Every serious shooter should have a collection of high-quality gunsmithing tools. Even if you aren’t a gunsmith, you will still need to perform basic maintenance or repairs on your firearms.
Many good guns have been ruined or maimed by well-meaning owners (or their friends) who simply didn’t use the right tools for the job. Poor-quality tools can cause damage as well. Below are my recommendations for the best gunsmithing tools and the manufacturers that produce them.
It is important to note that some types of tools are produced equally well by more than one manufacturer. In cases such as those, I will mention all of the brands that are relevant.
Best Gun Cradles: Tipton
A gun cradle is a good tool to have on hand if you need to clean guns, install optics, or perform other small tasks. The best gun cradles are produced by Tipton.
Tipton offers a few different types of gun cradles. The Tipton’s Best Gun Vise is what I use, and it works very well. It is adjustable so it can hold long guns of pretty much any size. It can be used on shotguns, rifles, and even “tactical” rifles like AR-15’s and AK-47’s. You can find Tipton’s Best Gun Vise by clicking here.
Tipton’s Ultra Gun Vise is their newest design and seems to be a very nice upgrade. It is even more adjustable than their Best Gun Vise, making it easier to use with firearms and other weapons such as compound bows and crossbows. You can find Tipton’s Ultra Gun Vise by clicking here.
Related: Essential Gun Cleaning Tools
Best Gunsmithing Bench Vise: Wilton
Bench vises are very different tools from gun vises. Gun vises are meant to hold an entire firearm while performing routine maintenance or parts installation. A bench vise, on the other hand, clamps down tight on workpieces.
A bench vise is commonly used when securing barrels to actions or receivers. It is also useful when drifting iron sights, especially when they are difficult to move.
For many years the best bench vises have been produced by Wilton. They are favorites among professional mechanics and machinists. Wilton’s vises are the best choice for people who want a solid gunsmithing vise that will last a lifetime.
Unfortunately Wilton, like many other companies, has started to outsource their production. Because of this, I would recommend searching for an older used one that was made in the USA.
The vise that I have (pictured above) isn’t produced by Wilton. However, it does have a similar design. Both it and many Wilton vises are called “bullet vises” because of their shape. That particular vise is decades old and was part of my grandfather’s shop when he was a professional gunsmith.
Another good option, and one that I have had my eye on, is this one by Capri Tools. It features 6-inch jaws and a rotating base and head. A vise such as this will hold anything you need it to for gunsmithing. It will also give you a lot of ways to position your work.
Related: Essential Gunsmithing Tools
Best Gunsmithing Screwdrivers: Brownells
The best gunsmithing screwdrivers are produced by Brownells. Brownells is one of the most well-known sources of gunsmithing tools and has been around for decades. My grandfather was a gunsmith and always had one of their massive catalogs sitting near his workbench.
Brownells offers many different sets of gunsmithing screwdrivers. Their most popular sets are their Magna-Tip Super Sets. They come with your choice of screwdriver handle and a number of interchangeable bits to fit different screws. The number of bits you receive will depend on the specific set that you order.
Other companies produce gunsmithing screwdriver sets that are similar to the Magna Tip Sets. However, what sets those by Brownells apart is the bits themselves. They are made of hardened steel which gives them superior durability over the bits in different sets. If you prefer fixed-blade screwdrivers, Brownells has those as well.
You can purchase individual bits, handles, and fixed-blade screwdrivers if you prefer. This is good if you purchase a smaller set in the beginning and decide that you need to expand later on. Brownell’s screwdrivers and bits come with a Guaranteed Forever warranty.
Best Punch Sets: Starrett/Grace USA
Punches are another area where a gunsmith or gun owner should not cheap out. Bad punches lack durability and could damage your guns. To make sure that this doesn’t happen, I use punches produced by Starrett and Grace USA.
The best drive pin punches are produced by Starrett. You can find the set that I use by clicking here. It includes 8 punches from 1/16 inch to 5/16 inch. The punches are made of steel and do an excellent job driving solid pins.
I prefer Grace USA for the rest of my punches. These include roll pin punches, roll pin holders, and brass punches. I have included a picture of their roll pin punches below. Grace USA’s gunsmithing tools are made in the USA and come with a forever guarantee.
Mayhew is another company that produces good-quality punches. I have one of their starter punches, which has held up well. They are also a little easier to find locally than other brands. My local Tractor Supply sells them.
