How To Make An AR-18

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GunLab has some excellent photos of the steps involved in making AR-18 upper and lower receivers. The first article shows the stages of stamping the lower, while the second shows the same for the upper.

The AR-18 is a design intended to be mass produced by countries lacking the more advanced aluminum-working techniques then state-of-the-art. Its basic operating mechanism, which is essentially the short-stroke piston of an SVT-40 mated to the bolt of an AR-15, has been adapted by several more recent designs, including the G36 and Magpul Masada.

GunLab is an excellent blog, run out of the same shop that hosts ForgottenWeapons. Anyone interested in the production of firearms should find a place in their browser bookmarks for it!



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • noob

    the ar18 should have been more widely accepted. if it was “the” modern sporting rifle today you could potentially have had all kinds of crazy 3rd party parts for it – ergonomic folding stocks, a bullpup kit, all the rails… it was such a compact and elegant action. instead of being a commonly available firearm with widely available standardized parts from a plethora of manufacturers, we get the *idea* of the ar18 operating system adapted into a multitude of firearms that are incompatible parts wise with each other.

    oh what could have been…

    • Anonymoose

      AR-18 kits should be commonly available as an alternative to 80% lowers and AK parts kits. I’m sure I’m not the first one to have this idea, though.

      • noob

        to make an ak parts kit, they first have to cut up a surplus ak right?

        I guess that was the problem. for all the ease of manufacture inherent to the ar18 design, nobody was stamping out millions of ar18s to cut up.

        that an the fact that the ar18 was specified in aluminium which requires TIG welding. I’ve tried my hand at TIG and it’s a lot harder than MIG welding.

        maybe stoner should have specified it in steel, like the AK it was competing against.

        • Tinkerer

          The AR-18 was specified in STEEL sheet, not aluminum.

          • noob

            ah my mistake. I got misled by all the tig welds in the photos linked in the article.

    • RickH

      It was a very good design. A friend of a friend had one in the early ’80’s, and I was lucky enough to fire it fairly extensively. It was a Howa, and I was pretty impressed as I had recently purchased my first ar15. All it needed (imho) was a better handguard, and a much better folding stock hinge. Very clean shooting rifle.

    • Doom

      I Agree, The AR 18 could have been amazing and super cheap, like WASR 10
      cheap, but it just never took off unfortunately, maybe it will some
      day, but probably not. Such a cool looking and reliable gun.

  • Tinkerer

    I don’t quite understand why people automatically dismiss the stamped steel sheet manufacture method as “cheap third world country stuff” while singing the praises to the “state-of-the-art forged and machined aluminum manufacture method”. Both methods can deliver products of similar quality if properly performed, but the stamped steel sheet method can do it faster and at a lower cost. From an engineering point of view, a manufacture method that produces a product of competing quality for a fraction of time and cost is an advancement.

    • anonymous

      people automatically dismiss the stamped steel sheet manufacture method as “cheap third world country stuff”

      This comment brought to you by the letters “H” and “K”.

      • Tinkerer

        I was thinking more on the line of the letteres “S”, “I” and “G”, and the number “550”.

    • dp

      Hey Tinkerer,
      look at my previous remark. I’m saying basically same as you do. In support of what you say, let it be known to all:
      1. Armalite was aircraft manufacturer’s division; for them Al-forgings were second nature, e.g. shanks of landing gear
      2. Sheet metal work pays for itself very quickly; see German rifles manufacture
      3. Essentially, all guns afterwards, part of M16 and AK series are based on AR-18; with some insignificant exceptions
      4. Designer was Jim Sullivan – he is the MAN.
      Now let’s take break and talk something else.

      • Jim Sullivan has already left ArmaLite for Cadillac Gage by the time the AR-18 was designed, and Fairchild had already kicked ArmaLite to the curb. Design credit belongs to Art Miller.

        • dp

          Oh really, I thought it was E.S. who went to Cadillac Gage that time. But, I respect your knowledge and authority.

          • Stoner went to Cadillac Gage first, and then reassembled his old team of Jim Sullivan and Robert Fremont.

      • Number 3 is patently absurd, by the way.

