What Equipment Is Required For Gunsmithing
An Introduction and Guide to Gunsmithing Equipment
Gunsmithing requires a lot of learned skill (experience), and proper training. Still, it cannot hurt to have some of the better gunsmithing tools and equipment in order to make the job easiest. Whether the tools are basic or more advanced, they should always be the highest quality in order to produce the highest quality work. Unfortunately, many gunsmiths begin with a limited capital, therefore having to select from a smaller range of budget equipment. There are some tools which are considered completely necessary, and then many more tools which are more of a luxury. Regardless, selecting the right equipment for each shop or hobby, means understanding all of what is available.
Note: Serious about gunsmithing? Check out our other article How to Become a Gunsmith for more information!
Different Types of Gunsmithing Equipment / Tools
It is simpler to understand gunsmithing tools and equipment when breaking the items down into categories. The following categories make it easiest to separate various types of gunsmithing components:
- Hand Tools – The most commonly used, many necessary, tools operated manually by the hand.
- Furnishings and Racks – This category encompasses all large furnishings and bench-style components. This includes a work bench itself, storage and closets, as well as tool holders/cabinetry.
- Machinery – All shop machines and any associated components which automate any part of the job, or machines which make gunsmithing easier. This includes machine-related accessories.
- Materials – All metals, materials and supplies used by the shop in the gunsmithing process.
Breaking down these categories further can help a gunsmith create the perfect shop for their needs. The below list is in alphabetical order.
Brace and Bits– The traditional hand-drill can be used for a variety of stock work. It is also used for a variety of gun repair jobs. With a variety of creative adapters, they can be modified to do a lot of special polishing work. They are also great for over-tightened or otherwise stubborn screws.
Bunsen Burner– Bunsen burners are used for heat treating. They are also used for coloring pins and small parts.
Chisels– Wood chisels are especially important in a variety of gun repair and alteration work. Wood chisels come in handy when working a stock repair job. Cold chisels are often used for small sized chipping work.
Drift Punch– A drift punch is extremely important in gunsmithing, They come in a variety of sizes, though most important for gunsmith work are between 1/64” and quarter inch in diameter.
Files– Files are made for a many variety of purposes. There are pillar files, taper files, round files, and many other file types. There are special files made specifically for gunsmith work as well, including:
- Checkering file
- Heart-shaped file
- Knife-edge file
- Screw-head file
- Sear-notch file
- Slotting file
They are made for many different purposes and in a varying degree of shape and coarseness. Gun mechanics stock many of these gunsmithing files, as they all come in handy at one point or another. Files are a depreciable tool, so they do need to be replaced as they become dull. Some gunsmiths prefer to retire their files into other tools (chisels, scapers, etc.).
Gages– There are so many gages that create an array of accurate measurements of a variety of gun parts. Some of the most commonly used gages for gunsmithing include: angle, center, marking, radius, screw pitch, taper,thickness and universal surface.
Hacksaw Frame and Wood Saws– Adjustable hacksaw frames with a variety of blades (between 14 and 32 teeth per inch) is very helpful in doing any stock work. They also come in handy for some tubing and fine cutting jobs. Standard wood saws are also necessary once in a while.
Hammers– Both hammers and mallets come in handy for some jobs. A normal ball-peen hammer in a variety of weights (from 3 to 16 ounces) will ensure all jobs requiring a hammer can be satisfied. A variety of hammer materials can expand the versatile use of the tool. Rubber, copper, lead, fiber, plastic, and wood are some of the most commonly used hammer materials in gunsmithing. Brass hammers are frequently used to avoid object deformation, and because the malleable brass that is left behind on the gun can be easily wiped away.1
Pliers – There are a variety of types of pliers available, all of which can find their purpose in gunsmith work. A gunsmith uses these types of pliers to perform a variety of jobs: barrel pliers, long and short needle nose pliers, parallel action pliers, side-cutting pliers, and straight smooth-jaw pliers. It is amazing how many times pliers can help manipulate a part and make a gunsmith job easier.
Reamer– Reamers are not considered required, except for only a few gunsmithing jobs. Many amateur or hobbyist gunsmiths will wait to order a reamer until it is absolutely necessary. Rotary cutting jobs do occur in a variety of gun repair and alteration work, however, these jobs may be slim unless running a full-on gunsmith shop.
Scraper– There are a few types of scrapers, though a flat scraper and a three-corner scraper are most common for gunsmith work. Some things scrapers are used for include dressing down a part or chamber edge. They are also used on the receiver recess. They can be used for truing a surface.
