Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Sometimes the Worst Gun Wins, and other Lessons from History

In Smith’s The History of Military Small Arms, the author claims to see a  parallel between the introduction of the Dreyse Needle Gun and the history of military small arms in general. To wit:

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

When the Dreyse was introduced into the Prussian service it was a “military secret” of the first order. Like most “military secrets” it was a secret only to those naive branches of the military who never seem to be aware of what has been done in their line—those artless individuals with which every country is regularly afflicted, and who strangely enough seem to be nearly always in a position to make policy while submerging the real experts who are present in any army.1

The Dreyse shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, as the technology had been patented by a Swiss circa 1830, when the Prussian generals who would command Dreyse-wielding riflemen were subalterns. And while the Dreyse Needle Gun had an edge on the French Chassepot, it wasn’t that big an edge, really.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it's a Dreyse.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it’s a Dreyse.

The edge was that the Dreyse was able to use a metallic cartridge, even though these images show a fabric one (even though the illustration shows it with a fabric cartridge). But in the Americas, Union cavalry was armed almost exclusively with breechloaders, and in significant part with breech-loading repeaters, generally firing fixed rim- or center-fire ammunition, by war’s end. Having the Dreyse gave the Prussians a momentary advantage over the muzzleloader-toting Austrians, who soon thereafter followed such leaders as Britain (with the Snyder) and the US (with the Allin conversion) and rebuilt its muzzle-loaders into breech-loaders.

Here's another view of the Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Here’s another view of a Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Out in the real world, small arms development is seldom secret, and when it is, it is seldom kept secret for long. Engineering and science have long been observed to proceed, worldwide, at the same pace, and weapons of war face something akin to the evolutionary pressures faced by animals under natural selection (minus, perhaps, sexual selection, although the natural competitiveness of armies leads to a pursuit of bragging rights and pride internationally that has some parallels, but with much less power).

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

It is an interesting fact that, when two armies meet in the field, both sides are almost always convinced that their equipment is superior. When it turns out not to be for one side, an even more interesting fact is that weapons superiority is not always, or even often, decisive. No grunt came away from Cuba or Puerto Rico still believing that the .30-40 Krag, selected by the USA over the Mauser because the Krag had a simpler and easier-to-inspect magazine cut off “to save ammunition in combat,” was the superior rifle. Ordnance’s error in prioritizing that, or perhaps in accepting the priorities given to it by the generals, was clear, and the guns were scarcely still before Springfield was directed, although perhaps not in the words of a later Smith & Wesson executive, to “copy the m’f’er!”

Yet, as deficient as the US mix of Krags and trapdoors was vis-a-vis the 7mm x 57 Spanish 1893 Mauser, a technically superior rifle was not enough to make up for the many other technical and tactical deficiencies the Spaniards faced in trying to hang on to their colonies. Weapons are complex enough to present many features and capabilities, and survival-oriented officers and soldiers quickly learn to exploit their system’s strengths and overcome its weaknesses. The Germans learned to fight against the superior mobility of American and Russian tanks; the Allies learned to fight against the German’s better armor and armament. Meanwhile, a “secret” weapon is only secret until it’s used; after that, the enemy knows its effects, and his own engineers and ordnance men can figure out what the weapon was — as every nation’s scientists and engineers are at, to a first approximation, the same level of knowledge. (The classic example of the limited life of a  secret weapon is the way the Soviet Union went from ignorance of the potential for a nuclear weapon to leapfrogging US/UK development of fusion weapons in 4 years).

Napoleon’s maxim about the relative weight of the material and the moral in war is as good an explanation as any for the phenomenon: sometimes the guy with the worse gun wins.


  1. B. Smith (2013-07-13 00:00:00-05:00). The History of Military Small Arms (Kindle Locations 910-914). Kindle Edition.


Vietnam Sniper Study

In 1967, the Army got the idea to study whether, how, and how effectively different units were using snipers in Vietnam. They restricted this study to Army units, and conventional units at that; if SF and SOG were sniping, they didn’t want to know (and, indeed, there’s little news either in the historical record or in conversations with surviving veterans that special operations units made much use of precision rifle fire, or of the other capabilities of snipers).

Meanwhile, of course, the Marines were conducting parallel development in what would become the nation’s premier sniper capability, until the Army got their finger out in the 1980s and developed one with similar strength. The Marines’ developments are mentioned only in passing in the study.

