Bumper to Bumper: Ar-15 Building

BUMPER to BUMPER: Anything Can Go Wrong With Any Part of Your AR-15

ar15As a builder/armorer of AR-15s, there is one truth that one must acknowledge: a string of builds will almost never go smoothly.  Pretty much every part of an AR-15 is susceptible to issues and you won’t become an AR aficionado until you’ve experienced them.  But maybe we can give some of you newcomers a head start.  Here is a go list of some of the issues that may be encountered on the workbench.  We’ll start from the muzzle device on back to the buttstock and everything in between.

The Upper Half

MUZZLE BRAKE/FLASH HIDER/THREAD PROTECTOR – Make sure the muzzle device you are installing is of the correct thread pattern.  If it is not, you’ll know within the first few turns.  You can count the threads and the length if you’re not sure.  Remember there are different thread pitches for different calibers.

Airsoft BattlecompAlso be aware that airsoft “copies” often have a reverse thread direction even though the dimensions are correct.  These commonly get sold at gun shows as real gun parts and never discovered until the parts are taken home and on the workbench.  Though some airsoft style parts might be of excellent quality, they are not built to withstand the rigors of real firearms.

Notice the logo on the bottom and the ports to the top. Photo Credit- thecolter383 ar15.com

Notice the logo on the bottom and the ports to the top.
Photo Credit- thecolter383 ar15.com


Be sure to index properly.  The logo usually goes down because the vents are on the top.  It’s a common mistake to think the logo is supposed to show on top.  Remember that if a bottom is closed it is to prevent the blast from kicking up dust whilst shooting in the prone position.  The logo is there simply because it is the largest and most convenient spot to print a logo.

Don’t forget to check the diameter of the muzzle opening.  If it’s not big enough to accommodate the caliber you are shooting… well that’s going to be a big problem.  If you’re assembling a 9mm build, you’ll want to make sure the muzzle device’s opening can accommodate a 9mm bullet or more.  Even though 9mm ARs have a standard ½” x 36 tpi thread pitch, a few manufacturers still use the ½” x 28 tpi sizing that is standard for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge.

The ¾” flats on the side of the muzzle device are used for mounting by turning the muzzle device on with a ¾” open ended wrench.  These flats on many devices will index up and down or left and right to aid in indexing the vents properly.  But this is not always the case.  For instance, on Yankee Hill’s Phantom muzzle devices, the flats do not index exactly straight.  On other muzzle devices like Smith Enterprises’ Vortex Flash Hider, the vents are not direction dependent and thus do not require indexing.  The Vortex in fact does not even require a crush washer or shims for installation.

Crush washerCRUSH WASHERS/PEEL WASHERS/SHIMS – Do your best not to use thread locker on the muzzle device.  Crush washers are a better choice especially on devices that need to be indexed.  Proper amounts of torque are really the best way to keep your brake/hider in place.  BUT, be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions.  Remember not to reuse crush washers on the same barrel and muzzle device combo.  At a cost of less than 2 or 3 dollars, it’s a good idea to have an extra crush washer on hand just in case you need to make impromptu changes or repairs.

Peel washers (or laminated shims) are generally no longer used.  A crush washer is much easier to work with and easier to find.

PWS Shim 1-fslash-2-2Shims are specified by certain manufacturers for use with their muzzle devices and are usually included with the muzzle devices that need them.  This is especially so with muzzle devices designed to be suppressor adapters.  It can be frustrating to fit a muzzle device with a shim kit.  Remember to start with the smallest shim size first and work your way up the various thicknesses and combinations.  Be patient and find just the right shims to fit your muzzle device.

aac_rocksett_bottlesSome manufacturers specify the use of Rocksett as a threadlocker for your muzzle device.  Rocksett is similar to Loc-tite except it is much less sensitive to heat and won’t soften as the barrel heats up.  Don’t use too much.  If you need to remove the muzzle device at a later time you will need a LOT of torque.


BARRELS – You get what you pay for.  It’s important to know where a barrel came from, so you’ll know who to go to if you need help.  Reputable barrel makers do certain things to ensure their barrels are safe to shoot and will be long lasting.  MPI and HPT [or Magnetic Particle Inspection and High Pressure Testing] barrel testing as well as headspace checking are normal quality control measures at top notch barrel manufacturers and really ensure that you get something that is going to work and last.

It helps to wipe a thin layer of grease on the outside of the barrel extension to make sure the barrel seats in the receiver smoothly and can be removed easily later on.  Not necessary but we like to do it.

feedrampsCheck to see if you have M4 feed cuts in your barrel extension.  If you have them, you’ll want an upper receiver with the complementary cuts.  If you don’t have them, do NOT use an upper receiver with the complementary cuts.  The other way around is okay, but not so great.

Make sure your index pin is in good shape.  We’ve seen a few break and more than a few fall out!  Do NOT install a barrel without an index pin!  Also, check to see if the feed ramps line up.  The index pin should fit snug and not allow the barrel to rotate.  If the barrel rotates it may cause a catastrophic failure.

Inside the barrel, when looking down the bore, you might see what looks like a small foreign body inside the bore on the top of the barrel.  That dark spot is where the gas port was drilled and where a remnant of the drilling remains.  The presence of that remnant means the barrel was not test fired.  But rest assured that a few rounds fired through the barrel will eliminate it.  Before you shoot the barrel, try to run a patch through the barrel and see if it removes the remnant.  If it doesn’t, see if the approximate location matches with the location of the gas port.

If there is a dark spot in the same location as the gas port inside the bore, that is just a difference from the lack of reflectivity in that location.  Don’t worry if you can’t brush the dark spot out, it’s supposed to be there.

