View Full Version : Must-have gunsmithing tools

August 4, 2005, 10:26 PM
I am putting together a small shop for working on guns and I was wondering what you guys think would be some of the must have tools. I eventually want to make some money off it, so I don't want to buy a lot of wishlist kind of stuff. I know everyone has their own favorites. I already have good screwdrivers, some files, a bench-top drill press, some checkering tools, and a couple of vices. I would appreciate any advice. Thanks.

August 5, 2005, 01:10 AM
#1 tool would have to be a quality set of screwdrivers - if they don't fit properly, you could cause some ugly problems.

My second priority would a good vice to hold stuff still.

Both universal, specialty tools will depend a lot on what sort of guns you'll be working with. (A 1911 bushing wrench won't be of much vaule if you tinker with shotguns all day and never see a semi-auto pistol)

My favorite powertool in my collection is my Dremel with snake attachment. Gotta be extra careful with power tools though - they can do more than you want in an eyeblink.

August 5, 2005, 01:18 AM
I started out with a good screwdriver set, several sets of pin punches including a good brass set. A good selection of stones for trigger work. Several good Nicholson files, a good set of needle files, a good set of swiss files and handles for all. I now have a good diamond file set to add to this. Several good screw holding pliers, the kind that have a wide flat end on them to hold the screw without messing up the threads when grinding on them. I would add a good belt sander to your list. I bought a Delta 1x30" with the 5" disc on it as well. A good grinder, as good as you can afford. I bought as heavy of a grinder that I could find, one that won't bog down and stop when you use it. I now have a Foredom tool, but a good dremel with the extension would be ok. I bought a good baldor buffer soon after I got started, mine was around $300 when I bought it, it is a 3/4hp with the 8" extended arbors and turns at 1750rpm. You can find them on Ebay now and then for around that price, new runs around $400. A good air compressor was first on my wanted list. I then built me a sandblasting cabinet. You can get plans for this from TPtools.com or can buy one as well. I wish I had bought atleast a 7hp 2 stage, I bought a 6.5hp 2 stage and it will maintain the pressure at around 140psi, but it will not fill the tank while I am blasting. Mine kicks in at 140 and shuts off at 170 psi which is good for most anything but blasting, but it does ok with it, just runs all the time. I would suggest getting a good chop saw and scroll saw, but you can do most things with the chop saw and a good coping saw. A table saw comes in handy now and then, but if you are pressed for space, you can get by without it. Make yourself a very good sanding block out of hardwood. Mine was made about 4" long by 2 1/2" wide. I don't like the rubber ones because they can dig in a little at times when you least expect it. Make sure you keep a flat surface and hardwood has never let me down. Get yourself a good supply of the best sandpaper you can afford. I went through several types of oils and varnishes before I found Arrow's wood finish. This stuff does in a few days what it took me months to do. It fills the pores and seals the wood making it waterproof, as well as giving as good of an oil finish that I have found. $8/bottle for 4 ounces and it does around 12 stocks. I would highly recommend it to you. This one bottle does away with doing a varnish to seal the pores and then using a oil and then rubbing out the stock using rottenstone and pumice and looks just as good b ythe time you are finished with it. It really is a time and money saver. I would add an airbrush setup to your list if you have any plans to do the paint finishes they have out now a days. I use lauer's customs a good bit and I bought an airbrush compressor to run it with. I used to use my large compressor, but it works bettter offf the smaller one. I bought a fairly good airbrush from HF that is alomost exactly like the Pasche. I suggest you buy as good of stuff as you can afford. I bought a mnay of the cheapo tools through the years. You will spend less by buying the best each time believe me. This will run true all the time, even if you save a few bucks today, you will spend more the next time, and even more until you realize you could have spent a third of what you wasted buying cheap. A good set of tanks and a burner if you plan to do any parking or bluing. About the only other thing I would suggest to you is a good welding machine. You can buy a good TIG welder from miller that does stick and TIG and has a High frequecy starter for around $1100. You can of course get by using a decent Acetylene torch setup if you prefer. I would also suggest you buy a good propane torch to heat treat parts with. It won't get too hot like the heavier acetylene torch will. This is about what I started out with. I know all of this costs ,omey and it will be a lot to start out with. Make a list out of everything you have and then prioritize the want list. Go in order of the things you need to begin with and then add the others when you have built up some spending money. Here is a list in order that I had when I got started and as I built up my business.

