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Published Jul 26, 2022 2:42 PM

Chances are you don’t consider yourself a gunsmith, but sooner or later, you might want to modify or upgrade your guns yourself. Maybe install a rear sight on your handgun, mount Weaver-style scope rings on your rifle, or replace the grips on your antique 1911. If that’s you, you should spend money on a quality set of gunsmithing tools. While you could accomplish the same tasks with whatever you got in your toolbox, you risk damaging your guns and saying a few words you might later regret. 

In this guide, we focus on gunsmithing tool sets because unless you’re a professional-level armorer, a general gunsmithing tool set will suit your needs. In the interest of preventing unsightly scratched-up guns and protecting your family’s innocent ears, check out our picks for the best gunsmithing tools on the market and get yourself a quality gunsmithing tool setup.

Methodology

I’ve tinkered with my guns more times than probably necessary. From swapping out Glock sights to installing rails on my ARs to modifying a Remington 870 for home defense and a Remington 1100 for three-gunning, I’ve done just about everything an amateur gunsmith could do. 

For this article, my main source of information was my personal experience, and when I didn’t have hands-on experience, I relied on independent reviews such as kempoo.com and survivalgearshack.com

I considered 10 gunsmithing tool sets of various types, and reviewed the five best. The products that made the cut each filled a common-use/high-demand niche and were also at the intersection of value and quality.  For more information about our methodology, check out the Task & Purpose review guidelines.

If you’re looking for a kit with good quality construction and most of the bits you’ll find yourself needing at a surprisingly good price, the Wheeler 89 Piece Professional Gunsmithing Screwdriver Set is that kit.

The most important part of any gunsmith kit are the screwdrivers and bits. The bits in this kit are made from S2 tool steel, which is impact-resistant and boasts a Rockwell hardness of 50 to 60, so typically your fastener will break or strip before they do. The plethora of flat head bits, as well as the few Philips, Torx, and hex bits, are custom-sized to fit gun fasteners, so they aren’t labeled according to normal bit-sizing conventions.

This gunsmith tool set also rises above the competition because it includes 11 specialty bits that, while you may not need them regularly, there are no substitutes for if you do need them. For example, the Glock front sight screw is proprietary and no other bit or driver will work. Also, if you plan on mounting a scope with Weaver rings, you’ll need the included Weaver scope ring clamp bit.

The second in importance to the bits are the punches. This kit is somewhat lackluster compared to the competition in this regard. There are only four-pin punches, and they’re not stand-alone (they mount to the bit driver) which is not ideal because it introduces wobble where you absolutely don’t want it. Punching small pins is precision work, and a wandering pin punch bit isn’t ideal.

That said, this kit still comes away with our top spot due to its quality construction, specialty bits, and price point.

Product Specs
  • Material: S2 tool steel
  • Construction: Detachable hollow-ground bits sized for gun screws
  • Country of manufacture: China
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime
PROS

Constructed of durable S2 tool steel

Bits hollow-ground custom to common gun screws

11 specialty bits

CONS

Punch set is limited and punches aren’t stand-alone

Not made in USA

For anyone looking for a quality set of hex and Torx bits to either start a gunsmithing hobby or to add to their already expansive toolbox, the Wheeler 55 Piece SAE/Metric Hex and Torx Screwdriver Set delivers Wheeler’s quality materials and construction in a nice storage case at an outstanding price.

This kit includes a complete set of both metric and SAE hex and torx bits precision-ground to Wheeler’s higher-than-bulk-bit standards. Other gunsmithing kits have a plethora of regular bits specifically sized to fit any conceivable screw, but often they’re light on hex and torx bits. Owing to its complete set of quality hex and Torx bits as well as the excellent price point, this kit would also serve as a fantastic addition to any gunsmithing tool setup.

Whether you intend to add this kit to your current gunsmithing tool collection, or you’re a beginner gun tinkerer who only needs the basics at a great price, this is the kit for you.

