Firearms Upgrades that Didn’t Do It for Me
Major Pandemic 07.05.16
I do a lot of firearms builds. It may seem that I always get all my parts to work, but that is not the case. As I have noted in previous reviews, not every part makes it into a review or even makes the cut to stay on my guns. Some of them just suck before I can even get them out of the package, others get yanked and replaced right after install, and still others I grow to despise over time.
Leaky Gas Blocks
Diagnosing gas system pressure issues is one of the most frustrating processes for an AR builder/tuner. Both adjustable and non-adjustable gas blocks can leak and fail to produce enough pressure to lock back the bolt on the last round. The good news is that if you shoot most of these guns enough, the leaky spots will carbon over enough to seal those points and full pressure will be attained to lock back the carrier on the last shot.
There has been a flood of “me too” products hitting the market, and more than a few new products have hit my doorstep asking for a review. The problem is some of these gas block were so far out of spec that they would literally rattle when slipped them onto the barrel. And that’s bad. Gas blocks should be a precision fit to barrels, and if they are not, you can expect to have gas pressure issues.
The Battery Assist Device and its copies in the market are devices I originally liked, but over time I found I never used them outside of the 308 format. Now, they’ve slowly been removed from almost all of my firearms.
I know folks who swear by the BAD, but it completely changes the standard manual of arms for the AR15 in order to provide ambidextrous bolt release controls. I like the ambi feature it provides, but my challenge is that these levers clutter up the trigger guard area and add interference when using gloves. Some may love them, but I suppose they were just not an upgrade for me.
Me Too AR15 Mags
The onslaught of polymer AR15 polymer mag copies has led to a painful price war with market leaders like Magpul, Troy, Tango Down, and Lantac. We saw these so-called budget mags when all the major branded magazines were being scalped at prices triple their original retail price during 2011-2014.
Honestly, these cheap mags were of the quality that could only be realistically priced around $4-$5. I actually had one of these cheapo no-name magazines separate at its molding seam while fully loaded. Some worked and some didn’t, so in the end I just buy the major brands or mil-spec steel or aluminum mags for the same price I would pay for the cheap imitations.
AK-47 KGB Latch
Recently, I saw a cool little magazine release to add to my AK-47. The $12 part was an Innovative Ordnance KGB latch and basically added an extended tab, which allowed the trigger finger to release the magazine in a method similar to a standard AR15. As with any AK part, it was noted that some fitting would be required.
In the end, this latch failed to provide the correct retention geometry on my Century Arms C39, and the magazine would snag on the latch as the mag was removed. The gun jammed, and due to the power of the magazine spring, I had to exert much more than fingertip-force to release the magazine. I am sure the company tested it on a number of AK-47 variants, but on my billet received C39 it didn’t work at all. In the end I want back to the stock Century release latch, which was perfectly reliable.
Full Quad Rails
From my perspective, there is one and only type of shooter who needs four linear feet of picatinny rail on an AR15/M16, and I am not one of these special operations military folks. From my perspective, 99% of any need for a picatinny rail can be accomplished with a couple inches of rail at the end of the forend, but rails the entire length? No, that just creates a really uncomfortable place for me to grip the forend.
Smooth Billet Handguards
On the other extreme, I still see manufacturers offering heavy handguards that are essentially straight round tubing without vents. Really? This is just extra weight for no apparent reason other than pure laziness to cut a pattern into a tube, which would dissipate heat better and significantly reduce weight. On the other hand, you have simple, well-made tube handguards from JP Rifles and hiper light Carbon Fiber handguards tubes from Clark and AP Customs. Solid billet handguards–yuck! It just says, “I bought whatever was cheapest.”
Finger Groove Grips
As much as possible, I stay away from finger groove grips simply because they are usually designed to fit everyone, which means they fit no one very well unless you have large hands. As a guy with small hands, I generally find almost all AR15 and AK47 finger groove grips uncomfortable, although I do like Mission First Tactical’s.
For most shooters, at least one or two finger grooves are in the wrong place and do not allow the shooter to position his or her hand wherever comfortable. For me, I usually stay clear of finger groove grips.
Too Light Hammer/Firing Pin Spring Upgrade
One of the most popular handgun upgrades is to swap out the hammer spring on revolvers or the firing pin spring on pistols. This can drastically reduce trigger pull weight. But there is a cost in doing so and that is reduced striking power, which can lead to light primer strikes and poor reliability.
I have created this situation for myself on two occasions. The first was a Ruger GP100 upgrade that had a beautiful two-stage trigger pull, but also delivered about one in six light strikes. The other situation was an ultra-light competition firing pin spring for a Glock 17. This was not terribly unreliable, but I did have at least 1 in 100 rounds that did not fire, which we know is unheard of for a Glock.
In both cases, jumping up a pound or two in spring pressure produced a perfectly reliable firearm while still delivering a lighter trigger feel. For the Glock, I simply reinstalled the factory stock spring.
So if you ever swap out any springs in your gun, always function test it with at least a couple hundred rounds before awarding the upgrade your reliability seal of approval.
Single Point Slings for Weapons on the Move
If you are a male sport shooter who breaks stride and actually runs, single point slings are great for one thing–allowing your gun to hit you in the nuts. If you like getting hammered in the balls, buy a single point sling.
Now if you are just wandering around houses in a CQB environment and want the ability to keep the gun attached to you, I can see that they would be handy. I do have several around, but I had to laugh when Larry Vickers did a test on single point versus 2-point slings. I was literally counting the times each of them took a groin shot.
I love and use single point slings for CQB type applications or even just as a range safety tool to keep new and old shooters from dropping guns on the ground. But once you start moving fast or climbing over stuff, they become a liability for me.