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The AR-15, one of America’s favorite rifles, is prized for its accessibility, modularity, and ease of use. All manner of maintenance and modification is far easier on an AR-15 than most other firearms. Considering it’s one of America’s most popular firearms, it’s likely most sport shooters have or use one on a regular basis. Although it’s a very user-friendly system, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options out there to make life easier. Here are some of my favorites.
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AR-15 Loading Tools
The most boring part of shooting for most of us is loading our magazines. But there are some tools to save your time (and your thumbs).
For loading high volumes of ammo, I absolutely love the Tac-30 charger. I have used these repeatedly in high-volume defensive carbine courses where hundreds of rounds are shot per student per day - that adds up to a whole lot of bullets. The great thing about the Tac-30 is that if you’re loading out of a can of rounds on stripper clips (like these here at Palmetto State), it massively reduces loading time. But the Tac-30 can also load directly out of a 20-round box or with the included stripper adapter (a brass insert that lets you easily connect 10 loose rounds).
The Tac-30 uses a spring-loaded charging tray. It has 3 slots, each holding a 10-round stripper clip. Operation is this easy:
Hold the charging tray all way to the side of the unit with your thumb
Drop a stripper clip in each of the 3 slots
Insert your AR-15 magazine in the magwell of the unit
Punch the plunger. Pressing it in feeds the rounds into the magazine. Pulling it out ejects the spent stripper clip (very positive ejection on these!) and advances the feed tray to the next clip. You can easily load 10 rounds at a time or load a 30 round mag in seconds.
Press the magazine release (just like on your AR magwell) and enjoy your loaded magazine.
The YouTube video here from the manufacturer gives a pretty good idea of how it works.
As far as durability, despite being plastic, the loaders have held up to some real abuse. I have had a couple break on the ejector tabs - it’s a little plastic tab that shoots up as it interacts with a cam surface to knock the spent stripper clip out. I wasn’t directly there when they broke but I believe it happens as a result of over-zealous charging with the loader in the improper position. As a gunsmith I saw that the part was pretty simple and easy to replace so I called Caldwell looking to see if I could get replacement ejectors and I ended up with 3 brand new loaders the same week - so their customer service has your back.
Ok, so we’ve established that I love the Caldwell Tac-30. I wanted to highlight another loader that I use sometimes, known as the stripLULA from the popular MAGLULA line of loaders. The nice thing about the stripLula is that it’s small, lightweight, and entirely self-contained. It’s very easy to throw in a range bag or even a go-bag, adds very little bulk or weight, and still loads very quickly. Loading AR mags with stripper clips and the included Lake City stripper clip adapter just sucks.
Soft-shooting as the AR is, it’s also a messy gun due to the direct impingement system that deposits gas all over the place. However, after cleaning a lot of guns, I’ve found a couple of things that make the job a lot easier.
One of the most difficult parts of an AR-15 to properly clean is the barrel extension/ locking lug recess. Sometimes referred to as the “star port” its many lugs prevent standard tools from getting in there, and there’s plenty of recessed surface area for carbon to bake its way inside. The lug recess tool from Sinclair makes this easy. The tool comes with 50 rolled cotton patches which the user inserts into the tool and snaps in place. The tool restrains the patches so that they only open up once they’ve reached the inside of the chamber recess. These patches are great for getting solvent in hard to reach corners, wiping up gunk that you loosen with a chamber brush, and applying a light coat of oil after your cleaning. The biggest downside: the patches are proprietary and although they’re cheap ($4 for 50) you do have to keep them on hand. I haven’t tried rolling my own yet but I’m sure somebody could figure it out if they severely wanted to pinch a penny.
AR-15 Chamber swabs
These are a great complement to the tool listed above. I call these chamber squeegees because the material used is very soft and porous, but also very tough (I haven’t had one rip yet). I use these to literally squeegee the inside of my chamber. I soak them liberally in my favorite solvent (I like Slip2000) and press it into the chamber, spinning vigorously to distribute the solvent, and let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Typically I’ll insert the chamber swab with solvent, then scrub with an AR-15 chamber brush, use dry patches from the Sinclair tool above until they come out clean, and then lightly oil a Sinclair patch (again I prefer Slip2000, EWL in this case) for the finish oil.
Since these come in a 3 pack, I try to separate them: one that gets the solvent, one that stays dry and clean, and one that gets oil. But they’re also very easy to wash out and re-use.
If you’re still using a cleaning rod for all of your gun cleaning and haven’t tried a bore snake yet, you’re missing out. A bore snake is essentially a long thread that runs through the bore of your rifle. You drop the skinny end through the bore and grab it, pulling the rest of the length through the bore. It has a brush built-in with a “mop” behind the brush which expands to fill the bore and carry out all the loose debris with it. Put a few drops of solvent on the leading edge of the brush, and a few drops of oil on the mop, and you can do all your basic cleaning in one piece. It will not replace your deep scrubbing to remove copper and lead fouling, but it does keep your bore in remarkably cleaner condition. Using a bore snake at the end of a range trip is incredibly easy and prevents the build-up of carbon from becoming baked-on fouling later, reducing your need for deep cleaning.
