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!

DIY and Mods: User Friendly Chamber Flags

Chamber flags are useful safety items and even when not required due to range rules, I’ll use them just as a courtesy to other shooters.  However, some of them are not the most user friendly of devices, often they require a ‘bit of fiddling’ to get them in and out of the chamber.  With that in mind, here’s how I modify chamber flags.  [as usual, click images to enlarge]

Just knock off two corners and shave the sides of the stick.

Before and After.

All those right angles and nibs sticking out make for plenty to snag on.  I trim the outside corner and trim the sides to make it easier to insert and remove.  Trimming the inside corner of the flag provides a ‘finger hook’ that makes removal as easy as swiping a finger alongside the receiver.

Also while the standard flag will fit in a .22 rimfire bore, you can make your own by using a piece of string trimmer line and adding a wire crimp butt connector.  (I resisted the impulse of sophomoric humor; the link is safe)

A piece of weed whacker line and a crimped wire connector makes for a fine rimfire chamber flag

A piece of weed whacker line and a crimped wire connector makes a fine rimfire chamber flag

While the crimp connector isn’t absolutely necessary, I like it there for the peace of mind knowing the trimmer line can’t slip all the way into the bore.

For shotguns, the flags themselves aren’t really unwieldy but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved.  I recommend simply drilling a hole and adding a key chain of your choice.

Chamber flags for shotguns don't seem as unwieldy, but can still be improved

“Because I like it” is enough reason for me.

I realize that these aren’t revolutionary, life-changing mods but they make life a little bit easier on the range.  I hope you find them useful too.

Stop Using Crayons; Use Lacquer-Stik [Color Fill In Paint]

On YouTube there are several instructional videos showing how to fill in the stampings and engravings on firearms with color.  Some use crayons, others use nail polish, paint pens, Testors model paint, etc.  Some of these videos advocate heating items with a brazing torch (!) and use of harsh chemicals.  I have yet to find one that actually uses the product purpose-made for these projects: Laquer Stick.

Color Fill-In with Lacquer Stik.

Color Fill-In w/ Lacquer Stik for easy ID.  [Click to enlarge; Background – Hawaiian Shirt Friday]

Used like grease pencils, you just rub / smudge the compound into the markings you want to highlight and then wipe away with the excess with a cloth.  [I to use 100% cotton patches to prevent any chance of scratching.]  After a while it dries and becomes permanent. You can degrease with rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits beforehand if you want, but I don’t always do that.  The surface of the marker will dry between uses so the next time you need it, just take a knife a slice off the dried layer to expose fresh compound.  And they go a long way; at $5 per stick, one of each color you want to use is pretty much a lifetime supply.

While I generally don’t feel the need to advertise the makers’ marks on my firearms (Flair!), I do enjoy being able to quickly discern which flavor of Glock magazine I’m looking in the back of the safe without having to shine a light on it.  They are also useful for highlighting the round count numbers on magazines or safety selector marks on receivers.  A product reviewer on Brownells website used it to fill in engraving to prevent rusting of the bare metal.

So avoid the ‘Crayon and Flame’ method and do it right.

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]

How To Build an Ammo Can Rack (a.k.a the Overbuilt Shelf Project)

I’m getting a late start on my Spring cleaning but at least it’s in progress.  Shortly after beginning my effort to reduce, condense and catalog I realized that I had stashed ammo cans throughout the house in various closets, cabinets, etc.  As I began to gather them all in one place it became obvious that while it’s nice to have them neatly stacked and orderly, the chances are that whichever can you need at any given moment is usually the one on the bottom and on the second row back.   What I needed were shelves, very sturdy shelves.  Shelves that could hold several .50 cal cans full of nothing but lead (if need be – I bought bullets for a penny a piece from a caster that went out of business a while back and still have a few cans full).  I first looked at commercially available heavy duty shelving units from the Orange and Blue big box hardware stores but none were even close to the specific size I needed so I decided to build my own.  [Keep reading there will be lots of pictures a bit farther down]

