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  1. #1
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    Tools for Building an AR



    When people talk about “building” an AR-15 they are effectively talking about “assembling” an AR from parts. The surging popularity in the AR platform is in no small part due to the ease with which the hobbyist can assemble one with minimal special tooling. However, having the right tool for the job is always a good idea and judicious investment in a few tools will simplify the build process and reduce the risk of damage.

    I thought I would share my perspective on the tools I have purchased specifically for AR assembly, as shown in the picture above. Most people already have a base set of tools such has screwdrivers, wrenches, and hammer so I won’t spend much time discussing common tools. This isn’t presented as advice or as the “optimum” solution; I’m simply sharing the results of the decisions I’ve made regarding tools to date. So, here is my list of what I find to be my essential tools for AR building:

    1. Wilton 4” Mechanics Vise (Model 744); Source: E-Bay; Street Price $110-$150
    2. Squirrel Daddy AR-Style Upper and Lower vise block R3.0 and top rail protector (SD20-172); Source: SquirrelDaddy.com; MSRP $26.95
    3. Grace USA Roll Pin Punch Set 7-Piece Steel; Source: MidwayUSA; MSRP $32.99
    4. Schuster AR-15 Roll Pin Starter Punch Set 2-Piece Steel; Source: MidwayUSA; MSRP $19.99
    5. Light hammer with brass and plastic inserts; Source: Harbor Freight; ~$6
    6. Squirrel Daddy Gunsmiths detent pin and spring installation tool (SD20-180); Source: SquirrelDaddy.com; MSRP $6.49
    7. Tapco Enhanced AR-15/M4 Stock Wrench; Source: Primary Arms; MSRP $12
    8. SK Hand Tool 76130 1/2-Inch Drive Endam Type Torque Wrench Box, 150-Feet Pound; Source: Amazon.com; Street Price $70
    9. Geissele Reaction Rod; Source: Primary Arms; MSRP $100 (sale price $70)
    10. Husky 1/2 in. Drive 15 in. Breaker Bar; Source: Home Depot; MSRP $20
    11. DPMS Barrel Vise Jaws; Source: Sportsmansguide.com; MSRP $20

    First things first, it’s good to be able hold the firearm (or receiver) firmly in place and hands free while working. You’ll want both hands free to work on that task at hand. To that end, a good bench vise was one of my first purchases. I spent more and got a vise that is arguably heavier than really required for building an AR, but I wanted a vise I could also use for other general shop purposes. A good vise pretty much lasts forever and is indestructible but don’t expect that from many of the cheap imports made from low quality castings that are currently on the market. That said, building an AR isn’t terribly demanding on a vise, so one could easily spend much less than I did and be just fine.

    One side note is that a good vise will need a sturdy bench on which to be mounted. My workbench is a simple fold out wood workbench from Home Depot that cost about $70 (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Unbranded...2X22/203083493).

    A vise by itself won’t be much help with building an AR if you also don’t have a good set of receiver vise blocks. Vise blocks are held by the jaws of the vise and hold either the upper or lower receiver. Some vise blocks on the market can be surprisingly expensive so I was pleased when I found a very affordable set from Squirrel Daddy that included both lower and upper vise blocks, plus a top rail cover if you need to hold the upper receiver horizontally (Picture 3). I’m using either the upper or lower vise block pretty much all the time when I’m working at my bench. The lower vise block is a great way to secure the lower receiver during LPK installation or to hold a complete AR for minor work such as scope installation (Picture 4). I’ve also found that using the upper receiver vise block to hold the complete upper is the easiest way to clean the barrel after a trip to the range.

    Picture 2: Squirrel Daddy upper receiver vise block with top rail protector holding an Aero Precision M4E1 Upper receiver


    Picture 3: Lower receiver vise block


    With the lower receiver held in place on a lower vise block you are ready to install a Lower Parts Kit. As their name implies, roll pin starter punches simplify getting the roll pins started. They have recessed holes to hold the roll pin while you tap it into place. You won’t be able to drive the roll pin all the way in with a starter punch, though, so switch to a roll pin punch to finish the job. A light brass hammer helps minimize the damage if you miss and helps deliver an appropriate level of force. Keep in mind many people successfully install LPKs using just a hammer and a $3 nail punch, but a proper set of roll pin punches will likely speed up the process and reduce the chances of damage to either the LPK or the receiver.

    One “nice to have” but non-essential tool is a detent pin installation tool used to simplify installing the pivot pin on the lower receiver. This step in building an AR is the most likely occasion to have a spring going flying across the shop/garage to never be found again, so an extra $7 was worth the potential lost time and frustration for me.

