Firearms fixers

Working on your own rifles and shotguns is easier than you think. Here’s how

Get your firearms in top condition with your own home gunsmithing operation


8Lowell StraussOver-tightening a scope-ring screw can damage both the fastener and the mount. But if screws aren’t tight enough, the scope can become loose in the field. To avoid either scenario, use a torque wrench to tighten the screws to the manufacturer’s specifications. And to maintain a rifle’s accuracy, use a torque wrench to ensure the proper amount of torque is applied to the action screws.      


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Installing a new riflescope is a task anyone can do at home. Start by levelling the riflescope reticle, a step made easy with an inexpensive scope-levelling kit. Level the rifle using a bubble level resting flat on the action, with a second bubble level resting on the scope turret. This way, you can perfectly align the reticle with the bore. Once you’ve tightened the scope rings, you’re ready for the next step: boresighting. Getting “on paper” with a boresighter before heading to the range saves time and ammunition—you just need to adjust the reticle to align with the centre of the etched grid in the boresighter.


Contributor Lowell Strauss works on his guns out of his home in Simpson, Saskatchewan.

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Want to work on your hunting rifle or shotgun, but you’re not sure where to begin? Armed with a handful of tools, accessories and know-how, you can complete a wide range of maintenance, repair and upgrade tasks in your own home. And there’s no better time to get started than now, during the off-season.

Firearms maintenance typically starts with disassembly, so consult your owner’s manual or buy a disassembly guide for step-by-step instructions. Other than that, just find yourself a suitable workspace and you’re on your way to home gunsmithing. Here’s what you need to get started.


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Before working on any firearm, always ensure it’s unloaded. Safety first! You can easily solve many firearm problems with a thorough cleaning and some lubrication. Scrubbing the bore restores accuracy, and removing grit and grime from the action ensures the gun goes bang when it should. To get your rifle or shotgun squeaky clean, you’ll need solvent to remove fouling, and gun oil to prevent rust and reduce friction on the moving parts. I like to use CLP—an all-in-one cleaner, lubricant and preservative—to simplify the process. Get a cleaning rod to push solvent- and oil-soaked patches and brushes down the bore, and swabs to remove grime from the action.


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When it comes to working on firearms, regular tapered-end screwdrivers won’t do. Gunsmithing screwdrivers are hollow-ground—the tip of the bit is squared—to increase torque and reduce the chance of slippage. A variety of tips are available, configured as ¼-inch hex-drive bits and sold in sets with a handle. A standard set with 11 bits will cover most firearm screws, while more deluxe sets include specialty bits for sights and choke tubes.


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Knocking out pins and moving sights is the job of the punch, which comes in steel, brass or nylon. Steel punches are used most often to drive out pins. Since brass punches are softer than gunmetal, they’re typically used to adjust iron sights to avoid marring the finish. That said, try to avoid “brass tracking,” the unsightly marks left on a firearm’s finish when the punch slides across the surface. If this is a concern, a nylon punch may be the best option.


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Hammers give your punch the extra encouragement needed to drive pins and move sights. Use an eight-ounce ball-peen hammer, but keep a 12-ounce ball-peen on hand for stubborn pins (anything heavier than 12 ounces can cause more harm than good). For added protection or when trying to move stuck parts, use a rubber, nylon or brass hammer to avoid marring the firearm.


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Driving pins is not always easy, but using a bench block helps simplify the task. It provides a stable platform on which to rest the firearm while driving pins. And with a hole through the block allowing pins to be knocked out and caught in one operation, say goodbye to searching on your hands and knees for one that got away. You can buy a pre-made block, or you can easily make your own. For a truly Canadian bench block, drill a 3/8-inch hole through a hockey puck (above).


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Gun cradles are sufficient for light-duty tasks such as cleaning, but for a really firm grip on a firearm or gun part, a solid vise is needed. A mechanic’s vise is a suitable option for the home gunsmith, although the textured jaws can mar the firearm. To avoid this, invest in a set of soft jaws, plastic covers that go over the vise jaws and protect the objects being clamped from damage. Jaw pads can also be made from pieces of leather.

See a video of Lowell Strauss installing a riflescope and choke tube, and replacing a trigger and stock at: