Better Tools to Work on Your Black Rifle!
ABOVE: The Smith Enterprises barrel wrench is the finest in the industry. Being able to grab 14 points on the barrel nut is much more secure than 3. This allows the tightest barrel nuts to be removed without damage. Additionally it allows for removal and tightening of the rifle receiver extension and muzzle devise.
Like any project, having the right tools makes it so much easier to complete a job. It can make a two minute task turn into an hour or more if you don’t have the proper tools! The Black Rifle is the most popular rifle in America by a long shot and many people decide to build their own rather than go into a gun shop and pick one off the rack. So of course these guys are going to need the tools to assemble them. As an armorer school instructor myself, this author understands how much proper tools play into proper assembly of a rifle. If not done properly, the rifle will not function, components may be damaged or parts may come loose. Traditionally, the M16 had a basic combination tool, barbaric aluminum barrel clamps and if you were lucky a bolt catch punch. The slave pin punch was made in your shop to be able to insert tiny pins. Over the years, this author has come across several tools that are considered a must have for one who works on these rifles on a regular basis. There is really a one shot stop to obtain all the tools featured and that is Brownells, Inc. SAR would like to thank Roy Hill from Brownells for making this article possible by providing all the tools for test and evaluation as well as the instructions to use them.
If you are a police or military armorer who works on AR15/M16/M4 rifle on a regular basis, there is a complete kit that I recommend to my students. In fact many gun manufacturers purchase these kits and sell them to their customers overseas and train them on this kit. Brownells offers what is called the AR-15/M16 Premium Armorer’s kit (080-001-292). The Premium Kit contains all the tools necessary to repair and maintain the M16 and M4 carbine. The kit come in a custom-fitted, hard-side tool box from Pelican that’s made from nearly indestructible molded polymer resin and meets mil-spec MIL-STD-810F. This kit does not contain all the tools discussed in this article but enough to make your job working on this rifle very easy. It does contain all of the roll pin holders, roll pin punches as well as the bolt catch pin punch. It comes with the proper torque wrench for the barrel nut and receiver extension as well as headspace gauge and firing pin protrusion gauge. Every armory should have at least one of these kits in their shop.
Starting right off is a very basic set of roll pin holders. Working with such small roll pins is tedious, especially when you have size Sasquatch hands. Brownells offers a set of 5 (080-685-000) that takes care of all the small pins. They are specifically designed for the black rifle. The 1/16 has a cut out to clear the rear sight drum when installing the rear sight pin. These roll pin holders secure the gas tube pin, trigger guard roll pin, bolt catch pin to name a few.
To go along with the roll pin holders is a set of roll pin punches to drive and remove roll pins. Brownells offers a set specifically to deal with Black Rifled called Roll Pin Punches (230-112-105). On the end of these punches is a small rounded surface in the middle which sits inside the roll pin to keep the punch in place. When using a standard roll pin punch with a flat base, the punch can slide off the roll pin damaging the receiver. Using the Brownells Roll Pin Punches, the pin is secure and driven easily in and out. There are 5 pin punches in 1/16, 1/8, 3/16, 3/32 and 5/64 inch.
When the need arises to remove the gas tube, it can be a tedious task. Due to carbon freeze the gas tube may not want to come out. So you grab a pair of pliers to try to pull it out of the gas block. But you end up chewing the gas tube up with the pliers. In some cases you may even destroy it. Brownells offer a excellent tool to remove the gas tube without damage. The tool is called a gas tube removal tool (133-100-015) and it is made by Mark Brown Custom. The tool clamps onto the gas tube and as the tool is tightened, it secures the gas tube. Now you may either rotate the tool to break it free from the gas block or you may tap the tool with a hammer to drive the gas tube straight out. I haven’t yet come across a gas tube that I could not remove and then reuse when using this tool.
Disassembly of the bolt can be a bit tricky. This is commonly done to replace the ejector and ejector springs. The Army TM tells you to put the tail of the bolt in a vice and drive the roll pin out. This can damage the bolt and may also be dangerous! When you remove the roll pin punch from the bolt, the ejector and ejector spring will launch never to be seen again. Young Manufacturing sells a bolt disassembly tool through Brownells (939-000-003) that fits this bill. Manufactured out of aluminum, the tool can be secured in a vice. The bolt is located in a slot that lines up the ejector pin with a hole in the tool. You rotate the plunger which depresses the ejector, just push in slightly to relive the stress of the ejector pin. Now tap out the pin. Now back out the plunger slowly and remove the ejector and pin. Simply reverse to install an ejector.
