Making Your AR-15 Work Better

BY Herschel Smith
4 months, 3 weeks ago

WRSA sends us an article on Practical AR Enhancements.  Here is an excerpted list of things he discusses.

  1. Chrome-lined barrel
  2. Bolt parts
  3. Buffer spring
  4. Lube
  5. Enhanced (and more modern) BCG finishes / coatings
  6. Optics
  7. Trigger upgrades

This is a good list and I highly recommend that you read the entire article, and it reminds me of the still highly read and very important article, “Making Your M4 Run Like A Gazelle,” based on work by Mike Pannone and written by WeaponsMan.

Mike has very extensive comments on the M4 at Defense Review, which stem initially from a discussion of fouling. We’ll just quote his conclusions from this piece below, and also recommend his article on reliability issues, and his follow-up on diagnosing the root cause. Conclusions from what we suppose you could call the “fouling piece“:

Fouling in the M4 is not the problem. The problem is weak springs (buffer and extractor), as well as light buffer weights (H vs. H2 or H3). With the abovementioned drop-in parts, the M4 is as reliable as any weapon I have ever fired, and I have fired probably every military-issue assault rifle fielded worldwide in the last 60 years as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant (18B). An additional benefit of the heavier spring/weight combo is that it transmits the energy impulse of the firing cycle to the shoulder over a longer duration, lowering the amount of foot pounds per second and dramatically reducing the perceived recoil. Follow-on shots are easier to make effectively, and much faster, especially at 50 meters and beyond.

I reliably fired 2400 rounds (80 magazines) on a bone dry gun, and I would bet that is a lot more than any soldier or other armed professional will ever come close to firing without any lubrication whatsoever. So, disregard the fouling myth and install a better buffer spring, H2 buffer, enhanced extractor spring and a Crane O-ring (all end user drop-in parts). With normal (read “not excessive”) lubrication and maintenance, properly-built AR-15/M4 type rifles with carbine gas systems will astound you with their reliability and shootability.

via The Big M4 Myth: ‘Fouling caused by the direct impingement gas system makes the M4/M4A1 Carbine unreliable.

DTG writing at American Partisan also discusses AR builds, and we’ve seen some good ones come our way.

But I’ll also say that I’ve seen some very bad ones (when I say “seen,” I mean I’ve witnessed the failures first hand when a friend tried his build).  I’ve seen builds that couldn’t get through a magazine without two or three FTF / FTE.  I think this mainly had to do with mixing and matching of parts with the head space not being properly checked (although we suspected it could have been the choice of gas block location).

Colt, with its reliance of military contracts, had begun to have QA problems by the end of their contract, maybe before.  This is so well known as to go without question.  It doesn’t surprise me that guys were having to make modifications and work their M4s/ARs hard to keep them in working order.

But one thing I get with a completed “system” from a reputable manufacturer is tolerance QA and parts compatibility.  Replacing a BCG is nice, but if you don’t check head space, it might not work right.  Either way, relying on Rock River Arms and Daniel Defense (like I do) means that it works straight out of the box, continues to work, and is highly reliable.

I’ll also say a few words about two more things.  First of all, there has been a proliferation of articles on the Army and Marine Corps jettisoning the 5.56mm round in favor of 6.5 Creedmoor, the 7.62mm round for the .300 Win Mag (for DM guns), and a host of other changes.  Some of this will happen (e.g., the MC adoption of the 300 Win Mag), and some will not.  For a whole host of reasons that would take too long to explain, I think it’s highly unlikely that the entire Army or MC adopts 6.5 Creedmoor and throws away the 5.56mm round.  Some of that is just hype and propaganda for the purpose of attention and money.

On the other hand, I’ve never recommended that anyone make the 5.56mm round their only choice of caliber, and everyone should have a bigger bore gun.  If the Army or MC does use 5.56mm less, that’s good for me because it means less competition for ammunition and [hopefully] cheaper prices.  Regular readers know that I’ll never jettison my 5.56mm guns.  They’re too good, too reliable, too pleasant to shoot, and too easy on regaining sight picture from low recoil for me to consider anything else for CQB up to several hundred yards.  If your AR isn’t as reliable as mine are (I’ve never had a FTF / FTE in tens of thousands of rounds and wouldn’t know how to work a forward assist if I had to because I’ve never had to), you need new ARs or you need to work them as described above.  Don’t go budget or “rack” AR.  Spend a little more and get something with good QA and reliable.

Finally, I’ve noted before (comments section) that I don’t like piston guns or dicking around with Stoner’s design.

