AR-15 KABOOM

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A TFB reader was shooting reloaded ammunition at the range when his AR-15 blew apart. The case head failed and the escaping gas split the upper receiver in two and blasted all it components out. Fortunately he was uninjured. As always, be very careful when reloading!

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Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Doom

    oh my…

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      No kidding!

  • kirill

    Were any parts of the rifle salvageable?

    • Cymond

      I almost guarantee that every part of the lower is fine. The hand guard, gas block, and muzzle attachment are probably fine. I don’t know enough to comment on the barrel & barrel extension because they interface with the bolt.

    • sianmink

      Lowers are usually fine save the bolt release lever which tends to get sheared off.

      • jamezb

        In the first picture, I notice cracks in the magwell though.

        • gunslinger

          took a minute, but yeah, the lower looks like it won’t be salvagable. at least i wouldn’t want to shoot with cracks in the magwell.

          always know your reloads…

          • Martin M

            I don’t think those are cracks. If they were, the one would have stopped at the mag release. I think they’re just scratches in the finish.

          • jamezb

            After enlarging the picture, you may well be correct. Still, I’d want to examine them under magnification to be sure, as it also appears the left side of the magwell may be slightly bulged out between the cracks or scratches, whichever they may be. If they are mare scratches, and the magwell will still hold a magazine, the lower might be salvageable after all.

          • jamezb

            oops forgot the pic..

          • Martin M

            A positive thing about the AR design is that in a failure like this the lower is actually protected from damage by the position of the magwell. The pressure needed to crack it is way beyond the threshold of blowing out the magazine innards, or the mag itself, thereby relieving all the pressure. There seems to be a lot of similar markings on other parts (see bolt-carrier) in these pictures. It appears to be raw aluminum rubbed off on the powder-coating, which is prone to happen when you are scooping up the pieces of your blowed-up gun.

          • jamezb

            I hate scooping up pieces of my blowed-up gun! :p

    • jamezb

      the flash hider, buttstock, and pistol grip are just skippy lol

  • dan citizen

    Wave of “AR’s always kaboom” comments in 3…. 2… 1…

    Wow, lucky the shooter was OK.

    Another example that the forces we have harnessed for shooting wreak havoc when cut loose.

    • Anton Gray Basson

      AR’s alway blow up…. when mistakes are made. Same with any other gun. When the wrong propellent is used or incorrect charge size get ready for failure

  • Cpl. Ivan

    What do you expect from weak, capitalist toy gun? Is made by airplane company trying to save money giving imperialist soldiers gun made from coca-cola cans and barbie doll accessories–of course such machine fails. If shooting man had used superior design of integrity and strength, for example KALASHNIKOV RIFLE OF PERFECTION, MODEL 1947, such re-loaded ammunition would have had no effect, ok maybe increase accuracy.

    Instead, toy battle rifle explodes in face of operator, and operator soils American “tactical” pants that cost as much as hard working super Russian man makes in 6 months. Good, I spit on expensive pants and weak, pop can rifle.

    • Firearms Industry Professional

      Cpl. Ivan, After spending over 10 years working in the firearms industry, I have seen plenty of KB AK’s. There are more junk AK’s floating around the world than any other rifle. Noting in the firearms world is impervious to failure. Even your beloved AK pattern rifle made from used surplus parts assembled in the USA and sold to you.

      If you are fortunate to own an original factory assembled AK74 from Izmash, then you have something special. Any other AK sourced from the usual vendors in the US are made from surplus/used barrels, op rods, springs, receivers, and bolts. I have seen plenty that need work to properly function right out of the box.

      The best readily available US assembled AK47/74 rifles come from Arsenal in Nevada. Be prepared to pay upwards of 1k to get a good rifle. If yours is $300-500 bucks, you got surplus junk. Good luck with that.

      • Jon

        You missed the fact this was an obvious parody.

        • Firearms Industry Professional

          Did not miss the parody at all. After a decade of working in the gun business I heard that same kind AK fandom garbage every day from gun buyers. A lot of people really believe that kind of crap.

          • Eurocopter

            Satire…

          • Mudder Bisch

            I’ve been working in the gun business for 10 years also, and I have never seen someone’s panties get so bunched up over a satirical comment

            But ya, i wanted to say “if that was an AK it would still be firing” haha

          • Esh325

            Nope, just admit it went right over your head.

          • Jim Nanban

            I haven’t worked a day in the industry and… yeah. Already KNOW this isn’t too far from what some people believe. But that’s what makes it freakin hilarious!

          • sauerquint

            Apparently you’ve never heard any AR fandom garbage, at least not in the circles you travel in.

          • douchemaster

            Either you’re autistic, or you don’t know what a parody is.

