by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, September 2007
If you are going to be working on your gun to any extent, even if just to take care of some maintenance issues, you will need to have a basic set of tools. If you want to start doing more extensive work, you'll quickly find that you'll need to add to this basic tool inventory. I will address what tools you need to do certain types of work and how to stage out your buying so you can do the most work without going broke in the meantime.
Organization is key, so begin by investing in a toolbox. This will enable you to keep all of your gun-related tools in one place. You might also consider buying duplicates of all the maintenance tools and setting up a kit in your gun bag for use at matches only. Keep this toolkit with your spare parts in case you need to do emergency repairs at a match.
At the most basic level, you’ll need to acquire the tools that will enable you to do day-to-day maintenance on your gun. You want to be able to take the gun apart and do minor repairs such as installing an extractor, ejector, or thumb safety. You may already have quite a few of the basic tools laying around out in the garage and just need to get them all in one place for easy access. If that is the case, you are ahead of the game. For this first set of tools, I suggest the following:
A good assortment of files such as in the photo accompanying the article
Set of needle files
A set of punches
1/8 inch brass punch – this is my primary disassembly tool
Small hammer with a brass/plastic head
Needle nose pliers
Drill – cordless units are nice
Assortment of cleaning/lubrication supplies
Drill bits, sanding drums, dremel bits, etc.
The punches will help with assembly and disassembly, as will the hammer and pliers. The Dremel tool and files will be good for removing small amounts of material such as when tuning an extractor or ejector or when removing burrs from metal.
On the not essential but darn nice to have list, I include the following tools:
Good screwdriver set – Brownell’s Magna Tip sets are nice
6x1/2x1/2 Stones – For trigger jobs and knocking off sharp edges
Trigger pull gauge – This helps when you are trying to adjust individual fingers on the sear spring
Micrometer – For times when you need a more exact measurement than you can get from your calipers
Magnifying glass/Opti Visor – This helps to get a closer look at what you are doing
Adequate lighting – So you can see what’s going on
Next on the list are some bigger, costlier items that will make life easier as well as some task-specific tools. Consider that if you price the list of tools you might need to install a specific part, the tools will usually cost two to three times as much as what you would spend to have the part installed by a gunsmith. However, if you are going to have to do this same task more than two to three times, it makes sense to purchase the tools so you can eventually do it for yourself for free.
Bigger ticket items that are nice to have include:
A large vise
A smaller adjustable vise that has padded jaws - I really like the one in the accompanying photo.
Several sets of vise jaws – Soft and hard, different shapes
Good electronic scale
Buffer/grinder – I might move this one up the list, quite often we are trying to remove hardened steel and a file just won’t cut it
Foredom tool – Basically a big Dremel tool that allows you to work quicker
Weigand extractor adjusting tool (see picture)
Task specific items, most of which are available from Brownells, include the following:
Trigger jig – I like the Power custom.
Set of stones for the trigger jig – 6 inch by ½ by ½ inch in 3 grits
Trigger pull gauge – I like the electronic model.
Microscope – not absolutely necessary but nice to have
Feeler gauges – to check hammer hooks
Lug cutting/fitting kit
Chamber Reamer – caliber specific
Lock up gauge
Barrel alignment block
Barrel alignment gauge
Locking lug file
Go/no go gauges in the caliber you are fitting
Barrel crowning tools
There are many other tools available from Brownell’s and comparable sources to make working on your guns easier and quicker. If you buy only the tools you need to do a particular job each time it comes up, eventually you will build yourself a very comprehensive toolkit. As you accumulate tools, also be sure to get the toolbits and attachments that will give you the flexibility to take on many different types of jobs. Remember that buying these tools is a long-term investment that won’t save you money at the start. If, however, gun maintenance and repair is the type of thing you enjoy or you have several guns to work on, it might be just the thing for you. If your interests go so far as wanting to build a gun from the ground up, then a small mill and maybe a lathe will very adequately round out your tooling capabilities.