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0026-23 Tech Tip - How To Manually Change Pistol Sights_Thumb

Tech Tip: How To Install Pistols Sights the Old School Way

Author Caleb Savant
one year ago
If you frequently change pistol sights, a sight installation tool is a great investment that quickly pays for itself. What if you're just an average "Joe/Jane Gun Owner" or a kitchen-table gunsmith who changes sights once in a while? Or do you have a set of suppressor-height sights that don't fit in your sight tool? Brownells Gun Tech™ Caleb Savant shows us how to install sights the Old School Way, with a hammer, punch, and bench vise. The process is basically the same for front and rear sights.
STARTERS: Put on your safety glasses, and make sure the gun is unloaded. Remove the slide and take out the barrel and recoil assembly. With a pair of padded vise jaws in your bench vise, clamp the slide securely in the vise. Make sure the sight is centered (left to right) in the vise jaws, and it protrudes just above the top of them.
Protect the sight from damage by using a brass or aluminum sight punch. A sight punch's cross-section is cut to fit in the sight dovetail. If you don't have an exact-size punch for your pistol's dovetail, use a smaller punch.
TAKE A WHACK: Let's remove those old sights. If you're working on a rear sight anchored by a setscrew, loosen that screw. Rest the tip of the punch as low on the sight body as you can and apply controlled taps with the hammer. Keep the impact on the dovetail, not on the sight blade. If the sight is stubborn and won't budge, the padded vise jaws may be absorbing too much of the hammer force. Remove the pads and clamp the slide directly in the vise, but put some card stock (like business cards) between the metal vise jaws and the slide.
Steady tapping will work the sight free. Check out Caleb's blacksmith-style hammer technique! Some pistols, like the Smith & Wesson M&P, use the rear sight to retain the striker's safety plunger. Be careful not to lose the plunger.
HONE IN ON IT: A new sight usually needs a little bit of fitting. It should slide into the dovetail at least a quarter of the way. If it doesn't go that far, remove some material from the bottom. Rather than use a file, hone the bottom of the sight with an Arkansas or India stone and a bit of oil. The sight dovetail is a triangle, so as you remove metal from the bottom, you're reducing the width of the dovetail. Test-fit periodically until the sight slides into the dovetail one-quarter of the way.
TAP IT BACK: Remount the slide in the vise, slip the sight into the dovetail as far as it'll go, and start tapping it with the hammer and punch. If the sight stops moving, back off and see if there's a burr or some other obstruction. Keep tapping until you have equal amounts of open dovetail on each side of the sight. If it's a rear sight with a setscrew like the M&P's, tighten the screw.
CLEAN IT UP: The brass punch will leave marks on the sight. A bit of Birchwood-Casey Brass Black or Brownells Dicropan T 4™ Touchup cold blue will make short work of the marks. Apply a little oil to the spots where you put the cold blue.
PUNCHING OUT: Brass punches will get dinged up over time. That's good! It means the punch is taking the abuse, not your guns' sights or slides. You can use a file to remove burrs and nicks to clean up the punch.