Put down the Phillips screwdriver and hammer. Yes, I see you, banging away at your trigger pins and moments away from the inevitable slip-and-gouge across the side of your AR lower. A gouge you’ll either pay to have repaired or, more likely, leave as a permanent, scarred reminder of your penchant for the Wrong Tool for the Job.
I’m the first to admit building up your collection of task-specific firearms-related tools takes time and a not-inconsiderable amount of money. In the past few years I’ve been going through trigger pull gauges like crazy thanks to theft and random, odd breakages.
I’m also no stranger to frantically rushing around town for a uniquely-sized hex key or some bizarrely-shaped bit (the latter of which is typically on a foreign-made optics mount, leaving me cursing and sweating to meet my review deadline). All that said, I have a pair of tool kits that have proven to be invaluable: Brownell’s Magna-Tip Super Set and Gunsmith Master Punch Set.
Brownell’s Magna-Tip Super Set comes with 58 bits and two handles, one short and one long. There are also 22 and 44-bit sets available but I highly recommend the largest. Why? Because the 8-bit set includes flat blades in nine different widths and six thicknesses, a variety of Allen bits, and even a tiny torx.
As the name implies, the bits are magnetized which has been extremely useful for hanging onto tiny screws. To satisfy my OCD side, it comes in a hard plastic case with a carefully-graphed chart showing where each bit should be placed within the many holes. I’ve also found I can store the numerous tiny hex keys that come with aftermarket triggers and optics in the compartment with the shorter handle.
It made my life – and my job – much simpler last week when I needed to play musical triggers with a few ARs to install a Timney Calvin Elite AR trigger in a DPMS Hunter for a business trip. The pistol grip screws all had different sizes and types of heads and I had bits for all of them.
And when I install an aftermarket hammer spring in one of my hunting revolvers later today I know I’ll have the correct bits for the job. Damaging the side plate of a cherished gun because you don’t bother to use the right screwdriver is no small failure (in my opinion).
Brownell’s Gunsmith Master Punch Set is similarly valuable. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I am the Magna-Tip Super Set, but it comes in handy on a regular basis.
It includes four starter punches for stuck pins, four hardened-point pin punches, one prick punch, four brass punches, three nylon front-sight drift punches, and one center punch. There’s also a small neoprene mat, a nylon bench block, and a hammer with one nylon and one brass head.
This set comes in a polyethylene case with removable dividers. Having the right punch for various gunsmithing jobs big and small has saved more than a few guns from scratches, gouges, and being thrown out the window in frustration.
The only downside I’ve found to the Magna-Tip Super Set isn’t product-related, it’s human-idiocy related. When the day arrives that you – or someone else, ahem – accidentally spill the box of neatly-organized bits, you’re probably going to lose it (your composure).
The good news is the bits are all engraved with their part number, so if you stick the diagram on the inside of the lid, you can easily figure out where they go. Organizing them is a bit time-consuming – pun intended – but worthwhile. When the bits are arranged by size, finding the specific bit you need happens a lot faster. Just don’t lose them.
As for the Gunsmith Master Punch Set, I have no complaints about the tools themselves. I do wish the compartments were sized differently and the removable dividers were, well, not removable. One of the long dividers with no replacement cracked badly the first week I had the set. In addition, the neoprene mat is too small for the majority of my needs. None of those are terrible flaws, just minor frustrations with nothing to do with the punches or hammer. At some point I’ll buy a different case.
Bottom line? It’s much cheaper to buy the right tools than it is to pay to repair gouges. Ask me how I know. I’ve Dremeled down more than a few screwdrivers from the hardware store to precisely fit various revolvers and far prefer having these sets on hand.
The Magna-Tip Super Set is awesome; I have a gunsmith friend who owns multiples of it and have been seriously considering buying another myself. The punches are necessary tools if you do any work on rifles and Brownell’s set provides the varied types needed for different tasks which I appreciate.
Now, put the Phillips down and get some proper tools. Not only will you not regret it, you’ll love it. And your guns will thank you, too.
Rating (out of five stars):
Tool Quality * * * * * / * * * * * (Gunsmith Master Punch Set/Magna-Tip Super Set)
I’ve used these tools hard and they’ve withstood it all. The Magna-Tip Super Set, specifically, has been fantastic. There have not been any issues whatsoever of bending, let alone breaking. These are some of my favorite tools.
Case Quality * */ * * *
The case the punches came in is all right. I believe the case itself will likely last for some time as long as I do not drop it; the hinges and corners are unlike to survive a fall. The dividers are brittle which would be less of an issue if it came with extras for every piece rather than only the shortest ones. I’ll replace the case.
As for the Magna-Tip Super Set case, it’s made of tougher stuff than the punch set’s. I like the individual slots for each bit. I do wish it closed more securely; the lid is secured by a slight ridge at its center and has been finicky. And, yes, it’s been spilled. So while it’s good, thick plastic, the latch is iffy.
