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Old April 24, 2013, 01:28 PM   #1
FISHY-A-NADO
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What are the must-have tools for gunsmithing?

With all the kids grown and gone now I have been thinking I need a new hobby. The idea of gunsmithing is highly appealing to me. I am a very capable mechanic (automotive, small engine, major appliances, etc.) and an accomplished woodworker. I believe those skills should serve me well in a hobby such as this. My concern however is that a lot of the tools for the above mentioned work aren't really suited for gun smith work so I am looking for suggestions from those of you with experience to help me determine those tools and perhaps a book or two that would be indispensable to the hobbyist gun smith just to get started. I don't expect to do it for a living any time soon as I have a great career right now but having something to fall back on down the road if the need arises won't be such a bad thing either.

Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Old April 24, 2013, 02:50 PM   #2
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Depends on a lot of things.Old books like Moden Gunsmithing and The Modern Gunsmith,Brownell's Gunsmith Kinks,etc are worth immersing yourself in.

The days of sporterizing milsurps are gone.Unsporterizing them is more today.

Fixing up neglected/abused guns is rewarding for experience,but its not lucrative.

You might pick one gun...like the trapdoor Springfield or the AR or a Hawken Muzzle loader,,or old break action single barrel shotguns,or old bolt 22'slearn it inside and out,get the specialty tools..and focus on getting really good at a specialty.

Maybe you could sign up for a Cylinder and Slide 1911 Armorers course in Nebraska and learn the 1911.

Check with the gunsmith school in Trinidad,Colorado.

Talk to them about your ideas.They might help.
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Old April 24, 2013, 03:08 PM   #3
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Brownells sells a beginner and master gunsmith kit, but you are right, the tool kit needs are widely divergent. IME, you need good punches, a couple of good vises, good screwdrivers, good files in various cuts and sizes, a few smallish good hammers, armorers' brushes, good smallish pliers. Probably a few other good tools. Notice I said good about everything, because nothing ticks you off quite as bad as buggering a screw head or running a big scratch across a side plate or barrel, and any money you think you are saving by buying cheap tools will cost you that plus the replacement costs after they break.
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Old April 24, 2013, 05:09 PM   #4
Harry Bonar
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tools

Sir;
Just anything you cN THINK OF!
GREYWOLF
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Old April 24, 2013, 05:31 PM   #5
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Knowledge is your first tool. Take your experience from automotive and back shelf it.

Your experience will be useful, but your new knowledge is the new glass that must be filled before you see how your skills and experience from being a mechanic can be applied.

You will find that it's like working on a motorcycle one minute and a semi the next. Though i know your previous knowledge will help you along the way, It will help more as you learn.

The first lesson to apply to every job: check, double check, dry run safely no matter what when changing anything that can affect the original design.
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Old April 24, 2013, 06:11 PM   #6
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When I started gunsmithing I spent $15000.00 on my start-up tools and it seems like I buy something twice a month. I dont think you ever get every tool you need.
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Old April 24, 2013, 06:28 PM   #7
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Quote:
I dont think you ever get every tool you need.
or every gun you want
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Old April 24, 2013, 11:22 PM   #8
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Screwdrivers. Hollow grounded and cut/sanded/ground to fit the screw. Unless the screwdriver fits the screw, it can bugger it up.

Pin punches, roll pin punches, punches and convex punches (starter punches), brass punches.

Hammers (one lb ball peen, 4 oz ball peen, brass)

Rawhide mallet

Bench block.

White work mat (use drawer liner).
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Old April 25, 2013, 06:36 AM   #9
FISHY-A-NADO
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Good info guys. Thanks to all. I will obviously be starting really slow. As with everything else I do, first comes lots of research and reading, then the search for the tools and equipment. Some of the very basic stuff mentioned I already have from when I used to tinker around with camera repair back in the days before digital.

I'm thinking my initial focus would be on revolvers since those are my favorite firearms.
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Old April 25, 2013, 06:51 AM   #10
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I'd have a hard time considering anyone who doesn't have a mill and a lathe as a real gunsmith.
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Old April 25, 2013, 07:18 AM   #11
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Should have added stones like soft arkansas, hard arkansas.

Files, plenty of files and don't just toss them in the drawer or a box atop of one another. They should be kept apart lest the teeth gets damaged. All files should have handles too.

Good lamp. You need plenty of light (and clean floors to find parts that go airborne).
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Old April 25, 2013, 06:54 PM   #12
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There's this view that a gunsmith is a man standing at a huge milling machine doing some complex operation.
In truth, MOST gunsmithing is done sitting at a bench under a good light working on some small component with screwdrivers, punches, and stones.

