Gun Bench Setup 101

Setting up a gun bench might seem daunting or even unnecessary, but it’s both simple and helpful. The specifics of what goes into your gun bench setup depend on what you’re using it for, but we all have to start somewhere. We’re going to walk you through basic gun bench setup to help you get started creating the best possible workspace for your gun needs.

gun bench setup by real avid
There are a few things to consider when setting up a gun bench. (Photo credit: Real Avid)

What’s a gun bench?

Although many people picture a gun bench as a professional, heavy-weight setup, that isn’t always the case. You can turn almost anything into a functional gun bench whether it’s a simple foyer table repurposed for basic cleaning or a table you build for yourself out of wood scraps. It does help for the bench itself to be heavy-duty and bulky enough to withstand being pulled or pushed if you’re assembling rifles or using a drill press, but otherwise, you can make do with a lot of different designs. It can be as simple or as complex as you make it.

Ideally, your gun bench will be a good height to sit at, heavy enough not to easily move away if you put pressure on it, and sturdy enough to handle any equipment you choose to mount to it. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you want a general gun bench for cleaning, basic gunsmithing, and maybe putting together an AR. You can certainly get more technical and plan one out for reloading or higher-level gunsmithing.

That brings us to this next point: before you set the bench up, stop and decide what you need it to be capable of doing. What will you use it for? How much available space do you have to get it set up?

real avid gun vise
A well-made, solid gun vise is a crucial part of any gun bench setup. (Photo credit: Real Avid)

What does a gun bench need?

Aside from the basic, sturdy features mentioned above, your gun bench is going to require some larger tools and pieces of equipment to be truly functional. Perhaps at the top of the list is a well-made gun vise. Without a vise you can’t really secure firearms so they remain still while you work on them. Taking that a step further, you can’t really secure firearms in the vise without the accompanying blocks and wedges.

Here’s what to look for in a gun vise:

  • Compatibility with blocks, wedges, and sleeves for securing firearms without marring their finish or otherwise damaging them.
  • Leveling knob for easier use while mounting scopes.
  • Locking ball and socket to remove the risk of slipping while you’re working on your guns.
  • Torque support, meaning it won’t shift when you’re applying torque to guns during gunsmithing or building.
  • 360-degree capability is preferable and makes life easier.
  • Solid bench mount that can be both tightened on with a clamp or bolted on for sturdier installation.
  • Easily adjustable crank.

The gun vise is the first thing you’re going to want to mount to your bench. Unless your only firearm-related task is cleaning, you’re going to need that vise. Make sure you acquire whatever blocks or sleeves are required for your specific firearms so they can be protected from external damage from being clamped into a vise.

grunt style gun bench mat
Having a good mat is about more than looking cool, it’s functional. (Photo credit: Grunt Style)

A few other things that aren’t tools to include in the early stages of gun bench setup:

  • Soft gun mat with a non-slip back. This protects both the bench and the gun from damage and helps stop the gun itself from slipping.
  • Gunsmith mat with compartment wells if you’ll be working with springs and screws (which you probably will be).
  • Lead removal wipes for your hands. This one’s self-explanatory.
  • Eye protection. Although many people don’t bother, it’s not a bad plan to have basic eye pro available to protect your eyes from flying springs and metal.
  • Toolbox. You’re going to have small, hand-held tools, and it’s always nice if they have a place to live so they’re available when you need them. Size varies but you can get started with a relatively small, table-top model.
  • Metal or plastic file for paperwork. The paperwork in question is going to be largely manuals you shouldn’t toss and warranty information. If you don’t have a place to store those things, get one.
  • Notebook. It’s not a bad idea to keep track of parts replacements, part numbers, and other details related to your firearms.
gunsmith screwdriver set
It’s smart to have a gun-specific screwdriver set. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

What tools should you have on your gun bench?

The tools you’re going to need depends on the guns and what you’re doing. Generally speaking, a good place to start is with a gun specific set of screwdriver bits. The Brownell’s Magna-Tip set is a great place to start. Whatever set you get to begin, you’re going to end up expanding on it. Firearms have specific types of screws and if you try using the basic screwdrivers you got at Walmart on your guns, the odds of you damaging screws or permanently scratching your gun’s finish are high. It’s important to have the correct tool for the job, and that includes screw bits that are the precisely correct size. Over time, I’ve had to Dremel down store-bought screwdrivers to fit certain screws, usually on revolvers, so don’t be surprised if it comes to that at times. Better to file down a screwdriver to correctly fit a screw than to force the incorrect bit into the space.

Consider adding these tools early on:

  • Gunsmith set of screwdriver bits.
  • Gunsmith set of punches.
  • Non-marring hammer, preferably with one nylon end and one brass end.
  • Armorer’s wrench for AR.
  • Barrel nut wrench (there are more types and sizes on the market than you may realize, so make sure you have the correct wrench for your gun/build ahead of time)
  • Allen/hex keys (you’ll find these often come with a scope mount or other pieces of gear and there’s no place for them, so start collecting them in your toolbox…you can thank me later)
  • Bore light
  • Go/no-go gauges for the chambering you’re working on
  • Gun lube
  • Cleaning solution (non-abrasive)
  • Q-tips
  • Rags
  • Bore snake
  • Bore brushes and handles
  • Handle extensions for screwdrivers for access inside long gun stocks, among other things
  • Soft brush for cleaning slides
  • Gun oil, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as lube
drill press
A drill press comes in handy for a lot of things. (Photo credit: Grizzly)

What else does a gun bench need?

What else you add to your gun bench is going to depend on what you’re doing. If you’re building, you’re going to want a good drill press. Now, it’s important to understand you’re unlikely to find a bench drill press capable of true precision work, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get the job done. Make sure the drill press you’re considering is compatible with a wide range of chucks and, specifically, the sizes you’re going to need. Also check the height. Not much is more frustrating than discovering the block you want to secure atop the press is too tall.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a vast array of reloading tools and equipment along with other specialty devices. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of experience (and frequently, training) to properly handle certain gunsmithing needs. It might be tempting to dive in to do it all yourself, but take it in small steps. Take a class, if possible, and spend time reading reputable sources and books. Anything that comes with step by step images and charts is helpful as well. Just be willing to know when a task is beyond your abilities and be willing to take your gun to a qualified gunsmith. If you ask nicely, they might even let you watch.

The possibilities for handheld tools are practically endless. Just figure out what you want to accomplish and take your time building a collection that suits your needs. Try to avoid using random household tools on your guns unless you’re fine with the potential of permanently damaging the gun in question.

It’s nice to have a gun bench set up that allows you to handle gun cleaning, scope mounting, and other small tasks at home without dumping gear on the kitchen table. What’s your must-have gun bench item? Tell us in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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