Put down the Phillips screwdriver and hammer. Yes, I see you, banging away at your trigger pins and moments away from the inevitable slip-and-gouge across the side of your AR lower. A gouge you’ll either pay to have repaired or, more likely, leave as a permanent, scarred reminder of your penchant for the Wrong Tool for the Job.
I’m the first to admit building up your collection of task-specific firearms-related tools takes time and a not-inconsiderable amount of money. In the past few years I’ve been going through trigger pull gauges like crazy thanks to theft and random, odd breakages.
I’m also no stranger to frantically rushing around town for a uniquely-sized hex key or some bizarrely-shaped bit (the latter of which is typically on a foreign-made optics mount, leaving me cursing and sweating to meet my review deadline). All that said, I have a pair of tool kits that have proven to be invaluable: Brownell’s Magna-Tip Super Set and Gunsmith Master Punch Set.
Brownell’s Magna-Tip Super Set comes with 58 bits and two handles, one short and one long. There are also 22 and 44-bit sets available but I highly recommend the largest. Why? Because the 8-bit set includes flat blades in nine different widths and six thicknesses, a variety of Allen bits, and even a tiny torx.
As the name implies, the bits are magnetized which has been extremely useful for hanging onto tiny screws. To satisfy my OCD side, it comes in a hard plastic case with a carefully-graphed chart showing where each bit should be placed within the many holes. I’ve also found I can store the numerous tiny hex keys that come with aftermarket triggers and optics in the compartment with the shorter handle.
It made my life – and my job – much simpler last week when I needed to play musical triggers with a few ARs to install a Timney Calvin Elite AR trigger in a DPMS Hunter for a business trip. The pistol grip screws all had different sizes and types of heads and I had bits for all of them.
And when I install an aftermarket hammer spring in one of my hunting revolvers later today I know I’ll have the correct bits for the job. Damaging the side plate of a cherished gun because you don’t bother to use the right screwdriver is no small failure (in my opinion).
Brownell’s Gunsmith Master Punch Set is similarly valuable. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I am the Magna-Tip Super Set, but it comes in handy on a regular basis.
It includes four starter punches for stuck pins, four hardened-point pin punches, one prick punch, four brass punches, three nylon front-sight drift punches, and one center punch. There’s also a small neoprene mat, a nylon bench block, and a hammer with one nylon and one brass head.
This set comes in a polyethylene case with removable dividers. Having the right punch for various gunsmithing jobs big and small has saved more than a few guns from scratches, gouges, and being thrown out the window in frustration.
The only downside I’ve found to the Magna-Tip Super Set isn’t product-related, it’s human-idiocy related. When the day arrives that you – or someone else, ahem – accidentally spill the box of neatly-organized bits, you’re probably going to lose it (your composure).
The good news is the bits are all engraved with their part number, so if you stick the diagram on the inside of the lid, you can easily figure out where they go. Organizing them is a bit time-consuming – pun intended – but worthwhile. When the bits are arranged by size, finding the specific bit you need happens a lot faster. Just don’t lose them.
As for the Gunsmith Master Punch Set, I have no complaints about the tools themselves. I do wish the compartments were sized differently and the removable dividers were, well, not removable. One of the long dividers with no replacement cracked badly the first week I had the set. In addition, the neoprene mat is too small for the majority of my needs. None of those are terrible flaws, just minor frustrations with nothing to do with the punches or hammer. At some point I’ll buy a different case.
Bottom line? It’s much cheaper to buy the right tools than it is to pay to repair gouges. Ask me how I know. I’ve Dremeled down more than a few screwdrivers from the hardware store to precisely fit various revolvers and far prefer having these sets on hand.
The Magna-Tip Super Set is awesome; I have a gunsmith friend who owns multiples of it and have been seriously considering buying another myself. The punches are necessary tools if you do any work on rifles and Brownell’s set provides the varied types needed for different tasks which I appreciate.
Now, put the Phillips down and get some proper tools. Not only will you not regret it, you’ll love it. And your guns will thank you, too.
Rating (out of five stars):
Tool Quality * * * * * / * * * * * (Gunsmith Master Punch Set/Magna-Tip Super Set)
I’ve used these tools hard and they’ve withstood it all. The Magna-Tip Super Set, specifically, has been fantastic. There have not been any issues whatsoever of bending, let alone breaking. These are some of my favorite tools.