HEADSPACING – This is something that can be easily checked by your gunsmith with a set of headspacing gauges.  If you have a good barrel from a reputable company, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.  If you have a no-namer from a “who’s that” company, you may want to get it double checked.  There are smiths out there who can re-torque or reset your barrel extension to correct headspace, but a specialized tool would be required.  Unless you know a capable smith already, it may not be worth the trouble to seek one out and have your barrel fixed.  If the extension is reset to correct your headspacing, don’t forget to reset your index pin as well.

GAS BLOCK – The gas block comes in a number of sizes.  There is a different gas block for the AR-10 vs the AR-15 and there are different sizes for pencil/lightweight (.625”), standard (.750”), and heavy/bull (.936”).  Now this can get confusing.  The AR-10 (or Armalite pattern) uses a proprietary gas tube and block, so if you use this pattern, you’ll need to get specific parts for that gun.  The AR308 (or DPMS pattern) gun can use a standard AR gas block with a .308 gas tube, or a standard AR gas tube with an AR308 gas block.  Reason being: the receiver is taller and the gas key resides at a greater height above the bore, and thus a little more elevation is required to accommodate the additional height.  Otherwise the angle of the key end of the gas tube will be elevated and may not make a good contact seal with the gas key.  Have guns been built that use standard AR parts in AR308 builds?  Absolutely.  But for the sake of making sure your gun runs the way it should, make sure that you’re using the right size.

If you are installing a gas block on an upper with free-floating handguards, you might not be installing the standard handguard endcap with it.  Remember to use a spacer to give the gas block a little boost forward so the gas hole will align properly.  The handguard endcap usually gauges between .02” and .03” thick.  For reference, your NRA membership card gauges at .021” and a typical credit card measures at .28”.

Using a spacer isn’t always necessary since the gas hole inside the gas block is considerably larger than the port on top of the barrel (to allow for variations in alignment).  But it’s nice to know that the block is installed where the port is measured for.  Because of the allowed variation in mounting location, exact placement is not necessary… eyeballing is sufficient.  But take your time; it looks better when it’s straight.

Gas Block set screwsGas blocks can creep if they are not tightened down properly.  Use Loc-Tite on the threads of your set screws to keep them in place.  Cheap hex wrenches can break when tightening these set screws.  Use good quality wrenches or the included wrench that comes with some gas blocks.  ONLY use the specified size wrench or risk stripping the screw head.  Dimpling the barrel will also help secure the gas block but even dimpled barrels won’t correct issues related to improperly secured set screws.

Because set screw gas blocks are secured from the bottom, tighter screws help seal in the gas that travels between the block and the barrel.  When in doubt, these screws should be TIGHT.  Vltor recommends between 40 lb/in safe up to 50-60 lb/in.  [NOTE: There is an enormous difference between lb/ft and lb/in!  Be certain the tool you are using is the correct one!]

Gas blocks and barrels may have differing tolerances and may have an excessively tight fit.  It is not abnormal.  If you can get the gas block to seat over the gas port, a tighter fit is preferable anyway.  Don’t be afraid to go at it with a rubber mallet and a little oil to get it in place.  Just remember it will take equal or greater effort to remove it later on: so don’t try too hard either.

DD Clamp on GBClamp-on gas blocks are an easy way to install and reduce risk of a bolt head or wrench failure.  Beware on certain low-profile gas block and free float handguard combinations: clamp-on low-profile blocks are larger in profile and will often not provide enough clearance for certain handguards.  You’ll want to dry fit your gas block and make sure there’s no contact between the inside of the handguard and the gas block.

Railed gas blocks come in two basic heights.  The ‘standard’ height is actually lower in plane than the rail on the upper receiver.  With the standard height railed gas block you cannot mount a front iron sight on the rail unless it is equipped with a longer sight post stem to compensate for the lower height of the gas block.  If you use the specially sized front sight, you may have to mount the sight backwards: when folded down, the stem will often be obstructed by the handguard and won’t fold all the way down unless mounted in reverse.  The ‘upper height’ or ‘rail height’ gas block is taller and on the same plane as the upper receiver and will allow for the use of standard BUIS.  Take note that when mounting the front sight backwards, the release button to fold the sight back down will be on the opposite side from normal.  Do not use a riser to compensate for the height difference.  It is too small of a difference to correct mechanically, yet too large of a difference to compensate with sight post adjustment.

Be wary of the use of polymer sights on the railed gas block.  While Magpul’s MBUS is designed to resist melting, it is probably more prudent to use them on railed handguards only.  You’ll want to stick to aluminum or steel when mounting directly to the gas block.  I’m aware of the raging debate about MBUS and gas blocks, but for the sake of practicality, metal sights on gas blocks are a safer way to go.

all_gas_tubesGAS TUBES
– These come in four basic lengths for the 5.56mm/.223 caliber.  Every once in awhile a gas tube will come in from the manufacturer clogged with some form of grease or other fouling (though very rare).  Before installing the tube, stick one end in your mouth and push a small puff of air through.  If air doesn’t flow through, clean it out with a gas tube cleaning swab.  If it’s packed with grease (and it does happen), you may need to leave it in a tank of solvent or push it out with a swab.  Better to find out before installing than after the upper is assembled!

The gas tube can act as a gauge when aligning the barrel nut.  Once you’ve installed the barrel nut, slide the gas tube into its hole in the upper receiver and rest the tube upside down onto the slot in the barrel nut.  Check that the barrel and gas tube are parallel.  If they are not, adjust the alignment of the barrel nut until both are parallel with each other.  If everything is installed already, look inside the upper receiver at the key end of the gas tube.  It should be straight.  If it is cockeyed, the barrel nut is not aligned and the upper may not function properly.

