This is my Blaster. There are many like it…

…but this one is mine.

The Blaster: A TacSol AR-22T upper with 15" AP Customs Tactical handguard

The Blaster: A TacSol AR-22T upper with 15″ AP Custom Tactical handguard

Well, there may not be any like it.  Looking at it completed assembled, my first thought was, “That looks like something out of Star Wars.”  But now you know why I asked if 15 inches is too long: It’s installed on a Tactical Solutions AR-22T dedicated .22 rimfire upper. Ordinarily a 15″ handguard on a 16.5″ barrel is not a problem (although they are most often used on 3-gun type rifles with 18″+ barrels).  However, because the rimfire barrel is recessed into the receiver by over an inch, I knew the barrel wouldn’t be too much longer than the handguard.

The yellow line indicates where the barrel begins.

The yellow line indicates where the barrel begins.

What I didn’t account for is the gap between the receiver and the back of the tube.  That left all of 1/16 of an inch of barrel to extend past the end of the handguard.

Technically the barrel extends past the handguard

Technically the barrel is longer

Obviously, there won’t be any trouble finding a place to mount iron sights on top of that which was the reason for adding the rail to begin with.  The plan is also to add a bipod stud as well and the handguard does have a row of vents along the bottom for adding accessories.  One of the two included APC add-on rail sections could be used for that purpose. They are rock solid when mounted and offer impressive flexibility of mounting locations [@1:30, 3, 6, 9 or 10:30 o’clock any where along the length].

Two 2 inch add-on rail sections are included with AP Customs Tactical Handguard

Two 2 inch add-on rail sections are included with AP Custom Tactical Handguard

However, the idea of adding a rail only to have to add a bipod stud adapter to then attach a bipod just irks me.  AP Custom will be introducing a simple, low profile bipod stud accessory but it hasn’t been released for sale at this time.  [BTW, they recently released a lo-pro QD socket that I want to try too.]  I did try IWC’s excellent V-2 Mount-n-Slot for MagPul MOE forends but while serviceable, it’s not an exact fit; MagPul vents are narrower and the surfaces around them are flat rather than curved like those of a free float tube.  This leaves a very slight amount of play when MOE accessories are mounted to an APC tube (unless you really want to wrench them down; I didn’t).

Vent size comparison: AP Customs carbon fiber handguard (top) to MagPul MOE (bottom); IWC V2 Mount-N-Slot on MOE

Vent size comparison: AP Customs carbon fiber handguard (above) to MagPul MOE (below); IWC V2 Mount-N-Slot on MOE

That didn’t keep me from doing a mock up of what it would be like with a bipod mounted though.

Shooting from within the rough.

In the jungle, the quiet jungle…

So now all it needs are the iron sights that led to this whole undertaking.  Well, they’re backordered.  But I’m sure that they’ll be along shortly; this panic buying stuff is tapering off, right? *sigh*

Until then, I’ll still be having a great time with the ‘Blaster’.  The TacSol upper is not only accurate and fun but it’s also an excellent training tool (inexpensive to shoot and great for introducing new shooters to the AR platform). Adding the AP Custom handguard and (eventually) aperture sights only makes it better.

Just one more pic.

And just one more pic.

Is 15 Inches Too Long?

Perhaps. More on that later.

After talking with the guys at AP Industries about their carbon fiber handguards, I ordered one for a ‘special project’.  The 15 inch ‘Tactical’ model to be exact, because I want the full length top rail for mounting iron sights.  The Tactical models also come with a couple of 2″ picatinny rails that can be mounted to any of the vents in the handguard.  Those will be put to use later.

New 15" Tactical Handguard from AP Custom USA.   [Note: strap wrench and action figure not required for installation; Darth Maul shown for scale]

New 15″ Tactical Handguard from AP Custom USA.
[Note: strap wrench and action figure NOT required for installation]

I had not attempted this type of project before [I’m not a gunsmith] and because I wanted to learn how to change out handguards / build AR upper receivers, I set about collecting the necessary tools.  The project upper was sporting a Hogue free float tube so I needed a strap wrench to remove it.  The upper receiver vise block I chose is by Wheeler Engineering and includes a very clever gas port alignment tool.  To install the new AP Customs handguard I needed a barrel nut wrench and a barrel nut.  Also required, but thankfully already owned, are a T15 Torx driver, a 1/2″ socket wrench handle, Blue Loctite, and a big honking vise.

Disclaimer: I am not a gunsmith.  This article does not constitute instruction. I’m not responsible for damage to you or your gun if you don’t seek out qualified instruction elsewhere.  I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how to remove muzzle devices, gas blocks, gas tubes, etc.

So, to the part where I remove the Hogue handguard (except that I didn’t get a picture of it in the vise)

Imagine this clamped in a vise...  [Gas port alignment rod removed for illustrative purposes]

Imagine this clamped in a vise… [Gas port alignment rod removed for illustrative purposes]

There. Done.