My basic starter tools are:

As complete a set as you can afford of Brownell's Magna-Tip screwdrivers. Buy a set with the law enforcement size handle. The others are too big or too short.
Don't waste money on the Wheeler tools, they're made in China and are not nearly the quality of the Brownell's Magna-Tip.
Remember, buy quality and you only have to buy once.
You'll use a screwdriver more than any other tool.

A set of good punches.
I preferred the Brownell's replaceable tip punches. Break or bend a punch and all you have to buy is another tip, not an entire punch.
Plus by buying different punch tips you can have most any punch needed with only three handles.

A GOOD bench light.
You can't work if you can't see it.

An Optivisor magnifier head set.
Again, you can't work if you can't see it.
To select the focal length, sit at the bench with the work a comfortable distance away.
Measure from your eye to the work. Buy a visor with that focal length.

Buy some good ceramic stones.
Buy a square and triangular, 6" and buy a larger flat bench stone.

Buy a good set of Swiss needle files. Buy one fine cut and one coarser cut set.
Buy handles for the sets.

Buy a couple of higher quality 8" Hand files. Swiss are the best. Buy handles.
"Hand" files are the same thickness and width all the way, not tapered.
Buy one finer cut, one medium cut.

A small ball peen hammer.

A small brass hammer.

A small plastic hammer.

Buy small adjustable vises. Most gunsmiths will have a number of vises and the more adjustable the better.
Forster makes a nice little ball vise that's just the right size for a trigger or hammer.
Harbor Freight sells a surprisingly high quality small bench vise that attaches with a hand screw.
It rotates and the jaws swivel. Size is small, just right for smaller parts.
Price is around $20.00.

With those few tools you can do an amazing amount of work.
Buy other tools as you realize you need them. Don't buy anything unless you're fairly sure you really need it.

If you have a specific gun you'll be working with, you may need a gun-specific tool, like a 1911 barrel bushing wrench, or a Remington Model 700 bolt tool.
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Old April 25, 2013, 07:06 PM   #13
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I'm thinking about going to the gunsmith school in PA - this is a great thread
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Old April 25, 2013, 08:45 PM   #14
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A critical eye of your own work.

Better you see it than someone else.

Sunlight is very nice. Southfacing windows onto the work bench is great.

Good files. Gorbet make some of the best. And take care of them.
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Old April 27, 2013, 10:41 AM   #15
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Tools you need to get started.

First, and foremost, you need a good set of screwdrivers. These need to be hollow ground. Weaver has a very good set, right now, that I would recommend to anyone. There's a few others, but besides Brownells, some have the tendency to break easily.

Next, a good set of punches, and a small set of chisels, especially a couple of cape chisels. I would recommend Mayhew or Starett for these.

A good bench block or blocks. I use two thats 1" thick, by 4" square, rubber blocks that I can place under any gun to drive out pins, without marring the finish. You can find these under jewelers tools.

A good set of small and large pliers, along with a pair of parallel jaw pliers.

Finally, a few specialty tools come to mind. You'll need a few forearm wrenches to work on assorted pump shotguns, a Colt 1911 wrench, and a S&W rebound slide tool.

Last, some good files, like a couple of bastard, mill, pillar, round, and dovetail types. Also, a good Dermel tool, or better, a hang-up type with a flex shaft. You will use these a lot. Then, some good stones to use on trigger jobs.

Last edited by Dixie Gunsmithing; April 27, 2013 at 10:46 AM.
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Old May 2, 2013, 12:39 AM   #16
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A lathe and a mill would be very helpful but barring those: A belt sander, a bench grinder, another bench grinder for buffing, a band saw would be handy, a drill press, a good vise for said press, parallel bars (not the gymnastic kind ), an arbor press, if you are going to build AKs then a hydraulic press, a bench vise or two with the appropriate soft jaws, an air compressor, specialty tools like AR barrel wrenches and such, an oxy-acetalene rig or at least a MAP torch, TiG welder, assorted punches and hammers, a bench block or two, more screwdrivers than any human being should own (those hollow ground bit sets are great but you will need some that you don't mind grinding on or bending), files of all shapes and sizes, a file card to clean them, and last but not least a place to put all of this mess.

Last edited by ActivShootr; May 2, 2013 at 12:46 AM.
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Old May 2, 2013, 06:51 AM   #17
FISHY-A-NADO
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Great input guys! I appreciate each of you taking the time to post. Based on all the info from the forum and the outside research I have been doing, it looks like the investment in tooling alone will be prohibitive for a new "hobby" I will have to re-think what I am really looking for in a hobby it seems. I am also considering reloading. It is obviously much less expensive to get started. I'm just not sure how long it would be before I became bored with it.

Thanks again for the insight!
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Old May 2, 2013, 07:51 AM   #18
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Quote:
. I am also considering reloading. It is obviously much less expensive to get started. I'm just not sure how long it would be before I became bored with it
There is always a new bullet or more powders to try. And when you get bored with it buy a new gun and get excited about it again.

