I have a variety of tools I have accumulated over the years. The rifle has been a part of my life for the last 11 years and I have been building the AR15 for a long time. I did a lot of building without the right tools as well, and I have to say if you see yourself sticking around the platform for any length of time, buying the right tools will be a wise investment. Even if you start to lose the building itch, you can sell all the gear pretty easily for other aspiring builders to tackle.
My build area consists of a bench made by bench pro and it has a power strip with a pegboard rear om a butcher block top. A sturdy work is essential for building any rifle. If you work from a wobbly platform, each drive of the hammer will have energy wasted in table flex and movement. When you strike a roll-pin or a taper pin, you want every ounce of energy to drive the pin and not move the work surface.
My bench further consists of a amazon.com cast iron vice for front receiver clamps and my reaction rod. By far the most important tools are the desk and the vice. Without a good work surface, and a means to isolate the upper receiver for barrel installs, I would have no means of assembling upper receivers properly. The work surface is essential and if you don’t have a good vice or firm work area you might have a hard time properly assembling things.
Aside from the desk, let’s break down some of the more useful tools that will come in handy for the budding rifle builder:
Some Useful Tools for the AR15
There are a number of common tools that we don’t need to discuss such as standard punches, pliers, etc. so let’s skip over the mundane stuff and look at the more specialized tools and some thoughts I have had on them over the years.
I learned a while back that the best torque wrenches for the AR15 are beam style wrenches. These wrenches don’t have complicated torque assemblies and are pretty darn cheap compared to some of the other styles of torque wrenches available. Furthermore, they don’t need calibration. If you ever bend the beam off-center, simply bend it back to zero and your good to go. Mine is a GearWrench available on Amazon. Attached to it is the standard USGI AR15 barrel nut tool which is affordable and quite usable.
Everyone who builds ARs has heard of the Reaction Rod. This is definitely enthusiast level gear. The Giessele Reaction Rod retails around $99 dollars and, frankly, it hasn’t been worth the investment. The RR isolates the torque placed on the barrel nut from the upper receiver somewhat and centers it around the barrel extension where the claw type protrusion interfaces with the receiver. Furthermore, using the reaction rod to tighten flash hiders keeps rotational torque off the index pin on the barrel.
Honestly, its overkill, even for me. I re-barreled or parted out parts at least five times this last year and used the RR each time, but I think Magpul’s upper receiver assembly product is a better value.
While the Magpul and Geiselle offerings are new to the AR15 market, relatively speaking, the clamshell receiver block remains the cheapest point of entry for people who want to build their AR at home. Mine comes with a plastic module that fits in the bolt and allows me to test for gas tube alignment. A clamshell block runs about $30-40 dollars and is a wise investment for most builders. This should suit the majority of builders needs.
One of the best tools for gunsmiths ever is Shape Lock. I have mentioned this product before, as it’s a fantastic tool that can be used to mold an infinite amount of jigs. Instead of buying a FSB jig like this, skip it and go for a thermoplastic like shape lock. Isolation is important, and shape lock allows me to custom make jigs for any front sight base alive, and isolate it from movement as I drive the pins. No other tool has given me more for my money. Shapelock is just one type of thermoplastic which turns moldable when hot, and turns hard when cooled. There are several brands available on amazon.com and I would suggest picking some up for any gunsmithing project.
Another tool is a roll pin holder / punch. What’s different about these tools is that they are actually hollow to hold about half the pin to help start the roll pin. After the pin is started I switch to a standard punch. Great tool for the money. This is a Schuster product and I rely on it to keep my roll pins tight and to avoid slippage when installing a fresh pin into a new receiver.
This is just a short list of some of my more used tools particularly when I am building an upper receiver. Not every tool I have purchased over the years has given me an easier AR building experience, but having a few of the best tools makes a big difference in how quickly a rifle goes together. I remember re-barreling my first upper with a receiver block and C clamps on a rickety desk. Failure. It worked, but having a proper bench, vice, jig, and wrench make this a much less stressful experience.
On a side note, I have access to a multi press. Maybe its time to try bending a AK into existence? One day.