binford-tool-time-more-powerLast night’s “Friday Tour d’Horizon” is still hanging fire at the moment, so we’ll pull a little bit about tools out and expand it here.

(Naturally, that took us longer than expected… we kept getting lost in tool catalogs. Scrumptious).

Here are some places you might not have known or thought of for tools

  • bills itself as offering “high performance tools for the fabricator.” However, that does not mean it sells to the staff of the New York Times. It came recommended by John Saunders (of NYC CNC, which will be covered in the Tour d’Horizon), not Walter Duranty. This is metalworkers’ hog heaven.
  • has an automotive bent. Good options for polishing and finishing, especially.
  • Wicks Aircraft Supply and Aircraft Spruce are vendors that sell tools, materials and more to aircraft homebuilders. Lots of cool stuff, may be priced higher than at competitors, because if you’re building an airplane, you gotta be feeeelthy reeech, right?. A third competitor, Dillsburg Aero Works, was always the best for 4130 steel, but has folded, and the link is to a story about since-deceased founder Charlie Vogelsong.
  • just sells tools. And they’re organized the way an airplane mechanic expects to see them, so a gunsmith may find it frustrating. Check out the Steelman Bend-a-Light in the Test & Inspection category for something small but really useful on the bench.

The aircraft homebuilding guys are very inventive, as you might expect, and they’re often inventing something new for sheet metal work, tube fabrication, or composite handling.

Gunsmith Specialty Tools

These are the standbys for gunsmithing tools, everybody should know them

Those links go directly to their Gunsmithing Tools sections.

Which vendor of these two you use seems a matter of personal preference more than anything. Brownell’s may have a better selection (and certainly advertises more), but sometimes Midway has what Brownell’s doesn’t. Both seem to have excellent customer service (we’ve never had a problem with an order or product from either — you only really know customer service quality when you’ve experienced a problem and their resolution).

The best feature of both is, in our opinion, the frank reviews from other users like you. Unlike Amazon (for example), Brownells and Midway both seem tolerant of customers recommending something other than the reviewed product (probably because odds are good that they sell the recommended product, too).

Our Favorite for Metal Cutting Machinery

Little Machine Shop. Look, anyone can sell you a Taig (or their house brand) lathe or mini-mill. LMS will hold your hand more than any of them, and they have add-ons for their version of the Taig that take care of a lot of the things you’d experiment with.

(Not to be confused with Micro Machine Shop, which is a free educational site that’s excellent).

Some people like ToolsNow, which we don’t know anything about, or Grizzly (Grizzly tools go considerably higher-end in both cost and size, but they’re still Chinese imports. NTTAWWT; you just have to know the limitations).

Best for one-use, non-precision tools, but unbeatable on cost:

Harbor Freight Tools: if they had a slogan, it might be “cheap stuff cheap.” There are honest reviews of the products available on the site, though. You can really save on things like tie-down kits where ten-thousandths precision and lifetime durability is not part of the requirement.

Cutting tools, etc:

Don’t monkey with imported cutting tools unless you really know what you’re doing (some Chinese tools are great, some are horrible). If you don’t know what you’re doing, and don’t want your education to include things like badly formed cutting edges and tools with enough runout you can see them wobble in your spindle, buy Made in USA from vendors like these:

  • MSC Direct (we have the most experience with them).
  • Grainger (they have a great “find the right end mill” tutorial and cheat sheet — click on Show Information).
  • McMaster-Carr (no fixed metal-cutting machinery, but fabrication tools and all kinds of expendables, raw materials, etc).

These guys’ catalogs are huge. (For instance, MSC has 865 items under Milling Machines — over 500 of them machines, not attachments). We use MSC only because Justin Halford at CNC Gunsmithing recommends them in his AR tutorial. For any of them, you can get on a mailing list and receive periodic specials, etc. MSC’s catalog doesn’t seem to load in Safari, nor do their specials brochures.