A couple of neat features of the AP Customs handguards are how light they are and how brilliant the attachment system is. APC designed a cup and a flange that ‘sandwich’ the barrel nut and ensure that when the gas tube port is aligned, the handguard (and therefore the top rail) is too.  Here’s how the parts are ordered: [click images to enlarge]

Parts of the AP Custom handguard attachment system shown aligned in 'exploded' view.  Milspec barrel nut is NOT included with handguard.

Parts of the AP Custom handguard attachment system shown aligned in ‘exploded’ view. Milspec barrel nut is NOT included with handguard.

These forum posts have more pictures if you are curious.  I cinched everything up using the highly technical method of turning the barrel nut to ‘hand tight’ and then using the barrel nut wrench to tighten it just enough until the nearest barrel nut notch aligned with the gas tube port.  No torque wrench needed.

As for weight savings, the Hogue midlength tube, with its integral barrel nut, weighs 9.9 ounces on my postal scale. The APC handguard parts and barrel nut combine to weigh 10.5 ounces.  That’s 6 inches more real estate to hold onto, plus a rail to attach sights to for only 0.6 ounces added.  Of course, adding additional rails for lights, VFG’s, etc will cause the weigh to stack up, as will adding those devices but that’s for each to decide on their own.

So how did it turn out?  Tune in Monday for the reveal!

New AR-15 Bolt Shatters After Only 4 Shots [pic]

A Reddit user posted a picture of an AR-15 bolt (supposedly Bushmaster) purchased through a third party seller that suffered a catastrophic failure after only four shots.  The bolt reportedly has no maker mark on it.  Even though the Great Gun Buying Frenzy of 2013 is tapering off some things in the pipeline apparently were rushed past QC (or are of questionable provenance).

I send this along just as a reminder that you should test parts before trusting them.

Catastrophic Failure of AR-15 Bolt after 4 shots [click to enlarge]

Catastrophic Failure of AR-15 Bolt after 4 shots [click to enlarge]

Apex Tactical M&P Polymer FSS Install Notes & Review

First off, Apex Tactical has exceptional customer service.  Yes, Randy Lee and his crew have published instructional videos to assist with the installation of their products but they have also continued to upgrade their products as well.  So while 99% of the information in the FSS install video remains accurate, there are a few things that changed when the new product launched.  I was able to install the Forward Set Sear kit with polymer trigger in my M&P without problem but I had a few questions afterward.  I used the Apex website contact form to submit them and received a response within just a couple of hours.  If you are considering installing an FSS kit, maybe what I learned will help you too.

Here’s the parts of the kit:

Apex Tactical Polymer Trigger FSS kit

Apex Tactical Polymer Trigger FSS kit (click to enlarge)

Earlier this year I installed a DCAEK from Apex so with that experience, this installation went smoothly but because the parts weren’t labeled I wanted to ask what the difference between the two trigger return springs was.  The answer I received (and I have labeled them as such above) is that the ‘green’ spring with the stepped coils is heavier and is intended for a duty/carry style trigger weight while the tapered silver spring is lighter for competition use.

My other question was about the Ultimate Striker Block that was provided.  In the FSS install video, it mentions that the USB in the FSS kit is different and specific to the FSS trigger.  The one I received looks just like the one from my DCAEK [with a domed head] so I asked if I had the correct one.  Their reply was:

Current to January of 2013 all of our USB’s are the same across the board. Older versions of the kits had different USB’s. If both USB’s you currently have are domed and rounded and bought within this year they are most likely the same. However If you purchased the DCAEK awhile back before 2013 it is different from the FSS.

This is good news, because now I have the option of swapping slides between my 5″ gun with the FSS and my 4″ gun with the DCAEK.

Other notes:

  • Even though a FSS specific RAM spring is provided, the RAM is not but can be purchased separately
  • Apex strongly recommends requires a sear block with the larger 1/8″ sear plunger and therefore only provides a 1/8″ spring.  Currently the only 9mm/.357/.40 sear block offered by Brownells includes the magazine safety and internal lock [note to self: if the product description is unclear, read the customer comments before you order].  If you need a new sear block without the mag safety or the lock order this one from Speed Shooter Specialties.
  • I installed the heavier of the two trigger return springs and it resulted in a 4lb 10oz pull in my gun.  As stated in a previous post, to me, it feels lighter than that.  The take-up is short and the break is the cleanest I’ve felt in an M&P pistol.  The geometry of the system includes an internal overtravel stop so the free travel after the break is greatly reduced which in helps eliminate sight upset.
  • After I’ve had a chance to shoot it [tomorrow?] with the heavier trigger spring, I will install the lighter one to see how it changes the pull and break.
  • Randy Lee has said that the FSS kits are meant to approximate a 1911-style trigger in a striker fired gun.  In my opinion, he has succeeded marvelously.