    Assembly of an adjustable stock carbine lower receiver will also require a special wrench to tighten the castle nut on the buffer tube. While most AR armorer’s wrenches have this capability, I chose to go with a dedicated stock wrench since I have yet to assemble an AR using a standard barrel nut so have never needed a basic Armorer’s wrench.

    Moving on to the upper receiver, the focus of the assembly is on the installation of the barrel which typically requires a torque wrench to ensure proper tightening of the barrel nut. After reading many negative reviews of popular consumer “Click” torque wrenches and learning that their reliability and calibration can be problematic, I opted for a traditional beam style wrench. While hard to find in your local big-box store, beam style wrenches have the advantage of providing a continuous readout of torque, being easy to calibrate, and having fewer parts to break. As a bonus, they are actually also generally less expensive.

    When applying torque to the barrel nut, you’ll want to ensure the upper receiver is held firmly in place in the vice. While I already had the above mentioned standard Delrin upper vise block, I picked up a Geissele Reaction Rod during a sale and much prefer it over the standard and clamshell styles. The Reaction Rod engages the locking lugs of the barrel extension instead of the receiver itself. The only downside to the Reaction Rod is the price. There are a few similar and cheaper concepts on the market. Also, Magpul has released the BEV Block since I made these purchases and if I was starting from scratch today would consider that tool in lieu of my existing lower vise block and Reaction Rod. However, one advantage of the Reaction Rod is the ability to rotate the assembly enabling you to hold the upper receiver assembly upside down or on its side. This can be handy during handguard installation.

    Picture 4: Geissele Reaction Rod


    A breaker bar is also highly recommended for removal of barrel nuts, including during the process of repeatedly tightening/loosening the barrel nut during installation. It’s best to save your torque wrench for the situations that require proper torque. In other words, use the torque wrench to tighten and the breaker bar to loosen. While I already had a good socket wrench in my toolbox that I have could have used for this purpose, I chose to add the $20 breaker bar to my set.

    Using barrel vise jaws allows installation of a muzzle device without putting unnecessary torque on the upper receiver or barrel extension. Barrel vise jaws border on being “nice to have” as I’ve certainly managed to install muzzle devices using the “hold-the-rifle-between-your-legs” method, but given their low cost they are a worthy addition. Also, I’ve wasted time and ammo at the range before as I watched my group size open up with great frustration only to ultimately realized that my muzzle device had loosened up and backed off considerably because I didn’t install it with sufficient torque. That lesson probably cost me $20 to $30 in wasted match grade ammo.

    Not shown and not a tool but worth mentioning is AeroShell 33MS grease. This is used to lubricate the threads and shoulder of the barrel extension when installing the barrel. The trouble with 33MS is it is sold for use in maintaining aircraft which means it comes in large tubes running about $30 that would provide enough for a few thousand rifles. Luckily, this problem is easily solved thanks to people who resell it on eBay in small quantities for a few bucks. One ounce will cover several builds.

    As you can see, I’ve spent around $400 on tools which is why people are quick to point out that building an AR instead of purchasing a factory rifle doesn’t really save money. Clearly, though, one can get by with spending much less but some shortcuts might lead to expensive, time consuming, or embarrassing mistakes. It’s not too hard to find examples of mistakes that could have been prevented with the proper tools.

  2. #2
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    That was an excellent write up! Very informative for the person looking into building a rifle! I'd even say this needs to be a sticky! Bravo sir!

  3. #3
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    Great writeup. Some other items I find handy:
    - A rubber/plastic headed small mallet for tapping trigger pins and seating tight pistol grips.
    -A jointed arm lamp that will position close to vise. I use a hospital clamping lamp with double wall metal shade that does not get hot. Cheap on ebay.
    -Dremel and small files are sometimes handy. I now routinely sand the surface of bolt catch roll pins lightly to ease install.
    - And a roll of blue painters tape to protect against scratching and hold small parts in place. Like pistol grip screw to driver.

    Tip for newbys- If you start with only one bare lower parts kit there is a good chance you will put the project on hold after a fruitless search for that rocket launched spring/detent. Have spares of everything tiny.

    Check local Craiglist for cheap old high quality vises. I have a heavy mother circa 1914 on a second bench dedicated to barrel/muzzle device install. I think I paid $35.
    “What in the world is a moderate interpretation of a constitutional text? Halfway between what it says and what we'd like it to say?" -Antonin Scalia

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    I keep a cheap little magnetic parts tray to hand so I don't bump the table and scatter springs and detents from hell to breakfast. I think it set me back about six bucks. Also, it's more expensive than one of the cheap castle nut wrenches, but the Hammerhead rifle tool has saved me a lot of headaches.