Wrapping Up

We’re probably missing some good sources. Our problem with tools is that we want one (or more) of each. And we have to know our limitations, which include lacking the skills to operate all of these to best advantage. While it’s fun learning, sometimes it’s a lot faster to pay the guy who’s already mastered the tool. Eh?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

18 thoughts on “Some Cool Sources for Tools


Boy, am I once again glad I found this site.

Tom Schultz

Let’s cut to the chase!

Who does Bubba recommend?

Hognose Post author

Why, the logo we display with the article: Binford Tools. Whose mottoes are “When you need more POWER!” and “Real men don’t need instructions.”


Does the True Bubba need anything but a hammer and a Dremel?

Hognose Post author

Chisels, if he’s an Engraving Bubba. Yep, they’re out there.


Perfect for a Saturday spent Lost In The Internet.

Because having hooked the customer on heroin, you now want to add cocaine to the mix, right?

You know you’re already an addict when the staff at the local tool emporiums not only know you by sight and don’t bother anymore to ask you if they can help, but you also recognize a good half a dozen others covering the same territory on weekends. If you know any of them by name and vice versa, you’re already halfway to a 12-step group.

If store managers have offered you an employee discount or a part-time position because you answer more questions for other customers than the paid staff, extra bonus points.

It’s bad enough with regular tools, but if I start adding more than coffee table gunsmithing, along with machine work and welding to the repertoire, I’ll probably have to start picking up extra jobs to cover the bills, or simply admit the obvious and just manufacture and deal drugs to pay for it.


FYI, McMaster operates on a “get there fast” policy – I’ve never waited more than three days for my entire order to arrive. Because of this though, there’s not really a “verify my order before I place it” section in the website, and shipping is calculated invisibly after they figure out where it’s coming from (you’re charged after the fact).

Hognose Post author

Valuable information. Thanks for the comment!

Dyspeptic Gunsmith

There’s a bunch more tool links I’d recommend for people seeking gunsmithing supplies and/or tools, especially in the areas of hand files, abrasives, polishing compounds, etc. If I haven’t put up a reply by later tonight, flip me an email and I’ll get something put together by Monday evening.

Some names off the top of my head for online machine accessories and precision tool sources:

– Enco ( owned by MSC – sometimes cheaper, but no choices/substitutions/help ordering the stuff)

– Travers (http://www.

– Arthur R. Warner Co. ( – source of HSS insert tooling. I’ll explain later why this stuff is the cat’s ass.

– CDCO Tools ( – source of ChiCom and Taiwanese tooling

Those are just off the top of my head. On the subject of abrasives and files, I can go into much more depth on where to get, what to get, and why. I can also go into which brands of precision measurement instruments to invest in, and which to avoid, if people would like.

On the subject of machine: there’s a constant bickering back and forth by machinists whether the ChiCom machine tools are worth anyone’s time and attention. Well, they are – as long as you know what you’re getting into. Gunsmiths almost never take heavy cuts, the way real machinists do. A machinist doesn’t have all day to piddle and fiddle around, taking light cuts to hone in on a size. He wants to rip off metal with heavy roughing cuts, leaving only one or two finish passes to do. Real machinists load their machines until the motor is pulling at least 80% of locked rotor amperage, and they like to see screaming hot blue chips come off their workpiece. The ChiCom machines will curl up and die under these types of loads. For gunsmithing, the ChiCom machines can work well for a long time.

BTW, there are machine tools out of Taiwan that are miles and miles away better than the mainland ChiCom stuff. Grizzly has some Taiwanese stuff, as does MSC/Enco/Travers. Grizzly labels which machines come out of Taiwan.

Sharp, Trump, Acer and others are names that are sourced from Taiwan. The general rule of thumb in machines is this: If you see a new Bridgeport-style mill for less than $9K, or a 13×40 lathe (the usual size for gunsmithy) under $10K, you’re probably looking at a ChiCom machine.

