NM Rifle Update

I just got done cataloging, resizing, cleaning up and captioning pictures. Now I’m ready to start writing posts.

Should start getting the step-by-step posts up in the next day or so.

Saturday, I’m going to be at the Airfield shooting club all day teaching boy scouts about gun safety and handling. My first foray into the wild and wooley world of the NRA instructor. Should be fun.

While I’m there, if I have time, I’m going to start breaking in the barrel on the new rifle. I won’t really know how it shoots until I’ve gotten a few hundred rounds downrange, but I should at least be able to tell whether it works OK and if I’m at least in the ballpark.

It doesn’t help that I couldn’t find any match ammo anywhere. I ended up just picking up some cheap 55 grain FMJ, so I won’t really even be trying for groups until I get something better to do it with.

I’ll let you know how it goes even though I’m not expecting much at this point.


NR Rifle build update

The rifle is built. My son and I did most of it on Saturday and I finished it up yesterday.

Much more to come, but here’s a little teaser to get you started:

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By the way: we made a really bonehead mistake when putting it together. If you’re looking really closely, you might spot it, but it’s only visible in two of the pictures of this slideshow before we corrected it. 500 bonus COACOO points to anyone who leaves a comment correctly identifying the mistake we made.


Good News

Rock River seems to be ahead of schedule. A couple of days ago, I got the notification that they had shipped the final couple of parts I need for my NM rifle build. They should be here tomorrow. Much better than the week to ten days they told me it would probably take to get the parts shipped.

I’m trying to arrange a time for my son and I to get together to do this build. I’m going to have him do most of the assembly and I’m going to take pictures so I should be able to get some really good shots…much better than using a tripod and timer.

I hope so anyway. I’m no professional photographer.

Of course, I’m no professional anything. One of the downsides to being able to do pretty much anything I set my mind to is that I’m not specialized enough to be really good at anything. Your stereotypical “Jack of all trades, master of none”.

At any rate, I’ll start taking some preliminary photos of the parts all laid out and organized by assembly tomorrow. After we get the rifle built, I’ll get started putting together a series of posts on the build.

Should be fun.


NM AR Build Update

OK…I ordered the last of the essential parts for the NM AR build today.

Brownell’s had the Rock River free float tube for less than Rock River was selling them for…and had them in stock. I did find out through the review that the RR float tube does not come with the Delta ring, weld spring or snap ring. I also found out that the float tube comes with a gas tube so I wasted a little money buying one of those…oh well.

The Model 1 charging handle I had been waiting for was in stock at MidwayUSA, but the two pivot/takedown pin detent springs were still listed as backordered.

So…I cancelled the detent springs from MidwayUSA and ordered the charging handle, delta ring, weld spring and snap ring from them. Then I ordered the detent springs and the free float tube from Brownell’s. Finally, I called Rock River to verify they had them in stock…they do…and that they’d be able to ship them to me in a reasonable time…they can (about 10 days)…and ordered the NM rear sights and the buttstock kit.

So, the only things I have left are accessories…weights, muzzle and sight covers, a sling, things like that. Those can all wait.

At the bottom of this post, I’ll update my costs so far.

Before that, though…right before I left for the weekend, I got an e-mail that asked some good questions. I promised the writer an answer, but I think the questions are worth answering in public. The pertinent part of his e-mail:

First question: how is the RRA NM float tube mounted? Does it screw on over the barrel nut? Does it replace the barrel nut? Does it come with a barrel nut?

Second question: small parts for the upper. Who, what and where? I’ve seen CMMG uppers with the forward assist and ejection port cover already mounted. Might be a good idea, saves time. How do I pick a charging handle? Before someone sent you a BCG, what were you looking at?

Third question: what tools have you bought so far?

1. This will be my first experience with installing a Free Float tube. From what I’ve gleaned from the limited info I’ve found, the free float tube comes with a specific nut that replaces the barrel nut. The replacement nut screws on where the barrel nut would normally go, then the free float tube screws onto that. That’s as much as I know until I get mine in and start looking at how it all goes together. I’ll be posting the details of the build as I do it so you can learn along with me.

