Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tips and Recommendations for Building a Better AR15

My Battle Arms Development PDW Registered SBR with
an Aero Precision Upper and Faxon Ultra-Light 10.5" Barrel
plus Nikon 1-4. This build is stunningly accurate to shoot.
Tips and Recommendations for Building a Better AR15

After nearly a hundred AR15 builds over the years of all types, shapes, sizes, configurations, and accessories including both forged and billet receiver, I have learned a few tips which have made my AR15 builds better, cleaner, less scuffed, less-problematic, and certainly easier. I would say that once a month still I pick up a new trick or tool that yet again improves my ability to build a quality rifle.

It should go without saying that using the right tool for the right job can make all the difference in the world, however when we all start our first build we do it exclusively with a claw hammer and ⅛” punch. The result is that the build usually has the scraps and scratches that makes it look like it was put together with a punch and claw hammer. Sure you can build an AR with this, however it you want to do it right without crying out in pain or anguish every five minutes you should plan on investing in some tools over time to make the job easier and more professional. Geissele particularly has offered some really excellent firearms specific tools and shop accessories.

Apron & Gloves - Get a long sturdy apron you can use in the shop with a pocket you can keep a supply of rubber gloves in. This are the single most awesome pieces of equipment you can own. Why? Because now you can actually do something in those dozen or so 5, 10, or 15 minute windows in the day all without getting covered in grime or getting a spot on your shirt right before you head out for dinner. $40 for a quality heavy duty long cooking apron + Rubber gloves is a wonderful thing. The pictured Geissele Shop Apron is long, large, adjustable, with plenty of pockets to keep tools and extra gloves handy.

Action Rod & Receiver Blocks - Your lap or the towel on your kitchen table is not going to securely hold the receivers and at some point that gorgeous set of receivers are going to go careening off your lap or table and bounding across a floor. Believe me, swearing during said event will not help prevent them from impacting the floor. The lower and upper receivers need to get securely mounted to something in order to work on them and the three tools I use continuously are a heavy mounted bench vise, the Geissele Reaction Rod $99, and Precision Reflex AR10/AR15 Upper Assembly Vise Block $53. All serve different purposes. Any heavy shop vise mounted to an immovable bench will work - my bench is bolted to the floor and wall to I can apply lots of torque without flipping my bench over (yes I did that with before I learned the hard way). A vise does not need to be elaborate or even new, but just functionally solid - I picked up one of my larger vises on clearance a Lowes for $25.

The Geissele Reaction Rod teeth lock into the barrel nut extension and allow you put God level force on a stubborn barrel nut without putting any stress on the upper receiver itself. It also allows you to turn the receiver around the rod which is crazy handy for installing handguards, optics, gas blocks, muzzle brakes, and forward assist pins. The PRI Vise Block is handy because it allows you to have the upper receiver securely pinned up to check the operation and fit of charging handles, bolt carrier, and optics mounting and to pull and push things on and off the receiver.

Geissele also makes a Reaction Block which will hold most lower receiver builds by the buffer tube. This is a handy third hand when I am assembling lower receivers and is a unique product since not many people have any options to affix a lower to a vise.  

Punches, Hammers, and Misc - All punches should be considered disposable/consumable items. Use them often and they will break and deform - just throw them away and buy new ones. Invest in a good quality set of straight un-tapered drift punches. I think mine are currently a sets of $15 Bostich or Stanley drift punches ranging from the size of a paperclip to around ¼”. You will need a very fine punch at some point if you ever replace the charging handle latch and the larger ¼” punch tipped with a spent 22LR case makes a great sight drifting tool. Another set of punches which are extremely high on my list are the Geissele Roll Pin, Trigger Fitting Pin, and Gas Block Pin Punch Set. They do wear out and I am probably on my fourth set, but they are simply indispensable.

