Story and Photographs by Brian Hormberg
Did you know that replacing the factory gas block on your AR-15 with an adjustable gas block can improve your rifle’s performance? Such as:
What is a Gas Block?
The typical factory gas block is pinned onto the barrel in front of the polymer handguard as part of the front sight assembly. If your rifle features a free-float aluminum handguard, then the gas block is typically a low-profile type that fits under that handguard. The job of the gas block is to take some of the hot gas from behind the bullet that comes through a gas port in the barrel, and direct it into the gas tube which drives the bolt carrier and cycles the action.
Most gas blocks on factory AR-15s are fixed, meaning they just provide a path for the gas from the barrel to the gas tube. With a fixed gas block, all the gas and pressure that comes out of the gas port in the barrel will be used to cycle the action.
In most AR-type rifles there is intentionally more gas than needed, so that if the gun gets dirty, it will continue to cycle.
But often this overgassed situation is more than is really needed, adding to the recoil and increasing wear on parts. That’s where adjustable gas blocks come in. They provide a way to cut off a portion of the gas flow so the action can be driven less forcefully.
The Gas Block History
The concept of an adjustable-gas system has been around for quite a while. Competition shooters using M1 Garand rifles, a semiauto first used in the US military in 1936, found utility in adjustable gas plugs to regulate the cycling of the action by letting out a little extra gas.
Perhaps the most prolific use was in the FN-FAL (Fabrique Nationale-Fusil Automatique Légerseries, a Belgium manufacturer) rifles developed after World War II. On the FNs, the amount of gas released out of the gas cylinder as the piston was cycling could be adjusted by hand, which controlled how much gas pressure was applied to the piston.
This is similar to what the M1 competition shooters were doing with their adjustable gas plugs.
The normal procedure is to tune down the gas pressure until the gun doesn’t fully cycle, then tune it up one click at a time until it cycles reliably, then go a few clicks further for reliability and you’ll be in the optimal zone. This way the gun is reliable with the least amount of recoil and stress possible, and it can be tuned to a specific type of ammunition as well.
Gas Blocks Today
This same concept is now being applied to the AR-15 and AR-10 family of rifles with modern adjustable gas blocks. The difference is on an AR-15 the gas adjustment cuts off some of the gas flow coming from the barrel instead of letting more of it out after it passes through the gas block, as on the FN-FAL and M1. Early adjustable gas blocks on AR-15s simply used a small metering screw on the side of the gas block that cut off gas flow as you screwed it in. The further you screwed it in, the less gas flow there was.
Once adjusted, the screws were kept in place either by using Loctite or by just letting some carbon build up on the screw to hold it in place. This worked pretty well in practice and has been used by AR-15, 3-Gun shooters for years, but didn’t gain wide acceptance. In the past few years new designs have emerged that have taken the concept to the next level and improved shooter appeal.
Brass locking screws have been added to ensure adjustments stay put without using Loctite, and low-profile versions have been made so they can fit under free-float forearms. Designing them to fit under most of the popular rail systems is a big plus for modern AR builders. Eventually, the desire for lockable settings was solved with spring-loaded detents that were used to lock adjustments in place with audible clicks.
This made it possible to adjust the gas block under the handguard in the field by a known amount and have it automatically lock in place. For those wanting a more mil-spec (military specification or standards) type solution, this was very appealing and has brought these adjustable gas blocks into a far wider acceptance.
You’re probably wondering what difference would it really make in your gun’s performance if you used one of these. Well, there are three:
1) You can tune your rifle to run just as hard as is really needed, and by doing so you will experience less recoil and less movement of your sights off target, so your follow-up shots can be faster. What’s happening is that your bolt carrier group will cycle hard enough to extract, eject and feed reliably, but it won’t slam to a stop as hard at the rear of its stroke.
2) There will be less stress on your operating parts because they are not running any harder than necessary. It’s like running your car engine at lower revolutions per minute. Don’t worry, it will not feel slower while shooting.
3) Since you will be cutting off some of the gas going into the bolt carrier group, it’s common to get less carbon build-up in your bolt carrier and on your bolt. This will cause your gun to run cleaner, which can result in better reliability and easier cleaning.
All of these benefits are worthwhile for the shooter who wants to get all the performance possible from his or her rifle.
So how easy are they to install? If you are familiar with AR builds and installing gas blocks, then installing one of these is the same thing.
For those unfamiliar, it will require removing your flash hider or muzzle brake, removing your handguard, unpinning and removing your factory gas block and installing the new one using set screws or clamping screws to lock it into place. Then you reinstall your handguard and muzzle device. These days, with all the AR-15 home builders out there, this is pretty common knowledge, and the skills required are basic-level gunsmithing.