Best Gunsmithing Hammers: Grace USA
Another product that Grace USA does a very good job with is their hammers. I have one of their brass hammers and love it. The head is nicely machined and fits snug on the handle. The handle itself is sturdy and comfortable in the hand. You can find it by clicking here.
Grace USA offers solid brass, copper, Delrin/brass hybrid, and steel ball pein hammers. Each variety is available in multiple sizes and weights. This will help you make sure that you have the right hammer for the job at hand.
Best Bench Blocks: Brownells/Wheeler Engineering
Bench blocks are important to have when driving pins out of a firearm. They are usually made of plastic or metal and give you a solid surface to rest the gun on while tapping out pins. They have holes in them that allow the pins to protrude from the firearm as they are being driven out and capture the pins when they fall out.
The best gunsmithing bench blocks are produced by Brownells and Wheeler Engineering. Both companies produce blocks that are suitable for general use with shotguns, rifles, and handguns.
Brownells and Wheeler Engineering also produce specialty bench blocks designed for use with specific types of firearms, particularly for AR-15 style rifles. They make performing certain functions, like driving out front sight base pins, much easier.
Best Specialty Tools for AR-Style Rifles: Wheeler Engineering
If you are wanting to do a custom AR build, there is a good chance that you will end up with more than one of Wheeler Engineering’s tools. In addition to the bench blocks that I mentioned above, they also produce other products for working on AR-style rifles.
Some of Wheeler’s best AR gunsmithing tools include their receiver blocks and application-specific tools. Certain steps of assembling an AR, such as installing the front pivot pin can be a challenge. Wheeler has tools specifically for this and other things that could present a challenge.
When it comes to buying their AR tools, you can buy them separately or as a set. Their Professional Armorer’s kit includes most of the tools that you will need.
Best Allen Wrenches and Torx Bits: Wiha
Allen and Torx head screws are becoming more and more common in the gun world. They are commonly used to mount optics and are even used in some types of reloading equipment.
It is very important to use good tools when dealing with screws like these. This is because cheap tools tend to be less precise and can strip the head when in use. Allen head screws are especially susceptible to this.
Some of the best Allen wrenches (hex keys) and Torx bits come from Wiha. Wiha is a German tool company that specializes in precision tools including screwdrivers, driver bits, and hex keys.
I have four different sets of their hex keys, all of which have worked flawlessly. The hex keys themselves have fit perfectly in anything I used them with. In addition, the plastic holders do a good job holding them securely without being difficult to remove.
Related: Essential Reloading Equipment
Best Rotary Tool: Foredom
Rotary tools are commonly used by gunsmiths when performing small cuts and polishing small parts. The most common example of this type of tool is produced by Dremel.
The Dremel 8000 that I own has served me well for several years. That being said, I only use the tool occasionally. If I needed something for prolonged daily use, I would upgrade to a rotary tool made by Foredom.
The reason why is that Foredom Tools are much more durable. They have a larger, more powerful, motor than those found in hand-held Dremels. This allows them to last much longer, meaning you won’t have to replace it as often.
Foredom’s General Applications kit has pretty much everything you would need to get started. It includes the tool, speed control foot pedal, and several accessories. You can find it by clicking here.
Best Torque Wrench: Wheeler Engineering FAT Wrench
Torque wrenches are tools that allow you to tighten fasteners to a specific torque. That helps you do a few different things:
- Avoid over-tightening the fastener, which could strip it out
- Make sure you tighten the fastener enough
- Tighten multiple fasteners to the same torque
Torque wrenches also come in several different types. Larger ones connect to sockets or armorer’s wrenches to apply a specific torque to larger fasteners. A common example in the gun world is using one to properly tighten a barrel nut on an AR-15.
Smaller torque wrenches allow you to apply a specific torque to small screws. This is important when installing scopes and handguards. The best that I have found for this purpose is the Wheeler FAT Wrench.
The Wheeler FAT (Firearm Accurizing Torque) Wrench can provide torque adjustments from 10 inch/pounds to 65 inch/pounds. Adjustments are made by rotating the bottom of the handle until the gauge on the front of the tool matches the desired torque.
The FAT Wrench comes with a hard plastic case and 10 bits. The bits are very useful because they are designed specifically for the types of fasteners most commonly used when mounting scopes. You can find the Wheeler FAT Wrench by clicking here.