Having worked on antique firearms in the past, I really appreciate the modularity and ease of repair that modern firearms have. This is especially true in the case of the AR-15 platform. That being said, quality parts are needed when making repairs or modifications. Though I come from a gunsmithing background, I was not aware just how many high-quality AR-15 parts DSArms makes in-house nowadays. Better known for being masters of the FAL-platform, DSArms is no newcomer to the AR-15 game. When I had need of a duty rifle, the first AR-15 I ever purchased over a decade ago was a DSA ZM4 that featured a DSArms-made lower mated to a 1st-generation POF-USA piston upper. When I learned I would be testing some of DSArms’ parts and tools, I assumed there would be 3 or 4 parts in the box. To my surprise, I opened it up to find a smorgasbord of 34 parts plus 2 different versions of their combination axe/AR-15 armorer’s tool!
The primary attribute I noticed about many of DSArms’ in-house parts was that they had an eye to the latest trend in MSR construction: reduced weight without loss of quality. Many of the parts were from their HGT line. These parts feature “high-grade” titanium, which is Ti-6Al-4V. This alloy insures very good corrosion resistance and strength while being lightweight. I should add that all of their parts are 100% US-made.
The titanium enhanced upper receivers are forged from 7075-T6 aluminum by Anchor Harvey Forgings and then machined, hard-coat anodized and assembled in-house with DSArms’ titanium forward assist assembly and port door pin. Part of the manufacturing process includes machining out the back of the shell deflector which giver the upper a distinct look as well as cutting weight. there is extra milling of the picatinny rail on top of the receiver which reduces weight as well. The top of the rail is marked for proper repositioning of optics as well. The Ti-enhanced upper weighs 7.6oz vs the non-Ti upper at 8.2oz.
I really liked the look of their NTFE (Nickel Teflon) finished Sand Cut Bolt Carrier for the AR-15. What I appreciated about it was not only the extra functionality of the sand cuts to eject debris out of the action, but how the part embodied DSArm’s original speciality in FAL construction. Inch-pattern FALs featured the very same sand cuts in their bolt. The bolt head has been MPI tested and is made from 9310 steel and the shot peened, chrome lined carrier is made from 8620 Steel. And yes, the gas key is properly staked. The bolt did cycle cleanly and smoothly in several different DGI uppers that I had on hand.
Also included in the box was DSArm’s AR15 Titanium Upgraded NTFE Lightweight Stock Assembly. The notable feature of their M4 buffer tube included in this kit is that it is NTFE coated for corrosion resistance and smoother adjustment of the stock. The stock body itself features titanium slide lock pin, slide lock nut and sling swivel screw for more than an ounce of weight reduction vs a standard M4 stock. The look and function of the buffer tube as installed on one of my test platform lowers was great. DSArms, VLTOR, and Magpul stocks all exhibited less resistance than when sliding on a standard tube. I found DSArms stock fit to be a bit loose and wobbly for my liking. MFT’s Battlelink Minimalist stock still reigns as my favorite ultralight stock for the AR.
Small Parts in Detail:
Also sent for me to assess were the following small parts for AR-15 uppers and lowers:
- Ti Buffer Tube Lock Rings (castle nut) in black and natural finish: With a weight of .4oz, I found these Castle nuts to work smoothly on several different buffer tubes without binding on the threads.
- Ti Hammer/Trigger axis pin set: Smooth, light, strong, and with no blemishes or burrs, this is a good set to replace one’s stock pins with.
- Ti AR15 Takedown and Pivot Pin Sets in black and natural finish: Weighing in at .3oz, these sets have a more positive lock into the detent than standard pivot pins. I also appreciated that the slits include extra detents and detent springs, the bane of any AR-15 armorer’s existence, even with the assistance of a clevis pin. I used to gunsmith in a shop that had shag carpet (from the previous owner). The horror of losing tiny parts such as a detent still haunts me, and it’s nice that they are included with the part either for a new build or as a replacement.
- Ti Lo Profile Gas Block: Weighs 1.25oz vs standard block at 2.1oz. The excellent corrosion resistance of the alloy is definitely an asset in the potential longevity and reliability of this block.
- Ti Pistol Grip Screw: Weighs 4.6 grams vs 7.6 grams standard steel version
- Ti Forward Assist Kit in black and natural finish: Weighs .45oz vs standard version at .7oz. A good option for lightweight builds that seek to still include forward assist capability.
- Rail Height Pic Rail Gas Block: A good platform for those who want their flip sight attached to their gas block. Made from billet 4140 steel.
