Sunday, September 16, 2012

Barnes Precision Machine BPM-15 AR Review

Barnes Precision Machine BPM-15 AR Review

As a guy who has owned a little over two dozen AR15s in the last year or two, I have seen and reviewed almost everything from simply stock to crazy custom, carbine to rifle length gas systems, adjustable gas systems, a few piston systems, and even my own creations. 


Of those rifles I have kept, I have always found myself preferring the “lean and mean” configurations even in the custom builds. Though I love all my adjustable gas blocks, cool parts like monolithic & billet receivers, and fancy ceramic finishes, all these things upgrades do not make the rifle necessarily more accurate, just more expensive. Do they make the rifle cooler? Arguably yes, however these upgrades are far from the requirement everyone would lead you to believe for a high performing rifle. Let’s face it, a bone stock AR with a free float forend tube can put shots reliably on a 12” plate at 300 yards with iron sights; honestly it is not that hard when shooting in prone position. A better match grade barrel allows the same iron-sighted hits at 400-500 yards with proper zero.

After shooting and owning a large array of various AR15 rifles and configurations, I have come to the conclusion that  the best general purpose AR15 defense and sporting configuration for the money is just a standard well built AR with rifle length free float forend to maximize accuracy, a mid-length gas system to reduce recoil, a high grade stock trigger (Doublestar and ALG are outstanding), Magpul flip up sights and maybe your grip and stock dejour such as Magpul or Mission First Tactical. A
high quality stainless steel match grade barrel tipped with a decent flash hider is where any other cash should go. Everything beyond these components are an upgrade, an un-needed luxury and in the case of adjustable triggers, potentially a liability in a patrol or personal defense rifle. 

Truly, a solidly build basic configuration AR15 with high reliability is all you will ever need to engage man sized targets out to 500 meters, however a non-magnified red-dot such as a Eotech or Vortex Spark will make that a bit easier. Add on an optic like a 1-4X magnification Hi-Lux CMR or Trijicon scope, and bipod and you can hammer away on the 200-500 yard gongs shot after shot until even you become bored with it. 


From my perspective the Barnes Precision Machine BPM-15 AR-15 concentrates 100% of its price into everything you need in a high grade AR15 without the expensive “Tacticool” upgrades which net little in terms of accuracy or functionality.  It is a rifle which is at the top of my list when someone wants a recommendation for a no-nonsense tack driver for patrol, sporting, and/or home defense use. 


My buddy and I proved that this BPM-15 was up to the task of medium range target engagement by delivering reliable hits on the 500 yard gong from prone position with only an Eotech 512 and Atlas bipod attached. If you are exterminating little rodents, I would definitely slip on a higher power optic to take full advantage of the BPM-15's half-MOA accuracy.

With the exception of the sub-MOA accuracy bit, this sounds like any AR you can get from just about any AR manufacturer who offers an upgraded
A, B, or C rifle package.   Oh, but there is so much more to the story to this capable rough and tumble $1200 AR and the manufacturer.

BARNES PRECISION MACHINE IS DIFFERENT
Here is the deal; almost all AR manufacturers buy their finished ready-to-assemble parts from a very limited number of real manufacturers in the industry. This means in almost all cases, everyone sources their super-special super-duper rifle component(s) from the same as everyone else. This is because the machinery and know-how are tough to come by, expensive, and some cases proprietary which make it more cost effective to buy the components.

BPM turning a set of bolts.

Is this a horrible thing? No, however it does limit the control a manufacturer has on the quality, originality, refinements, and origin of the parts... small parts for example are pretty tough to regulate where they come from. For those companies who do manufacturer parts on site, they tend to have a pretty significant edge on quality. 
BPM Bolts ready for initial phase 1 inspection.

Not to crush anyone’s beliefs in brand X with great marketing fluff and $15K advertisements in the latest gun magazine, but well over 90% of the AR manufacturers are just buying 100% of their parts finished and bolting them together and then concentrating on building their marketing brand.  Yes, some certainly do a better job than others, and some use better parts than others, however there is a huge range in quality.


