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34 Ways to Cut Corners on Manufacturing an AR15

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by Bartholomew Roberts, Dec 26, 2006.

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  1. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    Ever wonder why a Colt LE6920 sells for over $1k while an Olympic Plinker sells for under $600 on occasion? One reason is that there are dozens of places to change parts away from the specifications military contractors must provide to cheaper parts and practices that may not be necessary for commercial ARs. Not all of these changes are bad. Many of them will never be noticed by 99% of shooters; but some of them can effect function and I think it is important that a buyer understand what type of trade they are making when purchasing a rifle.

    For an easy to follow shorthand, I've set up the following reference system (reflecting only my own opinions):
    * Most likely will not make a difference for all but the most demanding shooters who put their rifles to hard use.
    ** Unlikely to make a difference for the vast majority of recreational shooters, may see occasional issues among those who train frequently.
    *** Known to effect reliability for all users, though it may still not be an issue if you don't shoot that much.

    1. Use cheap extruded or cast charging handle instead of proper forged charging handle.**
    2. Cheap shot-filled or plastic buffer instead of correct military rifle or carbine buffer.***
    3. 4140 barrel steel instead of 4150 MIL-B-11595.*
    4. Don't proof test the barrel or bolt.*
    5. No need for magnetic particle inspection of barrel or bolt.*
    6. Don't test-fire the rifle prior to selling it.***
    7. Replace heat-shielded handguard with lower grade plastic and no heat shield handguards.**
    8. Use the same front sight base for every model instead of F-marked front sight base for flattops.*
    9. Cast front sight base instead of forged.*
    10. Cast upper and lower receivers.**
    11. Plastic upper and lower receivers.**
    12. Have a bunch of uppers that don't quite meet the Picatinny spec? We'll take them at a discount!**
    13. Torquing and staking the gas key is something the customer can do.***
    14. No chrome-lining.*
    15. Why buy chrome-silicon springs designed for the weapon when we can use a cheaper steel and cut them to fit?***
    16. That part is only a little out of spec. We can make it work with a little grinding and save money on parts too!***
    17. Why use trained monkeys for assembly when regular monkeys work for half and can do the job almost as well?***
    18. Make so many exceptions to your "lifetime warranty" that it will be impossible for anyone to ever make a valid claim against your "warranty."
    19. Nobody will ever notice a few .001" difference on that part.**
    20. Our patented spray-paint finish is much better than anodizing.**
    21. Shipping every rifle with an HBAR profile to save machining costs, even if it is an entry rifle/"lightweight" carbine.*
    22. Replace metal parts with plastic -plastic magazine release, trigger guard or delta ring.**
    23. Use an Unmarked/mismarked A2 Elevation Adjustment Knob for the rear sight.**
    24. Plastic A2 trapdoors in the butt of the rifle stock.**
    25. Replace forged AR15 hammer with cast hammer.**
    26. No drain hole in stock screw.**
    27. Dremel cut feed ramps instead of feed ramps cut prior to anodizing.***
    28. Use cheaper cast/extruded receiver extension instead of military extension (different diameter also).**
    29. No parkerizing under the FSB.*
    30. Straight pins or even roll pins instead of taper pins in FSB.***
    31. Using A2 windage drums on detachable carry handles.**
    32. Don't mark the barrel with chambering or twist rate.**
    33. Don't stake the castle nut in place.**
    34. Don't shot-peen the bolt during manufacturing.*

    Note that there is often disagreement about how crucial some of these issues are and likely people will disagree with some of the arbitrary judgements I've made just to simplify it for those who don't want to read through a discussion on each of the 34 points. Also note that you can often learn more about any one of these subjects using a quick search in the rifle forum.

    Thanks to the members of AR15.com who helped me flesh out and condense this list.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2006
  2. Owen

    Owen Moderator Emeritus

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    I'm fairly confident that the M16 barrel is not parkerized under the front sight base.
     
  3. taliv

    taliv Moderator

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    that's interesting

    would be very interesting to see some documentation from colt and others that say whether they do all those things or not
     
  4. grimjaw

    grimjaw Member

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    Bart, I hope all of this isn't fuming because somebody put an Olympic under your Christmas tree . . . :p

    Thanks for the info.

    jm
     
  5. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    I can't speak to all versions of the M16 over the years; but current practice is for both the A2/A4 and M4 to be parkerized under the front sight base.

    However, my Bushmaster HBAR that I had owned from 1998-2005 (9k rounds) had been used in rain and even sleet without ever having any maintenance more than a few drops of CLP dribbled on the front sight base. When I removed the front sight base in 2005 (to remove the barrel), it had a slight bit of rust around the edges where it met the front sight base and was bright, shiny untouched steel underneath.

    The Colt LE line does not do any of those things AFAIK (except some minor ones like a plastic trigger guard). However, the other Colt lines have been known to use some of them - plastic buffers are one example that comes to mind, though the Colt are better than what you usually see in that department and don't cause function issues.