Specific Weapons

The study observed several different sniper weapons in use:

  • ordinary M16A1 rifles with commercial Realist-made scopes. This is the same 3×20 scope made by Realist for commercial sale under the Colt name, and was marked Made in USA. (Image is a clone, from ARFCOM).


  • Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 with a mix of Weaver and Bushnell scopes, purchased by one infantry brigade;
  • two versions of the M14 rifle. One was what we’d call today a DMR rifle, fitted with carefully chosen parts and perhaps given a trigger job, and an M84 scope. The other was the larva of the M21 project: a fully-configured National Match M14 fitted with a Leatherwood ART Automatic-Ranging Telescope, which was at this early date an adaptation of a Redfield 3-9 power scope. (Image is a semi clone with a surplus ART, found on the net).


The scopes had a problem that would be unfamiliar to today’s ACOG and Elcan-sighted troopies.

The most significant equipment problem during the evaluation in Vietnam was moisture seepage into telescopes. At the end of the evaluation period, 84 snipers completed questionnaires related to their equipment. Forty-four of the snipers reported that their telescopes developed internal moisture or fog during the evaluation period. In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the internal moisture could be removed by placing the telescope in direct sunlight for a few hours.

The leaky scopes ranged from 41% of the ARTs to 62% of the Realists. The Realist was not popular at all, and part of the reason was its very peculiar reticle. How peculiar? Have a look.

Colt realist 3x20 scope reticle(A later version of this scope, sold by Armalite with the AR-180, added feather-thin crosshairs to the inverted post. The British Trilux aka SUIT used a similar inverted post, but it never caught on here).

The theory was that the post would not obscure the target, the way it would if it were bottom-up. That’s one of the ones you file away in the, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” drawer. Theory be damned, the troops hated it.

The use of the rifles varied unit by unit.  Two units contemptuously dismissed the scoped M16s, and wouldn’t even try them (remember, this was the era of M193 ammo, rifles ruined by “industrial action,” and somewhat loose acceptance standards; the AR of 20145 is not the AR of 1965). The proto-M21s came late and not every unit got them. It’s interesting that none of the weapons really stood out, although the NATO and .30-06 guns were the ones used for the longest shots.

None of the weapons was optimum, but in the study authors’ opinion, the DMR version of the M14 was perfectly adequate and available in channels. The snipers’ own opinions were surveyed, and the most popular weapon was the M14 National Match with ART scope, despite its small sample size: 100% of the surveyed soldiers who used it had confidence in it. On the other hand, the cast scope rings were prone to breakage.

The biggest maintenance problem turned out to be the COTS Winchester 70 rifles, and the problem manifested as an absence of spare parts for the nonstandard firearm, and lack of any training for armorers.

Looking at all the targets the experimental units engaged, they concluded that a weapon with a 600 meter effective range could service 95% of the sniper targets encountered in Vietnam, and that a 1000 meter effective range would be needed to bag up to 98%. (Only one unit in the study engaged targets more distant than 1000 m at all).

Snipers were generally selected locally, trained by their units (if at all), and employed as an organic element of rifle platoons. A few units seem to have attached snipers to long-range patrol teams, or used the snipers as an attached asset, like a machine-gun or mortar team from the battalion’s Weapons Company.

An appendix from the USAMTU had a thorough run-down on available scopes, and concluded with these recommendations (emphasis ours):

a. That the M-14, accurized to National Match specifications, be used as the basic sniping rifle.

b. That National Match ammunition be used in caliber 7.62 NATO.

c. That a reticle similar to Type “E” be used on telescopic sights of fixed power.

d. That the Redfield six power “Leatherwood” system telescope be used by snipers above basic unit level.

e. That the Redfield four power (not mentioned previously) be utilized by the sniper at squad level.

f. That serious consideration be given to the development of a long range sniping rifle using the .50 caliber machine gun cartridge and target-type telescope.

(NOTE: It is our opinion that the Redfield telescope sights are the finest of American made telescopes.)

Note that the Army adopted the NM M14 with ART (as the M-21 sniper system) exactly as recommended here, but that it did not act on the .50 caliber sniper system idea. That would take Ronnie Barrett to do, quite a few years later.


The Effects of Terrain

Terrain drives weapons employment, and snipers need, above all, two elements of terrain to operate effectively: observation and fields of fire. Their observation has to overlook enemy key terrain and/or avenues of approach. Without that, a sniper is just another rifleman, and snipers were found to be not worth the effort in the heavily vegetated southern area of Vietnam.

In the more open rice fields and mountains, there was more scope for sniper employment. But sniper employment was not something officers had been trained in or practiced.

