Tools for gunsmithing - where to start, what to buy, what's worth the $?

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  • Tools for gunsmithing - where to start, what to buy, what's worth the $?

    Hi all,

    I'm getting to the point where I want to start repairing and restoring my own rifles, specifically metal and timber refinishing as well as repairing or fabricating small parts. This will be strictly a hobby (albeit a pretty serious one) for the meantime, but I wouldn't mind it to become a casual/part time semi-retirement business in a decade or two, so I'm serious about slowly but surely getting a good setup.

    Big(ger) ticket gear like a lathe, mill, dress press and a TIG welder are already planned for the shorter and longer term. I already have a fairly extensive selection of basic hand and power tools, so I want to focus on more gunsmithing-specific hand tools and the like. Such as:

    * An extensive screwdriver set. I own probably half a dozen flat head screwdrivers already but it appears that if you're serious a driver with a few dozen different sized inserts is required to prevent damage to screw heads. There's quite a few sets on the market - which the best option?

    * Torque driver - I'm presuming the Wheeler Engineering FAT wrench is the go-to option?

    * Files. One of my first jobs once the TIG welder arrives will be to repair the damaged camming surface on the bolt of my Slaz Model 12, which will involve a tiny dollop of weld then careful filing to restore the surface. Are regular Nicholsons a good choice or are there better quality, more gunsmithing orientated sets available? I figure for careful metalworking you don't want to skimp here, and obviously they're useful for custom tool making as well.

    * Punches - again, is a decent $50 set from Bunnings perfectly fine or are there better, more specific options worth considering.

    * Hammers - I already have a number of ball peins (I'm a sheet metal worker) but don't have a nylon or brass hammer yet - obvously something I'll need sooner rather than later.

    * Gun vice. There's already a thread here about general gun vices for cleaning and basic set up work, but I am curious what the pros use themselves for serious work.

    * Woodworking tools. I'm keen to try my hand at stockmaking (or at least modifying existing stocks) in the medium term, am curious as to the kind of tools considered must haves - chisels, shavers, rasps, etc.

    * Anything else I've not considered yet.

    Would be great if an experienced hand could chime in with their recommendations, both in terms of brand(s) but also where you feel the priorities are for anyone wanting to build up a reasonable kit of tools. I'm sure I'm not the only person here interested!

    Cheers, Ben.

  • #2
    Not being smart.....

    Do you know a Gunsmith. Organise a visit, even if it means paying for the time and have a look around at the various equipment and uses.

    I have a very friendly one or two. Spent some time at one place helping move in a new (secondhand mill) and realised the value of some of the just basic gear like a Bore Scope but you need to know how to use it and what to look for. Some of the basic stuff I already have handed down from my father (deceased at 97) who was a Tool Maker, Fitter & Turner, Cabinet Maker, Carpenter, Steam Engine something (Stationary Engines like in a Saw Mill) and I think a couple of other Trades with Certificates.... Would have been a great Gunsmith as I can remember near 50 years ago him restoring some old Lithgow Rifles.

    BTW..... a Radio Amateur Mate of mine is one of the Lithgow Museum guys and has offered a number of times for one on one guided tours of the Small Arms Plant / Museum so if you are ever up this way I'll organise..... he's in his late 80's odd so not much time. Bob Notson. Still talks like the Pom he is and was. He's pretty pally with a local Gunsmith and some of his mates have some pretty good workshops.

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    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by Mega" post=6170
      Not being smart.....
      Do you know a Gunsmith. Organise a visit, even if it means paying for the time and have a look around at the various equipment and uses.
      I do and will be visiting him again in a few weeks to show him what an original Model 24 actually looks like Poor guy had to do a lot of guesswork on my other, less-than-original example.

      'Tis a really good idea actually. I've already picked his brains on lathes and he was very generous with his knowledge, why it is important to turn the entire barrel length between centres (rather than simply stick one end through the chuck) to ensure a completely true chamber, etc.

      Originally posted by Mega" post=6170
      BTW..... a Radio Amateur Mate of mine is one of the Lithgow Museum guys and has offered a number of times for one on one guided tours of the Small Arms Plant / Museum so if you are ever up this way I'll organise..... he's in his late 80's odd so not much time. Bob Notson. Still talks like the Pom he is and was. He's pretty pally with a local Gunsmith and some of his mates have some pretty good workshops.
      Mate that'd be sweet. A "pilgrimage" is on the cards within the next 9-12 months once my 4WD is set up for some touring around the mainland. I'm in reasonably regular contact with the Museum and am definitely planning on doing a bit of serious research while there.