Even fewer manufacturers do any finish work at all such as final anodizing, component marking, or light machining.  Of those who are left, most are still using finished parts to build rifles but take the time to machine their own receivers from Archor or Cerro forgings or from raw billet. Some
machine their own gas blocks and flash hiders, finish and chamber barrels from blanks or even hammer forge their own barrels. 

The little bits and parts such as detents, bolts, extractors, and flash hiders, almost everyone buys.  ...And then there are a very, very small number of manufacturers who truly make everything possible in-house such as Barnes Precision Machine.
BPM is one of the select few who actually make almost every single part in house for their own branded ARs and as an OEM supplier to other manufacturers. What is even more impressive, is that outside of the raw receiver forgings, springs, carrier, buffer assembly, trigger group and Magpul components, all other parts are made on site. Only LMT, Daniel Defense, and Colt can claim that and some would argue those points to some degree.

ABOUT BARNES PRECISION MACHINE
Barnes Precision Machine was founded as a North Carolina tool and die machining company by Andrew Barnes in 1992. Long before he opened his BPM doors he had a long
career as a machinist. During that time he worked for NASCAR legends, aerospace leaders, and even firearms manufacturers where he learned his craft. Shortly after starting his machining business in 1992, he quickly became well know for premium quality for companies varying from the industrial space to $10K Cary Audio audiophile amplifier chassis's.  One manufacturer began working with BPM and the two companies grew quickly together as the marketing company’s products became widely distributed. Later that company sold to Bear Archery; that company was Whisker Biscuit Archery. Barnes Precision was the OEM production machining company behind Whisker Biscuit and was so well regarded by Whisker Biscuit and Bear that Barnes still produces those products today.

For BPM, those were good times when over 20 CNC machines were running near continuously. Machines were paid off, and facilities were purchased during that time, however the downturn of the economy had the company looking to others products to fill machine availability. Andrew realized there was a large market for 100% USA Made AR parts. 


Like so many other OEM firearm manufacturers who started in machining, one simple request for part production grew, to another, and another, to the point where BPM was not only producing nearly every major part of an AR in house, but also had a booming AR15 Parts business on its www.usamade-ar15parts.com site.  

When I talked with Andrew, he noted “Whether you know it or not, most rifles are using imported parts kits, screws and pins because a rifle can have as much as 20% imported parts and still be labeled 'Made in the USA'.  Customers are starting to realize this and have really supported and demanded 100% USA made parts and rifles... the growth of our parts site has been stunning. We now we have a growing list of manufacturers who are using our OEM parts in their rifles to deliver real 100% USA made rifles. That makes us very unique.”  Andrew noted that he is very close and well connected in the Special Operations and Military community at Fort Bragg, NC.  Many of those contacts were so impressed by his parts that they pushed him to begin producing a complete rifle.  

Bucket of pivot pins ready for surface finish.

Today BPM’s .223/5.56 and soon to be released .308 rifles are in military service overseas and have been extensively and rigorously military tested.  Barnes Precision is not just another company screwing together ARs, they are quickly building inroads into the military as well as becoming a parts supplier for other manufacturers and top military suppliers. During my tour I was also shown a new full auto military/police versions of their rifles as well. Based on the video I was shown, there is almost no muzzle rise from the mid-length gas system all while delivering a slower more controllable full auto burst.
BPM-15 With Nickel Boron Treatment
Box of Bolts back from treatment

Due to the production capabilities of the business, BPM has the capacity and tooling to machine all the little intricate parts most companies purchase such as detents, pivot/take-down pins, and all the BCG (Bolt Carrier Group) components with the exception of the carrier; though  Barnes will bring production of the carriers in house by the end of the year.  

Although Barnes purchases roll pins, buffer tube plates, buffer assemblies, and springs, it is one of only four MPI tested AR bolt and extractor manufacturers in the world. 

