Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Journey to my next SBR upper Part 1

After completing my SBR build things are sweet, things are great. There's something simply fun about shooting a SBR that needs to be experienced to make sense why something as seemingly banal as a shorter barrel is better. I've been running my 11.5 inch barrel with a Griffin M4SD compensator that mitigates muzzle climb well while keeping most of the concussive force away from the shooter even on a SBR. The M4SD has noticeably more side blast compared to an A2 flash hider, but that's to be expected when switching from a flash hider to a compensator. With the muzzle climb of .223/5.56 being manageable a part of me considered switching back to an A2 until I start shooting successive follow up shots and am reminded why I use a compensator. Two years and so many new products on the market later I wanted to build an upper around the new thinner cousin of the Noveske KX3, the Noveske KX5 in hopes of a muzzle device that balances muzzle control while directing the blast away from the shooter.

Ordering a part at a time on my last build afforded me the agility to change parts on the fly when either my initial choice for a part no longer meets my needs and specifications or a better part emerges on the market. I decide to repeat this method with the KX5 build and start with a loose idea of parts for the upper;

Noveske KX5
Barrel TBD
Keymod rail (likely BCM KMR)
Upper TBD

The first step was the barrel. A quick search on the internet reveals more choices than ever before and I realize that I need requirements and began making a list of things that I want to change about my existing SBR. One of the pitfalls I've encountered with a M4 profile barrel is that it heats up quickly and in turn heats up the Troy Battlerail Bravo until it becomes untenable to shoot without gloves. The debate over heat shifting point of impact rages on the the internet, but what I can tell you is that without being able to grip the forend my shot placement stops being consistent regardless of shift in POI. The heat issue lead me to choose a medium profile barrel that balances between weight increase and heating rate. The other requirements are maintaining a carbine gas system and to use a shorter barrel than what I have now to accommodate the KX5's long profile of 3.25 inches. The shortest a carbine gas system can be is ten inches and with the market offering either 10.3" or 10.5" those became my choices. Lastly I want to squeeze out as much accuracy out of the barrel while still being able to shoot either .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO and will be looking for a barrel chambered in .223 Wylde.

Though my requirements narrow my choices it still left me deciding between too many manufacturers without comparative data that indicates which barrel will best suit my build. I add another requirement for a twist rate of one in eight or ideally one in seven to better stabilize a 55 to 77 grain bullet through a sub-eleven inch barrel. Thorough deliberation left two choices between Noveske and Lothar-Walthar and I decide on Lothar-Walthar in the end. The things that steered me to L-W was the many emails that Woody from L-W answered as well as the performance that LaRue gets out of L-W's barrel blanks. Noveske is an outstanding company with a very long history for quality, but it was hard to resist a barrel of equal quality that cost around a hundred dollars less. The negative comments that I have for L-W is that they feel behind the times in terms of buying a barrel on the internet. Their website doesn't clearly convey what they have without reaching out to them to asking if a given configuration is available. Contacting them is a blast from the past with an email address which I had no idea that domain still exists let alone that mail continues to be routed, or that anyone still uses those accounts.

Woody from L-W replies with the news that they have a 10.5 inch medium profile barrel in stainless steel with one in seven polygonal rifling available. A few more email exchanges to find out gas block size and total cost with shipping comes to $239.75. I ask Woody how to place an order since it wasn't obvious on their website. Is there a page on the site that I can place an order through? Do I email you this order and call you with a credit card? Maybe complete the transaction over paypal? No, no, and no.........he tells me that I need to write a letter with my order and that they accept either personal check, cashier's check, or money order. Had that been a phone conversation it would have been followed by a long pause of awkward silence.

With the ability to order anything on the web today it was weird, even awkward to type out an order and print it out only to stuff it in an envelope along with a check for the appropriate amount. Payment is no longer the final step by the consumer as I still need to write on to the envelope sender and return address, affix a stamp, and mail it. My present self is astonished with my past self at having done those things and wonder why anyone did it except that web ordering wasn't a thing back then yet. Soul crushing agony was around the corner at the realization that I am blind to the order fulfillment process. Letters don't let me click to see where my order sits, if it's shipped, and what the tracking number is. I am forced to wallow in the darkness that is mail order purgatory praying to the mocking demigods of snail mail and all things paper that it all miraculously comes together and that the barrel arrives. Now begins my descent into madness.

As I was driven slowly insane by the lack of order transparency I redirect my focus on figuring out the upper and rail. While I like the Bravo rail's full run of MIL-STD 1913 rails that enables me to mount accessories anywhere along the rail that flexibility comes with a price. MIL-STD 1913 specifications dictates a minimum dimension that can't be escaped and that translates to a rail that can only go so small yet maintain MIL-STD requirements while weight becomes a delicate balance between the rail's integrity and durability. I feel that keymod solves maintaining mounting flexibility without suffering MIL-STD 1913 restrictions for size and weight. With the KX5 being initially developed to fit under Noveske's super thin NSR rail I wanted to take advantage of that design specification and have part of the KX5 under the rail. Initial estimation points to either a twelve or thirteen inch rail to accomplish that look and will have a better idea when I can rough fit the parts. All of these thoughts regarding the rail distills down between Bravo Company Manufacturing's 13" KMR and Midwest Industry's 12" SSK. Both are well reviewed, durable, and light weigh solutions with just enough space to fit the KX5 with the final decision hinging on empirical measurement of actual length from upper to KX5 once parts arrive. For the upper I want mil-spec dimensions that surpass a typical upper's quality and the search leads me to Vltor's MUR upper which gives me increased wall thickness for a tough upper with a slightly different look compared to a traditional AR upper with very angular lines.

Withe the barrel ordered I impatiently eye my updated parts list and cultivate my inner zen to wait to order a part at a time;

Noveske KX5
Lothar-Walthar 10.5" barrel
Keymod rail (Either BCM KMR or MI SSK)
Vltor MUR upper

Now to get some of that patience that I hardly have any of.

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