Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Can AR-15 gurus help me out, please?

As most readers will know by now, I help to train and equip disabled shooters to defend themselves.  A few of them are able to run an AR-15 rifle or carbine, despite their disabilities, but on their usually limited income mostly can't afford 'name-brand' weapons.  They have to make do with hand-me-downs from others, or occasional gifts from friends and family.

These low-dollar AR's often have problems.  Some are rooted in shoddy manufacture, and there's not much that can be done about them other than trade in the rifle on something better.  Others, however, are due to poor finishing - friction between the bolt and the upper receiver, etc.  I've been looking at affordable solutions for such problems.

I've heard very good reports about the Fail Zero AR-15 bolt carrier group, including hammer and firing pin.  It's coated with nickel boron, which is allegedly far 'slicker' than standard parts, and is said to be capable of running for hundreds of rounds without any lubrication at all.  Reports from some users claim that they've dropped it into cheaper AR-15's and found it greatly improves their reliability and functionality.  However, most positive reports come from Fail Zero's own Web site, which means there may be other, more negative reports out there that simply aren't generally accessible.  I've done an Internet search for more information, but not found anything in particular.

Do any of you have personal experience with the Fail Zero nickel-boron-coated bolt carrier group, or any other improved AR-15 bolt or bolt carrier group made by anyone else?  Did/does it offer a significant improvement in weapon reliability?  I'd be very grateful if you'd please post whatever details you can provide in Comments, along with links to any other manufacturers' Web sites.

Thanks muchly.



Richard said...

Caveat emptor, I am no AR armorer, but I have made a number of crappy ARs run with one or all of the following:

- Check the rails on the bolt carrier for burrs for rough spots. These four rails are what it actually rides on in the reciever. LIGHTLY stone or polish to smooth them up if needed.

- Check inside the reciever for tight or rough spots. After cycling a dry reciever and dry bolt carrier a few times they will show up as shiny spots. If that is the problem dry cycle the gun a bunch to smooth them out.

- Use a crane o-ring or a dfender d-ring under the extractor. Important with a typical low cost, over gassed and under buffered carbine.

- Lubricate the bolt carrier group inside and out copiously with a good oil. 10-30 is more than good enough if on a budget. Run the gun wet. In hot weather I will even put some grease on the rails at times though the gurus say no grease on these guns, just lots of oil. If the budget allows SLIP 2000 is an excellent low vapor pressure oil for the AR system that won't burn off fast like CLP.

The above will usually do the trick.

Magic coatings? Expensive solution to a non problem in my mind given how small the actually bearing surface is on those rails. Keep them smooth and lubed and that should do it. Please feel free to email me if you wish to discuss further.

Bob Mueller said...

Cross-posted to OKShooters.com and the Firearms and Politics list. That's the best I can do, I'm afraid.

Will said...

Richard has recommended engine oil as a cheap lube. If you are going to do this, I would suggest using Mobile1 synthetic. It cost more, but a qt should last a long time.
Back when I ran air-cooled motorcycles, we would have to lower the idle speed when we changed to Mobile1, after breaking in the engine on regular oil. (you can't break-in a motor on the stuff, because nothing really wears in and seats, so the rings don't seal, etc) The engine would suddenly be idling at 1400rpm, when it was running at 1000 before the change. It handles higher temps better, also.

Will said...

Peter, have you done a search on AR15.com? I would think somebody on that forum would have some experience with them.

Unknown said...

Read what customers say: http://www.brownells.com/rifle-parts/bolt-parts/bolt-carrier-parts/bolt-carriers/ar-15-bolt-carrier-group-exo-treated-nickel-boron-prod27448.aspx

Alex said...

A common problem with low-end AR is that no matter what the barrel is marked, they are often chambered in .223 instead of 5.56. With quality ammunition, no problem...but cheap guns often are fed cheap ammo like the various Russian rounds which are...5.56. A chamber reamer fixes that problem, making the rifle a true 5.56.

Here is a portable fix: http://www.m-guns.com/tool_new.php?product=reamer

Rich S. said...

I too am not an armorer, but I do have 15 years of experience running ARs and have built a few.

IMO, the cost of EITHER the ammo used up in testing an iffy gun for reliability or the additional NB coated bolt will likely exceed the difference in cost between a piece of crap and a gun that WILL run, such as a Windham Weaponry rifle (WW is the original Bushmaster outfit - restarted after Freedom group closed the plant and moved production in with Remington and DPMS).

As to the coated bolts, the coatings enable the AR to run dry or almost dry, which minimizes fouling and failures due to sand/grit/dust. No coating is going to be as slick as a good lube. So, if you "overlube" the rifle and it still jams, a coated bolt won't fix it. Touching up the rails is a good bet, but there are so many little things that can be done wrong, such as the above-mentioned wrong spring or buffer, a rough chamber, a bad chamber extension, an out of dimension mag-well, a mis-aligned gas tube or port, poor feed-ramps, bad receiver or bolt machining, etc. All of those can cause malfunctions, as can cheap ammo in carbine or pistol-length gas systems.