Barnes Precision has a little over twenty CNC machines including Swiss CNC machines each dedicated to high volume production of certain AR parts. This prevents having to tear-down and reset the machine for another milling operation and greatly increases efficiency and speed. Business demands are high that almost every machine runs three shifts daily. This has positioned BPM as an alternative high availability supplier during the recent years of constant AR component stock outages, but now many of their new customers are just sticking with them because of high availability from BPM and the extreme quality.  

Barnes is now one of the major industry suppliers for parts kits to consumers and other firearms manufacturers as well. BPM offers 100% USA made receiver parts kits for only $59.99 on their site (excluding the stock, buffer and buffer tube).  Andrew noted that they can offer these prices because they run tens of thousands of parts at a time; during my factory tour I saw five gallon buckets and boxes full of detents, take down pins, extractors, bolts, flash hiders, and gas blocks.  Let me tell you a bucket full of detents is impressive... but oily. 


Barnes even manufactures its own barrels from blanks and its own forends and proprietary barrel nut. I have toured a few manufacturers and usually I see boxes of parts which have been shipped into an assembly room from the usual names.  At Barnes however, I saw piles of raw materials at one end of the shop and finished parts at the other end of over two dozen machines.

BARNES PRECISION MACHINE FACTORY TOUR
For my real job, I travel a bit and occasionally have the luxury of taking advantage of gaps in my business travel schedule to visit with manufacturers.  On a recent trip out to Raleigh/Durham North Carolina, I reached out to Barnes Precision and they rolled out the red carpet for me... I was shocked, awed, and amazed at the hospitality.  I had already picked up one of their rifles months before, but was hoping they would give me the nickel tour anyway. 

Carrier Group Cam Pins
 
I could make up a hundred reasons why I wanted to visit BPM, however the real reason was a in the back of my mind, I really could not grasp that someone was really producing detents and cam pin or taking the extreme care to product bolts.   Yeah I know there are other parts, however those seem to be the least profitable and most often purchased parts of an AR, and even though I believed that they were manufacturing them, there was a part of me that kept asking “really?”


One of the many cubed rows of CNC machines at BPM.
At 4PM I arrived and was promptly buzzed into the secure building by one of the machinist and lead in between a vast line of busy CNC machines and piles of raw materials to a huge, but rather meagerly equipped office where I was greeted by the office staff.  I was asked to sit tight while Andrew finished up another meeting. About 15 minutes later, I was lead into the BPM assembly room where parts were being assembled into rifles and a group of Special Operations tagged folks were inspecting some of the newer designs and models.  

Go/No-Go Hard Gauge Check on Bolt
This gave me time to snap some pictures of loose parts and handle a few of the new production rifles including the new Nickel Boron coated “Amphibious & Marine Rifles” which were created to provide a completely corrosion resistant rifle similar to the Mossberg Marine 550 Shotgun. Despite its intent the rifle coincidentally happens to look kick ass.

During the tour, Andrew led me through each stage of production for his barrels, receivers, bolts, extractors, pivot/take-down pins, and handguard production and showed the machine which machines all the detents. Each part is hand inspected and tested with a set of “hard go/no-go gauges”.  Interestingly, Barnes has excelled at innovative refinement of the AR platform all while still adhering to military specifications.


I have been there and yes, this guy is producing all these parts in house, the only parts not produced in house are those mentioned previously which are still produced in a US facility to BPM spec using virgin US stock.

 
MY BPM-15
Barnes offers only three rifle options, but several barrel lengths; CQB, a Designated Marksman Rifle, and Tactical Match carbine. Chamberings are 5.56 Nato in 11”-14” barrels and .223 Wylde chambered in 16”-18” barreled models.  I choose the basic CQB Patrol Rifle with a 16” .223 Wylde chamber with mid-length gas system.  

