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  • Frankengun II-The Lightweight

    Posted By on December 22, 2016

    I’ve always toyed with the idea of building a lightweight AR carbine but never got around to it.  Recently while building Frankengun 1 I was looking over my pile of parts I decided I had enough parts to try and build  as light a rifle/carbine as I could get without spending a pile of money on expensive custom parts.  I had not set budget in mind when I started bit I didn’t see spending a lot of money on something that was made simply to play with. When all was said and done I was surprised how inexpensive one could duplicate this rifle. See the Edited to Add at the bottom for prices.

    Piles of parts

    The Upper Parts…

    Upper receiver-I picked up stripped Anderson ” lightweight sporter” upper from AIM last winter while driving through Ohio. This is a flattop but doesn’t have a forward assist or ejection port/dust cover like the A3/M4 flat top uppers have. It does have the shell deflector however.

    Forward assists (aka jam buttons) came about during Vietnam to allow the shooter to seat the bolt when it jammed. Original M16s were not issued with cleaning kits and the powder used at the time tended to foul the action quickly (that’s a long story).  It is debatable whether something that evolved for a full auto rifle out of those circumstances in a jungle war 50 years ago is even relevant  to a civilian rifle today.  The same goes for the ejection port cover.  The absence of those features cuts 2.2 ounces off the weight.  Weight 6.6 oz

    Flat top sporter upper with thin barrel and Cav Arms lower

    Barrel- the barrel is a thin profile 16″ carbine barrel from an earlier build. I bought it from Model 1 Sales back in the 1990s.  Unlike the more common M4 profile that is thick and thin in places, this thin barrel weighs 3.8 ozs less.  Weight: 22.9 oz  Note: there are “pencil” barrels that weigh even less than this barrel. One made by Faxon is said to weigh 19 ozs. It also costs around $180 if you can find one in stock. Palmetto State Armory sells a couple “pencil” barrels, one in stainless and one in black for around $100. Reports are that they weigh around 21 ozs.

    Gas Block-I was kind of surprised that a standard A2 front sight block weighs 4.5 oz. A low profile railed block weights a hefty 7.4 oz. I have an A2 FSB that was cut down my removing the sight part, it weighs 3.4oz. My choice was a short low profile aluminum Trinity Force gas block with a total weight with the gas tube of only 1.4 oz. Bought from sportsmans guide online.

    Gas blocks-R to L Trinity Force Aluminum, A2, rail block and a cut down A2

    Flash Hider: A friend of mine cuts down regular AR flash hiders and then threads them. He uses them as thread protectors and as “mud guards” on various rifles to protect the crown and muzzle. I’ve found they work very well as a mini flash hider. The cut down flash hider is 1.1 oz which is .8 oz lighter than a regular one. You can see the difference in the photo above.  An alternative is to simply use a thread cap/protector or grind/mill the threads off. Why do you need a flash hider on a sporter? You don’t.

    Sights:  It never made sense to me to have light weight rifle or carbine and then hang pounds worth of optics on it. Kind of defeats the point.  Use iron sights.  I had a pair of Magpul BUIS (back up iron sights) on another rifle but I found a similar style of polymer sights on sale at sportsmans guide made by Omega pretty cheap. I will try them. If they work I’ll keep them. The Omegas weigh 2.2 ozs.


    Omega Sights, very light weight

    Hand guards:  One could use conventional hand guards which upon weighing I found the original A1 type hand guards to be the lightest. However, when you add the front sight base, retaining plate, barrel nut and appropriate hardware the weight is over 12 ounces.  I started looking around and found a carbon fiber free float hand guard at Delta Team Tactical.com which is  advertised at 5 ounces for the 12″ long one. I ordered it.  Big surprise upon arrival was that is actually weighed 12.2 ounces with the the full length metal rail, 3 side rails and the barrel nut.  The barrel nut itself weighs 3 ozs. I took all the rails off and without the nut, the tube itself weighs 3 oz.  I took one of the side rails, cut it down and installed it on the top to hold the front sight.  By removing the rails I cut the weight down to 7 ounces. That will work and I don’t think your are going to find a carbon fiber handguard any less expensive.  An  alternative might be to order a shorter aluminum free float rail with key mod or M-lok holes in it. I don’t think it would lighter but it might get close.

