Building an Early-Afghanistan M4A1

WeaponsMan has begun a project that I personally find very interesting: Recreating a SOCOM M4A1 from the initial 2002 Afghanistan campaign. Hognose’s goal is to recreate with as high a fidelity as possible the weapon he served with during that period, using a 14.5″ SBR Colt LE M4.

His stamp for the SBR was approved, and he received the rifle on the 15th.

One of the interesting things Hognose included in the post was a weighing of the rifle – sources as to the exact weight of the M4 have been all over the place, and so it’s nice to have one more confirmation that the rifle is so light as I suspected. With the carry handle attached, it weights 6.5lbs, which comes out to about 5.9lbs unloaded without the carry handle/rear sight.


6.5lbs, unloaded. Image source:

As an aside, this has been a bugbear of mine: for all the flaws the M4 may have as an infantry weapon, it is very, very light. So light, today’s competing firearms designers cannot seem to even approach it, despite having access to materials and manufacturing processes that would make George Sullivan green with envy.

I certainly am looking forward to what Hognose will do with this rifle in trying to recreate a piece of recent history!

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • KestrelBike

    So true. I have a very simple M4gery with zero bells and whistles, everything stock and unassuming as can be (down to the regular M4 stock and A2 pistol grip that comes in the standard LPK. It’s amazingly light. Then I have another 14.5″ (pinned at 16.5″ w/ a compensator) AR that I use to compete 3Gun with, and it’s a heavy pig with magpul stock/grip, a larue quad-rail handguard, compensator, 4x optic, and the weight difference between the two is night and day.

  • Joshua

    Why? Early M4A1’s back in 2001 and 2002 were problem children. He also has the wrong stock, needs to toss in a subpar carbine buffer, and an even worse weak M16 extractor spring with black bumper(no o-ring) to make sure he can easily replicate the numerous FTF and FTE that plagued the weapon prior to the reliability package in 2007.

    The M4A1 SOCOM uses today is how it is for a reason, and that is because it is a far more capable and far more reliable weapon than it was in 2001-2002.

    • It’s not done yet, Joshua (one could argue it hasn’t been started yet, actually). Also, I think the reason he wants to build one is because he served with one and is nostalgic for them.

  • iksnilol

    Regarding weight: The VZ58 is really lightweight. it is less than 3kg unloaded and that is with a 40 cm barrel, steel receiver and IIRC the stock is wood.

    • Paladin

      The stock for the Vz58 is a wood impregnated plastic, a fair sight lighter than just solid wood. While the Vz58 is an impressive firearm, it is somewhat lacking in the optics mounting department.

      • iksnilol

        Still, steel receiver and longer barrel. Nothing wrong with optics on the VZ58, just use the siderail. Just because something is a bit different doesn’t mean it is bad. Personally I am a fan of the sideral mounted scopes since you can still use iron sights… though you lose the ability to use stripper clips in most cases.

        Wonder how light the VZ would be with a shorter barrel (30 cm) and an aluminium receiver.

        • Paladin

          Side rails aren’t a deal breaker, the big issue is ejection. If you mount a scope that sits forward of the dust cover chances are that it’s gonna get pretty beat up, or you’ve got to use a brass deflector. The AR’s side ejection simplifies optics mounting. Stripper clips are pretty much a non-issue these days, especially in a detachable box magazine fed rifle like the Vz58.

          As for an aluminum receiver, that’s a no go. The Vz58 bolt uses a tilt locking mechanism, with lugs milled into the receiver. Aluminum just cant handle that level of stress. That’s why the AR barrel is designed the way it is, with a steel barrel extension for a rotating bolt to lock into. At the very least you’d be faced with designing a two-part receiver, with a steel front trunion for the barrel and locking lugs, and the rest aluminum. Then you’re facing issues of how to join the two together sturdily. At the end of the day it’s a lot of expense for not a whole lot of weight savings.

          • You could have something similar to a FAMAS (lever-delayed blowback) with about the same layout as a Vz. The FAMAS has an aluminum receiver with a steel insert, and that apparently works fine.

          • Paladin

            As I understand it the primary stress that the locking lugs have to withstand is the pressure forcing the barrel and bolt face apart, so you have to deal with the compression force on the face of the lugs, and the tensile strain between the lugs and the barrel. Steel lug faces could obviously handle the compression, but I’m not sure whether or not aluminum would be able to handle the tensile strain. What you’d likely need would be something akin to an AK’s front trunion, where the barrel socket and locking lugs are a single steel unit. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it would require a significant redesign of the receiver, and possibly the bolt as well.

          • Correct; but that is apparently not an insurmountable problem if you were to change to a retarded blowback form of mechanism.