ChiCom machines should often be thought of more as a “machine project” than a “ready to go machine.” Sometimes, you’ll get a machine that is truly “ready to go.” Most of the time, you won’t. You’ll need to do some work on them. I like to tell young guys that if they buy ChiCom, they’re buying a kit – some assembly, adjustment, cleaning and repair will be required. In this case, having a company like Grizzly behind you, with their excellent customer support, is a good reason to buy a ChiCom machine through them. And, BTW, the president of Grizzly is a F-class shooter – Mr. Balolia is a very serious marksman. If you need competition-grade barrel blanks in a hurry, he stocks Bartlein barrels for a small increase over what you’d pay directly.

Dyspeptic Gunsmith

Some more info on hand tools.

First, I’ll start with files. A classical gunsmith uses a lot of files. There might be a half-dozen files that are his favorites/go-to files for many situations, but there will be files that have one specific application (eg, the double-safe, tri-corner file for fitting a 1911 front sight dovetail).

In the last few years, most all hand file production in the US has ceased and has been outsourced to Mexico and South America. Sometimes the results are OK, much of the time it isn’t. So I’ve gone off Nicholson hand files, and have come to rely on Pferd files and files sourced from a company that sharpens files. If you’re going to do much stock work, you’d be well served to get a set of riffler files, BTW.


Pferd has files, abrasives and small hand tools, including flexible shaft tools. In the flexible shaft tools, Foredom is the preferred tool of pro gunsmiths.

There are two large families of files – American pattern and Swiss pattern. If people would like me to explain why you want some of both, just ask.

In addition to American (single cut) and Swiss (double cut) files, I have rasps for working on stocks. I’ll use a hoof rasp/file to hog off wood quickly, then use cabinetmaker rasps (bastard & smooth – the equivalent of the Nicholson 49 & 50 rasps) to get close to final shape, then I’ll start using metal files to get the stock down close to final size, then sanding blocks. You’d need some half-round double-cut metal files as well. I use rat-tail files for shaping cheek pads on rifle stocks.

Re-sharpening files: Boggs Tool & File Sharpening does the best job out there. You can sharpen files/rasps by dunking them in sulphuric or muriatic acid, but you don’t get the gullet deeper between the teeth, you only seem to make the edge on the teeth more keen. So your files will pin more quickly.

Abrasives: I like 3M abrasives. For polishing metals, I like Gesswein polishing sticks and stones. For triggers, I might start with a medium India stone, work to a fine stone, then end with a ceramic or ruby stone. Ruby stones leave a mirror-like finish on trigger mating surfaces, free of creep. However, most people will likely flinch to see the price of ruby stones.

Foredom tools: Foredom tools are what Dremel tools hope to be when they grow up:

If you’re going to do much wood stock work, you’ll need a set of gouges and chisels. The Two Cherries brand of chisels is OK. Older American chisels (eg, old Stanley’s) are good. Some of the gouges and chisels I use in stock work are hand-made by forging them out of O-1 tool steel. In classic gunsmithing, you often need to make your own cutting tools, so learning how to work with O-1 tool steel and a bucket of oil for quenching is a really good base of knowledge.

On machine cutting tools:

I don’t use a lot of inserted carbide tooling in my shop. This is mostly because inserted carbide tooling isn’t a matter of just buying “this holder” and “those inserts.” If you’re going to do it properly, you’re better off buying into a product line from one of the carbide tooling companies – Sandvik, Iscar, Kennemetal, etc. For a production machinist, there is no money spent that improves productivity more & faster than buying the right carbide insert tooling – bar none. But gunsmiths don’t take heavy cuts on their machines, so the investment in insert tooling doesn’t pay off as quickly – if ever. The holders are a significant investment all by themselves – eg, a 2″ face mill for a Bridegeport that takes four inserts might be $250 just for the holder, then inserts will run $10 to $15 each, times four to load up the face mill, you could be talking of $300+ just to get the face mill cutting. How often do you use a face mill in gunsmithing? Very little, actually. When you need it, it sure would be handy, but a few passes with a 3/4″ end mill and clean-up with a flycutter will get you there almost as quickly. I use a lot of hand-ground high speed steel tooling for my lathe tools, and HSS or carbide end mills for my mill, with some flycutters and custom jobs made from tool steel (eg, O-1 or A-2).