Let me first explain that both of my grandfathers were of the opinion that “If one will do, five (or more) will do better.”  My paternal grandpa worked at the Carswell AFB machine shop building and fixing B-29’s, B-36’s, and B-52’s.  I have fishing lures of his that he made in the 50’s using spare titanium airplane engine shims.  Still no rust on those!  My maternal grandpa was a craftsman as well and the lake house he built has 3 times as much wood as any other house in the same subdivision.  I can personally verify that, as I had difficulty boring holes for wiring because the studs were so close together.  The lady that lives in that house now said all of her neighbors seek shelter there when the occasional hurricane blows through.  So with a double helping of the ‘overbuild’ gene, a few tools and measurements and some wood, I was ready to start.

I recalled reading a blog post of a similar project at Walls of the City a while back and found it again with a quick search.  My shelves were built based off that plan but with slightly altered measurements: they are 13″ deep and the space below the first shelf is slightly taller (9 1/2″) to accommodate cases of Winchester AA shotgun shells, MTM Dry Boxes, or the odd “Saw Box/Fat 50″ ammo can.  The remaining shelves are 8″ tall for standard .50 and .30 cal ammo cans and the overall width is 29” which allows four “.50’s” per shelf with a little wiggle room.  Also, I did not include a center support.  I used 1/2″ plywood (instead of Linoge’s 3/4″) partly because it was cheaper and partly because it made the math easier.   About seven hand picked white wood (fir) 2′ x 4′ x 8′ studs were picked for the frame – looking for the straightest I could find.  For screws, I decided to try Spax #8 Construction (wood to wood) Screws in 2 1/2″ length.  They use a Torx-type bit to drive them (included in the box), were priced competitively and advertise “no pre-drilling required”.  My experience is that the ‘no pre-drilling’ claim is bona fide; I did not have any split boards and the screws finished nicely.  However, this project needed 140 screws* and the one pound box of screws said “approx. 130 screws”, so I made up the difference with some 3″ #10 coated deck screws on the back side to secure the shelves to the frame.  Those I pre-drilled with a countersink bit.

[*requires lots of screwing]

Tools used were:

  • Makita 10″ mitre saw w/ stand (for the 2×4’s)
  • 7″ Skilsaw circular saw (for plywood)
  • Craftsman industrial hand drill, corded
  • Speed square
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Wood glue, 1 medium bottle
  • 5″ Flexible bit holder (to attach shelves)

Rather than re-write Linoge’s post, I will instead post some pictures of the various stages and include a few notes along with them.

Beginning notes:

  1. Be safe – wear goggles when cutting, keep fingers that you want to retain away from spinning blades, etc.
  2. Remember the thickness of the saw blade and which side of the line to cut.
  3. Measure at least twice as often as you cut.
  4. Consider that when using a circular saw the best cut edge is on the bottom.
  5. Remember the thickness of the plywood when figuring shelf heights.
  6. Even though I used studs and plywood I still considered ‘presentation’ when assembling the shelves so that most ink stamps and knots were on the inside, underside or back of the finished work.
  7. Pictures shown here were taken with a cell phone so the distortion evident is due to the camera lens and angle of the shots, not due to haphazard construction
  8. There is no such thing as ‘straight wood’.
  9. Do not attempt this project if you live in California.

"Warning: This product may generate wood dust, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer"

Everything causes cancer in California.

Alright, here we go.

Set up to cut up

Preparing to build 'ladders' (note temporary spacers between 61" legs)

The long boards will be the vertical supports (legs) of the shelves.  I used 3″ spacers to keep the boards parallel.  Finished 2 x 4’s are actually 1.5″ x 3.5″ so a 3″ spacer makes a 10″ wide “ladder”; with the external horizontal supports in place the depth overall becomes 13″.

Adding 10" shelf supports (rungs), note spacer still in place. Every joint "Glued & Screwed"

Starting to build the ladders.  Use a straight edge to true the bottom edges to each other.  Do the top and bottom shelf supports (rungs) first, then add the other rungs shelf supports.  Work on as level a surface as you can.