I had already:
good heavy duty vise
Screwdrivers set
41/2" grinders
bench grinder
Drill press
sanding tools
A few stones
sanding blocks
a small 5hp compressor
several air tools
belt sander
brushes for grinder
various grinder wheels
welding machine

here is what I bought when I had money and in order:

a good Foredom tool
a good buffer and pads and the polish
Stainless steel tank set and burners
Delta Belt sanders 1x30 and a 2 1/2 by40 (I think)
airbrush and compressor for it
oven for the curing of the painted guns
larger compressor
cradle to hold the guns
various tools for working on guns
lathe and various tooling
a very good bench grinder
small mill
checkering tools
checkering vise

It took a few years to build up this list. I am sure I have left off a few things, but this is a pretty good list of what I have. I just recently replaced the older lathe I had and just recently got the new mill. These can wait for a while. I put the wanted list in the order that I got them. You can do basically the same just put what you think you will need to add. the one thing not on my list was the larger shop I had to build. I am now in the process of adding a larger one again.. One thing for sure, the list will continue as long as you learn more and get into doing more.

I almost forgot the most important thing of all, very good liability insurance and shop insurance. Good luck to you.

August 5, 2005, 05:07 AM
One of the things I forgot to mention are all of the woodworking chisels and gouges I have bought over the years. I constantly buy a new one now and then. I also have the jigs to sharpen them with on the stones. If you plan to do any stock work, they are a must.

August 6, 2005, 01:24 AM
Countryboy, thank you very much. That was a whole lot more than I expected. I have a few questions. How do you like Duracoat? I was thinking of getting started with it. Also, what type of lathe did you get as a replacement for your old one? I would very much like to do barrel work, chambering, replacing, etc. And how often do you use your mill? Thanks again.

August 6, 2005, 05:14 AM
One thing to think about with barrel work, reamers aren't cheap and you get out of one what you put into one. This might be a one time thing or two time thing for you, or you may have folks rolling in to have you do chambering work, I would pick a chamber that is popular in your area and buy it and the pilots that go with it first and rent a reamer for anything else for a while. A good floating reamer holder from JGS would be a recommendation as well as a good set of headspace gauges from them or Midway.

I really like the Lauer's duracoat, especially since it doesn't have to be heated to a high temp to cure it. I try to keep it around 125*F. I couldn't get my barrels into the oven I bought and put in the shop unless it was a 22lr barrel or 26" shotgun barrel. I ended up building a an oven out of a crate that I had that was made out of 3/4" boards. I drilled a hole in each end to run a dowel through. From the dowel, I either hang a part from it, or I can run it through the barrels. I use an oak dowel so it will hold a little more weight than a soft wood dowel, and I use the size appropiate for the barrel as well. I use up to 1/2'' dowels and as small as 3/16" I mounted a 2 lamp flood lamp holder in it and use 2 75 watt flood lamps in it. I have a dimmer switch attached to the lampholder as well to control the temp. I used a very good aluminum manifold paint, but you could use an aluminum roof paint as well, and covered all of the surfaces of the box. This reflects the heat all around the inside of the box which helps keep from getting a portion of the barrel or parts left unheated and not cured. It's simple and yet I can control the temp by the dimmer switch, I have a lid for it that keeps the heat in and I have the two hand holds at the end to lift it by if needed and I have pieces of metal that ride in a slot so I can close the hand hold openings are leave them open and allow the fumes to escape. cost me around $20 for the lamps, holder and box for the holder to mount to, had the wire, dimmer switch, and the paint and the crate. For around $50 you could most likely buy everything. I almost forgot, I use the same thermometer for my parking in the top of the box as well through a hole drilled for it.