Whether you are attempting to get into building cheap or buying everything on this list, a set of Starting Punches and Center Punches have to be on the list. The purpose built Geissele punches are REALLY handy, however the Starting Punches are used to get the Bolt Catch, Forward Assist, trigger guard, and gas block pins started and driven in as far as the punch will allow and the center punch is used to drive it just a tad further and recess the pin. Invest in a set of these and you will drastically reduce the chances of maring up a receiver.
A 2 or 3-ounce brass hammer is your friend for any gunsmithing chore. In all but the most rare situations have I ever had to reach for an extra small ball peen hammer for the extra power.  My 2-ounce brass hammer was $4 on Amazon so there is no reason everyone should not have one. A good non-marring rubber mallet is also a good investment and they are cheap to come by.

A set of fine needle nose pliers, an extendable magnetic pickup tool, strap wrench for handguards with “no wrench” barrel nuts, ball head hex/Allen wrenches, and set of channel lock pliers are basic tools that you will always use continuously.

When assembling an AR15 you should be using some type of high grade lithium grease to very lightly lube the receiver threads and barrel extension to avoid metal to metal seizing. A lube I love and use for everything from ARs to Glocks is a $10 jar of copper lithium based high heat Anti-Seize from O’Reily Auto Parts. A tiny little bit goes a very long way.

Andrew Barnes of Barnes Precision Machine turned me on to Mobil One Synthetic Motor oil as an all purpose lube. Along with WD-40, I now use Mobil One almost exclusively on all my guns as a general purpose lube. I have been testing Geissele’s new Go Juice which been a great lube as well and is formulated for the general purpose lubrication needs of firearms. Beyond the above lubes, a builder does not really need any other lubes with the exception of a spray can of brake cleaner for cleaning.

Do not be afraid of LockTite. Every muzzle brake, scope ring, handguard screws, selector screw, and castle nut I install gets LockTite applied. My only regret when doing a build is not using the Red permanent LockTite on the muzzle and castle nut which will delivers an extremely well built gun that will never loosen up. The barrel nut is the only thing that does not get LockTite applied.

Beyond using the above mentioned tools for their appropriate purpose, there are some other tricks I have learned along the way.  
  • The trigger should always get installed before the safety selector - I still screw this order up all the time.
  • Always consider upgrading the trigger guard before installing the standard one, even on the world's cheapest lower receiver… this part sucks to install, uninstall and reinstall and come on, cheap extended trigger guards are like $5.
  • A thick leather glove placed in the vise jaws is the non-marring third hand you are looking for.
  • Brownells AR15 receiver lapping tool
    it works and improves accuracy.
    Use a pencil and mark on the barrel’s gas block shoulder where the gas port hole is centered. Also mark the center of the gas block hole on the face of the gas block. When you assemble the gas block on the barrel all you have to do is line up the two witness marks for perfect gas port/gas block alignment.

  • Turn the un-installed gas block over and hold it next to the barrel in the position it would be installed. You should be able to see both the barrel’s gas port and the hole in the gas block. Make sure that when the gas block is slammed all the way up to the shoulder on the barrel that both gas ports are going to perfectly align. I have had many gas ports which require the gas block to be mounted up to 1/8” back away from the shoulder for proper alignment.
  • In my opinion, 300 Blackout and 7.62x39 AR barrel gas ports should be 3/32” minimum to function correctly. All of mine are ⅛” gas ports. If you see a 1/16” gas port on a 300BO or 762x39 barrel it probably will not cycle correctly and will have to be drilled out and opened up, but always test it first before any modifications.

