The Varying Quality of the AR15 and Why. Part 1


By Will Larson, Owner: Semper Paratus Arms

Over the course of the last few years and most recently in the last four years since I started teaching an AR-15 centric based armorer course, I usually get asked about what separates a “Hobby type AR” over one for professional use ( i.e.- anti-social gatherings).

What we need to remember is that the AR-15 rifle born out of the AR-10 rifle as made by Arma-Lite was designed as a military weapon. Ultimately that means traveling to a foreign place and using it in combat. A weapons failure in combat is less forgiving than one on Saturday afternoon at the local shooting hole.

Though it’s not a particularly easy question to answer, we can usually break it down into two distinct areas. The first one is the use of cheap, low cost components. Examples of this can include aluminum style Picatinny gas blocks, commercial type lower receiver extensions and bolts or barrels which have not undergone HP/MPI (High Pressure and Magnetic Particle Inspection) testing.

This directly relates to the lack of any standards. Colt’s Manufacturing Company not only refined and re-designed the M16 after purchasing the patent’s and rights from Arma-lite, but they also developed the XM4 which would later become the M4 Carbine. The design of the M16 and all variations are governed by a document called the TDP or (Technical Data Package). This document defines the weapon and every single subcomponent down the smallest roll pin. Without exclusive access to this document, a weapon can only be built by reverse engineering or following the herd.

This translates into missed data of important stuff like gas port sizing.

The second part of this equation is the manufacturing and assembly process. Contrary to popular belief, most companies do not manufacture everything in-house. It’s simply not possible for a variety of reasons. We also need to realize that there are plenty of people at all levels of the firearms business that simply aren’t firearms people. It’s a job or a means of making money and that’s it. That means the importance of things like QA/QC or staking of castle nuts/end plates or bolt carrier keys doesn’t have the same level of importance to them as someone who has to use his/her weapon at 2:00 A.M in a shitty alleyway, in Anytown, USA.

Some of the following are common issues that I have seen over the last two decades.

  • Incorrect gas ports in barrels
  • Lack of understanding of why things are done (Standards)
  • Improper assembly techniques
  • Use of cheap parts
  • Poor QA/QC

We will take a closer look at some of these issues in future articles to help understand how they affect the operation of the weapon.


About the Author:

Will Larson has over 25 years of experience with the AR-15 family of weapon going back to 1985. He is a veteran of both the U.S Army Infantry and the U.S Coast Guard (Gunner’s Mate). After completing his final tour of duty in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2005 he entered into the private sector as a contractor for the next 6 years, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan working with such companies as Triple Canopy, SOC-SMG, Olive Group and more. He is currently the owner of Semper Paratus Arms which teaches an AR-15 centric armorer’s course and works with SIONICS Weapon Systems an AR-15 manufacturer located in Tucson, AZ.


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