For a production machinist on a CNC machine, however, you’d be insane to use hand-ground tools. On CNC machines, you almost never see bespoke tooling – the name of the game is making chips by the bucket, so you don’t screw around with HSS hand-ground tooling. It’s all carbide insert tooling, with only the occasional ground carbide end mill or drills. It’s almost always carbide tooling on a CNC machine – because the CNC’s are so much more rigid, so much more powerful, and they have flood coolant to hose down the tool & workpiece. Carbide allows you to make heavy, hot cuts – usually at up to 4X the surface speed of HSS cutting tools.

I mentioned the Arthur R. Warner HSS insert tooling above. This is the best of both worlds – insert tooling to enable you to change out the cutting edge quickly, the ability to sharpen your own tooling, and HSS rather than carbide. At lower speeds/feeds, carbide can sometimes result in a crappy surface finish, because carbide is “hungry” – it needs to be loaded down to cut at it’s best. Taking a 0.001 cut with carbide is often a pain in the neck – many times, an insert will just rub unless you give it a depth of cut of at least 0.003 to 0.005. With sharp HSS tooling, you can take cuts down to tenths of a thou if your machine is tight enough to hold it.

The Warner insert tooling is reasonably priced, very generic and uses a very nice grade of US-made HSS. To sharpen the inserts, simply remove from the tool holder, put the top edge down on a fine india or arkansas stone, add some honing oil and swirl the insert in a figure-8 motion a few times. Wha-la, you now have a wicked sharp edge on your HSS insert. Replace the insert onto the holder, resume work. For threading or turning, you don’t need to worry about getting the relief angle correct, or shaping the cutting point. Just get the top edge sharp, slap it back in the holder, and you’re up and running. I like using dark sulphur cutting oil on my lathe to keep my HSS tooling cool and lubed, BTW. CNC machines will use water-soluble oils in emulsions, but these are really designed for CNC machines. The old-school dark sulphur oils still work well on manual machines.

I use a lot of HSS tooling blanks on my lathe, some of which have been ground to make very specific cutting tools. eg, when I’m threading a barrel onto a 1903/1903A3 rifle, I need to make 0.050″ square threads on the barrel tenon. I have a square threading bit that looks like a cutoff tool, but it is ground very specifically to be 0.051″ wide. That’s a difficult thing to accomplish with a carbide insert tool, or anything but a HSS blank. Likewise, I have 1/8″ HSS blanks ground to a wicked sharp edge to allow me to cut the inner corner of a barrel crown and not leave a burr, and I have a HSS bit that has a hook to it to allow me to make the rounded field crown for classic rifles. Get good quality HSS blanks – Cleveland MoMax is one of my go-to tool blank brands, as is Latrobe, Rex (something you’ll now find only on eBay and surplus), CPM’s T-15. The last type is an excellent example of what new metallurgy can do for 100 year old tooling. CPM is powdered metal, and it is much more uniform and hot-hard than classic HSS.

That’s enough for now…

Hognose Post autho r

This stuff is brilliant. Because it’s coming from a pro and not a hobbyist (like me).

I’m probably going to lose the day on the Gesswein site alone. The PUK mold welder they sell would probably be the cat’s ass for filling pitting, but I’m thinking if you didn’t select your rod with great care, or maybe make your rod from a scrap part of similar metallurgy, you’d never be able to treat and then finish (blue or park) the part without the weld showing.

I’m thinking the whole Tool thing needs to be a permanent page on here.

Dyspeptic Gunsmith

There’s one step beyond the PUK (and other) micro-TIG setups for pit filling: Laser welding. I know a gunsmith (and Guild member) who has a surplus laser welding rig (new cost would be up around $80K). He says it is the bees’ knees for filling pitting on shotgun barrels… but the whole process is so time consuming, that a customer could probably have a new set of tubes made for less by the time you’re done on some more pitted barrels.