    • There’s nothing wrong with stamping, that is just what the AR-18 was designed for. Whichever construction method you prefer, steelworking techniques like stamping were proven well before aluminum forging techniques were. Therefore nations that could not make aluminum forged receivers because they did not have the machines could make the stamped steel AR-18. This is an explicit part of the design, it has nothing to do with which method is “better”.

      • Tinkerer

        But that’s the thing: the aluminum forging techniques aren’t some black magic voodoo beyond the comprehension of dark-skinned thirdworlders: it requieres a metal pressing machine -like the stamped steel receiver manufacture does- and machining for the details -again, like the steer receiver manufacture does-. Basically, you might even use the same machine tools and techniques for either manufacture process. Simply put, the rifles with forged aluminum receivers were designed so because the company that made them originally was an aerospace company -Fairchild owned Armalite back then- with the know-how and tools for that process. That’s all.

        • You need a hell of a bigger press to forge aluminum than to stamp an AR-18 receiver. Not every country is going to have a bunch of big presses to crank out AR-15 receivers, but bending a steel sheet is pretty easy.

          I would also like to note that the person who made this about race was you, not me. I never said anything about third world countries, nor about forging being “beyond” anyone’s comprehension, much less that being because of the color of their skin.

          • Tinkerer

            Chill, Nat. Relax. You don’t need to say anything about race or skin color. That was just an hyperbole. Now breathe deeply and count to √-1

            In regards to your point of “hell of a bigger press to forge aluminum than to stamp an AR-18 reveiver”: I would very much like if you would provide us mere mortals with the numbers and citations that corroborate it. How much pressure would you need for the aluminum forging? How big the press? Would the iron or steel forging presses in existence since the 19th century work with aluminum? How about the steel stamping press, how big must it be?

            countries
            lacking the more advanced aluminum-working techniques – See more at:
            http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/14/make-ar-18/#disqus_thread
            countries
            lacking the more advanced aluminum-working techniques – See more at:
            http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/14/make-ar-18/#disqus_thread
            countries
            lacking the more advanced aluminum-working techniques – See more at:
            http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/14/make-ar-18/#disqus_thread

          • It’s really strange to have you first put words into my mouth, then tell me that I got upset about it. Neither did I say the thing you implied I said, nor did I get upset. I did, though, call you out on your churlishness.

            This is what’s needed to bend an AK flat:

            The AR-18 design is attempting to approach this level of simplicity, though whether they do or not is not for me to say.

            An AR-15, on the other hand, needs an aluminum forging press, which looks like this:

            A manufacturer of AKs would likely use a stamping press, yes, but there’s a lot more to forging aluminum than just the press, and you further need about hand strength to bend an AK receiver, whereas I have never had much luck trying to bend chunks of aluminum with my bare hands. So the requirements for doing stampings are much, much lower.

            Nations with an aircraft industry would likely have little problem making AR-15s, but not all nations did have that. The AR-18 was designed to be license-produced in such countries as the latter.

          • Tinkerer

            Such a pretty video of an enthusiast bending a pre-stamped part on a low production -as in: one piece a day- line. Here, let me show you what a real steel sheet stamping line looks like.

            Remeber, we’re talking about arming a country, not making a kit gun. Apples to apples, Nat.

          • You’re sidestepping the point I was making, which is that aluminum forging equipment was not widely proliferated in the early ’60s, when the AR-18 was designed. Stamping equipment, on the other hand, was much more common. The AR-18 was designed around this reality, not around any sort of racial bias as you claim.

            The video of pressing an AK receiver flat was intended to show you how much less pressure it takes to do stampings, vs. forging aluminum. I’m not a production engineer, and so I can’t rattle off exact figures for this, but it’s clearly lower.

            It’s very apparent that you are primarily interested in discrediting me and my writing. I am not sure what I have done to earn this sort of response, but regardless, I don’t think this conversation is really about which weapon was more readily made in non-aircraft producing countries in the ’60s.