The Effects of Leadership

In a careful review of the study, we found that the effects of leadership, of that good old Command Emphasis, were greater than any effects of equipment or even of terrain. The unit that had been getting good results with the Winchesters kept getting good results. One suspects that they’d have continued getting good results even if you took their rifles away entirely and issued each man a pilum or sarissa.

Units that made a desultory effort got crap for results. Some units’ snipers spent a lot of time in the field, but never engaged the enemy. Others engaged the enemy, but didn’t hit them, raising the question, “Who made these blind guys snipers?” Sure, we understand a little buck fever, but one unit’s snipers took 20 shots at relatively close range and hit exactly nothing. Guys, that’s not sniping, that’s fireworks. 

The entire study is a quick read and it will let you know just how dark the night for American sniping was in the mid-1960s: there were no schools, no syllabi, no type-standardized sniper weapons, and underlying the whole forest of “nos” was: no doctrine to speak of.

Vietnam Sniper Study PB2004101628.pdf


A Blast from the Past — Literally

FOOM!There is been few blasts like the one that blew up USS Maine in Havana harbor, on 15 February 1898, the forward magazine of the ship blew up at 9:40 PM. A crew of 355 was nearly annihilated; there were only 16 uninjured survivors, and 75 or 80 wounded ones. Because the mishap happened at night, and officers’ country was in the aft end of the ship, the officers survived at a higher rate.

1024px-Telegram_from_James_A._Forsythe_to_Secretary_of_the_Navy_-_NARA_-_300264The captain of Maine, Charles Sigsbee, sent an urgent cry for help via Capt. James Forsythe, commanding officer of the Key West naval station.

The investigation that ensued ruled that the ship was subject to an attack by a naval mine. It was only the first of many investigations, and there remains to this day no conclusion, although the balance of expert opinion seems to suggest a mishap aboard ship is more likely than Spanish hostile action. The destruction of Maine became a casus belli in the hysteria-induced Spanish-American War of 1898. Indeed, it was probably the most influential cause, or pretext, for the US to have initiated that war.

The Maine was an odd ship, but she was created in the 1880s and 1890s at an odd time in naval affairs. “Armored Cruisers” seemed to be what Navies needed, ships that could combine sail and steam — she was initially designed with three masts — and that would attack headlong. Accordingly, Maine had a ram built into her bow, and her two gun barbettes (mounted in left-front and right-rear sponsons) were arranged so that she could deliver her full “broadside” — four 10-inch guns — only straight ahead or straight behind.

Maine also had advanced armor for her day — Harvey Steel, an early form of face-hardened armor. But it took so long for America to build, launch and commission this pre-Dreadnought battleship (ships characterized by guns in sponsons and coal-fired steam piston engines) that she was, although nearly new at her sinking, soon to be obsoleted by that British revolution in naval arms.

Our interest, of course, is easily led from the 10″ main battery on down through the 1.5″ anti-torpedo-boat armaments to, inevitably, the personal weapons.

Julia Maine Recovered Lee Navy

Like every Naval vessel, Maine had some small arms lockers, and in February, 1898, they held the unusual M1895 Winchester-Lee 6mm (.236 Navy) rifle. The rifles, at least some of them, were salvaged and were sold by Francis Bannerman of Bannerman’s Island fame. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has an excellent video showcasing one of these rare rifles, now featured in a Julia auction. James Julia expects a five figure knock-down on this. Julia explains his documentation of provenance:

Also accompanied by a copy of pages 34 and 35 of a reprint of The Bannerman Catalog of July 1907. Page 35 lists the serial numbers of 54 6mm Lee Straight Pull Rifles salvaged from the USS Maine, including this exact rifle.

Julia Maine recovered Navy

It also lists the SNs of six 45 cal Springfield rifles recovered at the same time. These rifles were sold to Bannermens [sic] through the Navy Yard at New York in Jan. 1900. These 54 Lee rifles and 6 Springfield rifles are the only officially documented small arms recovered from the USS Maine although there have been one or two others that have surfaced in the last few years that were undoubtedly authentic. Regardless there are probably no more than about 60 or so of these relics in existence.

How many guns came by their pitting this honestly? No doubt someone will take great pride in adding this piece of history to his collection.

Bubba Got a Boring Bar

bubbas boring bar AR

This is weight savings the hard way, considering that most of what’s cut away is 7075 or 6061 aluminum. You just can’t save that much weight that way.