  • Sliding an old gas tube or similar sized steel rod backward from the receiver exiting the front of the receiver will help you time/index the barrel nut to assure you get it perfectly aligned. If it is not straight, it could cause the case tube to hit the gas key funny and prevent the BCG from cycling reliably.
    Precision Reflex Barrel Nut tool is the
    Ultimate Answer to stubborn barrel nuts.
  • Sometimes handguards need lube to slide onto a barrel nut.
  • Using a Brownells Receiver Lapping tool to lap the face of your receiver will improve your overall barrel to receiver fit and has proven to me to increases accuracy.
  • LockTite the Grip Screw, muzzle device, and castle nut and optics mounting screws.
  • Super cheap sub-$50 upper and lower blemished receivers will not give you a “precision build” unless you get really...really lucky.
  • Always upgrade and install an adjustable gas block on 5.56/.223 builds - or other type of adjustable gas system unless you are buying a premium barrel with a tuned gas port. Adjustable gas block are inexpensive upgrades and you will send me fan mail once you get it tuned.
  • If you get frustrated, stop and walk away for a while… have some Black RIfle Coffee and come back to it later after you are really jacked up on caffeine.
  • A ¼” steel hitch pin and 1/16” punch from the hardware store will make installing the front pivot pin infinitely easier. Slide in the hitch pin, slip the spring and detent through the holes on the hitch pin, push down with the punch and turn 90-degrees. Now carefully push and slide the hitch pin out with the front pivot pin. Done.
  • The tiny hole on the front detent pin is for a paperclip or small punch to push down the detent to be able to remove the pin.
  • Do not crush the selector spring while installing the grip… say this three times.
  • The rear takedown pin can be removed with a stiff sewing needle without removing the buffer tube. Use the needle to push back the detent enough to rotate the rear pin 90-degrees and then removed. The reinstall is easy.
  • Yeah - sometimes fitting is required with sandpaper or a file. Just go slow.
  • Anything which has been painted will likely suck to assemble. Use an Xacto knife and sandpaper nail file to “tune” areas for install. If there is any type of paint or coating on the face of the receiver’s barrel nut threads a receiver lapping tool is highly recommended.
  • Yes, all Pinned front sight pins do require the force of God to drive out. Note - these pins are tapered and one side in smaller than the other. Hit the smallest sized head of the pin for removal otherwise you are tightening the damn thing. A large head starting punch and and large hammer will help get the pins moving.
  • Use the Primary Weapons Vise Block to lock in the receiver and level the top of the receiver on a flat surface. A piece of wood under the lower receiver works as well. Place a level on the top of the optic turret to assure the optic is level with the receiver.
  • Lubricate your buffer spring before assembly to quiet it down.
  • WD-40 is one of the most popular CLP - Cleaners Lubricants and Protectants. I use a lot of this to prep parts.
  • Wipe down the receivers and all moving parts before assembling them with some type of CLP… like WD-40.
  • Check every single bolt face at the range to assure it is the correct for the caliber you have the barrel for. I have had two situations where I was shipped the wrong caliber bolt.
  • Any AR rifles chambered in anything other than .223/5.56 should be labeled with a brightly colored zip tie around the muzzle so it reminds you this one is not like the others and you don’t make your gun go boom in a bad way.
  • A large $5 white beach towel on the workbench will help you see everything and also will prevent the dreaded parts bounce of doom which requires 20 minutes of looking for a dropped part.
  • A small dab of vaseline on the end of a pin or other tiny parts will usually help it stick in place to make it easier for you to install it. Excess is easily wiped off.
  • Low quality and cheap parts and receivers will still give you a functional build, however do not kid yourself that it is high quality. I have had more than my share of $30 parts kit parts fail or not fit correctly. Have fun with the cheap kits and experiment with paint and other DIY receiver finishes.

Obviously those folks who build AR15s as a job probably have other tips. In my experience this should cover the big tips, tricks and tools help you have a fun... build on.

Check BROWNELLS for the best deals on firearms and accessories

Monday, November 28, 2016

Galil ACE Pistol GAP39SB First Look Review

Galil ACE Pistol GAP39SB First Look Review was fortunate to be one of the first writers to get their hands on the newly introduced Galil ACE GAP39SB. For those not familiar with the original Galil line, it was developed in the 1960s and has been tuned and tweaked over the years by IWI. The original design was an adaptation of the AK platform. In this case, IWI’s Galil ACE GAP39 pistol has been fitted with a new style Sig Brace with folding adapter and now dons the GAP30SB model name. The ACE GAP39 pistols are all fed via AK compatible magazines - in this case IWI includes a magpul AK PMag with the pistol.