Yes, you’re going to think I’m crazy. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. These medical grade Q Tips from Brownell’s are some of my favorite cleaning tools. Q tips are one of the easiest ways to clean hard to reach places inside of guns, but sometimes drug store Q tips really suck for this. The specialized Q tips from Brownell’s are superior for a couple of reasons: the long wooden handles are very sturdy and allow you to reach inside some really deep places; and more importantly, the cotton is very tightly wound and doesn’t leave debris and loose strands inside your gun (which other Q tips do and kind of defeats the point of cleaning). They’re not expensive ($11 for 500). Try them out if you don't believe me. If you do a lot of AR-15 cleaning, they will quickly become one of your go-to tools.
Aerosol Gun Blast/Cleaner
If you shoot a lot, there will be times when something is really, really dirty and you have to blast it clean. Maybe you were field-stripping your AR in the field and dropped your BCG in the mud. Maybe you need to shoot another 1,000 rounds in a short time and don’t want to do a full cleaning. Maybe your AR isn’t cycling reliably and you just need to blast the whole thing clean and re-lube it real quick.
Many shooters use brake-cleaner and similar very harsh products but I can’t recommend this. Does it work? Absolutely. However, in addition to brake cleaner being absolutely terrible for your health, it is not made for guns. It can dissolve polymer furniture and even sensitive polymer parts if you’re using it on a gun such as a Glock. Although I’m no chemist, there are a lot of different chemical bonds used in gun finishes and if you’re not a chemist either you really don’t know what the harsh solvents are doing to those different finishes long term.
That’s why I choose to use a formulation from Shooter’s Choice that’s formulated to be safe on guns, including polymer parts. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to use it on a 150-year-old heirloom firearm or on wood. But it does mean that I’m much more confident to use them on my guns than an off-the-shelf solution not designed to be safe for them.
The quick-scrub action cleaner is a fairly high pressure aerosol and the blast alone is enough to wipe away most debris. I also find the solvent very effective and it will almost instantly dry any debris which is oily or greasy. Bear in mind that it will completely wipe away all beneficial oil and lube as well, so you will have to re-lube it immediately after.
I have actually used this to fix AR-15 malfunctions on the range before. Sometimes even good guns just get dirty in the wrong way and have a hard time malfunctioning. Enter the quick-scrub action cleaner. Release the AR-15’s rear pivot pin, remove the BCG, liberally hose it down along with the barrel extension, drop in a combat load of Slip2000 to replace the lost lubrication, and the gun’s back up and running without a hitch. I always keep a can of this in my range bag now.
Leatherman MUT Multi-Tool
I will preface this by saying; I know the MUT is a little on the expensive side as far as multi-tools go. Mine was actually given to me as a gift by a co-worker. But I use it all the time, almost any time I’m on the range, or in my personal shop working on guns, or even around the house.
The MUT is a multi-tool specialized for firearms use. There are so many different functions on this thing I had to look up a guide to figure out how to use everything. Some of them include:
Screwdriver with 4 different bits
Those are just the ones I use most often. The MUT is awesome and the sheath has a place on my range belt between my magazine holder and my IFAK.
Wheeler Delta Handguard Tool
Not too much explanation needed on this. Most AR-15s today, especially high-end ones, come with some kind of free-floated handguard or at least a quad-rail system for mounting attachments. Others come with a basic plastic handguard that gives your hand a place to go and doesn’t do much else. It’s one of the most common AR-15 modifications that users make to factory rifles. In fact, it’s the very first modification I made on the DPMS AR-15 my Grandpa gave me on my 19th birthday (I’ve come a long way in equipment since then but nothing could make me part with that rifle).
Most of these AR-15 handguards are held in place by a “delta ring” which is pushed forward under spring tension. You can compress this ring with your hands in theory, but I found it a major pain. I ended up buying a Delta ring tool under protest after admitting defeat to trying to do it by hand.
For less than $15, it’s absolutely a solid investment to make for anybody who owns an AR-15. Even if you don’t need it, chances are you’ll know somebody who could use it to upgrade theirs.
For Tinkerer’s - AR 15 Armorer Kit
The AR-15 has a reputation as a “lego” gun for a reason. Every single part is user-replaceable with the right tools and just a little bit of knowledge. If you’re a tinkerer, you can upgrade or build your own AR-15 with relative ease. But having the right tools is essential. I like the Wheeler armorer kit for a cost effective, basic set-up. It doesn’t have all the nicest stuff (the torque wrench included works but is kind of hokey in my opinion), but it is an aptly named “essentials kit”The Magazine Vise/Stand is worth getting on its own and is great to hold the gun for modifications, cleaning, sight mounting, or demonstrations.
So, what do you think? Did you end up picking up any of the tools for the stable at home? Have an opinion about any item I posted? Didn’t see your favorite tool listed? Drop a comment below!