If you aren’t comfortable with this, find a reputable gunsmith who is proficient in AR builds; this will be an inexpensive gunsmithing job. There is no fitting required; it just involves taking off some parts and then reinstalling some parts. Adjustable gas blocks can be installed on any AR-15 or AR-10 rifle of any caliber or barrel length, as long as it uses a standard gas tube system. ASJ
By Brian Hormberg
One of the pioneers in the adjustable gas block concept is JP Enterprises, a well-known manufacturer of top-of-the-line race guns for 3-Gun competition. They made an entire system of it by combining adjustable gas blocks with low-mass bolt carriers and low-mass buffers. This concept called for lower reciprocating mass in the moving parts which needed lower gas pressure to run at the right speed. Adjustable gas blocks made this concept possible. The result is even less movement of the gun during firing and even faster recovery from the shot, which is a big advantage in competition. Low-mass systems are normally recommended for competition guns versus duty guns, since a full-mass system can run better when really dirty.
JP makes their adjustable gas blocks in several formats, including ones with rails on top of the gas block, fixed front-sight models, and low-profile units with lock screws that go under handguards. Syrac Ordnance and SLR Rifleworks are two companies that have recently introduced low-profile, click-adjustable models that can be easily adjusted from the front under the forearm. These are especially well suited to those who want a quick, predictable gas setting change when they switch from subsonic to supersonic or when going from suppressed to unsuppressed. The Syrac Ordnance model is completely self-contained, while the SLR Rifleworks model is designed for easy disassembly and cleaning. Both are small enough to fit under the thinnest aluminum forearm systems.
Another recent trend is to offer this same capability in a piston-driven format in addition to the more common direct gas design. If you like the idea of a piston-driven operating system and like the idea of adjustable gas settings, you can now have both together. The adjustable piston systems can be retrofitted to existing AR-15s or included in new builds just like the other gas blocks and provide the same advantages. The adjustable piston systems include a gas block, gas piston and a complete bolt-carrier group, in addition to the gas block itself to ensure compatibility. Low-profile versions are now in production from Adams Arms and Syrac Ordnance, and which allow you to fit an adjustable gas piston system under a wider selection of rail forearms than ever before possible and with the adjustment capability.
As more shooters become aware of the advantages of adjustable gas systems, they will likely continue to increase in popularity. All of this is another example of the incredibly wide selection of parts, designs and options available to today’s AR shooter. The operation and performance of the rifle can be customized and tuned to an amazing level, and is only limited by your imagination.
Here’s some tips for tuning your AR-15 adjustable gas block from Jesse Tishcauser of Optics Planet.
We can all agree that the AR15 platform are not only reliable but are great at short ranges from 0 to 300 yards.
But what if you want to reach out further to 400 yards and beyond? For this larger cartridge, would the AR be able to deliver the same punch as its cousin the .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor? Obviously, the AR10 specifically the Aero Precision M5E1 comes to mind if you need a bigger caliber.
AR platforms have attracted many shooters from plinkers, hunters to long range competitive shooters. Even women are into AR’s due to its lightweight system.
Before making the decision to go with an AR10 or AR15, lets take a look at the comparisons and some questions surrounding the AR10 and AR15.
Are AR10 and AR15 stocks the same?
The AR15 and AR10 are quite similar in design, in handling, and in function. The main difference between the two is the size of the rifle.
Are AR15 and AR10 triggers interchangeable?
Most AR15 triggers will physically fit and function in a current AR-10 and 308AR rifle. However the reason AR-10 and 308 AR specific triggers exist is for one main reason, military primers. The primers in military ammo often require more energy to ignite the primer than .223/5.56 ammunition.
Can I use a 308 upper on an AR15 lower?
Similar in operation, AR-10s have a longer magazine well to fit the longer .308 cartridge, so a .308 upper would generally be too long to fit on a stock .223/5.56 lower.
Can I use AR15 buffer tube on AR10?
Yes, you will need to use either the carbine AR-15 carbine lower receiver extension (buffer tube) with an AR-10 spring and a shorter AR-10 buffer (to allow for the longer AR-10 bolt carrier group) or an AR-15 stock and the AR-10 buffer tube (but it will not collapse all the way).
What calibers fit in an AR10 lower?
Can you use an AR15 lower with an AR10 Upper?
Not like the AR-15, some AR-10 parts are not interchangeable between brands. In today’s market, Armalite style and DPMS style are the two most popular specification that manufacturers use when making AR10s. These two AR-10 platforms are not the only .308 AR platforms available but they do dominate the market.
Are all AR15 barrels interchangeable?
Yes, you can swap out the barrel of your AR 15 for a new one. … If your firearm is “mil spec,” or military standard—as a majority of AR15s are—you should be able to swap out your existing barrel for another “mil spec” barrel.
The AR10 rifle is an air-cooled lightweight rifle that is gas operated and comes with the 7.62mm (.308) barrel.
uses the standardized 7.62x51mm loads and has a standard 20-round detachable magazine box.