CubanFALThere are FALs kicking around Latin America and Africa with a big borehole like that in the magazine well — that’s because they were supplied clandestinely by Cuba, and los Pollos Cubanos used the boring bar (or maybe a fly cutter, we defer to the machinists in the audience) to remove the Batistiano Cuban crest in hopes of concealing the guns’ origin. (Lotsa luck. Western intel agencies had the manifests of the deliveries, by serial number).

We found the Swiss-Cheese-AR image here, linked from here, hat tip Nathan S at TFB.

Aero Precision has gotten into the game with some gimmicky skeletonized lowers. This is not a production item, but was an experiment:

Aero Precision SkeletorThat’s also thanks to TFB. Structurally, it might hold up or it might not (really, most of the material in the sides of the lower is there to provide dust seal, and, to a limited extent, a shear web, so there’s no reason skeletonizing shouldn’t work, structurally). But the total weight savings is nominal: 0.169 lb or about 2.7 ounces. (About 0.08 Kg for those of you who roll that way). They could probably have saved almost as much by milling off the A2 reinforcements to the pivot pin lugs and buffer tower areas.

That gives you an idea of what Bubba’s Boring Bar Blaster actually saved: less than 2.7 oz, to be sure. That’s winning the game the hard way.

Aero Precision is not alone. Daytona Defense & Tactical sells a skeletonized “Reaper” lower for $85 bare and $90 anodized black. It looks like they took many of the same cuts Aero Precision did (we’re not going to guess who was first).

Daytona Defense Reaper

So what’s the game? As you might guess from all the discussion of weight, The Lightest AR Going. There’s a Tumblr where a guy aimed for 60 ounces (he overshot but not by much), and there are several other competitors around. So a new guy’s aiming below 60 ounces. Of course, his definition of a “fully-functional AR” may not gibe with yours — one of the first parts he sacrificed was the bolt catch, shortly followed by the magazine catch (he’s making a fixed-mag 10-round firearm). And we’ve got our doubts about the long-term viability of his aluminum bolt carrier (yes, really). But even he has said, he’s not drilling the thing full of holes.

It might be that X Products got the whole Gun of Skeletor thing started by, after a skeletonized drum magazine caught the public’s eye at SHOT, making a run of the things. (Not a short run, either. For 2015 they made 1200 Skeletonized mags for SR-25 pattern .308s, and sold ’em out). The silhouette of the skeletonized AR-15 drum has been used as a sort of trademark by the company ever since.

Hey, you want a light AR? Going to shoot it with irons? Get an old Colt SP1carbine. Yes, it will have some compromises: iron sights only, of the less precise (and slightly harder to adjust) A1 flavor. No rails or freefloated goodies. But it’s only 6 pounds and change. If you want to get to 4 pounds and below, you can only do it by accepting unpleasant recoil, shorter life, and compromised performance.

If that’s a good deal to you, or if you just want to experiment, have at it.


Can a Gun be $6,000 and a Good Buy?

In our opinion, this one is. We’re not looking for a precision rifle that can say hello at 1,000+ meters — for one thing, there’s no place to shoot it to its potential in our corner of a state of smallholdings — but if you live in, say, Texas, Utah, or in the gun’s current home, Colorado, there’s a hell of a long-range rifle for sale at a reputable gun shop in Erie (North of Denver, East of Boulder, off I-25). Can you recognize a face from this close-up?

Accuracy International Action

A bolt face, that is? OK, you’ll certainly recognize this caliber marking:

Accuracy International barrel mark

The gun is a several-years-old, but apparently gently used and well kept, Accuracy International rifle. AI makes renowned, and ungodly expensive, sniper rifles in the UK and has a branch in the USA that makes them for the Western Hemisphere market.

Accuracy International full length

While it’s on GunBroker, which usually says “auction” to us, the minimum bid equals the buy-it-now. (If you have to ask, you may not be in this market).

The AI has mandatory modern precision rifle features, like a detachable magazine and Picatinny rail…

Accuracy International Action view

… and “preferred” features like a fully adjustable, folding stock. (Excuse us, “chassis”. What’s the difference between a stock and a chassis? About $2,000! Thanks, we’ll be in the blog all week).

This is as good a place as any to digress about adjustable stocks. Why are the stocks of military sniper rifles adjustable? Because a stock that fits the shooter, as Purdey and Holland & Holland (among others) knew well over a century ago, produces more hits on game (two- or four-legged, the principle is the same). But the bespoke-gunsmith approach to stocks is not practical to an army, where you must quickly outfit snipers, and where you must replace the snipers more frequently, on average, than the rifles. Being a subset of infantry, it’s to a degree a young man’s game; and unlike the snipers, the rifles don’t move on to leadership and training roles, but stay operational for years, even decades.