The legacy Armorers wrench is primitive by today’s standards and in some ways obsolete. The original wrench grabs the barrel nut at 3 locations. On a stubborn barrel nut you can easily break three scallops on the barrel nut right off. One of the finest armorer’s wrenches in the industry is manufactured by Smith Enterprises and available through Brownells (851-000-068). This item has a NSN# 5855 01 506 5750 and is in use in the US military. This wrench has one side to grab the traditional 3 points but the other grabs 14 points! This gets a firm grip and will break free the most stubborn barrel nuts. The wrench has a large handle providing plenty of leverage by hand. Also on the wrench are wrenches for the flash suppressor as well as rifle receiver extension. The wrench has a 1/2 inch square drive opening for a torque wrench and breaker bar.
Not often does the carrier key have to be replaced but sometimes the carrier key screws will break or come loose in not either properly torqued or staked in place. At the factory, a hydraulic press is used to properly stake the carrier key screws. Traditionally if one wanted to stake a carrier key, they would use a center punch and stake the carrier key screw in three places each. This is a grueling task trying to make sure the center punch does not slide out of place damaging the screw or weakening the carrier key. Brownells designed a tool just for this task and is a must for anyone who wants to stake a carrier key. It is called the AR-15 Carrier Key Staking Tool (080-000-0015). The tool is held in place by a vice (if wanted). The carrier key slides in the tool and the top ledge is held secure by a screw. On each side there are two screws with pointed ends on them. Inserting an Allen key in the screw and rotating clock wise peens the carrier key material into the screw. This is repeated for the remaining 3 screws. Now the carrier key is properly staked ensuring it will not come loose at an inopportune time. With heavy use the screws will break, so Brownells offers a 4-pack replacement set (080-001-118).
The next tool one may think of as common and basic but when this author visited an armory in Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan it was clear that it is not as common as one would think. In fact the tools in use at the armory were substandard to say the least. Most were improvised tools. The bolt catch is a part that is not often removed. But when assembling new rifles and replacing broken bolt catches on used rifles, the shape/contour of the lower receiver make it difficult to use a standard roll pin punch to drive out the bolt catch pin. Brownells offers a custom Bolt Catch Pin Punch (080-216-012) which is a slab sided punch that fits with the flat contour of the front left side of the receiver/magazine well. Also there is roll pin guide on the center of the punch to ensure the punch does not slide off the roll pin. The receiver is not damaged or scratched. Using a standard roll pin punch will damage the finish as well as damage the aluminum where the roll pin is inserted. Some Armorers will grind down a standard punch for this job but it is easier sometimes to just get the right tool to begin with.
When installing gas blocks without a jig, it can be sometimes difficult to properly align the gas port on the barrel with the front sight base. Many people these days like to use gas blocks which are held in place with set screws rather than the mil-spec drill and pin. Most of these are just gas blocks with no sight tower. So trying to center the gas block can be a pain. You get out to the range, start firing the rifle and get short strokes due to it being out of alignment. HB Industries came up with the most simple and fool proof way to get it right the first time. The Gas Block Aligner pins are sold by Brownells (100-015-040) and are awesome. You break off one of the plastic pins. The pin is in two attached sections. You drop it into the gas port on the barrel. Now slide the gas block over the barrel and into place. Turn the barrel upside down and wiggle the gas block until it stops. That is the pin falling into the gas port hole on the gas block perfectly aligning the gas port on the barrel either the one on the gas block. Tighten (Loctite) the screws down. Flip the barrel back over. Now take a cleaning rod and push it through the barrel. This will snap the aligner pin in two and allow it to fall out the muzzle. Now your gas system is perfectly aligned the first time.