I had an old craftsmen lathe and replaced it with a Smithy and I like it myself. Mine is a little heavier than most of the Grizzly's I saw and I wanted to buy a new lathe that was backed up by a warranty. It is a 12x40 model and does anything I have asked it to do with ease. I run it on 230 volt instead of 110 and it is the 2hp model. I know a lot of folks that bad mouth imports, I am one of them normally, but the price of a new South Bend was beyond my expense allotment and I didn't want to buy a worn out cast off from some auctioneer that wouldn't stand behind it if I had problems and I didn't want to have to use a phase converter for the lathe either. I searched around a good bit and talked with folks that had Smithy's. I have a gunsmithing buddy that bought a Grizzly, he loves it, but it isn't half of the machine as the one I bought. Mine weighs in at 850lbs and his is around 650 which to me means a more stable machine which means a better finish. I have a spindle bore of not quite 1 1/2", mine mics out to be 1.429", which allows me to handle any barrel I have tried in it so far. It came standard with the follow and steady rest as well as a 3 jaw and 4 jaw chuck and a decent tool holder. it is also designed to run SAE threads and not just metric which some are designed to run metric and have problems running SAE thread.

As far as the mill goes, I bought one of the bench top Grizzly's. I use it more and more everyday. It won't take huge hog out cuts, but it will cut the rails of an 80% reciever deep enough in one pass. I bought it mainly to begin cutting my own scope bases out and to cut dovetail in frames to mount sights with. As long as you remember that you can't make too long of a cut or that you have to set it so you can cut both sides without removing the clamp up, you can handle most cuts with it. I want a larger one for sure, but I will keep this one around. That is a luxury for me and not one of the things on my priority list for sure. I have spent a good bit of money this year updating worn out machines that I started out with. I bought the new lathe and the mill, am in the process of adding a large shop next to my old one. Just got through having to replace the highfreq on my welder. Keep in mind what I said about buying good quality tools when you buy. Buy as good as you can afford. If you have to wait several months to buy as higher quality machine or tool, you will be better off. I had to replace a cheapo bench grinder a year ago. I have replaced a few air tools this year, but the main tools I work with each day are my files, punches, stones and my Foredom. I went through 3 dremels before I got wise and bought the Foredom. I use the Baldor buffer almost every day and it is 20 years old now and still purrs and runs without any vibration. You can put a buffer pad on a grinder or a washing machine motor and get by, but when you get serious about buffing, go with the Baldor if you can buy one. I wouldn't trade mine for anything. The thing is, I bought good Nicholson files to start with and didn't waste money on the cheap ones you can get at a cheap tool store or online from HF or the like. I bought my stones from Brownells. I made a lot of tools out of mild steel through the years, I case hardened the ones that needed it, but this saved me a lot of money by not having to buy one from Brownells each time the need arose. A lot of them were built on the lathe, but a lot of them were filed to shape or ground using a hand grinder.

I was in the welding business, don't know if I mentioned that to you, but I had a good jump on most folks since I had been in business and learned a long time ago if you live by the tools you use, you eat by them as well. You know what that means don't you, you better have the best you can afford if you plan to make money instead of spend money on replacing old worn out tools. I had most of the tools I needed long before I ever took up gunsmithing, but it took me years to build up the list of tools I have now. The first 2 years I was in business, I think the only tools I bought were a new file now and then and a stone when the ones I had wouldn't work. I worked for 3 years before I ever parked my first gun. If they needed bluing or parkerizing, I farmed it out. I took care of all the handwork, woodwork and replaced or fixed parts as they needed it, but any machining, or metal finishing I needed, I farmed it out to a smith I knew from my own town. He gave me a decent price and I only charged what he charged me to do the work. He eventually showed me how to do chanbering work and I bought the tanks and burners and took up bluing and parking. I guess it was only 2 years ago when I first started painting guns when asked to do so. I used to hate it like the plague.

