General

Project Complete: The Minuteman Rifle

The minuteman rifle

About a year ago, I wrote about an idea for a minimalist rifle. I wanted something great for general marksmanship and light enough for a long hike. I wanted a rugged and reliable companion. Inspired by the “bush rifle,” I wanted it to have an 18″ barrel, fixed rifle stock, and a basic A1 style sight. Essentially, I wanted a modern M16A1. I wrote a few updates on progress over time here, here, as well as my initial impressions of the barrel.

This is my original mock up done on Gunstruction over a year ago:

Mockup

Concerned about the election, I went ahead and picked up two more stripped lowers in August last year. One of those serves as the base for this rifle (the other went to a different project). I also picked up a barrel and other miscellaneous parts required over time. My move across the country and new career put a damper on the plans to finish the rifle. I was weary to have any valuable parts in the hands of a shop while I was moving. I didn’t want anything to return to an old address.

After the move, the primary challenges I faced was the melonite treatment on the Faxon barrel. Melonite is hell on drill bits for pinning a front sight base. Most folks using this barrel go the clamping (or screw in) low-profile gas block path. Another build I saw using a front sight base utilized Fulton’s power wedge system. I wanted to be old school and bomb proof, and wanted it pinned.

Finding someone to do it was the hard part.

After making a few connections, I was directed to Drew at WAR Rifles in Manassas Park. They agreed to do the drilling, pinning, and upper assembly for a very reasonable fee. Drew and his guys are very friendly guys with quality work. I plan on going back to them for other projects with my bolt rifle.

Once I got it back, I took care of a few final touches. I named it the Minuteman Rifle in homage to both my previous career as a Minuteman ICBM officer, and that it also reminds me of a modern minuteman’s rifle. It is no-frills, built for riflecraft, and should be pretty damn reliable. It carries and balances like a dream.

 

Parts List:

Lower Half:

  • Rainier Arms stripped lower
  • Sionics LPK
  • Hogue Overmold grip without hump
  • Magpul MOE rifle stock
  • BCM rifle buffer tube, spring, and A2 buffer
  • ALG ACT trigger
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard
  • V-Seven short throw safety (non ambidextrous)

Upper Half:

  • Rainier Arms Non-FA stripped upper
  • Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel (1/8 twist)
  • BCM BCG
  • BCM Gunfighter charging handle (Medium latch)
  • BCM .625 front sight post and handguard cap
  • BCM delta ring assembly
  • BCM Sling Swivel
  • Ashley Performance 1/2 MOA front sight post (with white strip)
  • AAC Blackout flash hider
  • Magpul MOE Rifle handguard
  • Daniel Defense A1.5 rear sight

Other Components:

  • Precision Armament Accu-Washer kit for muzzle device
  • TAB Gear Sling

The Reasoning

I wanted this to be an easy to carry, soft-shooting, “Everyman’s Rifle.” I took inspiration from the original M16A1, but wanted to modernize it a bit. There would be no undue weight or complexity.

The Rainier Arms upper and lower receivers have the tightest fit I’ve ever seen. After pulling the pins, it takes a great deal of effort to separate them. Assembled, the rifle feels solid in the hands. There is no rattling, play, or movement of any kind.

I use the 18″ Faxon Gunner barrel mostly because I thought it looked interesting. It has a nice profile, good reviews for accuracy (I haven’t gotten it out there to test yet), and I wanted to see what the melonite treatment is all about.

 

The AAC Blackout was something I already had on hand. It was the first muzzle device I bought way back in my first build, and it has moved around a bit looking for a home. I swapped the rifle it was on back to a classic A2 birdcage. In both cases, I opted to use the Precision Armament washer system to get good alignment without over torquing the device. I realize AAC says that no washers or alignment is needed, but I’m a bit picky with my rifles and wanted the flats of the device to be vertical. I didn’t want to apply too much force on the threads to get there, since it would negatively affects accuracy. I’ve also found that the best shooting teams go a bit past hand tight. With the washer kit, all I have to do is pick the right thickness, torque it just a bit, and add a little bit of Rocksett.

I stuck with Magpul furniture for the fixed stock and rifle handguards. There is no particular reason other than I like them both. They are very comfortable, stable, and I happen to think they look nice. I’m sure a question will arise as to why I didn’t free float it. The answer is that I just flat out liked the Magpul handuards. I already have another rifle (20″ BCM) that I installed a free float rail on, so I thought variety would be nice.

