To Visit a Gun Smith or DIY?

20130703-080633.jpgI’m a big do-it-yourself-er. I love going to the hardware store, buying all sorts of parts, and trying to create/solve/build something. I can usually do a pretty good job of accomplishing my goal, and rarely do I need to carefully read the directions. In some cases, I’ve actually been accused of having more tools, than most dudes (which I take as a compliment). But working on a gun is no IKEA side table. It’s a firearm, and every piece is carefully machined, expensive, and built to contain serious heat and fire power. My question, what is reasonable DIY and what gun work should be left to the pros?

When I set out to build my first AR, advice began pouring in from all directions. One of the first questions many people asked was, who was I going to get to put it all together. My answer was consistently, ‘I plan to do as much as I can and go see a gun smith for the most important details’. I was then advised that a pro should be consulted for specific part installations like, gas system, barrel related parts and headspace checking. However, an equal number of people told me that since most AR parts were now highly standardized, I really didn’t need a professional gun smith for any of these installations. I chose to err on the side of caution.

Now that I’m finished, I’m having a hard time seeing why I couldn’t do it again, with even less help. I’m not discounting the skill it takes to be a gun smith. I’m just saying that any parts of my build that I did not do myself, I watched as they were accomplished and I have every confidence that I could handle them.

When people see my Turquoise AR and I call it, “my build” I’m often met with big eyes. I guess it must be shocking that I didn’t buy a complete upper and a complete lower and just pinned the two together. But in genuinely I tell you, it was all very simple. The only thing that might hold me back is the lack of some larger heavier tool, like a drill press or bench with a solid vise.

So, now I pose the question to Gun Nuts readers. What should be left to a gun smith and only a gun smith?


  1. I would probably not attempt to work on/modify a trigger group myself. Specifically speaking on the AR, there isn’t much I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing myself. I’m currently considering a replacement gas block for my flat-top carbine so I can put free float rails on it myself. The only thing I want to purchase to make it easier are a couple of punches and a universal bench block.

    1. Matt, if I may make one recommendation to save you a little $$$. I love my Stanley 1/16″ (pencil like) punch that I picked up for 3-4 bucks at Lowe’s, it works with every standard roll pin my AR needed. The only brass punch I needed was a much fatter one to tighten down the locking ring on my hand guard and the same one to permanently attach my compensator to the barrel.

      Most of the punch sets I saw out there were either too expensive or had such bad reviews I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. And I’m glad I ignored the advice to buy a set, cause I really would ave only used one.

      Oh, but I did learn that to get rid of the brass marks, Gun Blu and a qtip… Brilliant!

  2. Lowers are pretty straightforward to build with some smith punches, non-marring hammers and other simple tools and blocks. I’ve done a half dozen for myself and another half dozen for friends. I buy my uppers as they seem more complex and more likely to mess up. That said, I’ve fixed a few for friends who had minor parts break. Unlike a lot of guns, AR’s seem to be designed to be fixed by 19 year old armorers. When you keep that in mind and reference the various videos out there it becomes fairly easy.

    1. yeah, I’d say I’m confident with the basic AR assembly…
      now, I’ve heard of folks taking a Dremel to firing pins and the like, and I am gonna assume that to be way out of my league for now!

  3. I would say, for the beginning home gun smith, a few basic tips before one begins:
    1) Take your Dremel
    2) Lock it up in a box
    3) Send box far away
    When, and only when one has the experience of doing mods with simple hand tools and elbow grease, then one can use the Dremel. Otherwise one is very likely to turn valuable guns & gunparts into worthless scrap.

  4. That sounds like the same way I felt before I put my first computer together. It ended up being much easier than I thought it would be, too.

  5. The only work that has ever given me pause was changing a gas block out. I still did it and it worked. Everything else you can do to an AR is simple. I don’t know how many lowers I’ve built or helped build.

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