Product Specs
  • Material: S2 tool steel
  • Construction: Detachable hollow-ground bits sized for gun screws
  • Country of manufacture: China
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime
PROS

Constructed of durable S2 tool steel

Bits hollow-ground custom to common gun screws

Awesome value for the money

CONS

No specialty bits or punches

Not made in USA

Few things are more infuriating than knuckles minus some skin, plus some blood after a bit snaps when you’re really bearing down on a stuck screw. Almost as bad as breaking a bit is twisting it 90 degrees from its intended orientation because the steel was too soft to take the torque that would likely be applied to it. With this Grace USA kit, the chances of those misfortunes decrease exponentially.

Grace USA gunsmithing tools exude quality. Its screwdrivers have premium wood handles and are hollow-ground and custom-fitted specifically for the most common gun screws. According to its website, blade tolerances are held to minus 0.002 to plus 0.0, which is insanely precise for mass-manufactured tools. The steel is hardened to a Rockwell number of 52 to 56, and while Grace USA doesn’t specify what kind of steel is used in the tools, they do have a “forever guarantee” against breaking and twisting, so the steel needs to be top-notch. Grace USA tools are 100 percent made in the USA and backed by world-class customer service.

This tool set is not without drawbacks, however. All of that quality does cost you, and this is the most expensive toolset in this review. While this set does include stand-alone punches, they are almost pure brass, which prevents marring on your gun but also means they’re very soft and will likely bend or break against stuck steel pins. Lastly and oddly, this set comes only with flat head screwdrivers; no Phillips, Torx, or hex drivers are included.

Product Specs
  • Material: High carbon steel, RHN 52-56
  • Construction: Premium wood-handled drivers with hollow-ground blades
  • Country of manufacture: 100% USA
  • Warranty: “Forever guarantee”
PROS

100% made in the USA.

One-piece screwdrivers are more rigid and precise

Driver blades machined to extremely precise tolerances and hardened to 52-56 RHC

Drivers backed by Grace’s Forever Guarantee not to twist or chip

CONS

The most expensive price per tool reviewed

Basic set (no specialty bits, etc.)

Brass punches are very soft (won’t mar, but bend easily)

When most gun folks hear Weaver, they think “scope rings.” Considering that its gunsmithing tool kit has been met with positive reviews, Weaver is adding another quality product to its stable.

The Weaver Deluxe Tool Kit stands out with high-quality stand-alone steel punches, which the other kits skimp on or lack entirely. Again, the stand-alone punches are far superior to punches that attach to a bit driver, which introduces wobble to a precision operation. The kit also has a myriad of flat bits with various widths and thicknesses to fit different types of screw slots. There’s a double-sided hammer (brass and vinyl) and a bench block to aid pin punching to round out the kit.

Unfortunately, it lacks any specialty bits and is priced much higher than the similar Wheeler set, possibly owing to the quality pin punch set and hammer. That said, if you’re looking for a set that includes a hammer, bench block, and quality stand-alone pin punches, we recommend this Weaver set.

Product Specs
  • Material: Weaver’s site does not state material, construction methods, or country of manufacture
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime
PROS

Comprehensive set of flat bits

Quality steel punch set

Weaver’s excellent reputation for their scope rings

CONS

No specialty bits

Priced higher than competitors

Although a decent gunsmithing kit needs more than one type of pin punch, drive pin punches are the most commonly used. Proto has a solid reputation in heavy industry for quality, and although the Proto drive pin punch set doesn’t specify material or country of manufacture, its pin punches are known for solid quality.

These punches are one-piece, eliminating the wiggle of a two-piece style punch. Proto’s quality control is good, meaning the punch faces are perfectly perpendicular to the long axis of the punch, reducing the chances of a weak spot on the long, narrow aspect of the punch.

Product Specs
  • Material: Proto’s site does not state material, construction methods, or country of manufacture
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime
PROS

One-piece punch construction

Proto is well-known in heavy industry for quality

Solid warranty and good customer service

CONS

Somewhat more expensive than competitors

Our verdict on gunsmithing tools

What to consider when buying the gunsmithing tools

The most important tools in a gunsmith’s kit are screwdrivers, followed closely by a good set of punches, a good brass hammer, a gun vise, and a bench block. Lastly, if you want to work on AR-15s, there are several specialty tools that will make your gun-modding life much easier.