      • Cpl. Ivan

        You are American professional fool. I say that KALASHNIKOV RIFLE OF PERFECTION, MODEL OF 1947 had sex time with your easy, capitalist mother, but obviously, you are not inherited of PERFECTION. Only rifles from mother RUSSIA deserve the title of KALASHNIKOV RIFLES OF PERFECTION, I do not refer to weapons made in China slave factories or by capitalist thiefs in den of sin Las Vegas. True KALASHNIKOV RIFLE OF PERFECTION is made by RUSSIANS and does not fail, it cannot fail, unless loaded American-style with 14 kilos of lights and sideways scopes, or fired with ammunition costing more than rifle for box.

        Placing money price on KALASHNIKOV RIFLE OF PERFECTION, MODEL OF 1947 shows your capitalist upbringing has failed you, and you enjoy stupid American tactical pants. True RUSSIAN man does not need 22 pocket khakis filled with tactical baby wipes for his sensitive American behind, but fights strong battle to death against filthy camel rapists in manly four-striped ADIDDAS SWEATPANTS OF PERFECTION.

        I take your $500 and urinate freely upon it, then laugh at silly capitalists trying to pick up American money covered in RUSSIAN man urine. This is good time in RUSSIA, place of birth for civilization.

        • Ando

          Great Lenin’s Ghost, give this RUSSIAN MAN some column space right away! I could read his comments all day!

        • Christ Pettitt

          It’s awesome that I read this in a RUSSIAN ACCENT OF PERFECTION FROM MOTHER RUSSIA… lol

        • 08101087

          Fuck you you communist, your just pissed off because Russia adopted the American way.

          • Shenji

            “American way”
            Mr Putin and Mr Me-dev-dev both agree- you know nothing about GREAT NATION OF PERFECTION MOTHER RUSSIA.

        • Commiefornia

          Borat is Cpl. Ivan’s hero… LOL!

      • Marshall

        As a person who has been fired on by “surplus junk” AKMs for a living, they should not to be taken lightly. Just because a weapon is inexpensive does not make it cheap.

    • Justy

      /k/ pls go

    • hami

      This is satire, guys haha

      “ammunition would have had no effect, ok maybe increase accuracy”
      That line had me rolling hahaha

      • James Elliott

        Who needs satire in this kind of discussion? I don’t see any humor in this at all.

        • Jeremy Star

          Not everyone feels the need to be serious 100% of the time.

        • douchemaster

          Lighten up, Francis.

    • Komrad

      This is a really poor Ivan imitation.

    • ClintTorres

      Thanks, Cpl. Ivan!! I will avoid the implements of the evil capitalist plague at all costs!

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Before anybody goes nuts this is satire:-)

      • Nicks87

        Yeah, some of you guys really need to get a life…
        It was a joke, take it as such and move on.

    • Hutner57dor

      i do know this is supposed to be satire, but he does have a point.

      for the same type of failure in an AK, you would probably damage the dust cover, but thats about it. grab another one from the whole box of em you have sitting in your closet, pop it on, good to go.

      if things got really nasty, you may bulge the receiver a bit. nothing a hammer, a bench vise, and 20 minutes of swearing profusely with a bottle of vodka can’t fix.

      • Joshua

        Not really, this happens because the extractor does not have support in case of overpressure.

        The AK by design does not have a extractor support either, and a KB is just as bad as this.

        • JoelM

          This happened because the rifle was out of battery. If this had anything to do with overpressure it would have sheared the lugs on the bolt or extension. How it fired OOB is what I’d like to know. Maybe the guy was clearing a hangfire and it went off as soon as he unlocked the bolt?

      • Commiefornia

        Have you seen the youtube video of a Taliban’s AK going kaboom?

        • Y-man

          THIS type of AK, owned by THESE guys ARE permitted, no – encouraged, to go KB anytime! You’d be shocked this guy was firing the WRONG ammo…

    • Commiefornia

      LOL!

    • Karina

      За Родину, товарищ Чесноков!

  • Rick

    even if the back of the cartridge fails, shouldnt the bolt still be locked to contain most of the explosive in the chamber? Or does this somehow cause the bolt to unlock before detonation completes?

    Are they sure it didn’t get stuck and go off from the bolt coming forward before the round was in chamber? It seems a lot of blast hit those rounds next in the magazine. Or did another round go off out of battery?

    • michaeljball

      The fact that the carrier seems to be blown apart where the gas enters suggests a double charge or the wrong powder. A case failure would not cause something like this.

      • dp

        Exactly, my thought too.

      • Laserbait

        It’s really hard to double charge the 223/5.56 with rifle powders. Now, a full case of pistol powder would do this damage easily.

        • PatrickHenry1789

          That’s what I was thinking too. I have about 200 loads made up for my M4 so far. Using 19.1 grains of IMR 4198, there’s no way you could over charge it. The powder would be running out of the top of the case.