BARREL NUT – Using the correct barrel nut wrench is vital.  The wrong wrench can cause functional damage to the nut and make installing the handguard or other hardware especially difficult.

Clean out the inside of the barrel nut before installing.  Be sure to apply a small layer of grease to the threads of the barrel nut/receiver before installing.  If you don’t, you can cause the barrel nut to seize onto the upper receiver.  Over torquing can easily cause catastrophic damage to the upper receiver.  The shear tolerance of 7075 T6 aluminum can easily be exceeded with a hand-driven torque wrench.

Torque the barrel nut to 30 lb/ft.  Then back it off and repeat two or three times.  Unless the manufacturer specifies otherwise, the standard torque range for an AR barrel nut is between 30 and 80 lb/ft.  It is a broad range because alignment of the barrel nut is more critical to the build than the actual torque used.  After all, on a standard barrel nut, the gas tube will help keep the barrel nut captive.  Torque to 30 lb/ft and then increase torque until the barrel nut is aligned, not exceeding 80 lb/ft.  On proprietary barrel nuts, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  Not all barrel nuts require alignment, but the ones that do will have a broad torque range.

Do NOT use any kind of thread locker or thread sealant on the barrel nut… EVER.

HANDGUARDS – Midlength and Rifle length handguards often fit into triangular handguard endcaps.  Carbine length handguards are meant to be used with round handguard endcaps only.  Beware of endcaps that have inward alignment notches (at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions): if your handguards do not have complementary notches, they will not install easily without modification.

Most standard plastic handguards are tapered.  If you install an accessory rail on top of your handguard, it will not serve as a good sight platform because it will be mounted on a downward slope.

Plastic handguards are sensitive to lateral movement.  Initially they may lock in tightly and will not roll.  But if you install a vertical grip or just through heavy use, the handguards will loosen up over time and will begin to rattle and roll.  It does not affect the operation of the gun, but it can be a bit of an annoyance.  Once those plastics have worn out, upgrade to aluminum if the user intends to continue using a vertical grip.

Beware of cheap handguard rail covers.  Those made for airsoft or sold cheaply online may be of inferior quality.  Rail covers made by Ergo/Magpul/Falcon are formulated to resist melting even under considerable shooting stress.  Cheap rail covers may melt and burn onto the rail as the gas block heats up.

BACKUP IRON SIGHTS (BUIS) – Some sights can be installed cockeyed.  Be sure to seat the bottom of the sight body flat onto the picatinny rail platform before tightening down.

Sights are manufactured with a standard height aperture for the AR-15.  Mixing brands is no problem as long as they are built to that standard height.

If you don’t know which direction to mount the rear sight, look at the aperture.  The concaved side of the aperture faces the shooter, the flat side faces the target.  If there are mounting knobs, they should always be on the left side.  If the mount can accommodate, southpaws can mount the knobs on the right side (opposite the ejection port) of their left-handed rifles.

Mount the front sight as far forward as possible.  Mount the rear sight such that the rear of the sight when folded does not extend past the end of the upper receiver.  With certain brands, the sight may be mounted on notch 2 rather than notch 1.

A2 IRON SIGHTS – I occasionally get customers who complain that the A2’s sight housing wiggles considerably (on the yaw axis).  This is normal.  As long as the wiggle rotates on the same vertical axis as the center of the aperture, the wiggle will not affect the sight picture/zero.

On A2 carry handle sights, be sure to tighten the mounting knobs well.  They come loose pretty easily.

CHARGING HANDLE – A bent (off true) charging handle can cause malfunctions.  Lock the bolt back manually and then slide the charging handle back and forth.  It should move freely.  Check the inside of the charging handle for abnormal off-center wear from contact with the gas key or outside wear on one side.  Swap charging handles and see if it ‘feels’ different.  This is a rare occurrence but happens on occasion.

BCM EXTRACTOR SPRING UPGRADE-2TBOLT – An AR-15 should briskly eject brass between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock and will usually land between 5 and 10 feet away when shooting in a seated or standing position.  [This can only be measured when actually shooting live.  It cannot be simulated by manually ejecting brass or cartridges.]  A poor extraction will eject brass to within a few feet and sometimes right next to the shooter.  The extractor spring insert has had a few different flavors over the years.  If the insert is blue in color, it is of an older variety and should be replaced with the current black insert. The black insert has a higher durometer and will provide the extractor with more force.  The black insert can also be supplemented with an O-Ring to further increase the force.  Check the ejector and spring as well, but the extractor insert is the most common solution of ejection issues.

Be sure to check the gas rings (3) on the bolt every time the bolt is removed from the carrier.  They should not be cracked, worn, or missing.  And there should always be three gas rings.

BOLT CARRIER – The carrier can have varying tolerances from brand to brand.  Some have a looser fit than others, but the fit of the carrier is not as critical to reliability as the bolt itself.  As long as the bolt has a good machined fit (and gas ring seal) to the carrier, it is ‘okay’ to have a carrier that is a little ‘loose’.

Some brands of carriers are very tight and are even a little difficult to draw back with the charging handle.  This may or may not affect the operation of the gun.  More often than not, these tight fitting carriers are found in guns with excellent performance characteristics.

Full Auto BCG“Full-auto” or “M16” carriers are not full-auto parts as recognized by ATF.  They are legal for use wherever semi-automatic AR-15s are legal.  These full-auto carriers are more classic in design than the semi-auto carriers and are approximately 0.8 ounces heavier than a semi-auto carrier (the same increase in weight when moving from a standard carbine buffer to a heavy carbine buffer).  The full-auto carrier will be minutely slower than the semi-auto carrier and should reduce ever so slightly the amount of felt recoil.

