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Armory tools for police: The basic building blocks

Part one of a two-part series


When you attend the Beretta LE armorer school, one of the tools they provide during the class is a wooden bench block with specific cuts in it for the 92/96 series of handguns. I took a photocopy and the written dimensions of this block to a local machine shop that specializes in making parts out of high end synthetic materials and had them make me one.

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Having been a law enforcement Armorer for more than 14 years, I made some mistakes and learned a few things that I want to pass on. First, let’s highlight the general tools you are going to need.

Due to the vast range of firearms in use by law enforcement today, I will not spend time detailing the tools needed for each specific weapon system.

When you attend a factory armorer school, you will be provided with or told where to get the specific tools needed for that system.

The Catalog
If you have not already experienced this, someday, someone, either an officer or your evidence technician, is going to bring a firearm to you because they are not able to find a serial number or get the thing unloaded.

It is never the new tricked-out gun or the beautiful classic, but the put-together-six-ways-to-wrong pile of junk, and they are looking at you to solve their problem.

This is where you’ll need the Brownells and Midway USA catalog. Brownells and Midway are the biggest suppliers of gunsmithing tools and equipment around. Order a catalog -- do not try to simply look things up on their website as I can guarantee you that you will miss something.

When you order the catalog, tell them that you are a law enforcement armorer as they sometimes have special accounts for officers. Another great book to have on hand is the Numrich Gun Parts Corporation Firearms Parts Catalog.

This book has tons of exploded detailed drawings of all kinds of guns and is a major supplier of replacement parts. These drawings can be a big time saver when you’re trying to figure out how to get inside the gun or how to fix it.

Using What You Have
Before we jump into common tools, I want to warn you about tossing out weapon-specific tools. Specifically, don’t do it!

One of my former agencies had issued Smith & Wesson revolvers for years. The armory had a good supply of tools and spare parts for various S&W wheel guns. There were times that these tools came in handy for various reasons.

The same applies when your agency changes from one semi-auto pistol to another deign. Keep the weapon-specific tools for the former firearm in inventory.

You can get a lot of the run-of-the-mill types of tools from your property room. Let your property people know that you want dibs on any tools and tool boxes before they are sent off to auction.

This will save the taxpayers’ money and get you the tools you need. You never know what will come through, so check in with property every few months. Make sure you follow policy and document everything.

Common Tools for Your Armory
One of the first items to consider is a simple vise. I have used them for removing barrels, getting holsters off of duty belts and everything in between.

When I asked Sergeant Dean Caputo, an accomplished armorer and firearms instructor, what he considered the most valuable tool to have in an armory, his answer was straightforward. “Buy the best, heaviest vise you can find and mount it well to an absolutely immovable object. Don’t go cheap on this.”

This is sound advice. When I first saw the gunsmith workstations at Wilson Combat, I was surprised by the size of the work bench vises and how they were mounted.

Now it makes sense.

Shop around and contact your local welders and machine shops and ask them where they get their supplies. If nothing else, your local hardware store or big name box store should have something to get you started.

If you are limited on space and are tired of a vise smacking you in the elbow every time you try to do anything in the armory, then you may want to look at the Multi-Vice or something similar. What makes this type of vise convenient is that you can separate it from the base and store the vise portion under the bench, out of the way.

All that is left on the bench is a small base. You can purchase extra bases and set up your bench so that you can have a vise available where ever you need it.

The drawbacks are that the Multi-Vice is expensive compared to what you can pick up at your local store and is not as large as what most Armorers want. If you are cramped for space, this compromise may work out for you.

I like the Brownells four-inch blue pistol bench block. Brownells makes a rifle model but I have always found the groves and holes in the pistol model to fit my needs much better.

I like the polyethylene or nylon blocks because they are a bit more forgiving, cheaper and I can easily modify them to fit my needs if necessary. Brownells also makes a steel bench block that I highly recommend you purchase as well. There are times when the non-flexing steel block is needed.

When you attend the Beretta LE armorer school, they have all the tools you need to work on the firearms there for you. One of the tools they provide during the class is a wooden bench block with specific cuts in it for the 92/96 series of handguns. These blocks make it easier to take the firearms apart.

I took a photocopy and the written dimensions of this block to a local machine shop that specializes in making parts out of high end synthetic materials and had them make me one.

That block came in very handy when we conducted our yearly maintenance and I was working on 80-plus handguns in two days. Several companies make weapon specific bench blocks. If you’re working on high volumes of one type of firearm, then owning a bench block that is specific to that weapon makes life a lot better.

Sometimes you can have one made locally like I did.

That’s all for now. Check back in one month for the second and final part of this series — the scheduled day is Monday, March 18th.

Dennis Haworth is a police officer with a California state law enforcement agency. He has been a law enforcement range master and armorer for more than a decade. Haworth has served as a police academy instructor and has taught specialized courses on several subject matters. He has been involved in product testing for professional associations, manufacturers and law enforcement agencies. He has a BS in Criminology and an MPA with a specialization in human resources management. Much of his free time is spent as an advisor to the Shooting Sports Club at his local University of California campus.

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