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173 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been trying to come up with a list of hand tools that are considered must-have so I can began purchasing them as I can. What are the tools you guys/gals consider to be a must have? This is a list I've made from watching some videos on the subject. By all means, if any aren't necessary or some clarification needs to be made on some of them, please do. I'm not really sure about what stones I should get.

Small and/or medium ball peen hammer
Soft faced hammer
Cross peen hammer
1911 bench block
Small round file, medium and/or fine
Small equalizing file, fine
Large equalizing file, 00 cut, tapered
Polymer set of punches
Prick punch
Chamfer tool
Flat nose plyers
220, 320 stones
Dremel tool

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5,195 Posts
THE most used and most critical tools a gunsmith will need is the best gunsmith screwdriver set you can afford.

The industry standard are the Brownell's Magna-Tip driver bits with two "law enforcement" size driver handles.... one magnetic, and one clip-tip.

Good punches are a must and possibly the best are the Brownell's replaceable pin type.
Instead of having to order and wait for a new punch to arrive, you simply unscrew the end and insert a new pin.
You can buy three sizes of handles and buy a number of types of pins, including started punches, roll pin punches, and others.

For stones, today's standard are ceramic. Unlike natural or standard synthetic, ceramic don't dish out as they wear, and don't dull the sharp edges.

Buy the best quality files you can afford, start them out on brass, and after they start to dull, finish up on steel.
Probably the best file type is the "Flat Hand" file. These come in lengths from about 3 inches to over 12 inches.
These have parallel edges and sides, with no taper.
Buy a few files and as you discover you need them, buy more.
Store the files in some manner where they can't touch each other and dull.

Buy better quality Swiss needle files in various lengths and cuts from online jeweler's supply houses.

When files do wear out, have them "resharpened" at Bogs Tool:


By an "Opti-Visor" magnifier visor. It's the best and you'll wear it almost all day for years. Mine is still going strong, and I got it in watchmakers school in the late 1960's.
To determine what focal length, sit at a bench with some work held at a comfortable distance.
Measure from the work to your eye. Buy that focal length.

If you can afford it, pass on the Dremel and buy a Foredom Flex Shaft with a #30 keyed chuck hand piece.
Buy the more powerful unit.

Buy Cratex rubber bonded abrasive shapes and the appropriate mandrels.
The most useful are the 1/2 inch diameter "bullet" shapes, and the one inch diameter by 1/4 inch thick wheels.
Buy in various grits.

Buy the Dremel sanding mandrels and plenty of replacement abrasive drums.

Buy two vises. One large and one small part vise. Buy the best you can, but most are going to be made in China. The more adjustable and flexible the better.
Here's an ideal small part vise for fine work. It's the 2 1/2 inch Table Swivel vise.


Don't waste your money on a Pana-Vise or any of the other hobby shop vises.
These are made of aluminum and don't hold, and the vacuum types don't stay put.

There's this popular picture of a gunsmith standing over a large milling machine or lathe making an intricate part.
The truth is, the vast majority of a gunsmith's time is spent sitting at a bench with screwdrivers, punches, and stones working on some assembly.

Since that's where you'll spend most of your time, make it as sturdy and comfortable as you can, with plenty of light overhead and a good bench light.

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9,224 Posts
Hand tools....

Since this is a 1911 Forum, I have purchased specific hand tools from Brownells to help when fitting a 1911 barrel....

Brownell's lug cutter kit = $180

Kart Xact Fit tool kit, which includes a small lug file, temporary bushing, shim, and alignment block = $44

These have been well worth the money for my DIY gun building needs.....


Other tools I find extremely useful: a good drill press, and a small Lincoln MIG welder with an Argon gas bottle, which is very handy when I need to add metal to a part, and I have two dual wheel bench grinders-----one with grinding wheels, the other has a fine wire brush wheel on one side and a buffing wheel on the other.....

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336 Posts
From a newbie's perspective, so take it for what it's worth:

-Already mentioned above, but don't be tempted to skimp on safety equipment (protective eyewear, respirator, etc.) Earlier this year I got a piece of steel in my eye while grinding with a Dremel that navigated both an Optivisor AND my regular eyeglasses. This resulted in several trips to the eye doc and increased the cost of my project by ~$200...and could have been much worse.

-I bought the 10-8 bench block, and have barely used it up to this point. Wish I had saved the money and put it towards something else.

-Frame holding fixture

-Soft or padded vise jaws

-Checkering guide (if checkering)

-I also bought a single row riffler file to go along with my checkering file...again, I haven't really used it and wish I had saved the money.

-Good quality sandpaper in grits from say 150 up to 400 or 600 if you plan to media blast, and as high as you want if you plan to polish anything.

-Good quality needle files. I bought an inexpensive Nicholson set, and they are more or less working but I can tell they aren't very good and won't last long.

-Blue painters tape to tape off areas you want to protect while working on other areas.

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5,195 Posts
I forgot to add...............
A critical gunsmith's tool are books.

Books like the Kuhnhausen Shop Manuals, and any and all firearms disassembly books you can get will save your butt almost daily.

Gun Digest books sell a series of disassembly books and an exploded schematic book, and the NRA sells two excellent volumes of disassembly books.
Most of these Gun Digest and NRA books will not show absolute total disassembly and the Gun Digest books often show incorrect disassembly methods, but they make good starting references.

Don't forget the computer, which can get you to sites with disassembly and schematic pictures.
Here's a few......







(Note the info at the top about what username and password to use)

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911 Posts
a BRASS hammer, the brass gives a deader, non ricocheting blow (I have never needed a ball peen hammer)

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922 Posts
Have several Trigger and Hammer Groove Stones used for de-burring. Pachmyr sells a molded Nylon tool for depressing the Plunger when reinstalling the Thumb Safety. I've just used a .012 Feeler Gauge for years. Holds the Plunger in place well and makes a simple installation of the Thumb Safety.

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911 Posts
cut the fuzzy end off a Qtip

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731 Posts
The best needle files are Grobet , but they ain't cheap.
Actually, Grobet files are Italian or American made. Swiss-made Glardon-Vallorbe are higher quality and will last longer and only a few $ more. If you want to splurge, the Valtitan variety are better, still. Don’t hesitate to get a variety of sizes and textures. I have several #4 Files I use religiously when filing slowly is key.


Starrett punches, a multi-surfaced hammer, rubber mallet, sandpaper at least up to 600, rail sanding block, slide rail measuring jig, India stones, ceramic stones, ed brown or Brownells sear jig, a rotary tool that you use VERY carefully, 10-8 armorer tool, telescoping small magnet, non-marring bushing wrench, squib rod. There’s more, I’m sure.
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