Staked Gas KeyThe gas key should always be staked.  Though companies like to use the term “properly staked” the only properly staked gas key screw, is the one where the screws don’t move, regardless of which method is used (and there are quite a few).  Loc-tite is not a good alternative as most threadlockers are sensitive to heat and will soften up as the temperature increases.  The gas key must endure considerable stress during operation.  Nothing but a mechanical staking will do.

EJECTION PORT COVER – Always remember to install the ejection port cover before installing your barrel.  The barrel nut is part of what keeps the pin in place.  The forward assist keeps the ejection port pin from going the other way.  If the upper half is built without the ejection door, it will need to be disassembled again to install it.

As for the ejection door “e-clip” (or hinge pin retaining clip), you’ll want to make sure it is fully seated into the groove of the hinge pin before installing the assembly.  If the e-clip comes loose and falls away, you’ll never find it.  And by the way, when purchasing ejection port assemblies in prepackaged kits, the e-clip is extremely small and hard to find.  It is usually stuck to the face of the door by means of oil.  Look carefully and you’ll find it.  Don’t just rip the bag open, the e-clip is small enough to look like a shaving and easily mistaken for a machining remnant.

FORWARD ASSIST – I know some of you don’t like the forward assist, but if your receiver has a place for it, you really need to install something there.  When driving in the roll pin for the Forward Assist plunger, make sure the plunger assembly is depressed and under spring pressure before driving in the pin.  There is a sweet spot between fully depressed and fully relaxed where the roll pin will fit into.  Just figure on pushing the plunger in fully and then letting it out about a quarter inch before driving the roll pin in place.  Otherwise the back end of the pawl will stop the roll pin from driving in place.  The trick is to hold it in place while hammering in the roll pin.  I like to hold the plunger in place with my palm while holding the roll pin holder with the fingers of the same hand.  That leaves the other hand free to swing the hammer.  Remember to oil the roll pin before driving it.

The Lower Half

MAGAZINE WELL – The magwell may be cut with too little space and certain magazines might not fit.  Or if the lower was painted, the finish might be too thick to accommodate certain magazines.  Some emery cloth or light sanding can open up the magwell (minus some of the finish).  This is a rare occurrence but it has happened (Google: Territorial Gunsmiths lower).

PIVOT PIN HOLE – This hole is sometimes drilled improperly.  The 0.250” hole may be too small if worn tooling was used to drill the hole in place.  Or if the machinist drilled the hole on one side and then flipped the receiver to drill the other, the holes may not be true and centered.  Use a .250” manual reamer that can be found in most hardware stores and slowly turn out the holes (all the way across).  Make sure to use some cutting oil and be sure to turn the hole open from both sides.  Take your time; it takes quite a few turns to open up the hole.  Once the hole is the right size, clean out the holes and try reinstalling the pin.

The takedown pin hole in the upper receiver is slightly elongated in shape to allow for variations in the length between it and the pivot pin.  This is normal and not a manufacturing defect nor the result of excessive wear.

TRIGGER GUARD – A mounting ear for the trigger guard can easily break off when installing the trigger guard roll pin.  Be sure to support the bottom ear with a block of wood or non-marring plastic when installing.  Also apply some oil to the roll pin and the holes before driving the pin in.

PISTOL GRIP SCREW – This screw can seize inside their respective hole on the receiver because of improper finishing or a bad screw.  If your pistol grip screw is resisting and begins to chatter while turning it in, take it out and use a different screw.  If you install your pistol grip and suddenly your trigger doesn’t work, check to see that you installed the pistol grip washer.  If the pistol grip screw still interferes with the trigger, you may need to shorten the screw or add another locking washer to act as a shim.

MAGAZINE CATCH – If your mag catch is sticking and not smoothly and reliably going in and out, you may want to try a different mag catch.

If the mag release button is not turned down far enough, the catch may stick out and catch on the outside of the receiver.  The threaded end of the mag catch should be flush or near flush with the outside of the mag release button.

BOLT CATCH – You’ll want to check the hole for the bolt catch buffer to make sure it was drilled wide enough for the bolt catch buffer spring.  Just drop it in and make sure it falls out on its own.  Then do the same with the spring and the bolt catch buffer.  Make sure the end of the bolt catch buffer sticks out as it will need to push against the bolt catch.

SAFETY SELECTOR – Install the safety selector after installing the trigger.  If you put it in before the trigger, it makes installing the trigger more difficult.  If you install it after installing the hammer, you’ll need to lock the hammer back and shimmy the selector into place.  It’s easier to just put the hammer in last.

TRIGGER – The trigger is relatively trouble free.  It’s a good idea to apply a dab of grease on the front machined surfaces of the trigger before installation.  If you are up to it, you can even polish the trigger break surface to get a smoother trigger pull before you install it.  Take care not to remove too much material though, else your trigger may fire on its own!

Some brands of drop-in triggers have trigger bodies designed to give a very tight fit into the lower.  Because of the low tolerances, the drop-in bodies don’t always fit into the receiver (at least without some gunsmithing).  Timney bodies have adjustment set screws that protrude from the bottom.  Retract these screws before installing as they will interfere with fitment.  Once the body is installed, then tighten those screws per spec.

DisconnectorDISCONNECTOR – The disconnector can fail and cause your gun to fire multiple rounds in a full-auto manner.  It will do likewise if it is installed correctly.  You may be prosecuted by law enforcement whether you do this intentionally or not, so take care when installing the disconnector.


HAMMER – The most common error with hammer installs is installing the spring backwards.  This reduces the amount of spring pressure and can cause walking pins and light strike malfunctions.

The hammer spring is profiled to look like the shoulder end is supposed to hook over the disconnector catch.  DO NOT BEND the hammer spring to make it ‘fit’.  It is already profiled and bent into the shape it should be to function properly.  The shoulder does not need to hook over the disconnector hook and may actually interfere with the safe functioning of your gun.