It weighs between 3.29kgs and 4.05kgs, without the magazine and ammo. The super-lightweight feature was as a result of the use of aluminum alloy. The metal parts were save for the steel bolt, barrel and bolt carrier group.
With its direct gas impingement mechanism where the propellant gas goes through the rifle’s cylinder that runs parallel with the gun barrel thereby impinging the bolt carrier mechanism.
This produces a high cyclic fire rate of about 700 rounds per minute with a 2,772 FPS/ 845 m/s muzzle velocity.
This rifle employs the same “direct gas impingement” as the one used on AR10s.
Which results in 800 rounds per minute from this gun, with a muzzle velocity of 3200 FPS or 975 m/s being realized to a maximum effective range of about 600 yards.
Whereas the AR10 features the .308 Win or 7.62x51mm NATO chamber, the AR15 features the .223 or 5.65 x 45mm chambers.
In the AR10 platform, it is unsafe to load the .308 in a 7.62x51mm chamber but the .308 chamber can accept the 7.62x51mm loads. Similarly, you can load .223 cartridges in a 5.65 x 45 chamber of the AR15 but not the inverse.
For those using both AR’s, here are some parts that are commonly interchangeable between the two:
Who’s the Winner?
This is a question that is nearly impossible and hard to answer.
The reason is that these are both quality rifles that gives the users many advantages when using the AR platform.
So determining which one is the clear winner would definitely have to factor in how good the user is.
They both are lightweight rifles that used advance gas impingement systems to increase their rate of fire and muzzle velocity.
Each one also has a variety of ways in which they can be configure. This allows them to be tailored to meet each individual shooters needs.
As far as hunting big game goes the AR-10 most definitely would have the advantage over the AR-15.
In a wide open shot situation its extra length would not be much of a factor.
It also has greater one shot stopping power than the AR 15 does. Its heavier bullets can travel long distances fairly accurately too.
In a tactical situation the AR-15 definitely will give you the edge. AR15 is lighter and more maneuverable than its AR 10 predecessor.
It’s deadly accurate over shorter distances. The high rate of fire and increased muzzle velocity will also allow you to put many rounds into a target at a faster rate.
In short neither of these weapons has any major drawbacks that would prevent you from using them for hunting, target shooting or in a personal defense situation.
They both are accurate and rapid shooting weapons that are extremely deadly in the hands of a skilled shooter.
That is why there is no clear winner to be found between the two AR’s.
Whats do you all think?
It could be a fun weekend shooting with friends, a 3-gun competition, civil disturbance, or zombie apocalypse (I know, so overdone). Guns get dirty, carbon builds up in all the typical places and guns lose accuracy and reliability. A quick in-the-field cleaning can keep guns running smoothly and accurately so you don’t find yourself without an operational gun when things are at their worse or best depending on how you look at it.
I’ve seen many articles on AR’s, but few on cleaning. Over the last few years, there have been numerous tools introduced to facilitate easier cleaning of the bolts and carrier groups and I wanted to compare them side by side to see if they worked and if they worked, how well? I called Brownells (who else) and promptly received a package which included:
These items along with 20 boxes of Wolf .223 steel case, military classic ammo which felt dirty, so it was perfect for my project, a few boxes of hand loads from a friend (thanks Ted), and various leftovers from previous range sessions in both 5.56 and .223, I was ready to go.
For the evaluations, I needed to shoot. I used my Spikes Tactical 10.5” SBR with a Nickel-Boron bolt group plus a second bolt and carrier, borrowed from my 10” Spikes 300 Blackout, also Nickel-Boron. I then walked 100-yards to the backyard rifle and pistol range – I know, it’s a rough life. Within 10 minutes I was sent away for scaring the crap (literally) out of the wife’s new foster dog. Darnit
A half an hour later I arrived at the public range and started over. I shot 100 rounds then swapped bolts and carriers and as an added bonus, I twisted on an Advanced Armament 7.62 SD suppressor to increase the gas and pressure to the carrier, hopefully making it a bit more carbon coated (remind me to use this when shooting in the backyard). The nickel boron bolt groups performed well and I had no failures from the Spikes rifle. It digested all the various types of ammo with only a few failures-to-feed from the Wolf ammo but surprisingly the accuracy was really good.
The Clean Up
Cat M-4 Cleaning Tool
Pro – Small, simple one piece design, no moving parts. Bonus screw driver tip holder. Good performance and lightweight. It could be worn by women to attract the right type of guy.
Con – Not perfect. The Cat M-4 didn’t get all the carbon from the back of the carrier.
Pros – Also small, compact, fits easily into the little OTIS cleaning kits. It did a reasonable job on the bolt and a great job on the carrier. Just as with the CAT, it could be worn by a woman as a pendant to attract the right type of man.
Cons – The bone bolt cleaning end felt a bit loose to me.
CRT-15 Carbon Removal Tool for AR-15
Pro – Was the best at getting the carbon off the bolt. It was odd at first applying pressure to the small arm, but easy enough.