Plus, the military is wonderful (/sarc) at reorganizing working units, so even in peacetime a guy often leaves his dialed-in rifle behind and arrives at Unit B where they hand him a rifle dialed in by someone else. (Or his own unit has to send him to Sexual Harassment Interpersonal Training or some inane NCO school for a month, and he comes back to find Old Betsy has deployed with a new guy “you get Rack Number 36,” whatever that is).

So the ability to raise, and extend, and maybe even cant that stock a little bit is a wonderful feature to have, in any organization with a rifle may be used by more than one person.

The folding stock comes in handy any time you have to get in and out of a vehicle, whether it’s a Toyota pick up truck, an SDV or an MH-47. (Or the crappy Malibu you drive because you spent all your money on guns).

Accuracy International Folding stock

But the real strength of the weapon is not its features, but its precision and quality. AI is not unique or all alone in that; there’s an awful lot of come competition at the high-end of the precision rifle market. But this is truly a Rolls-Royce, for someone seeking the Roller of this market segment. (Actually, now that Rollers have VW motors, and Hot Wheels made-in-Taiwan styling, what’s the Roller of that market segment?)

Accuracy International full length right

As the heading of this blog post states, the quality (and snob appeal) of an AI rifle don’t come cheap. For this one, rhe price is a bracing $6,000, a substantial discount from the cost of a new one, for a gun that has a century of shooting ahead of it. Of course, that’s only half way to a working rifle; you’re looking at thousands more for a suitable glass and mounts. (the Mile High Gun Shop can help you out there, too; he’s the US distributor of excellent but crazy-expensive Swiss Spuhr mounts, and is well-acquainted with high end scopes).

At that price, flying into DIA and renting a car to inspect the rifle seems sensible, even though, as we mentioned, the dealer has a fine reputation in the precision shooting community.

Yes, it’s overkill for elk hunting, which you can do perfectly well with a Remington in .270. And the average shooter, which includes us, would probably be better served by a $1,000 gun and $5,000 in ammo and range time. But ads like this make our acquisitive little black heart skip a beat.


Is the HK 293 Really Coming?

H&K, having decided that we don’t suck and they don’t hate us after all, is trying to bring a semi-automatic version of their G 36 rifle to the United States and worldwide market. To do this they have to leap two regulatory hurdles: authority to export the firearm from the Bundeskriminalamt, the “Federal Criminal Office” that manages the Federal Republic’s stringent weapons export laws, and then authority to import the weapon to the US, from the payroll patriots at the ATF.

Recently-delivered HK 243 of an overseas customer shows its G36 roots.

Recently-delivered HK 243 of an overseas customer shows its G36 roots.

It gets better, if you define “better” as a bigger headache for H&K officials: the US and German laws were written with no consideration of each other, and impose confusing, arbitrary, and contradictory requirements on someone trying to send a rifle from one nation to the other. Meanwhile, H&K officers don’t want to respawn the Ernst Mauch “Because You Suck. And We Hate You” era: they’re determined to make a gun worthy of their company’s good name, not the bowdlerized crap of the 1990s.

These incompatible laws result in H&K’s having to divide the small worldwide market for oddball >$2,000 semi rifles into two separate model numbers, the HK 243 for the rest of the world and the HK 293 for America. (Not sure which model goes to Canuckistan, if any).

As the situation stands now, the BKA has approved the German export license, but the ATF is the logjam. (It is possible that the H&K application is mired in the ATF’s newfound commitment to political partisanship). The weapon has all the same parts as the G36, but military G36 parts including barrels, trigger mechanisms, bolts and carriers don’t interchange (this is required by German law).


The standard G36 magazine is not a NATO STANAG magazine; as you can see, it has a constant curve, better for feeding than the part-curved part-straight M16-derived NATO mag. But a clever interchangeable magwell converts the G36 (or its civilian equivalents, in the picture below an HK 243) to take the NATO magazine.

HK 243 in italy

The US model would probably hit the docks in an unsalable (but legal!) configuration and then be rebuilt for 922 (r) compliance at H&K’s Newington plant (or H&K’s partners, Wilcox) in much the way that the FN SCAR-S gets a makeover at FNH USA between its Belgian factory and its American customers. The US model is likely to be as much as $1,000 more expensive than the Euro-spec gun — think of it as a hidden §922 (r) tax.

