The world of the AR-15 style rifle is vast and complex. Literally hundreds of "manufacturers" (only a handful of companies actually machine their own parts and those that do usually sell parts to all the others) and distributors are all selling rifles and parts that are theoretically all interchangeable and thus manufactured to the same dimensional specifications. Yet, there are tremendous price differences between manufacturers when you do an 'apples to apples' comparison between rifles.
Because you are here and reading this, you obviously have a discerning mind and are seeking some answers. If you take a moment to keep reading, it will be well worth your time and could save you a great deal of money and/or provide you with a much higher satisfaction level when you make a purchase. Ultimately It's All About You. So, on your mark, get set, go!!!
The proverbial questions you are probably asking are: “Why is one AR-15 style rifle $700.00 and another AR-15 style rifle that has the exact same features $1,300.00?” Is the $1,300.00 rifle almost twice as good as the $700.00 rifle? What are the differences, if any, in the two rifles when they are theoretically the same and the parts are all theoretically interchangeable? Which rifle will best meet my needs and wants? We will deal with each of these questions and some others that may pop into your head as we go along. After all, when you get straight answers, that can often lead to more questions . . .
Although the rifles are theoretically the “same”, there are significant differences manufacturers use in their production processes. In general, the old adage “You get what you pay for” holds true. However, the challenge is in sorting out what you “need and want” and then deciding what you are “willing” to pay for it.
In Scotsman Arms' opinion, there are six major differences that significantly affect the quality of a given AR-15 style rifle. The higher end manufacturers tend to incorporate these five features in their rifles and the lower end manufacturers tend not to. These are the areas where the lower end manufacturers cut costs and are thus able to sell their version of the rifle at a lower price. Again, It's All About You and what you need and want in an AR-15 style rifle.
After discussing the above mentioned six differences, we will then look at the three high end manufacturer’s features that Scotsman Arms believes are not worth paying for, unless you plan on being in a fire fight in the near future and need full automatic firing capability along with being out in the field for extended periods of time, exposing your rifle to large amounts of sand, mud, and moisture combined with being unable to perform routine maintenance on it before going into the next fire fight (think Iraq and Afghanistan). These three features are available from Scotsman Arms, but we do not recommend them unless you have need of them, want them, are willing to pay for them, and/or have the proper license/clearance to possess them.
The six differences between low and high end manufacturers that are worth the money:
Shot Peened Bolt: This is the process of significantly increasing the durability of the bolt at the molecular level. AR-15 style rifle bolts are exposed to tremendous stresses as they perform their function during firing. Thus increasing the durability of this major part significantly increases the durability and reliability of the rifle over its lifetime.
How do you tell which manufacturers use shot peened bolts and which do not? You can ask them, or another good indication is if they have ammunition warnings on their website. If they have a warning saying something to the effect of “If you fire steel cased ammo in your rifle you void your warranty”, they probably do not use a shot peened bolt as steel is harder than brass and will thus wear out their product prematurely. Do not confuse this warning with an ammunition warning about firing hand loaded ammunition and ammunition loaded to the proper and safe specifications. The latter warning is due to the litigious nature of our society and the constant need to protect oneself and business. Any prudent manufacturer will follow this latter course of action.
YOUR APPLICATION: If you are looking to own an AR-15 style rifle and only plan to shoot a couple of hundred rounds through it a year and just want it as a “cool toy in your gun case”, then this is probably not that important and thus not worth paying for. If you plan on firing thousands of rounds a year and want a reliable, long lasting rifle you have confidence enough to bet your life on, then this feature is EXTREMELY important. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES HAVE SHOT PEENED BOLTS.
Properly Staked Gas Key: The Gas Key is the tube-like part that sits on top of the bolt carrier and is responsible for redirecting the gas from the gas tube into the bolt carrier and driving it back to cycle the action. The gas key is attached via two screws that hold it tightly in place. Due to the tremendous stresses involved in firing a rifle, these two screws are staked to prevent them from coming loose over time. Staking is the act of physically deforming the screw hole and, if properly done, the screw itself so that it can not work loose. The process of properly staking the gas key is a step that takes time and close attention to detail and thus costs money. Low end manufacturers tend not to properly stake their gas keys in order to cut costs. Some even go so far to cut costs as to not stake the gas keys at all but simply use Locktite. Use of Locktite is totally inadequate as all versions of it are weakened by heat.
