The last time I was in Lovelock Nevada I went shooting with a fellow named Ron. A mutual friend had invited us out to a gun show. The show was a disaster, only a quarter of the expected sellers showed up but more unpleasantness was to follow. After the show we all went shooting and I was immediately treated to a showing of Ron’s latest project. A Saiga 12 shotgun that had been modified to almost full blown tacticool configuration. Spiked muzzle device, quad rail fore-end. The only thing it was missing was a bump-fire stock. Later on he bragged about a truly insane project that he was nearing completion of. He had built for a friend a registered SBR chambered in 50 Beowulf. He estimated that with the suppressor, tax stamps and accessories that they had plowed north of $8,000 into this one weapon. I am a huge fan of the 50 Beowulf cartridge, though I have yet to shoot or own one. I could never imagine spending over $2000 on a 50 Beowulf. 50 BMG perhaps but not the Beowulf. That was my first sign that something was off about this chap.
Then we uncased our AR’s, he was running a totally vanilla A2 carbine by Del-Ton. Compared to his outlandish Saiga this seemed an odd choice. Then I got my AR out and something unexpected happened. He stated that he didn’t like my rifle at all and spent eight minutes straight literally yelling in my face as to why it was terrible. The fore-end was too smooth, it didn’t have a sandpaper like surface or quad rails to grip. “What if you are running around shooting bad guys in the desert and your hands get all sweaty?” The pistol grip was one of the worst on the market, the front sight block was too heavy. He reluctantly admitted that Noveske made a decent lower receiver. Then spent four minutes detailing the heinousness of my weighty rifle-stock.
Why did he chew me out like this? I don’t know, perhaps he was just that much of a critic. Why did he yell the whole time? Perhaps it was because he was ex army, of the artillery corps. Napoleon once said that they were a moody lot. Perhaps his hearing had been damaged during his service. All I know is that of all the acts of rudeness I have been subjected to at gun ranges. (And I have been subject to more such acts of rudeness than most would believe) this was by far the worst.
I asked if he was through, walked away and said “wow” to our mutual friend who apologized for his intensity. What I should have said was, “well, I didn’t build this rifle for you, I built it for me. The main reason why I went with such a substantial butt-stock is so I could have a weapon which wouldn’t fall apart when I do this!” Then knocked some of his teeth out with it.
In any case I had been contemplating building another AR-15 for awhile and I was resolved there and then to build another AR my way just to spite him. I just had to inflict more of my deeply flawed design philosophy upon the world, and challenge those who would build rifles that cause your hands to bleed when you use them. What I didn’t count on was how long it was going to take as building an AR my way is done in a very miserly and cautious fashion.
I started with a lower receiver from Seekins precision. I had been wanting to get one of their funky looking lowers for a long time and a local shop had a forged one for a reasonable price. The forged Seekins lower is a bit over a hundred dollars cheaper than their artfully reptilian milled lower. It’s still more than a typical forged lower but I think you get more. The quality is probably the best I have ever seen in the AR world. Though I admit I have yet to see a Turnbull or a Nemo arms gun in person. The lower fits with almost no perceived gap with any upper I have tried it with except a rattletrap PSA PTAC upper I saw quite some time ago. Seekins also appeals to me because they are headquartered in Idaho. I always go out of my way to get anything that reminds me of my time there.
Finding most parts wasn’t all that difficult as the post Sandy Hook run has pretty much subsided on everything except the still elusive 22LR.
Next came the trigger, I started out with a stock unit I had left over from my first build. But then I decided to go with the ALG unit I have previously written about. My intent was to create a decent all purpose gun. Inspired by fun little numbers like the BCM Jack or Paul Howe’s carbine built by Wilson Combat. Note that I said inspired by, not a clone. I have noticed that all of these guns have 14.5 barrels with permanently pinned muzzle devices and that is a no go for me for a few different reasons. Also both of these guns are limited production collectors items well beyond my finances.
I waffled back and forth on the stock for a little while between a variety of choices. Then Larue Tactical had a Christmas polymer products sale and that made the decision for me. This stock is much slimmer and significantly lighter than the Ergo 93. But it has lots of quality metal locking parts inside, I am confident that I could beat a man pretty badly with it. I bought the complete stock kit. Everything from the back of the receiver is 100% Larue. A company I have had nothing but satisfaction doing business with. Their products are some of the best I have ever seen and they have the strangest habit of including all manner of goodies with every order.