    Carbon fiber tube with rails, end cap and barrel nut was over 12 ozs to begin with. Take all the rails off to get the weight down.

    Bolt and Charging Handle:  I used a standard bolt and charging handle. There are light weight bolts available but they tend to cost a lot of money. A standard charging handle with a standard latch is the lightest you are going to find.  I weighed a number of bolts and handles. They averaged about 12.2 ozs

    Lower Parts:

    Lower: The lower was a toss up between a polymer Calvary Arms (acquired in 2008 but now offered by gwacsarmory.com and called the CAV 15) and a conventional aluminum lower built as a carbine. The Cav 15 is a one piece molded unit that includes the stock and pistol grip. Unlike conventional rifle lowers it does not need a separate buffer tube. It also uses a carbine buffer and spring saving additional weight.  A conventional aluminum lower needs a buffer tube, buffer and spring in addition to a stock. The  Cav Arms lower is 23.7 ounces with the spring which is  5.2 ounces lighter than the aluminum lower.  An alternative would be a regular polymer lower but with the buffer tube, pistol grip and stock. I doubt it would be less weight than the Cav Arms.

    Cav Arms (top) vs. metal carbine lower (bottom)

    Buffer and Spring: One of the variables one has to be aware of is the weight of the buffer. Buffers can affect the cycling and operation of the rifle.  I’ve accumulated a number of buffers over the years from various rifles and parts kits. I never paid them much attention as long as the rifle they were in functioned properly.  As I pulled them out of my parts box or various rifles and weighed them I was surprised at the variation in weight. The lightest one was 1.6 oz while the heaviest was 4.6. The others ranged from 2.8-3.4 ozs.  The average buffer is about 3.0 oz.  The 3.4 oz buffer is be considered a “heavy” or H1 buffer while the 4.6 oz is referred to as a H2.   The difference of 3 oz between the lightest and heaviest is significant in terms of total weight but one has to match the buffer to the rifle.  A light buffer in a very light rifle may not necessarily be the best combination in terms of recoil, function, durability etc.  While good for the bottom line weight, this rifle will need to be tested* to find the best buffer.

    Buffers vary widely in weight. Lightest on far left, H1 next to it. The heaviest (H2) is the third from left/black one with the white tip.                                                   

    Lower Parts Kit: I used a standard lower parts kit in my Cav Arms lower.  If one wanted to cut weight even further there are some parts kits that use plastic (polymer) hammers and other parts. There are also some kits that used titanium parts and pins which tend to be very expensive. I am not looking at the ultimate light weight just a functional light rifle made with off the shelf parts.

    The Result

    Put all together I came up with a total weight of 4 lbs 15 oz.  That’s using the lightest buffer I had. Anything else would put it over 5 lbs.  It feels very, very light particularly compared to most other carbines which are over 6 lbs.  I haven’t shot it yet** but plan to in the near future. Overall I was pretty happy at how it turned out and how it looks.  I should also note that the upper can be put on any AR lower so tests with it on a regular carbine lower is also in the works and the subject of another article.

    The end result. A functional sub 5 lb carbine

    Final thoughts: The only other thing this lightweight needs is a sling and some ammo. To keep it light as possible my thought is to get a 1″ wide light weight nylon strap, add a plastic buckle and then attach it with paracord loops. Can’t get much lighter than that. To keep with the light weight sporter theme, a 5 or 10 round flush fitting plastic mag would be light to carry. Remember this is a sporter rifle not a battle rifle.

    So how practical is this rifle? I think it kind of depends on one’s expectations. It might be practical as a walk in the woods rifle, or a carry on a horse, bicycle,  ATV, motorcycle or bush plane. Perhaps it would be useful on a long trek on foot where weight is a consideration.  It might have some use for a child or small person to shoot and handle though less weight means more recoil. From that standpoint it might serve useful as a carry often, shoot seldom type tool.