If your gas key is not properly staked, it will be loose and/or work loose over time and cause your rifle to fail to feed the next round.
YOUR APPLICATION: This feature is EXTREMELY important REGARDLESS of your application. How satisfied will you be with a product that does not reliably function when you want it to? It is probably safe to say that it does not matter whether or not you are firing a couple of hundred rounds per year or you are firing thousands of rounds per year, the rifle must function and function well when you want it to. A day at the range can be seriously ruined by a malfunctioning firearm. Is that frustration worth the savings? Only you can decide. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES HAVE PROPERLY STAKED GAS KEYS THAT ARE INDIVIDUALLY INSPECTED TO INSURE THAT BOTH THE SCREW AND THE SCREW HOLE ARE PROPERLY DEFORMED TO PREVENT LOOSENING.
5 Coil Black Extractor Spring Insert: By using the 5 coil black extractor spring insert, the high end manufacturers increase the tension on the extractor thus helping to prevent the extractor from slipping off of the shell casing and failing to extract it from the chamber, thus causing a double feed and forcing you to disassemble your rifle in order to clear the jam. This feature is more important in carbines than rifles due to the shorter gas system, which causes a quicker and more violent operation of the bolt carrier group. The low end manufacturers tend to use the 4 coil blue extractor spring insert as a means to cut costs. The 4 coil blue spring insert tends to work well in full length rifles due to the longer gas system and the slower, less violent operation of the bolt carrier group.
YOUR APPLICATION: If you are looking to own an AR-15 style rifle and only plan to shoot a couple of hundred rounds through it a year and just want it as a “cool toy in your gun case” then, again, this feature is probably not that important and thus not worth paying for. If you plan on firing thousands of rounds a year and want a reliable, long lasting rifle you have confidence enough to bet your life on, then this feature is EXTREMELY important. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES HAVE THE 5 COIL BLACK EXTRACTOR SPRING INSERT REGARDLESS OF GAS SYSTEM LENGTH. IN ADDITION, SCOTSMAN ARMS ADDS A MIL-SPEC VITON(r) O-RING TO THE EXTRACTOR SPRING ASSEMBLY THAT SHOULD VIRTUALLY ELIMINATE FAILURES TO EXTRACT. WE BELIEVE THE MINIMAL EXTRA COST IS WELL WORTH THE INCREASED RELIABILITY.
M4 Feed Ramps: M4 feed ramps refer to feed ramps in the barrel extension being matched up to feed ramps cut into the upper receiver. The other option is Rifle feed ramps which are just cut into the barrel extension. They are called M4 feed ramps because of the feeding problems the M4 experienced when it first entered service caused by the quicker more violent action of the bolt carrier group discussed above. Cutting ramps into the upper receiver and matching them up with those already in the barrel extension solved many of the feeding problems with the early M4’s. The high end manufacturers invest the time and effort in the extra machining step required on their upper receivers in order to ensure reliability. The low end manufacturers tend to save money by not incorporating this step.
YOUR APPLICATION: M4 feed ramps are very important for reliable feeding on rifles with a 16” barrel or shorter and a good idea on rifles with longer barrels. If you are looking to purchase a rifle with a 16” barrel, M4 feed ramps are EXTREMELY important. M4 feed ramps are also very important if you plan on shooting ammunition other than the standard 55gr FMJ bullet. Longer and heavier bullets, along with soft point bullets, feed much more reliably with M4 feed ramps than they do with Rifle feed ramps. Again, It's All About You. If you want an AR-15 style rifle primarily for “plinking” a few times a year, then M4 feed ramps may not be that important. If you want an AR-15 style rifle for anything else, they are EXTERMELY important. Only you can decide. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES COME WITH M4 FEED RAMPS STANDARD. WE BELIEVE THE INCREASED RELIABILITY IS WELL WORTH THE EXTRA STEP IN THE MACHINING PROCESS.