The pistol grip is by Umbrella Corp Weapons Research Group. Not to be confused with the Umbrella Corp from the Resident Evil franchise. This umbrella corp has a much more coherent business plan and appears to be much less evil. It’s a different kind of grip to what is commonly available, much more vertical than most to accommodate certain modern shooting techniques and shooters who wear big bulky body armor. I love it, I like the look, the color, the general weirdness of it. However it’s greater angle demands that the rifle it is used on be a relatively lightweight one or else it will put a strain on your hand and wrist. The worst offender in this I have ever seen was the MagPul K grip. I don’t know how well the K grip works on the SBR rifles it was designed for. But after a days use on a nine pound AR your hand will start to spasm on you. Too bad really as using a more vertical grip with the Ergo 93 stock gets around the stock latch rubbing against your wrist when it is closed.
The lower parts kit was sourced directly from CMMG. When it showed up I was delighted to find it to be of excellent quality. I lazily attached the magazine latch to the lower while I was watching tv one day. Then I decided to go whole hog and started pounding in roll pins. No vice, no tools except a hammer and a pair of pliers. I didn’t even tape up the sides of the receiver. Please don’t try this at home, I think it was mostly dumb luck that I didn’t wind up with some big ugly scratches or divots.
So I had an operational lower, I function tested it with the upper from my complete rifle and largely forgot about this project until I got an email from Larue a couple weeks ago asking for a review of the stock kit they had sold me before Christmas. I realized that it had been an absurdly long time since I had completed the lower and went shopping around for an upper.
I wanted something as light as possible. I wanted to go back to the original design roots of the AR which had been designed by Eugene Stoner as a lightweight personal defense weapon. Something intended to sit around Air Force bases waiting for masses of native forces to attempt to overwhelm these outposts of empire. I wanted to use the absolute minimum of mass that would still be able to reliably launch 556 NATO rounds. Something to contrast with my last build which I had intentionally overbuilt because I was unsatisfied with the small dimensions, yet relative great weight of my first AR, a Ruger 556E. That gun worked just fine, but had some sharp angles. But the thing that always aggravated me about it was how it didn’t feel right, too small. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this scene from three amigos whenever I carried it.
Skip to about 2:30
In a perfect world I would have a stainless steel pencil profile or fluted barrel with a 1/8 rifling twist from a reputable builder. However it doesn’t appear that such a thing currently exists on the market. Perhaps a custom barrel builder could put one together but I don’t have the money for anything like this and even if I did I would probably spend it on something else. Making small gun parts is not too hard, larger parts are a bit of a challenge. But barrel manufacture is serious business requiring massive outlays of resources and heavy machine tools.
The closest option I could find to my ideal setup was from Palmetto State Armory. One of their “blemished” uppers with a pencil profile 1/7 twist chrome-moly barrel from FNH. But they were completely out of these, so I looked elsewhere.
The second promising lead was DSA, they had a couple uppers that almost fit my requirements at a suspiciously good price. But when I called to order I was informed that there would be 4 to 6 month wait to get one of those. I don’t know what’s going on with that company, but they seem to have a rather odd business plan. Rather than focusing on increasing production of FALs and AR parts they are creating monstrosities like this.
BCM had a couple of uppers that I liked the looks of. But their prices were a little high and I am wary of their products. I understand they have a decent company and good customer support. But I am told that they have the annoying habit of overbuilding their uppers. I.E. that their barrels and other components are torqued into place with hundreds of pounds of force as opposed to the 45 or so pounds of torque that adds up to standard or mil-spec. This means that there are an awful lot of stories out there of BCM upper owners who wished to put on a different type of hand-guard to what it came with and wound up with a ruined upper.
All this left me quite frustrated, it also seems to indicate that there is a hole in the otherwise heavily saturated AR market for a company to make reasonably priced lightweight barrels.
I was just about to go with an M4 profile barrel. Sourced from Brownells, built by Daniel Defense. I don’t like government profile barrels if only because of their name. But also because of it’s weight and the fact that I will probably never need a barrel cut for an M203 grenade launcher. It was also a bit more than I wanted to pay and it did not have hand guards.