If you want to mess some stuff up and need a small package to do it, this thing is freaking awesome. At this point we only have around 300 rounds through it, but it was fast targeting, 100% reliable, quick handling and impressively accurate for an AK 47 style pistol with a tiny 8.3” barrel. Loud? Hell yes, but not as bad as I have experienced with my Century Arms AK pistols. Notably the recoil was much more controllable than the AK pistols I have shot. Actually I love this pistol and format. I immediately started thinking of my friends at S.W.H.A.T - Special Weapons Hogs and Tactics, because this would be a great option for the backup guy responsible for managing charging boars.
A simple and inexpensive Bushnell TRS-25 was mounted to the integrated picatinny rail on the bolt cover. Generally this never works, however IWI has managed to engineer the top cover in a way that it is rigid and will still hold zeros shot after shot. I had no issues painting a 1” ragged hole at 25-yards with the little pistol off of sand bags or hammering the 300 yard 12” gong shot after shot.
Beyond, less recoil, improved accuracy over typical AK variants other refinements include really nice adjustable tritium sights with a 0-300 and 300-600 yard AR style aperture flip sights, integrated picatinny handguard rails and covers, integrated light switch hole on the covers, ambi-safety selector, and standard muzzle RH threads with a lock nut.

Look for a full review soon, but barring any issues I will have a few of my other AK pistols up for sale. So far the Galil GAP39SP is lighter, softer recoiling, more accurate, and much more ergonomic than AK pistols I own and have tested in the past, but it should be at twice the price with an $1850 MSRP.
IWI - Marketing Info on the GAP39SB
The Galil ACE SB features a side-folding Stabilizing Brace, produced for IWI US by SB Tactical LLC, designers and manufacturers of the original SB15 and SB47 Pistol Stabilizing Braces. Originally designed as a means for persons with limited mobility to operate and fire the AR-15 pistol, the custom adaptation of the Stabilizing Brace to the Galil ACE pistol takes the application of large frame pistol control and stabilization to a new level. With the IWI brace’s unique sidefolding feature, the Galil ACE SB can be fired with or without the brace extended depending on the shooters need. With the brace in the folded position, storage space required in your safe or range/rifle bag is minimized.

In all other respects, the Galil ACE GAP39SB is identical to the GAP39.
The modernized Galil ACE is based upon the reliable mechanism of the original Galil assault rifle first developed by IMI in the late 1960’s. Drawing inspiration from the legendary Russian AK-47 and the Finnish Valmet RK 62, the IWI Galil ACE has been continuously improved over the last 40+ years, resulting in today’s extremely reliable and highly accurate Galil ACE.
Improvements made since the original Galil was first developed include:
Charging handle (reciprocating) moved to the left side of the milled steel receiver allowing for weak hand operation
Weight reduction with the use of modern polymers
AKM/AK-47 magazine compatibility
Full length 2-piece Picatinny top rail
Picatinny tri-rail forearm with built in, slide on/ off rail covers with pressure switch access
Fully adjustable iron sights with Tritium front post
Caliber                   7.62x39mm
Action Semi-auto
Operating System Closed rotating bolt, long stroke gas piston
Magazine Capacity 30 rounds
Barrel Material Cold hammer forged, CrMoV, chrome lined
Barrel Length           8.3"
Overall Length 26.75"
Weight 6.5 lbs w/out Magazine
Rifling Right Hand, 1:9.45 inch twist
Brace Color Black
Sights Adjustable with Tritium front post and 2-dot Tritium rear aperture.
MSRP $1,849


Check BROWNELLS for the best deals on firearms and accessories

Bushnell Optics -

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Howa Targetmaster .308 Rifle Review

Howa Targetmaster .308 Rifle Review

I have been a bit "into .308 rifles" since I first started writing for the industry almost a decade ago at this point. To me, this caliber represents the best all around do-it-all caliber everyone should own. If you want to hunt North American game, the .308 round is deadly efficient and while having legendary precision accuracy performance at longer ranges. At this year's SHOT show I stumbled into the Legacy Sports booth and starting handling the Howa line of rifles and was very impressed with what I saw. Admittedly the Howa .308 line is not new, however it was a newer brand for me. For the price, these rifles seemed to be well finished, nicely appointed and had a build quality which was noticeably higher than my similar Remington 700 rifles for around the same price tag. After a little research it seemed there was a cult following of the Howa rifles with plenty of aftermarket parts as well. With more than a few mentions of sub-MOA accuracy, I  ordered the heavy Howa Targetmaster barrel kit complete with optic to see what the Howa brand could deliver to shooters.

