Monday, December 28, 2020

Brownells A1 XM16E1 Old School Retro Prototype AR15

Brownells A1 XM16E1 Old School Retro Prototype AR15

At this year’s 2016 SHOT show amongst all the super custom short barreled and suppressed AR15s I was happy to see simple Veitnam A1 old school carry handle receivers were appearing as well as new production A2 carry handle designs. Yes, in fact we have come full circle and the old carry handle design is now retro cool again. Among the old A1 carry handle upper receivers, I was excited to see the production sample of the Brownells A1 upper receiver I had talked with them about in 2015 under a nondisclosure agreement.

This is actually pretty big news since Brownells has never...ever offered a firearm under their name before. The Brownell is not just another “me-too” receiver redesign. In an interview I did with Frank Brownell earlier this year he noted, “We wanted to do something classic that people would get really excited about that was more than just another AR15 receiver set. Our biggest challenge has been keeping them in stock.

To develop the upper and lower receivers, Brownell’s worked with Nodak Spud, the preiminant vintage M16/AR15 receiver manufacturer. Nodak develops faithful retro forgings of the original early M16 styles which are a bit different when compared to today’s receivers. On the lower receiver there is no logo plastered on the mag well, the buffer tube union is less reinforced, and the selector markings are only on the left side. 

The older A1 carry handle uppers have a simpler detent windage wheel adjustment for the rear sights and the newer A2 uppers feature both windage and elevation adjustment. The result of that partnership was an extremely high quality authentic retro Vietnam era XM16E1 style A1 upper and matching M16A1 style 1960s - 1970s style lower receiver. If you want to make a period correct XM16E1 version of grand daddy’s Nam rifle, Brownell’s upper and lower will get your build moving correctly in the right direction. Also Brownells has an extensive catalog to accessorize that receiver set. Brownells also offers a 20” AR15 Retro Barrel with a period correct 1:12 twist, however it has been so popular that they could not spare one for this poor writer.

Stoner created a limited number of “Prototype” AR10s featuring some incredible bleeding edge materials, manufacturing and concepts. In fact the original AR10 had fluted lightweight barrels and fiberglass handguards. Earlier AR10 prototypes even used steel lined aluminum alloy barrels to reduce weight. Stoner did not do this same bleeding edge prototyping for the smaller AR15 and instead focused on a productional design. What would an AR15 prototype rifle have looked like? This article all about creating an old school prototype AR15 that weighs in at only 6-lbs, 1-ounce and would have had Mr. Stoner drooling. A few folks spitting swear words for bastardizing a retro receiver set while others will start giving me “Likes” and pinning my pics their Pinterest accounts - regardless this was a fun build.

As I added a list of parts to my Brownells shopping cart, I kept asking the question “What if?” What if Stoner had pushed the development of the AR15 platform like he did with the AR10 platform. The initial government contract asked for a 6lb AR15 rifle and the fielded AR15 weighed in at just over 7-lbs, but could I hit that design goal with my prototype XM16E1 build?

New cutting edge materials of the 1960s would have been too costly for production military rifles. In the early 1960’s, stainless steel, carbon fiber, and Tritium that had been widely manufactured for over a half a decade. These are still all pretty top end upgrades even by today’s standards.

Manufacturing capabilities of the 1960s included precision forgings globally, Wire EDM (Electro Magnetic Discharge) in use in Russia, and Bowing’s testing of punch card CNC machining. Indeed this provides a pretty impressive set of materials and manufacturing technology capabilities from which a producible AR15 prototype could have created in the 1960s.  Modern AR15 design innovations such as free-float handguards, effective muzzle brake designs, adjustable gas systems, and use of more polymers were possible but just not conceived.

The technology and materials were available. What would that look like if Stoner would have pressed on. It seemed like a cool project.

Custom gunsmiths of the 1960s could have made a gun with the same features on an AR15 we have today but that would not be a reasonable prototype. A A1 AR15 prototype should be recognizable by Vietnam veterans who would state the enhancements could have improved their shooting, maneuverability, reliability, and potentially helped save lives.