Value * * */ * * * *
Can you ever really give something five stars for price? It isn’t as though spending money is fun. The Gunsmith Master Punch Set gets three stars because although the tools themselves are great quality, the case is not. At $109.99 I would hope for a slightly better case.
The Magna-Tip Super Set has an MSRP of $129.99 which is pretty fair considering the overall quality of the set. Considering the screwdrivers and hex keys I’ve broken I have to say it’s well worth the price.
Overall: * * * */ * * * *
I highly recommend the Magna-Tip Super Set and recommend the Gunsmith Master Punch Set as well. Between the two the Magna-Tip Super Set is my favorite. It really has proven invaluable (in fact, I have the short handle and various bits with me right now on an out-of-state hunt). Having the right tools makes your work a whole lot easier.
The Gunfather is about Louie Tuminaro and his close-knit Italian family, native New Yorkers who moved to Hamilton, Mont., to pursue Louie’s dream of creating the best gun store in the West, together. There are three generations of Tuminaros on the show: Louie (51 years old), the Gunfather, and Theresa (48), his wife of 24 years and who is nicknamed T-Bone; Louie’s dad Joe (77), who is called Pops; and Louie and Theresa’s kids, “Little” Louie (14) and daughters Nicole (20) and Allie (22), round out the extended family. Louie’s firearms business, the Custom Shop Inc., is a family operation and we see the Tuminaros in action working together to get things done. Louie is the driving creative force that made the Custom Shop a reality in 2007, but he is quick to tell you that the Tuminaros are a team, and moreover, he loves his team.
Louie’s focus at the Custom Shop is mainly buying, selling and restoring high-quality collectible firearms from the 1940s through the early 1980s – where there’s strong nostalgic interest – as well as sought-after out-of-production classics like Colt’s snake guns: Python, Cobra and the Anaconda. In addition to all of this, he wanted to do for firearm enthusiasts something akin to what custom-car shops do for car buffs. The firearm restoration services he offers are extensive. Louie is particularly passionate about restoration work because, from his point of view, he isn’t working on just any gun. The firearms on his workbench are someone’s precious family heirlooms. Clients aren’t looking to increase collector value of their restored guns, but rather restore the appearance and function for personal enjoyment. They bring their treasured guns to the Custom Shop because Louie has a reputation for candid assessment of what can and can’t be achieved in a restoration and surrounds himself with exceptionally talented artisans to execute the work. When Louie opened up his shop in Hamilton, which is located in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, he discovered a wealth of local talent that shared his interest in this level of firearms work and perfectionism – people like Pam Wheeler, the checkering queen, who has been hand cutting checkering for 30 years.
Louie and Pops are both self-taught gunsmiths and do most of the typical mechanical repairs, fine-metal polishing and refinishing in house. They also have their own stock-duplicating machine that can reproduce any gunstock accurately. Though they can make any gunstock for a customer, Louie explains that it isn’t always economically practical. It requires lots of hand sanding, inletting, fitting hardware and finishing. The result can be a stock that costs more than the rifle it’s being installed on. On restorations, they will try to preserve and repair the original wooden stock whenever possible. They keep duplicated stocks, identical to the factory originals and fitted with original hardware, for the more common collectible rifles – for example pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters – on hand all the time. When more elaborately figured wood blanks are used to make stocks for the highest grade rifles, prices can run up to $3,500, but that’s not a lot when the rifle is worth $15,000. The Custom Shop sells several stocks a week, mostly to customers who have had theirs broken during the course of shipping by common carrier. In addition to the stocks Louie crafts with his own hands, he has scores of new old-stock-original replacements for top-end Browning, Sako, Colt Sauer, Weatherby and J.P. Sauer and Sohn‘s rifles ranging from $400 to $3,500.
Louie says he got his love of shooting and skills from Pops. They were a working-class Long Island family. They weren’t poor, but they didn’t have much money. Louie and his little sister Lisa walked to public school, and their parents taught them traditional values, the importance of hard work, integrity and respect. Pops made a career with the Ford Motor Company in sales, and once Louie turned 10, Pops brought him to work every Saturday to help out washing cars and doing the jobs a kid could do. Louie developed a serious love for cars at that time, which he still has to this day. Pops taught him what a proper work ethic looked like and encouraged him to develop skills with his hands. Together these things led to a healthy confidence and a liberating realization that he could do things for himself.
For teenage Louie, the realization came the day the water pump on his 1972 Chevelle Super Sport quit. Instead of taking it to the repair shop, Pops took Louie to the auto-parts store and let him fix it for himself. When Louie reached his early 20s, he asked Pops to help him get an entry-level job at an auto customizing shop because the creativity and variety of the work was irresistible to him. Within two years Louie was managing the place. It was during this time that he met Theresa, who changed his life for the better in countless ways. They were inseparable and a perfect match. Louie calls her his rock. A rock is the best foundation to build on, and build they did.