The rear sight took a while to decide. My choices were between a detachable carry handle (which I already had on hand), LMT, Larue, and DD. I eliminated the first two because adjustable rears were outside the set-and-forget nature I was going for. The DD A1.5 ultimately won out over the Larue because it is slightly lighter and I got a pretty good deal on one. They both have great reputations. Scalarworks recently came out with a very lightweight rear, but i honestly don’t care for its appearance.

The Ashley Precision front sight post was an experiment. Since I planned on this being a nearly pure iron sight rifle, I wanted to offer any assistance that I could. The white strip definitely speeds up acquisition, and the 1/2 MOA adjustment is a bonus. I’m a fan of this sight post.

Of all my rifles, this is now the only one with a single stage trigger. The ALG ACT is a product-improved milspec trigger. It does its job fine, but I can definitely tell the break isn’t as clean as my three Geisseles or the Larue MBT. Since it is essentially a dressed up mil-spec trigger, I don’t think it could get any more rugged.

You will not find any QD studs or swivels on this rifle. The goal is ruggedness, and you don’t get much better than avoiding QD all together. I stuck with a more traditional shooter sling from TAB. I already had it on hand, and it is a very good sling. It was replaced by a SAP Positional Sling on my precision rifle, so this seemed like a great way to let the TAB live on. Equally in contention was my RS2, which is on the M1 Garand and is a closer approximation of a traditional GI sling.

I’ve become a huge fan of short throw safety levers. I’ve been utilizing BAD-ASS-ST levers, but I find that I dislike the ambidextrous nature of them. Unless I am careful, the knuckles of my shooting hand are liable to bump the safety back into the “safe” position. For this project, I decided to keep the short throw lever but only on the left side. I may go back and do the same to my other ARs.

For now, I’ve left the remainder of the top rail open. I do love the KISS concept, but I also understand the advantages that an optic brings to the table. If I ever felt the need, I could slap a red dot on here and carry on.

 

Wrap Up

And there you have it. I’ve been creeping along with this project for about a year now, and I’m happy to see it come together. At a final unloaded weight of 6.9 lbs, it is the lightest rifle in my safe. While not an ultralight by any means, it was never intended to be. It is also nearly perfectly balanced, with the center of gravity falling on the front half inch of the magazine well.

I’m not sure when I’m going to get it to the rang for a quick zeroing and accuracy test. I’ve got a bead on a local indoor spot with a 100 yard range and a good reputation. After that, perhaps a jaunt in the woods is in order.

 

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General, Reviews

Initial Impression: Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel

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I received this in the mail over the weekend. It is a Faxon Firearms 18″ Gunner barrel. Here are the key stats from Faxon’s web page:

  • Barrel Type: Button Rifled
  • Barrel Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Barrel Twist: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 18″
  • Barrel Profile: GUNNER Light Hybrid
  • Barrel Gas System: Rifle Length
  • Inside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Outside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Muzzle Thread: 1/2-28 TPI (Threads Per Inch)
  • Gas Block Diameter: .625″
  • Gas Port Diameter: .093″
  • Gas Block Journal Length: 1.9″
  • Barrel Extension: M4
  • Magnetic Particle Inspected!
  • 11-degree Target Crown
  • Weight: 1.44 lbs

This is part of my KISS walk-around rifle concept, which I wrote about a while back. The intent is for a lightweight iron-sighted rifle that would make a great companion for walking around in open areas, or handing off to someone as an introduction to marksmanship. This is my original mockup done through Gunstruction.

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I already have the lower assembly complete, which leaves the upper receiver, operating parts, and final assembly.

This barrel makes a very positive first impression. The QPQ/Melonite/Nitride coating is a nice even black. While not as flat as a parkerized barrel, it is not really shiny, either. The machine work appears very clean, with no sharp edges or burrs in the threading. I don’t have a bore scope or lathe to check for runout or rifling quality, but the buzz on the internet was that both have proven to be good.

The profile is the most interesting part to me, though. Notice that it continuously tapers from chamber to the gas block journal (which is sized to accept a standard .625 FSB), and then continues the taper down to the end. The muzzle end flares out a bit again to allow for solid contact with a muzzle device. The section in front of the gas block journal might be one of the thinnest profiles I’ve seen on an AR.