There were some stock parts which were retained included the Brownells A1 XM16E1 upper and M16A1 style 1960s - 1970s style lower receiver, teardrop forward assist, the bolt & magazine release components, selector switch, pivot pins, and A2 buffer tube, spring & buffer spring.  To increase reliability in very harsh wet environments, all the detents were upgraded to KNS stainless detents stainless anti-rotation trigger pins.

The WMD NiB-X BCG represents probably the most unlikely technology of everything on this gun simply because NiBo coating had literally been just invented by Dupont in 1972 and the Vietnam war ended in 1975. WMD’s patented version would still be generations of coating updates later. Chrome BCGs would have been possible, but Gen 1 NiBo was the newest technology and used it here. That noted, if that self-lubricating, more reliable, and cleaner NiBo coated BCG would have been used, it could have greatly increased reliability of fielded guns and saved lives in Vietnam.

Instead of a heavy A2 stock, a Doublestar Ace Skeleton stock was used to drop weight, slim down the gun, and increase overall strength. The existing forging and machining technology of the day could have easily made the detailed receiver bulkhead and buttstock of the Skeleton stock and the lower tube is a bent aluminum tube. The Ace Skeleton stock uses standard A2 buffer tube, spring and buffer. A nod to the time period was about 24-feet of vintage style paracord from used for custom wrapping the buffer tube instead of the rather “modern” foam cover shipped with the Ace stock.

In the 1960s, polymer molding was really advancing to the point that someone could have pulled off delivering a design similar to the Magpul MOE-K2 grip and Strike Industries polymer ejection port cover. Other little ergonomic additions which could have leveraged 1960s CNC punch card machining to create the ergonomics enhancing billet Mega Arms ambi-charging handle and billet Seekins Precision extended trigger guard.  

Triggers of that time were horrible, but a very manufacturable option using precision investment casting is the HyperFire’s new EDT trigger. This trigger delivers an entry level match trigger which was technically possible if they had HyperFire’s innovative patent. The EDT has a trigger design which offers no perceptible take-up or over-travel and lighter overall trigger pull; all of which would increase accuracy and shooting speed.

Instead of an aluminum sleeved steel barrel and fiberglass furniture like Stoner used, I used a Faxon pencil profile barrel and a Clark Carbon Fiber Forend with Billet Aluminum barrel nut.
Though the original AR15 had a thin barrel this ultra-slim 18” rifle length gas system Faxon pencil barrel would have been considered really light back then and similar in weight to the aluminum sleeved barrels Stoner used on very early AR10 prototypes. An updated Daniel Defense precision billet machined .625” front lightweight steel sight base design reduces just a bit of weight. The Precision Armament AFB muzzle brake diffuses recoil and kills the flash much better than a standard flash hider of the day. Carbon fiber was first invented in Ohio in 1958 and the simple but insanely expensive tube shape on the Clark handguard was one of the first shapes made in the mid-1960s and could have been used as a handguard material.

I felt that although the injection molding technology might be able to reproduce a plastic magazine, the specialized high strength polymers used for reliable AR15 magazines today had not been invented yet. I stuck with a more period correct 20-round Brownells aluminum magazine which has proved itself reliable for decades.

Tritium sights were actually first used by the military on the original MOA Single-Point Sight used in 1970 Son Tay raid in Vietnam, so that technology could have been available before that in a basic post sight. A Mepro Tritium front sight was added to improve hits after dusk or in the dark areas of the Vietnam jungle.

I think Brownells stumbled onto a great idea and people are having fun building up and shooting these retro builds. This of course is my version which was a extremely interesting research based build. What was most interesting was the initial 6lb design rifle weight and finding that the fielded rifles were actually 7-pounds. Back then 6-lbs would have been a very tough goal weight. Surprisingly even with all the new modern light weight components this build just met the original design weight at 6-lbs 1-ounce. Removing the paracord (2-ounce savings), using an ultralight BCG (3-ounce savings) and ACE Ultralight stock (5-ounce savings) could have dropped the weight to around 5.5-lbs, but I think the balance would have been off.

