Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cheese Graters: The Quad Rail

Now, there are many who believe the quad-rail is the best system to attach your kit to. M-LOK, Keymod, etc... these are things emasculated men put on their AR/M4/m16-type rifle. Picatinny rails work the best! So what if they're heavier, bulkier, harder to grasp, and slower into action? If you're worried about any of that, you must need to lift weights and learn how to be tough... what a pathetic excuse for man!

Of course, that's a little bit of satire. Anyone who thinks Kyle Defoor or Travis Haley are little sissies is pretty much an idiot. But, many people actually do speak about people who use things like Keymod or M-LOK in those terms. Are they right? No. Not at all. They're idiots, like I said. If you're sitting there reading this and have a quad rail on your rifle, fear not! You see, it's not that Picatinny rails have no place or that your gun has become an obsolete piece of trash, destined for the scrap heap. It's certainly not to say you are an idiot if you use a quad-rail. But, if you think Defoor and Haley are sissies, you definitely made an error in judgement.

So, what's wrong with a quad-rail? Well, it's not so much "wrong" as it is "less than optimal." For starters, the weight is not optimal. Quad rails are heavier than these other mounting systems. So, some ask, why not just lift weights to get stronger to compensate? You see, a guy who uses Keymod can work out too and he's all the faster for it. Keymod attachment points are cut-outs in the handguard that actually reduce the weight of the handguard and allow you to add your attachments! This alone is reason to go with a Keymod or M-Lok rail. Also, I totally respect a man who can "embrace the suck" to endure pain and discomfort... even that of grabbing a cheese grater, or otherwise. But, you're deranged (more precisely, a masochist) if you think it's better to be enduring needless pain/discomfort, than to get more ergonomic equipment.  Having Quad rails puts you at a disadvantage because of their weight, uncomfortable grip, and bulk. It's as simple as that.

What about the detractors of systems like Keymod and M-LOK? What are their chief arguments? Basically, they complain about how weak those attachment types are. Personally, I've never jumped out of an APC in Fallujah, but I do use my guns... a lot. I can tell you that Keymod and M-LOK will hold up to any normal wear and tear. I can also tell you that you shouldn't be mounting an optic to your handguard... or pretty much anything else that is mission critical. I mean, it's not like your gun becomes inoperable if a "broomstick" or vertical grip comes loose. If real men lift weights to lift heavy rifles, can't those real men shoot a rifle without a mall-ninja-esque vertical grip? These are not exactly mission-critical pieces of kit. (Just in case you're wondering, I do use small vertical grips. Hot barrels and gas blocks make them pretty useful a times, plus they act as a hand stop. But, I would do just fine if mine fell off, especially if I'm wearing gloves, which is my point. I'm just poking fun at the internet commandos.) I can also tell you that the 12 o'clock picatinny rail on your handguard is there for any such attachments that are mission critical.

So, in short, Quad Rails are not needed and add extra weight. If you're looking at a new handguard for your AR15, I would look for a continuous 12 o'clock rail, enough length to allow you reach out near the muzzle to control the rifle better, and a weight of 10oz or less. Virtually all of those are going to be Keymod or M-LOK. If you have a quad rail and really like it for what it is, you don't have to go lighter just because I say so. But, I highly recommend trying out lighter weight options to see how you like it - I bet you don't go back.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dwell Time - What it is and Why it Matters

Dwell Time - the amount of time the BCG is receiving gas pressure. It is also expressed by the length of barrel between the gas port and the muzzle.

In more simple terms: the length between the hole (gas port) in the top of the barrel where the gas vents out and the end (muzzle) of the barrel.

So, why is it important? If you don't have the right amount of Dwell Time, your gun won't reliably cycle, if it cycles at all. This is literally the thing that makes the gun automatically cycle, so that you don't have to run the action manually after each shot. If you don't have enough Dwell time, it won't cycle weaker loads and may lead to failure to extract or failure to load issues. If you have way too much, the gun may cycle too quickly and cause different feeding issues or extraction issues. Too much Dwell Time will also wear down the parts much faster because the action will cycle more violently, which also has a negative effect on your follow up shots. If the gun is cycling more violently, you won't be able to hold it on target as well - no matter how strong you are. Also, I want to make it clear: when speaking of recoil here, it is not a matter of 5.56 hurting your shoulder - it's a matter of lining up your next shot as fast as possible. I mean, it's 5.56...

How do you find out your Dwell Time? Reference the following list and subtract the length listed for your gas system from the length of barrel

Pistol: 5"
Carbine: 7"
Mid-Length: 9"
Rifle: 13"

So, a Mid-Length gas system on a 16" barrel gives approximately 7" of Dwell Time (16" - 9" = 7"). A Pistol gas system on a 12" barrel also gives 7" of Dwell Time. Your typical Colt LE6920 (16" barrel and Carbine gas system) gives about 9" of Dwell time. The AR platform, when originally adopted, was a 20" barrel with a Rifle gas length, so 7" Dwell Time. An M4 is a 14" barrel with a Carbine gas system, so 7".