TRIGGER PIN / HAMMER PIN – These pins are designed to hold in the trigger and hammer as well as provide both with a pivot axis.  They are also designed to keep each other captive in the receiver in a non-permanent manner by the use of springs that are already in the system.  The trigger pin is held in place by the hammer spring.  The hammer pin is held in place by the “J-spring” inside the center axis of the hammer.

If the J-spring is worn out or improperly installed, the hammer pin will walk out of place.  If the leg of the hammer spring is not sitting into the groove of the trigger pin, the trigger pin will walk out of place.  Low tension or reverse installation can cause the pins to walk as well.

Hammer pins can break along a groove [weak point of the pin], most commonly along the center groove.  Once this pin breaks, an otherwise reliable gun may start to have cycling issues.  If this happens, check to see if the ends of the pins are flush with the outside of the lower receiver.  If not, that may indicate a broken pin.

KNS-on-rifle-300x199Anti-walk/anti-rotation pins can be a good solution and are designed to minimize wear on the holes in the lower receiver as well.  These are made of a 416 stainless steel which has considerably higher shear strength than 4140.


TAKEDOWN PIN – This pin can get “stuck”.  You may need to wear in the pin and its detent by working it back and forth.  If the pin locks in place too tightly, knock it free with a punch and a small hammer.  The detent needs to be “broken in”.  There’s nothing wrong with using a little oil on the shaft of the pin.

BUFFER RETAINER – If you turn your buffer tube in too deep, it can prevent your upper from closing down on the lower receiver.  Your buffer tube should only be turned in just enough to hold in the buffer retainer.  If the tip of the buffer retainer bends, replace it.

BUFFER TUBE – The buffer tube and the buttstock are the only parts that need to be considered when looking for the difference between ‘milspec’ and ‘commercial’.  Commercial tubes are larger in diameter than milspec so be sure to match milspec with milspec and commercial with commercial.

Dirty buffer tube threads or tubes that are not cut or finished properly can interfere with installation.  It should not be especially difficult to thread in a buffer tube.  In fact, the tube should thread in pretty freely.  Both the buffer tube and the receiver are made of aluminum.  If you are getting resistance when threading in, STOP.  NEVER use threadlocker on the buffer tube threads.  If you’re lucky enough to have a tap or die of that size, you can recut or clean out the threads by hand.

castle nut stakeYou should always stake the endplate against the castle nut when installing a collapsible stock.  While it is not common for castle nuts to back out, it is still best to turn that nut down properly and stake it.  The tool required for tightening the castle nut is not one often carried in the field.

Buffer tubes should not be lubricated except with a dry film lubricant.

BUFFERS – These should be selected as per their purpose.  Carbine buffers with carbine springs go in carbine stocks.  Rifle buffers with rifle springs go in rifle stocks and so forth.  If you need help with the enormous selection of buffer options, refer to a PREVIOUS ARTICLE.

BUTTSTOCK – The buttstock should be matched with the buffer tube, milspec with milspec and commercial with commercial.  Beware of some cheek risers as they may prevent the charging handle from traveling all the way back as necessary.

The number of adjusting positions available for the collapsible buttstock is determined by the number of holes drilled into the buffer tube’s lock channel.  It has nothing to do with the stock body itself.  However, in certain cases, a tube will not lock down in the full collapsed position.  This is sometimes because the buffer tube is slightly longer than spec (more often with commercial spec tubes) and the stock body bottoms out in the tube before reaching the last locking hole.

If the adjusting latch is loose and seems to rattle ever so slightly, the latch pin is either not bottomed out in the adjustment position or the position hole is not milled deep enough.


While this is just a brief sampling, it is a quick head start towards becoming an AR-15 armorer.  It doesn’t take much because the AR-15 is such a simple platform, but not doing things “right” can get you into big trouble.  Take your time and remember that parts are supposed to fit.  If they don’t fit as expected, you may want to take a step back and evaluate why.

As always, if you have any questions or any other things to add, feel free to comment below.  Be safe and have fun!

B. Revell

Light of My Life

Flashlights: An Indispensable Part of Your EDC Kit

Everyone builds their Every Day Carry kit by balancing needs with wants with their ability to carry certain items easily without weighing them down.  Naturally, some carry more than others.

There are an abundance of “essentials” out there.  If you carried them all, you wouldn’t look like an everyday Joe just going about innocent business.  Gun, knife, tactical pen, pepper spray, Taser, another knife, etc.: If you carry enough, pretty soon you’re going to need a not-so-discrete trench coat or a large tactical purse/murse.  [Rule #2347: if a seller tells you that something is "essential", it probably has a pretty decent profit margin.]

So what works for most folks is to limit the EDC kit to just a few real essentials and that means something different for everyone.

Carry GunMost will get squared away with their carry gun first.  And let’s face it, the gun is probably the coolest part of the kit and it is ALMOST always the most expensive.  [Beware though since carrying it is not always legal, though it SHOULD be.]


Pocket KnifeNext usually comes the knife, which is a nice add since a knife will have much more utility than as just a simple defensive tool.  And given the variety of the types of blades available, I’ve known more than a few people who carry more than one knife.  [Carrying a knife is also not legal in some localities and MOST countries so please be sure to check!]



The piece that I find most often gets left behind is the flashlight: more specifically, the tactical flashlight.

mag lightIt used to be that flashlights were bulky, not so tough, and not so powerful (relatively speaking).  Unless you were a patrol officer and regularly carried a large Mag-Lite style flashlight on your already 8 pound belt rig, you weren’t likely to carry it every day.  Even the more pocket friendly AA version that pushes out a modest 16 lumens was not very useful as a defensive tool and would likely live out its days as a minor annoyance being the part of any EDC setup.