(1) Piston-device for AR pattern rifles: A stupid, unnecessary, additional failure mode for a gun that does nothing but add weight to the front end of the gun, virtually ensuring that after eight hours of room clearing ops and CQB, the shooter can no longer hold the weapon upright because of the stupidity of the design.

(2) AK pattern guns: A rifle design for conscripts who don’t give a shit about their equipment and refuse to clean it or care for it, that doesn’t shoot very accurately (minute of man rather than minute of angle).

(3) AR pattern guns: Guns made by engineers, for engineers, machinists, gunsmiths, mechanics and professional soldiers who care about precision, fine machines and accuracy (and don’t want to listen to the constant rattling of the poorly made AKs when they shoot them).

(4) Genesis chapter 2: Man is fallen, and it affects the entire universe.

(5) Second law of thermodynamics (based on number 4 above): Entropy always increases. Things get dirty and break. That means pistons in AKs too. People who refuse to acknowledge the 2nd Law also refuse to care for their guns, refuse to clean them, refuse to change parts, and throw their guns around like they are shovels.

Anyone who thinks that a machine can be made that doesn’t break or doesn’t corrode or doesn’t rust or doesn’t need to be maintained, coated, cleaned and replaced is an idiot who doesn’t believe in science. This includes conscripts who want a gun that they don’t need to work on.

Like my son tells me, if you work it, the AR is an exquisite weapon based on an exquisite design.

I’ve got many AR run-to-break and stress test videos linked, but I don’t need to see any of them.  My guns have never failed me.  I also don’t believe in throwing my guns around and abusing them.  I’m a thinking man.  I believe in entropy.

On one occasion a seller was putting a gun back in it’s case for me, and I asked him to use Rem Oil and spray it down.  “It’s Aluminum – it doesn’t rust,” he said.  I replied, “True enough, but Aluminum does corrode, which is a different failure mode, and my hands and your hands have salts on them.  Now, spray the gun down before you box it back up.”

Because I believe in thermodynamics.  Machines don’t run forever without breaking or needing maintenance, and if this fact causes you to conclude that the AR (or any other machine) isn’t any good, then you need to go back and read Genesis Chapter 2.

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Comments

  1. On May 22, 2018 at 11:18 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel

    Re: “Like my son tells me, if you work it, the AR is an exquisite weapon based on an exquisite design.”

    And not only the AR15, but the AR10 which preceded it as well. For any number of reasons we won’t delve into here, Eugene Stoner, Jim Sullivan and Armalite were not successful in selling their then-revolutionary AR10 to the mid-1950s U.S. armed forces.

    However, the story did not end there, for Armalite licensed the AR10 design to the Dutch firm of Artillerie Inrichtingen, which made some common-sense improvements to Stoner’s design, including a larger, stouter buffer and some other changes designed to enhance reliability.

    Thus modified, the AR10 saw service in the bush wars of the 1960s and 1970s Africa, under some of the most-trying conditions imaginable. The design distinguished itself in combat in Angola and elsewhere in the hands of Portuguese paratroopers and other personnel, who found the rifle to be tough, reliable, accurate and light under combat conditions.

    The aforementioned Portuguese paratroopers liked theirs so much that they had local machine shops custom-fabricate spare parts for their AR10s into the 1970s before finally turning them in for replacement weapons.

    “Firearms News” recently did an issue (December 2017, #30) devoted to “Retro ARs,” including those retro-replicas produced for Brownell’s, as well as genuine vintage AR10s. Author Joseph P. Evans, a recognized AR10 authority, had an opportunity to thoroughly wring-out some Dutch AR10s, and found the design to be simply superb, the equal of modern .308-caliber rifles produced by the best present-day manufacturers. Incredibly, some of these vintage rifles were capable of sub-moa accuracy with their original barrels and ran flawlessly, despite closing in on being sixty years old.

    Just because it is an old design does not mean it isn’t worth using. Sometimes, the engineers, designers and craftsmen get it right – years ahead of schedule. John Moses Browning’s .50-caliber HB MG is one such example, Eugene Stoner’s original AR10 may be another.

  2. On May 22, 2018 at 11:56 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    I sold my Colt (pre-ban, remember that?) AR15 that I purchased in Kodiak awhile back..90’s. I used the money to build an AR10 in 6.5 Creedmoor. My reasoning was that I couldn’t ethically hunt with the 55g .223. Most of our game up here is BIG. I did shoot a few blackies with it on Kodiak. I wasn’t impressed. Otherwise, the Colt was a tack driver.