So, how do you know if you have the right amount? I can tell you from personal experience, 7" to 9" will reliably cycle a 5.56-chambered AR with most ammo. I prefer 7" DT (Dwell Time) as it provides me the best recoil management and reliability for my rifles. It's 100% reliable and noticeably lower recoil than a 9" DT, like you'll find in the Colt LE6920. (Bear in mind, I use brass-cased ammo exclusively.) If you are going to use steel-case ammo, I would recommend the 9" DT for reliability. But, then you're using steel-cased ammo, so clearly reliability isn't your biggest concern... ZING! One way people combat muzzle rise and recoil, particularly on 9" DT rifles, is to use a Compensator. Compensators are Muzzle Devices intended to control the movement of the rifle by using the gas exiting the barrel, but they are loud, tend to do a poor job of hiding flash, and are less than kind to anyone sitting next to you at a range. And, using one in your house for self-defense will more negatively impact your hearing. (And, your family's hearing!) They can help a lot, but they don't save the internals of your rifle from abuse and are worse for your hearing. Overall, I would prefer to just get the right DT and use a flash hider.

So, to put a bow on it, try to stay between 7" to 9" DT and you should be just fine, in terms of reliability, but 7" DT is preferred.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Length of Barrel Should I Buy?

What is the "best" length of barrel for an AR?

This is a question many first-time AR buyers have, but there are very few solid answers on the web. Many more, in my experience, don't comprehend the significance of this choice until they've had the chance to shoot more and try other people's guns. (And, come to understand the laws concerning barrel length in the US.) Many don't understand, or even know they should consider, the Dwell Time that a particular barrel offers or the effects of barrel length on velocity or lethality. I know from personal experience and seeing my friends go through stages of understanding of the rifle's system that you won't know what you really like or what works best for you until you get enough experience to form an opinion. I hope to speed up that process for my readers.

The first aspect to consider is the law. Legally, a Centerfire Rifle Barrel must be at least 16" long. The only ways to circumvent that are:
1. You pin and weld a flash suppressor, or other muzzle device, to the barrel, such that the total length is at least 16" after the addition of this device. (Highly recommended that you have a professional do this.)
or
2. You fill out an NFA form, submit to the much stricter background check (which includes fingerprints), spend $200 on a tax stamp, notify the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) in your area, and wait 6 months for approval to exercise your natural-born right to keep and bear arms that the US Government is expressly forbidden from infringing upon.

In case you can't tell, I'm not a fan of the NFA of 1934, Gun Control Act of 1968, or the Hughes Amendment of 1986. However, unless you want to be (unconstitutionally) arrested and possibly charged or convicted of a Felony, then you need to follow the law, regardless of what length you choose.

The second point to consider is effectiveness of the projectiles leaving the barrel. A 20" barrel will provide additional velocity and, therefore, distance over a 16" barrel that is the same in all other ways, besides length. That velocity also provides more lethality - as mass or velocity increase, all other things being equal, the kinetic (aka muzzle) energy increases. The key down side of having a longer barrel is how easy/hard it is to maneuver in tight spaces, such as within a hallway in your home. You also have to think about weight of the gun because the barrel is typically the heaviest part of the gun. The longer the barrel, the more heavy the gun is. (More front heavy, at that!)

The third point is just as crucial. Dwell Time is something many people don't understand, but it is absolutely critical to the reliable function of the gun and smoothness of the action. Dwell time is how long the bullet spends in the barrel after passing the gas block. (More precisely, the port under the gas block that funnels gas back into the gun and causes the action to cycle automatically.) Another way of figuring this is to measure from the gas port to the crown/tip of the barrel to ensure there is enough distance there to send enough gas, through the gas tube, back in the receiver to cycle the action reliably. In order to get the dwell time needed on shorter barrels, you have pistol and carbine-length gas systems that shorten the distance between the gas port and the receiver. Bear in mind that the closer the gas port is to the receiver, the more carbon fouling you will encounter in the receiver. Generally speaking, shorter barrel = dirtier gun. Generally speaking, the more Dwell Time you have, the more violently the gun will cycle. (Harder on the parts and the shooter, as well as worse for follow-up shots.) Too much Dwell Time can cause malfunctions, but having a more than is needed also helps to cycle cheap ammo with low amounts of gunpowder or steel casings. Too little Dwell Time and you end up with a rifle that can't push the bolt carrier back far enough to chamber the next round. This is something you want to match to your gun because you have to balance various combinations of Bolt Carriers, Buffers, Buffer Springs, Barrel lengths, and Gas System lengths - balance it so that the BCG cycles at the right rate and correct force.