          • Paladin

            I do find the delayed blowback concept interesting, theoretically it should be possible to build a very accurate delayed blowback rifle, since there’s no gas port or piston to affect the barrel harmonics. It seems that the design is not without it’s difficulties though, the FAMAS isn’t exactly well regarded in most circles, and the HK roller delayed guns have their own issues, mostly stemming from the high extraction pressure.

            I am curious as to how the FAMAS manages to get by with only steel inserts. It doesn’t seem like aluminum would have the tensile strength necessary. Perhaps the delayed blowback mechanism places less stress on the locking lugs.

          • I am not certain, but I think most of the bad rap of the FAMAS comes from the rifles being very old. The last ones were made in the ’80s, IIRC.

            It’s possible there’s something wrong with it, though, and it’s certainly true that bullpup delayed blowback guns can be unpleasant to fire.

          • iksnilol

            How bad can casings hitting the scope be? NOTE: I am used to Zrak and PSO/POSP scopes so I am sorta used with the “idiot-proof” stuff.

            Regarding the receiver, I checked it out and you are right: better stick to the steel unless if a titanium receiver is possible but that is expensive.

            Also, I didn’t say it was lighter but that it was pretty close and could be modified to be lighter. I checked out your spreadsheet (really useful BTW) and according to it the rack weight of the M4 is less, but the combat weight is more. 370 grams lighter which IIRC is about one empty magazine. Though I presume the combat weight from the M4 comes from all the stuff that is bolted on. Though, does the combat weight include the weight of accessories and a loaded magazine or multiple magazines? Also, the AKM has also a similar combat weight as the M4 (ca. 4 kg for both).

          • Paladin

            I suppose it would depend on the strength of the optic, but it seems to me that one might see marred finish, possibly dents in the body, and in the worst case scenario a cracked objective lens.

          • Kivaari

            Depending on the rifle ejecting cases can cause damage. I once broke a windshield in my truck when firing a group. A windshield is not up to stopping 7.62x39mm cases.

    • If you click the link starting with the word “cannot” in the article, you’ll download a file I’ve been updating regularly with the rack and combat weights of various rifles.

      The Vz. 58 scores very highly, but isn’t quite so light as the various AR-15 models, M16A2 and A4 notwithstanding.

      • Paladin

        Your link gives me a corrupted file when I try to open it with Microsoft Excel.

        • Hmm. Should work with OpenOffice; that’s what I have.

          • Steve Truffer

            Good list Nathaniel. I wonder what the weights would be if we didn’t strap grenade launchers the the barrel of the M4/16. A combo i’d like to see- the vz58,in 5.45, using AK74 mags (or a 5.45 lancer), but topped with a m855a1 style bullet. Short barrel, short stroke, short case, generous taper, long bullet, constant curve, steel feed lips. seems like a handy carbine.
            Oh, for a few hours in a machine shop.

          • I like the Vz. 58 a lot, but optics mounting is a real problem for it.

            Having said that, I’d rather have one than an S805.

  • MountainKelly

    Buddy of mine built a recreation A1 in 5.45… pretty neat. Building old guns is fun.

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    “As high fidelity as possible” would mean starting with a stripped select-fire lower. Still cool, though.

    • Yes, it would, but Hognose is not a Class 2 SOT.

      • Michael R. Zupcak

        When I wrote that I meant a stripped pre-1986 lower from an M16 (preferably) or a converted AR-15 lower. I realize that wouldn’t quite be an M4 because of the old receiver but neither would a semi auto receiver. Personally if I did a select-fire rifle, I’d have an M16 lower bead blasted and re-finished and then buy all brand new M16 parts. That’d be like the “certified pre-owned” version of a “new” machine gun.

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  • I believe it is because of the block inserted into the rear of the receiver for the folding stock.

  • Kivaari

    Perhaps it is all in the barrel, having a small hole bored out compared to the 7.62mm bore. The butt stock “cuts” were simply a way to lighten the rifle to meet the armies weight limit. I used to think they were for identification purposes, but found out they are lightening cuts only.

  • Kivaari

    An M16A1 in semi-auto (with M4 feed ramps) would be a great choice. If the plastic furniture was made of the newer (A2) plastic so it would not break as easy, I’d take it. The A1 sight (with a large aperture like the A2) would do all I need. I use a Daniels Defense A1.5 on one of my rifles, and live it for its simplicity. The A2 (600-800m) feature is a waste.

  • Kivaari

    Did the original M4 carbines actually have as many defects as some claim? I heard stories about the M16A1, that never showed up during my NG days. We had 125 M16A1 rifles (120 made by H&R and 5 Colts). They worked well.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Interesting — i used an original M-16A1 for years ( 1977- 1982 ) for a good part of the time when I was “in”, and have been seriously contemplating the same, but with the improved modern polymer furniture versus the brittle old thin-walled FRP.

    The M-16 and M-4 are not my preferred assault / battle rifles, but nostalgia dies hard and I still have great affection for both.