I have been spending a lot of time tinkering with optics and accessories over the last year. Less range time led me to pursue a several new projects as well as experiment with different configurations of what I already owned. One of the most useful tools in all of that tinkering is a torque wrench that works in inch-pounds.
Torque wrenches, or torque limiters, should be used for nearly anything that has threads. That means optic mounts, MLOK or Keymod screws, and even battery doors. The thing that always leads to confusion is that each of these items has their own required value for proper installation, and building up a rifle kit of several torque limiters gets expensive.
For that reason, it makes the most sense to use an adjustable wrench to meet a variety of needs. I also believe it’s useful to have the kit be portable so that I can take it with me to the range or a match should I have to make any adjustments in the field. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some of the ones I’ve worked with and their benefits as well as drawbacks.
Why Torque Matters
Let’s start with the basic question first. When I was a beginner, and didn’t have the right tools, I tended to tighten everything by hand as as tight as I could and then relied on a bit of thread locker to keep it there. Luckily, I never did it with anything that was too sensitive or else I could have caused serious damage.
The balancing act is making components fit tight enough to maintain zero and don’t rattle loose- but also not damaging the component itself. For example, some precision rifle scopes have 17 or more lenses arranged within a precision-machined erector assembly. If you tighten the rings too much, then you risk crushing the scope body just enough to damage this sensitive assembly.
With accessories like MLOK and Keymod, you run the risk of stripping screws or even breaking your mounting surface. The catch is that the difference between “just right” and “this is going to break” is often very little. Unless you are truly gifted, reliably distinguishing between 12, 15, and 18 in/lbs by hand just isn’t going to happen.
Another reason that torque drivers are important is consistency. As many of my podcast guests have said, consistency leads to accuracy. If you want to make sure that all of our mount and action screws are torqued the same way each end every time, then this is the only way to do it.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss my top three torque drivers for you rifle kit.
The Borka Adjustable Torque Driver
The very first torque drive I purchased was the Borka Multi Torque Driver, or MTD. I bought it back in 2012 when Borka was relatively new and known only on some enthusiast forums. My model says Brownells on it, but it’s definitely made by Borka.
The Borka Torque Driver is probably my favorite of the field kits. It consists of two core pieces, a spindle that holds 1/4″ bits and a cross bar that you place leverage on. The spindle sits inside the cross bar at various positions.
The cross bar has a handle on one end that “breaks” in two different directions. Printed on both sides of the cross bar is a scale of torque values, with lighter ones being closer to the handle and heavier being the furthest. The force required to break in one direction is significantly heavier than the other, and this corresponds to the lighter and heavier torque values on each side of the cross bar (presuming you’re pushing the handle in a clockwise manner).
The tool uses the magic of geometry and leverage to provide adjustability. Depending on where you place the spindle within the cross bar affects the rotational torque required to “break” the handle in that direction.
Borka discontinued my model in 2015 and released a new version, the Adjustable Torque Driver (ATD) that incorporates several really good changes which improve on the formula.
My particular model has pre-set torque positions at 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 36, 43, 50, 57, 65, and 72 in/lbs. This caused me some frustration when I needed to use a something as low as 10 lbs, or something in between the markings like 17 or 20.
Borka addressed this in the newer ATD model by using a completely open slot system allowing you to select nearly any value between 10 in/lb and 70 in/lb.
Whereas mine came only as the spindle and cross bar combo, Borka now sells them in complete kits with bits, a separate cross bar for tightening and loosening, and extensions.
I really like this tool, but it can be fiddly to use correctly. It requires consistent technique about where you hold the spindle and where you exert pressure on the ratchet. Depending on the torque values you need, it can be awkward to hold.
- Simple, rugged, reliable
- Made in the USA
- Comprehensive kit included
- My personal “If I could have only one…” pick
- At $170, they are more expensive than other options and it seems like they only come as a kit
- A bit fiddly to work with compared to traditional torque drivers
Fix-It Sticks (All in One)
I recently picked up an Aimpoint M5 on Scalarworks mount. The mounting instructions required four screws to be 10 in/lbs between the optic and the mount. Like I mentioned before, my Borka only goes down to 15, so I was at a bit of an impasse.
I took this as an opportunity to see what else is on the market that could meet my needs now and into the future.
Fix-It Sticks has been around for a while. They got their start in the cycling world, but grew in popularity with the shooting community due to the simple and low profile nature of their tools.
For a long time, their main product was a series of torque limiters set for specific values. The torque limiter held a 1/4″ bit on one end, and then itself mounted into a 1/4″ driver on the other. This let you use any tools you already had on hand and you didn’t have to commit much money.
Once you reached the pre-set torque value, the limiter would “break” and not allow you to put any more pressure on the screw. With this old system, you could buy each individual limiter for the desired torque value for about $40 each, or a whole kit of them.
The All-in-One Solution
Recently Fix-It Sticks launched a new product called the “All in One.” Instead of limiting torque and then “breaking,” this model indicates torque values along a scale. As you tighten the screw, the inner barrel begins to rotate within the outer barrel and an indicator shows you how much torque you’re applying in the moment.
The red one above is $60 by itself, and will work with any other drivers you have on hand. It has indicators for 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, and 65 in/lbs. Since it doesn’t force you to choose between specific values, you can guestimate where an in between value might be as well.
Fix-It Sticks also sells a kit, which I purchased, that comes with a t-handle driver and several bits. I also opted to get a smaller blue “Mini All in One” that has indicators for 6, 10, 15, 20, and 25 in/lbs. This smaller one has already served me well for mounting several optics on my rifles and a red dot on a pistol.
All together, the Fix-It Sticks All in One package (with both the regular and mini drivers) costs about as much as the Borka kit. But I appreciate that I could have stuck only to the smaller components that I actually needed.