Above - Original Quadrail with new UltraLite Rail
As tested, the 100% USA made rifle was still a very competitively priced at $1221 and about $100-$200 less than any comparable model I could find. Of note Barnes only charges about $200 extra for the Nickel Boron coated model which has all of the components excluding the barrel and forend NiBo coated; not a bad deal for a rifle that is essentially corrosion proof. Originally I picked up the rifle with the Heavy Quad Rail, however since I have swapped it to a 14" UltraLite BPM forend.
Note the length of the supporting barrel nut.
FIT, FEEL, FINISH
The CQB Patrol Rifle BPM-15 arrived without dazzling packaging, but packed simply in a cardboard box and functional four clasps, lockable hard plastic foam lined case.  Inside the case was a color operation manual and full sized catalog and one 30-round Magpul PMag. Fit and finish is a similar high quality deep black Type III hard anodizing as you see on any other high quality black rifle.  The feel is really unique to the rifle and is exceptionally well balanced.  This is partially due to Barnes’ barrel contour behind the gas block. The effect is a feel something much lighter than a heavy Mil-Spec barrel but just a bit heavier than a M4 profile.  

As shown on their less than frequently updated website, originally the Barnes rifles came with their own unusually hefty full quad-rail forend which was crazy thick heavy billet. Really... seriously the thing was like 1/2"x1/2" billet in some areas; a total tank. They are now  including the BPSFFRS 12” Ultralite Extreme Rail on all their models, but still offer the heavier quad-rail as an option. After my visit, Andrew asked that I talk about their new rail and surprisingly provided me with a 14” rail as shown which is half the weight of the original 12” rail. The reason for this change was that the BPM listens and reacts to the feedback it receives from its civilian customers and those in military community and law enforcement. 


The feedback was that a flexible lightweight rail would be preferred to a heavy duty quad-rail which BPM lovingly refers to internally as the “cheese grater”. Having handled both before and after the swap, the new Ultralite Extreme Rail is far slimmer, lighter, and worlds more comfortable in the ungloved hand. Previously the heavy rail was my only complaint, however now with the Ultralite rail there is little to pick at on the rifle.

From a fit perspective, the forend marries perfectly to the upper receiver and has well designed reliefs to allow for un un-obstructed pivoting of the barrel for cleaning or breach inspection and even has a jack screw hole to expand the jaws of the forend to ease removal.

FEATURES
The BPM-15 really is a wolf in sheep's clothing cleverly disguised a lightly upgraded standard Mil-Spec rifle.  Those innovative refinements I noted earlier really add up to a stunning performing rifle. 

The new forend also has a number of unique features including being the only free float forends which readily accept Magpul MOE picatinny rails. Barnes is also one of the few Master Distributors for Magpul. This is a perfect union between the companies and allows for less expensive, lighter, more hand friendly Magpul rails to be used on the forend. Yes, finally someone has a standardized forend rail option.  

New UltraLite BPM Rail accepts Magpul Rails
The forend also has four hardened QD-Sling inserts and a front swivel stud which can  be swapped with any of the other QD sling studs.  If you want to mount a Magpul section at the most forward portion of the rail you will need to remove the appropriate QD stud to mount the Magpul rail.  The forend is also one of the sturdiest forends I have ever used.  The proprietary barrel nut is nearly 2” long and provides more support and stability to the forend than any I know of.  

The forend actually keys into the receiver to prevent it from turning under stress, the QD Sling mounts screw in and functionally lock onto the barrel nut to prevent forward movement as do the lower pinch retention screws to prevent movement. The net result is one super stable forend.
M4 Feedramps

As noted previously the match grade barrel blanks are bored, button rifled, hand lapped and polished by Montana Rifleman. BPM contours to a weight reducing profile and machines the barrels to concentricity to the bore and finishes each end with threading and final crowning.  They then use a match .223 Wylde reamer to cut the chamber.  