The most often heard criticism of S&W’s M&P series was regarding the quality of the trigger pull.  To their credit Smith and Wesson has listened to the market and worked to improve the factory triggers in recent production guns but if you want the best trigger, install a kit from Apex Tactical.

[Read the follow up here]

Pics: Apex Polymer FSS Installed

If you want to see what the Apex Tactical Polymer Trigger FSS (Forward Set Sear) looks like in the gun, here you go: [clicken to embiggen]

The FSS trigger kit is designed to closely approximate a 1911 style trigger pull in striker fired M&P pistols

The FSS trigger kit is designed to closely approximate a 1911 style trigger pull

And here’s a close-up showing the face of the trigger.  It has a more rounded contact surface than Apex’s aluminum FSS trigger.

The rounded face of the Apex Polymer FSS trigger

Apex Polymer FSS trigger

A review of the trigger kit will be forthcoming after I’ve had a chance to take it to the range.  For now I can say that I am very impressed.  The FSS kit has a short take up and a clean, crisp, short release that eliminates the ‘spongy’ break common to striker fired pistols.  Initial measurements show a consistent 4lb 10oz trigger pull but it feels lighter than that.

NRA Annual Meeting 2013: Friday (updated w/ pics)

Watch this space for updates. (all images are clickable to embiggen)
Additionally, check out my (relatively new) Twitter feed @1WithABullet

I tend to like gadgets and such so expect to see a few curiosities in here.  In fact, to start off here’s a picture of Mossberg 500 converted to accept Saiga 12 magazines by Black Aces Tactical.

Black Aces Tactical 'Pro Series Receiver' kit converts a Mossberg 500/590 to accept Saiga 12 magazines

Black Aces Tactical ‘Pro Series Receiver’ kit converts a Mossberg 500/590 to accept Saiga 12 magazines

It is currently sold as a kit, primarily consisting of a new receiver and bolt.  The fitting and action are well done and it has Type 3 hard anodizing on the receiver for a durable finish.

Next up is from Black Rain.  It’s an AK platform prototype currently called the ‘Freedom Fighter’.  Features include an easily manipulated thumb safety and also a right-sided mag guide that works much like a magazine funnel but still lets the shooter see the contact points necessary for rocking in a mag.  Mounted to the shoulder the stock placement is perfect the attached rail system.  Currently the arm is rather heavy but that is something that will be addressed as the design progresses.  Note also the AR-15 contained trigger unit (blue) that will be available soon.  It’s a single stage 3lb design that has a very nice clean break.

Looking much like the M41A Pulse Rifle from Aliens is an AK pattern rifle prototype from Black Rain.

Looking much like the M41A Pulse Rifle from Aliens is an AK pattern rifle prototype from Black Rain.

AP Industries, makers of excellent superlight carbon fiber handguards and shotgun speedloaders

AP Industries, makers of excellent superlight carbon fiber handguards and shotgun speedloaders

AP Industries is one of the companies that I specifically wanted to visit this weekend.  They make a fantastically lightweight AR-15 handguard that cleverly utilizes a standard barrel nut to attach the forend.  Additionally the handguards can be easily customized with rails, QD sockets and such that mount to the vent slots.  Their shotshell carriers and speedloaders are impressive too, with obvious care in design and machining.

Despite the ‘period of transition’ that Magpul is undergoing they still had quite a few new products to show.

Magpul's new AK magazine and pistol grip (with handstop)

Magpul’s new AK magazine and pistol grip (with handstop)

Magpul AK mag - closeup of non-tilt follower

Magpul AK mag – closeup of non-tilt follower

Not new but still good to see was the Stealth Gray furniture.  It’s darker that I thought it would be but looks good.  Notice that the forend is a midlength.  The new color is still in the pipeline but has been pushed back until the market is a bit less… frantic.

Magpul Stealth Gray - STR stock, MOE grip and Midlength Forend

Magpul Stealth Gray – STR stock, MOE grip and Midlength Forend

Magpul also has new steel back up iron sights (BUIS) called MBUS Pro’s and 1911 grips but my photos of those were not suitably in focus to post here.  I will try for better pics again tomorrow.

Another one of the ‘must see, must hold, “take my money now!”‘ items: the IWI Tavor.

IWI Tavor FDE

IWI Tavor FDE

Ergonomic and user friendly, I particularly like the way the bolt can be easily released by the hand inserting the magazine.  It appears that the only way to lock the bolt back is on an empty magazine though.  Trigger wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either (service grade), but then again it is a bullpup.

MKA 1919 tricked out for competition with side-charging handle on the forend and collapsible stock with 10 round magazine in place.

MKA 1919 tricked out for competition with side-charging handle on the forend and collapsible stock with 10 round magazine in place.

