Have you ever been working on one of your own firearms and started to run into problems you could have avoided? Or have you ever been shooting and had your firearm malfunction, but you didn’t know why? There is got to be an easier way, right? In this article about gunsmithing tips, we are going to tackle some common issues that gun owners run into, and hopefully, save you time, effort, and frustration. These will be simple tips and suggestions that anyone can do with no schooling. Let’s start with the most popular rifle on the U.S. gun market, the AR-15 or “Black Rifle”.
#1: AR-15 Problem: Lost the safety detent while changing the pistol grip?
Have you ever changed the furniture on your AR? If you have, you know some of the steps involved in changing those parts can be a big pain in the butt. Let’s cover the first tip. Many of the aftermarket grips (Such as the Magpul MOE, MIAD, etc.) you can buy include instructions for switching out the grips on your own, along with hardware, and the new grip. Within those “Instructions”, you seldom see any reference to the spring-loaded fire control detent (the detent that’s under the safety) that is held in place by a long thin spring inside the AR-15 pistol grip. When the pistol grip is removed, that detent spring often stays inside the grip, and the detent that’s inside the receiver will fall out without the owner even realizing it was ever there. Then the safety malfunctions and so on.
To prevent this from happening, take the upper receiver off, and flip the AR-15 upside down. Keeping a bit of downward pressure on the grip, completely remove the screw from inside the pistol grip BEFORE removing the pistol grip itself. Then, SLOWLY slide off the pistol grip, revealing the fire control detent spring. The spring may fall out of the grip but that’s ok, you know its there and where it goes during reassembly. Keep the lower receiver upside down so you don’t dump out the detent or put a small piece of tape over it if you want to flip it over. When you reassemble, use a drop of white lithium grease on the bottom of the detent spring, then insert it into the grip, (remove the tape if you put any on) line up the detent hole and spring that protruding from the grip, and slide on the grip. Then, put a drop of Loctite 242 (Blue) on the grip screw threads, slide the lock washer on the screw, line up the screw, and tighten it down. Easy.
#2: AR-15 Problem: Failure to Extract (FTE) causing you headaches?
Multiple issues can cause your AR-15 to extract improperly or fail to do it completely. Let’s explore a few common causes. One of the biggest causes is carbon fouling in the extractor claw recess. To fix this, disassemble your bolt carrier group, remove the bolt, use some solvent, a toothbrush and/or a dental pick to clean out the extractor claw recess. Another cause of FTE is a broken extractor spring. You can check for this by removing the bolt from the bolt carrier group (BCG) and slipping a spent shell under the extractor to check spring pressure. Or you can just take a cleaning rod and press on the opposite end of the extractor claw where the spring is, and see if it springs back up. If it springs back up, you’re good. Another reason could be a frozen extractor, caused by excess carbon fouling built up around the extractor. To remedy this, remove the extractor pivot pin by pressing down on the spring-loaded end and pushing out the pin with a proper sized punch, then the extractor should come out. Be sure to pull out the punch slowly after you push out the pivot pin cause the extractor is spring-loaded.
#3: Two for one. AR-15 Problem: Double Feeds got ya down?
This one is easy, but few people know what causes it. The AR-15 magazine is the primary cause of most double feed issues. The feed lips on the magazine can become damaged, or bent, and cause all sorts of problems. To fix this, it couldn’t be easier, just purchase and use a different high-quality magazine. Occasionally, metal magazine feed lips can be bent back into place, so they work properly, but this isn’t doable with a polymer magazine like the Magpul PMag.
AR-15 Problem (Extra Tip): Short Recoil causing your problems?
Easy fix. There are a few problems that make this happen. Your gas tube can be a big issue here. Check to see if that gas tube is loose, kinked, bent, or busted. If it is, replace the gas tube with a new one. The other problem that can cause a short recoil is located on the bolt. If you look at the bolt, opposite the lugs, you will see 3 small steel gas rings. You will notice each gas ring has a small gap in it (if you don’t see them right away, rotate the bolt). You must have the gas ring gaps offset from each other. They CANNOT line up and create a channel. If this happens, you’re going to have short recoil malfunctions. Its very easy to adjust them, just use a dental pick or toothpick to rotate them around so they are offset.