E2dThese days however, tactical flashlights are more compact, more reliable, much tougher, and considerably more powerful.  The 80 lumen threshold required to induce shock and awe (or what really amounts to a split second delay in response) has long since been surpassed in even the smallest of tactical carry lights.  And the limitations of the alkaline cell have been addressed through the use of CR123 primary lithium batteries which have much higher output and a 10 year shelf life.

cree ledThe greatest leap in flashlight technology is the light emitter itself.  Fragile incandescent bulbs have been ditched in favor of high efficiency LEDs with higher intensity, longer life, longer throw, lower heat, and rock solid durability.

All of these improvements in flashlight technology have made the tactical light a true essential component of the EDC kit.  You get the same kind of flexible utility that you get with the knife, and you have a compact and lightweight defensive tool that is reliable and long lasting.

The flashlight provides a couple of nice benefits including but not limited to the following:

  • You have a defensive tool whose intense light can provide you with a marginal advantage.
  • You have a less than lethal component in your EDC kit unlike the gun and knife and even the tactical pen.  Especially if it is equipped with a crenellated strike bezel.
  • You have a light that can be used in low light shooting situations which will favor you in court (depending on the circumstance).
  • You have a utility light that can be used for everyday tasks.
  • You have the ability to move around in the dark with enhanced safety and speed and with greater situational awareness.

Now we’ve covered why a carry light is desirable, and we know that it is lightweight and compact enough to not weigh you down.  Why is it necessary?

For every life-threatening situation that you will encounter that calls for the use of a gun or a knife, you will encounter hundreds or even thousands in which a tactical light will provide you with security and confidence.  Chances are your gun will remain in its holster and the blade in its sheath (or handle) for the rest of your life (and we hope that’s the case).  But you will find common occasion to use your tactical light, even if it’s just for brief observation of your surroundings.

When you do happen upon a situation that calls for the presentation of a firearm, a light can be especially intimidating because it can impair the other party’s vision and give them pause.  De-escalating any lethal situation is certainly preferable to having to take a life.  A light will also aid you in identifying threats in the dark.

So why do you need to carry it every day?  Familiarity is one reason.  It’s the same reason you try to holster your gun in the same place on your belt, and clip your knife into the same corner of the same pocket every time.  You’ll know exactly where to grab your light from and you’ll be able to deploy your light by touch, quickly and accurately.

BezelFor those of you who are not legally able to carry a knife or gun, remember that flashlights are almost never outlawed in almost any situation.  About the worst place you can have a flashlight is a movie theater where the greatest amount of perceived damage that could be done would be an annoying interruption of the feature.  In fact, TSA does not restrict the carrying of flashlights aboard passenger flights even if they are equipped with strike bezels.  Tactical pens might be construed as having a likeness to a kubaton but it is hard to argue that a SureFire E2D LED Defender is anything resembling any restricted item.  Many countries abroad do not allow the carrying of personal blades and certainly not firearms, but they will allow a personal flashlight.

SF-EB1-BACKUPCarry it with you because you’ll never know when or how you’ll need to use it.  Smaller lights like SureFire’s EB1 Backup or Fenix’s PD22 are small enough to be unobtrusive but bright enough to do just about any job a tactical light needs to be able to do.

As we move into the winter months, more of us will be going home after dark.  It is easier to make a habit of carrying a light in the dark, so now would be a good time to start making it a habit.

BatteriesA light is never a substitute for a quality firearm and a well-built knife, but it is a worthwhile complement to both to round out your EDC kit.  Lights will give back what you put into it, so be sure to spare no expense in buying a quality light.  And since CR123 batteries have a 10 year shelf life, it doesn’t hurt to stock up on batteries too.

B. Revell

SURVIVAL SERIES Pt 4: FIRE- Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel Wood

FIRE Part 2: Got Wood

In the previous article, we discussed various methods for starting a fire. In this article, I will cover proper preparing, starting and sustaining a fire, as well as information on the basic application of specific types of fires. Not all fires are the same. Different preparation and fuels are needed to produce differing levels of heat, light, and fuel sustainability in your fire.

campfireOne of the more overlooked aspects of starting a fire is preparation. One can’t just go about willy-nilly and throwing sparks onto logs to create fire. It just doesn’t work that way. Starting a fire takes careful planning and gathering of materials to ensure success. If you don’t have the energy to do things twice or you see inclement weather rolling in and you’re short on time, proper preparation may save you from having to endure a cold night.

TinderTinder - The most important element to starting any fire is tinder. Without good tinder no amount of spark or friction-produced ember will be useful. Tinder comes in many different forms from natural to synthetic and may or may not include additives. This is the base fuel needed to start your fire and it will provide the first flames which you’ll apply to your kindling.


KindleKindling - The second element of producing a sustainable fire is kindling. Types of kindling can vary from unaltered pieces of fuel such as small sticks and pine duff, to prepared pieces like feather sticks and artificial fire starter sticks. Kindling provides the first base of flames strong enough and long-lasting enough to light your main source of fuel.

Fuel WoodFuel Wood - This is the last fuel step of your fire. Depending on the type of wood you choose you can dictate how hot your fire burns, how bright it burns, and how long your fuel will last. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different varietals of wood you can use to make application-specific fires, but I will go over just a few of the common North American woods.

Types of TINDER

spanishmossMoss/Fungi - Mosses like Spanish Moss abound here in the South and they can used as very effective tinder. Find some dry moss, collect a handful between your hands and buff it up to make it fluffier. It will catch a spark easily in that form, and as I stated before, moss is easy to find in the South as well as some of the other wetter regions of North America.