Screwdrivers– The screwdriver is one of the most regularly used hand tools in gunsmithing. Screwdrivers are typically not used outright, however, but only after they are reground to become acceptable for gunsmith use. It is not easy to make a proper screwdriver for gunsmithing from scratch and most shops are not equipped to do so. They require heat treatment and precision craftsmanship to be of any real value. Although, if a gunsmith were to try, they can be crafted from a drill rod (followed by a hardening/tempering process). It is far easier to obtain an already-made screwdriver and then simply grind it to the desired purpose.
Steel Rules– Gunsmithing jobs requiring scope-mounting can require a good rule graduated in tenths of an inch. A lot of stock work and measurements will require a long, flexible steel rule. Foreign guns may also require a different steel rule.
Tap and Die – Tap and die sets are extremely necessary thread cutting tools. It is always best to purchase them as a set, together. The size range most typically used in gunsmithing are from 1-64 to 12-28 in machine screws, and 1/4”-20 to 1/2”-20 in fractional sizes. Tap and dies are used to enlarge a damaged, threaded hole. They are also used to convert foreign metric threads. Owning a tap holder and die stock is also a good idea.
Other Hand Tools– Many other hand tools are used in gunsmithing and are usually acquired as-needed. Some of these tools include: breast drills, center drills, center punches, countersinks of a variety of sizes and angles, micro calipers, vernier calipers, micrometers, squares and levels, scriber, parallels, surface plates, oilstones, soldering equipment, C clamps
Furnishings and Racks
Auxiliary bench – A supplementary bench that is separate from the main workbench. The auxiliary bench ensures clean parts are not tainted with any oil or wood shavings which may be present on the main workbench.
Electricity – A lot of gunsmithing is improved by use of electricity. Wall sockets are necessary for many of the machines and tools. It is also helpful for lighting and any motors.
Lighting – Working on guns can require a keen eye and therefore, also great lighting. The lighting should be positioned in a way to provide the optimum working advantage for any particular gunsmithing job. Fluorescent lighting is best for a gunsmith, as it offers a soft light that is still highly illuminating. A good gooseneck or adjustable arm lamp can be extremely helpful in providing light for some of the harder, more meticulous jobs.
Storage– The best kinds of storage in gunsmithing is undoubtedly cabinetry. Tiny compartments and drawers are a huge plus. This is because there are many types of gun parts and having these numerous compartments helps easily catalog the parts. Some gunsmiths prefer to store their gun parts in containers, rather than cabinetry and drawers. Transparent plastic containers are excellent choices as they allow for parts to be most easily distinguishable. Although, a good label maker or permanent marker can also help with part location. And always store all parts with a light layer of grease to prevent corrosion.
Tool Racks – It’s important to keep gunsmith tools in good condition, especially higher quality tools. The ordering and positions each tool takes on the rack can play a significant part in keeping an operation efficient. Tool racks keep tools as organized as possible and help a gunsmith locate each tool most quickly. Multi-leveled racks or sensible layers can allow a gunsmith to keep the most frequently used tools in easier-to-reach locations, while storing more sparsely used tools as well.
Workbench – Workbenches are one of the most common gunsmith furnishings. While there is no “one size fits all” workbench, the bench should match the minimum size requirements for the tasks the gunsmith is planning. For instance, a shop of 3 or more gunsmiths positioned in a warehouse, will likely house a bigger bench to supply enough space to complete numerous jobs at once. Oftentimes benches are as long and wide as space permits, even wrapping around the room. Comparatively, however, a one man gunsmith hobby being practiced in a garage could survive with a single workbench, maybe even as small as 4-6 feet by 3-4 feet. The average workbench is roughly 36” tall. The workbench should be sturdy and level-surfaced. This is not only to increase the efficiency of the gunsmith’s work, but also because benches often support many other objects. The top of the bench should be covered with a seamless fiber board, Masonite Presdwood, or similar hard surface. The seamless attribute is important as to prevent the loss of small pieces in tight cracks. These composition-based top materials also reject oil, whereas wood will unattractively absorb any lubricant spillage.
Vice Systems – Gunsmithing requires a lot of steady work, and thus many gunsmiths make use of a vice. Vices are very diverse tools and the bench vice comes in many shapes and sizes. The optimal gunsmith vice would be roughly 4” wide. It also needs to be universal, so that the vise can be easily adjusted to match corresponding needs. These vices provide the gunsmith the ability to work on tapered barrels, as well as allowing for 360 degree motion. This swinging effect allows a gunsmith to adjust the part for the easiest cutting, filing, sawing or other part manipulation. It is important to note that many finishes can be ruined if the vice is not properly prepped. Any gun with a finish (including blued guns) require special jaws (e.g. copper, leather, or wood). Sometimes the standard carpenter’s vice is used, however, the applications are slim. In terms of the type of carpenter’s vice, any will help to keep in stock as long as they are wooden and have felt tipped jaws. These are most commonly used to hold finished stocks in place.