2. Parts for the upper. If you start out with a completely stripped upper as I did, you’ll need:

The bolt carrier group.
The charging handle, including latch, latch spring and latch pin.
The forward assist assembly including spring and retaining pin.
The ejection port cover, retaining ring, pin and spring.
Rear sight assembly.

If you get the A4 type upper, the removable carry handle may come with a rear sight assembly. Be careful of that though because some service rifle matches only allow A2 style rifles.

Many of these parts come together as a kit. I bought the ejection port cover parts, the forward assist parts and the rear sights as kits.

It’s important to do the research and find out what exactly comes with the components you order so you don’t end up spending money on duplicate parts.

As far as from whom…as long as you stay with brand name parts, I can’t see you going wrong. DPMS, Bushmaster, Olympic, Colt etc etc etc…any of them should make good quality, mil-spec parts that will work on your rifle.

I bought almost all of the small parts from MidwayUSA. I have a curio and relic FFL so I get the dealer price from them, which made their prices better than anywhere else. Which specific manufacturer I chose depended on a few factors: What was in stock, Customer reviews, and price…in that order. One of the best features of MidwayUSA is their customer reviews. That’s what prompted me to buy the buttstock from RRA rather than one of the brands that MidwayUSA carries. All of the buttstocks that MidwayUSA had got some bad reviews for fit, finish, quality etc.

Most of the small parts I ordered were either DPMS or Olympic.

In addition to the small upper parts, you’ll need the barrel and the small parts for it.

When ordering a barrel, it is important to note on the ones that don’t have the front sight already installed, you’ll probably have to have the holes for the taper pins drilled both in the barrel and in the front sight itself; or, if you go with the adjustable front sight setup, you’ll have to have the FSB drilled and tapped for the set screws and flats milled in the barrel for the set screws to mate with.

That’s part of the reason I went with the barrel that I did…it was already outfitted with the FSB. I could have handled drilling and tapping the FSB for set screws, but milling the flats in the barrel is beyond my capabilities…mainly because I don’t have a milling machine.

The other parts you’ll need for the barrel are:

The front sight assembly (if it didn’t come with the barrel)
The Free float tube and handguards (which should include the barrel nut)
The sling swivel and rivet (if they don’t come with the free float tube)
The Delta Ring, weld spring and snap ring (may come with the free float tube)
The gas tube and gas tube pin (may come with the free float tube)
The flash supresser and peel washer for a threaded barrel. (if they don’t come with the barrel)

As you can see, it’s important to know what exactly comes with the parts you’re ordering before ordering anything else.

As far as choosing a charging handle…the main thing is to get a stock, military style handle. DCM/CMP/NRA service rifles must have the external appearance (other than the barrel) of an issued service rifle, so the charging handle can’t be oversized or have extended or “tactical” latches. I ended up ordering the Model 1…primarily because it was the only standard one they had in stock. I wouldn’t have ordered it solely for that reason, but the price was right and it got decent reviews also. I figured, even if it doesn’t hold up, I can order a better one later on if I need to. They are easy to change.

I was originally going to get a reduced weight “national match” bolt carrier group, but decided against it. I just don’t think that will have enough impact on accuracy to justify the extra expense. With that in mind, any brand name, mil-spec BCG should work just fine. I was looking at the Bushmaster BCG from MidwayUSA. The price is reasonable, Bushmaster is a well known name in the AR world, and they got excellent customer reviews. The downside is that they are out of stock right now. I can’t imagine that you would go wrong with the DPMS, Olympic, Les Bauer, Daniel Defense, or any of the other brands that they have in stock.

I had heard of some people having problems finding a bolt that would headspace correctly with their match barrel so I bought the headspace gauges to check mine. It was probably a waste of money though because it checked out fine…as I suspect the vast majority would…but better safe than sorry right? If you don’t want to spend the money on the gauges, disassemble the bolt and take the bolt and barrel to a gunsmith. It only takes a minute to check headspace if you take the disassembled parts in to them.

