth review on scope mounting kits.
Whether or not you purchase one of these kits, make sure your home scope mounting toolbox includes a decent torque wrench for accurate adjustments, not only on scopes but other parts as well.
Torque wrenches from Tipton and Weaver. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
5. Specialty kits
Depending on your gun-fancy favor, you will likely need specialty tools and accoutrements. Given my adoration of Browning Auto-5’s, it’s hard to live without a model-specific screwdriver set for those delicate screw heads. Grace USA makes a fine set of these, as well as many other specialty firearm specific tools. If AR-style rifles are your thing, there’s call for upper and lower receiver vise blocks or an AR armorer’s tool. Likewise, 1911 aficionados need bushing wrenches, sear jigs, and staking tools. The list quickly becomes limited only by budget.
6. Ultrasonic cleaner
Lyman Turbo Sonic Ultrasonic cleaner. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
While it may be hard to beat a good, old fashioned hand cleaning, there’s no good reason not to add an ultrasonic cleaner to your lineup. Depending on size and capability, sonic cleaners are reasonably priced and with the correct solvent, make cleanups a snap for both gun parts and reloading brass. Whether sized to handle smaller parts or entire firearms assemblies, they make a messy job easier and faster.
Lyman’s mid-range Turbo Sonic Ultrasonic cleaner is the best bang for your buck at $142.50 and handles pistol frames without a problem, or up to 900 9mm casings. If cost is not a hindrance and you want a higher capacity unit that can handle larger parts, check out Hornady’s Hot Tub. It accepts up to a 16” AR upper, has multiple parts baskets, and heats exceptionally well. Hot Tubs retail for $625.
Lyman gun mat with gauge. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
For what it’s worth, Lyman also makes a spill-proof bench mat that I find very useful not only for placing under or near the sonic cleaner or when using solvents of any kind. Drips are inevitable. It has molded areas that make it easy to keep track of small screws during disassembly. Measuring 16”x10” and priced under $15, my only qualm is they don’t make an even bigger mat.
7. Bench vise
All good shooters’ workbenches need at least one solid bench-mounted vise. Brownells carries a selection of well-made, albeit pricey models from Lothar Walther Precision Tools in the $225+ range. MidwayUSA still stocks an old model Wisdom vise that I really like around $50. If price is more of an issue, pretty much any bench vise will do, because it’s easy enough to line aggressive teeth with a non-marring surface like wood or polymers. Barrel vises come in handy as well.
8. A line of books, DVD’s, or ready internet access
Gun tool kits often come with instructional DVDs. These can be highly valuable resources. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
No matter the skill level or amount of training, how-to books, manuals, and DVD’s will prove invaluable. I keep the full set of Gun Digest Assembly/Disassembly books on my shelf. There are even many worthwhile Youtube videos—alongside the not-so-worthwhile ones—guiding assembly and disassembly. The important part is knowing your boundaries, what you can and cannot do, both safely and legally, and knowing when to take your guns to a licensed gunsmith, if you are not. They fully reserve the right to charge twice as much to those who come in with a box full of parts that used to be a gun.
Work that bench
Sure, there are plenty of other items that avid shooters and home-smiths will find necessary. Snap caps and blanks are great, as are Dremel tools, files, bedding kits, and more items than one can possibly list. Whether you’re looking to get started, or add to your line-up, these are the basics that every shooter’s bench should have. If it’s not on the list, what are your favorites?