You already know building an AR-15 requires an investment in both time and money. And to get the professional, reliable results you’re after, you need to expend some of those resources on a great set of tools.
But I won’t lie, professional tools are expensive. Precision machining, top-shelf materials, and superior fit and finish command a high price.
However, these tools make assembling and maintaining your weapon a breeze and will last you a lifetime in most cases. This phenomenon can save you money in the long run, especially when you consider replacement costs or potential damage caused by defective tools.
Fortunately, building an AR-15 doesn’t require a ton of tools. And even though the investment is significant, you’ll find additional uses for them around the house. Other tools, like armorer’s wrenches, are more limited in scope but indispensable if you build or maintain multiple weapons.
The key takeaway here is that high-quality tools, while expensive, provide superior results and are actually a better value. The following list covers all the bases, and is a great jumping-off point if you’re getting started and want great results from the jump.
You need a clean, stable surface on which to work. A good workbench will keep you organized and help manage or store parts as you go along. It also provides a proper surface to mount your bench vise to.
Find a workbench that fits your space but is large enough to work on comfortably. And it has to be sturdy enough to support your equipment as well as endure the pressure you’ll exert while torquing down your barrel nut.
Recommendation: 2×4 Basics Workbench and Shelving Storage System
A bench vise is like a third hand and allows you to manipulate and install tiny parts with ease. It also allows you to mount your AR-15 vise block kit and securely holds your upper and lower receivers in place as you work or torque down your barrel and castle nuts.
You want to be confident in your vise. It should be large enough to hold your vise block kit and provide sufficient clamping capacity to hold everything securely in place. Typically this means having a jaw size of at least 4 inches.
Recommendation: Yost 750-E Rotating Bench Vise
AR-15 Vise Block Kit
A good vise block kit will not only make assembling an AR-15 much easier it will prevent damage to your weapon caused by not securing it properly. It’s just a simple, safe way to work.
Vise blocks are specifically made to hold your upper and lower receivers in place while you install your parts and prevent crushing, marking, or scratching your finish.
Recommendation: PlastiXRevolution Upper & Lower Vise Block Combo
Roll Pin Punch Set
A lot of AR-15 components are assembled with tiny roll pins, and they are a pain in the ass. Installing them can be a trying experiences, and having the right tool for the job is crucial. Standard punches may work, however the risk of misalignment and damage to your finish when the slip off is high.
Roll pin punches feature a balled tip that centers the roll pin when you drive them in. It also prevents the pins from malforming or crushing. Punches are precise, delicate instruments so make sure they are made from a high-quality hardened steel to prevent premature failure.
Recommendation: Grace USA Roll Pin Punches
Roll Pin Holder
Roll pin holders aren’t totally necessary, but they’re great to have. This simple tool holds your roll pin in place and aligned properly while you start them. Once the roll pin is started, switch over to the right roll pin punch and finish driving them home.
Like roll pin punches, roll pin holders are delicate, so it’s imperative to choose a strong material that won’t bend or break when you hit it.
Recommendation: Grace USA Roll Pin Holder Set
AR-15 Armorer’s Wrench
A good armorer’s wrench will make your life easier and make assembling or disassembling your weapon a cinch. Armorer’s wrenches feature a combination of functions that allow you to install barrel nuts, castle nuts, receiver extensions, and flash hiders among other things. Some even make great bottle openers.
Not all armorer’s wrenches are created equal, however. Poorly machined tools can slip off and harm you or damage your weapon. Look for something from reputable manufacturer.
Recommendation: Magpul AR-15 Armorer’s Wrench
Certain components, like barrel and castle nuts, have very specific torque specifications that require an accurate 1/2″ drive torque wrench to get right. Fortunately, there are a lot of cost effective options and you don’t have to break the bank for a professional quality tool.
However, it goes without saying that these components are critical to a safe and reliable weapon so choose the best tool your budget allows.
Recommendation: CDI Torque 1/2″ Drive Torque Wrench
Building an AR-15 requires a mixture of finesse and a firm, steady hand. But in certain cases a ball-pien hammer may be needed for a little extra motivation. They’re great for stubborn roll pins or stuck parts, which are common. Although they’re perfectly acceptable for general installation of parts.
A 4 or 8 ounce hammer should suffice in most cases. A heavier hammer can become unwieldy and an errant swing can easily damage or destroy your weapon.
Recommendation: Craftsman 8-Ounce Ball-Pein Hammer
A brass hammer is a standard for many gunsmiths because they’re effective. Brass hammers also hedge against damage since it is made of a relatively soft metal, yet it provides sufficient force to drive in roll pins or loosen stuck parts.
Look for a solid hammer from a reputable manufacturer- a sub-par quality brass can chip or crack easily.
Recommendation: Grace USA Gunsmith’s Brass Hammer
Needle Nose Pliers
Needle nose pliers are great for manipulating and holding tiny parts. They also work great for pushing in detents or installing your magazine release if you are inclined.
There is a big difference between professional quality needle nose pliers and your typical big box store pliers. Many USA and German made tools offer superior machining, quality steel, and great fit and finish, so that’s where I would look.
Recommendation: Channellock 8 Inch Needle Nose Pliers
Many AR-15 pistol grips require a screwdriver to install them. Beyond that, they make great light duty pry bars and are useful for pushing down springs or detents.
Like with needle nose pliers, there is a big difference between professional quality screwdrivers and your typical big box store fare. Again, USA and German made tools offer superior machining, quality steel, and great fit and finish in most cases.
Recommendation: Klein Tools Cushion Grip Screwdriver Set
Hex Driver Or Allen Wrench Set
Good allen wrenches are an important part of the AR-15 builder’s tool bag. They perform a number of duties like installing pistol grips or adjusting some sights, trigger groups, gas block, and various rail attachments.
High-quality allen wrenches will stay square for a long time and prevent stripping of the screw head. Also, a great option are T-handle allen wrenches. They make installing hex head screws easy and offer more leverage than standard wrenches to ensure a snug fit.
Recommendation: Bondhus T-Handle Hex Wrenches