    The 6.5 Creedmoor is one amazing caliber. There is no big game, save brown bear, that I won’t hunt with my Creed.

    Wolves are my next prey…semi-auto Creed is a wolves’ greatest nightmare.

  3. On May 23, 2018 at 8:34 am, JoeFour said:

    Very interesting and informative post(!) and comments from GeorgiaBoy61 and TheAlaskan!)
    Here’s a link to an article that nicely complements the discussion:

    https://brushbeater.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/so-you-want-a-new-ar-huh/

  4. On May 23, 2018 at 10:35 am, Fred Cerutti said:

    RRA over Colt, huh? You lost all credibility right there.

  5. On May 23, 2018 at 10:37 am, Herschel Smith said:

    I have no felt or real need to be “credible” with you, Freddy. Thanks for playing.

  6. On May 23, 2018 at 12:15 pm, moe mensale said:

    Fred is probably just pissed that Rock River (and Springfield) threw IL gun owners under the bus. Even though they didn’t. I shot a RRA A2 Match rifle in Hi-Power matches for years. It was an excellent shooter and a very well built rifle. Not a good battle rifle though at 13 lbs with weights! For social work I’ll turn to my Colts. Never had any issues with the old pre-ban versions nor their newer replacements.

  7. On May 23, 2018 at 7:17 pm, Michael Gilson said:

    I was watching a Forgotten Weapons video about a German developed experimental Spanish cartridge. It used a 7.92 bullet made of aluminum with a copper band around it. The light weight resulted in low recoil for controllable full auto, while the long aerodynamic shape resulted in velocity retention for long range accuracy. I wonder if the principal could work in an AR 15. An ultra low drag bullet, as long as a tracer round, but only massing 55 grains in order to get the muzzle velocity of M193 but the range and accuracy of heavy bullet loads.

  8. On May 24, 2018 at 8:43 am, revjen45 said:

    As far as piston guns, the Daewoo works quite well. Of course when it comes to availability of parts and accoutrement it’s analogous to comparing a 289 Studebaker to a Small Block Chevy.
    People who have a ‘Woo tend to like them.

  9. On May 24, 2018 at 9:21 am, Dirk Williams said:

    I’ve owned and built many many ARs, since 1980. Still have ten in the safe. While I, like others have preferences, one pieces and parts, perhaps names/brands, I’m often amused at the name droppers. My currant selection may have Noveske or VLTOR, or LMT, or FN or Colt written on the lowers, but often everything’s changed out inside. Not that the above are weak systems, I just like what I like. Think buffer systems, or triggers systems.

    At the end of the day isn’t the real goal to make whatever your shooting work in every application.

    Another good article.

    Dirk

  10. On May 24, 2018 at 10:59 am, Mr.chubbins said:

    Thoughts on nitriding vs chromelined?

  11. On May 24, 2018 at 2:07 pm, Sean said:

    Good post. Always looking to improve, and when some one has something intelligent to say, I listen. I listen, and judge credibility on my own, based on reason, logic, and testing. I also remember that I don’t know everything there is to know, and picked up my first AR in 2002, based almost solely on what I had learned from others. Keep at it, Mr. Smith, I like knowing you’re out there, laying the truth out, and not backing down.

  12. On May 25, 2018 at 6:12 am, DAN III said:

    ALCON,

    For me, triggers and optics are my primary upgrades. This weekend I will be taking advantage of the sales and secure another Geissele Super Tricon trigger. It is just one of the best, 2-Stage triggers I have ever used.

    Regarding optics….the red dots have always been a problem for me. Not only do I dislike the blurred and out-of-focus dots when used on a long arm, but I find them to have little use beyond 75-100 meters. Variable low power 1-4x, 1-6x and 1-8x scopes make the most sense for me. However, I believe one must consider not only the weight of scope AND mount, but eye relief and eye box (I prefer more descriptive term of eye cone) are factors often ignored by buyers.

    Although I enjoy this and other discussions of hardware, the fact remains that if one uses bargain bin or platinum-priced equipment/weapons without practice, you will fail to meet the standard when push comes to shove.

    In the meantime, do your best to practice your shooting as often as reasonable. And as always….be safe.

    FWIW.

  13. On May 27, 2018 at 7:30 am, Doc said:

    Good article…agreed. Just a quick bit of info…if you’re looking for a great, reliable, easy to install trigger..check out the CMC trigger group. One piece drop in design, 3.5 lb. break.

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You are currently reading "Making Your AR-15 Work Better", entry #19296 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s,Firearms,Guns and was published May 22nd, 2018 by Herschel Smith.

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