At the Armorers Bench: The Not So Universal Bench Block By: Steph Martz


The bench block is one of the key things on any professional’s bench. They can be metal, plastic, rubber, etc, and can be modified to the user’s needs depending on the material of the block. Bench blocks are mainly used for pin installation and removal on various firearms such as the 870 Remington Shotgun, 1911 pistol, and the AR-15 platform. With all of these uses, why would it be called a universal bench block? There is no way that one block can effectively allow someone to work on all of these platforms.

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As an armorer that has worked for both Military and LE departments, there have been a lot of different kinds of blocks on my bench. To make this simple, I’ll list those blocks in the order of how well they work for repairs on the AR-15 platform specifically, with some tidbits about the pros and the cons.

three different bench blocks
While most companies list a bench block as a “Universal Bench Block” that is not the case. Most bench blocks may be conducive to work on pistols, some for AR platform, and visa versa. Here we talk about what and why some are the best blocks for working on the AR platform.

Note: A few of these will be listed on the company’s website as “pistol” specific however, I chose to write about these because these are still on a lot of benches that use them for AR platform stuff so it is important to talk about.

1. Real Avid Smart Bench Block

The Real Avid Smart Bench Block has seriously changed the game. The block is lightweight, magnetic, and has rubber edging. Oftentimes when doing repairs the receiver will slip as you are pounding in pins or trying to press something in, which has caused frustrations with every block I used, until Real Avid. The red rubber edging truly stops things from slipping as you are hammering. Gamechanger.

Real Avid bench block
The rubberized edging stopped the receiver from slipping while hammering the roll pin during a trigger guard install.

The side of the block already comes magnetic. This is great because it allows you to stick the new pin to the side and not have to look around for it when all three of your hands are being used.

Real Avid Smart Block magnetized bench block
Some blocks do not come magnetized, so armorers will magnetize the pins themselves. The Smart Block, however, comes already magnetized, which helps you keep track of your pins.

The middle hole is large. The middle hole is the main hole that you will be using when it comes to AR platform stuff because of the V cut. This can hold rounded objects like the barrel or bolt. The middle section is also useful for pushing out lower receiver pins. It’s a lot easier to line that receiver up with a big hole rather than a small one. It is also lightweight so it isn’t a heavy item to carry or pack to job sites. 

Real Avid Smart Bench Block
The block material removed from the bottom allows it to be very lightweight. The bottom also has the rubberized edging to ensure that the block doesn’t slip on the bench.

The Smart Block will not ruin finishes due to the resin on the block. At $14.99 it is priced well. This is the lowest price I’ve seen in a block thus far.

2. Brownells Gunsmith Steel Bench Block

This bench block comes inside the USGI Armorers kit, NSN: 5180-01-462-4254. The large black pelican-looking box that you may see a lot of Mil or LE armorers rolling around. While this block is heavy, it isn’t terrible. It is also steel so some worry that it will mar the equipment. I have more often seen punches marring equipment due to them slipping.

steel bench block and a magnetized pin
The Steel Bench block is great because it is heavy and doesn’t slip. However, there are some scratches seen on the block from equipment, which means it can scratch the item being worked on. It can be magnetized if you magnetize the pin. The middle hole is large enough.

Again, it has a large middle hole and a large enough V cut to effectively hold a barrel. As far as it being magnetic goes, we would just quickly rub the pin that needed to be installed onto a magnet to magnetize it. 

It is heavy so it shouldn’t slide around but your item may slide on it just due to it being steel. Looking at the Real Avid block though, maybe that could be fixed by throwing some electrical tape around the edges. I haven’t tried it yet.

If your unit ordered the USGI Armorers kit, the steel block comes issued in the kit so it won’t need to be a separate purchase. The civilian armorers kit comes with an orange Brownells block instead of the steel version.

the brownells civilian model
This block comes with the civilian armorer’s kit. It is not very conducive to working on the AR platform due to not having the V cut or large enough holes. It is specifically listed on the website as a “Front Sight Bench Block” and not universal.

3. Brownells Pistol Bench Block (Blue)

The Brownells Blue plastic bench block comes in both a rifle configuration and a pistol configuration. The only difference between the two blocks is that the pistol block has one more slat and one more hole for a pistol slide. Other than that, they are the same block.

The cool thing about this block is that it can be cut to your needs. I took a mill to the middle of mine to give it a large hole on the top. The V cut, though, I am not a huge fan. I don’t think it is wide enough to be effective on the AR platform.

showing the v cut with a barrel
The blue plastic bench block from Brownells is great because the plastic can be cut to your needs. The middle hole may need to be cut to enlarge it.

#4. Wheeler Universal Bench Block

The Wheeler Universal Bench Block is not as universal as they say. While it does have a V cut for the barrel and bolt, and multiple holes for pin removal those holes are small. The V cut is also a bit narrow.

the wheeler universal bench block
The Wheeler Universal Bench Block has a good amount of holes. However, the sizes are not very useful. There is a V cut for a barrel and the finish is non-marring. (Photo:

The Wheeler Universal Bench Block can be used with both the AR platform and the Pistol Platform but not as effectively as one might want. This block is mainly meant for 1911’s. It is plastic so it will not mar the equipment. It is also double-sided. Meaning, both the bottom and the top of the block are useful in the removal of pins. The diameter is larger than the steel bench block and many other blocks so that is a plus.

the back of the wheeler packaging showing that it is ideal for the 1911 platform.
As you can see, the packaging states that it is ideal for 1911 pistols but still universal. On the website it states that it is good for the shotgun, AR platform, and pistols. Confusing, but this block is not ideal for the AR platform.