      Cheers, Ben.

  • #3
    I've been wanting to ask the same questions here as you have so it will be interesting to see what's said. I have inletted 2 stocks now by hand but I think to do it well you need a milling machine.

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    • #4
      I am certainly not a gunsmith however I manufacture and sell target rifle sights and accessories. I guess I started with a shed full of cheap tools collected from places like Bunnings over the last two decades. Then came the big ticket items, which I also did on the cheap (Chinese milling machine, linisher, etc etc). Now I have pretty much every tool required to make alloy stocks, sights, and chamber barrels. The more I use these cheap tools I realise that even though it was all I could afford at the time, they sometimes are not even fit for purpose. I am now replacing nearly all of my tools with high quality stuff as funds permit. So I guess doing my time over, I probably wouldn't have done it any different, because a shed full of cheap tools is a better way to start than hardly any quality tools in my opinion.

      But it will depend on the type of work you are intending on doing and how cashed up you are. Precision machining requires good tooling and measuring equipment, timber stock making is far less fussy on the quality of gear.

      Cheers.

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      • #5
        If your after a good set of screwdrivers you can't go past Snap-on tools "Cabinet Screwdrivers" Vapour blasted tips to aid grip and the tips are perfectly ground. Not cheap by any standards but better to spend good money where it's needed instead of buggering up a screw head on one of your prized Firearms.

        Antz

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        • #6
          Next you'll need some allen keys. I'd go with Bondhus. Not too expensive and the quality is excellent. Individual screwdriver types and t-handles is what I have.

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          • #7
            The one tool I found to be the most useful for gunsmithing jobs as well as woodworking, car parts, appliance repairs, and whatever is a GOOD Dremel Tool with a wide selection of accessories.
            [ul][li]Member:- SFP, SUQ, SSAA [/li]
            [li]Rimfire:- Savage MK II, FN 1926 , Liege 22Long, Win '04 , Lithgow 1B[/li]
            [li]Centrefire: - Mossberg 30-06 Sprg,270 win,Marlin 22-250[/li]
            [li]Handgun:- Ruger .357[/li]
            [li]Wishlist:- .22 Charger, 338WM[/li][/ul]

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            • #8
              My view on Dremels, is the clones are fine (especially at 25% of the cost), but you must use the genuine Dremel accessories and cutting bits.

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              • #9
                I'd add:
                -a decent belt linisher and a range of belts, the blue zirconia ones and some scotchbrite belts cover most of the bases and leave the grinding wheel on the other size to sharpen drills etc.
                -Buy High speed steel taps as you need them, most cheap sets that you buy are junk and you'll spend more time getting the broken ones out than you will tapping threads, you'll also find that you wont use 80% of the sizes in most cheap kits.
                -A couple of ratchet tap wrenches and tap sockets.
                -old Allen keys ground down make great pin punches, Use the belt linisher above to grind only the length you need and there's much less chance of them bending.
                - a few different centre punches ground with different angles and an automatic punch.
                - a set of quality HSS fractional drills are very handy, learn how to sharpen them- it's a skill that will last a lifetime and save you much frustration and ruined jobs and a decent cordless drill. A drill press is a bonus as well.
                -i like mill finish files for the better finish they leave, also if you smooth off one edge (on the belt linisher above) they can cut against a shoulder very neatly.
                -A good set of calipers (digital, dial or vernier) and know how to read them, a 6" & 12" steel rule and some micrometers (Chinese/russian ones work fine, just don't feel as nice to use)
                -a couple of good workbenches, lots of drawers and shelves.
                -Good screwdrivers, allen keys and torx bits (snap on stuff is excellent).
                -A few decent hammers in different sizes.
                -A couple of vices. The old wood vices with the wooden jaw inserts are really useful.
                -A tri-square and bull nose scraper, it's amazing how handy they can be.
                -A few black textas, sharpies and a scriber.
                -A dremel is one of the handiest tools in a workshop, as above, buy good quality cutting tools for it.

                Not a definitive list for gunsmithing but a good general home workshop setup.
                Guns don't kill people, Chuck Norris does.