For most gunsmith welding, a regular TIG machine does most of what you need. If you’re seeking to keep costs down and you have the room (and power), a used Miller SyncroWave is a good machine. I use a Miller Dynasty 200, because I like the pulse control on it. The SyncroWaves have rudimentary pulse control, and HF start, lift start and scratch start. I vastly prefer HF start for gun work. Scratch start is commonly used by pipe welders, lift start by fab shop guys. Thermal Arc makes some nice light machines for TIG – you have to step up to the 200A machines to get a HF start machine. Lift start will work on gun work, provided you have a steady hand… which sometimes I don’t. There are some days when I can weld all day, other days when it pays to do anything else.

BTW, when considering TIG welding, it is a plus to use a water-cooled torch, even for low amperages. When you get on a run and you have to stop because you can no longer hold onto the torch, it can really piss you off. Water cooled torches let you make the most of your time and “being in the groove” on a TIG welding job.

When I’m talking to young guys who want to go to gunsmithing school(s) and they wonder what they should study before they get there, I tell them a) math, b) TIG welding. TIG is a super fine-motor skill that takes time to develop… I’d put it on par with calligraphy for eye/hand control.


Mcmaster Carr has really fast service.


wrt Brownells customer service, it might be better than excellent. I placed an order ~2 months ago immediately after a shift in their ordering software. Long story short, they couldn’t process AMEX cards. They went out of their way to contact me, explained the problem, apologized and shipped it express at their expense.

Certainly more than I expected.


I would add in Torchmate to the list. They make a CNC plasma cutting machine that is in between the price range of the cheap china and the uber expensive German machines.

They are based in Reno. Good guys. Unlimited customer service,

I have used their machines to make some crazy stuff. From rocket stoves, knife blanks made,from armor plate to signs, to tools and structural steel.

They have a forum on Pirate 4×4 so you can see and learn before you buy.

For earning a living cutting stuff out of steel, a Torchmate table + Hypertherm torch will etmyou 85% of where you need to be.

The machine will run 24/7 without issues which is important when you need to earn your daily bread.

The machine itself is super accurate but the plasma will give somewhat uneven results so if you need a tenth of a mm accuracy, go with plasma,. Especially for armor plate and construction projects.

DR Fun

I am a Pistolsmith. I also have in depth knowledge in CNC machine work, conventional machine work, welding, fabrication, design and lots of other things. Lets all go one better and do a series of “primer” seminars at a central location this summer. I would be willing to donate a week of my time on the site of a convention of like minded knuckle draggers and gearheads.

Here is an example. The Horse Magazine, a mag for motorcycle home builders, has a weekend long convention at Rockingham Speedway in NC every year. That was where it was held the last time I went. We could rent a grounds like that, which allows camping, and have vendors, seminars and the like. The model for an event is there it just needs to be organized.

I would also be willing to run seminars on gunsmithing, CNC machines (I have a few), conventional machine shop, welding and such at my shop. All geared for the novice if the demand was there.

Just throwing the idea out there to see if there is any interest. It sounds to me like a great deal of fun waiting to be had. I am sure there are lots of talented people out there that would be willing to share what they know with like minded people.


I’ve used MSC 25 odd years. Lots of stuff and fast. Usually 2 day, often next day. Probably varies with your location.

Also, if doing machine work, cultivate a relationship with a good cutter grinder. Invaluable for custom cutter profiles or simply re sharpening production tools.

Something almost never mentioned: learn to draw. Drafting is an incredibly powerful tool especially if making NEW things. Take a laser house a cad file and easily get parts. Though I haven’t tried it, I suspect they’re less cooperative if they have to work with a pen sketch on a cocktail napkin. Solid modeling like Solidworks is the cats meow but even the old drawing board is still powerful. It just doesn’t interface with CNC machinery as easily.