My First AR-15 Walkthrough: Upper Tools

While gathering together the parts to build an upper wasn’t a cakewalk, getting the tools together was far easier. There are a few specialty tools that you can’t really get around needing, but mostly it is stuff you may already find in a well-stocked workshop or toolbox.

Of course, well-stocked is the key. Some of the real basics, I found myself still lacking when it came time to begin construction. The biggest gap in my tool coverage (both physically and in terms of importance) was a bench vice. I’ve been going over it in my head, and I don’t see any really ideal method for assembling an upper without a vice. Of course, there’s always ways to jury rig something to barely function, but the only proper option I see involves this monolithic handyman’s helper. My home is filled with far more toy trucks, trains, dolls, and dresses than many, but it still runs a little light on essential workshop. I was forced to acquire a vice before I could begin. While I was able to find a good number of inexpensive options at discount hardware stores, I was really leery of sinking cash into one since (as my grandfather used to say) I’m too poor to buy cheap tools. Thankfully a friend was able to loan me an absolute behemoth of a bench vice. Seriously, this thing was so large I actually didn’t even need to bolt it down to adequately use it. I simply grabbed a nice wooden pallet from the discard pile at my job, and set up a temporary shop.

Of course, once you have a vice set up, the last thing you want to do is just throw the soft aluminum upper into those steel jaws of death and clamp it down. You have to find some better way of securing things. There are a ton of upper vice blocks on the market that all will accomplish the necessary task with ease. I went with one of the least expensive options. The clamshell style vice block holds the upper from the outside and provides the necessary buffer to keep the clamps from destroying the finish. I imagine if I were to apply enough pressure, this style clamp could deform and end up destroying the upper anyway, but as long as I don’t get too zealous during the build, it shouldn’t be an issue. There are a ton of other styles of vice block available, but for the money, it’s hard to beat something this basic when it works. I have heard of people just buying non-marring jaws for the vice, or even using a couple of hockey pucks, but this really worked out well in the long run.

The only other really specialty tool I found myself lacking was an AR-15 armorer’s wrench. This is just a single large multifunction wrench that contains several tools specific to AR-15 construction. The product listing for one similar to mine says it contains:

  • Flat tip screwdriver
  • Barrel nut wrench
  • Hammer
  • Flash hider wrench
  • Spanner wrench
  • Forearm wrench
  • A2 extension tool
  • 1/2″ opening to attach ratchet or torque wrench
  • Beverage Opener

Yes. It even includes a bottle opener. What better way to build a rifle, than to enjoy a cold frothy beverage while you work? I chose to pass, since I have strong feelings about mixing alcohol and firearms, and I’m not a huge fan of the sugar component of other carbonated beverages.

Beyond that you will only still need a torque wrench to ensure proper barrel nut lockup, as well as the usual suspects like a set of punches (roll pin preferred), hammer, pliers, etc. to assist with upper construction, but I assumed that to be the case. It almost goes without saying.

Parts? Check.
Tools? Check.
Workspace? Not ideal, but Check.
Time enough to build? Che…Of course not. Next time.

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