Case Quality * */ * * *
The case the punches came in is all right. I believe the case itself will likely last for some time as long as I do not drop it; the hinges and corners are unlike to survive a fall. The dividers are brittle which would be less of an issue if it came with extras for every piece rather than only the shortest ones. I’ll replace the case.
As for the Magna-Tip Super Set case, it’s made of tougher stuff than the punch set’s. I like the individual slots for each bit. I do wish it closed more securely; the lid is secured by a slight ridge at its center and has been finicky. And, yes, it’s been spilled. So while it’s good, thick plastic, the latch is iffy.
Value * * */ * * * *
Can you ever really give something five stars for price? It isn’t as though spending money is fun. The Gunsmith Master Punch Set gets three stars because although the tools themselves are great quality, the case is not. At $109.99 I would hope for a slightly better case.
The Magna-Tip Super Set has an MSRP of $129.99 which is pretty fair considering the overall quality of the set. Considering the screwdrivers and hex keys I’ve broken I have to say it’s well worth the price.
Overall: * * * */ * * * *
I highly recommend the Magna-Tip Super Set and recommend the Gunsmith Master Punch Set as well. Between the two the Magna-Tip Super Set is my favorite. It really has proven invaluable (in fact, I have the short handle and various bits with me right now on an out-of-state hunt). Having the right tools makes your work a whole lot easier.
Here’s a helpful hint: If you have a drill press, you can use it to drive pins in and out by chucking the punch and using the feed handle to push the pin in or out.
COOL! Never thought of that. New policy around the old rachero.
Exactly what I was going to say……
cool review, but you made no mention of the various handle options. which one do you recommend? what are even the differences?
clip-tip law enforcement handle?
magnetic law enforcement handle?
I’ve got the collection of Brownells handles and find I use nearly all of them for different things. I use the stubby (080-088-006WB ) and Magnetic Law Enforcement Handle (080-088-004WB) the most for my applications. I rarely use the full size handles for gun-related work, but those are just my preferences (hand closer to the work).
And the LE clip-tip (080-088-001WB) I’d call the #3 of my most-used, for non-magnetic work.
People actually care of the put a scratch on their ARs? Man I’m confused.
On AR’s, many of the pins are roll pins. If you really want to drive those pins correctly, you should get a roll pin punch. The classic scar on the left side of the lower comes as a result of not having a roll pin punch to start/drive the pin for the bolt hold-open catch. I’ve seen some scars where Bubba has used I-don’t-know-what to try to drive that roll pin in, slipped, and dug a veritable ditch in the left side of the receiver.
I have several sets of gunsmith screwdrivers. I consider Brownells’ set to be the best in the market. There are others that are good. One of the differences between the sets is “what happens when you apply too much torque for the bit?” Other sets are hardened and left nearly full-hard, so the tip will shatter. Brownells’ tips are drawn back much more, and they will bend before shattering.
Punches: There are several makers of good pin punches out there. Starrett makes a nice set, Grace makes OK punches, etc. You can make your own with a small lathe, some 3/8 CRS, a drill bit of the size drill blank (a hardened piece of HSS meant to turn into a drill bit, but other people find them useful as pre-hardened punch inserts. I like using drill blanks in a piece of CRS round stock for metric pin punches; a metric pin punch set is usually more expensive than an imperial sized punch set. If one is really motivated, you could get a piece of O1 drill rod, and grind the punch sizes you need on a lathe with a toolpost grinder, then quench and temper it.
I like Mayhew punches in larger mechanic’s punches – not for use on guns. When you need to drift larger pins and keys out of tight places on larger machinery, don’t screw around with Chinese crap steel. Get Mayhew punches and be done with the job.
The #1 thing I teach students about gunsmithing is this: If you’re not going to get the correct screwdrivers, punches and other tools, you’re just going to make a mess. Old time gun makers used oddball screw slots and pins to keep Bubba out of nice guns; eg, look at the slot width on fine English shotguns. They’re fantastically fine slots. There’s a reason for that – no mechanic’s screwdriver tip will fit into those slots. You need the fine screwdrivers that are found in gunsmith screwdriver sets.