Bench Grinder – The bench grinder is quite important to the serious gunsmith. It is used frequently used for grinding screwdrivers and other tools, touching up a drill bit, sharpening a center punch, and many other purposes.
Drill Press– Drill presses help with sight mounting, stock work, and an absolute ton of other gun repair and modification tasks. The drill press is one of the most necessary pieces of machinery for a gunsmith shop or hobbyist. The optimal gunsmith drill press is typically powered by a 1/8 to 1/4 hp motor and has a step pulley. Having a detachable chuck is essential, with a capacity spanning 0 to half an inch. Many high speed twist drills are necessary to allow a gunsmith the ability to accomplish all jobs. Wire Size Drills are best, and typically come in large sets ranging in sizes. Letter Size Drills are also very helpful. Sets of these two types of drills come with pre-labeled holders, as to help the gunsmith more quickly access the correct drill during a job. Typically all of these drills are less than .4130 inches in size and go as low as almost a hundredth of an inch. It is true, however, that some larger drill bits are necessary for some stock work, and other custom work. Some of the larger drills used reach up to an inch in size.
Grinding and Polishing Heads– Grinding and polishing machines usually have interchangeable heads to allow the gunsmith to quickly switch between tasks. This machine is one of the most necessary for a gunsmith and it is capable of saving many hours of labor. These tools are also used to buff guns to become blued. They can also be used to create a fine finish on many parts. Wire wheel heads can be used to dull metal surfaces. Ultimately, the grinding and polishing heads are highly versatile and necessary to reasonably accomplish many gunsmith jobs.
Lathe – There are many types and sizes of lathes, some being very small and others being extremely large. The perfect lathe for a gunsmith is one which can handle a three foot gap in between centers and be able to swing about nine inches. The purpose of the lathe to a gunsmith is for thread cutting, chamber work, and some stock work. Although the lathe may not be used every day, and is an expensive asset, it is essential for a gunsmith to be able to handle any gun repair job. It is a very versatile equipment, able to be converted to bore, drill mill, grind, knurl, thread, and ream. It can turn down odd pins, and even create replications of factory parts.
Milling Machine – This machine is not necessary, but absolutely helpful. It can be used to make some gun parts and special tools, and used in generalized repair work. If a gunsmith invests into a mill, several other parts are necessary to make use of the machine including: angle plates, cutters (very expensive), dividing heads, and table vises. A table mill with a power feed is usually the best recommendation for gunsmithing.
Other Power Machines – Specialty gunsmithing sometimes requires a variety of other machines to efficiently accomplish a task. For example, some jobs may require a surface grinder (for finishing some parts). Other jobs might call for a profile cutting machine, a very expensive machine capable of creating a variety of gun parts (triggers, hammers, pins, etc.). There are also traditional power machines that come handy, such as the band saw, jig saw, and router.
Materials and Metals
All of these materials and metals should be considered the minimum necessary for a reasonably prepared gunsmith.
Brass Rods– Brass rods are more commonly used for antique firearms. Although many parts can be fashioned from brass rods, the most common include bushings, punches, and screws.
Cold Rolled Steel– Cold Rolled Steel is capable of being case-hardened. This quality allows for parts that are flexible in core but hard in surface. This metal is ideal for barrel ramps and ribs, as well as swivel bases.
Copper Rods– Like brass rods, copper rods are used to make punches, screws, bushings and other odd parts. It is also very commonly used for antique weapons.
Crocus Cloth– Crocus cloth is a lot like Emery cloth, only it is coated with a layer of extremely fine iron oxide particles, instead of larger grain abrasives (like Emery). It was created specifically for fine metal finishings and like sandpaper, comes in a variety of grades.
Drill Rods– These rods are made in a variety of shape, most commonly being flat, round, and square. While all sizes are desirable, having some of the most commonly used rods will suffice. A couple feet of each size in between 1/32” and half an inch diameter is essential to be able to replace any size pin.
Emery Cloth– Emery cloth is a special type of material that is made from gluing emery to a cloth backing. The result is an abrasive-coated cloth usually sold in rolls.
Glue– There are many types of glues which can be used in gunsmithing, however, iron glue and caseine glue are very commonly selected by seasoned gunsmiths.
Grease– Grease is used to lubricate guns for longer-term storage.