Con – Small arm may break off and the carrier recess did not get it as clean as the others.
Brownells AR-15 Radius Bolt Scraper
Pro – Did a great job on the bolt tail, removing most of the carbon the first time.
Con – This is a larger tool and better suited for the workshop. Only one function.
Mark Brown custom AR-15 Bolt Carrier carbon scraper
Pro – This did a great job cleaning the carrier recess.
Cons – This is also a large tool and best suited for the workshop. Only one function.
Conclusion: Size matters. All the tools did a good job knocking the excess carbon from the bolts and carriers. Used in the field I have no doubts that all of them would keep your AR’s running strong. Special thanks to Brownells for an outragous amount of support for this article.
About the author
Rick Ross is a NRA Life member, GSSF and IDPA competitor and AR enthusiast. He is not a Rapper.
Editors note: Rick Ross is an independent reviewer and contributor for American Shooting Journal and at times, a known goof ball.
Manufacturer are getting more resourceful, every year we get a new round that’s been declared the latest and greatest. The 6.8 SPC, the 6.5 Grendel, and we’ve seen the rise of the .224 Valkyrie. These rounds have a shelf life similar to the shelf life of freshly baked bread.
One round that have stood out is the 300 Blackout. In fact, it’s simply grown in popularity. The round introduction came at the best time!
If you’re not into the details, here are some top .300 Blackout Ammo for the many different purposes:
|Best Plinking/Training||Magtech AAC Blackout||123gn|
|Good for Suppressed/Subsonic||Sellier & Bellot Subsonic||200gn|
|Best for Hunting||Barnes Vor-Tx||110gn|
|Best Home Defense||Fiocchi SST||125gn|
As the shooting industry was beginning to lean towards short rifles and suppressors – the 300 Blackout just so happened to be designed for short barreled rifles, and you can suppress it as well. Timing was right for the .300 Blackout round.
Initially designed for the military, the civilian market caught on real quick. The 300 Blackout functions perfectly in an AR-15 platform with hardly any changes, this makes it inexpensive to adopt and easy to test out.
So what about the ammo?
The fact that the 300 Blackout is a versatile round its best to look at its purpose. Here’s some 300 Blackout ammo on the market.
300 Blackout is slowly becoming a more affordable round. It may be nowhere near as cheap as 223 or 7.62×39, but the price has been dropping steadily. The price used to be near a dollar a round, that is like seriously throwing away your money every time you pull the trigger.
Magtech First Defense 123gn 300 BLK – 500 rounds
Good thing prices have dropped, you can now get it for under a dollar a round. Now for the non reloaders you can check out Magtech First Defense and Fiocchi 300 AAC Blk.
This 123-grain FMJ ammo is one out on the market thats affordable, reliable and easy to shoot.
Supersonic ammunition and flies forward at a blistering 2230 feet per second, the ammo uses premium brass cases and high-quality FMJ projectiles.
This is very basic ammunition designed to function reliably and accurately for all your training needs, perfect to be bought in bulk.
When it comes to purely plinking you can trust some lower quality rounds.
Magtech consistently makes quality ammunition.
When the times comes to put lead downrange regardless of the reasons you’ll be hearing bangs and not clicks. This ammo is a solid choice for general fun gunning, tactical training, three gun, and more.
One of the best things about the 300 Blackout round is the fact it’s superbly versatile. The rounds can range greatly in weight from light 90-grain supersonic loads to 220-grain subsonic baseball bats.
Sellier & Bellot 200gn Subsonic 300 BLK – 500 Rounds
When it comes to a suppressor slower is better. A subsonic round lacks that supersonic crack. A suppressor only stops the blast at the muzzle end of the gun. It does nothing for the supersonic crack.
A subsonic load through a suppressor is nice and quiet. Nowhere near movie quiet, but quiet enough to be hearing safe.
One solid subsonic load for the suppressor enthusiast is the Sellier and Bellot 200 Grain FMJs and Hornady Subsonic 190 grain Flex Tip.
These are on the lighter side of subsonic loads, so they move a little faster than the 220 grains and this translates into a little extra energy.
The lighter loads are chugging along at only 1,060 feet per second.
With rounds like this, you are getting performance a little better than a 45 ACP round. Slow is smooth, and smooth is basically a handgun round. It’s one of the joys of the 300 Blackout platform. It’s effectively suppressed at the cost of the long-range ability.
Swap in a magazine full of supersonics and bam you got your long-range performance back at the sacrifice of getting a little louder.
I personally hunt with an AR-15 and don’t see an issue with it, but the 300 Blackout has found its way into guns like the Ruger American rifle. It’s a great hunting cartridge and can be used both in a suppressed platform and a loud platform.