Shooting this little lightweight historical build was a lot of fun just plinking. As a training gun the extreme light weight and 2.5-lb weight saving would be a welcome change compared to a typical 8.5-lb AR15 loaded with an optic. Sure with a pencil profile, the accuracy does wander a little after the barrel really heats up, however it is not the dramatic combat accuracy change everyone thinks it is. The build is still plenty fun to shoot at cans and golf balls sitting on the tailgate of my truck with my army surplus jungle print camo Boonie hat and reminiscing about the long history and innovation journey of this incredible firearm.  Stoner would at least had a laugh.


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Friday, December 11, 2020

Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool - It Works

Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool - It Works

Back many years ago a number of very high end manufacturers of receivers and match barrels had recommended lapping upper receiver faces to optimize accuracy. Some of those folks were JP Rifles, White Oak, Shilen, Lilja, Black Hole, and Hart just to name a few of the experts delivering that advice. At that point I was younger, less wise, an inexperienced builder and was happy to just screw together one AR after another. 

This advice came back to me as I was chasing down some accuracy issues with an AR15 which should have been a tack driver - instead my first couple rounds were essentially touching and then the groups would string and wander.

Having eliminated all the usual culprits of barrel nut tension, bad crown, scope mounting, I fired up a browser and picked up a Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool and a tub of Garnett Lapping compound. After using to tool to lap the face of the receiver I was shocked that the $50 investment allowed the premium barrel to deliver tight ½-MOA groups which I knew it was capable of.

The concept of the Brownells Receiver Lapping Tool is pretty simple. The lapping rod is sized to slip all the way into the A15 upper receiver and is then heavily lubricated - thus providing a perfectly straight alignment which the lapping face of the tool can square up the front face of the receiver.  A little lapping compound is applied to the lapping face and the tool is spun with a simple electric hand drill, or in my case I mounted it into my drill press. The lapping tool spins and the lapping compound gently cuts and trues up the face. Usually less than a few thousands of an inch are actually removed in the lapping process. 

The process is a two-three minutes process where new fresh lapping compound is added to the face and fresh oil is added to the spindle inside the receiver. In most situations receivers only needed a little lapping to remove anodizing and true up the face. I did have a couple receivers which did require much more lapping, but that is a story a little later in the article.
Notice how the 4-o'clock to 11-o'clock
position is nice and shiny, but the
11-o'clock to 4-o'clock position
is still black. Keep lapping until
the entire face is silver. Less than a few
thousands of an inch are actually
removed in the lapping process. 

Honestly the whole idea seemed like voodoo to me initially. I thought - Why would it make that big of a difference if the barrel is held mechanically solid by a properly torqued barrel nut? I circled back with those same experts to understand what was going on and why this tuning fix worked. The answer was simple physics and the problem is usually to do with unpredictable and often uneven anodizing and/or receiver coatings.

If the barrel extension is not perfectly squarely seated against the receiver face there will be a small gap on one side or the other. The barrel will expand as it heats and then start to wander usually toward that gap as the barrel torque begins to change. What the shooter sees is 2-3 good shots and then shots wandering off in a direction it is a good indication that receiver truing might be the solution. Another symptom is to only see their best groups while the barrel is hot. White Oak noted receiver lapping is critical, as did others, and even a well trained gunsmith. Everyone noted that a barrel will become less and less affected by barrel nut torque the more true the receiver face is.

Sure it could be something else as well. Too loose or tight of torque, a out of round barrel, bad crown, or out of spec headspacing. JP Rifles noted another culprit is too loose a fit between the barrel extension and receiver - they noted when seating the barrel, it should not drop in and wiggle around in there. JP Rifles actually sizes the barrel and receiver so tight that they need to sweat all the barrels into their receivers for the best possible receiver/barrel fit.
Mounting in a drill press allows for
less side to side lapping tool and
receiver movement and thus a better
final result.