Several lubes vastly outperform even synthetic motor oil ... Breakfree CLP and Liberty Lube are 2 such. Check out the video tests they did on Liberty Lube on Youtube - just a note - LL is made by a member of my local gun community, and I really like the stuff, so I'm biased.

Lastly, an experienced AR builder/gunsmith can often figure out what the problem is, but that begs 2 questions. First, do you have such a person and will the person work for free? Second, is fixing the immediate problem simply going to put off failure due to shoddy materials or construction for a short time (see early reviews of Battle Rifle Company products).

Murphy's Law said...

Check the gas tube. Is it lined up properly up front and delivering the full amount of gas to the carrier key? Realistically, any AR save junk from Hesse should work as most receivers are made by the same small handful of companies that have the required equipment and the roll stamps for the various "different" manufacturers are all added there. MOral of that story: Don't judge or dismiss an AR just because it's not "name brand" because it probably really is save for the internal parts.

Old NFO said...

I have been running a Fail Zero for two years with no problems. But I'll caveat that with the fact that I'm not running it in cheap hardware. I've run it with minimum lube for 200 rounds with no problem.

Richard said...

Alex makes a good point re chambers. In fact it may even be marked 5.56 and due to things like tool wear it can still be undersize. Never had to ream one myself, but one of the middle size makers was famous for them a few years back to the point where reamers were floating around for folks to open them up with.

Re Rich S. and Breakfree, I would sooner use cheap motor oil quite honestly. The various CLPs evaporate way too quickly and the AR needs to be run wet. I had this rubbed into me on a one day drive once where an AR went into the trunk wet and came out dry. It just plain evaporated away in the heat. If for what ever reason you are stuck with Breakfree, Remoil etc, add it frequently to include squirting some into the gas ports on the side of the bolt carrier.

No comment re Liberty Lube as I have never heard of it, but if it is low vapor pressure, i.e. won't evaporate quickly when hot, it should be fine.

Rich S. said...

Richard, Breakfree, in my experience, partially evaporates, but leaves a thick oil behind (usually too much thick oil, actually). But, I'm way north and don't see temps above the 80's often. If it evaporates in desert conditions, then I definitely wouldn't use it down there.

I like to run my ARs as dry as I can get away with. I usually overlube them for the first few hundred rounds, then cut back. That way the action is less likely to attract grit and collect excess fouling.

My current guns, a '90s Colt, an older Bushmaster, a newish Windham, and one I made this spring from DPMS parts, all run with sparing lubrication.

We also have a new Bushmaster which can be finicky (it's done a nose-low failure to chamber twice) so it gets more heavily lubed.

I heartily agree with keeping a little lube in the range bag AND ESPECIALLY the bugout bag. Remoil is not my favorite lube - I think it's too thin - but those little Remoil bottles are inexpensive, don't leak, and dispense precisely. In fact, in my last pistol skills touch-up class, I ended up lending one to another shooter, as his Beretta was dry and jamming.

Richard said...

Rich S,

You peg on a key aspect of the lube mystery. Climate. Where I live in Colorado it ranges from way below zero to above 100 in the course of a year. In a colder climate CLP will stay longer. I just make sure my oils don't gel up in the cold and keep them wet however due to sand and grit and other junk.

Re grit, we have a lot of that down here. I used to be a keep it dry as possible to minimize grit attraction. Futile exercise. Now I am of the keep it dripping and float it off school. This approach has kept the guns running a lot better for me.

The article that finally convinced me to try running them really wet is this one by Pat Rogers:


Been there done that with the oil in the bag helping folks at class! Back in the era of frankenguns I also kept dfenders to help folks in trouble at carbine classes with the classic ejection issues early carbines had.

Unknown said...

Some of my friends swear by Frog Lube. I'm just now trying it myself so I have no results to report:


Buddy said...

Two words... Frog Lube.

Ryan said...

I do not have experience with this particular BCG but do have some thoughts on the topic.

In my experience on low dollar but decent to good quality AR's. I have had good luck with Olympic Arms. Also the basic low end Smith M&P is a whole lot of gun for the money.

I would say Nickel Boron/ etc BCG's are a problem in search of a solution. The AR as a platform runs far wetter than any other gun I have experience with. Just keep plenty of oil on em and they are run like crazy.

While some low end AR's certainly work my general observation is they are a mixed bag. Some work just fine albeit with rougher finishes and others suck.

Food for thought I would take a budget priced $600ish AK like a Yugo NPAP over a comparably priced AR any day.

Anonymous said...