    **UPDATE 4/14/17- The rifle has been fired and tested and went through 140 rounds without a problem. It is quite mild and fun to shoot.

    *The light weight buffer functioned perfectly.

    Edited to Add….

    I’ve been asked about how much it cost to build this rifle. It is kind of hard to tell since I already had many of the parts which were taken from other things. I will however attempt to break it down if you had to buy all the parts today.  I didn’t intend this to be a budget build but it just turned out that way.

    Cav Arms lower and lower parts kit-$179– Note: these are now offered here http://www.gwacsarmory.com/cav-15-mkii-ar15-polymer-stripped-lower-receiver-black-ar-15/. They are $129 plus shipping plus transfer fee, plus you need a lower parts kit ($40+), approximate total $179. I would guess with shipping and transfer cost the actual price would be just over $200.  UPDATE 4/14/17…check for blemished Cav 15 lowers frow gwacsarmory for $85.

    Another option is the New Frontier polymer lower. https://newfrontierarmory.com/shop/lw-15-complete-polymer-lower-receiver/  These are $129 plus shipping and transfer fee. They are complete and include the lower parts. Almost everything on it is plastic and is lighter than the Cav Arms. Problem is they are rarely in stock.

    Upper stripped receiver-Anderson Lightweight Sporter  $39   http://www.aimsurplus.com/product.aspx?item=XANA3LWT  Add shipping. They are frequently out of stock but you can get on their notify list . They are sometimes available elsewhere at a higher cost. Another alternative is a complete slab sided upper from various makers. Prices vary widely but are usually much higher than the Anderson.  I would prefer a slick side upper without the shell deflector but couldn’t pass up the price of the Anderson. UPDATE 4/14/17-these are back in stock as of the update.

    Barrel-$90  http://palmettostatearmory.com/psa-16-mid-length-5-56-nato-1-7-ss-pencil-barrel-5-56-nato-1-7-freedom.html.  The Freedom line is PSA’s budget line.  This barrel uses a .625 gas block unlike the .750 on  mine.  They also have black pencil barrel for $10 more. You can still buy a light weight barrel assembly from Model 1 sales but they are around $200 with shipping. Another alternative is the ultra light Faxon bbl for about the same price. I would go with the PSA bbl. If this barrel had been available when I started this build I probably would have bought it and kept the original barrel as an A1 Carbine.

    Low Pro Gas Block – $20 UPDATE 4/14/17  PSA now has .625 gas blocks for their barrels.  Not aluminum but they will do. Delta Team Tactical now has aluminum .750 gas blocks

    Mid length tube $8.00 https://www.deltateamtactical.com/Mid-Length-Stainless-Steel-Gas-Tube-AR15-AR-15_p_4578.html  or get one from PSA when you order the barrel and gas block

    Carbon Fiber Free Float Handguard-$48  https://www.deltateamtactical.com/Carbon-fiber-Free-Float-Hand-Guard-12-Rifle-length-_p_4182.html

    Back Up Iron Sights-$14  https://www.deltateamtactical.com/Omega-Mfg-Inc-Polymer-Backup-Sight-Set-Black-For-Picatinny-Rails_p_4472.html

    Bolt/carrier and Charging Handle-$110                          AIM Surplus has a light weight bolt/carrier 8.9 oz-$110. http://www.aimsurplus.com/product.aspx?item=XAIMBCGN3LW&name=Light+Weight+AIM+AR+.223%2f5.56+Nitride+9310+MPI+Bolt+Carrier+Group&search=bolt+carrier

    Buffer and Spring-$17  https://www.deltateamtactical.com/OMEGA-MFG-Universal-Fit-Buffer-Spring-Endplate-Castle-Nut-Kit–For-Buffer-Tube-Mil-Com-_p_4238.html  Don’t really need the tube, end plate, castle nut for this build but this is about as cheap as you are going to find a buffer and spring. UPDATE 4/14/17- Deltateamtactical now offers buffers and springs separately.