  5. #5
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    Great write up. One tool that makes life so much easier are these clamps.

    http://m.lowes.com/pd/IRWIN-4-Piece-...p-Set/50160691
    "I have never heard anyone say after a firefight that I wish that I had not taken so much ammo.", ME

    "Texas can make it without the United States, but the United States can't make it without Texas !", General Sam Houston

  6. #6
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    As others have said - Great writeup ! I was not aware of the MagPul BEV Block. It is available and on clearance at Midway USA for $32.68 - order placed.

    http://www.midwayusa.com/product/855...ProductFinding
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry R View Post
    As others have said - Great writeup ! I was not aware of the MagPul BEV Block. It is available and on clearance at Midway USA for $32.68 - order placed.

    http://www.midwayusa.com/product/855...ProductFinding
    Nice find Jerry. I prefer the BEV block over the Geissele Reaction Rod, but you really can't go wrong with either.

    Boiler, nice write up, I'll sticky it later on the custom build section.

    The only thing I'd add for veteran and new builders is painter tape. Prevents idiot marks where applied.

    I also like using Geissele's gas block roll pin start and punch set. Not necessary, but it does make life easier.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by UWone77 View Post
    Nice find Jerry. I prefer the BEV block over the Geissele Reaction Rod, but you really can't go wrong with either.
    What is it that you like better about the BEV? I've used my Reaction Rod (hehehe) a lot of times, and I find it to be a great 98% solution, but I can't quite put my hand on "what" exactly isn't scratching the last 2%.

  9. #9
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    I was completely disappointed with my Bev block. Having to use a bolt carrier to stabilize the upper sucks. The mag well side is undersized and allows a lot of slop. Way more than a $15 Teflon one I have used for a decade. Then the icing on the cake is the lip molded on it to sit on the vise jaws is far too high on the block when you use the mag well side. It allows flared oversized mag wells to contact the vise as the weapon flops around on the undersized block. I had really hoped it worked well because I was sick of lending out my reaction rod but honestly I would not recommend it or lend it to anyone.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by SINNER View Post
    I was completely disappointed with my Bev block. Having to use a bolt carrier to stabilize the upper sucks. The mag well side is undersized and allows a lot of slop. Way more than a $15 Teflon one I have used for a decade. Then the icing on the cake is the lip molded on it to sit on the vise jaws is far too high on the block when you use the mag well side. It allows flared oversized mag wells to contact the vise as the weapon flops around on the undersized block. I had really hoped it worked well because I was sick of lending out my reaction rod but honestly I would not recommend it or lend it to anyone.
    I'm not quite as disappointed in the BEV as you are, but to be perfectly honest since I've gotten my "super-duper!" Reaction Rod my BEV stays in the second vice as a lower stand pretty much all the time.

  11. #11
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    Not essential, but nice to have

    Tool to put those pesky clips on the ejection port cover pin ...

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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by DutyUse View Post
    I'm not quite as disappointed in the BEV as you are, but to be perfectly honest since I've gotten my "super-duper!" Reaction Rod my BEV stays in the second vice as a lower stand pretty much all the time.
    I would say that the BEV Block is a little bit better than the (standard) Geissele Reaction Rod because it does offer some tiny amount of support to the upper. I have seen to many horror stories on the forums over the years to recommend the (standard) Reaction Rod... Lots of sheared indexing pins and damaged indexing pin notches on the upper receivers.

    The Super Reaction Rod is a little better than either the (standard) Reaction Rod or the BEV Block but the amount of support that it offers to the upper through it's tiny brass wedge system kind of sucks, and it's a very fiddly system that takes a while to set up... The Allen drive slots of the two tiny hex screws that go through the brass wedges stripped out on mine within three barrel assembly jobs.

    I went back to my old Bushmaster clam shell upper receiver vise blocks for a little while, but just yesterday I received my Windham Weaponry "Barreling Jig" made by JC Machine and Motorsports LLC... Needless to say that I won't be using any of those other tools ever again for barrel installation. However, 2 Unique LLC will be offering a similar tool to the WW/JC M&M Jig but (I think) at a much more affordable price. The price for the WW/JC M&M Jig is $350.00.

    I also highly recommend the barrel wrenches that 2 Unique LLC offers, they have been the best barrel wrenches that I have ever used.


    Edit: Here is a link to a thread about the Windham Weaponry Barreling Jig. > https://www.ar15.com/forums/industry...g-/489-254215/
    Last edited by 556Cliff; 23 September 2017 at 14:09.

  13. #13
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    Been using a BEV block since they came out, I use it for most everything and never a problem yet.Although I’ve never tried a reaction rod.

    Magpul needs to do a 308 version bev block

  14. #14
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    I'll add these here as well. > https://www.2uniquellc.com/product-p...barreling-spud > https://www.midwestindustriesinc.com...d-p/mi-urr.htm

    Here is a code for the MI tool. > WEAPONSEVO

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