Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Making the best of bad magazines: or: Re-purposing magazines.

A long while ago I got a large lot of HK-91 mags cheap all in various conditions. A few of the mags looked like they were dropped while fully loaded, the bottoms were blown out to the point the flanges that held the floor plate on were compromised. Seeing that the upper portion of the magazines were still in great condition I thought there was no good reason why the magazines couldn't be cut down into 3 and 5 round magazines for hunting and range use.  In one session and with the help of somebody who has worked sheet metal some before I cut up (down?) 6 otherwise ruined magazines and made them into stubby range/hunting mags. Shortening the spring and modifying some of the internals are required. I generally guessed at how long these mags should be and that got me a bunch of 6 and 7 round magazines. A quick weld job by a friend tacked on a piece of flat 1/8"x1/2" flat stock to the sort of "pelvic fin" of the magazine follower. Again I eyeballed the length knowing cutting off material would be easier than welding on more in the future if I guessed exact lengths wrong the first time.  Trial and error told me how much to cut off on the bandsaw and tuning them took little time. 

Followers for 2-5 round magazines and one 3 round.
It might seem a little over the top for some but I really wanted to pattern my modified magazines closely to the factory offerings as well as stay legal for any hunting I do in the future with my rifle. It seemed lazy to me to leave the magazines at 6-7 rounds especially when rifle restrictions in most states would have landed me in trouble with those capacity of magazines while hunting.

Range/field ready 5 and 3 round magazines!

AR-15 A2 adjustable gas block

The idea of being able to control the amount of gas operating your rifle has been a long toyed with problem in tuning certain platforms. The AR-15 pattern rifle has been the center of obsession with barbie gun builders and lego type gunsmiths. Bolt on, clamp on and drop in parts are the norm now for this ubiquitous platform that is America's favorite rifle to love and hate. Minor modifications can be done in the home workshop though that save money over the boutique parts companies offering the latest and greatest must have accessory. One such seemingly simple project is making an A2 front sight tower into an adjustable gas block, a friend of mine requested I take a look at this DIY project others had attempted and see if I could duplicate their efforts for him.  Having a bag of spare A2 gas blocks helped as I quickly learned that you really can not fit a 10-24 set screw in between the barrel rings and the pathway the tube occupies when installed. My first attempt using the 10-24 set screw would have resulted in having to further modify the gas tube prior to installing the set screw. 

The obvious conclusion that some had already come to and my weak google-fu later scared up was that 8-32 set screws were perfect for this job. A 6 series would also work though your restriction range may not be as great. The idea is drill the hole in the vertical path the gas takes, tap the hole and adjust the set screw so you get reliable function of the platform but not over gassing the system causing premature wear on parts and more recoil than is necessary.

My method for this project was 
1. locate along the vertical gas chamber where I wanted the set screw.
2. Using a center cutting end mill I milled a flat spot for the center and drill to work off of
3. Using a center drill locate exact place to drill hole
4. Using a #29 drill bit drill hole on right side of gas block (I chose the right side so that a right handed shooter could easily adjust/monitor the set screw) I went ever so slightly into the opposite side of the gas block with the bit so as to create a seat for the set screw if it was so desired to omit all gas from the system.
5. Tap for 8-32 screw.

If so desired locate and drill hold on the front for a long 4-40 set screw. Be sure to clear all chips out of the gas block....a good oiling and de-greasing with brake cleaner a few times will ensure all machining artifacts are cleared away.

As this is an experimental item for me it'll be interesting to see how this holds up over the long term. I know for the first couple of mags it would be smart to not have anybody standing to the right of the shooter lest the screw or taped threads decide to part company with the gas block.

Poor mans gun paint: or: Paint for those barrel melt down stages

One thing I'm always keeping an eye out for is a more affordable way to paint firearms in durable finishes. A friend recommended "Dupli-Color" Engine paint. It is an enamel with ceramic so I'm not sure about using it for internal parts but it seems plenty good for external parts. 

 The suspended ceramic did not seem to apply very evenly even though I tried my best to follow directions closely (shake a lot before use, and often during). It looks good however like most other off the big box store shelf paints only time will tell how it stands up to use and abuse, gun cleaners and other chemicals will be the real test. I've used Rustoleum camo specific paints in the past with really great results and those would be my go to recommended paints. For a raw barrel and other parts though I thought I would try something with a possibly higher durability. This paint would also serve as a good base for doing a rattle can camo job on top of as its textured well now....though unevenly.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Patterning Sellier & Bellot 12ga 2 3/4" "00" buckshot out of a riot 870 and TAC-14

Recently there was a pretty good sale on S&B 12ga "00" 9 pellet buckshot loads that I couldn't turn down. Yes, I load my own buckshot but sometimes factory is good to have around for a touchstone when you're loading your own ammo and want to have something to compare it against...or run out of time to load ammo for a match.