High Pressure Testing and Magnetic Particle Inspection of Every Single Barrel and Bolt: High pressure testing (HPT), commonly known as “proof firing”, is the process of subjecting the barrel or bolt to forces that could cause it to fail. Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI) is the process of inspecting that part for any surface cracks caused by the high pressure test that may not be visible to the naked eye. High end manufacturers invest the time and energy to do this with every barrel and bolt they produce in order to provide the highest quality and most durable product possible. The low end manufacturers tend to cut costs by testing and inspecting a sample “batch” of barrels and bolts and then mass producing products based on the results. A microscopic crack in a barrel or bolt may not become apparent to the customer for years after acquiring ownership of the rifle and could cause significant problems long after your warranty has expired.
YOUR APPLICATION: If you plan on being a low volume shooter and/or do not think you will keep your rifle for years, then this feature is probably not that important to you. If you intend to be a higher volume shooter and you demand accuracy, durability, reliability, and years of dependable service from the firearms you purchase, then this feature will probably be EXTREMELY important to you. Again, only you can make the decision if the extra cost is worth the benefit. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES HAVE INDIVIDUALLY HPT AND MPI TESTED BARRELS AND BOLTS.
M16 or Heavy Duty Full Auto Bolt Carrier: The M16 or full auto bolt carrier fully shrouds the firing pin and thus the carrier cocks the hammer during cycling rather than the firing pin. The original AR-15 bolt carriers did not. With the introduction of the enhanced AR-15 bolt carrier, which fully shrouds the firing pin as well, there is no longer any difference in how the bolt carriers cock the hammer. Today, the only difference between the M16 bolt carrier and the enhanced AR-15 bolt carrier is the M16 bolt carrier is heavier at the back end to slow down the action and increase the “lock time” of the lugs. This increased weight smooths out the action and makes your rifle cycle better and eliminates the need to have to use heavy buffers to slow down the lock time. The bolt carrier group is the "heart and soul" of the AR-15 style rifle yet it continues to be the place the low end manufactuers cut corners. The lowest end manufacturers will use an ultra light weight bolt carrier that is a cheaper version of the enhanced AR-15 bolt carrier. It will still shroud the firing pin but the carrier itself is so light weight that the rifle will not cycle reliably. One of two things will happen when using these light weight carriers: Either the locking lugs will hang up due to the quick action or the bolt will cycle so fast that the spent casing does not have time to clear the ejection port before the bolt comes forward and thus the rifle will jam.
YOUR APPLICATION: There is no time where the M16 or heavy duty full auto bolt carrier is not a good idea in an AR-15 style rilfe. We believe, regardless of your application, that your rifle will perform better with the heavy carrier. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES INCLUDE AS STANDARD EQUIPMENT THE M16 OR HEAVY DUTY FULL AUTO BOLT CARRIER. THE HEAVY CARRIER SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASES THE RELIABILITY AND DURABILITY OF THE RIFLE
The three high end features that may not be worth the money:
B-11595E Barrel Steel: B-11595E barrel steel is a more expensive steel that is required by the U.S. Military in the production of its M16 and M4 rifles. The only real practical difference between the properties of B-11595E and 4140 or 4150 barrel steel, other than its price, is that B-11595E steel barrels will remain true longer when they get red hot than barrels made from 4140 or 4150 steel.
YOUR APPLICATION: Unless you plan on being in a fire fight and need full automatic firing capability (one must also possess the proper license and/or clearance to have such a weapon), it is nearly impossible to get the barrel of your rifle hot enough to make this difference apparent. You probably could not pull the trigger and change magazines fast enough to get the barrel hot enough to begin to lose its rigidity with a semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle. IF YOU NEED AND WANT B-11595E BARREL STEEL, WE CAN GET IT FOR YOU. ALL SCOTSMAN ARMS RIFLES COME STANDARD WITH 4140 BARREL STEEL BECAUSE WE BELIEVE THIS WILL MEET THE NEEDS OF THE VAST MAJORITY OF CIVILIAN AND LAW ENFORCEMENT APPLICATIONS WHICH USUALLY REQUIRE PRECISION AND ACCURACY OVER FIREPOWER.