One other note on parts: some people think it is important to get a matched upper and lower set for a tight fit. I disagree. I think an accu-wedge or one of the other methods of tightening the fit will work just fine. Of course, I’m not a world-class shooter who depends on that last fraction of an MOA of performance to make the difference so your mileage may vary.

3. Tools.

I already have pin punches. Roll pin punches probably wouldn’t hurt anything, but I’ve been able to do everything I’ve needed to do with standard pin punches so far.

I bought the headspace gauges but you really don’t need them…those are rather expensive for what they are…about $20 each for the go and no-go gauges. You can save yourself about $40 in tools by skipping them.

I bought the DPMS AR multi-tool. It’s needed for installing the barrel, free float tube and buttstock. There are cheaper knockoffs out there, but from what I read in the reviews, it’s worth it to spend a few extra bucks on the DPMS one.

I bought the Model 1 upper and lower receiver “action blocks”.

A barrel clamp probably wouldn’t hurt anything, but I think I can make do without one. If I need to clamp the barrel, I’ll make a clamp out of wood.

I’ve already got a torque wrench for tightening the barrel nut, but if you don’t have one, you should be able to borrow or rent one from your local auto parts store.

There are other small tools (gas tube alignment tools, gas tube roll pin punch, things like that) but I think standard tools will do just fine, I don’t see any need for something that specific. If I have trouble during the assembly and have to buy any of those specific tools, I’ll burn those bridges when I come to them. Also, I’m including the cost of tools to the total cost of the build because they are expenses that I’ve incurred during the course of this project, but I’m not going to include them in the cost of the rifle once I’m done…tools are useful beyond the one project they were purchased for so their price is not properly included in the cost of the rifle.

Again, this is my first upper build and my first NM build so I’m kind of playing it by ear. I’ll really find out if I made the right decisions as I’m putting it together and during that all important first range trip after it’s done.

Stick with me and we’ll work our way through this together.

And now…the current cost tally:

NM Rifle Build costs
CMMG Stripped Lower $125.99
YHM A2 Stripped Upper $69.00
Lower Parts $46.08
Upper Parts $43.38
Barrel Parts $35.12
DPMS Barrel $148.99
RRA NM Free Float Tube/Handguard $100.00
RRA NM Sight Assembly $110.00
RRA A2 Buttstock Kit $65
Bolt Carrier Group *$66.65
Jewell Trigger $203.99
Magazines (2) $22.98
Tools $83.94
Taxes/Shipping/Handling $57.11
Running Total $1178.23

Those are all the parts I need for the build. The only things left are some accessories: Barrel and buttstock weights, muzzle and sight covers, sling and possibly a hard case.

The only one of those things actually required for a match rifle is the sling. A good, leather NM sling is about $40 to $50. The muzzle and sight covers are about $15, the weights are about $40 and a decent hard gun case can be had for around $100.

You wanna know the really frustrating thing? I just found out that the Norfolk County Rifle Range is conducting an NRA High Power Rifle match at the Blackwater facility on September 19. Unfortunately, I won’t even have all the parts in by then, let alone have time to build it, break it in and check it out thoroughly.


I suppose I could shoot my Garand in the match, even though it isn’t a NM rifle. It would at least give me some practice at the appropriate distances rather than using reduced targets at 100 yards. I’ll have to think about it.


Head Space

I checked it. On my NM AR Project, that is.

I wanted to make sure the bolt I got from Gregory of West By God! would headspace properly with the DPMS match barrel I bought from MidwayUSA.

Checks good on ground power…(it’s a Naval Aviation maintenance thing, you wouldn’t understand).

I probably didn’t need to buy the headspace gauges…AR’s aren’t as susceptible to headspace variations as other types of rifles…but I figured better safe than sorry and, if I ever reach my goal of becoming a professional gunsmith, I might just need them. I now have gauges for .30-06 and .223 Remington. Only about a million calibers to go to have a “full” set.