Moving down the barrel, BPM also makes the crush washers and flash hiders in house.  The design is unique and effective as a zero dust signature A2 style flash hider with prongs for bolt, wire, lock breaching. Some refer to this style flash hider as a universal lock pick which I will need to test at some point.

Although the lower receiver may appear standard, there are a few refinements. The BPM features a captured spring for the rear take-town pin which is a nice touch for a part that seems to get lost a lot. The other feature included in the Barnes lower receiver is an “accurizing” set screw.  This screw allows the user to tension the upper and lower for a very tight fit even after the upper and lower receivers begin to wear and loosen.  Out of the box, the Barnes was pretty tight however I gave the set screw a twist just to put a bit of tension on the take down pin and really lock the receivers together. Barnes does not broach the magwell for square corners.  His valid point was that no magazine has square corners and by removing more metal from the receiver your are making it weaker. Barnes has also designed the magwell to assure Magpul magazines drop free each and every time.
Adjustable Accurizer Tension

Barnes also makes a low profile gas block and take-down/pivot pins, however it is the bolt which deserves special attention.  There are only four AR bolt and extractor manufacturers in the world and Barnes Precision Machine is one of them. It is without a doubt the most challenging part to make on the AR and the most critical.  If the bolt is not correct, the gun will not function correctly. 


BPM adds a little refinement which is unique.  Instead of peening the under- side of the bolt to prevent incorrect cam pin assembly, they simply machine and precision short stroke ream the hole which increases strength and cam pin alignment.  Oddly enough the extractor is even more difficult to produce.  Currently in addition to its own bolts, BPM supplies phosphated, nickel boron, and chrome plated bolts to some of the top AR names in the business which are in turn using those bolts to fulfill military contracts.

I hate to diminish all that Barnes is delivering, however all the remaining typical components look and perform just as they would on any other Mil-Spec rifle.  Overall though, I found everything just a hair tighter fit of all the little bits.  From my experience the bolt and barrel locking lugs are very tight and do require break in. Barnes does use Doublestar trigger groups and selectors which I consider to be among the best feeling stock triggers on the market.

FUNCTION & ACCURACY
Barnes builds a really quite fantastic AR for $1200 and in fact I would suggest that it is every bit as good or better than LMT or Wilson for 30% less.  The rifle is tighter than hell during the first few magazines which did cause a total of four cycling issues initially which included a couple failure to cycle and a few initial extraction issues.  This most certainly was due to the tight initial bolt and locking lug fit. It took me well into the 100+ round count to get it broken in however after that it was cycling bliss and I have had no other issues since. This is actually a good very good thing and allows the bolt and barrel locking lugs to “wear in” for optimal accuracy.  I have experienced similar break-in situations with other match grade rifle builds.


Generally, I take any new rifle out and run a minimum of a 150 rounds through it in a process I call “getting the new off”.  This allows me a few rounds to assure I have a 25M/300M zero, let the bolt and barrel locking lugs seat, and play around with my new toy.  At this point I have run just over 500 rounds through the gun and only cleaned it initially at the 150 round mark. After the break-in, the rifle fed and ate everything from inexpensive steel case ammo, to high quality Hornady Steel Case ammo, to 3GunAmmo.com Reman loads, to various Hornady premium rounds.

For accuracy, my best 5-shot 100 yard prone position group was a very respectable .43” group with Hornady .223 75gr TAP FPD during a nice 87 degree day with 10-12MPH winds. The re-manufactured 3GunAmmo.com 62gr .223 loads have been regularly pulling in .75” groups  and the 55gr loads from them almost always deliver under 1” groups.  The Hornady Match rounds also did well with .67” and .71”  groups, however I am kinda in love with the Hornady steel case 75gr Match ammo which simulates the FPD ammo closely for far less money; these rounds consistently delivered groups under .75”.  


