My First (and possibly last) AR-15 Build

AR-15

Today’s post is brought to you by Patrick Shipp, Patrick has served his country down range in Iraq and on the front lines of the energy war in Washington, DC.

Roaming the aisles of The Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, VA, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of today’s small arms industry. Nearly every make and model of rifle, shotgun, and hand cannon in the world is there, and eager buyers are salivating at the thought of owning that which the liberal media has made taboo. Among the tables of Colt 1911s, Remington 700s, and Winchester Repeaters, there are a few vendors who are targeting a more discriminating customer; the AR-15 armorer.

Merriam-Webster defines an armorer as “one that repairs, assembles, and tests firearms.”

I wasn’t looking to build the best AR, but wanted to gain a better understanding of how the rifle operates. I began my build with some internet research. There are over 150 individual parts in an AR-15, and all of them must function together in order to effectively send 62 grains of lead towards the intended target. All of the parts can be purchased online and shipped directly to your home, with the exception of the stripped lower receiver. This is the serial number component, and must be transferred to the customer through a Federal Firearms Licensee. I bought my Smith and Wesson M&P stripped lower at the gun show for $130. At the show, I also purchased several Magpul components, including flip-up front and rear sites, a pistol grip, trigger guard, and adjustable buttstock. The remaining components I purchased online from Del-ton (flattop upper receiver), Midway USA (buffer tube, buffer spring, buffer, lower receiver parts kit, and bolt carrier group), and Ebay (replacement buffer tube for the one I over torqued). Where there was an option to, I bought mil-spec components. I switched out the 18” barrel on another AR platform for a 20”, and used the 18” barrel on this build. I found a handguard left over from deployment and got to work.

I went to my local range, Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA, and had the armorer there put the barrel on my upper receiver. There’s a lot that can go wrong, including miss alignment which could affect gas tube alignment, so I went to the pro. He switched out the short barrel, and installed the longer one for fifty bucks. That was money well spent. I did the rest of the assembly in my basement, using Cheaper Than Dirt’s YouTube videos on building a lower receiver and the Army’s TM9-1005-319-23. It’s important to know that all of the components fit together in a specific order. Anyone who has ever tried to repair their car knows what I’m talking about. Step-by-step instructions are essential to success. Watch the video and read the instructions a couple of times for real success. With the lower complete, I replaced the fixed front site post with a gas block with picatinny rails and attached the front and rear sites. I snapped top and bottom together, performed a functions check, and took it to the range. This was the most nerve wracking part. I knew everything had been done correctly, but in the back of my mind, I thought, “what if this damn thing blows up in my face. I’m going to look like an idiot.” One hundred rounds later, and I was satisfied with my work.

No after action review is complete without the obligatory what went wrong, and for me, those are the most important lessons learned. My buttstock has a little bit of wobble when fully extended. Though the buffer tube and buttstock are mil-spec, I can’t help but think that the replacement tube I bought after busting the one from Midway USA was not the correct diameter. The upper and lower aren’t as tight as the pros prefer, though you can purchase a small plastic block that will make the fit snug. I would recommend always buying a matched upper and lower to avoid any wiggle. The bolt carrier group from AR Stoner is snug, and did cause the rifle to fail to cycle completely. I have tried sanding, and will take the Dremel to it sometime soon. After the fact, I read some disparaging reviews on Midway USA, regarding the AR Stoner bolt carrier group. I’d say this is one of the components where you want to spend a little bit more, especially if you’ve incurred some savings elsewhere by catching Magpul and CMMG lower reciever components on sale.

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome. The final cost to complete, I’d estimate at about $900. You can purchase a complete stock AR-15 for this much, and add the Magpul components for another $150 or so. The bolt carrier group is an easily replaceable part if the Dremel doesn’t work, and the wobble reminds me that I need to look into getting another buffer tube. The feeling, though, of firing the weapon you built, well, that’s just priceless.

See you at the range.


The Modern Mosin-Nagant

The Mosin Nagant series of rifles. List goes t...