Anyway, now that I’m sure the bolt and barrel are compatible, all I need to do is conjure up the bucks to buy the last few components I need and get her put together.


Trigger decision

Well, my trigger decision was just made for me.

I was waffling between the Jewell and the Bushmaster match triggers. The Bushmaster is less expensive and reportedly more robust than the Jewell, but the Jewell is more adjustable and has a very good reputation as a match trigger.

Midway USA carries both, but both were listed as out of stock, no backorder. I set up a reminder on both of them and hadn’t really made up my mind as to which one to get. Which one came in first may have ended up being the deciding factor if it was getting down to the wire.

Having settled on the less expensive barrel, I had a little more money budgeted that I could use on the better trigger, so I was beginning to lean toward the Jewell, but I figured I’d have some time to make up my mind before either were in stock at Midway.

Well, I just got notified today that the Jewell trigger is in stock.

I spoke to my wife about it, she said unequivocally that, if it fit in the budget, I should go ahead and order the better trigger. I decided I’d better go ahead…she’s still under the influence of some pretty killer pain meds and there’s no telling if she would change her mind once she comes down from them (I kid).

I really hadn’t intended to order the trigger this soon, but I was afraid if I waited, they would be out of stock again and I’d end up having to settle. I’d already settled on less barrel than I wanted, so I’m not going to settle for less trigger too.

I just finished ordering the trigger. That also meant that I had to order a safety selector, which comes with the Bushmaster trigger, but not the Jewell. And I ordered a set of headspace gauges as well.

So, another updated price list:

NM Rifle Build costs
CMMG Stripped Lower $125.99
YHM A2 Stripped Upper $69.00
Lower Parts $46.08
Upper Parts $27.97
Barrel Parts $22.16
DPMS Barrel $148.99
Bolt Carrier Group *$66.65
Magazines (2) $22.98
Tools $83.94
Jewell Trigger $203.99
Taxes/Shipping/Handling $38.36
Running Total $856.11

To recap the remaining parts I need:

From Rock River, I still need the Free Float tube and handguard ($115), the 1/4 moa NM sights ($110) and the buttstock assembly ($65). From Bushmaster, I need their sight and muzzle cover set (14.95). And weights from Ray-Vin (37.90 for the set).

The added expense of the better trigger is going to put me right at about $1200 or slightly over with shipping and sales taxes. I’m starting to get really excited about this, but I’m probably going to have to hold my water for a while before I can get the rest. Hopefully I can resist raiding my savings account to finish the project.


National Match rifle project update.

I’m making progress on my NM AR-15 project.

I ordered all of the small parts from Midway USA a few weeks ago, a mix of DPMS and Olympic Arms parts. A couple of things are on backorder (pivot and takedown pin detent springs and the charging handle assembly), but I’ve got most of the odds and ends to put both the upper and lower together.

One thing I’m going to do is collect all the parts before getting started putting it all together. My son is really interested in helping me with this and learning about AR-15’s. He’s got limited time so I’ll probably wait and build the whole thing with him in one or two sessions after we get all the parts together.

As far as the more expensive parts, I ordered a barrel yesterday (I guess you could call it a birthday present for myself), as well as the assembly tools I’ll need and a few more small parts (including a couple of 20 round magazines).

I ended up having to settle for a lower range barrel than I would have liked to have. Every big name barrel maker is at least 5 to 6 months behind on orders. I would have been perfectly happy to spend up to $400 on a barrel if I could have gotten one from a big name maker in a reasonable amount of time.

The only place I found with a DCM approved match barrel that even came close to matching my specs was a DPMS carried by Midway USA. I looked and made phone calls, and google searches, and researched specs for two weeks before making this decision so it wasn’t done lightly…but I still hope I don’t regret it.