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                • #10
                  That`s a big ask,
                  I have an engineering background and I have along with a lathe, milling machine, press, mig , tig and oxy welders, and a huge selection of hand tools a growing selection of gunsmithing tools, you`ll never have enough, and you`d be crazy to try to buy them all at once, but you have to start somewhere, and the first place to start really is a shed to keep them in,then...
                  If you start with screwdrivers, these MUST be hollow ground, you can`t use an ordinary flat-head blade on firearms if you want to keep the screws in good nick.
                  The slot is a completely different shape, and a normal blade screwdriver will "ride-up" and out of the slot.
                  A decent vernier caliper, either manual or digital,(I prefer manual) and a set of micrometers micrometers, Mitutoyo are fairly good.
                  A good selection of top quality drill bits in the correct sizes ( number and letter) HSS is suitable for drilling holes to be tapped which brings you to the taps,
                  Buy only carbon steel taps, HSS is fine for drills, but will break easily in a tap and is really hard to remover the broken pieces.
                  each tap has the correct size drill to suit both for tapping and clearance...don`t skimp on these, get yourself a drilling and tapping chart, and start by getting the most used drills and taps for scope mounting, like 8-40 and a No.28drill, 6-48 and a No.31 drill, and there are 3 taps for each size, usually two taper taps and a plug tap ..
                  there`s also a few neat tapping guides with hardened steel inserts for drilling and tapping so everything is in line and equally spaced...Google "Gunsmithing tapping jig"
                  It`s an endless list, there`s punches, brass, nylon and steel in a variety of sizes,plastic and rawhide hammers, checkering tools, chisels and gouges, barrel vice and action spanners, a different action vice for each action,reamers, polishing wheels a good quality linisher,,selection of files, both engineering and locksmithing files, bastards, second cut, half round, 3 cornered or triangular, and that`s just scraping the surface.Oh yeah, some hand scrapers are a must!. I`m glad I`m not starting out....Just be very selective of what you buy, only buy top quality tools and buy them once..someone said "Buy once ---cry once" so-so true with gunsmithing tools..a lot more so than the shit you need to fix your car, you can get away with almost anything working on a Holden , Ford or any of the jappers......Not so on a Merkel or a Rigby...especially if it is someone elses firearm..and remember, there is no rush to have all this stuff immediately, buy it as you need it..then you`ll need to think of a license!! There`s only so much you are legally permitted to do without one..Bloody nanny state.

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                  • #11
                    3Band, I think you've mixed up the HSS and carbon steel taps. Carbon steel are the cheap $2 shop taps, rarely even ground. HSS taps are ground from High Speed Steel, made for industrial applications like rigid tapping in machining centres etc as well as hand use.
                    The only bonus I see to carbon steel taps is that they're easier to drill/grind out of the hole when they break off. I did thread repairs/broken bolts/easy outs as a part of my business for 20 or so years so i'm speaking from experience here.
                    Guns don't kill people, Chuck Norris does.

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                    • #12
                      Probably something you can't buy, but that you could make is a bench. I use a bench made from soft pine with no protruding steel fittings so you can't ding the guns you work on. Stock makers cover there vices with leather. Wood covered floor are good so you don't damage tools if you drop them as well.
                      Pilch303
                      Oh dear, how sad....never mind.

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                      • Sumo
                        Sumo commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Timber or rubber floor mats are the go. Funny how everytime you drop a case while reloading, that it hits the concrete neck first and puts a little ding in it. Just like when you drop the toast. Only ever lands vegemite side down.

                    • #13
                      Hi mate,
                      I'm in a similar spot as you.
                      I'm a younger bloke and a perfectionist, so I like to do my own work on all my own gear.
                      So, I decked out a little gunsmithing set up just for jobs that I'd typically do.

                      As far as the torque wrench goes, I run a Borka torque wrench for doing gun work. Fantastic design, easy to use, compact, accurate.
                      BRT sells the Borka kit with a set of quality driver bits and the works. They'll look after you, they're terrific.
                      Otherwise, a Warren and Brown deflecting beam is another terrific option, they're very accurate and never need calibration.
                      These wrenches are dearer than the FAT, but when you use them side by side, you'll see why. The FAT will do the job no worries, but I'll take my Borka anyday.

                      Files, I run Bahco files, made in Sweden, good gear.