In addition to mosses, certain fungi can make excellent tinder and have been used throughout history by countless cultures. The most common type of fungi used for tinder are shelf fungi. You may have seen these growing on trees or downed logs in the woods. While there are many different ways to produce tinder from shelf fungi, you can improvise useable tinder from these sources by cutting the fungi open and splitting down the layers until you reach one layer that will fuzz up when scratched with a knife.

While ample information exists for the creation of amadou or amadou substitutes from shelf fungi, I personally have yet to accomplish this. The various woods that I’ve come across have not been suitable habitats for these types of fungi.  Thus, I have never tried. The one fungus I have used successfully as tinder is cramp balls (Daldinia concentrica.) These fungi grow primarily on Ash trees and can be used as a fire starter. When you drop sparks onto split pieces of this fungus, it will produce an ember that will spread throughout its entirety. I like to think of these as nature-made Match Light coals.

canadathistle-seedheads-full“Downy” Seed Heads - There are many plants that produce downy seed pods that can be used as tinder. Some types of seed heads that are commonly used for tinder are Dandelion heads, Cattail seed pods, Thistle seed heads, and Clematis seed heads. When you look at these seed heads, it is obvious why they make good tinder. They’re essentially natural lint balls that, when dry, will easily catch sparks and ignite. One consideration should be taken into account when you use these types of tinders: they burn very quickly! Gather an ample supply to ensure you don’t run out before your kindling can take flame.

CW_juniper_bark008Tree Bark - A variety of tree barks also make good tinder. Cedar bark is considered one of the better natural tinders available as its high resin content allows it catch a spark and burn slowly. Other tree barks like Poplar and Juniper can be used with a little processing. Similar to the Spanish Moss, a handful of bark buffed up between the hands can produce a very effective, easy to light tinder. I’ve found that Juniper bark can make a very good tinder bundle to drop your friction-created embers to start a fire.

Dry GrassGrass - Dry grass works the same way as the previously mentioned Juniper bark and Spanish Moss. Simply grab a handful of dry grass and buff it up between your hands to create a mass of fluffy tinder. There are considerations when using dry grasses. Dried grasses work best when the grass has died naturally rather than having been cut. Cut grasses contain higher levels of naturally-acquired nitrogen which can inhibit the tinder from catching flame.

Also, many varieties, depending on how long they’ve been dead and standing, will catch light and burn off very quickly. Like seed heads, dry grasses should be collected in sufficient quantity to ensure you have enough to effectively light your kindling.

In A Pinch - So what do you do if you’re trapped in an urban setting and these natural tinders are unavailable? There are several types of tinder that can be utilized in a pinch and still be effective at helping you start your fire.

  1. Feathers: Feathers and down can be used as tinder to start a fire if you can acquire enough of them.
  2. String/Twine: Most string and twine (as long as they are not treated or made with a flame-retardant chemical) can be used as tinder. Simply unwind the string strand by strand until you are left with a mass of thin fibers. These will catch a spark easily.
  3. Pencil Shavings: Another good tinder that most people don’t think about are pencil shavings. I used to camp with a guy who would keep a pencil sharpener in his fire starting kit. He would go out and find a stick roughly the diameter of a pencil and run it through the pencil sharpener making a nice pile of tinder. It worked great, and as long as pencils or dry twigs were around, he always had a good source of tinder.
  4. Charred Wood: Another way to start a fire is to not start one from scratch, but to rekindle one from old pieces of charred wood. While charred wood will catch a spark and create a small ember, it will not easily bring the log back into flame. This technique is most effective when used in conjunction with kindling. Blow gently on the charred section that has caught the ember until it is large enough to catch very small pieces of kindling.


Twigs and SticksDry Twigs and Sticks - The obvious example of good kindling are small dry branches and twigs. The important thing to remember about kindling such as these is to have a good supply of them. One of the main reasons why fires fail after initial ignition is that large fuel logs are added to a fire without a proper bed of ignited kindling that produces the necessary heat to light the logs. Always gather more than you think you need as kindling is an easy way to revitalize a fire that has become weak or is dying.

Pine NeedlesPine Needles, Dead Pine and Juniper Boughs - Resinous conifers like Pine, Fir, and Juniper provide very effective kindling that will burn very hot. Like other kindling these should be gathered in good supply as the resin content in the wood and needles cause them to burn quickly. Be careful when you use this type of kindling in an area that is saturated by pine duff and deadwood. Sparks can fly out and ignite nearby dry vegetation. So always ensure you have cleared the area around where you are constructing your fire.

Feather SticksFeather Sticks - My favorite type of kindling has always been feather sticks. Feather sticks are small to medium diameter sticks that have had their sides shaved down but not off, kind of like a peeled banana. Feather sticks work even when wood has been lightly soaked by rain and take flame quickly but do not burn out as fast as other kindling types as there is still a good core of fuel wood underneath the shavings.

To make a feather stick, take your stick and firmly draw your knife blade down the side to shave off a small sliver. Repeat this process around the entire circumference and length of the stick. Ensure you make a few of these to create a good base of heat to ignite larger pieces of fuel. You can pluck off any wet slivers of wood to ensure the stick lights easily without having to dry any wet slivers before they light. Feather sticks, if created with very thin slivers, can also be used as tinder.

tinder2Bark, Pine Knots, and Fatwood - Pieces of resinous bark make good pieces of kindling as they burn hot. Conifers and Cedars yield some of the best bark to use as kindling but should be gathered in ample supply as they can also burn very quickly.

Pine Knots are essentially the points at which branches sprout from the trunk. Being the transition point from trunk to branch, these areas often contain high concentrations of flammable resin which can help light wood. I advise against taking knots from living trees as they will most likely contain too much moisture and could expose the living tree to an infection.