I've never encountered an AR with rough rails in the receiver that had to be stoned-smooth, and this is the first I've heard of it. Also, I haven't used bolts or bolt-carriers that had any particular issues - apart from the odd M16 whose improperly torqed & staked Gas Key had worked loose, or an occasional broken extractor or limp extractor-spring. So I'm not personally experienced at bringing a marginal AR up to "less marginal" status.

If I couldn't afford a new Bravo Company Gunfighter model AR (or at least a Colt Industries 6920), I'd just save up enough extra to buy a used Colt's Firearms AR - if I had time to save. The price-difference between a DPMS or Bushmaster and a Colt (new or used) is probably less than a case of ammunition. But if I had to make do with a 2nd (or 3rd) Tier AR, I'd see about verifying that the chamber is actually cut for 5.56x45 (not .223 or Wilde), and making sure the Gas Key is properly torqued and staked in place.

According to EAG Tactical's Pat Rogers, the four things that fail most often on AR's in his classes are, 1) too tight chamber causing popped primers that tie up the trigger group; 2) Loose Gas Keys (that top extension tube on the Bolt Carrier that fits over the Gas Tube when the Bolt closes); 3) RDS from manufacturers other than Aimpoint; 4) Dry Bolt & Carrier (run it WET! - nearly any sort of lube will do, as long as you keep it wet). Ned Christiansen of MichiGuns (www.m-guns.com) sells a somewhat economical 5.56x45 chamber-reamer and gas-key staking-tool. Pat keeps a set of these available during his classes, as they are frequently needed. A hobby-grade AR, plus the M-Guns tools to get it up to spec, would cost about as much as buying a Colt in the first place. However, economies can be achieved with multiple hobby-grade AR's and a single set of M-Guns tools.

Another item that I have seen MANY failures with is the extractor spring. It's a coil spring, and benefits from the various buffers that fit inside or around it. D-Rings are good. A D-Ring and new coil spring might cost less than $5.

I've been paying attention for a very long time, and I have a perspective on this - based on training and experience. I've used AR's for over 35 years, during and after my Army career. Before enlisting, I took a gunsmithing course at a local college. During my first enlistment, I trained and worked as a "Unit Armorer" for a Basic Training Company (with M16's) that had a much higher tempo of activity than line units I later served with (with respect to shots fired, weapons technical-inspections during cycle-breaks, and the wear and tear of nearly constant disassembly / reassembly for training purposes). I spent some time assigned to the 5th Army Marksmanship Training Unit where I OJT'd as a Match Armorer, but spent most of my time shooting or coaching. Later, I spent some time as an Adjunct Instructor for "Individual Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures" (gunfighting, in other words) with the Tactical Group at Command & General Staff College (Ft. Leavenworth). I've had some personal coaching on modern AR techniques from Randy Cain at Gunsite, and a LOT of personal coaching from fellow instructors from the Tactical Group who had studied the carbine with Bill Jeans (former Ops Manager and Senior Instructor at Gunsite) and Pat Rogers (former lead-carbine instructor at Gunsite and current owner/operator of EAG Tactical, and arguably the leading authority on AR-use). I have closely followed what Pat has to say about AR's that "run like sewing machines" vs. AR's that fail in classes, in his many class-AAR's published in the old 10-8 Forums and current Lightfighter Forum. Pat also shares his observations in frequent articles published in SWAT Magazine. His observations are consistent with my own, and he's seen far more than I have.

Unknown said...

Interesting about running ARs wet. While I have never had a problem with my method, it's good to know that others disagree, and I'm happy to learn.

I should say that "as dry as I can get away" with doesn't mean that I'm skipping any of the lube points. It means I'm trying not to have any excess in the action.

I definitely appreciate the info!

Rich S. said...

Sorry - meant to post with name Rich S. ... hit the wrong button.

Anonymous said...

First things first; does this problem persist with different makes of ammo? Some brands are known for imparting a low impulse to the gas tube. Use something like Lake City ball as a control.

Next, you need to know if drag on the bolt carrier is part of the problem. With the bolt removed from the carrier, place the carrier as far into the upper receiver as it will go. Holding the upper ass'y level tilt the receiver end downward to about a 30 degree angle; if the bolt doesn't slid out on its own, start looking for evidence of interference.

If that's not the problem, then check the buffer. One common mistake is putting a rifle spring in a carbine or A4 buffer tube.

Note many of the low cost uppers are made from 6061 or 6066 Al, which is much less resistant to denting than the normal 7075-T6. If there is a constriction in the bore of the upper receiver that can't be removed with crocus cloth, then replace it. Current prices for a stripped upper are about $65.

Regarding lubes, G96 synthetic is very good, but you won't find a better lube than the lube mentioned in the formula for "Ed's Red" bore cleaner (formula is in many places on the wwWeb; basic components are a full synthetic (e.g. Mobile One) plus "FA" type automatic transmission fluid.