AR-15 Problem (Extra Tip): Preparedness- Get an AR-15 “Oops Kit”
You should get an AR-15 “Oops Kit” from any one of the many manufacturers that puts them together. They are essential for any AR-15 owner that intends to use his/her firearm more than once a year. Most kits come with multiple parts to replace the most commonly lost or broken pieces of the AR-15 platform. These kits usually include a bolt catch spring, pin, and detent, a buffer detent and a buffer spring, disconnector and magazine catch springs, safety selector spring and detent, 1/8”x5/8” roll pin/coiled pin, 3/32”x1/2” roll pin/coiled pin, take down pin detent, trigger and hammer pins, trigger guard pin and mil-spec hammer spring, and a mil-spec single stage trigger spring.
#4: 1911 Problem: Safety Function Checks
Have you ever done a field strip or detail strip on your 1911, reassembled it, and thought: “I wonder if I did that right?” “Did I miss something?” This can cause a lot of headaches if you don’t check your safety functions before going to the range. There are function checks/safety checks you can do to provide yourself with peace of mind before you head to the range. But before we do this, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR 1911 IS UNLOADED!! ABSOLUTELY NO AMMO IS ALLOWED IN THE ROOM DURING CLEANING AND GUNSMITHING WORK!! After you ensure the firearm is unloaded, and you have the 1911 reassembled, perform these steps: #1 Cock the hammer and press the trigger just like you’re firing it, then keep the trigger held to the rear. While holding it, rack the slide, and check the reset and disconnector by slowly letting the trigger “reset” or go forward. You should feel a “click”. #2 While pulling the trigger and checking the reset, be aware of what the grip safety is doing. The grip safety should not block the trigger from being pulled when you grip the handle of the 1911, but if you try to pull the trigger without depressing the grip safety, it should block the trigger from being pulled. Check both functions with the thumb safety in the “off” position. #3 Test the grip safety with gravity as well, by pointing the muzzle towards the ground. Pull the trigger without touching or activating the grip safety and with the thumb safety in the “off” position. #4 Switch the thumb safety into the “on” position and try to pull the trigger while gripping the handle and pressing the grip safety to deactivate it, it should not fire. Try to pull the trigger without activating the grip safety, it should not fire.
#5: Firearm Problems: Headspacing
Having a set of Gunsmith “Go/No-Go” gauges to check headspacing is important to anyone who wants to constantly check their firearms for issues and “head them off” before they become a major problem. I’m not going to go into how to cut chambers and how to throat a barrel, or what angles a feed ramp may need to be for a given platform, how to grind a feed ramp, or anything too detailed… but I will say this. When you are shooting your firearm, you need to make picking up your brass a habit. You must pick up some of your own spent brass each time you go shooting and check it. You don’t need to keep it if you don’t reload, you don’t need to do anything more than examine it for defects. You are going to be looking for bulges in the brass base, a blown out or cracked case mouth, primers backed out or blown out, other weak or cracked areas of the brass, and so on. If you are seeing these warning signs on your brass, stop shooting that firearm immediately, go home and get out your go/no-go gauges. You should first check the chamber with the “GO” gauge… if the gun locks up into battery when the Go gauge is put in, then it is within the minimum SAAMI headspace measurements. Then, try the “NO-GO” gauge and see if it locks into battery. If the firearm locks up into battery with the No-Go gauge, then it is NOT in spec and it is in a dangerous condition, should not be fired any more, and should be taken to a competent gunsmith ASAP. Having headspace gauges to check the chambers of all of your firearms is important, especially if you want those guns to work for years to come. I recommend you purchase one set of gauges for each caliber you shoot regularly such as: .223 Remington or 5.56×45 NATO, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger, 7.62×39, .308 Winchester, 12 gauge, and so on.
In conclusion, there are multiple techniques and tips you can use to prevent the headaches caused by big mistakes that can ruin your guns. Firearms are complicated pieces of machinery. There are many parts that perform multiple functions, all of which must work in perfect harmony to achieve the desired result, discharge of the firearm. These parts and their “symphony” of interaction leaves plenty of opportunity for something to go awry. If you study our tips and keep them handy, you will have one less thing to worry about as a freedom loving firearms owner in America.