A matched set of "ladders"

OK, I forgot to take a picture of the basics of the next step – but again I cut matched 26″ spacers for top and bottom that indexed against the vertical supports (legs) and the upper and lower most shelf supports (rungs) when laid on the ground.  This assisted me, working alone, to maintain parallel from top to bottom.  They also served as minor bracing to aid with assembly.  I attached the top and bottom exterior horizontal shelf supports (stringers) then worked on the middle ones.  I did one complete side (all glued and screwed), flipped the project and did the other side.

Horizontal supports ("Stringers"?) added. Spacers not shown.

Next, cut shelves from plywood using the circular saw.  My Skilsaw cuts a better edge on the underside, so I made sure the face of plywood I wanted to show on the top of the shelf was on the underside when I cut it.  Also I cut the top shelf larger to completely cover the top edges of the vertical supports.  Here’s another reason I used ‘half inch plywood’:

Thickness .453" --> That's right, it's .45 caliber plywood

Handy tip: Cut your own wood.  Don’t think you can get any kind of accuracy from the giant table saw at the big box hardware stores.  The complimentary cuts they offer are only good for fitting your purchase in your car.

Shelves added, secured with screws using flexible bit holder (and more glue)

So, how did it turn out?  Well, Spax says the shear load of each screw is 350 lbs maximum and I used six at each corner of each shelf but only four actually insert into the vertical supports so we’ll only count those.  So, in theory each shelf can hold at least 2.8 tons (glue strength is not factored in) and with 5 shelves that makes for a total of 14 tons of capacity… I’d say that’s fairly stout.  Then again maybe later I’ll add some more screws, you know, just to be sure.  Stay tuned for the action shot.

 “]Final notes:

  1. That was a lot of screwing.
  2. I plan to add some method of securing it to the wall. It would take a serious bump to knock it over but I tend to err on the side of safety.
  3. Now that I have most of my ammo cans together in one spot, my stuff is easier to find, sort, tally and also I’m re-discovering some neat stuff I forgot I had.  Like a pristine box of .357 Black Talons, for instance.

Home Security Tips – The Car Keys / Car Alarm Solution

I received the following well intentioned email:


Put your car keys beside your bed at night

Tell your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your parents, your Dr’s office, the check- out girl at the market, everyone you run across. Put your car keys beside your bed at night.

If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies.

This tip came from a neighborhood watch coordinator. Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this:  It’s a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it.  It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain.

It works if you park in your driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the burglar/rapist won’t stick around.

After a few seconds all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough the criminal won’t want that.

And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there. This is something that should really be shared with everyone. Maybe it could save a life or a sexual abuse crime.

Would also be useful for any emergency, such as a heart attack, where you can’t reach a phone. You can activate the car alarm and then folks will know there’s a problem.

Please pass this on even IF you’ve read it before. It’s a reminder.

My first thought was, “That’s pretty thin, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.” Then I thought, “My cordless phone doesn’t want to work in the next room, how is my car remote supposed to work from the bedroom to the car through a brick house?”  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how many people would read that email and think, “Oh. OK, problem solved.  I have a security system now.”

While, I would not call it a ‘solution’ by any means, hopefully the car alarm suggestion is a starting place for some folks to think about things they may have previously decided to ignore.

It would be great if home invaders were always scared off by noise, but if they are so brazen as to break into a house knowing that the residents are home, I wouldn’t count on the fear of a car alarm sounding off to deter them.  Besides, how many times have you heard a car alarm in a parking lot and thought somebody bumped a car with a shopping cart, opened a car door into another car, etc. and, “Would someone please turn that *(&^%$@! thing off!”?   The worst case scenario for users of car alarm suggestion would be that the car alarm covers up your screams for help.