It wasn’t long before Louie decided to go into business for himself. The work ethic, skill and confidence he learned as a boy continued to pay off and he soon had the largest car-audio equipment business in Suffolk County, N.Y. It was the first of many successes. Theresa would later manage their sports bar while raising their daughters. Pops, in addition to being a car man, was an avid gun collector, hunter and competitive pistol and shotgun shooter. Louie grew up watching with curious fascination as his father worked on guns on the kitchen table. When he got old enough, he was working beside his father, and the two enjoyed being a part of the shooting and hunting fraternity, which is large and vibrant in Long Island despite what anti-gun politicians from New York would have you believe. They hunted and vacationed in upstate New York, and Louie quickly got Theresa enthusiastically involved in the shooting sports too. When the kids came, they were naturally raised as shooters. The family hobby laid the ground work for the family business to come.
Louie had actually entertained the notion of going into a firearms business for several years before the golden opportunity finally presented itself. He’d made a lot of contacts in the community through the course of buying and selling guns that interested him, but it was the sale of his business that was the major catalyst for the career change. For the first time in his life, Louie had financial resources and time at his disposal simultaneously. At that time, Theresa had concerns that the neighborhood they lived in and loved was not headed in a direction they wanted for their children, and Louie had been charmed by the West during the time he’d spent hunting there. One day, Louie just walked through the front door and told Theresa that he thought they should consider moving to Montana and open a gun store. She was looking for houses on the Internet that same night. Theresa’s support buoyed Louie up for this bold move. Truth be told, the prospect of leaving everything they had known behind them scared her, but she had confidence in her husband, and saw a great opportunity to grow as a family. Pops, by then retired, was likewise supportive. Louie did his research and planning with their help and they left a life on the Atlantic shores of Long Island to set up a new family business venture in Big Sky Country, in full view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. “We grouped together as a family and ran this company,” Louie told me. “We started it, designed it and created it. We did everything as a family. I consider us all a part of this.”
The Custom Shop, as a physical location, is an artistic expression of the family. It was intended to look as if it had been in business on that little old-town street for a century. The interior was built with reclaimed lumber and decoratively peppered with just enough taxidermy and vintage Western decor to give it a 19th century style but with a modern flair. Custom Shop’s signature 10-foot outdoor-sculpted sign featuring a huge Colt cap-and-ball revolver next to the words Custom Shop was the product of Louie’s imagination and several months work.
As a business, Custom Shop became a huge success with international clientele. A great deal of that comes from the Tuminaros’ basic business philosophy. “We put all our heart into what we do,” Louie says. “A lot of our business is repeat customers and referrals because when you treat somebody right, you’ve got them forever. It’s very important that you win the trust of your customers. The only surprises I want my customers to have are good ones. If I say a gun is 98 percent, it’s probably really 99 percent.”
Seventy percent of Custom Shop gun sales are via their website, which is exceptional because each firearm they offer is presented for online customer inspection using five to 10 excellent digital photographs. These images are professionally staged and extremely detailed. Derek Poff, the man responsible for them and a show regular, has 20 years experience behind the camera.
While Louie and Pops are working on guns or away with little Louie scouring gun shows and estate sales across the country for marketable firearms, Theresa is the public face and voice of the Custom Shop. When you call, you talk to T-Bone. If you want something, you’d be wise to tell her because when she says that she’ll be on the look out, she’s 100 percent serious. She created and maintains what she calls “T-Bone’s Watch List” located on a corkboard behind her desk. When the boys bring home the gun you want, you will get a call from her and the first right of refusal. This takes a lot of mental energy and time, but it shows just how seriously the Tuminaros take customer service.
The Tuminaros are all NRA members, and Theresa came up with the slogan “Family, Freedom and Firearms” to describe the things that are most important to them. The thing that sold Outdoor Channel on The Gunfather was that it is really a case study in successful, multi-generational parenting. For the Tuminaros, shooting and other outdoor sporting activities were the family recreational outlets, so it was a perfect fit for the network. Viewers enjoyed the insights into the firearms business, but the more compelling aspect of the show was the genuineness of the Tuminaros just being a family. Louie says, “We love Outdoor Channel for letting us share our family with America. They don’t script us. They let us do what we do. What you see is who we are. When you see me kiss my father and tell him I love him when he’s leaving, well, I do that every day.” When viewers see Louie put aside the gun business for an afternoon to support his son in his first paying job outside the family, it is very clear that The Gunfather puts being a father far ahead of guns. Family comes first, exactly like Theresa says.