Now, I'll paint one in a heart beat and know that the finish will be there for good. The Lauer's is very durable and very hard. They recently came out with a new gun blue that I am ordering next week. They tell me it looks very close to the old rust blue. I have an old beater that I was going to rust blue and put a new stock on it, but maybe I will paint it blue and see how she looks. I use the clear coat over blued or parked guns now. It seals the finish and rust will be forever gone unless they figure out a way to get a deep scratch in it. You can just overspray it if they do. Jeesh, you got my typing all morning here. As Momma said, "ya'll come back now, you here" and let us know how things are. I don't know if you follow these threads much, but I and others like me have mostly given the advice of going to a business class and learn to operate a small business before opening the doors. Learn from the mistakes of others as best you can. Get yourself liscensed and bonded and make sure you are up to snuff with the ATF and your local city hall before ever opening those doors as well. That said, best of luck.

T. O'Heir
August 6, 2005, 11:55 PM
"...Must-have gunsmithing tools..." Hi. The one absolutely most essential, 'must have', that nobody ever mentions when this question comes up here and elsewhere, is a good, solid, work bench. You can have every tool in Brownell's catalogue(that's another thing you need. No reason to buy special tools unless you need them for a job(http://www.brownells.com/Default.aspx), but if your work bench is wobbly, you won't be able to do squat. Your 4" jawed vice with soft inserts(think leather), goes on it and nothing else. The drill press goes on another bench.
New guys can make a few bucks with minimal outlay by mounting scopes(get a bore sighter), trigger jobs(if you know how. Difficult it ain't for most firearms. http://www.gunsprings.com/1ndex.html), teaching reloading classes and glass bedding. New guys have no reputation. Simple jobs done well will help build one. Buy some clunkers at gun shows etc and putter.
Next, and you can make it, is a parts washer. Any mild steel or SS container long enough to hold a whole rifle will do nicely. Won't cost much to have one made if you don't weld yourself. Use mineral spirits. It's cheap, relatively non-toxic and it works.
Next is your library. Smithy's read more than they drive screws or hammer. Most of 'em spend more money on books than they do on tools. Start with Hatcher's Notebook and Hatcher's Book of the Garand, then The NRA's Gunsmithing Guides(you need all of 'em) and Gunsmithing Kinks(all of them too), every Exploded Firearms Drawings book and every how-to book you can lay your hands on. There are lots of on-line sites for manuals and parts too. And don't discount other forums. Here's a bunch of sites not in any order to get you going.
http://www.biggerhammer.net/ Note the need for the provided UN and PW.
http://www.chuckhawks.com/index2d.rifles.htm Join or whatever it takes.

August 7, 2005, 01:18 AM
Hammers - you'll want a few different types;

1. A small rawhide or nylon/plastic mallet
2. A light brass hammer (4oz)
3. Ball Pein hammer

Two other items no one has mentioned -
A: Good lighting over your work area - should be non glaring light but strong enough to see close up details.
B: Plastic parts trays - to hold the parts you remove from a project gun. It prevents them from "wandering" away. I prefer something other than black!

August 7, 2005, 12:23 PM
I told you I would forget things. I use plastci bowls with lids on them to keep gun parts in when I work on a gun. I buy a 4 bowl set/w lids from Wally World for $2. I go back and buy em all the time. The other posts are excellent as well. I would suggest "The Shooter's Workbench" by John Mosher. I found it at the public library. It has plans for one of the most solid work benches I found. It has a lot of other good plans for shooting benches, reloading benches, and other accessories. I didn't even think to go into the library I developed through the years. Roy Dunlap's book, " Gun Owners Book of Care, Repair and Improvement" and Clyde Baker's "Modern Gunsmithing" is about as good as it gets for learning the basics. I said basics, because that is where you need to start. I bought a collamitor and a gun vise when I started doing scopes and I also bought a set of screws from Brownells that contains any scope ring screw out there and the tools to check them for $70. It has been a life saver at times. Good luck.