    • dp

      Detonation was first, then the upper cracked. Once bolt group was loose, it just popped out. That upper really looks opened like ‘book of wisdom’, doesn’t it?
      In ‘smaller’ cases of KBs I have seen the upper stays intact, bolt locked and mag gets flushed out. Gun design is safe, the ammo must have been horribly out of spec.

  • Capybara

    Whoops, use handgun powder much?

  • LRB

    Do we have a picture of the cartridge case? Are we sure it wasn’t an out of battery detonation? Even if the case head failed it should have damaged the bolt and carrier but not imploded the upper, not trying to be all Gun Kaboom CSI internet ninja but I would like to see a pic of the cartridge case. The good news is it looks as if the lower survived so at least he only has to replace to BCG, upper and a PMAG.

    • JoelM

      I have a theory that it might have been a hangfire that the guy cleared too quickly. Maybe it detonated right as he pulled the charging handle. It does look like it was an OOB detonation for sure, I see no damage to the lugs.

  • Spaceme

    Why is this a news story? Bad reloads can and will make ANY gun go ka-boom.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Cautionary tale

      • Mustang Mike

        There is a story like this for airguns, a guy tried to fill a sumatra pcp rifle i believe a 9mm/357 caliber with oxygen. It blew the front of the barrel and airtubes up, sent pieces of metal into the guys body and arm. He survived but tried to return the gun, over the course of the argument with the number 1 dealer for airguns in the country whom he bought it from. He slipped up and said he used oxygen and they said deal with it and hung up on him.

        Its when things like this happen they need to be heard

        FYI any one looking into a pcp airgun, NITROGEN OR HIGH PRESSURE AIR ONLY !!!

  • neoconfection

    Mentioning the rounds were hand-loaded feeds into the false narrative that handloading is unsafe- I’ve loaded thousands of rounds and never had a double charge, misfire, hangfire, or squib. I have had all of those with factory ammo. Handloads have a lower failure rate than commercial ammo- this guy was just unlucky.

    • gunslinger

      it seems that a majority of KBs posted dealt with someone using someone else’s hand loads. i’m sorry but how well do you know bubba? is his QC as good as what you would do for yourself? good as any of the major production ammo factories?

      so yeah, hand loading is safe.. as safe as you make it. and you have no control over someone else’s hand loads.

      • neoconfection

        That’s fair; I always forget that everybody’s QC isn’t as good as mine.

      • JoelM

        Not even just “bubba”… my dad gave me some ammo once to use for deer season and I was looking at it and noticed that a few of them had cracked necks. They were his reloads.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Good call, but hand loading one’s own ammunition can also actually be unsafe under certain circumstances — if one is not doing it correctly, when one miscalculates or when one gets a little too enthusiastic.

  • Lance

    Now Steve quit blowing ARs up for cool pics…. LOL

  • James Elliott

    I have a Glock 20, for those unfamiliar with the G20 is it a 10mm handgun. When I was doing research for my first handgun, the 10mm caught my attention and one of the issues brought up was about handloads, particularly with this kind of bullet that has a lot of power. Some of the handloads blew up early versions of the 10mm guns that were made back then in the late 80’s. After I bought the G20, I made a decision to buy only ammo that was prime manufactured and not handloaded ammo. In a rifle like the AR in which the gas block is the primary functional piece of the weapon that makes it work, I would not do handloads. It is too risky. I’m glad that no injuries happened in this incident, but that is just too close a call.

    • Laserbait

      James, handloading (you own) is much less risky than store bought ammo, provided you have attention to detail. It’s not rocket science, but the QC that you can put into your own ammo rivals any store bought ammo – even the match stuff.

      If you’re over confident, lazy, have ADHD, or can’t/don’t read, stay FAR AWAY from reloading.

      • Mustang Mike

        As soon as I can find reliable reload supplies ( factory is just now getting back to almost being normal supplies) I am switching to hand loading.

        Until then I shoot strictly federal xm193 and hornaday ammo. Never had a issue but for me I shoot rifles left handed.. So I am willing to bet if I was shooting the rifle in the pictures I would have been injured.

  • Joshua

    question here, now we’ve seen, I’m gonna be conservative and say, a few, rifle KBs in the last little while, the curious trend I’ve noticed is they’re all AR 15s, now I understand that as AR 15s are the most common semi automatic rifle currently sold, as a logical result, even if all rifles had the same KB rates, the majority would be ARs, but, I have only seen one that wasn’t an AR in a very long time, and it was a result of someone grabbing the wrong ammunition, so the question, are other rifles going KB? or is there something about the ARs, or current manufacturing of ARs, that is making them go KB?