My Nikon 8-32X Monark scope on a quick release Precision Reflex Gator Grip mount was used for accuracy testing.  The PRI Gator Grip Scope mount allows me to clip it on and off various rifles as needed.  The BPM-15 is certainly prairie dog accurate out to 200-300 yards with a powerful optic like the Nikon, however I will most likely pick up a dedicated red dot for the rifle such as the Vortex Sparc or Strikeforce which include 2X doublers or another Eotech sight.

EXTRAS
Never before have I felt there was so much to talk about during a review, however at this point I have to say “and there is even more!”  Want a Leupold Optic or Eotech sight buy a BPM-15.  For each rifle you purchase from BPM, they have an agreement with Leupold and Eotech that they will sell you your Eotech or Leupold optic of choice for BPM’s dealer price as a pass through.  You do not need to order it with the rifle, however you do need to order a BPM-15 rifle and there is a limit of one optic at the special price per BPM rifle purchased. This alone could pay for a third of the rifle price in the optic savings.  Tell me who else is offering this to its customers.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Nickel Boron BPM-15 is super awesome looking, however is the standard BPM-15 a showy AR with all the cool parts? No, that never was the intent. The cool parts are limited to the forend and the Magpul MOA furniture. Hidden away is the non-apparent cooler part of the rifle; the super accurate half-MOA capabilities all for just over $1200.  The intent was to build the best 100% USA made durable mil-spec rifle for the most competitive price possible.  From my perspective the BPM-15 is an affordable solution for designated marksman of US and LEO operators, those who want an uber accurate home defense AR, and the three-gunners. 


Sure, there are less expensive options out there which contain non-US or dubious origin-ed parts, however if you are just shopping on price you are missing the entire point of this or any other 100% USA made rifle, what Barnes is doing, and this article.  Let me put it another way; buy American damn it, a 100% USA made $700 AR is a fallacy; it may be the required 80% US parts, but not 100%. We all need to make an effort to assure, were fiscally possible, that we support products made right here and preferably 100% USA made goods as it is the only way we will keep dollars here and rebuild this great country.

I like the direction and dedication Andrew has put into the development of this summation of in-house made parts which have become a rifle and I feel compelled to support his business. I have pledged to myself to start purchasing his parts kits for future builds since they are about the same price as other industry kits I have used before.  The BPM-15 delivers everything you need in a refined AR platform and nothing you don’t all in an affordable package which needs no upgrade.  The BPM-15 is arguable one of the only 100% American made ARs and certainly one of the finest factory AR-15 shooting tools I have reviewed.

SPECS
16” BPM Stainless Steel Match Barrel
Barrel - 1:8 Twist
Chamber - Match Precision .223 Wylde
Bolt - 158 Carpenter Steel MPIU tested
Mid-length gas system with stainless steel low profile gas block.
BPM A2-style flash hider (muzzle brake / breaching tip).
BPM PSFFRS Ultralite Extreme hand-guard with sling swivel options.
Receiver 'accurizing' set screw.
Magpul MOE Grip, Stock and flip-up sights
Hardcase included
1 - Magpul 30-round PMAG included
Street $1221

100% MADE IN USA!!
 

SOURCES  
Barnes Precision Machine
http://www.barnesprecision.com/

USA Made AR15 Parts
www.usamade-ar15parts.com/

3 comments:

foamx said...

the BCG is not 158 Carpenter Steel. Its 8620 according to the BPM website.

Brian Kisner said...

I have a number of AR15 rifles and pistols and have stumbled upon Barnes Precision a year ago.  Since my first Barnes Rifle I have purchased two more including a 300 AAC Blackout.  I can tell you the quality is excellent and the customer service is even better.  The Tactical Match Carbine with an ACOG is my go to gun and everyone that shoots it wants one.

One negative......I never shoot my other AR rifles because the Barnes is just a cut above the rest.

Matt Hardy said...

I Really Enjoyed The Blog. I Have Just Bookmarked. I Am Regular Visitor Of Your Website I Will Share It With My Friends Thanks and I promises I will visit your blog again.