Howa Machinery Company Limited is a Japanese firm is a highly diverse manufacturer of construction vehicles, door, window, manufacturing products, machinery and of course firearms. They have a long history in the firearms development and manufacturing business including being one of manufacturers involved in creating the prized and accurate Japanese Arisaka rifles. In the 1970s they were manufacturing AR18/AR180s under a licensing agreement with Armalite and currently they manufacturer the “1500” and Vanguard receivers for Weatherby, S&W, Mossberg and others. With this history of innovation and firearms manufacturing, it should be no surprise that they deliver some very nice firearms. Here in the US their Japanese made line of Howa precision rifles are marketed by Legacy Sports.

The Howa rifles are incredibly well made with a fit and finish that is steal for the price. In fact the finish and overall fit of this Howa 1500 Targetmaster is notably better than my Remington 700 actions. The bolt runs smoother, the receiver is beefier and the barrel is actually finished with a very crisp recessed match 90 degree crown which looks a bit more well defined than the end of my Remington 700. With the exception of the fluting which is a little rough, the entire surface finish is a very nice lustrous deep blued finish. Considering the $699-$750 street price of this Howa 1500 Targetmaster rifle and scope package, the quality, fit, finish, and excellent accuracy should make the Howa an easy choice on the showroom floor.
The Howa’s are seldom sold without the scope kit, however those models without the rings, base and scope, the Howa Model 1500 are less expensive but very comparable to the Remington 700 SPS model. 

The Howa 1500 is now available with a threaded muzzle model like the Remington however the final out-of-the-box accuracy is also nearly identical between the rifles with the edge going to the Howa. The threaded muzzle model is what I would recommend.

MDT Billet Stock with AICS mag well.
Stocks are also available from XLR also.
I will reiterate the same compliment and complaint about the stock Hogue stock that I have made in my Remington 700 reviews. The Hogue stock is is probably one of the best budget conscious light factory gun stocks available which can take a beating in the field, however the non-rigid flexi stock design of the Hogue does not allow the shooter to get the best from the rifle. This rifle’s accuracy potential deserves better than the factory Hogue stock just as my Remington 700 did. I saw first hand what an upgraded Howa 1500 could do with the shooter next to me snapping off easy sub-MOA hits all the way out to 300 yards with a better stock, optic, and trigger off of just a bipod. The Howa’s capabilities can definitely take advantage of the upgrades.
MDT has a fully adjustable billet stock option.

MDT 's unique side plates can be swapped with
various colors.
Just to prove how great this Howa could be I swapped the Hogue stock for a $499 MDT HS3 precision billet magazine fed chassis plus $289 MDT Skeleton Stock and upgraded the trigger to a $116 2lb Timney. The results easily matched the consistent sub-MOA capabilities I had seen demonstrated at the range with an upgraded Howa. As with any trigger upgrade and Hogue to billet stock swap I have done before, the upgrade improved my groups easily by 30% which meant sloppy 1” groups moved into the .7” and my best groups shrank to the .4x” range. For $900 in upgrades the Howa can play with the more custom guns even with the included Nikko Sterling optic, but you might also want to spring for a higher end scope if you are willing to go that far with upgrades. Also my experience is that money invested in a Remington 700 will not get you a gun that shoots this well. I can say this because I have three Remington 700 which I love, but the Howa's are more accurate for me.

The Howa is an excellent precision rifle at a very reasonable price, however as noted with the stock components, there is still room for upgrading. Howa’s new HACT (Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger)  2-stage trigger is really very good for a factory trigger and delivers a decently crisp creep-free trigger in the 2-3 lb range all with a consistent let off. The vast majority of shooters who use one of the Howa rifles for hunting will just leave the trigger as is, but having shot side-by-side with the Timney trigger, the aftermarket $120 Timney match trigger is well worth the price if precision shooting is you game.
Not my favorite optic but it works. 