The Mosin Nagant series of rifles.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So why in the world am I writing about a rifle designed in the 1890’s and why is it interesting to you? Because it’s cool!!, and after all these years it’s still a relevant and useful firearm in today’s world. I just saw an amazing report earlier this week that the Mosin-Nagant is in current use in the fighting in Syria. Who would have thought that after all this time the rifle that defended Stalingrad against the Nazis would still be in use in 2013 as a “military” arm?

When someone mentions a Mosin-Nagant, they could be talking about any one of the many variations that have existed since it was adopted by The Imperial Russian Army in 1891 as the Model 1891 interestingly enough. Most commonly encountered in the United States however, are three models: the 91/30, M44 and, The Chinese Type 53. The Type 53 and the M44 are both almost identical to each other with the major difference being the country of origin. The most common of these three models is the 91/30. The M44 and Type 53 are both carbine models which have a much shorter barrel than the 91/30 and an attached side folding bayonet. All variations are bolt-action and have a 5 round integral magazine that can either be loaded one round at a time or by stripper clip. There are so many different incarnations of Mosin-Nagant that were produced, it’s not worth me going into great detail here as there are so many great resources out there. When I refer to the rifle here, I’m talking about the three models listed above. If you’re curious about the history of this rifle your best bet is to head over to 7.62x54r.net. There you can find the entire documented history of the rifle and all the different models produced.

Enough with the history lesson. How is this old Russian rifle relevant to me? Well, frankly there are a few good reasons but in my opinion the most important of all is that it is a dirt cheap and accessible firearm. This rifle can be had for sub $200 all day for a 91/30, even in today’s strange gun climate. The other two models come in at a little under $300 usually. What that gives you is a completely usable and reasonably accurate rifle out of the box with decent iron sights. What’s almost as good as the rifle itself being cheap is that the ammo is also cheap. A tin of 440 rounds of surplus ammo can be had for under $100. New manufacture commercially made ammo is decently priced as well. These old rifles have proven themselves to be adequate hunting arms for quite some time now and have put literally tons of meat on the tables of families all over the world. Hunting is by far the most common use for this rifle other than being a range plinker since it can be fed so inexpensively and the cartridge is powerful enough to take down nearly anything on 4 legs in North America.

I wanted to breathe a new life into this rifle though. Now if you’re some kind of purist and you feel that the Mosin-Nagant is deserving of being a collectable firearm to be kept in it’s original form, turn back now. I do not consider myself a purist at all. This rifle is immensely common and it lends itself very well to modifying or sporterizing. The Russians took rifles that would be considered fairly valuable today and re-arsenaled them, modified them and covered them in cosmoline and stuck them in a warehouse in Siberia somewhere and they have turned into the rifles that we see being imported today. There are rare models and I feel as though they shouldn’t be touched, if you’re not sure whether or not you’ve got a rare model please head over to 7.62x54r.net and double check.

As I stated before, you could leave the rifle alone in it’s completely stock form and have a completely serviceable and useful rifle with only a few tweaks and adjustments to the iron sights but I’m incapable of leaving good enough alone. I suppose I’ll start by addressing the things about the Mosin-Nagant that I personally don’t like so much. The total length of the 91/30 is about 48.5″, that’s just over four feet long and the bayonet isn’t even a part of that. That’s a ludicrous length for a rifle to be useful in the woods but that can be remedied. You could either hold out and get a M44 or Type 53 which is totally a rational work around or you could have a gunsmith shorten the barrel. The Mosin-Nagant is also a heavy rifle, not ungodly so but at a little over 8lbs it’s hefty enough to be a little difficult to chuck around in a hurry, particularly at full length. To put weight into perspective though, it’s not entirely uncommon for AR-15‘s with rails and optics and various other toys to tip the scales at over the weight of a loaded Mosin-Nagant. I’m also not a huge wood stock person. Thats not to say that I can’t appreciate them, I just tend to be hard on gear and a synthetic stock just makes more sense for me. I guess that’s about it for the “dislikes”.