Installation and removal of the barrel can be a difficult task. The upper receiver must be held secure. There have been many different fixtures rigged up. However, many of these fixtures have their issues. For instance the clamshells, when you apply torque you are putting all the torque directly on the aluminum receiver. This can sometimes cause damage to the receiver, especially if it is over torqued. The second is the receiver is secured by the two slots for the front and rear takedown pins. This is not such a good idea since you are putting the entire load on two soft aluminum tabs. In this author’s experience, the best way to torque a barrel is to take the entire load off the aluminum receiver. The Geissele Reaction Rod (100-011-315) does just that. The upper receiver slides over the vice mounted Reaction Rod and into the end of the rod is inserted into the barrel extension where it lock in position with the extension. When torque is now applied, all of it goes to the steel barrel/barrel extension. Installation is easy and no damage occurs physically or cosmetically to the barrel or receiver. The Reaction Rod has found a home with many Original Equipment Manufacturers in their assembly lines due to this being the ideal way to install/remove the barrel. For those who are building up 7.62mm AR10-type rifles, Geissele makes a Reaction Rod for that as well.
Installation of the standard Mil-Spec receiver extension is often done using a magazine well block. When the receiver extension nut is torqued, the torque is applied to the rear of the aluminum receiver. If improperly done, one can bend the aluminum or in some cases snap the rear of the lower receiver right off. This is even more true with the new generation of polymer lower receivers. Once again Geissele to the rescue with their Reaction Block (100-016-578). The receiver extension (Mil-Spec) can be slid into the block in four different orientations. Once the receiver extension is practically slipped in, the receiver extension wrench is inserted and the extension is torqued to spec. Instead of the torque being placed on the rear of the delicate aluminum frame, it is now placed on the receiver extension itself. This safely and without trouble torques down the receiver extension nut. After tight, remove the wrench and slide the receiver fully into the Reaction block. Now you can stake the receiver extension nut in place without putting the hammer force of the center punch on the aluminum receiver but on the receiver extension and the block. Many Original Equipment Manufacturers have adopted this tool for installation of receiver extension nuts. I is the safest and most efficient way to install this component in the industry.
Another task we often do not think about until it is a problem is removal of the ejection port dust cover. Normally this is removed/installed before the barrel is installed so everything can be slid right in or out of place. If the barrel is in place, the ejection port cover cannot be removed from the front of the receiver. To remove it from the rear requires the removal of the tiny “C” clip on the end of the rod. Not difficult, just get a pair of needle nose pliers. However, putting the “C” clip back on is a real pain. If you have a really good set of needle nose pliers that is small enough it may go on. Hopefully during the process you did not scratch up the receiver. Brownells just released a new tool by Rotor Clip called the Ejection Cover Hinge Pin Clip Tool (100-013-629). This makes this process simple and with no damage to the receiver. The “C” clip snaps into the end of the tool. The tool is placed over the hinge pin and pushed down so the “C” clip snaps right into position. Also if you are an Original Equipment Manufacturer, this tool would save a lot of time and effort when installing the “C” clip on the hinge pin preparing for assembly of the ejection port cover assembly.
For one who is trying to build a precision AR, you want the best barrel as well as the best upper receiver and so on. There are many little things you do to make a rifle accurate. For example we put in a precision trigger, adjustable stock so you can be comfortable making that precision shot as well as a good muzzle brake. Often over looked is how the barrel extension fits against the upper receiver face. If that face is not true, the barrel extension will not sit flush which could have an impact on that precision shot. For just this occasion, Brownells developed an AR-15 Receiver Lapping Tool (080-000-182). The tool fits into a drill on one side. On the other is the cutting surface. Lapping compound is placed on the front of the receiver and then the tool is inserted. Light pressure is applied and the aluminum face is made smooth and true so the barrel extension will sit perfectly flush. There are no burrs of anodizing anomalies that will cause any issues with correct seating of the barrel in the receiver. Does every build require such attention? Absolutely not but when precision is required, all these little things play into the equation
For the average builder, he can do with some of the bare bones tool. For the professional, the military or law enforcement armorer, serious shooter, gunsmith and weapon manufacturers, these tools can save a lot of time and that turns into saving money. It can also mean the difference between a fun building experience instead of an annoyed upset bad experience. Due to the popularity of the Modern Sporting Rifle, there has been a demand for tools from all walks of life. Brownells is without question the industry leader in Gunsmithing tool and parts. They not only stock tools manufactured by other very talented vendors but design and make tools themselves. All of the featured products are available through Brownells