The weather here has started to warm up some so I decided to take the 870 riot gun out and see just how S&B's buckshot did at various distances. My distances are a little arbitrary as I judged them to be the lengths of various household distances one may come across.  I did not see a reason to pattern the gun under 7 yards since pretty much anything shot under 7 yards with a shotgun is going to be a softball size pattern at most.  The distances I chose was 7, 11, 15 and 20 yards. Anything past 20 yards in my experience with the choke on this particular shotgun is asking for a buckshot pellet out of the "D" zone on a IPSC size target and would be a distance I would start considering switching to slugs.  As a comparison I also shot a Remington TAC-14 at 15 yards to compare the spread of the buckshot at that particular distance having considered 15 yards to be max for buckshot out of that particular firearm.

For the money I am impressed with the factory S&B buckshot loads, it's hard enough to find buckshot under $1 a round and always hard to find buckshot in 25 round box lots. It has long since annoyed me buying any kind of non specialty shotgun ammo in 5 round boxes esp if one resides in a state where they tax each box of ammo. Anyways, my results are pictured below, note the spread on the two 15 yard targets the riot barrel is a imp cyl I believe where the TAC-14 is cyl. Each test target does indeed have 9 holes in each one, the 7 yard target immediately below shows the wad strike as well, some pellets nearly doubled up but there are 9 holes.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Savage Axis or Thompson Center Compass : or : Choices in economy

  Economy bolt action rifles have come leaps and bounds from decades past. Today's budget minded shooter, hunter and/or prepper has a very crowded market to choose from. Most major bolt action manufactures are offering very accurate (sub MOA a lot of the time) economy line bolt action rifles that offer a lot to those wanting a lot of features and not a lot of flash or shiny parts. You simply can't beat the durability and reliability of these two featured bolt action rifles I'm covering here today, either as a truck gun, companion to your semi auto rifle or primary hunting arm. The Savage Axis  and the Thompson Center Compass have a lot to offer but also have shortcomings that you may wish to keep in mind. Lets take a look....

Thompson Center Compass
-Magazines are 5 round, belted magnum calibers are 4 round.
-Available in 11 calibers from .204 ruger up to 7mm Rem Mag and 300 Win mag!
-Barrels are factory threaded for muzzle devices of your choosing.
-Adjustable trigger
-Very rigid stock
-Wide flat trigger, very positive.
-MSRP $399+

-Currently not available in stainless or left hand
-Comes with two peice scope base, recommend replacing with EGW one piece picatinny 
-Small safety tab (Mauser style) stays out of the way but does not feel super positive.
-Bolt is not smooth, if you are use to Remington 700's and Mausers you may find you have to practice manipulating the bolt on the compass quite a bit to get so it does not bind. 

Unfounded concerns
-Polymer magazine, though they seem sturdy the locking tab seems thin. The newness of the compass will also make these magazines less available and more pricey for a while.
-Barrels are not as easy to change for the DIY'er as the Savage is.

Savage Axis XP
-Magazines are steel construction
-Available in 9 calibers from .223 to 30/06
-Available in left hand, stainless as well as threaded muzzle versions
-Smooth action
-Natural bolt manipulation
-Ambidextrous safety, large very easy to manipulate with a glove on.
-MSRP $368+

- 4 round capacity magazines 
-Stocks have significant flex but can be remedied with stiffener modifications found online
-Comes with two piece scope base, recommend replacing with EGW one piece picatinny
-Trigger not adjustable
-Threaded muzzle version little extra $30+

Unfounded concerns
- I'll admit the stock flex is only a mild concern, accuracy out of the box is not bad but of course improvements can always be made. Broken Axis stocks are rare.
-4 round capacity is just annoying to me, spare magazines are a little cheaper but still ~$20+

Both are winners in my book
Its a matter of what features you are wanting in your rifle and perhaps caliber availability, The Savage Axis is not offered in any belted magnum calibers like the T/C Compass. The Axis having been on the market longer has a lot of after market upgrades that may appeal to somebody getting one then wanting to upgrade as funds allow. Laminated wood stocks from Boyds and other makers as well as custom barrels can give the rifle some improvement but these can be spendy and may defeat the initial purpose.

Both the Axis and the Compass benefit from after market support from several specialty shops. One piece scope bases in 0 MOA or 20 MOA are available from EGW (I'm not paid to advertise them, they just make great stuff) as well as extended/enlarged bolt knobs from Glades Armory can make bolt manipulation easier. After market triggers are also around for the axis, I'm not sure if any are in the works for the compass or not yet.

With rebates and scope combos these rifles are very attractive to even the most budget minded.  Depending on how good the sale it is possible to catch either rifle for under $200 without the scope combo or around $300 with it.  If you like to hunt with suppressors and don't mind a sort of abnormal short throw bolt or are looking for one specifically (compass is a 3 lug bolt) then I would give the nod to the Compass, it feels great in the hands and shoulders nicely. The Axis is a little lighter and action is much smoother. I've shot both rifles and though I like them both, the ease of changing the barrels on the Axis appeals to me as a hand loader who likes to experiment. Both are great choices....let your needs guide you in your quest for your rifle and enjoy your selection.