Even with a monitored house alarm, I wouldn’t expect it to chase away the bad guys.  Granted, that would be the ideal outcome (and it has happened) but I wouldn’t count on it.  I would expect the house alarm to wake me the second a window is broken or a door is kicked, allowing me to respond.  Not to disparage the cops at all; I want them to come when the alarm goes off, and quickly.  But I also know that they have no legal duty to protect me.   The responsibility of protection for an individual lies with the individual.  And as has been said before: “When seconds count, the cops are only minutes away.”  A lot can happen in ‘minutes’.

A more reasoned and prepared approach for home security would be to have a monitored alarm for your residence, a good dog, outside lighting, limited (or defensive) ‘landscaping’, deadbolts on solid core doors (even bedroom doors), and quick access to a strong flashlight and a ready firearm (or two so your spouse can assist) that you are competent with.

I’d also suggest keeping your cell phone and charger next to your bed (rather than next to the front door, etc.) in case the bad guys decide to cut your phone lines and power before they break in.

Lastly, get good training and most important of all – Have a plan.  Also have a backup plan for when the first one doesn’t work.

I realize this is ‘preaching to the choir’ for many, but for those who find this article looking for the CAR KEYS! email, please think about all possible measures to ensure your safety.

BTW: CPR lessons, first aid kits, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and a good stock of canned food are also handy to have as ‘security measures’.

How to: Home Built Target Stands

I have been looking to build some target stands for a while now.  With the pre-made versions selling for as much as $60, I’d rather fabricate my own and have more money free to buy ammo.   Up until yesterday, I thought that I would use the steel angle iron from an old bed frame for the project. However, that was until I stumbled on the ‘scrap wood’ bargain bin at the local Home Despot.  In a fortunate case of being in the right place at the right time, I happened upon four 2’x4′ sheets of half-inch double-sided paneling for the outrageous price of $0.51 each!  [I think that they normally sell for about $10 each.]

With little more than the paneling, a scrap of 2″x 10″ pine in my garage, a circle saw and a hand full of deck screws I was able to fashion 5 target stands for under $10.00 (most of which was the cost of the screws).

The materials.

The materials.

Using a speed square, circle saw, and a field expedient work surface, cut the paneling (can substitute plywood) into 9″ x 24″ strips and the pine board into 2 5/8″ blocks.  I sanded all cuts with a ‘sanding sponge’ to make the stands easier on the hands when assembled.

Strips and blocks

Strips and blocks

Pre-assemble with glue and clamp into a shallow box.  The long slot in the middle should be just under 19″ wide.  Pre-drill holes for screws  (prevents splitting)  at 1″ in and 1″ up from bottom edge and 1″ in and 1 1/2″ from top.  Flip the box and do the same again.  Use 2″ deck screws to secure.

Shallow boxes.  Long slot allows for different widths of target.

Shallow boxes. Long slot allows for different widths of target.

For the feet of the stand, cut paneling into 7 1/2″ x 24″ planks.  Find the center and mark perpendicular line with speed square.  Mark screw positions at 2.5″, 4.5″ and 6.5″ from bottom edge.  (At this point I chose to cut the upper corners of the feet at 45 degree angles for cosmetics and to save possibly scraped ankles.)  Find centers of small edge of the assembled shallow boxes and mark at same distances.  Pre-drill for screws.  Apply glue and attach feet with deck screws.

Finished Target Stands

Finished Target Stands

How do they work?  Pretty darn good; with a base of 24″ square and made of solid wood they are very stable.  I set up a homemade cardboard target, cut from a furniture box, stapled to 1″x 2″ furring strips.  There was a little play front-to-back due to the depth of the slot (using 2″ thick boards as spacers) .  To solve this I used cutting scraps of paneling as wedges.  Next time I’ll try stapling the target to the 1″ side of the furring strips instead of the 2″ side.

Target Fixed and Ready

Target Fixed and Ready

Not wanting to wait to get to the range to test the stands I loaded up my Airsoft 1911 (KJ Works GBB-614) and thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of my labor.  Front sight, press, smile, repeat.

Update:  They also stack for storage.

Stackable for storage

Stackable for storage