If you are only looking for a hobby, gunsmithing tools can be purchased as needed. How many guns will you actually work on in a month? I only work on my own guns so I buy what I need, when I need it. Screwdrivers and punches are the most used by a hobbyist. You probably have files and hammers that will work for most applications already. When you need a special file, get one. Probably won't be the first project you tackle.
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Old May 2, 2013, 09:58 AM   #19
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I think you also need to determine what kind of "gunsmith" you want to be. There are those who are really "gun technicians" who only replace parts, install new add-on enhancements, etc. The tools needed for that type of work are a much smaller subset of what would be needed by a true gunsmith who also manufactured new parts or modified firearms.

Last edited by Doyle; May 2, 2013 at 01:58 PM.
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Old May 2, 2013, 01:14 PM   #20
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Big heavy vise. Padded jaws for the same.
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Old May 4, 2013, 08:44 AM   #21
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Quote:
I'd have a hard time considering anyone who doesn't have a mill and a lathe as a real gunsmith.
I have both and sure do not want to be without either one.

That being said my Mentor only had a very small lathe and I can assure you he was a real smith and turned out some exceptional pistols.
I can recall the days of working with him and cutting sight cuts with files, do that a few times and one learns to appreciate a mill.

There's already been a good list of tools posted so I will not waste the space to make another list.
However make sure you purchase some good accurate measuring instruments and all tools should be of top quality.

As your business grows you will see very quickly what specialty tools and machinery you will need or want.

Good luck in your endeavors.

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Old May 4, 2013, 09:56 AM   #22
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I agree with Hunter Customs. It is according to how much you want to do as a gunsmith, and what you can afford at the time. Also, is it a profession, or a hobby? A small lathe is big enough to make firing pins, and do work on all revolvers and pistols. There are some small mills out now, for around $500, that would do about all you can do in gunsmithing, provided you don't overload them on a cut. Everyone thinks you need a big Bridgeport turret mill, or a big South Bend Turnado lathe, but you don't, as the work isn't that big.

Also, I have seen some gunsmiths who had the machine shop and welding knowledge, but simply didn't do it, they farmed it out. That didn't make them any less of a gunsmith. If you took a look around the gunsmith shop of Bob Dunlap, he uses smaller machine tools, and his shop is only about 18' x 24', if I remember what he said correctly.
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Old May 4, 2013, 02:12 PM   #23
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Small lathes are nice if they still have precision and can make small parts.
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Old May 5, 2013, 02:27 AM   #24
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The old gunsmithing books I mentioned ,such as Dunlap and Baker,would be a very good place to start.They talk a great deal about screwdrivers,chisels,files,etc,along with a great deal of other shop knowledge.

There are ref books of firearms disassembly/assembly.

One thing about guns is the cosmetic factor...different than mechanic work.

A speck of sand on a bench can really ruin your day if you slide a color case hardened Hi-Wall receiver over it.One little extra nibble with a chisel inletting a lock leaves a gap you will see forever.

I really like a good 10x loupe with about a 1 in focal length.

A calculator,solar,that will do trig.Paper and a pencil to plan and sketch.

A six in Browne and Sharpe or Starrett scale,flexible,satin chrome,with 1/10th graduations on one of the scales.

A tube of prussian blue.Some 12 in lengths of feeler stock about .025 thick to make scrapers.

If you lack a mill,you may get a drill press.If you do,get a Palmgren or other modest quality X -Y vise or table and a few center drills.Try for a vintage quality drill press like an old Delta Rockwell.Spindle must run true.Check it with a pin and indicator.

I do not own a Dremel tool.Try a 65,000 rpm or so air pencil grinder.And a Foredom with the low speed on the backside.


You need a proper coffee cup.Very important.

It has many uses.Its where the answers come from.Sometimes thinking harder does not work.Have a cup and let the answers come to you.

Its also good when things aren't going quite right or you are pushing a little hard...just stop before you screw something up,have a cup,chill.Then you won't have a new problem to fix.

Keep it enjoyable.

One path you might try,get a Dixie catalogue.Maybe Ned Roberts"The Muzzle Loading Cap Lock Rifle"

Order a Siler Lock kit,and a Muzzle loader barrel..maybe a .36 or .40.Make a squirrel rifle.There is a Foxfire book where Herchel House builds a poor boy rifle.

Its not real hard,simple tools,but you will drill and tap,torch heat treat,inlet,file,fit,shape and finish...

Fun to shoot when you get done.
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Old May 18, 2013, 03:50 PM   #25
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For just a general list of tools, you can go onto the Colorado School of Trades website and they have a .PDF file list of what they require a student to purchase before attending their gunsmithing program - everyone listed a lot of stuff you would need, but that list may be helpful in terms of a general list of essentials before you get into specific tools geared towards a specific area of expertise.
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