EGW one piece scope base

Friday, January 5, 2018

300 Blackout the budget .30 caliber battle rifle : or : the poor mans M1 Carbine

When a battle rifle in .308 Winchester is desired but out of reach financially and the AR-15 5.56 just does not give us warm fuzzy feelings of an effective round or appropriate round for our intended use some of us may find the 300 Blackout is a decent Goldilocks caliber. The AR-15 chambered in 300 Blackout may be ideal for somebody wanting 7.62x39 class performance but in a more familiar platform. Similar to the 30 carbine in concept it offers a modern day 30 caliber round for those who want light recoil and reliable terminal performance. M1 Carbine prices have been steadily going up and your choice in ammo is pretty limited in the 110gr realm +/- 20 gr depending on if you handload or buy custom loaded ammunition. The M1 Carbine still holds strong as a concept of light ammunition in a compact package for those who may not necessarily need everything a 30/06 or .308 has to offer. An AR-15 in 300 BO gives you excellent range, bullet selection and terminal performance. It is the poor mans alternative to a M1 carbine and will carry you through deer season as well as SHTF nicely as a long arm and if you ask me its the better caliber choice as well.
Why not .223/5.56?
Not every hunter or prepper desires to get on the 5.56 bandwagon, there are drawbacks that simply can not be ignored, light weight bullet, low penetration on harder targets. Deer hunting with .223/5.56 though legal in some areas is not widely accepted even in the hunting community as ethical. Bullet selection and shot placement though critical with any hunting shot is especially important with the smaller caliber chambering. The .223/5.56 does have its pros that make it a tempting pick for those looking to just get a long arm...and the mentality of "if its good enough for the military and law enforcement its good enough for me" makes it a popular choice...even with me from time to time though I find the caliber has limited applications. Then throw in the low cost of ammo, the HUUUUUGE abundance of accessories, magazines, platform specific optics, lasers, phasers and triple action intabulator and it becomes very attractive. With the AR-15 platform chambered in 5.56 cost continuing to go down its not hard to see why it has such a huge following. The 300 BO has been slow in coming full force to the market and as such prices have not been trending with the 5.56.
"The 300 BO is only meant to be suppressed and is useless with bullets under 150gr"
I kid you not, the above was a statement I heard probably 3-4 years ago on a podcast and for a time....I sort of believed it. That anybody with a AR-15 in 300 BO shooting 110gr or 125gr bullets without a suppressor was...wrong. When I heard that opinion the 300 AAC Blackout hadn't been on the widespread commercial market for long. It seemed to me the "new" AR-15 caliber was one that the rich yuppie shooters dabbled in with their surefire suppressors and custom loaded 220gr match bullets. If you shot it unsuppressed or with light bullets then you didn't understand the caliber or the purpose. If you're daily job is slitting gate guard throats and silencing guard dogs in the dead of night then the suppressed version with HEAVY bullets is more your cup of tea. As more load data and a wider acceptance of the 300 BO comes to pass we see just how much versatility this little round is capable of. It was out of reach for the budget shooter for a time as well but today is a different day. Brass, barrels and purpose designed bullets are more common now and as such prices have declined from "NEW iphone 10" prices.
The quality AR-15 as we know it today is very much in reach for anybody who can save $550-$700 for a off the shelf variant. If you are a DIY'er then $350-$450 is possible if you have access to the tooling to do a 80% lower or if you get a low cost 100% lower on sale (I have seen quality lowers as low as $35 each in recent months). The difference between the 5.56 and the 300 BO on the AR-15 rifle is simply....the barrel. Barrel production was drastically ramped up prior to the last presidential election cycle and as such the cost to get into a 300 BO has come down to nearly 5.56 levels.
The 300 Blackout has phenomenal versatility, bullet weights from 73gr to 230gr are fair game and can be run in the AR-15 rifle with proper magazines and buffer combinations. I've been impressed with range results I've seen out to 500 yards with the 110-125gr loadings out of a 300 BO....without a suppressor (eye roll). You don't need a suppressor to make the most of the 300 BO nor do you need to shoot 150gr + bullets.
The 300 Blackout has many advantages and few disadvantage for the modern carbine shooter be it a hunter or prepper looking for a mid-level round that offers versatility and effective terminal ballistics when compared to other platform cartridge options (ie 5.56)
-Wide range of bullet weights and designs for every application sought by hunters and preppers
-Availability of brass made from .223, .308 bullets, and powders.
-AR-15 needs only a upper swap or barrel swap to take to 300 BO
-Same magazines, same lower
-Not widely adopted by military or LEO enough to produce the level of surplus that 5.56 shooters enjoy
-MUST make sure muzzle accessories have clearance for 30 cal bullets, ALSO make sure you do not chamber 300 blackout ammunition in 5.56 barrels. It will ruin your day...and your face.