          • Tinkerer

            Not discrediting: fact-stating. The common tale of “stamped steel sheet is for low-technology countries and forged aluminum is for high-technology countries” is a fallacy. I don’t know when it started -maybe it was a sales pitch from Armalite-, but is simply untrue. In order to produce a sufficient amount of firearms via the stamped steel sheet requires machinery, knowledge, tools and materiales that are at a level similar to that of aluminum forging -high quality steel that doesn’t tear when pressed, large and powerful steel presses, etc. It was technology that was widely available since the early 20th century, even if it wasn’t being used in the firearms industry, but it certainly was applied in the automotive and even consumer industries. It is not an attack on you or your writing -altough I admit your defensiveness amuses me-, but on the fallacy that’s being perpetuated.

          • Do me a favor and point to anything that I actually said here that is factually inaccurate.

            You aren’t interested in doing that, instead you went off the rails talking about how racist I was.

          • Tinkerer

            This is factually inaccurate:

            “The AR-18 is a design intended to be mass produced by countries lacking the
            more advanced aluminum-working techniques then state-of-the-art -”

            Simply put: any country that has the technological level to setup a stamped-steel sheet production line has also the technological level to setup a forged aluminum production line, since both setups rely on similar technological advances as hydraulic presses, tool steel dies that can resist wear before needing replacening, machine tools, and advanced enough metallurgy. Even more so when the forging process was already widespread wherever anybody was producing socket wrenches or connecting rods for engines, which are made of steel and therefore harder to manufacture than aluminum forgings -it would take just a little learning to switch materials. The only reason why Fairchild/Armalite went with the forged aluminum route was because they already had suitable production lines already set up.

          • Well, man, I don’t know what to tell you if you think the stamped steel AR-18 wasn’t designed to fill a market niche in countries without aluminum forging capability to spare. This fact is explicitly stated in The Sterling Years.

            Further, you seem to be unwilling to admit that these are two different technologies, since you keep talking about them being on the same “technological level.” What’s so difficult to understand about Armalite seeking to fill a niche with this design? That is all I ever said.

          • Tinkerer

            Science 101: you need more than one source of data in order to back your claim. “The Sterling Yeras” sound interesting, now you can find more sources.

            Now, I know those are different technologies, but they use many of the same tools, and neither is vastly more advanced or complex than the other. Aluminum forging is used vastly in aerospace industries, but it is not rocket science: it’s been along since the late 1920s-early 1930s, and is just an offshoot of earlier forging methods for copper and brass. It wasn’t some highly advanced technology that was years beyond what could be implemented by a country that could implement steel sheet stamping. Hell, a hydraulic press only needs to change it’s dies in order to perform different labors with different materials, and the hydraulic presses specifically designed for forging aren’t more difficult to operate than the ones specifically designed for stamping. Hell, the tool steel dies needed for stamping would actually need to be of higher metallurgical capabilities in order to work with hard steel sheet than the ones need for forging softer aluminum.

            Look, even if Armalite actually DID intend to market it to “less developed countries”, from a technological and engineering point of view the choice was unneeded. It seems more like a sales pitch.

            The point is (and I’m not blaming you for the mistake, but the ones that originated it -possibly Armalite-) that the basic idea that a less developed country couldn’t take advantage of the aluminum forging process is flawed, since that was an already stablished and well known technology for at least 30 years.

          • 1. I need multiple primary sources to back a claim about Armalite’s marketing strategy, now? What are you talking about? This isn’t an experiment you can repeat, it’s historical documentation, mate. Have you even read The Sterling Years?

            2. I never aluminum forging is rocket science (actually, it is, since rockets are made of the stuff, but that’s neither here nor there), only that it’s more advanced. Sheet metal pressing has been around since the Middle Ages, while aluminum working begins in the late 19th century. QED, it’s “more advanced”. This says nothing about being better.

            3. Nobody’s saying aluminum forging was beyond the grasp of simpleminded third world peasants. Some countries, however, were already mass producing stamped steel products, but not forged aluminum ones (they are, after all, different processes required some of the same tools and machines yes, but also several different ones). This was the market niche Armalite was catering to.

