Must-Haves for the
DIY Gunner


Greg’s classic Wilton vise is his most-used tool, hands-down.

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Every craftsman has his “go-to” piece of equipment or tool. That bit of “necessary” on the bench or in the toolbox, never loaned to or touched by others. It’s not rare or valuable; it’s just that work stops without it.

For me it’s my bench vise. An old Wilton 5″ beast bolted to my bench. I’ve had it so long I don’t even know where I got it. The jaws are battered aluminum and most of the blue paint is worn. But all my work finds its way into the vise at some point. It holds dozens of jigs for frames, slides, sights and more. It’s the center of my workstation.

Everyone wants the coolest new gizmo, but when you come down to it a lot of work must still be done by hand. And holding parts firmly is a must.

I asked a few other smiths what they considered must haves in their shops. Jason Burton of Heirloom Precision had a great one — his OptiVISOR. Jason is a master of hand checkering with the patience of a saint who must look very closely as he files 30, 40 and 50 lines per inch. The magnifier allows easy viewing without eyestrain. I must have five visors in my shop and one is always within reach.

Ned Christiansen of MichiGuns Ltd. makes a lot of fixtures. One clever one he designed is for holding small dovetail sights. Made of 7075 aluminum, it holds a variety of dovetail sights for handwork or milling. The jig has a variety of popular sized cuts like Novak, Heinie and Wilson. You insert the sight and tighten the setscrew holding it firmly in place.

Alex Hamilton puts old golf balls to work as file handles — brilliant Alex!

MichiGuns Ltd. offers this great sight holding jig, worth its weight in gold when you have sight work to do.

Golfing Go-To

We use files everyday and Alex Hamilton of Ten Ring Precision has a cool way of handling them — golf balls. He drills a hole in the ball for the handle end of the file, making for a comfortable handle, allowing the ’smith to push from the palm easily without causing hand fatigue.

Sanding can be rough, but Dan Bachelor of Powder River Precision has found a tool making all those sanding strips easier to use. It’s an adjustable sanding stick by Zona allowing you to hold 1″ strips off a roll of sandpaper flat and taut. This gives him a 5″ flat surface to use. Once the sandpaper is used on both sides, just loosen the tension knob and replace the paper.

I’ve got more screwdrivers than I can count. Two sets are always on my bench though, Brownells’ Magna-Tip and Chapman. Both are made for gunsmithing. The Magna-Tip with its large handle is for heavy torque or specialty bits, while the Chapman set is very handy for quick jobs and is non magnetic.

I do make some of my own, repurposed from screwdrivers I find at yard sales or flea markets. They get a ground tip slot to fit a specific need like the elevation screw on a BoMar style sight with its thin shallow slot, then saved for just that job.

Alex Zimmermann owner of Guncrafter Industries offers his “Battle Crown”
to clean up the cluttered front end of a 1911.

1911 Goodness

I’ve always toyed with the idea of a cleaner front end for the 1911. Its bushing, spring cap and barrel making for lots of layers and angles. Now Alex Zimmermann owner of Guncrafter Industries has cleaned it up. The “Battle Crown” is a combination bushing and spring cap cover in one. The Battle Crown is 0.250″ thick and comes with a deep well for the barrel to sit low into. The bushing is chamfered to 11 degrees, which you can match to the barrel crown. There’s the standard fitting involved for the barrel. The sample I fit was very close, with a 0.580″ inside diameter.

If you’re fitting it to a slide with the spring cap shoulder like a Colt you will either have to remove the shoulder or use a Commander-length spring cap to allow for assembly. There is about 0.005″-0.01″ of material to remove on the top radius. I tried both the Govt. and the Commander in unfinished carbon and found the machining is first rate. I like it.

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