                      Scope lapping kit-if you believe in it. I have a wheeler engineering inch and 30mm lapping kit, but if you don't believe it's necessary, then don't stress.
                      Also just a good set of bubble levels and stuff like that for making setting up scopes easy. It's something that you might find yourself doing all the time, so they're pretty handy.

                      I'm by no means a professional, but I've had experience in all sorts of precision metalwork from clock/jewellery making to mechanical fitting on heavy machinery to my own little gunsmithing jobs and setting up guns for others.
                      One thing I've found to be important is to buy the best tools you can afford because if you stuff something up due to an ill fitting or cheap tool, it'll cost more than just the tool, but the whole job and parts.
                      Some cheaper tools are fine though, but the ones that you come to use all the time like the screwdrivers and that, don't compromise.

                      Good luck with it mate! I'm sure you'll get good value out of your setup.
                      Benno

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                      • Tornado-Technologies
                        Tornado-Technologies commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Originally posted by Benno" post=8928
                        Hi mate, Files, I run Bahco files, made in Sweden, good gear.

                        Benno,
                        I also have some of those. The large rubbery handles are nice. Mine are marked as made in Portugal
                        Are yours old or new? I think I got mine circa 2003?

                    • #14
                      Thanks Tornado for an awesome reply. Always great to have someone who actually does this stuff for a living offer their 2c.

                      The welder I'm getting is an Everlast iTIG200T, which is the newer digital inverter version of their very affordable ($500ish) iTIG200. It is DC only (so no aluminium) but has HF, pulse, foot pedal control and adjustable ramp up/down and pre/post flow... basically all your other welders in this price range are slightly glorified arc welders with lift TIG function.

                      Interesting to note that the old (analogue) version has proved extremely popular with gunsmiths both here and in the USA. I should note though I'm primarily buying it for other fabrication projects and also I can continue my welding education to hopefully get certified for pipe welding and so forth. Having it available for gunsmithing is merely a side benefit.

                      Cheers, Ben.

                      Comment


                      • Tornado-Technologies
                        Tornado-Technologies commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Originally posted by headwerkn" post=9112
                        Thanks Tornado for an awesome reply. Always great to have someone who actually does this stuff for a living offer their 2c.

                        The welder I'm getting is an Everlast iTIG200T, which is the newer digital inverter version of their very affordable ($500ish) iTIG200. It is DC only (so no aluminium) but has HF, pulse, foot pedal control and adjustable ramp up/down and pre/post flow... basically all your other welders in this price range are slightly glorified arc welders with lift TIG function.

                        Interesting to note that the old (analogue) version has proved extremely popular with gunsmiths both here and in the USA. I should note though I'm primarily buying it for other fabrication projects and also I can continue my welding education to hopefully get certified for pipe welding and so forth. Having it available for gunsmithing is merely a side benefit.

                        Cheers, Ben.
                        You're welcome!
                        Got a mate who's got one of the "analog" Everlasts, and the only complaint I'd have of it is that it's bloody noisy. Dunno if the newer ones are the same. Basically, the cooling fans ran all the time, even when it was just sitting there turned on. Not sure if that's been changed on the newer models. He changed out the fans for some quieter ones and incorporated some sort of thermal switch which fixed the problem.

                      • BrianLara400*
                        BrianLara400* commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Originally posted by headwerkn" post=9112
                        It is DC only (so no aluminium) .......

                        Cheers, Ben.
                        Hi mate
                        Not strictly so, you can do aluminium running electrode + (however it's not terribly practical)

                    • #15
                      I could not see anyone mention a barrel vice and action wrench . That's a basic requirement .

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                      • Tornado-Technologies
                        Tornado-Technologies commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Originally posted by Happy jack" post=9125
                        I could not see anyone mention a barrel vice and action wrench . That's a basic requirement .
                        Dunno if I would call them a basic requirement. If you're not doing work that requires re-barreling (a pistol smith that works on semi autos for example), you're not going to need one. We do barrel work every day and those tools are the least used in my tool box of specific firearm tools. If all you're doing is installing barrels in actions then they're going to come in real bloody handy, but you should probably also have a lathe, mill, press, blueing set-up etc etc. The list can be endless.

                        I'm in the process of writing up a tutorial on Re-barreling Remington 700's for the home gunsmith and was going to put my thoughts on barrel vises and such in there as they differ greatly from mainstream. Time is the thing I have the least of these days, so it might take another week or so.
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