            This conversation has been nothing but you trying to get me to “defend” a statement so innocuous it’s almost tautological. You’ve brought along all you could muster (including implying I’m a big bad racist) to try and discredit this statement, by way of discrediting me. I’m not interested in letting you dodge this, at this point.

          • Tinkerer

            You need to learn to detect an hyperbole when you see it, Nat. I don’t really care if you “felt” that I accused you of racism, because that is not true. I am not discrediting YOU, I am discrediting the notion that aluminum forging was annatainable for “low technology countries”, by stating the facts that aluminum forging is no more difficult than steel sheet stamping and that aluminum forging has been around for a long time and was a widespread technology in any country that had early-20th century technology. Do you understand now? Are you still feeling that I am attacking you? How else do you want me to explain it to you?

          • And you’re still wrong about that.

          • Tinkerer

            Here, take a look at this aluminum press, circa 1930, derived from an older copper press. Old, and attainable technology -even more considering that the ones in the late 50s-early 60s were more efficient.

          • Tinkerer
          • Tinkerer

            And here’s a nice document about the complexities of metal sheet stamping:

            http://intrawww.ing.puc.cl/siding/public/ingcursos/cursos_pub/descarga.phtml?id_curso_ic=722&id_archivo=18602

          • Right, and 500 years prior you had the medievals beating on sheet steel to make stuff. Hence “less advanced”. Aluminum working in general is “more advanced” because you need aluminum in the first place.

            I’ve said several times – though you never seen keen to listen – that there’s nothing “wrong” with stamping. You can make great stuff with stamping. Nevertheless, there were far more shops set up to do stamping in the ’60s than there were ready to be forging AR-15 receivers. This made the AR-18 appealing.

            What also made the AR-18 appealing, which you miss in your condemnation of the opinion that the rifle was designed for license production in less well accommodated factories, was that the AR-18 was designed in many ways to be a mass produced “kit gun”. I borrowed The Sterling Years from a friend to read it, so I don’t have it on hand to quote from directly, but basically most of the parts would be made and prefabricated by Armalite and then exported for final shaping and assembly by the “license producer”. This is a fact. That you are arguing against it is more than a little strange.

          • Chase Buchanan

            It honestly did not appear to me that the comment about aluminum forging being “voodoo” and “dark-skinned third-worlders” was intended to imply that anyone in particular was racist. It appeared to be an off-hand hyperbolic line, which perhaps might have been in poor taste and easily taken in a harmful way, but was not made with malicious intent.

          • I don’t feel that, as an employee of this company, I have much choice in how I handle comments like that. Before I responded, I read the comment several times. I did not say anything in my initial response except to note that I had no part in connecting this to race in any way. As an author, I feel that was an appropriate response.

            Tinkerer clearly felt I lashed out at him, which, uh, I guess he’s entitled to feel. In this day and age, I’m not sure how he expected a paid author to react to someone connecting their work to racism.

          • Chase Buchanan

            That makes sense, and it’s fair.

          • roguetechie

            Yeah no…. you’re wrong. The OP is right.

            Here’s the thing. At the time all of this took place aluminum forging equipment for mass production really wasn’t all that available on a level that made domestic production programs viable outside of a select few nations.

            Further, even if tens of millions of dollars in 2014 dollars could be drummed up to buy equipment first tier nations were only strategically doling out to trusted allies and even then sparingly! Where do you think exactly they’re going to hand wave trained personnel used to working this basically unobtainable equipment into existence from?

            So yeah theoretically on the most absolutely superficial level possible you’d be correct. Then any one of several hundred economic, geopolitical, and qualified workforce related factors pimpslaps you in the face!

            Oh did the OP mention high precision aluminum fabrication is in fact ROCKET SCIENCE? YUP!!

            You know buzzwords like dual use technology and nonproliferation existed then too yes? Might have been different specific terms but today’s centrifuge was yesterdays high throughput aerospace grade manufacturing equipment.

            So yeah you’re wrong, drop it.

          • Tactical Tightwad

            If a country can’t mill an aluminum AR receiver, they have little chance forging barrels.

          • Sure. In the case of the AR-18, barrels were going to be provided along with the rest of the parts for final assembly.