  • Aaron E

    OK, is it just me or are the (2) cartridges that are smashed to hell near the neck an indication of what really happened. If that is what those cartridges looked like before loading, is it possible that the reduction in space caused over-pressure inside the cartridge itself at the point of ignition? The force has to go somewhere, which could explain the case blowing out.
    I’m just starting in reloading so I’m throwing up a guess. Any thoughts on my hypothesis?

    As for Cpl. Ivan – hilarious! A little long, but still made me laugh – “ok maybe increase accuracy” and “ADDIDAS SWEATPANTS OF PERFECTION” were classic.

    • JoelM

      Judging by all the exploded things around there and the twisted and bent steel, I’d say those cartridges probably weren’t dented till after the gun blew up.

  • Spaceme

    Here is another question: where the handloads the owner’s handloads or were they someone else’s or were they “gun show” reloads?

  • anon

    Look at the locking lugs on the bolt and in the barrel nut. they are all fully intact and undamaged from the photos. Had the bolt been locked in battery when the round detonated, those features would need to show damage to transmit the forces from the chamber back to the actually damaged components. rather what you have is a bolt driven aft into the bolt carrier This was not a case head separation failure, this was an out of battery fire

    • Joshua

      Wrong, when the AR-15 experiences overpressure it generally travels down the path of least resistance.

      This is the extractor, which is why in this pic the extractor is no where to be seen and why certain guns have a extractor lug support in the barrel extension to combat overpressure.

      • JoelM

        So, how did the carrier split then? My thoughts were that the bolt was unlocked and was forced back into the carrier. If the bolt was locked during ignition it would have blown the extractor out and split the receiver from the pressure venting, but not the carrier too.

    • Muaddib

      note the cam pin is not installed.

      owner screwed up on his reassembly.

  • Ryan

    I wonder where the optic and/or rear sight ended up?

  • Erik

    did he use pistol powder? i’ve heard of a shooter that accidentally tipped some pistol powder into his rifle powder, and thought that it would be OK.
    if this happens to you, dispose of the powder!!!

  • Don5544

    This was not ammo but user error. The bolt was driven back into the bolt carrier. the side of the upper shows that the upper was not down and pinned so that the BCG could cycle into the butt stock.
    You can call it ammo all you want but I’m not buying.

  • jamezb

    Regarding the top pic, is there a crack in the barrel at about 12:00 directly below the gas tube? Dang I’m glad I wasn’t holding that gun.

  • Gigs

    This is what happens when you forget to install the cam pin. Note that it’s not there at all. Without the cam pin, the bolt will not rotate to lock into battery, which is why there’s no damage to the bolt face or locking lugs.

    So, always remember to install the cam pin after taking your bolt carrier apart.

    • Mustang Mike

      Thats what i thought could have happened, luckly a buddy of mine with his first ar after shooting we were cleaning them at his place.Had his put back together when I noticed the cam pin peaking out from under a paper he had on his coffee table.

      Luckly I caught that and told him what would happen if he shot it right now with out that being installed.

      • gunslinger

        are we sure it didn’t shear off? could that be possible?

        Also, what’s that round piece beween the UR and the charging handle, in pictures 2, 3 and 5?

        and what are the pieces to the left of the bullets in the last picture?

        • Gigs

          The round piece is what’s left of the case head. I’m not sure where the threaded bolt is from, but the other thing looks like a piece of the charging handle.

          Another way you can tell the cam pin was missing is to look at the orientation of the bolt. It’s rotated completely the wrong way, which is consistent with a missing cam pin that would have let it spin into a random orientation.

          There’s also a lack of vaporized brass that generally occurs when there’s extreme overpressure leading to a case failure. Generally parts get coated with a golden sheen, but sometimes it doesn’t show up very well on pictures.

    • Right_2_Bear_Arms

      +1

      As a side note look how thin the upper is by the first two pic rail notches (by gas tube) – paper thin. I can’t make out the make of the rifle but I sure hope mine is not like that!

    • Ian

      Look again, the cam pin is there. 2nd to last picture.

      • Gigs

        That round thing on the edge of the picture is the forward assist button not the cam pin. You can also see the completely empty cam pin hole in the bole in the 2nd to last picture.

        • Ian

          Your empty hole is phosphated and reflecting the camera’s flash so no, there’s a cam pin. Thank you for assuming people can’t tell a cam pin in a carrier from a forward assist that isn’t even near the carrier in the photo.

          And if you’re still not convinced, why is the bolt rotated into the locked position in the back of the carrier? Just magic coincidence?

  • JohnB

    Every unplanned kinetic disassembly of an AR I have ever seen on a range was with third party reloads. I have seen lots of “that’s not right” moments with commercial ammunition, especially Russian, but never a ka-boom. Swelled cases, stretched cases, primers blown out, and the bolt stuck in the buffer tube, but never a ka-boom except with third party reloads.

  • patriot89

    AAAaaaand i wont be shooting hand loads in my ar ever