I happened to have enough spare parts on hand to get a better mockup and play with weight/balance a bit. I grabbed my old Spikes stripped upper, standard barrel nut, Samson/Rainier Evolution rail, and a birdcage flash hider and slapped it together (nothing fully torqued, of course). I borrowed a BCG and charging handle from another rifle.

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I’m not going to lie, this feels pretty damn nice. I’m almost tempted to mount a gas block, torque it all down and call it good. The rifle feels very spright in the hands, with a good rearward balance at about the middle of the magazine well. The Samson/Rainier rail weighs 11 oz, not including the standard barrel nut. The Mapul MOE Rifle handguard I will be using weighs just a bit more, at 12.2 oz. I also have to include another .8 oz for the handguard cap and delta ring assembly, which I don’t have mounted here.

In any case, a bit more forward balance by a few ounces would still leave a very nice handling rifle. I still need to order a few more parts, and then send it off to have the FSB drilled and taper pinned. I will probably have final assembly done at the same time.

The more parts that come in, the more excited I am to have this project complete.

General

The Retro Marksman: The M1 Garand

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The first rifle I ever purchased was a Springfield Armory M1A Loaded Stainless. I put it in a first generation JAE-100 stock, mounted optics, and turned it into a heavyweight semi-auto “sniper” rifle. It’s fun, but not practical. I came to respect the action though, and how “meaty” it felt as it cycled back and forth. However, I’m not here to talk about my first rifle.

I want to talk about my second.

Most people reading this would probably have gravitated to the AR as a second rifle (if not the first). But, for me, the second rifle was an M1 Garand from the CMP. The one I received in DSC_06192006 had no stock; it was only the barreled action and trigger group. The rifling was shot out from years of service in the Greek army, and the receiver was in need of some TLC. The serial number tracked to April of 1942 at the Springfield plant. In 2007, I sent it off to Deans Gun Restoration in Tennessee to be worked over. They mounted a new Criterion barrel, refinished/replaced parts, and made a brand new fancy Bastogne Walnut wood stock for it. When it was returned to me, I was absolutely floored. It was, and remains, gorgeous. It was so nice, in fact, that I think I’ve only shot the thing three or four times since 2007, and maybe only about 20-40 rounds each time. I just didn’t want to “mess it up.”

The last time I shot it was towards the end of 2012. I noticed erratic brass ejection, sometimes being thrown forward or just tumbling out of the side. Rounds would occasionally misfeed, getting stuck at the upper left corner of the chamber. The empty en bloc clips would barely hop up, much less get tossed aside. I assumed the rifle was sick, and in need of new springs. As it turns out, it just needed a good cleaning and re-greasing (something that I had shamefully neglected).

DSC_0610I do have one bit of more modern flair on this rifle, though. Rather than the traditional 1907 leather sling or a GI cotton web sling, I have one of Rifle Slinger’s RS-2 slings. I purchased this one when he announced that he was shutting down his operations, and closing up his blog. I ordered it with QD swivels, since that’s my preferred attachment for all of my ARs, and found that it was just too long for my uses. However, it works fantastically on the M1. The sling really has nice workmanship, and it fits in nicely on the wood-stocked rifle. I consider it a tribute to him (as well as regular commenter Colorado Pete, who is a big fan of the M1, and will probably take issue with my calling the M1 “Retro”).

The sling itself is not easily adjustable like an old GI web sling, so I have it set at a “do all” length slightly geared more towards sitting/kneeling (practical field marksmanship rarely happens from the prone, anyway). The design is such you cut off excess material and melt the edges. But I don’t like the idea of cutting material, so I folded the loose ends under some elastic keepers. Time will tell is this remains a workable long-term solution.

I may not shoot the M1 much, but it certainly feels like a respectable rifle. To quote a post I wrote last year when I first got my 20” upper assembled on a lower, it feels like a Rifleman’s Rifle. It has a healthy heft to it, the sights work well, and there is certainly beauty in the mix of wood and steel. There is certainly a forward balance to the weapon, which is good for traditional marksmanship especially given the increased energy of 30-06 compared to the 5.56 “poodle shooter” cartridge.

Some day, when I have more time and funds for proper ammunition, I want to take the M1 out to the 700 yard range and see what I can do with good old-fashioned marksmanship fundamentals.