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How to Set Up Your Workbench for Gunsmithing and Maintenance: Part 1

In this three-part series, AGI Gunsmith Gene Kelly walks us through the optimal way to set up a workbench to work on guns.

How to Set Up Your Workbench for Gunsmithing and Maintenance: Part 1

Photo courtesy of the American Gunsmithing Institute. 

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on American Gunsmithing Institute. AGI offers comprehensive courses on gunsmithing at every level. To learn more, visit the American Gunsmithing Institute website.

When you have an efficient workbench, Gunsmithing is a joy. Here is how to plan out your workspace so that you can get your projects done quickly and efficiently. You need a good workbench, and I want to share how to set yours up to be practical, comfortable and efficient. I have worked on firearms on dining room tables, the floor, truck tailgates, shooting benches, counter tops, and just about anywhere else you can think of over the last 40+ years in my gunsmithing career. While necessary at the time and effective enough, it certainly wasn’t the most comfortable or efficient.

Click Here to Read Part 2 of AGI's Gunsmithing Workbench Setup Series

Best Workbench Height

The less you have to travel around a room to get what you need, the faster you can get your work done. Most of your work will be done standing in front of the bench or seated on a stool, so first, we are going to focus on setting up a comfortable workbench. When you decide on the height of the bench, consider that you want the bench higher than your waist so you aren’t leaning over to work on guns and hurting your back. However, you also want it just low enough so that you can “lean into” your screwdriver or other tools when a little extra pressure is needed. One way to judge the correct height is to get a tape measure, then standing comfortably with your arms at your sides bring your hands up to 90 degrees with your elbows still at your sides and your palms down. This is a little too high as you won’t be able to apply weight and leverage in this position. Lower your hands a couple of inches so that you can envision yourself being comfortable pressing on a part. Use the tape measure to measure the distance to the floor. That should be the height of the bench top. Work with it to get what feels right for you. Long term, having a bench that fits you will provide comfort, and that adds to efficiency.

Bench Stability

A critical feature of the bench is rigidness, for which you need a solid frame built from quality, sturdy wood or metal. When you are having to apply force to a screw or knocking out a pin, you do NOT want the gun bouncing around. The top of the bench should be solid. One way to accomplish this is to use multiple layers of half, three-quarter or even one-inch plywood. Glue and screw the sheets together until you have a two-inch thick or more bench top. If you are looking for plans to build a solid Gunsmithing workbench, there is a good set of bench building plans on the Gunsmithing Club of America website created by AGI Instructor Mark Foster.

When you are building your bench and are using multiple layers of plywood, you can test the height for comfort as you stack on each layer before securing them down and making it permanent. You can even work on it for a few days to get the right feel. Comfort will let you work longer without stress. You will want to cover the plywood or other surface in a flat industrial style, no plush carpet. Stretch it tight and staple it around the edges (not the top you don’t want the staples to scratch anything). I also recommend that you glue the carpet down to the top of the bench as well. The bench only needs to be about four feet long at a minimum (most long guns are shorter than that, but six feet or longer is better. In our shop, we had benches running along both sides and one end of the building. When you design the frame that holds the bench top, plan it so that the countertop overhangs at least two to four inches or more at the front so that you can stand or sit close to the bench top without banging your knees against the base or cabinet.

Workbench Depth

To determine the total depth of the countertop distance from the front edge to the back wall where your tools are hanging, standing straight and relaxed, extend your arm like you were reaching for a tool on the back wall. Then lean forward just a little at the waist. For me that is about 19 to 20 inches deep to the back wall. For some projects where I don’t need to move around a lot, I also like to have a comfortable stool that pivots. As a final touch, I have an industrial grade soft rubber mat to stand on. It also protects my parts if I drop them and tends to reduce how far they end up going if something does get accidentally dropped. You will most likely have your tools hanging on pegboard or on a rack, and that will take up some depth so make sure that you consider that in your overall plans. Alternatively, you can also purchase “Butcher Block” style counter tops from lumber yards, hardware stores and big box outlets. They are often available about 20 inches wide, which would probably be perfect for most people.

gunsmith-workbench-setup-agi-02
While wood is a lot easier to work with, a metal bench is good, too.

It is hard to find parts that have landed on an open shelf that is full of boxes or other junk. Been there, done that! So having it enclosed with cabinets, a smooth face, or even just with a sheet of plastic hanging down the front covering the shelves will save you some grief. That way when you drop a part or a spring, (and you will!) and then need to do the “Gunsmith Crawl” to find it, at least it won’t be hidden in some box or behind something on a shelf. Now that you have your basic bench set up, in Part 2 of this series, let’s talk about the next thing you need, tools!

About the Author:

Gene Kelly is a Certified Professional Gunsmith with more than 40 years of Gunsmithing and Manufacturing experience, he holds a 07 Manufacturing FFL with an SOT, and is the Founder and President of the American Gunsmithing Institute – training gunsmiths for more than 30 years!

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If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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