        • HSR47

          Actually, you shouldn’t need to machine a stamped receiver: Any holes that need to be in the finished product can easily be stamped out before it gets folded to shape.

  • jamezb

    I sure wish I’d got an AR180 back when they were common and nobody wanted them.

  • dp

    I like this “less developed industrial base” notion.
    Does anyone from readers have any idea how much tool making it would take to produce and to MAITAIN set of dies and fictures for production to make AR-18? Yeah, send it to Ghana……right on. 🙂
    What a bull.

    • Take it up with Armalite, then.

      • Stoner appears to have been the original advocate for sheet metal construction over George Sullivan’s preference for forged aluminum.

        • Yeah, that seems to be the case. Stoner, for his association with the AR-15 in the eyes of the popular culture, didn’t seem to favor a great many elements of its design.

          • roguetechie

            You know it’s truly amazing how absolutely wrong the firearms community at large has the origin story of the entire group of weapons that came out of the Fairchild Armalite hothouse. I mean then again see the looks of outright anger and mobs that show up to burn you at stake for heresy if you mention the obvious fact that Melvin Johnson obviously had an extremely heavy influence in the AR 10 / 15.

            Oddly every one of the good features of his earlier projects seem to have hit the bin leaving all of the questionable or outright bad features hah. Oh and speaking of Mel Johnson take a look at the lower of his lmg design next to a stoner 62/63 lower… Also the whole modularity idea owes lots to Mel Johnson.

          • dp

            I read the same in several sources. Yes, Johnson is godfather of M16, no doubt. Similarly between his rifle and the latter is clearly visible. Johnson could have made lot mode contribution, had he lived longer.

          • Mel Johnson is a hugely unsung contributor to the AR family and many modern weapons. He definitely got his revenge against Garand, that’s for sure.

          • roguetechie

            He is one of my heroes for very good reasons. One thing that confounds me even now is how so many of the ground breaking features he managed to integrate into the initial rifle lmg pairing were removed from the ar 10/15. Quick change barrel, multi caliber tool less interchange, the 2 pin swappable feed group (including a belt feed mechanism), and the open/closed bolt hybrid fcg were all stripped out in the change over.

            They were also specifically designed for ease of manufacturing! As compared to the Garand and M14 which were nightmares.

            Oh and both the rifle and lmg version could fire the m1 loading of 30 06 instead of the weaker m2 loading Garand rifles had to have. I will admit a single stack side feeding lmg was not bright, but considering all he got right I think we should give him his mulligan.

        • dp

          Yes, that’s quite visible on his ’63 system.

      • In the 1965 Gun Digest, ArmaLite president Charles Dorchester was quoted regarding the AR-16 and AR-18:

        “Both guns combine the extensive use of sheet metal stampings with automatic screw machine parts, designed to require a minimum of close tolerances. Small nations can virtually produce these guns in ordinary machine shops; and when the military need is met, this same tooling can literally be converted back from making swords to plowshares.”

        I seem to remember a sore spot for Singapore was the need to source their M16 receiver forgings directly from Colt. I’m not certain that this was a contract requirement, but it probably helped Colt keep Singapore from cheating and building more rifles than their license allowed.

        • In “The Sterling Years,” Sterling executive James Sterling noted that ArmaLite bought commercial machines at auction and fitted them with their fixtures and tooling for the AR-18. Effectively, all the machine operators had to do was move the blanks and partially finished parts between their various fixtures. Other than deburring, the machining process was automated. Once the parts were cycled through their appropriate fixtures, they were ready for finish and assembly.

    • claymore

      So the people that make complete guns in Dara Pakistan with hand tools and no dies are doing it wrong?

      • Laserbait

        Yes, and no.

  • Very nice read. I wish I had access to a machine shop or a cnc machine

  • Zachary marrs

    An ar18 is the one gun I’d love to have, but every once in a blue moon a gunshop near me gets one, i just can’t bring myself to get it. Too much money for what would pretty much just be a range toy

  • “SOMEBODY” needs to make these as 80%’s
    in steel and using as much AR-15/m-16 components as possible..