    Flash Hider-$9  https://www.deltateamtactical.com/Omega-Mfg-AR-15-12×28-TPI-GI-Bird-Cage-Flash-HIder-556-223-A2_p_4632.html. An alternative is a simply a thread protector. or grind/turn the threads off your barrel. You don’t really need a flash hider on a lightweight rifle.

    Delta Team Tactical has free shipping over $100 if you order all that stuff at the same time.


    -Prices are rounded up to the nearest full dollar.

    -Total cost does not include shipping costs, lower receiver transfer fees, taxes or tools need to build. I would estimate at least $100 more for the above taxs/fees/shipping etc.

    -Total weight may be different than mine since I couldn’t find exact matches for what I used like the buffer and gas block. You can take weight out of a standard buffer to cut weight. The flash hider is full size not cut down like mine. You might try a thread protector to cut weight.

    -It is likely that one could also save some weight by ordering a plastic lower parts kit from New Frontier. Good luck finding them in stock however.


    Just Another Old Gun

    Posted By on December 11, 2016

    A friend of my son brought over a badly rusted .22 rifle and asked if I could fix it. The rifle belonged to his father and had been left in a flooded basement and was inoperable. The action was frozen shut and I said I didn’t know if I could get it running again. It was put away and frankly I forgot all about it.

    At some point I field stripped it and took some photos of it, probably so I could remember how it went back together when I took it apart to fix it.

    Rusty and frozen shut


    That was several years ago and I recently uncovered the rifle which at some point I had taken apart and cleaned up. It took me awhile but I finally got it back together. Looking at the model number on the barrel I learned that the rifle, a tube fed semi auto .22  is a Stevens Model 87M.

    Gonna need some TLC to get this one running again.


    I was able to find a diagram of it and then found some history.  The Stevens Firearms company which was then recently bought by Savage Arms started making the model 87  in 1938.   Savage made well over a million under various names and other model numbers including the Savage model 6 and Springfield name. They also made them for Sears, Wards and other private label companies.  As the design was updated a letter designation was added starting with A.  The one I worked on was a letter M which was made in 1966 and near the end of production in 1968.

    Not totally rusted. There is hope


    An interesting aspect of the 87 and variations is the vents on the side of the receiver. The 87M had two vents on the left side and one on the right. Other variations had as many as 6 vents on either side. I’m not sure of the reason for them but flames shoot out the side when the rifle is fired. Another interesting feature of the 87 is that when fired, the bolt stays open if you hold the trigger back.  It slams forward when you release/reset the trigger. Apparently this gave them the nick name of “old clickity clack” back in the day.  The 87M is marked to shoot longs, long rifles and high speed shorts. The bolt can be locked closed for shooting shorts and operated like a bolt action.  The bolt can also be locked in the open position. Many variations of the 87 had a small safety lever on the right side of the receiver, the M version has a tang mounted sliding button as a safety. Another feature of the M not found on some of the others is a shell deflector just behind the ejection port.

    Up and running again

    While I was able to get this one up and running again, the metal surfaces are badly pitted. I did not refinish the metal but options include rebluing it, cold blueing it or perhaps using a spray on/bake on finish like Duracoat. It will be up to the owner to decide.

    Not pretty but it works

    Barrel and tube are pitted









    What’s it worth?

    Like everything else something is only worth what someone is willing to pay. This rifle is functional and frankly kind of fun to shoot but not in very good condition. It has sentimental value to it’s owner but no collector value.  As a functional semi auto .22 rifle in this day and age,  it’s probably worth $75.

    Overall I was kind of pleased that I got an old rifle up and running again and learned some new firearm history along the way.

    Deutsches Sportsmodell

    Posted By on December 4, 2016

    German Sports Model training rifles

    When I was growing up my father had a single shot .22 rifle that the family simply referred to as “that German training rifle.”  I  didn’t know much about German rifles and always assumed it was a Mauser of some kind. It was only recently when my dad suffered a stroke and I got his guns for safe keeping that I took a close look at it and did some research and learned about DSM34s.

    My father's DSM34

    DSM 34s are one of the more curious rifles that came out of WWII though didn’t actually serve in the war. It was a rifle used to train German troops prior to the war. The DSM 34 has an interesting if somewhat obscure history.

