Sunday, November 24, 2013

Everything Old is New Again

OK, it's not a shiny new Tavor rifle like someone just got, but I was blessed with a UPS delivery of a long rectangular box on Friday. It was a rifle box, and it contained a rifle. Sadly it was not a new one but merely one that I'd shipped off to Fulton Armory a while back for diagnosis and repair work.
This rifle is one of my oldest ARs, having been purchased the year after Dr. Who's 25th anniversary. (If you're a nerd, you'll know when that was.) Over the years, I'd rebuilt it from a carbine into a proper A1-style rifle (because A1 parts were cheap and plentiful back then) and had carried it afield on camping trips and used it to shoot the Small Arms Firing School course at Camp Perry back when they let you bring your own rifles and had you firing at 300M. It was a trusted and true friend that had even survived an out-of-battery detonation of a cartridge which had bulged the upper, destroyed the magazine, blown the dust cover clear of the rifle and split the bolt carrier lengthwise. At the time I just hammered the upper back into shape, replaced the bolt carrier, and installed a new dust cover. Good as new.
Well almost.

I'd shot the rifle periodically for some time after that without issues, but eventually it wound up in the back of the safe while other, newer rifles were shot. Then one day I took it out to our first blogshoot and it humiliated me by completely missing the 200-yard gong every single shot. I could not understand this as this rifle had always been so accurate up until this time. I ignored it for a while again then began idly messing with it and discovered that it was consistently shooting way, WAY to the in "rear sight fully to the right and still shoots off-target to the left at 50-yards".

That's unpossible, I thought. I got a decent laser boresighter and confirmed the sight/bore misalignment. WTF?

I broke it down, found nothing, and reassembled it. I took the front sight base off and reinstalled it with new roll pins. Still off. I ran it past a police department armorer that I know and he confirmed that it was messed up like a soup sandwich but could determine why.

Now I was pissed. I was going to figure this puzzle out if it killed me. I decided to send it off to the best, most qualified people I knew: Walt and Clint at Fulton Armory. I'd dealt with them for years at Camp Perry, and while they aren't exactly cheap, they know their stuff and they don't take shortcuts.

Sure enough, last week I received a phone call from them to discuss the rifle. And true to form, they impressed me anew by pretty much telling me the rifle's entire history just based on internal wear and the finish on certain parts, and they were dead-on with everything that I'd ever done to the rifle even though I'd told them nothing.
The long and the short of it is that the upper receiver had cracked right where the barrel mounted. There was a hairline crack under the rear of the gas tube that extended from the barrel-alignment notch in the threads clear back to where the gas tube comes out inside and makes up with the carrier key. On firing, the receiver was torquing itself and swinging the whole barrel to the left for an instant. When not being fired, however, that crack was virtually invisible, especially with the barrel in place. I'd missed it then (as had my armorer friend) and even now, holding the stripped ex-upper in my hand, I can barely make it out. But they found it at Fulton, and more to the point, they had a replacement A1-style NOS military upper on hand to replace it with. They also hooked me up with a new bolt that perfectly matches the existing barrel, the old bolt that I'd bought at a gun show and installed years back being at it's headspace limit. They even found that the lock washer under the flash suppressor was cracked (HTH did THAT happen?) and they replaced that, too. In short, they took a very sick and abused rifle and caught all it's flaws, then fixed it and sent it back at a price that stung a bit but was still well worth the cost
as it made a usable rifle again out of what could best have been described as a collection of spare parts traveling in tight formation.

So I took it out for a test-fire, and now it was rock-solid reliable and spang on target, shattering orange clays at 50 yards (standing off-hand) then breaking up any pieces of the clays that were still visible. I'm happy.

I also too the Uzi back out for a test after last week's mishap.
Good thing that I did, too. It had passed all of it's function tests without ammo, and it fired the first magazine flawlessly on both semi and full, but when I locked the bolt back and seated the second magazine with a palm slap to it's base, the bolt jumped forward and fired a round. (And this, class, it why we ALWAYS keep our weapons pointed downrange AT ALL TIMES.)

"WTF?" I exclaimed.
"Was that a slam-fire?" asked the RSO, who was standing next to me, spectating.

I slapped the bottom of the magazine again and once more the bolt shot forward and fired a round.

"That's not supposed to happen," I said.

I slapped it twice more, and two more rounds fired. Enough of that.
I stripped the top-cover back off the gun. This was the one that had been blown out last week and gently hammered back into shape on my workbench. It still looked fine to the MK1 eyeball alignment gauge but apparently it was not.
But I'd planned for this and brought an extra top-cover, and with the replacement in place, the gun functioned perfectly again, and more importantly, it refused to slam-fire no matter how hard I smacked it. The old top cover is spare parts now but the weapon is now operational and safe once more.
I even got to fire it's last magazine at a swinging steel target that another shooter had brought out, and it was massive fun putting 25 rounds full-auto onto that plate and hearing it ringing.

Funniest part of the day: A young husband and his wife were shooting a pair of "custom" ARs that he'd built. He passed one to me, telling me to see how light he'd made it. I hefted it a bit--it was kind of light--and then I handed him my stock A1. His response:
"Wow! How did you ever get it this light?"

Young fella actually had no idea that they all used to weigh just 6.3 lbs. back in the day. The M-16/AR-15 didn't start to get hefty until the heavier-barreled 8.2 lb. A2 version came out in 1982.

And now the old A1 amazes people due to it's light weight. Sheesh. I feel old now. You kids get off my lawn.


  1. The AR/M16 is SUPPOSED to be light. That was the whole point when it was made. Light cartridge, light gun, light magazines.

    Sadly we have spend so much time making the gun heavier they didn't really make the cartridge all that more effective.

    The new M4/M16 series really ought to be in 6.8mm or better due to it's weight.

  2. Very nice. Glad it's back in shooting shape. Maybe I'll put together an A1 variant for my next AR....

  3. Yep, after all, it was designed and built by ArmaLITE industries!

  4. Glad you got em all sorted out! :-)

  5. Glad everything is back on the line!

  6. I will be going to the range with my revamped AR on Friday. I kept the old upper receiver and mounted it to my old barrel so I can go "old School" if I want. I remember when the AR was light, but people kept referring it to the "mattel Rifle company" that is part of the reason they made it beefier so the soldiers would have more confidence in their rifle to handle abuse.

  7. Anonymous4:27 PM

    I am glad to hear your AR is ship shape