Barnes VOR-TX Tipped Triple-Shock X Hollow Point 110gn 300 BLK – 20 Rounds
The only thing you need to consider when using 300 BLK to hunt with is that it offers a limited range, 200 yards for supersonic ammo and 150 yards or less for subsonic ammo.
When it comes to hunting I’d stick with a supersonic cartridge.
They fly further, hit harder, and are much more capable of quickly killing your game of choice. There are a number of different hunting cartridges out there for the 300 Blackout, but one that’s proven is from Barnes.
As it penetrates it’s also going to open up and expand. As it expands it leaves a wake of destruction which increases your chances of a one hit kill. This is a humane round that will put a deer down without issue.
Barnes is a premium ammo and it comes at a premium price, but the pay off is ethical hunting and that makes it worth the extra cents.
A suppressed, short barreled rifle is a mighty good home defense device. Even if you subtract the short-barreled part a semi-automatic rifle is a helluva way to deal with things that go bump in the night.
To do so you need the right ammo. A standard FMJ isn’t going to do it. They pass through walls, furniture, and everything else a little too easy. Plus, they aren’t the most efficient “man stopper”.
For this the Fiocchi 300 Blackout load is perfect. This is brass cased premium round loaded with one bad projectile. The projectile is from Hornady and weighs 125 grains.
Fiocchi SST 125gn 300 BLK – 25 rounds
Prices accurate at time of writing
The projectile is a Super Shock Tip projectile. It reaches 2,200 feet per second and is designed to deliver controlled expansion at high velocities.
A lot of times a company hypes their ammo a bit, what I like about the Fiocchi SST is that it actually has some solid reasons backing it up:
A magazine of two of these bad boys is going to be one helluva solution to whatever problems you may have.
Using a rifle for self-defense does require plenty of practice and if you make that decision you need practice.
Make sure you get both a good self-defense round and a lot of ammo to train with.
If you noticed my selection for training ammo was a 123-grain round and my choice for a self-defense round is 125 grains – I do this so that the recoil and operation will be as close as possible without having to spend the money on mass amounts of high-end ammo.
The 300 Blackout is a modern little cartridge that absolutely rules the 0-300-yard range. It’s potent, powerful versatile, and popular enough to give you a wide selection of rifles to choose from.
You can do a lot with a 300 Blackout rifle, and the task you choose is going to determine the ammo you need. So its important to pair up the right ammo for the task.
The post original idea first appeared on Pew Pew Tactical.
At one time back in the day, inside most police cars were equipped with an M-870 shotgun. Then theres an odd ball patrolman with his AR with .223 caliber. Which patrolman has the advantage?
The logic behind the usage of an AR stems from situations where a firearm needed for greater range than a shotgun.
So the debate begins, shotgun folks talk about having the knock down power to stop the fight with its 00 buck. AR’s with its high velocity and more firepower in terms of 20 rounds – 30 rounds magazine capacity.
Using either firearm we can make a perfect case as the weapon of choice to have for personal defense. In order for us to decide in an un-biased environment, a test should be conducted for validation. We can do this by pitting the two guns in a side by side shootout.
There needs to be a determination that each gun should be fired at the same target and at the same range. Because the idea is to ascertain some kind of combat effectiveness under stress, a time limit needs to be establish on each stage.
This test was based from Wiley Clapp test out on Gunsite where he had two Range Masters both skilled with the shotgun and AR go through this special course of fire. (Bill Murphy – shotgun and Vince Morgan – AR-15)
This course of fire were as follow:
A shooter armed with respective firearm would engage a silhouette at various ranges. First at 15 yards, then 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards. At the command of a whistle the shooter would have 3 seconds to fire off as many rounds as possible onto the target.
Without looking at the facts but common firearm knowledge of the two weapons. Shotgun at close range would have more hits, but at greater range the carbine would have more.
Within the shooting circle it is understood using anything like a .73 caliber, soft lead hollow-base bullet weighing 437 grain, traveling 1,325 fps at 25 yards will pack a punch. This punch when hitting a torso will instantly stop the fight.
Another thing to note from the test was that both range masters were supplied with stock guns. If you didn’t know, stock shotguns does not come with rear sights. So obviously, the test resulted that the AR was dominant at greater range.
Another perspective or to implement, if you were to put on some Red Dot sights for the shotgun and check out the wider use of slugs. I’m willing to bet at intermediate ranges from 50 to 100 yards the shotgun would fare well. Which is perfect for personal defense, then again that’s our opinion whats yours? Let us know below in the comment section.Here’s another version of this test from Youtuber DRFTraining. DRFTraining demonstrate the difference in the number of projectiles fired from the EVIL assaulty and killy AR-15 vs a standard pump shotgun.
Sources: GunSite, Wiley Clapp, Bill Murphy, Vince Morgan, DRFTraining
Are PSA’s low prices too good to be true?
For years I’ve heard of Palmetto State Armory and their ultra-affordable AR-15s. The only negative things were some finishing issues and shipping delays here and there.