A similarly high price has hindered the widespread adoption of the FN SCAR, an excellent weapon handicapped by having its manufacturing processes dictated by lawyers and politicians.


We were remiss not to link & credit an HK Pro thread from which we drew the pictures and distilled lots of the information this thread. It is here:

No slight to the forum or its members was intended. The thread is a rich source of information (and speculation) about the 243 and 293.

3D Printed Fire Control Group

We’ve seen several of the WarFairy designed 3D-printed AR lowers being put through their paces, but here’s something we weren’t expecting to achieve test-fire status so soon — the Deimos 3D-printed fire control group.

The printer used was a Rostock Max V2, a deltabot style printer. An E3D hotend was used. The material was ABS filament and was treated with acetone vapor after printing. The same printer printed the lower receiver (which had mods to accept this FCG) and the FCG itself.

The FCG design is based on general best practices, adapted for 3D printing and for ABS plastic as a material. Before it is manufactured, it is rendered, both bare:

Deimos FCG rendering no receiver

And in a rendering of the lower receiver:

Deimos FCG rendering

By “general best practices,” we mean a trigger with hook or hooks, hammer (with places for the hooks to engage) and disconnector (also with hook) of the type designed by Browning over 100 years ago for such semi-auto firearms as the Auto 5 shotgun and the Remington Model 8 rifle. This general Browning design was adapted by Garand, Kalashnikov, Stoner and many other subsequent designers. (If you examine an AK and AR closely, you’ll see their kinship in this area. Both inherited the Browning fire control, the AR via Garand and the AK via Remington Model 8). This FCG has three parts in semi-auto form: a trigger, a hammer, and a disconnector.

Deimos FCG parts w springs

By”‘adapted for 3D printing and ABS plastic” we refer to changes required by this material and means of manufacture. Each of the parts is printed on the Rostock Max before getting its acetone vapor bath. And each part has some base and support material that must be removed.

Deimos FCG disconnector as printed

ABS is a strong plastic, but a brittle one. Nylon may be better; an FCG printed in white nylon (presumably Taulman 618) is shown here. It’s unknown why this version has not been given the test-fire treatment, yet; perhaps there are yet undisclosed problems with it. But the nylon works better “on paper.”

Deimos FCG nylon

Here’s the FCG in the lower, cocked:

Deimos FCG in place

And here it is, decocked:

Deimos FCG in place hammer down

The “wet look” of the plastic is a result of the acetone-vapor bath.

Home manufacturing is just getting started, and right now, it’s still for tinkerers and fiddlers, not for end users. It’s a bit like computers were in the early years — it’s in the hands of a shadowy priesthood, guardians of abstruse knowledge. But it turns out the priests are very friendly and helpful once you show a sincere interest.

It’s still harder than (and easier to go wrong with), say, starting up a new Mac or assembling an Ikea table. But so were earlier versions of the same products.

Some people will try to stop this. Lotsa luck. You can’t stop the signal.

This isn’t just about one single design for an AR fire control group. It’s about putting the tools of design, testing, and iteration — the whole RDT&E cycle, really — into the hands of anyone who’s got the nerve to pick them up.

John Browning had to file metal into shape, largely by hand, to transfer his ideas into real prototype firearms. But that was a century ago. Today, we don’t have to any more.

Latest Printed AR Lower Test Fire

This is a more recent AR lower design, called the Alimanu Phobos. Here’s an image of it:


And here’s the source of that image, a video showing the lower and showing it being test-fired.

Here’s what the video post says:

A test-fire video of the Aliamanu-Phobos AR-15 Lower Receiver designed and printed by ArmaDelite. Printed with ABS plastic on a XYZPrinting da Vinci 1.0 printer, this design is derived from previous designs like the FOSSCAD Phobos, Vanguard and vanguard JT lower receivers. MOAR test fire videos coming soon!

We suspect that the feeding problems may be due to the reduced rigidity of the lower compared to a standard 7075 machined forging. If the positioning of the magazine with reference to the bolt carrier is not consistent, you might get results like this.

The files can be found here:

Don’t click any of the big Download buttons. This is what the actual link will look like.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 01.12.36

Annoy a totalitarian. Share gun design files.


This is the PTR-32 Gen I Drum Mod

One of the licks on the initial PTR-32 was that it was picky about magazines. The manufacturer still says the Gen II performs “best” with certain mags, including the grey Bulgarian polymer mags, but it’s less finicky than its previous iteration.