In general, for an AR15, I find that a mid-length gas, 16" barrel provides adequate dwell time to cycle the gun, adequate velocity leaving the barrel, and is not so long as to be cumbersome in a hallway. I would only buy a longer barrel for a purpose-built rifle intended to be a 500+ yard target shooter or Designated Marksman Rifle. And, I don't see such a major need for a shorter barrel that I would invest $200 in a tax stamp. If laws changed in our favor, I would prefer an 11 or 12 inch barrel for a purpose-built home defense rifle. As it is, if you could only afford one AR15, I wouldn't waste money on a tax stamp or spend the money on a pin and weld job. And, one can reliably reach out to 500 yards with a 16" barrel, so I wouldn't spend the extra weight to get a longer barrel and 50, or so, yards of effective range.

So, what do I recommend?  For me and for most people, I would highly recommend 16" barrels with mid-length gas ports for any general purpose AR15. This combination produces, possibly, the most reliable and some of the softest shooting ARs one can make. This length of Gas System, combined with that length of barrel, is a great combination that is proven and will work better than most (if not all) combinations of factors. Save yourself the money and the weight and get a 16" barrel with a Mid-Length gas. You'll really appreciate it after comparing it to a friend's carbine-length "milspec" rifle.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Do I Need an Expensive AR?

The short answer is no.

Now, for the long answer. Many people on the internet will proclaim that there is no difference between many of the lower-cost ARs (or AR parts) and the more premium ones. Basically, they argue that people who are over-paying are just not that intelligent.  You see, a forged Anderson Manufacturing receiver is forged at the same place many other receivers from other manufacturers are. Palmetto State Armory sources pretty much all their parts from mil-spec manufacturers - companies that are known to produce military specification quality and quality testing. Aero Precision forged receivers are remarkably similar to Spike's Tactical receivers - indeed, they are similar to ALL mil-spec manufacturers. Places like Anchor Harvey are actually doing the forging for these companies, from Noveske to Anderson. There aren't that many forges in the US that produce these receivers and pretty much anyone who isn't CNC Machining their own receiver is getting their forged receivers from the same place, essentially. This idea that they are all the same is true, to a point.

There is a difference between buying, say, an Anderson receiver vs a Wilson Combat receiver. Anderson seems to generally produce good parts that are within standard military tolerances (.001"), but Wilson Combat guarantees +/- .0005" tolerance at the key points of contact on the receiver. That makes for less play in the gun, which effects all kinds of things - accuracy on follow up shots, ensuring proper fit of parts, ensuring proper function of parts, etc. However, Anderson receivers will typically function properly and fit well enough for virtually all practical purposes. The other key difference is the quality control. Do you want to try to build your gun, but find out afterward that you have parts not fitting right, especially when that is causing malfunctions? Anderson will make it right if on the rare occasion it's not right the first time, I'm sure, but that still leaves you without a working rifle and with lost time spent finding a part is out of spec. It sounds like I'm picking on Anderson - I want to be clear, I am not - but, they sell their parts very cheaply and there is a reason why they can do that and stay in business. (Hint: it's not just that other companies are greedy.) The point here is that there can be differences, mostly in the fit and finish of the parts, when buying from high-end manufacturers vs low-cost manufacturers. Quality control is what makes sure it's right the first time and that is what the high-end manufacturers are charging for, but it will be rare for any of these major companies to produce a "bad" product. So, if you want tight-fitting receivers with no rattle, precision tuned trigger springs, or hyper-accurate rifling in your barrel, you would be wise to pay a little more to get premium parts to ensure that they are put through more rigorous quality control processes and made to more exacting tolerances. It's also worth noting that some manufacturers produce parts with better materials or better processes, such as Cold Hammer Forging barrels or special coatings on BCGs. These things can significantly improve performance, durability, and reliability. This should not be overlooked when selecting a rifle or parts for the rifle. it's a cost/benefit ratio that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you only need to hit a man-sized target at 200 yards and want to make a reliable, if not competition-level accuracy, rifle, then you need not worry. Go ahead and buy from any major manufacturer and test it to ensure it's cycling properly and isn't wearing prematurely. If you do, the vast majority of the time, you will find that the gun or parts will function well, no matter who you buy from. The manufacturing technology has become so good that we don't have to worry much about tolerances in today's AR market. However, I want to stress that you need to verify things are built properly by testing them and visually inspecting them because any manufacturer can produce a lemon. If you are doing that, you'll be able to build a good, reliable rifle for a very reasonable price.

So, do you NEED an expensive AR? If you just need to meet the criteria I mentioned above, ie being able to hit a man-sized target at 200 yards, then the answer is no. There are reasons you might want or need to pay more, such as extreme accuracy, but you must answer the question of if you actually need that. For most people, for most practical reasons, the answer is no.