But… for a long time I was a little obsessed with name brands and scoffed at sub-$500 rifles.
I finally bit the bullet…
I got three of their uppers (16″ 5.56 with front sight block, 16″ 5.56 free-float rail, 18″ stainless .223 Wylde), one of their lowers, and shot a lot of rounds through them.
By the end you’ll know if a PSA rifle/upper is right for you…and the best model to get based on your use.
Table of Contents
PSA sent me these three uppers and one lower for testing.
But they are going through the same testing procedures I do for all my other guns.
And at a higher round count since reliability is key when I recommend more budget-friendly options.
I spoke with PSA and the reason their AR-15s are so affordable is due to full vertical integration. From raw metal to the finished product…they do it themselves.
PSA has their Freedom line which is their most affordable and is pretty much mil-spec (meets military specifications).
However, like I outlined in our AR-15 Buyer’s Guide…I like a mid-length gas system way better than the standard carbine-length.
It gives you more rail space and a softer shooting impulse since the gas tube is longer and gas block is more forward.
Unless you’re going for the pure M4 look…I’d opt for something in the mid-length arena. Or at least their Magpul MOE furniture models so you can add some rails in the future.
For my upper with a FSB (front sight block…that triangle thing you see above), I went with a 16″ mid-length Magpul model and Nitride-coated barrel.
This gives me a longer handguard (with M-LOK), ability to add rails, Magpul rear flip sight, and a nicer barrel finish compared to phosphate.
Since it has a pinned FSB…it’s a little front-heavy….but that’s the nature of the beast. The FSB is pinned well and the handguard is really on there. You can see my segment of Picatinny I added to the handguard’s M-LOK attachment points.
The next upper would be my favorite overall setup. 16″ mid-length with a 13.5″ M-LOK free-floating barrel and Nitride barrel.
Now you get the benefit of not having a FSB which helps the weight balance, and also having a free-floating handguard that increases accuracy by taking away contact points on the barrel.
For absolute reliability I’d still opt for the FSB model…but free-float AR’s are now the standard, you can attach a lot of stuff, and the gas block is really on there.
The last model is the 18″ .223 Wylde which is a relatively new chambering that will shoot BOTH 5.56 and .223 but offers a slight accuracy edge. Usually you’ll see the more accurate barrels in stainless which is what we have here.
This comes in an even softer shooting rifle-length gas system and 15″ M-LOK free-floating rail.
All came with mil-spec A2 bird-case flash-hiders that were installed correctly and didn’t require superhuman strength to take off and switch for some compensators.
PSA seems to have three tiers of barrels.
The two 5.56 uppers I received were Nitride coated instead of regular phosphate…while the Wylde was stainless steel.
Nitride (two left black ones) is smooth while stainless is…stainless. The BCG on the right gives you a sense of what the rougher texture phosphate looks like. Nitride is supposed to be a little tougher and I like the smooth look.
I took apart the free-floating 5.56 and Wylde. Straight gas tubes…
And at least 35 in-lb of torque on the gas block with some sort of weird spill on the 5.56.
There’s not too much to say here…everything is where it’s supposed to be.
If I had to nitpick…there’s some super small machining marks on the forward assist for two of the uppers I had. Not even sure you can see them in the pics.
The Magpul mid-length polymer handguard is what it is. A great update to the mil-spec plastic handguard that can’t attach anything.
The free-floating M-LOK handguards work too. The thin profile feels great in the hand…but could use a little more TLC in the CNC to get rid of sharper edges.
Also the 13.5″ is a little on the purple-ish side and a little off in orientation between receiver and handguard…but nothing an Allen wrench and a small turn didn’t fix.
The more “premium” Wylde upper was properly aligned and colored.
As mil-spec as they come. Everything is as it should be and the gas-keys are properly staked.
The 5.56 uppers had phosphate coated BCGs (mil-spec) while the Wylde had a Nitride coated one.
If I had to nitpick again…the coating is a little bumpier than other phosphates I’ve used, but since only the rails of the BCG contact anything…there’s no real downside.
I found that the mil-spec phosphate BCGs were not MP marked (magnetic particle inspected) while the more premium .223 Wylde one was.
All the bolts were listed Carpenter 158 steel (mil-spec) but I’ve seen some PSA models where it is 9310 steel. Fine for civilian use but if you really want mil-spec…go for the Carpenter 158. The carriers were all 9620 steel (mil-spec).
Charging handles were mil-spec as well.
Since I’ve gone with aftermarket charging handles…I cannot go back (Best AR-15 Charging Handles).
I built the lower as a kit so I added a few dings here and there (How to Build an AR-15 Lower). I got the Magpul kit which has their buttstock, grip, and trigger guard.
This one also comes with PSA’s EPT trigger which is silver compared to mil-spec phosphate black. Much less grit!
But for this one I did have a little trouble threading the grip screw initially. I’m thinking the coating was a little thick since I had to muscle my way through the initial turns.