    In 1933, soon after taking power the NAZIs consolidated all shooting sports and clubs. They soon set up a consortium of arms makers to manufacture small caliber rifles that resembled the Mauser bolt action rifle which was then being developed.  The primary maker was Mauser but included companies like Erma, JGA, Geco, Walther and BSW/Simson as part of the consortium.

      Note the original leather sling

    These small caliber rifles was ostensibly to be used by the various sports clubs around Germany to teach marksmanship to the population.   By 1934 however they were primarily  designed to replicate the feel and look of the Mauser rifle which the German army would be using in the future.  To get around rearmament treaties the rifles were called Deutsche Sportmodell  (German Sport Model) now commonly called the DSM 34 for the date they were introduced.

    Hundreds of thousands of DSM34s were in use by 1935 but the German government wanted an updated and more accurate replica of the Mauser so many of the smaller companies who made them dropped out. By 1937 an updated version called the Klein Kaliber Wehrsportgewehr (roughly translated as “sub caliber sports rifle”) or KKW was adopted and replaced the DSM34,

    My dad’s rifle was made by MENZ which was a small manufacturer who was known for the Lilliput pistol prior to making these rifles.  Unlike the manufacturers listed above, Menz was not a part of the consortium but simply bought a license to manufacture DSM. While Mauser made hundreds of thousands of these trainers,  MENZ only made 5,000 rifles in 1934 & 35.  According to  “experts” on the K98 forum, only a few dozen  MENZ rifles  are thought to have survived the war.

    img_0840  Dad’s rifle is serial number 1000. Caliber 5.4mm AKA as .22 rimfire. This rifle will shoot .22 shorts, longs and long rifle ammo.

    The DSMs are single shot and are a scaled down version of the K98. They came with leather sling and a non functional short metal rod in the fore stock which is used to simulate the look of the cleaning rod found on military rifles.

    The origin of this particular rifle is somewhat obscure. During and after the war many rifles were liberated from Germany or sold as surplus.  It is unlikely that many DSM34s were actually used in combat as .22 caliber ammo was not a high priority when larger calibers were needed. It may be that Hitler Youth groups were armed with them or perhaps civilians used them as last ditch weapons. There is no evidence of that happening that I’ve found. Rather it is more likely that these rifles, like most other weapons after the war were simply rounded up and stockpiled.

    Many were taken by GI’s returning home.  Those were sometimes called “duffle bag” guns. “Duffle bag” rifles often are recognizable because in order to fit inside a duffle bag when disassembled the last 11″ of the forearm of the stock had to be cut off. As such the end of the stock, the top wood hand guard and the rod were often missing.   GI’s were interested in them as souvenirs not collectibles.

    Vintage rear but not original peep sight

    Vintage rear but not original peep sight

    Many rifles were simply destroyed and many others were saved and sold as surplus after the war. Surplus rifles were very abundant and cheap well into the 1960s. My dad seems to think that his cousin, who was in the army brought this one home and that he got it from him. Other times he says he may have simply bought it at a hardware store.   He did say the when he got it, it had a rear peep sight on it which he kept (thankfully).  Rear peep sights were not original so this one was likely added after the war. Not good for collecting but certainly good for shooting. These rifles tend to be very accurate and a good peep sight helps.

    So, what’s it worth?

    Vintage peep sight has some value in itself

    Vintage peep sight has some value in itself

    Value can be all over the place with these types of rifles. MENZ was a small manufacturer and only made 5000  with only a couple dozen are thought to have survived. That makes this one more rare than some others and thus desirable to some collectors.

    In addition, the fact that it is intact, has the cleaning rod, top wood hand guard and originalleather sling adds to the value.

    On the other hand, the peep sight necessitated drilling holes in the top of the receiver. Those are not original and are unsightly which detracts from the value.  However, the vintage rear sight itself is collectable in itself.

    I have not had it appraised but I would guess the value to be around $800 give or take a C note.

    The value to me of course is that it belongs to my father and is an interesting part of history. I am unlikely to ever part with it.

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