    I actually like Olympic (my first AR was an Oly); but they do use a few of these. In fact most manufacturers do at least one or more of those things, including some very respectable AR manufacturers. In Oly's case it lets them build a rifle for a good price point that will meet the needs of 95% of shooters out there.
     
  6. Correia

    Correia Moderator Emeritus

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    Since this is such a blatently obvious one when you pull the bolt carrier out, I've been checking every brand of AR that has come through the store.

    Some of them are shockingly bad. With the metal having a little tiny mark that doesn't even come close to the bolts. I should probably line like ten of them up and take a picture.
     
  7. Bazooka Joe71

    Bazooka Joe71 Member

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    Great Thread Mr. Roberts! You've always got the good stuff when it comes to AR advice. :D

    When looking at RRA, Stag, DPMS, and Bushy, what are some of the cost cutting methods of these brands(mainly major points)?

    The reason I ask this is because, well one, I just bought an RRA....And two, I am getting ready to purchase another(something with a longer barrel).

    Thanks
     
  8. ny32182

    ny32182 Member

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    Bushy is pretty good. RRA has gotten better in the relatively recent past.

    To my knowledge, my Bushy (a fine gun) is not parked under the front sight, and doesn't use an F-marked sight even though it is a flat top. It is a 20" HBAR. My 16" Bushy Superlight (ban era) was also a fine gun, though it's castle nut was not staked. It never came loose, but I've started to view this as more of an issue since seeing a couple of them work loose when not staked.

    If you really want every last little detail to be milspec, you have to buy Colt LE models (NOT civi models), or LMT (and some colts use odd pin sizes, though I'm not sure exactly which ones).
     
  9. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    4, 5, 19, 21, 28, 29, 33, and 34 are all common to the manufacturers you mention. On #13, DPMS doesn't stake carrier keys at all last time I looked (2005). Stag, RRA and Bushmaster stake them; but often do it very poorly.

    You can find pictures of improper and properly staked carrier keys here:
    http://www.ar15.com/content/page.html?id=122.

    Having said that, none of my own carrier keys are properly staked as shown in that link and they are doing just fine for me. My spare BCG is a DPMS and has no staking. My other two BCGs are CMT and have the cheesy screwdriver staking across the top of the screws. This isn't an effective way to stake the screws; but it does make it easy to visually check if the screws have come loose by making sure the marks are still aligned. Since I am lazy, I will probably not have them properly staked until they eventually start to work loose or until I catch someone with one of those Mother Of All Staking tools that Pat Rogers mentioned in SWAT Magazine.

    I'd also add that many local FFLs are responding to the market by doing some of these steps themselves (retorquing and staking the gas keys for example), so you can often find brands like RRA and Stag that do have these features because those FFLs went the extra mile for their customers.
     
  10. ny32182

    ny32182 Member

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    This is the staking job from my last LMT M16 BCG:

    [​IMG]

    My Bushies weren't done quite as well, but neither ever came/has come loose.
     
  11. Bazooka Joe71

    Bazooka Joe71 Member

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    Please guys, pardon my complete ignorance on this subject, but I am trying to learn...What does it mean to "stake" the carrier key? What does it do?

    I also am unfamiliar with #33, and #34.

    Thanks alot guys.
     
  12. slzy

    slzy Member

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    ar was designed as a survival weapon when yer aero-plane gets shot down. if you limit it to the intended use all these problems would'nt surface.:neener:
     
  13. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    Staking means to knock a little bit of the surrounding metal in so it binds the screw slightly. You can still undo the screw if you need to; but it makes it difficult for it to work loose due to vibration. Between shooting generated vibration and riding around in the back of vehicles, the screws can work loose. If they do work loose, gas will begin to escape from the gas key and the rifle will short stroke (not cycle fully) or become a straight-pull bolt action.

    #33 - The castle nut is the nut that holds the receiver extension of the collapsible stock into the lower receiver. If it works loose, the receiver extension (also referred to as the "buffer tube") will work loose from the lower receiver. Usually most people notice their stock wiggling badly before that happens though.

    #34 - Shot peening is a surface stress relief treatment that is required for military bolts. It reduces the propensity of the bolt to crack. Together with magnetic particle inspection, a bolt that has had both should be less likely to crack. However, if Colt prices are any guide, they also add a lot to the price of a bolt ($162.50 for a Colt bolt from SAW, compared to $60 for an RRA bolt). Given that even non-MP inspected, non-shot peened bolts rarely crack and that even MP-inspected, shot peened bolts have cracked, few people are willing to pay an extra $100 for that extra layer of security.
     
  14. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

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    Having worked on Mil-Spec M16s long before I ever began working on AR15 clone rifles I totally agree with everything Mr. Roberts posted.

    Like anything else in life if you want it done right the first time it is better to do it yourself or have someone who knows the subtle differences do the work for you.
    Yes it will cost more and be worth every penny.

