Saturday, October 22, 2011

The bad-ass gun: a detour?

As a follow up to my last post, I'm thinking of taking a little detour.

Here's what's happened since I wrote that. I'm still liking the FAL as the "bad ass" rifle for my heroine although there are problems. Just as the AR-15's ammo is underpowered, I'm wondering if the full 308 is overpowered for what she wants to do. And yeah, there's the 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel and stuff like that, but they both feel like hacks to me, designed more because the AR-15's magazine slot is too short for a mainstream round like a .243 Winchester or .270 Winchester than because they're trying to make it optimal. But that's an aside.

But I also know that what's made me interested in guns to begin with is how they work. It was looking at the description of how the AR-15 worked that made me turn from someone totally uninterested to someone absolutely fascinated pretty much over night.

And then I discovered there's a sizable community of people who build their own AK-47s.

Now, to be fair, "build" in this sense means:
  • Obtain a "parts kit" - basically an old military surplus AK-47 that's been dismantled and had the receiver removed and destroyed. Typical cost these days is around $300-400.
  • Obtain a receiver flat, or more likely, go to a FFL and get a receiver. If the former, convert flat into a receiver. More on that in a second.
  • Obtain a "compliance kit" which is essentially a bag of screws and other miscellaneous cheap AK-47 parts that are made in the US. This is because if you make your own firearm in the US, there's a numeric maximum on the number of parts you can include that weren't made in the US.
  • Put it all back together.
The receiver is the interesting bit. You can either buy a finished receiver, or you can make your own. If you go the latter route, the general concept is:
  • Order a flat online, which can be sent directly to your home. Flats are around $20, and they basically consist of a pre-cut sheet of metal with some holes drilled in it. Usually the flat is 1mm thick, and made of regular steel (carbon steel, nothing exotic.)
  • Measure it up and enlarge certain holes, etc, while the receiver is still flat.
  • You very carefully bend it, preferably using a relatively expensive press (a little under $200), but manual methods exist too. This is probably the part that's most likely to go wrong. It requires four bends, although two may have already been done for you. The two that may have already been done are on the extreme sides of the receiver, to make rails. The other two are bends where you'd expect them to be, to turn the receiver into a kind of squared U shape. 
  • You heat treat it. This involves using a blow torch to make the metal round certain drilled holes glow red, immediately after which you throw the entire thing into a bucket of motor oil to cool off. Apparently. This is probably the most dangerous part of the entire thing. The heat treating is to strengthen those parts of the receiver that will suffer the most amount of stress.
  • Finally, you parkerize the receiver. This can be done using kits on the Internet (price around $40 for bottles of acid and a bath) - you submerge the receiver in the acid for a little while, take it out, and polish it with an oily rag or something. Parkerizing, by the way, is just a way of rust proofing the receiver without using paint or something similar that might interfere with whatever you screw onto it.
Some background: the receiver is the component of a gun that holds all the working bits together. From a legal standpoint in the US, it's actually the gun, while everything else is just a component. As a result, the receiver is subject to more regulation than any other part of a gun. There's no law to prevent you from making your own (as long as legally you're allowed to have a firearm in the first place - and there are restrictions on what you can do with it once you've made it), but if you try to buy a receiver you have to go through the same channels that you would a full firearm.

Now, a receiver flat isn't a receiver, it's fairly close, but as it can't be used as a receiver without a lot of modifications, it isn't legally one yet, or so the law goes. Apparently. I'm not sure this is safe to rely on for the long term future, but at any rate there are no stories of ATF agents raiding distributors of flats.

So... anyway. Uh. Yeah. Well, the making the receiver part bothers me, the rest - not so much. I'm kinda liking the entire concept for these reasons:
  • As I said, it's the semi-automatic rifles that interest me, and they interest me because of how they work. How better to understand and celebrate that than to make one?
  • It's manageable in terms of affordability. I can spend $50 a month buying parts, rather than spending $500+ on a finished rifle.
  • I'll learn enough about the process to understand how possible or impossible it is to build something similar that is more accurate, or that supports a different cartridge.
There are, of course, a lot of negatives.
  • The AK-47 is reportedly a relatively inaccurate rifle. Now, opinion seems to differ on it, with a large number of enthusiasts claiming the inaccuracy thing is overblown, but, still. The point is it's not the rifle my heroine is going to adopt, so I still have to get that one.
  • I'm bothered by the safety aspect. I don't want to end up with a face that looks like Gus's at season finale of Breaking Bad after shooting it.
  • The making your own receiver thing is both very attractive and scary. It's a lot of work, and looks like it'd be easy to screw up. On the other hand, flats are relatively cheap.
  • I'm not a hardware person. I'd like to be, of course, and I'd like to learn. But I'm not right now.
 What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Probably a bit late for this advice. For first time DIY builders, I'd recommend building a stripped AR15 lower receiver. Unless you really don't want to fill out the yellow form or have a serious desire for a challenge, it's significantly cheaper to go the AR route. You can also buy a blank AR15 lower, a jig and drill to suit.

    Buy the stripped lower for $80-100 ish. Then buy the parts to suite. If you're nervous, just buy an fully assembled upper receiver. You can't injure yourself with anything you do to the lower receiver with stock parts. AK patterns are not as friendly for first time DIY'ers, although it is entirely possible.!

    A disconcerting example of extreme DIY'ism.


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