A few years ago while I was writing for one of our brother websites in the Hurricane Media Group (Then Force12Media) in a rage of disgust over a series of issues I had with my AR-15 I vowed that I would and could never trust it again. Well that article sparked a whole list of issues ranging from people attacking my military service history, Once person going so far as to say since I was in the United States Air Force as a Civil Engineer that I wasn’t “really” in the military. Funny thing is my DD-214 says differently, but I digress. I was of course bombarded with the usual name calling and even a few credible threats of people coming to my house to “Beat my ass”. Needless to say I learned many things since then, I learned management will support its workers as will fellow staff writers. I learned that some of the people who read my article actually reached out to me and were willing to help me with the problems I was facing and acted like professionals. This has actually extremely helpful to me and ultimately lead to me finding a laundry list of problems that I was facing with the particular rifle that was at the cause of the issues.
The Guns in Question
There were actually two AR-15’s that were causing me nightmares and started me on the path to the dark side (AK-47 rifles), one was a 10.5″ barreled rifle and the other was a 16″ barreled rifle. The rifles were from two different manufactures and were parts build guns built over a few months. There are more than a few people right now reading that and saying “well of course you had problems….”, we will get to all that in just a little bit. The first rifle that caused began to cause issues was actually the 16″ rifle I had built on a Smith & Wesson lower and an unknown branded upper. The “builder” and I use that term loosely was a friend of a friend and I was assured was a great because he “built them in the Army” In hindsight there are so many red flags with my AR-15 odyssey that its enough to make someone’s head spin. The 10.5 ” gun had been problematic from the start, too many parts from too many different manufacturers, and the project seemed to fight me from the very first days I began to lay it out.
Without going into another thousand word essay on the issues lets just sum it up by saying the problems with both rifles ran the entire spectrum of the usual AR-15 related issues. Poor ejection issues, failure to feed, failure to eject, and generally all manner of failures to complete a proper firing cycle. It wasn’t until months after I put the guns in the gun safe and forgot about them that one former Army Infantry Officer reached out to me and offered to listen then help diagnose the problems. The fact that he did this over repeated emails and instant messages was both admirable and amazing all at the same time. The problem it seems on one rifle was pretty easy to figure out and on the other rifle was a little more difficult to figure diagnose.
The 16″ Rifle: Project #1
The 16″ rifle was the easiest to diagnose since it had a closest set up to the traditional M4 specifications. The first thing I was told was to figure out the twist rate, gas port opening and what the specifications of my no name budget upper was. I solved that problem by trading that upper for ammo and purchasing Smith & Wesson M&P 15 upper to match my S&W lower, more on that in a little bit. I wanted a new upper with a known twist rate and parts made by a known manufacturer other than a guy in a shed someplace. I chose to retain the Spikes Tactical bolt carrier group since it was brand new in the package when I started the initial project. The next thing I was advised to do was start with brand new magazines fresh from the package and full powered ammunition. Prior to this time I generally shot the cheapest ammunition I could find in all of my guns, that I was told could very well be 1/2 of my problem. Apparently unknown to me my favorite budget brand of ammunition was notorious for having wildly fluctuating velocities. No it was not Wolf or Tula to put that to rest before it starts. The final instruction I was given was to read and learn a manual on the proper lubrication of the AR-15. My electronic instructor was taking me back to the basics, which I didn’t mind at all, it gave me a clean slate to work from and at this point I welcomed any input or instruction that would help me solve the issues.
I picked up 240 rounds of Federal American Eagle XM193 for my initial testing cycle using eight new 30 round polymer MagPul magazines with their anti tilt followers. After performing and initial cleaning of the rifle, I lubricated it according to the information I had at hand and went to the range. In what seemed like a miracle to me 238 out of the 240 rounds performed exactly like they were suppose to when the trigger was pulled. The rounds cycled just fine with the exception of one round that failed to go into battery all the way but did with a tap of the forward assist, and one round that was actually dented from the factory.
It would appear that when you build a 16″ AR-15 out of parts that are of a high quality from knowledgable and reputable manufacturers that good things can happen. It also helps when the person assembling the rifle knows what they are doing. The final variable to that equation is also using good ammunition and lubrication on the rifle. I knew from previous experiences with the AR-15 that I had enough lubrication on the rifle in my earlier range sessions, that much I am 100% confident about. To be certain that my electronic mentors advice wasn’t just a fluke, I repeated the 240 round range session with that rifle 5 more times and no real issues at all.
Part II What’s Next ?
In part II of the article we will go over the cursed 10.5″ BATFE Approved Short Barrel Rifle AR-15 that I attempted to build and the huge problem that was found when I broke the rifle all the way down. I’ll also cover my other errors, what I did to correct them and the problems that getting into a rush causes when building an AR-15. When I initially asked management about doing this two part article on what I learned about the AR-15 and how I have progressed as a gun owner and columnist I was hesitant. The interesting thing is upon further reflection, I’m ok with admitting my attempts at building guns, my failures, and my successes. I think if we are all honest with ourselves we all screw up and look like fools, some of us just do it on a much larger stage.
Check back for Part II which should be up next week. Reading the comments on these two should be great.
Feature Image: WWW.NRA.Org