PTR-32 with Drum Cut

However, that still doesn’t help anyone wanting to use an AK drum in the PTR. The AK magazine, apart from the top 3/4 inch or so, stands proud of its own firearm. But the PTR, like an AR or its G3 ancestor, has a magazine well that protects and supports its own magazines for over three inches on each side. (Don’t gouge us on the dimensions; we’re using uncalibrated eyeballs to make a point). Some drum magazines have “necks,” like those meant for ARs, drums for Glocks (totally a thing, although it’s really just a gimmick, except for Glock-mag-using 9mm carbines), and the original “snail” drum for the Luger and the MP.18.

But the the common AK (really, RPK) drums don’t have any neck at all, and assume that they’ll be clear of the receiver as soon as an AK mag is. Those two drums are:

  • The original Soviet and satellite drum, which holds 75 rounds, loaded from the top like a stick mag and distinguished by its tapered, truncated-conical shape and its prominent winding lever on the front;
  • The Chinese drum, available in 75-round and less-common 100-round capacities, loaded by releasing spring tension and loosening clips to open the hinged backplate of the drum. It is distinguished by the hinged rear cover, a small winding key on the front that is hinged to lie flat, two clips that hold the back closed, and a push-button spring release on the back plate. Sometimes drums of this pattern are sold as Korean or Romanian drums. (The Romanian military used the Russian style).

Both of these drums are reliable. The Russian drum is a little more tactically sound, as the various hinged bits on the Chinese style drum are prone to rattle. Both drums tend to be rust blued, so they’re somewhat vulnerable to corrosion.

But to make either drum fit in the PTR, one needs to Bubba the magazine well. We’ve seen people admit to doing this with an angle grinder and with — what else, where Bubba is concerned? — a Dremel. The picture with this story shoes one of those alterations, on a gun that was for sale online.

According to the seller, this did not harm the firearm’s usability with stick magazine at all.

We’d be concerned about weakening the mag well, on which a service weapon is sometimes rested. We think could make a more robust and attractive mag well alteration by:

  1. Making a rough cut but leaving a lot of metal to support the next step;
  2. Using a bead roller or some type of rolling die to add some rigidity (where the cut will weaken the “edge” or “rim” of the mag well);
  3. Deburring and refinishing the edge.

We’d also be leery of any cut into the mag well that may remove ATF-required information. As long as the receiver still displays the manufacturer (or importer) name and city, the caliber, and the serial number, you should be OK. But the ATF takes a very dim view of any marking alterations, and if you have to make them, only prior approval will cover your precious posterior.

There are a few 7.62 x 39 oddities out there, and while this mod may work on a factory-style steel receiver, it probably should not be attempted on one of the Special Weapons (or any other) cast receiver.

Improved 7.62 x 39 PTR-32

We’re way, way behind on this, because the company slipped it into their line at SHOT, promoted it heavily at SHOT, and is shipping several versions in quantity. This is the PTR-32 Generation II, of which, the company seems not to have good photos (Call Oleg Volk!)


The original HK32, the PTR’s conceptual daddy, seems to have been a “catalog” weapon that was promoted, displayed, demonstrated, but never manufactured in quantity, unlike the Hk31 series (G3), which was the third most popular 7.62 NATO rifle, issued to a couple dozen countries, or the HK33, the 5.56 version which was adopted by Thailand (and possibly others?).


The above image is from HKPro, which has a brief writeup on the HK32. More recently, The Firearm Blog notes that an HKPro forum member found an instance of HK32 in the field, in service with Mexican Policia. But the weapons were very rare, and used an oddball proprietary magazine. According to HKPro, Bill Fleming (most renowned now for his pre-86 full-auto conversions of HK firearms) gunsmithed some custom HK32s, and Special Weapons supposedly made a run of what they called the SW32, which should be avoided (Special Weapons was one of the Todd Bailey companies — Special Weapons, Bobcat, Coharie, more names that the bottom-of-the-line Chevy and for the same reason, because each name got poisoned by the crap products and worse service) so there has always been plenty of demand for a roller-lock in the 7.62 x 39mm M43 cartridge.

HK promoted and promoted it, back in their roller lock days before they raised the white flag and started cloning the AR. From the 70s through the 80s it was a staple of every HK full-line catalog, and featured in every HK article in the trades, in Small Arms of the World. But it never was a production item, probably because if you were shooting AK ammo you couldn’t beat the economics of AKs. Heck, if you were a communist or terrorist, the KGB would make sure someone gave them to you. So there never emerged large military sales for the HK rifle in Russian intermediate-cartridge form.