I was able to secure a group buy on 17.3” AR15 .223 chambered barrels based on Feddersen blanks. After already owning two of these barrels and several Feddersen AR15 pistol barrels, all of them have been insanely accurate ½-MOA capable barrel. Actually I have even seen ¼-MOA after long0term break in. Even the 7.5” Pistol Barrels were delivering 1” 100-yard groups - Accurate I tell ya. One of the friends had put together a build with one of the Feddersen barrels. Though an extremely capable and accomplished long-range precision shooter, he was at best seeing extremely varying 1.25” - 1.75” groups with a serious problem of the groups stringing. I offered to take a look and true up the face and assure the barrel nut was properly torqued.

The face of the “on sale $39 budget upper receiver” was extremely out of true. Where the lapping process usually only take 2-3 minutes, I spent over 10 minutes lapping down the receiver. I had never seen one this bad before so it was a great test. After cleaning and reassembling the upper for him, the friend retested and was now producing consistent ½” or better groups from the same setup and ammo. That my friends is a result and the reason I will never assemble another AR15 without first truing up the receiver face. I am now tearing down ever AR15 I have and using the Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool. I have yet to see a build which the lapping process did not improve the consistency and overall group sizes to some degree.

If you are into AR15 building and into building a quality AR15 at home, then you should consider the Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool along with tools like a good vise, punches and Geissele Action Rod. The tool has proven to me to be a critical tool to assuring accuracy on a high quality build.

Brownells AR15 Upper Receiver Lapping Tool - $34.99
Brownells Garnett Lapping Compound - $19.99


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Monday, December 7, 2020

Feddersen Bronze Nickel Alloy 10/22 Receiver and Barrel Update

Feddersen Bronze Nickel Alloy 10/22 Receiver Review

Many of your know Feddersen from my numerous articles noting the mind blowing accuracy of his 10/22 barrels and also a review of his stunning Bronze Alloy 10/22 billet receiver I reviewed about a year ago. To catch everyone up in the event you have not read the above linked article, this building included:
- Feddersen 10/22 Receiver
- Kidd 1.5-lb Single Stage Trigger Unit
- Feddersen 16.25” Fluted Bull Barrel - Muzzle Threaded
- Kidd Charging Handle
- Kidd Match Bolt
- Victor Titan Stock
- The orignal Nikon 3-9 ProStaff scope worked well, but was not able to really allow this gun to stretch its legs beyond 75-yards accurately... yes beyond 75-yards.

I will save you the scroll ahead. This rig delivers sub-1" groups at 125-yards if I do my part. See attached 125-yard group with CCI Velocitor ammo. This is great news and allows me to not worry about my zero changing all while still delivered very tiny .116-inch 5-shot 50-yard groups with Lapua Center-X. Insane accuracy. I love this gun.

1-inch squares still seem a little large
for the precision of this rifle even at
Last weekend I was able to just shoot away the afternoon nestled into a friend's range on a gorgeous 60-degree day with a pack full of ammo. These days do not get any better than that when you are just alone on the range, quietly plunking away with your Ruger Suppressor muffling the snap of the Ruger 10/22 to a quiet "plunk". There is no better therapy.

I had decided to swap to a Lucid L5 4-16 optic with parallax adjustment and a very nice fine detailed BDC reticle design. Really more than anything I wanted a very fine reticle and also wanted the BDC so I could quickly snap shots of various ranges.  The Lucid 4-16 did that beautifully. 

At this point I know that I am zero'ed at 50-yards with SKPlus Standard two hashes down for 75-yards, four hashes down for 100-yards, and six for 125-yards.  It really is pretty handy and the precision is close enough to minute of rodent hits. Super precision is just a click of two off from those reference points. 

I have Kidd, Volquartsen, Tacitacl Solutions, Clark, Stock, Whistlepig, and even Force, but time and time again the Feddersen barrels are just problem free with ammo, consistant, and super easy to just pull a SwabIt through the bore and be done. Obviously the accuracy does not suck either. This is an 1/8" gun at 50-yards with the right ammo. The prefered subsonic ammo just cannot hold it together like a hyper velocity round like the CCI Velocitor which the Feddersen loves. 