Oils– Oils are used to lubricate internal moving parts. Some of the best brands include Fiendoil, Hoppe’s Gun Oil, and many manufacturer-brand lubricants.
Pin Punch Sets– Pin punch sets are typically made of brass to avoid any scarring or marring of the gun or gun parts. They are used to remove roll pins from firearms for repair or disassembly.2
Powdered Emery– Emery is also known as corundite and is a dark rock that can be used to create a granular, abrasive powder. Keeping a stock of around 2-3 pounds of a variety of Emery powder grits will suffice. It can be used for dressing fiber, and in the preliminary polishing stages of bluing a gun.
Pumice Stone– Keeping a stock of a few pounds of Pumice stone is required for most gunsmiths that do polishing work. Pumice stone is used as an abrasive.
Sandpaper– A variety of sandpapers are used for gunsmithing, however, have a grit range between 60 and 4000. Most gunsmiths suggest the wet/dry method for good finishes to assure no abrasives are left behind.
Solder– It is wise to maintain a couple of rolls stock of both common gunsmithing solders: acid core and rosin core. These solders will be able to satisfy nearly all gun repair jobs requiring solder.
Stock Finishings– There are many types of stock finishings, many of them being concocted of a variety of liquids. Some of the most commonly used solutions in stock finishings include: Beeswax, Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil, Japan Drier, Laquer, Linseed Oil, Shellac, Spar Varnish (and hard varnishes), Tree Wax, Tung Oil, Wood Alcohol, Wood Filler, and Wood Stains.
Tool Steel (Carbon and Alloy Steels)– Tool steel is commonly used to make gun parts including hammers, links, triggers, sears, and more. There are many sizes, but the most commonly used are 1/8” to 5/8” by 2 inches. Tool steel can not only be used to create gun parts, but chisels and other tools for gunsmithing. Also, knowing the steel’s carbon range is necessary in order for any heat treatment to take place.
Special Tools and Equipment for Gunsmithing
Many operations in gunsmithing require special pieces of equipment or tools, and thus either have to be crafted by the gunsmith themselves or purchased from a gunsmithing parts source. Although not all of these tools are used by all gunsmiths, they do make many jobs a lot easier. Some of the tools and eq considered specialized which require custom fabrication or special procurement methods include:
Custom Gun Clamps
Dent Removal Devices (for barrels and magazines)
Dental Mirrors (for example, for bore examination)
Fake Cartridges [aka Dummy Cartridges]
Firing Pin Protrusion Gages
Headspace Gages (per caliber)
Holding Pin Vices
Recoil Plate Tools
Screwdrivers (for stock bolts and various gun fasteners)
Specialized Chisels and Punches
Review: Central Machinery’s Bench Grinder
Central Machinery’s Bench Grinder with the Flex Shaft is one of the most useful grind/polish machines on the market. It is a smaller item, easy to transport, and perfect for hobbyists and amateur gunsmiths. The grinder can reach 10,000 RPMs, and is equipped with a 31 inch flex shaft. The flex shaft allows for an enhanced precision in operation, as well as the ability to reach tighter surfaces. It allows for variable speeds and is of ball bearing-based construction.3
Final Advice On Gunsmithing Tools and Equipment
Selecting the right equipment and tools often means a) satisfying the necessities of the gunsmithing operation or hobby and b) picking what components best custom tailor to the gunsmithing operation itself. In other words, all gunsmiths will need some of this equipment, while the size, shape, and quantity of other items will vary depending upon the exact needs of any one gunsmith. Some of the tools only make sense to purchase as they are needed.
Regardless of any particular tool’s necessity in gunsmithing, generally speaking: the better quality the equipment and tools, the higher grade work a gunsmith can create. Even so, no amount of equipment or tools will be able to turn an amateur gunsmith into an expert or professional. Tools can only take a gunsmith so far, before skill and experience become the measure of true craftsmanship.
1Benedikt, J. V.. (August 16, 2016). 10 Must Have Tools for the DIY Gunsmith. Shooting Times. Retrieved from:https://www.shootingtimes.com/editorial/10-must-have-tools-for-the-diy-gunsmith/99217
2Cratex. (January, 2019). Top 5 Essential Gunsmith Tools. Cratex Gunsmithing Tools. Retrieved from: https://www.cratex.com/gunsmith-tools-supplies/Top-5-Essential-Gunsmith-Tools
3Harbor Freight. (2019). 3-Inch Multipurpose Bench Grinder Manual. Central Machinery. Retrieved from: https://manuals.harborfreight.com/manuals/43000-43999/43533.pdf
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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