Types of gunsmithing tools

Screwdrivers

While it may not be obvious, gunsmithing screwdrivers and driver bits are not the same. Gunsmithing flat blade drivers are the same width from the tip to the start of the shaft rather than tapered toward the tip like a typical utility driver. Not tapering toward the tip increases the surface area in contact with the screw and decreases chances of stripping or breaking the screw. Also, good kits have lots of flat bit widths and thicknesses custom-sized to common gun screws. Look for a kit made of a tough metal which is then hardened. While flat bits are the most commonly used, a good kit also has a set of Phillips, Torx, and hex bits.

Punches

At first thought, pin punches seem pretty straight-forward and self-explanatory, but that first thought is very, very wrong. A thorough but not exhaustive list of pin punch varieties includes drive, starter, drift, roll, roll pin starter, and center. 

The most common punches used in gunsmithing are drive pin punches and roll pin punches, with the occasional need for a starter or drift pin punch to get a stubborn pin moving. Further, punches typically come in three materials: steel (most common), brass (soft and bends easily but won’t mar surfaces), and poly (avoid these). 

Low-quality punches are worse than having no punch at all. They’ll bend and break at the slightest provocation, leaving your pin stuck in place and your job stalled. A good set of punches will cost around $50.

Types of punches

  • Drive pin punches are the same diameter at the tip as they are at the start of the handle and are used to push a pin all the way through a hole. 
  • Roll pin punches have a little round head with a recess all the way around the convex portion to hold and index the hollow roll pin while driving it in. 
  • Roll pin starter punches hold the entire hollow roll pin inside the head with only a small portion of the pin protruding. This stabilizes the roll pin while you start it into the hole (roll pins are oversized and meant to “squish” a bit inside the hole). 
  • Drift punches are tapered from the handle to the tip, making them much stronger and good for starting stuck pins moving.

Hammers

A good gunsmithing hammer will have both a brass and a nylon face as neither will mar the finish on your gun. These hammers are generally lighter than a utility hammer because gunsmithing work is typically more delicate than framing a house. The one exception is starting a stuck pin — you’ll want a heavier hammer for that.

Gun vise

A gun vise should be fairly heavy-duty, as you need it to support the entire weight of a full-sized rifle while you potentially apply copious torque to a stuck barrel, for example.

Bench block

Made mostly for handgun assembly/disassembly, these handy blocks have grooves and holes designed to aid in removing and inserting pins, springs, and other components. The block should be very sturdy and made of a non-marring material (most are poly of one type or another).

AR-15 specialty tools

There are several very handy tools to have on hand if you plan to work on an AR-style rifle. 

  • An action block adapts the shape of the AR upper to a gun vise, allowing you to clamp the upper in the vise tightly without damaging the gun. 
  • An AR combo wrench makes removing barrel nuts, muzzle devices, castle nuts, and buttstocks much easier. 
  • Cleaning ARs can be a real pain (that star chamber, am I right?), but an AR cleaning tool makes cleaning the most obnoxious parts of an AR a little less tedious.

Tips & tricks

  • I’ll go ahead and kick a dead horse here: Do not buy a low-quality set of punches — they will make your gunsmithing life miserable.
  • Strongly consider buying a set of drive pin, roll pin, and drift punches. Punches are not one-type-fits-all types of tools.
  • Do not try to move a stuck pin with a drive or roll punch — you’ll very likely break them. Get a drift or starter punch instead.
  • Look for screwdrivers that are specific to gunsmithing. The flat blades will not be tapered toward the point, and you’ll want a myriad of blade thicknesses and widths for max surface area contact on different-sized gun screws.
  • Make sure your screwdrivers either state that they’re made with quality, hardened steel or have a well-known reputation for not breaking or twisting. 
  • Make sure your tools have a good warranty.
  • If you’ll be working on AR-15s a lot, get an action block, combo wrench, and cleaning tool specifically for ARs.

FAQs about gunsmithing tools

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What starting tools does a home gunsmith need?

A: Gunsmithing-specific screwdrivers, quality pin punches, a gunsmithing hammer, and strongly consider getting a gun vise and bench block.

Q: Can gunsmiths handle gun restoration work?

A: Talk to your local gunsmith. Not all gunsmiths will be capable of detailed restoration work. 

Q: Is it legal to be a gunsmith?

A: Yes. While there are no laws regulating gunsmiths, do make sure your gunsmith has attended some kind of formal training (typically a six-month technical college course).

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