The company is known by many names; Feddersen, R4,, and  Feddersen is a name people in the industry know very well. The company was founded in 1979 by Fred Feddersen and has become rather famous for his world record breaking patented R4 SIPR .50 BMG gun barrels.  Fred prides himself on offering the straightest bores in the industry all thanks to his patented process and machines. Each and every step of their in house barrel production is unique and in fact their entire process is patented and a trade secret process.

Unlike many barrel or firearms manufacturers, Feddersen is not buying pre-rifled blanks and just finishing them to their own specs, they are producing 100% of their barrels in house from solid round bar stock.  They have a special drilling process, a patented ultra-sensitive lapping/honing process, unique patented and proprietary SEPR - Single Edged Polygonal Rifling, and one of the few companies in the world which offer a barrel with near perfect centricity and straightness between the bore and profile. 

Amazingly enough their 10/22 barrels start at only $145, The voodoo that Fred’s patented design and trade secret process delivers superb accuracy which rivals the best barrels anywhere. The 10/22 is a pet project of Fred and he continues to deliver new products for the platform including a wide variety of barrels including take-down models and also these receivers.

Fred offers the receivers in two bronze alloys and aluminum versions. Fred decided on a high bronze content alloy to deliver several advantages.

The bronze nickel based alloys are considerably heavier than aluminum which delivers a stiffer and more substantial feeling 10/22 build which in turn should deliver improved accuracy. The Feddersen Bronze Nickel 10/22 receiver is also naturally slick and for the most part self lubricating. I can tell you that the Kidd Innovations Match bolt glides back and forth like it is on bearings - it is amazingly smooth.

Feddersen integrated an extended 1913 spec picatinny rail into the receiver. Another notable feature is the barrel trunnion v-block area is spec-ed to precisely fit a .920 bull barrel profile, so instead of a gap around the barrel, the trunnion actually provides support to assure there is no barrel droop without any special mounting requirements.

Feddersen now are in full production of the 10/22 receivers in Bronze Alloy, Bronze Nickel Alloy, and Aluminum billets versions.  The Bronze Alloy Nickel Alloy are $350 retail, this silver colored Nickel Bronze Alloy $375, and Aluminum $275 billets versions. All are available on his site -

The Feddersen barrels alone deliver stunning sub-¼-inch 50-yard accuracy which deliver tricks such as like slicing cards at 25 to 50 yards with the right ammo. The receiver did indeed tighten up my groups even further compared to factory receivers. For this build I choose a 16.5-inch fluted bull barrel with threaded muzzle to use suppressed. A Kidd Innovations match bolt, 1.5-lb single stage trigger, and V-block were used to complete the build along with a Victor Titan stock and Nikon 3-9 ProStaff optic with adjustable objective.

My a point of impact did not change when suppressed at 50-yards with my favorite SK Standard Plus round with my AAC Ti-Rant suppressor installed or removed.

The Feddersen 10/22 receiver is something unique, delivers many features expected of top tier receivers plus the slippery benefits of bronze and the full support of a trunnion v-block area. The raw material look of the bronze alloy is also unique as nearly every other 10/22 receiver is aluminum and colored with some type of anodizing. I like there there is another high end receiver option for 10/22 builders to choose from beyond the typical options such as Kidd, Volquartsen, and Tactical Innovations. What I liked most from this receiver was that it delivered a solid tight beefy-ness to the build that no other receiver offers and with that the potential for improved accuracy - I am certainly thrilled with .116-inch 50-yard groups.

Nickel Bronze Alloy $375 retail

Feddersen 10/22 Receiver
Kidd 1.5-lb Single Stage Trigger Unit
Feddersen 16.25” Fluted Bull Barrel - Muzzle Threaded
Kidd Charging Handle
Kidd Match Bolt
Victor Titan Stock
Nikon 3-9 ProStaff scope


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FJ Feddersen, Inc. -
Kidd Innovative Designs -

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Heckler & Koch H&K VP9 Tactical 9mm Pistol Review

Heckler & Koch H&K VP9 Tactical 9mm Pistol Review

Recently I reviewed the H&K VP9 and frankly am in love with the pistol, the quality and the features are all top of the line. As a defensive pistol it has a level of refinement that is competitively only seen on Sig Sauers and the high tier Walthers, but with features unique to H&K.  The P30 line has been one of H&K's most popular pistol lines and is the reference benchmark for quality in a defensive polymer handgun. That said, H&K fans have been demanding a modern production H&K striker fired option built on the popular P30 ergonomics and magazine. H&K delivered the hugely popular VP9 and now is extending the line with this VP9 Tactical model featuring a threaded barrel. What really sets the VP9 apart from other Heckler & Koch pistols is the common man's price tag and is the company's first sub-$600 priced gun in recent history.  