PTR Industries, which is back in full production (and has made up 2014 layoffs with new hiring in its new location in Aynor, SC) has made a sort-of HK32 clone with one very significant improvement: it takes the cheap, available, reliable AK magazine. We say sort-of because the PTR guys did not have an HK 32 to work with, and knew from the start they wanted to use AK mags, so they basically re-designed the G3 platform for 7.62 x 39, just as HK did. (HK used the HK33/93 receiver for its start point on the 32, while PTR used the larger and heavier HK31/91 receiver).

Incidentally, the “PTR” stands for Precision Target Rifles. The rifles were originally made under the name JLD with the PTR being the product name, but the names were harmonized years ago. If you find an HK clone from JLD Enterprises, it’s simply an older PTR and should be equal quality (it may have more imported parts than newer PTRs).

The firearm is made in a confusing array of versions, including gelded versions for ban states like Massachusetts and Californistan.

The principal division between versions is:

  • Early PTR,-32, now retroactively named the Generation I,  made from 2009-2013, maybe ’14. This version was extremely picky about the AK mags it worked with, especially the first production ones.

This is a Gen I PTR-32. Most of the changes needed to make the Gen II take more varied AK mags are internal.



  • Generation II PTR-32, supposedly more eclectic in its acceptance of AK mags.

The very first, experimental PTR-32s were not released to the public. They used a proprietary magazine that did not interchange with AKs (or, presumably, with the rare-to-nonexistent HK 32s). The GIs were, as noted, magazine finicky. Note also that to make AK drums fit in the PTR-32, the traditional approach has been to cut away the magwell. (Talk about voiding the warranty!)

Post-number letters tell you what features the gun has. As we’ve broken them out (we couldn’t find a breakout, but there has to be one somewhere), K stands for 16″ (versus 18″) barrel, C is a ban-compliant gun for MA and NJ with subcapacity magazine and no muzzle threads or device, R stands for a welded-on Picatinny rail, and F we think stands for a railed fore-end, but it may just be for the PTR machined-alloy fore-end. This part looks at a glance like a G3 standard slimline handguard, but when you handle it you can see that it is machines from aluminum and has holes for attaching Picatinny rails for accessories. It’s a nice feature. In addition, versions that accept M4 style sliding stocks are always shipped with rails, and include “M4R” in the model name.


We’re not blind HK fans here (the only HK on hand is a 416, actually), but the roller-locked system is the sort of ingenious mechanism that tickles our fancy, and it has one theoretical, and occasionally practical, advantage over the more common gas guns: it adapts really well to a wide range of loads. So we suspect that this PTR-32 would make a wicked good suppressor host with some downloaded 7.62 x 39… kind of like the .300 Whisper/.300 Blackout in the AR platform, with the possibility to change mags and go supersonic if crowd-control becomes a more urgent matter than minimizing signature. And also, of course, the possibility to fire cheap practice ammo — at least, until some minion at ATF hikes up his jackboots and bans it.

The PTR does have a stiff trigger. This is characteristic of the HK design, and a trigger pull in the double-digits is possible on an ordinary production piece. If you’re used to an AR, or to the long, smooth, and light trigger of an AK, you have some adjusting to do.

Here’s what PTR says about this firearm:

  • Made with match grade bull barrels
  • Chambered for 7.62×39
  • Rate of twist: 1 in 9
  • 15mm x 1mm right handed threading for attachments (flash hider, compensator etc.)
  • Barrel diameter: .70”

The muzzle threads fit HK stuff, but not AR or AK muzzle devices, so that’s something to bear in mind. The mag that PTR ships the gun with is a Bulgarian polymer AK mag, and that’s what they recommend; for steel magazines, they recommend Chinese and Korean over others.

PTR’s receivers are made, as they say, “on original H&K machinery to German military specifications,” of .059″ steel. In fact, they acquired the Portuguese PMP G3 production machinery, which was set up by HK back in the 1960s. The PTR-32 is available with a standard receiver which accepts HK / Hensoldt claw mounts, or a receiver with an integral (welded on) Picatinny rail, which accepts modern scope mounts. Likewise, there are handguard options that offer rails, for the inveterate gadgeteer.

For us, the PTR-32 doesn’t fill a need, but for some people it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. (Enough that PTR has reportedly increased production). We’re more inclined to the GI PTR-91 versions, ourselves.

We’re waiting for the 9mm version. PTR has gotten to the point where they make almost everything in house… a PTR-94 would be a win, but it would be a major tooling investment — we don’t imagine them doing it until the 91 and 32 momentum is completely spent.