Otherwise everything installed as it should.
What really matters…right?
I took a bunch of ammo, a buddy, and the two 5.56 uppers to the range. With the goal of putting as many rounds downrange as possible.
I cleaned the barrels but otherwise did not do any break-in procedures. I started with ~300 rounds of Wolf Gold (Best AR-15 Ammo) through each one before the accuracy tests.
For the 16″ with FSB…there were two failures to load a new round after a magazine change in the first 40 rounds. However after that it shot without a hiccup.
For the M-LOK free-floating version, there was one failure to load on the first magazine change and no more problems afterwards.
This is likely due to all the parts breaking in.
Recoil was standard and mild for both 5.56 uppers. After a few mags I was easily hitting 12″ plates at 100 yards with my EOTech.
But still made me realize how spoiled I’ve been with adjustable gas-blocks and compensators (Best AR-15 Upgrades).
For the free-floating version, if you grip around the gas block like I do…you’ll feel a little heat when dumping rounds. Not enough to burn…but enough to have a red hand after 500 rounds.
Here’s my buddy and me at our second range day. I’m running my competition lower with a much better trigger (Best AR-15 Triggers).
The uppers worked flawlessly after the initial break-in on the following lowers:
While the lower worked with the following uppers:
The 5.56 barrels are the middle of the road for PSA. Let’s see how they fare.
I let the barrels cool down and then ran through Wolf Gold, PMC Bronze, American Eagle, and Federal Gold Match.
I used my standard testing platform for all my AR-15 stuff…
Targets were placed at 100 yards and I shot at a pace of around 1 shot per 10 seconds. 10 shots each group.
Mil-spec is 3-4 MOA which means 3-4 inch groups at 100 yards. The FSB version falls within that (targets are 8″). With PMC Bronze doing the best of the plinking rounds at around 3 MOA.
Gold Match does the best but keep in mind it’s about $1 a shot. If you’re shooting that on a regular basis you’re probably looking at other rifles (Best AR-15s).
All in all…it’s as I expected. When there’s a front sight block there’s a whole lot of stuff touching the barrel which doesn’t help accuracy. Let’s see the free-floating model.
Much better! Looks like all the groups closed up. PMC Bronze and American Eagle are pretty even at what looks like 2 MOA. Gold Match is still the ultimate winner but it’s not THAT much off from PMC and AE.
When you have a free-floating handguard there’s less contact with the barrel and the accuracy shows.
Now how about the .223 Wylde we’ve forgotten?
Since this is a more premium barrel and made for accuracy…I did a break-in procedure with it as well as with PSA’s .224 Valkyrie (coming soon).
I cleaned the barrel and shot 1 round through before using copper solvent and a brush. Repeat the shoot and clean for 5x total. Then I changed it up to 5 shots before cleaning. Repeat 5x.
I then plinked ~200 rounds.
Finally, I was ready…
I used a different lower with a Triggertech trigger which I might actually like more than my Hiperfire (Best AR-15 Triggers). I started running low on Gold Medal so the last group only has 4 rounds.
It really looks like the FSB version instead of something that uses a tighter chamber and a free-floating handguard.
I’ll continue testing but right now looks like I would stick with PSA’s regular 5.56 offerings (free-floating of course).
The thing with PSA is that they are always in and out of stock of everything. And they have almost every combination under the sun…which makes it nice but also a headache to find what you want.
No fuss of building anything…out of the box ready to go.
I again like mid-length gas systems and it looks like their Nitride barrels are GTG. Their more premium selections (CHF) should be great as well if you have a little more to spend. I haven’t spent time with their regular barrels (phosphate), but other reviews vouch for them.
I personally like free-floating M-LOK handguards since they give you added accuracy and lots of space to put stuff. Unless you really want the look of a FSB…go for free-floating!
Already have a lower and want an affordable upper? There’s a bazillion options again…so here’s a search for 16″ mid-lengths to narrow it down a little:
Remember to choose the options with BCG (bolt carrier group), CH (charging handle), and Magpul MBUS (flip backup sights) if you need them.
Looking at complete lowers? I prefer the Magpul editions…mil-spec buttstocks and pistol grips are not great.
A little something I learned recently…retailers must add on a 11% tax for fully assembled firearms.
PSA has rifle kits which…if you’re a little handy…will save you a bunch when you build your own lower.
And be sure to get a stripped lower since the kit will contain everything except that.
Follow our How to Build an AR-15 Lower guide to put it all together.
After some minor break-in to loosen things up…my PSA uppers were fully reliable at my current round count of 1500 across all three.
It’ll do its job within mil-spec with regular plinking ammo, and seems to like PMC Bronze overall the best (Best AR-15 Ammo). Little bummed out that the .223 Wylde didn’t perform as well as it should.