Chrome Lined Chamber and Bore: Chrome lining of the chamber and bore is another feature that is designated by the U.S. Military for its rifles because of the desire to extend barrel life due to full automatic firing and reduce the effects of harsh environments where soldiers can not properly maintain their rifles. As with most things, there are trade-offs and the trade-off in this case is loss of accuracy. Chrome lined barrels have to be over-bored and then the resulting space filled in with the chrome lining. If this process is not done perfectly, imperfections will cause loss of accuracy. Stainless steel barrels are the most consistent, followed closely by standard chrome-moly barrels and then, way down the line, chrome lined barrels. The military is thrilled with being able to hit a dinner plate at 300 yds. Most civilian and law enforcement applications require greater accuracy than that. In addition, there is no longer any corrosive ammunition on the market (unless you search far and wide for pre-1984 surplus ammo) so chrome lining of the chamber and bore, along with the chrome plating of bolt and carrier, are to solve a problem that no longer exists.
YOUR APPLICATION: Chrome lined barrels are really only of benefit to full automatic firing applications. If you are concerned about barrel life more than you are about accuracy, then chrome lining is important. We can get chrome lined barrels if that is what you need and want, but our recommendation would be to take approximately the same amount of money and upgrade to a stainless steel barrel. Stainless steel barrels offer corrosion resistance and extended life combined with increased accuracy rather than decreased accuracy. If you are worried about the shiny, reflective surface of stainless steel, there are a variety of bake on lacquers and/or coatings that can be applied to correct this issue. AGAIN, IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU AND SCOTSMAN ARMS IS READY TO SELL YOU WHAT YOU NEED AND WANT. OUR GOAL IS TO GIVE YOU THE BEST VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY.
Cold Hammer Forged Barrel: Cold hammer forging of barrels is a process developed by the Germans during WWII in order to rapidly produce durable barrels for their MG-42 machine guns. The MG-42 has a firing rate of 1,400+ rpm and would thus go thru barrels very quickly. A cold hammer forged barrel is formed by "hammering" the barrel into shape, including the rifling of the bore, over a mandrel. This is an extrememly efficient automated process that removes no material from the barrel thus producing a very dense, heavy barrel that can stand up to the extreme use required by sustained fire weapons like the MG-42. Accuracy differences between a cold hammer forged barrel and a pull-buttoned rifled barrel is a "Ford vs. Chevy" debate so thus a matter of opinion rather than a statistical fact. Durability is the only real difference.
The AR-15 style rifle, and for that matter the M-16 as well, is not a sustained fire rifle. The direct gas impingement system is not built to handle the high volume automatic fire that belt fed machine guns provide. Due to the excessive heat produced by sustained fire, the gas tube on an AR-15 style rifle would melt long before the barrel ever got hot enough to lose its rigidity. In addition, the excessive heat in the chamber would cause primers to pop out of their seatings and the rounds to "cook" off without the firing pin actually stricking the now non-existent primer. As a result the rifle would fail rather quickly under these conditions.
YOUR APPLICATION: Since the AR-15 style rifle is not a sustained fire weapon, then it does not make sense to Scotsman Arms to have a barrel that is designed for a sustained fire weapon. We recommend saving your money as the only advantage to the cold hammer forged barrel would never really be utilized. A chrome-lined cold hammer forged barrel may have a longer life than a chrome-lined pull-buttoned rifled barrel. To quantify the difference, you are looking at a barrel life of 40,000 to 50,000 rounds and 30,000 to 40,000 rounds respectively. Either way, that is a lot of rounds!!! If this difference is important to you, then get the cold hammer forged barrel AT SCOTSMAN ARMS IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU AND IF YOU WANT A COLD HAMMER FORGED BARREL AND ARE WILLING TO PAY THE EXTRA MONEY, WE WILL BE HAPPY TO GET IT FOR YOU. OF COURSE, WE WILL TRY AND TALK YOU OUT OF IT FIRST :).
Well, you made it!!! Congratulations. By reading this lengthy dissertation you are now equipped with the knowledge to ask the right questions and make an educated decision on what constitutes the best value in an AR-15 style rifle for your application. Scotsman Arms’ goal is to provide its customers with the best value and highest satisfaction for their money. We are honored to have earned your trust and your business.
Scotsman Arms, LLC