Each of the above listed “problems” is easily changed to more suit personal need. Since the Mosin-Nagant has established itself as a sturdy, reliable and reasonably accurate rifle, I’ve found that it lends itself well to becoming a scout rifle. Scouts are essentially lightweight rifles around 36″ in length and under 7.7lbs with a forward mounted low powered scope in .308 or equivalent. Col. Cooper specified a specific sling to be used, the ability to use iron sights, detachable magazine feeding or reloading with stripper clips. I chose to transform the Mosin-Nagant into a scout rifle because of the all around utility of the concept. It makes a handy and capable hunting rifle, a great brush and recreation tool as well as a defensive tool if necessary. To accomplish the task of turning this ancient battle rifle into a modern scout rifle isn’t a very difficult one. There are quite a few readily available aftermarket parts that allow for an easy transformation.

So here we go, the Mosin-Nagant is going to become a scout rifle. We will need a new stock, optic mount, optic, a little gunsmith work to cut down and re-crown the barrel, and a way to reattach the front sight. What follows is a list of parts that I think further suit this useful rifle to modern use.

  1. ATI Mosin-Nagant Stock.
  2. Brass Stacker Scout Scope Mount
  3. Brass Stacker Front Sight Adapter Ring
  4. Stripper Clips
  5. Ching Sling
  6. Sling Swivel Studs

This certainly isn’t an all encompassing list of what you may need for the conversion, or you may choose to use different parts to suit the rifle to your individual purpose and needs. There are a lot of nice products from Rock Solid for Mosin-Nagants that are outstanding and very high quality and trigger modifications to tame the beast so to speak as well however, if you follow the guidelines you will end up with something similar to the rifle pictured below. It is now a handy and lighter rifle with a hard hitting and fairly accurate and cheap round that is well suited for hunting and any other purpose a handy rifle like this can fill.

Credit: "Pirate" from XDtalk.com

Credit: “Pirate” from XDtalk.com

So if you’ve got an old Mosin-Nagant sitting in the gun safe or you don’t have one yet but are in the market for an inexpensive but versatile rifle,I hope I’ve offered you some inspiration. As for now train, stay safe and have a good un’.

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A Primer on Situational Awareness

Hey Folks,

Today’s discussion topic is situational awareness. Any of you Military and LE folks out there have had these two words drilled into your head since day one of training. Those of you in the civilian world that have had no experience in the professional LE/Military world may not be aware of the utmost importance of this. Situational awareness can be translated simply as being aware of your surroundings and adapting to the observations you make. If you are an armed sheepdog or not, being aware of your surroundings is just so incredibly crucial. “I never saw the car that hit me.” “No Officer, I don’t remember what the mugger was wearing.” Would somebody who is constantly aware of their surroundings have to say these things?

Don’t get me wrong here, being aware isn’t a simple mindless task. It’s actually quite the opposite. Being situationally aware is a deliberate and actually somewhat tiring task that requires development and constant honing much like any other skill. How many times have you been out and about and you’ve been approached by someone that you would have rather not dealt with? Did they make you feel uncomfortable? Did the hair on the back of your neck stand up? What was the outcome of that encounter? If it was something that didn’t result in you becoming a victim, I’m willing to bet that at the very least it left you feeling uncomfortable and possibly somewhat shaken.

A few weeks ago my wife, infant son and I were returning from having dinner with her parents. We stopped at a busy local and very well lit gas station to fuel up at about 8:30pm. Upon driving into the gas station I made sure to survey the area for any potential threats both inside the main building and by the pumps. I pulled up to a pump which is clearly visible from the main street, took another look around and exited the vehicle. As I began to gas up the car, I observed a 30ish long haired and bearded white male in blue jeans and an unbuttoned green flannel shirt walk up to a middle aged female patron who was seated in her vehicle and knock on the window(remember that whole hair on the back of the neck thing?). She was visibly startled and stayed where she was and refused to engage the subject. He was telling the woman something but at this point the interaction was too far away from me to hear. She kept her eyes to the front after initially viewing him at her window and didn’t respond to him. Since he wasn’t getting what he wanted at that vehicle, the male subject then walked towards another vehicle with a female inside. He appeared to be visibly nervous and twitchy. He attempted the same thing with the next female patron who was closer to my location. I was able to overhear his pitch this time. “My buddy ran out of gas, can you help us out?” At this point my spider senses were tingling. What kind of person is intentionally seeking out the female patrons versus the other male patrons that were around? This individual then appeared to notice my wife seated in the front seat of our vehicle and began walking towards her. I stepped from around the vehicle and positioned myself between him and my family. I then instructed him that he was close enough and to stop where he was. He complied with my instructions and began his pitch to me, although with me he added the statement “well I bet you won’t help me anyway but..” I informed him that I was unwilling to help and suggested that he move on from the area. He quickly walked back towards the main building of the gas station and kept walking passed the entrance to a black coupe idling in a parking spot and got in the passenger seat. I completed refueling our car and we departed the area before I could observe if they left.