Some of you might have read my posts about converting my Saiga 12 and also using it in competition.  I still enjoy shooting it way more than I should however, I have been watching the development of the MKA 1919 as a competitive shotgun.  Partly because I am wary of low serial numbers, but also because magazines of greater than 5 round capacity were not readily available for the MKA 1919.  It offers several advantages over the Saiga platform, namely: straight-insertion magazines, ability to seat a magazine on a closed bolt, the magazine release button, bolt release and safety lever are in the same place as the M16/AR15 family, internally threaded choke tubes using the common WinChoke thread and it has a last round bolt hold-open.  The guys at imgww have railed hand guards with side-charging handles and collapsible stock modifications too.  Supposedly a replacement lower (not the serialized part) specifically designed to mount AR-type stocks is in the works also. Now that factory 10 rounders are available, even at $80 per mag, [down from $129 O_o although rumor is ProMag *cough* will be offering one for $33], I might have to consider getting one just for the cool factor.  I do love a ridiculously overdone [This is my] Boomstick.

Which leads me to my last pic of the day: EMF’s Baker Shotgun.  It’s esssentially Pedersoli’s Howdah pistol with a stock but it does have its own charm.  Charming in that you can blast your target and set it on fire at the same time.  (apologies for the lack of focus)

EMF Baker Cavalry Shotgun - Brutal Charm

EMF Baker Cavalry Shotgun – Brutal Charm

That’s it for today.  Check back for more tomorrow.

DIY Saiga 12, part 2 – Facilitating Mag Changes for Slug Changeovers

It’s been a couple of months since I posted about building up my DIY Saiga 12 and attending my first shotgun action match.  Since then I’ve had a chance to shoot it some more, and again at a match and I have modified my gun based on what I thought could be improved for use (primarily in competition).

One of the first things that I wanted to improve was speed and ease of magazine changes for slug changeovers.  Changing from shot to slug and back to shot using an AK-type shotgun is one of the greatest time sucks when on the clock.  To better accomplish that task I first wanted a mag coupler.  Having read on the internetz that a .308 MagCinch would also work for Saiga 12 mags, I bought one only to find that the ridges and bumps on the AGP magazines prevented proper contact of the mating surfaces which meant no matter how tightly they were joined, the magazines still had a fair amount of independent movement (i.e. ‘slop’).  Using a white crayon, I marked the MagCinch brackets where they needed to be relieved and then, carefully (with lots of trial fitting) used a Dremel tool to grind away where needed to allow solid contact.  This was a complete success and resulted in two magazines joined solidly.

.308 MagCinch on Saiga 12 mags from AGP. The staggered heights allows free access to the charging handle.

Now I keep shot loads in the right magazine and slugs in the left allowing me to change between the two as needed.  I was concerned that the recoil of a 12 gauge might cause rounds to dislodge on the open topped ‘jungle clipped’ magazine but that has turned out, thankfully, to not be the case.  For several hundred rounds now I have not had a single shell on the open mag dislodge or even move in the slightest for that matter.  However, changing between the two magazines still requires a particular technique.  Since S-12 magazines will not easily seat on an unmodified closed bolt, I also added a Tromix charging handle and a JT engineering extended magazine release which I thought would help with the method I use to more quickly change magazines.  That technique (the “Iraqi method”) can be seen in this video.

Proper combat technique or not, this method allows me to (1) fire a shot, (2) change my firing grip to grab the charging handle and pull it fully to the rear, clearing the chamber and holding the gun level against my shoulder, (3) reach up with my left hand to grab the magazines, (4) thumb the magazine release with my left hand to release the shot filled mag, (5) move the slug mag over two inches and lock it in place [and thereby not have to seat it on a closed bolt], and finally (6) release the charging handle to chamber a slug round and (7) reacquire a firing grip.  The knurled charging handle does help me perform this action with more control and comfort; the extended mag release does not.

Charging handle and mag release; magazine for shot loads

One of the reasons I chose JT’s single sided mag release was so that I could still use my left thumb for some mag changes and my trigger finger for others. Having my gun modified to allow loading on a closed bolt would largely eliminate having to do the manipulations above.  Another note regarding the extended mag release: It works well but I find that I have to shift my grip to use my index finger to release a magazine.  Maybe I need to look into an extended, extended magazine release.  Either way until I have the gun modded to load on a closed bolt, the extended release isn’t particularly useful because I’ll still have to use the “Iraqi reload” technique or lock the bolt back to load another magazine and both actions require two hands, negating the benefit of having an extended mag release.  However, the magazine coupler, the charging handle and the change in technique have significantly reduced the time I take to change from shot to slugs and back.

Charging handle and mag release; magazine for slug loads

Stay tuned for “DIY Saiga 12, Part 3 – Optics and Freakin’ Lasers!”

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