I must say that the price is right, and the reviews that the barrel has gotten have been pretty universally good. I ended up getting the DPMS 20″ Stainless Steel HBAR countour in .223 with 1×8 rifling. The one they have in stock is the model threaded for a flash hider. I don’t see any need for a flash hider on a competition rifle, but that’s all they had and the DPMS web site says that all barrels are on indefinite backorder, so I don’t see them getting any “post ban” non-threaded barrels in any time soon. I really wanted the .223 Wylde chamber dimensions also and this one is chambered in .223 Rem. The .223 Rem chambering is supposedly more accurate because of the reduced leade, but I can’t shoot 5.56 ammo in it so I’ll have to be careful about that.

It does have an adjustable FSB installed, so I won’t have to worry about getting Machine work done as I would have if I had ordered a stripped barrel from one of the bigger manufacturers. I was worried about that. I don’t know the gunsmiths around here well enough to know who to trust with that and I simply don’t have the tools to do precision machining.

So, anyway, I went ahead and ordered the barrel even though it’s not exactly what I wanted. it was only $149 with my dealer discount at Midway USA so it does fit into the “tight budget” aspect and getting the barrel so cheap will mean that I’ll hopefully be able to finish the whole project a little sooner than I originally thought. I figure by the time I shoot this barrel out in a few years, the AR feeding frenzy will have died down and I’ll be able to get a White Oaks or other higher-end barrel in a reasonable amount of time. Even if I can’t, when the round count starts getting up there, I can always order a replacement barrel at least six months out so that I’ll have it before the old one is completely gone…assuming that AR’s haven’t been banned by then and I can still get a barrel at all.

Also, I got another important piece of my build at a very much reduced cost. Anyone who read the comments to my last post on this project might remember that Gregory of West By God! left a comment offering a BCG in trade for an SKS trigger job. Of course I jumped at that so I got a complete, never used Bolt Carrier Group for the cost of shipping, a set of SKS Wolff replacement springs and a few hours of work. What a great deal…and I heartily thank Gregory for making the offer. I sincerely hope he’s happy with the reworked trigger.

At any rate, here’s where I’m at so far:


NM Rifle Build costs
CMMG Stripped Lower $125.99
YHM A2 Stripped Upper $69.00
Lower Parts $39.19
Upper Parts $27.97
Barrel Parts $22.16
DPMS Barrel $148.99
Bolt Carrier Group *$66.65
Magazines (2) $22.98
Tools $49.96
Taxes/Shipping/Handling $33.75
Running Total $606.64

*BCG cost includes parts, estimated labor and shipping for the SKS trigger job traded for the BCG

I’ve pretty much decided where I’m going to get the remaining parts.

From Rock River, I still need the Free Float tube and handguard ($115), the 1/4 moa NM sights ($110) and the buttstock assembly ($65). From Bushmaster, I need their adjustable 2 stage trigger (127.95) and their sight and muzzle cover set (14.95). And weights from Ray-Vin (37.90 for the set).

It’s looking like I’m going to get this done for right around $1100.00. Not bad. I would have preferred to put another $150 or $200 into it and gotten a better barrel…but whaddaya gonna do? And yes…I realize I’m not really saving money here…that I probably could have gotten a ready made RRA or Bushmaster DCM rifle for not much more than this…but half of the purpose of this project is the satisfaction and experience of assembling it myself.


My new project

I’ve got a bunch of gunsmithing projects that I need to get to but I’ve just had too many other things going on lately to get to any of them.

So, of course, what I obviously need is…another project.

I’ve been trying to decide what to build with “Obama”…the second CMMG AR lower that I bought back in November of last year in memory of the election of our Dear Reader.

I was thinking about building a 6.8spc carbine on it…but I’ve got a carbine (“Barack“) and that lower would work just fine with a 6.8spc upper. I’ll still probably build a 6.8 upper at some point, but I wanted to do something different with Obama that would make it worthwhile to have the second lower…it seems silly to me to have two virtually identical ones that serve the same purpose.