Why did I tell you that story? Well there are tons of hypothetical situations that go through my mind when I get approached out in public. What is this person’s intent? Capability? Mental state? Weapons? Can I see their hands? Like I said before it’s tiring work. I told you this story to illustrate the “right way” to do it. I made the decision to go to a well lit and busy gas station. I made a visual check of the area prior to parking and getting out of the vehicle. I was being observant enough to see this guy walking up to people and making a note of his appearance and demeanor. I kept an eye on the guy to see what he was up to but this didn’t completely distract me from my task at hand, although I would have had no problem leaving the area and moving on to another gas station should it have been necessary. I also made a note that this guy was only approaching females. That last part alone is more than enough to justify my suspicion of this character and his decision to attempt to approach my wife while seated in our car was the last straw. My actions were non-violent but I did made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t welcome in the area anymore. Was he trying to rob a woman who would have been gullible enough to believe his story? I can’t say with certainty, but if I had to wager a bet I’d put my money on yes.

Being aware of your surroundings is more than passive observation. It’s the act of taking that passive observation and translating it into whatever necessary actions you need to take. It’s what dictates whether or not you need to pull your firearm or other chosen defensive tool. It’s what dictates whether or not you run away or just simply dismiss the observation as a non-threat and carry on. Too many times I see people nearly walking into things because they’re too wrapped up in whatever piece of technology they have in their hands. They wouldn’t see a threat until it was literally too late to do anything about it. The same goes for people walking around with headphones on all the time.

Here are some steps to take to kick your situational awareness up a few notches.

1. Put the phone down. There is no reason to walk around texting constantly or be on a Bluetooth headset all the time. If you need to make a quick text to get a question answered, get out of the way of others and do it quickly, the same applies for phone calls. These are distractions that aren’t necessary and can be detrimental to your situational awareness. Pay attention!

2. Keep your head on a swivel. Don’t get yourself sucked into “oooh shiny” mode. Constantly look around and take in what’s going on around you. If you are holding a conversation with someone, they may see this as disrespectful. If you feel the need, just let your conversation partner know that you just like to be aware of whats going on around you and leave it at that. No need to go into detail. Continue with the conversation.

3. Make meaningful decisions. Make these decisions based upon the information that you take in. It may be something as simple as changing lanes on the highway because you see a car pulled over by the police up ahead, but by making that choice you may well have saved yourself a ticket or prevented a fatal accident. If you’re making the effort to expand your awareness, then use the information you’re taking in.

4. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. Move on to your next task and come back to that one later. If that isn’t an option then deal with the issue as necessary.

5. Be the master of your surroundings. While you may not be able to control everything in your environment, you can control what the environment is. Make sound choices in where you go, avoid places where less than desirable things tend to occur. Avoid any potential threats, this will help to force a threat to extend themselves into your world versus you stumbling into theirs.

Situational awareness is a skill that constantly needs work. I don’t expect to be able to show you a picture and have you recite every single detail from a short look. What I do expect is that this will help you to be more aware of what’s going on around you. The actions of others have an impact on you and you need to be thoughtful enough to know what to do when those actions force you to react to them and be a step or two ahead. I came across a post the other day from ITS Tactical that ties into this topic very well. Please take a moment to take a look at that as well. As for now stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.

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