    Insist on Mil-Spec standards and if the builder argues then find another builder.

    I forgot to add I like 4140 and stainless steel for AR barrels but they are not Mil-Spec.
     
  15. Bazooka Joe71

    Bazooka Joe71 Member

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    Once again Bartholomew, you made the muddy water clear again.:D

    Thanks for the detailed response.
     
  16. Andrew S

    Andrew S Member

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    Excellent post. Thank you so much.

    I have been considering purchasing one of the mid-length kits from Del-Ton so I emailed them with this list asking their input and which of these they do. When they respond I will try and remember to post the results for you guys.
     
  17. DMK

    DMK Member

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    Great list!

    Everyone does some of these things on some of their models. Even Colt. Blindly buying by brand name does not get you the best product. Knowledge is power. Caveat Emptor. Etc.
     
  18. redneck2

    redneck2 Member

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    OK, so at the risk of sounding totally ignorant (common occurance on my part)..

    which manufacturer (other than chosing the mil-spec thing) comes the closest?

    I have my ideas, but wanted an expert opinion

    And, when we get the endless "How can I build an AR for $299.99" thread, are these the things they're missing???

    I have a Bushie Varminter and would hope that it's got a lot more of the list of 34 than not.

    Interesting read.
     
  19. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    Colt, Sabre Defence, LMT and Bravo Co. come the closest that I have seen. The common thread there is that three of those manufacturers have government contracts for M4s or M4 parts (Bravo Co. is the odd one out IIRC). Naturally, when you have to meet that spec anyway, you tend to produce commercial products that are very similar. However, all four companies have products that stray to various degrees. As an example, the Colt LE line is very close. The other Colt ARs are not so close.

    However, you should understand that many of these are not bad things necessarily. Most of them save the customer money without sacrificing anything they will ever need in their daily use. If you want these things as a customer, then by all means, you should insist on them and there are places that will provide them. Just understand that it will cost you more for these features and many of them are of debateable value. Likewise, if you are paying Colt LE6920 prices; but have extruded/plastic parts then you can probably find a better deal.

    4, 5, 8, 14, 19, 21, 22, 29 and 34 apply to the Varminter and 9 & 13 sometimes apply as well.

    Just to clarify this, here is how my own favorite AR stacks up to that list:

    3 (SS instead of 4150), 4, 5, 13, 14, 34.

    Despite that, it runs just great and is both reliable and accurate. #3 & 14 were a conscious choice on my part based on the barrel I wanted. 4, 5, & 34 were also a conscious choice. I didn't want to pay the extra money because I didn't feel it was a good trade for my uses. #13 was just the manufacturer delivering a poor product and me being too lazy to correct it.
     
  20. Gary G23

    Gary G23 Member

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    Great post. I'll often compare AR's with Rolex watches and their copies. Those cheap Rolex copies I used to buy on the street in New York City LOOK like a real Rolex from a distance but their is a HUGE difference in their construction. Same goes for AR's.
     
  21. CDignition

    CDignition Member

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    ISnt comparing an M16 or M4 that the Fed Govt buys for service in war, to a commercially available AR-15 that some guy will sit in bed and drool over kinda apples and oranges??

    AR-15 also lacks select fire capability, ya forgot that one...

    Lets do the same comparison to the HumVee.. and the commercially available Hummer model 1.... there is no comparison...

    all the shot peening, Parkerizing under sight posts, etc, is not really required for the guns we buy as consumers...unless you plan on treating them like the military does...:rolleyes:
     
  22. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    The point of this thread is just to help people become informed consumers. As my previous posts have already made clear, I would agree that many of the military requirements are not necessary or even always desirable.

    However, you can't make an informed decision as a consumer if you aren't aware of the differences to begin with. I believe that people should be aware of these differences and decide for themselves whether they need that feature. If they don't need it, they shouldn't pay for it. Likewise, if they are paying Colt LE6920 prices, they should receive Colt LE6920 features.
     
  23. dm1333

    dm1333 Member

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    This another very informative thread, the third or fourth on AR-15s that I can recall over the last month. I printed out the list of the 34 items and started to do a little research. There is an overwhelming amount of info available on the internet and this gives a lot of us a good place to start educating ourselves when it comes to the AR. Thanks again to everyone!
     
  24. possum

    possum Member

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    great thread, very informative. i think this might should be a sticky!
     
  25. Bazooka Joe71

    Bazooka Joe71 Member

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    First of all, +1 on the idea that this should be a sticky...Or maybe a more consolidated version, showing which companies do this or that to cut their costs.

    I did have a couple of questions though, and if its a hastle, then no biggie...But which #'s do RRA do to cut costs? Just as a reference, if I ever want to replace curtain parts, so I have a heads up.

    Also, Bartholomew do you have your own site? I thought I saw one of your threads awhile back saying you did...If so, please post a link.

    Thanks for all the help. Coming from an AR newbie, the help I get from here is exponetially greater than what I could learn on my own.
     
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