Then all of a sudden a batch of the blemished pencil profile uppers I wanted materialized at PSA. I snagged one with a Midwest industries 12 inch rail and they ran out of them a couple days later. Then I waited awhile and got a nickel boron bolt carrier group from AIM surplus. The last one they had in stock. In spite of UPS and PSAs week and a half head start. AIM and the postal service won, by two whole days.
Currently I am running an inexpensive primary arms red dot. In time this will be backed up with iron sights of some sort, I haven’t decided what yet. But they will probably wind up being either polymer sights from diamond-head or MagPul Pro metal sights. There is certainly no shortage of decent B.U.I.S. on the market.
All of these parts, sourced from places whose reputation ranges from good to excellent blend together very well. The tolerances between the lower and upper are so close that there is barely any light visible when they are bolted together. All the rest of the parts have tolerances that are as tight as I would trust. Perhaps in a couple cases they are a little too tight…
Rounding out the build is a couple parts bought at gun shows, a charging handle with most distinctive markings and a Seekins precision trigger guard. Ironically both of these parts appear to be causing issues. The Seekins trigger guard doesn’t match precisely together with the Seekins lower. It creates some sharp curves where they are least welcome. Right above your middle finger, causing unneeded discomfort. While the fancy charging handle seems to have an improperly set roll pin which has already worn a noticeable smear of metal on the lower and upper. I believe that both of these issues can be rectified.
It is perhaps inevitable that parts built in factories all over the country might not all go together perfectly. Such a thing was expected not that long ago when battle rifles were wood stocked Mauser’s or M1 Garands. But I certainly expected the Seekins lower and trigger guard to fit together better.
Finally we come to the last and the most potentially controversial part. I am not a fan of the stock mil spec birdcage flash hider that came with the PSA upper. I had a much better flash hider lying around, a Smith Enterprises vortex, endorsed by friend of the Feens Boston T Party. It’s a decent item to hang on the end of your rifle. However I have been trying to distance myself from Smith Enterprises ever since they got into the bad habit of going after people who bad mouth them online. Then they did this little number.
I think this goes past the territory of screwup and into a place I call stark raving madness. The same place that Troy Industries went when they proudly hired the number 2 man of the FBI-HRT sniper team at Ruby Ridge. As such I make a point of not purchasing the products of either of these two companies anymore. Especially when there are literally hundreds of other companies that make as good or better products and have proven themselves to not be run by fuzzy fascists.
High up on this list for me is Geissele Automatics and their subsidiary ALG defense. I have a Geissele two stage trigger and though it’s the cheapest of all the Geissele triggers it is simply the finest AR trigger I have ever used. I would love to have their triggers and rails on almost all my guns, especially my AK. But I can’t afford that and old Bill doesn’t even make an AK trigger, (hint, hint). So I have to settle for ALG products. It’s not a brutal step down. Recently ALG has started making their own rail systems and muzzle brakes for AR-15s. I picked up one of their brakes from a local dealer, only $35. Spun off the A2 birdcage and spun on the ALG.
It’s quite different from any muzzle device I have ever used. The quality looks superb, the design is fascinating. It allows a clear sight of the crown of the muzzle, which is unlike any muzzle device I have ever seen. It’s a little too big around to allow mounting of a bayonet. But who cares? It’s certainly much slimmer, lighter and cheaper than items like the PWS FSC series or the Noveske KX3 “flame pig.”
Note the difference between a standard profile barrel and pencil profile.
I am probably done with AR building for now. There are other weapons crying out for my attention, I really need to pick up a revolver and a subcompact handgun at some point. But I might wind up building another AR out of various spare parts I have lying around for private sale. I have a strange hankering to build a somewhat poor mans BCM Jack clone out of a Daniel Defense barrel and upper receiver. A B5 sopmod stock, Larue pistol grip, and have the muzzle device, rail and trigger by ALG. Especially if ALG decides to make their 10 inch rail in the desert sand color used on some Geissele rails. There’s something about that color that really rings my bell. Or perhaps I could just have the whole thing cerakoted in a distinct shade like tungsten gray.
The possibilities are endless.
Or I could really go nuts and pick up a spikes honey badger lower, 11 inch barrel pistol length upper, Sig arm brace and the new Tac-Con trigger.