In actual usage, I found this system way more intuitive, as it works just like a screwdriver, but you have to pay careful attention to the indicators. This system doesn’t stop you from applying more torque than needed, it only indicates how much you’ve applied.
While I think the Borka ATD would stand up to more abuse, the Fix-It Stick system is way more convenient and will probably be accompanying me way more often.
Fix-It Sticks Pros
- Very compact, even as a complete kit
- Easy to use
- Less expensive than the Borka
- Can be purchased as individual pieces rather than complete kits
Fix-It Sticks Cons
- While it’s simple to use, you can still cause a problem if you don’t pay attention
- For the all-in-one drivers, I don’t know how long durable the internal springs are
- Still not the least expensive way to go
Wheeler Engineering FAT Wrench
In full disclosure, I don’t actually own one of these. I’ve been around enough shops that do use them and seen enough of them in action that I figured I could at least offer an opinion.
At about $60, the Wheeler Firearm Accurizing Torque (FAT) Wrench is the least expensive way to reliably get the job done. It features selectable torque limiting between 10 and 65 in/lbs, and comes with a selection of common bits inside of a plastic case.
You select the torque value by pulling back on the rear of the driver’s plastic housing and twisting it. You’ll be able to see the torque setting in a window on the side of the wrench. After the value is set, place a 1/4″ bit in the driver and turn it like normal. The FAT Wrench will “break” at the appropriate torque value.
Of note, Wheeler warns you to always reset the torque setting back to the lowest setting when you’re done with it, or else it will become less reliable.
FAT Wrench Pros
- Less expensive, and reasonably accurate
- Simple operation
FAT Wrench Cons
- Questionable long term durability due to plastic housing
- Not quite idiot-proof if you don’t remember to reset it when you’re done
- Bulky compared to competitors
Honorable Mention: Vortex Optics Torque Wrench
This is another torque wrench that I don’t have any personal experience with, but I came across it while writing up this article. I trust Vortex as a brand enough to get things right, or make them right if it doesn’t work out.
Vortex’s torque wrench is another “screwdriver style” that has a range of 10 to 50 in/lbs. This particular tool is not unique to Vortex, as I’ve seen the same design marketed under other brands like Capri and Olsa.
The Vortex model, however, is less expensive and is backed by Vortex’s famous warranty.
There you have it, three great options as well as a fourth bonus option for torque drivers. If I could have only one, it would be the Borka ATD. But I enjoy the modularity and compact nature of the Fix-It Sticks line and suspect it will accompany me to the range, matches, and classes from here on out.
Regardless of my choice, I want to again make the case that if you’re looking for consistency and accuracy out of your rifles, then you need a way to achieve consistent torque on your components. If you don’t already have a way to do it, then add a torque driver to your maintenance kit!
Since the popular and convenient rail systems have made switching optics common practice – consistent and repeatable mechanical attachment is necessary. I bought Wheeler’s ‘newer’ digital version of their Fat Wrench but haven’t put it in action yet. Good to know others available – actually prefer the ‘breaking’ mechanical models. I’ve used some very robust and expensive models in my work as an equipment assembler. So Matt – I’ve wondered just how ‘consistent’ removing and reattaching a good quality optic mounting system(s) could be. Obviously every rifle has it’s own ‘zero’ setting but if a scope/mount is zeroed on a… Read more »
Hey Paul! The repeatability of a zero as you remove and remount an optic on the same rifle (assuming everything else is equal) is usually an indicator of mount quality. I would imagine that, in general, any mount where you control the torque values would be more consistent than a QD mount, though.
All of that to say is that it’s very possible to remove an optic and then reinstall it while maintaining zero, but everything has to remain exactly as it was when it was removed.
Agree. Should be fun verifying a few of the set ups I have. Of course in the AR world it might just be easier pulling a few pins and grabbing an entire upper with a dedicated optic out of the drag bag – snap, snap done!
I have the Wheeler and quite satisfied. After getting it I learned I had been over tightening scope rings and have corrected that. Also it is important when installing Glock front sights to use the correct torque.
Hey Steve! I was in the same boat as you in that I found out that I was regularly overtightening things.
If you want high-end torque measuring tools, look to Wiha. German-made, industry-proven stuff. Not cheap, but not really that expensive in the grand scheme. Anyone interested should look up Wiha #28595, priced around $260 right now. It is a complete torque screwdriver kit with a 10-50in-lb handle, which falls right into the range for most optic/gun-related torque requirements. I have this one and added a 1/4″ square drive adapter to handle regular sockets. If you want to extend the range they have a different handle that goes 15-80 in-lbs. I can attest to the repeatability, accuracy and durability of these… Read more »
Hi Philip, thanks for commenting! I’m aware of Wiha and have seen it suggested many times. I agree that it looks very nice and would be a great option to keep in the shop for doing many projects. I would be worried about taking such a nice tool into the field, though!
That type of consideration has never really crossed my mind. The Wiha is pure industrial, tough as they come. It is not likely to fail in the field, if that is your concern. If you are concerned about how much it costs, then again, I don’t see that as a good justification. It is not much more expensive than FixItSticks. And compared to what we have invested in guns/optics/spotters/ammo/clothes/armor/NV, what is $300 really? Now the reason I would question taking it to the field, assuming by “field” you mean on a hunt, ruck, or come other quest where you are… Read more »
I have the Borka & love it. Took it to work (aviation related) where the QC department calibrates our torque wrenches & the inspector was surprised at how close it was across the scale.
As you mentioned, the down side is that it takes up more space in a field pack.
I’m considering buying a couple Fix it sticks specifically for my rifle & field use and keep the Borka at home on the bench for detailed work.