Parallel to deciding what to do with this lower, I’ve wanted a National Match AR to shoot in Service Rifle competitions for a long time. When I shoot with the Navy Marksmanship team I usually use one of the loaner rifles. They are all excellent and well cared for and shoot way better than I do, but I’ve wanted one of my own for a long time.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

I’m going to build (or, more accurately, assemble) a National Match AR on my second CMMG lower. Considering that I’ll just basically be putting parts together, I see no reason that, with some care, thought and patience, I can’t put together a sub-moa rifle…so that’s what I’m gonna do.

I have been kicking this around for awhile now, but what finally got me off the pot was a sale an A-2 stripped uppers from Yankee Hill Machine. They’re normal price of $99.00 was reduced to $69.00 and I just decided I couldn’t pass it up.

So, here you go; the beginnings of the Sailorcurt Arms National Match AR-15:

CMMG lower, YHM A-2 upper. Yes, I noticed that the finishes don’t match. When you’re on a budget you can’t really worry too much about aesthetics…as long as it puts the holes where I’m pointing it, I can’t be too picky about finish.

After I win the lotto, I’ll build another one and have Lauer Custom Weaponry duracoat it in Ocean Camoflauge in memory of my 21 years of Navy service.

Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking so far:

I was looking at the White Oak CMP match barrel but they only offer it in 1:7 twist which I think is a bit too fast. I’d like to keep the option of shooting lighter bullet weights open, even if it will be primarily used for the heavier match bullets.

Another option is the Shilen Stainless Steel HBAR Match Barrel (with headspaced bolt) (1:8 twist, .223 Wylde Chamber) from Midway USA. It’s a bit more expensive, but is in the twist rate that I want, and I really don’t see any purpose for the flash hider on a competition barrel. The issue with that one is: will I have to take it to a gunsmith to get the holes cut for the FSB taper pins? That will add another expense. I’d try it myself, but I just don’t have the equipment for that.

There are a couple of other options I’m looking at, but those two look the best so far.

For my trigger choices, I like a two stage trigger, so I’m thinking either the Bushmaster (If they ever get them back in stock), or the Rock River Arms two stage. I thought about Geissele or Jewell, but the budget is of concern. If I have an extra $100 or so laying around, I may choose one of the higher end models.

For sights, the Rock River 1/4moa x 1/4moa seens like the best deal. For $110 you get both the rear sight assembly and the front NM sight post. Midway USA also has a Bushmaster 1/4 x 1/4 MOA rear sight for slightly more. If I get to the point where $40 is critical, I can always go with the less expensive DPMS 1/4 x 1/2 moa sight from Midway.

For the free float handguard, there are many choices but they’re all in the same price range. The DPMS from Midway seems to be the best price I could find, but one reviewer didn’t like the location of the sling swivel mount. If I end up ordering the Rock River Arms trigger and/or sights, it would be convenient just to order their Free Float barrel sleeve and handguard at the same time…besides, I know that I’d be happy with how that handguard looks and functions because I’ve used Rock River Arms rifles before.

As far as balance weights, Ray Vin seems to be the best priced solution for that…short of just making my own. Their prices are pretty good though. Using fishing weights or lead shot probably wouldn’t be much cheaper, and would require labor to form and attach to keep them from shifting around.

All the other parts will pretty much just be well made standard parts. I see no need for expensive “match grade” bolt carriers or gas tubes or other parts that have minimal impact on accuracy. The lightweight bolt carrier I can actually understand, but I seriously doubt that the benefit would be worth the added expense.

I’m thinking that the best money spent on match grade parts will be on the ones listed above.

Anyone have any insights or tips that could help me with this project? Input and advice is welcome.

I’m going to use the posts relating to this to keep track of the costs as well as my progress and results. To that end, here’s what I’ve got into it so far:

NM Rifle Build costs
CMMG Stripped Lower $125.99
YHM A2 Stripped Upper $69.00
Taxes/Shipping/Handling $18.80
Running Total $213.79