Now with the popularity of suppressors on the rise, civilians are asking for suppressor ready firearms. The Tactical model is a bit more with a street price usually about $50-$75 more than the initial VP9 model.

Essentially the H&K VP9 Tactical is identical to the original VP9 model with the same supremely awesome trigger break and very fast short trigger reset. The VP9 continues to offer swappable rear backstrap and side grips to customize the grip and the notable charging notches to help with high speed weapon manipulation. Of course the completely ambidextrous design via ambi-slide and paddle mag release is carried over on the VP90 Tactical Model as well. Even the luminous (Glow in the dark) sights and ambidextrous controls are the same. The VP9 and Tactical model are the same guns for all practical purposes.

There was some early rumbling that the VP9 did have a spring which was too weak. I was informed at this year’s SHOT show that all models now feature the same more stiff spring I noticed on this VP9 Tactical. On the show room, you really would not notice, but put an early Gen 1 writers sample VP9 against this new VP9 Tactical and you can feel the recoil spring difference.

There are only two differences between the VP9 and VP9 Tactical. The H&K VP9 Tactical features a threaded barrel and according to H&K’s site the tactical models do not use an O-Ring assisted lockup like other H&K models. Allegedly the O-ring caused problems when a suppressor is attached and only marginally decreases the precision of the barrel-slide lock up. The barrel threading is the infuriating but well thought out 13.5x1 LH thread. Although the intent of was to not allow the suppressor or other muzzle accessory to loosen while shooting due to a right hand barrel twist. It works but irritates me that I need to buy a swap back and forth between 13.5x1 LH and ½-28 thread adapters for my Liberty Mystic X suppressor instead of being able to do an easy swap of the suppressor between other 9mm guns.

Though H&K is usually a little behind the curve in keeping up with the US market, they may actually be a bit ahead of the curve with the pending Hearing Protection Act now having a good chance of becoming law. This is a durable and well tested host that is ready to attach a suppressor whether buyers follow the current tax stamp registration and buying process or get the opportunity to buy suppressors off the shelves if the HPA passes.

I have found the VP9 line of pistols to be extremely accurate with 124gr ammo. At a recent tactical training we had a drill where we had to run from barricade to barricade and pop out and deliver two shots on a steel torso. After the first run and with my confidence instilled in the VP9 Tactical, I ran the course two more times and was delivering quick double tap head shots on the 15-yard steel target. The VP9s are very accurate and with the right ammo notably more accurate than my stock Glocks.

The VP9 pistol represents everything we have asked for and whined about on our Glocks with a level of striker fired pistol refinement which that has only previously been represented in the Walther PPQ. The VP9 Tactical though is not a Walther or a Glock or a Sig Sauer, it is a Heckler & Koch which has its own legacy of extremely high quality, infallible durability and reliability, with leading edge innovations. H&K did not only hit a homerun with this pistol, and the extension of this pistol to potentially capture a new suppressor market with the Hearing Protection Act pending is a very smart move for H&K.

Caliber 9mm
Length 7.34"
Width 1.32"
Height 5.41"
Barrel Length  4.09"
Sight Radius  6.38"
Weight (with empty magazine)  25.56 oz.
Weight (empty magazine)   3.28 oz.
Weight (without magazine) 22.28oz
Magazine Capacity 15+1
Trigger Pull 5.4lbs
Trigger Travel   .24"
Return Travel    .12"
Barrel Profile/Twist    Polygonal, 6 grooves, right-hand twist, 1 in 9.8 inches


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