The Targetmaster package includes a 4-14 Nikko Sterling scope, rings and base. The Nikko Sterling optics take a lot of heat and are often noted as being very low quality, so I was surprised with the decent quality of the Targetmaster scope included with this kit. The 4-14 Targetmaster scope basically looks like a Nightforce knock off with most of the features at a very reasonable price.
Granted this is not a $1000 Leupold, Bushnell, Vortex or Nikon, but it is a damn fine scope for the estimated $200 MSRP. It is also better than many “marketing package” scopes that are added onto rifles by bigger gun dealers. This NikKo Sterling 4-14 adjustable Mildot scope included side parallax adjustment, MilDot calibrated reticle, re-zeroable Mil-based turret adjustments and an illuminated reticle which actually delivered a usable illumination setting when it is pitch black out.

During my testing I found the scope easy to use, pretty darn clear, and it held perfect zero throughout my testing of well over a 1000 rounds. So I really cannot complain too much about the scope. I will note that the scope does have a rather short eye relief which made the scope kiss my safety glasses lightly during recoil, however I never had an issue with an actual incident of scope bite. From my perspective, the short eye relief is the major shortcoming of scope, however the optic clarity and features are in line with the price.

It should be noted that assembly is required. The buyer will need to install the base and rings with LockTite, and then mount and zero the scope.  This is a similar expectation to pretty much any rifle setup and a DIY process which assures that some minimum wage tool at a FFL dealer did not just screw everything together with gun oil.

During my very first zeroing at the range, a fellow shooter had a very nicely upgraded and suppressed .308 Howa 1500 complete with a McMillan stock and Timney trigger which he was using to casually paint a nice 2” lead splatter on the 300-yard gong. He noted that the rifle regularly delivers ½” 100-yard groups.

Once everything was set up and I was dialed at the range with a 100-yard zero, I was easily able to use all my same Remington 700 hold overs to connect easily with my 4” steel plates at 200-400 yards. Yes the Howa Targetmaster is easily a 1 MOA gun. In fact based on my testing I saw a few .6”ish 100-yard groups. One rather impressive 5-shot group was a 2” lead painted set of hits on my steel silhouette head at 300-yards with Hornady 168gr Z-Max .308 Ammo shoot off sandbags. Hitting clays at 300 yards should not be an issue and hitting most standard steel targets out to 500-yards should be simple after you figure out your ballistic drops. The barrel is a 1:10 twist which delivers good accuracy with a wide range of bullet weights. I found the this rifle to prefer heavier 168gr+ bullets. The standard MilDot reticle offers the shooter a simple option for calculating impact when paired with most ballistic apps. I could see why the Howa rifles have such a following after just the first 50 rounds.

The Howa Targetmaster is a pretty fun rifle to shoot and is totally useable right out of the box. It is one of those rifles which I would feel completely comfortable picking up at a FFL dealer to save a hunt while the airline attempts to find the rifle they lost in transit.

Out of the box, the Howa Targetmaster is impressive and unless you are a jaded writer who has the luxury of opting for a custom rifle any time he wants, the Targetmaster will probably do what you need it to do and more. If you do want custom, the available aftermarket options are there to really improve performance further. Beyond the previously noted smooth action, the 20” barrel is hammer forged for durability and long lived accuracy. I have a fresh Howa 1500 .308 with a threaded barrel and I would say that is the way to go with an aftermarket optic simply because you can attach a brake or suppressor to reduce recoil to a point that you can self-spot shots.

Howa even offers an “Ammo Boost” add on which allows the 1500 models to become magazine fed, but why stop there? I have a MDT HS3 Chassis on order for this rifle as well as a Timney trigger and higher tier scope. From what I saw this is a solid sub-MOA gun which is begging to have just a few tweaks added to it to take it from really good to great.

.308 Caliber
Hogue Green Stock
Barrel Length 20"
Profile #6 Heavy Fluted
Twist 1:10
Length of Pull 13.87"
Length 40.25"
Weight 9.8lbs
MSRP $913
Street Price $699-$750 (depending on Rebate Offers)


Check BROWNELLS for the best deals on firearms and accessories