If all this sounds refreshing for television, by all means tune in to Outdoor Channel on Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. to watch the second season that started on Dec. 28. If you want your family heirloom firearms restored or to buy or sell collectable guns, contact Theresa. If you become a fan of the show, and I suspect you will, make sure to thank her because she’s the one who made it happen. The day Louie walked in and said “I think we should be on TV,” she got on the phone and cold-called Outdoor Channel, miraculously got connected to a show producer (that just doesn’t happen), and won him over on the idea of a program about their family. Is it any wonder why Louie has been so successful? Between Theresa and Pops, how could he fail? ASJ
Editor’s note: You can visit the Custom Shop online at customshopinc.com.
Posted in Hollywood and Pop Culture Tagged with: Allie Tuminaro, Brownells, Browning, Colt Sauer, Derek Poff, Frank Jardim, Gun Shop, J.P. Sauer and Sons, Little Louie Tuminaro, Louie Tuminaro, Montana, Nicole Tuminaro, Outdoor Channel, Pops Tuminaro, Sako, T-Bone, Television Series, The Custom Shop, The Gunfather, Theresa Tuminaro, Weatherby
It could be a fun weekend shooting with friends, a 3-gun competition, civil disturbance, or zombie apocalypse (I know, so overdone). Guns get dirty, carbon builds up in all the typical places and guns lose accuracy and reliability. A quick in-the-field cleaning can keep guns running smoothly and accurately so you don’t find yourself without an operational gun when things are at their worse or best depending on how you look at it.
I’ve seen many articles on AR’s, but few on cleaning. Over the last few years, there have been numerous tools introduced to facilitate easier cleaning of the bolts and carrier groups and I wanted to compare them side by side to see if they worked and if they worked, how well? I called Brownells (who else) and promptly received a package which included:
– Cat M-4 Cleaning Tool
– The Otis B.O.N.E. (Bolt Operational Necessary Equipment)
– CRT-15 Carbon Removal Tool for AR-15
– Brownells AR-15 Bolt Radius Scraper
– Mark Brown Custom AR-15 Bolt Carrier Carbon Scraper
These items along with 20 boxes of Wolf .223 steel case, military classic ammo which felt dirty, so it was perfect for my project, a few boxes of hand loads from a friend (thanks Ted), and various leftovers from previous range sessions in both 5.56 and .223, I was ready to go.
For the evaluations, I needed to shoot. I used my Spikes Tactical 10.5” SBR with a Nickel-Boron bolt group plus a second bolt and carrier, borrowed from my 10” Spikes 300 Blackout, also Nickel-Boron. I then walked 100-yards to the backyard rifle and pistol range – I know, it’s a rough life. Within 10 minutes I was sent away for scaring the crap (literally) out of the wife’s new foster dog. Darnit
A half an hour later I arrived at the public range and started over. I shot 100 rounds then swapped bolts and carriers and as an added bonus, I twisted on an Advanced Armament 7.62 SD suppressor to increase the gas and pressure to the carrier, hopefully making it a bit more carbon coated (remind me to use this when shooting in the backyard). The nickel boron bolt groups performed well and I had no failures from the Spikes rifle. It digested all the various types of ammo with only a few failures-to-feed from the Wolf ammo but surprisingly the accuracy was really good.
The Clean Up
Cat M-4 Cleaning Tool
Pro – Small, simple one piece design, no moving parts. Bonus screw driver tip holder. Good performance and lightweight. It could be worn by women to attract the right type of guy.
Con – Not perfect. The Cat M-4 didn’t get all the carbon from the back of the carrier.
Pros – Also small, compact, fits easily into the little OTIS cleaning kits. It did a reasonable job on the bolt and a great job on the carrier. Just as with the CAT, it could be worn by a woman as a pendant to attract the right type of man.
Cons – The bone bolt cleaning end felt a bit loose to me.
CRT-15 Carbon Removal Tool for AR-15
Pro – Was the best at getting the carbon off the bolt. It was odd at first applying pressure to the small arm, but easy enough.
Con – Small arm may break off and the carrier recess did not get it as clean as the others.
Brownells AR-15 Radius Bolt Scraper
Pro – Did a great job on the bolt tail, removing most of the carbon the first time.
Con – This is a larger tool and better suited for the workshop. Only one function.
Mark Brown custom AR-15 Bolt Carrier carbon scraper
Pro – This did a great job cleaning the carrier recess.
Cons – This is also a large tool and best suited for the workshop. Only one function.
Conclusion: Size matters. All the tools did a good job knocking the excess carbon from the bolts and carriers. Used in the field I have no doubts that all of them would keep your AR’s running strong. Special thanks to Brownells for an outragous amount of support for this article.
About the author
Rick Ross is a NRA Life member, GSSF and IDPA competitor and AR enthusiast. He is not a Rapper.
Editors note: Rick Ross is an independent reviewer and contributor for Western Shooting Journal and at times, a known goof ball.
See the AR-15 Bolt Cleaning Tools Infograph here.