Magpul kit makes it pretty good with the buttstock and pistol grip. Free-floating handguard is thin but a little too sharp around the edges.
Pretty average here but could use more consistency in color.
Bang for the Buck: 5/5
You can get a fully reliable AR for under $500…and even lower if you get the kits.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
The online legends are true.
Based on my testing I can totally recommend Palmetto State Armory for an affordable AR-15 that will go bang every time.
My favorite would still be their mid-length free-floating options…but their more M4-looking FSB ones also fit the bill.
For now…stay away from their Wylde and soon I’ll have reports on their .224 Valkyrie and more. Plus I’m going to put much more rounds in all three and update if anything changes.
And once you get one…check out our AR-15 Definitive Resource for everything AR.
What do you think of the review? Is a PSA AR-15 on your horizon? Or if you already have one…how’s it working out for you?
The post Palmetto State Armory (PSA) AR-15 [3 Rifle Review] appeared first on Pew Pew Tactical.
Looking for bull barrel accuracy in a lightweight package?
Check out the new generation of barrels…carbon fiber, baby!
We cover the most popular ones in Best Carbon Fiber Barrels…but today we focus on BSF which brings us perforated carbon fiber instead of a wrap.
Plus…compared to the others out there…the BSF is the most affordable (I use that term loosely).
I only heard about BSF in the last year but they are making a splash in the carbon fiber (CF) arena with their perforated barrels instead of standard wraps.
My understanding is that there’s a 416R stainless steel match barrel underneath there that is covered with CF. However…95% of the CF doesn’t even touch the steel (only 4 contact points: chamber, before/after the gas block, and near the muzzle).
This creates air gaps that cool the barrel through the perforations.
I was lucky enough to try this out in a new build thanks to Rainier Arms who sent me a barrel for testing.
The barrel was a sight to behold. Even the wife said it was cool…and by now all the barrels and uppers around the house look the same to her.
I tried out the 16.5″ .223 Wylde in 1:8 twist which clocks in at 26.9 oz. Compare that to a standard M4 profile 16″ barrel at 28 oz. If you want to go bull barrel stainless…it can reach 3 lbs (48 oz). I couldn’t find exact numbers since I could only find 18″ bull barrels that are over 3.5 lbs.
My full build which contains all my favorites:
It is a little more difficult to install since there’s no barrel shoulder to gauge where to put the gas block. But if you have an electronic caliper…you should be good.
My go-to Superlative Arms block (this time in .936 for the bull barrel) went on easily after I made a small etch marking on the stainless section of the barrel.
Otherwise with my combo of the Brigand Arms CF handguard…I found that it rubbed the top of the gas block. Which technically makes it no longer free-floating…but I wanted to see how it would shoot still.
What you’ve been waiting for…does it actually work?
I conducted two rounds of tests…one with the touching CF handguard and one with the free-floating.
200 round break-in, targets at 100 yards, and shooting at a fast pace (as soon as sights were back on target) with no cooling down period.
And an assortment of my Best AR-15 Ammo.
If these were my regular groups with some cool-down and a slow steady shooting pace…I’d be a little disappointed. But I wanted to test how the heat dissipation worked and how it would perform in a little more competitive arena.
In that regard…I’m pretty impressed. It was pretty happy with Wolf Gold (the cheapest ammo) and very happy with Gold Match ($$$).
I also shot 30 rounds as fast as I could at the range and held the barrel. Only warm!
In my second round of tests on another range day, I used the Midwest Handguard and Aero upper. And a new Triggertech trigger which I actually like the most now.
And the results were on par…
All in all…pretty happy about the groups when I was shooting as fast as I could get on target with no cool down.
I’m sure if I started hand-loading I could really close up the groups. But it’s a pain to prep .223/5.56 brass so I stopped doing that. But even with this I was ringing steel at 300-400 pretty easily on a 1-6x scope.
No failures of any kind in the ~400 rounds I shot through.
Great groups when you consider shooting with no cool down and as fast as I could get back on target. A 5 would be consisten sub-moa even at high speed.
I’d make it a 10 if I could. But it really stands out…especially with the sweet carbon fiber drilled holes.
Bang for the Buck: 3.5/5
It’s $500…would I count it as double a really high quality 16″ Wylde barrel? Probably not. But if you’re at the top of your game or want an unfair advantage in relation to your groups opening up due to heat…this could be it. However…the most affordable out of other CF options.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I believe the hype of carbon fiber barrels now.
Take a lightweight bull barrel profile with great groups at speed…and you have a winner. If you have the coin for a sweet new build…check out BSF. It’s definitely my new competition rifle.
Ringing steel at 100 was easy standing up and with a 1x. The rifle was well balanced and once I got the Superlative Arms gas block tuned in…it felt like a pea shooter.
I’ll be reporting back as I get more rounds and comps through it.
Otherwise…check out our other Best AR-15 Barrels for something more bang-for-the-buck for the everyday shooter.