- WarZ Enhanced Bolt Catch-Lightweight Checkered in black and NTFE: This bolt catch is designed to orient the shooter’s finger into the center of the bolt catch, which is bored out to reduce weight as well. While it may be a good design for some, I found it to be too much of a snow and ice magnet for use in my climate.
- Enhanced Delta Ring Kit: Designed to more closely match the profile of MagPul’s MOE furniture with a more angular profile than the standard delta ring.
- AR15 WarZ Enhanced Alloy Trigger Guards in black and FDE: Machined from 6061 billet aluminum with no sharp edges or angles. This trigger guard fit well and facilitated the use of my standard snow gloves, which I always appreciate.
- ULAS Bipod Mount: The Ultra Light Anti Snag picatinny bipod mount. This turned out to be one of my favorite items I tested of theirs. The ULAS is a simple, lightweight and smooth way to attach a Hariis-type bipod to one’s AR-15 handguard. With no bipod attached, it is comfortable to encompass with one’s hand, and has no sharp edges or protrusions. I mounted it on my 6.5 Grendel that I have set up for hunting pronghorn, and there it will stay. A great piece of gear.
Included in the crate were no less than ten of DSArms’ AR-15 flash hiders.
- Ti Short and Long Birdcage: Available only in 1/2×28 thread in black and natural Ti finish. The “long” models are designed to bring a 14.5″ barrel to 16″ OAL. I really liked the blue color inside of the black finished models, but of course this will be short lived after a few shots.
- WarZ Extended, Turret, and Standoff: Available in both 1/2×28 and 5/8×24, these flash hiders are pre-drilled for a .08 diameter blind pin. The turret models feature a scalloped turret for pain compliance, while the standoff models feature a very aggressive row of teeth at the muzzle.
Getting the Axe:
DSArms also included their Gen1 and Gen2 “Z Hawk” combination armorer’s tool and hatchet. Made from (apparently forged) carbon steel, these feature a castle nut wrench, barrel nut wrench, flash hider wrench for both 5/8×24 and 1/2×28, and an A2 buffer tube wrench. It also has the provision to use a 1/2″ driver and features a bottle opener. The main difference between the Gen1 and Gen2 models is the handle. The Gen1 has a rounded handle with finger grooves, whereas the Gen2 has a paracord-wrapped flat handle. Both models have a nylon MOLLE sheath.
As far as functionality goes, the Z Hawk needed sharpening to be useful in its’ hatchet role. This is not unusual when it comes to hatchets I’ve had over the years. Out of many, I’ve only had a few come anywhere near sharp from the factory. Once sharpened, the hatchet performed a variety of yard work roles competently. The Z Hawk is balanced well as a hatchet, chops easily, and has a roughly 5-yard throwing rotation. No, I don’t think throwing a hatchet is useful in any sort of self-defense scenario. Why would I want to throw away a perfectly good weapon if I have to use it at all? I do, however, enjoy hatchet throwing for stress relief or as a social pastime.
In the role of an armorer’s tool, the Z Hawk was adequate. Where I found it lacking was the fact that the castle nut wrench requires one to fully encompass the receiver extension within the hatchet. This requires the removal of the pistol grip, as one cannot make a partial rotation and then stop, as with a traditional armorer’s tool. A minor quibble to be sure, but something to be noted. I also disliked having an exposed blade within my working space where I could be needed to exert a lot of force on a staked castle nut. Safety is definitely something to be aware of when using the Z Hawk as a tool. The design could be improved in the future by moving the castle nut wrench to the backside of the beard, being half open for use without having to remove a pistol grip. In addition, it could have snap-on blade covers for the cutting edge and spike, instead of an all-encompassing sheath.
In summary, while no replacement for a dedicated armorer’s tool at your shop bench, the Z Hawk would be a great tool to keep in one’s vehicle to use in potential range or deployment contingencies with the AR platform where one would want a hatchet, and a more detailed breakdown of the weapons system may be required. Two tools that take the weight and space of one can be a positive in terms of weigh and space savings.
I found all of DSArms’ in-house AR-15 parts to be well made, with attention to detail and functionality. One can argue the pros and cons of value and construction in regards to AR-15 parts until the cows come home, but the point is this: Every build should strive to be made with quality parts that will not fail when one needs them to work. I can say with confidence that DSArms makes their parts with an eye towards excellence and reliability. Their Z Hawk might seem gimmicky at first glance, but like any multitool, once one realizes their role as a contingency tool, they fit an interesting and useful niche.
For more information on their parts, rifles, and tools, please visit DSArms.
Thank you to DSArms for the opportunity!