So make yourself an ARK: ragging on the platform

Not very hard, I admit: I’ll grant you that the AR-15 is an excellent example of a weapon design which is easy to work on, easy to assemble, and easy to maintain. As far as building your own goes, the AR-15 is a lot like democracy: the worst system, except for all the other ones we’ve tried.

That being said, though, no other rifle has the same reputation as the AR-15, whose marketing says that any enterprising citizen with some tools in the basement can knock one together from your various parts kits. This is technically correct, and while I’m on the record saying that technically correct is the best kind of correct, I have to throw the flag here, for two separate reasons.

First: the AR-15 in its original design does require specialist tools, to attach a pinned gas block. Fortunately for modern end users, set screw and clamp-on gas blocks are much more popular, because they, y’know, work just as well. If you build to the original spec, you need a drill press, which brings us to…

Second: the fairer comparison is an 80% AR lower against an 80% AK blank. You’ll need a drill press for the AR lower as well as the AK blank; there’s just less of a market for AK building because it doesn’t have that Lego feel.

Beyond that, the AR has a ton of annoying fiddly bits which, while still better than, say, rivets, are still a pain. Consider the barrel nut. Rather than having a single purpose and a single torque specification, it has two purposes and a massive torque range: it holds the barrel to the receiver, and it supports the gas tube through its notched flange while being locked in place by same. This is an example of too-clever-by-half thinking. The barrel nut ought to just be a regular nut, and when designing a regular nut, it’s best to rely on torque over some external device designed to inhibit the rotation of the nut. If the gas tube needs support, design a separate part for that.

Consider also the roll pin. Sure, it does its job, but at what cost? In most cases where I may want to remove a part, I prefer set screws or mechanically-retained pins. (Remember, I have c-spring retained trigger and hammer pins on my lower receiver.) I will grant that the roll pin is fine in some places. For instance, I don’t intend to ever replace the trigger guard on my lower receiver, so roll pins are fine! Similarly, I don’t plan on unpinning the gas tube from the gas block; if I have to replace one, or if I want to change one, I’ll replace them as a unit. Same deal: roll pins cool.

Parvusimperator asked me to gripe about the dust cover, but I (intelligently) bought an upper receiver which already has the dust cover installed.

The worst part is that most of these failings need not be failings! It’s dead simple to make an AR-15-compatible receiver. Upper receivers especially already exist to meet a myriad of needs. Why not improved end-user serviceability? Lowers are a harder pill to swallow, since ‘needs special parts’ is a terrible thing to see on the side of one. Then again, ambidextrous lower receivers are a thing, and most end users are only going to bother changing furniture, triggers, and maybe buffers, none of which are big offenders in the special-tools market. The same reasoning holds here. We already have specialist AR-15 lowers for the ambidextrously-interested. Why not for the bolt-catch-replacingly-interested?

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