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The Armorer's Bench: Working on Your Own Firearms

Being able to work on your own firearms is a valuable skill to learn, and it's always worthwhile to invest in yourself.

The Armorer's Bench: Working on Your Own Firearms

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The brown-wrinkle painted Kennedy 520 tool chest has seven drawers, each prescribed to organize screwdrivers, punches, wrenches, files, stones and hammers. The U.S. Army Ordnance Corps & School, as well as the U.S. Marine Corps, once issued these to armorers. The top till contained miscellaneous tools, precision instruments, gauges and fixtures not assigned to a drawer. The contents of the box were inventory controlled and inspected, which meant that each one weighed the same. Armorer instructors ordered “Tool Box P.T.” when students made mistakes. Firmly holding these military toolboxes with both hands, we’d stand at attention next to our benches and wait for the command. The objective would be to lift the 35-­pound steel box level with our chest and then lower it to our waist to complete one repetition. Offenses ranged between 10 and 25 reps, and sometimes we’d work on curls or squats. With a low, punchy, guttural voice, the armory chief would say, “On my command, ready, exercise! One, two, three — one! One, two, three — two! …”

Circa 2011, Otis developed a wheeled, portable tool set in a specialized Pelican case. The four drawers feature laser-­cut foam organization for Armstrong tools (included), a top drawer for Otis cleaning gear, and a shallow till. If the government is paying for it, the Otis Tool Box is the kit I recommend for deployments. I’ve used one as an armorer instructor for the last 10 years. Though it is well equipped, other tools are still needed.

The initial investment to repair firearms requires new and aspiring armorers to accept certain compromises. I assembled my collection of tools from 24 years of servicing firearms. I’ve found that the best source for bargains on tools is to hunt yard sales, the online local marketplace and auctions. Look to buy a machinist’s collection. Brands to seek include Starrett, Brown & Sharpe and Mitutoyo.

When teaching an AR-­pattern armorer class, I provide students with tools to take home. It’s only a starter set, but outside of the military, I’ve never attended an armorer class where I was allowed to keep the tools I learned with. The highest- quality tools would make this cost prohibitive for students, so I issue Wheeler’s AR Armorer’s Ultra Kit as a reasonable compromise. We could do without some of its contents — the delta-­ring tool and strap wrench, for example — but the maintenance mat and roll-­pin punches are quite good, for example. Small, clever tools including the front pivot pin installation tool are helpful, but an experienced instructor will have tips to help overcome these common assembly obstacles.

In addition to the typical armorer kit, I recommend armorers purchase a set of snap-­ring pliers, a magnetic bowl, a professional screwdriver set with magnetic tips, a small ball-­peen hammer and a rubber mallet. Armorers should also have needle-­nose and cutting pliers, headspace gauges, a firing pin protrusion gauge, foot-­pound and inch-­pound torque wrenches and premium 1⁄16 and 3⁄32 punches for small pins. In my opinion, Starrett makes the best punches.

An armorer should also layer masking tape to protect a firearm’s finish. A hobbyist may not think to protect the work surface of a firearm, but a professional armorer does. For mistakes, it’s worthwhile to keep a bottle each of Birchwood Casey’s Aluminum Black and Perma Blue handy to touch-­up any sin. In the till, there should be a variety pack of Loctite threadlocker, as well as a lighter or matches to make heat or soot. For gas guns, a borescope is a worthy investment, too. Try and save enough to eventually afford Hawkeye’s borescope, but affordable borescopes can get the job done for less.

An armorer is not a gunsmith, but most firearm repairs today do not require a gunsmith’s skills in fabrication, fitment, or refinishing. Professional armorers know how to troubleshoot; identify bent, worn, or broken parts; and how to disassemble, replace parts and reassemble a firearm for safe operation. These are worthwhile skills to learn, and it’s always worthwhile to invest in yourself.

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