August 7, 2005, 01:50 PM
I'll list a few I have made since the others are pretty much covered.

A flathead screwdriver with a notch cut in the tip. Perfect for hooking on springs.

A phillip's screwdriver with the point cut off and the end rounded. Perfect for knocking out pins held in place by spring tension such as a 1911 MSH pin.

Various pokers and prodders made out of plastic eating utensils.

A hinged spanner wrench made for use on fire fighting equipment. It fits almost any nut requiring a spanner wrench.

A mechanic's magnet on a telesoping rod.

A magnet used for underwater retrieval.........perfect for finding that spring that jumped out of nowhere.

And finally.... getting to that subject....... a disassembly box. This is a wooden box with two holes in the sides for your hands, and a hinged plexiglass top to see through. The inside is painted white. Anytime you are disassembling an unknown object or gun, this type of box can save you hours looking for that spring loaded doodad that you barely saw jump out of the mechanism into oblivion. It can take you more time to find the doodad than it takes to just build the box! ;)

DT Guy
August 7, 2005, 02:07 PM
And I thought I was smart disassembling springy things inside a big ziplock bag!

That box sounds VERY cool...


August 7, 2005, 04:38 PM
One thing I aleays use is the bag myself. The box sounds like a great tip. I make my own screwdriver tips XavierBreath mentioned. I get those little screwdrivers that folks give out from time to time with the little magnet on the other end and then grind out the middle. I use them on sights for the S&W as well. I know folks have said here that they break most of the time, but with this screwdriver in the nut, I can usually get 1 out of 3 to back the screw out and reuse it. The Stephens and Savage shotguns also need the same driver to remove the nut and screw that hold the Cartridge Stop on the side of the receiver. I also use it to push back the detent for the safety when removing it and putting it back in. It slides right behind the safety and lets you push the detent out of the way.

August 7, 2005, 06:52 PM
I have heard much mentioned about TIG welders. I have an extremely limited knowledge of stick welding, and oxy cutting. Is TIG welding something I can master on my own, or should I take a class before spending the money? Thanks.

August 7, 2005, 07:44 PM
If you can gas weld, you should be able to learn to TIG weld. It is different from stick welding in that it requires both hands doing different jobs. If you are good at gas welding, you should have no problem picking up a TIG torch and running beads. A book on welding can give you a lot of info on TIG. Lincoln Electric has a site that has some good ino on it as well. I would suggest you take a class for it if you have limited experience welding.

August 8, 2005, 08:19 AM
Don't forget taps and dies. 6-48 for scope mounts and other sizes. Laser sight in tool. Foul out cleaning system. I'm sure there is more.

August 10, 2005, 11:11 PM
What about stones? I looked in the Brownell's catalog and I'm overwhelmed with the choices. What shapes and types of stones should I be looking at?
And files...there are so many choices. What do you guys use most?

August 11, 2005, 02:12 AM
I would suggest getting a triangle file, a single cut file, a double cut file, a bastard file, a chainsaw file to start with. You can add as you need to later. Make sure to get handles for all of them. I would get a set of diamond needle files as well. I would get a cabinet makers rasp if you paln to do much stock work.

As to the stones, what I bought was an Arkansas stone, 1/4"x4", a fine cut ceramic and a medium cut ceramic, both are 1/2"x5", an Arkansas triangle stone, the same size as the other Arkansas stone. You can get the aluminim oxide stones in various grit if you like, but I would waste the money myself. I use a belt sander to get the shape about where I want it, and then use the ceramic stones most of the time. I do use the arkansas stones , but if I can use the ceramic ones, I use them since they can be used with water.