Pine KnotThe best sources of Pine Knots are fallen tree trunks. Oftentimes, when you come across a large soft decaying log in the woods, you may notice that the only parts of the log unaffected by decay are the knots. This is because of the aforementioned resin they contain. Simply kick the knots parallel to the direction the log has fallen to dislodge them from the trunk. Pine Knots also provide high heat and light when burning which is useful for when you need to increase the output of your fire at night.

fatwood2Fatwood is similar to Pine Knots in that the main reason for its effectiveness is its resin content. But it differs in that it might come from any part of the tree. This type of kindling can typically be found in stumps, upturned root sections, or within the bases of large fallen branches. If you come across of piece of wood that doesn’t have the same texture of typical wood but rather a “plastic-y” or waxy texture, it is likely that it is a piece of fatwood. There are certain species of trees that produce more fatwood than others but any resinous tree can produce it. While it doesn’t shave down or cut as easily as normal wood [it usually chips or crumbles depending on resin content], small chips or even shavings of fatwood are great long-lasting sources of both tinder and kindling that burn hot and bright.

FUEL WOOD Considerations

Fuel WoodDifferent types of wood can be used for different purposes when constructing a fire. Hardwoods such as Oak, Beech, Pecan, Birch, Hickory, and Ash are the preferred woods for cooking and heat as they produce very little smoke but output high levels of heat. Softwoods like Cedar, Pine, Poplar, and certain Maples don’t last nearly as long and depending on the moisture content can produce a considerable amount of smoke. The way wood is prepared for fires also plays a large part in how efficient and how strong a fire can burn. Split wood burns better than whole logs so it is better to split your wood, even if only once, before you place it in your fire.

If you look at your pile of collected wood and deem it enough to last the night, it’s always prudent to double it. You never know what may happen in the night. Having ample fuel on hand prevents you from having to leave your camp in the middle of the night to gather more.

Fire Construction per Application

TeePee CampfireLight - Small fires needed for making a pot of coffee or heating up a trailside snack need not be big roaring affairs. Heck, you could probably get by with just an ample supply of kindling for this fire and not go through the trouble of finding and splitting wood. For this fire, I would recommend a probably familiar type: the teepee fire. While teepee-style fires are familiar, sometimes the actual procedure to build one isn’t.

Make sure you’re not starting your teepee fire on any peat-rich soil as the peat may catch fire and literally set the ground ablaze. After the area is clear, it is prudent to also make a hearth of stones to restrict any possible movement of the fire. Then, stack large pieces of kindling in a round teepee shape leaving a small, roughly 45 degree opening at the base to the hollow center of the teepee.

Under the teepee, stuff a good amount of very fine or resinous kindling and beneath that, place a good amount of dry tinder. Light the tinder under the teepee and gently blow until all the tinder is lit. The fire should rise up from the tinder into the smaller pieces of kindling and then catch the larger sticks that make up the teepee. Once all the sticks are lit, centralize the embers and coals to use as heat for cooking or brewing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACooking - To make a fire sufficient for cooking a meal and/or staying at camp all night make a teepee fire as described above. As the kindling burns into coals, add 2-3 pieces of split wood on top. After the split wood has caught fire, rake the coals into a central bed to use for cooking. You can either place your cookware directly onto the coals or use a suspension system to hold your pot or kettle just over them.

As these coals burn out, add 1 or 2 pieces of split wood on top to keep your fire going and produce more coals. Before you decide to bed down to sleep with an active fire burning, check your local laws to see if this is a wise decision, and consider the wind and amount of flammable material around your camp.

reflectorComfort Fire - When in cold environments that would call for an overnight fire, the easiest way to stay warm is to create a reflecting wall. To use a reflecting wall fire, you just need to build a stone or log wall on the opposite side of the fire. This causes heat to reflect off of the wall and radiate towards you and your camp.

To construct a reflecting wall from logs, drive 2 to 3 stake poles into the ground roughly 1 to 2 feet from the area your fire is to be constructed. Stack unsplit logs against your poles until you have a height just above the intended height of the fire. This wall should provide not only reflected heat, but it also helps to create a wind barrier for you and the fire.


Fire is a mysterious thing. Not only is it a vital tool for self-sustainment, it can also be considered a living entity with its own unique characteristics from one type to the next. Different fuels and environmental conditions will provide different fires that produce differing levels of heat and light. The best way to determine how fuels will burn and to see what available types of fuel are around you is to go out and try these techniques yourself.

There is something primal and spiritual about sitting next to a built fire that communicates deep inside every one of us. The skills and techniques we have looked at in this article were common knowledge not too long ago. By practicing them now, we are allowed a glimpse into where we came from as a people. Keep these skills close at hand and remember that this information not only serves to make your outdoor adventures comfortable and enjoyable, but it could one day save or sustain your life. Thanks for reading and please feel free to ask any questions or comment with any good campfire stories you may have! As always, stay dry, stay motivated, and keep moving.

Oscar Mike

SURVIVAL SERIES Pt 3: Starting Fire

Starting a Fire

Camp_fireThe next entry in our Survival Series will cover the various methods of starting a fire while on the move. Some methods such as cigarette lighters are pretty obvious, but others are a little more exotic and require some preparation and practice.

A fire in a survival situation is one of the most important things one could have. Fires cook your food, sanitize your water, and provide comfort and light in what could otherwise be a fear or panic inducing situation.

The ability to start a fire has saved many who were trapped out in the wilds and allowed them to survive long enough to be rescued or signal those searching for them so that they could be rescued.

Like the methods of making water potable, I will only share methods that I personally have attempted and been successful with; and like the methods of making potable water, these skills are most useful if you’ve practiced them and if you possess a first-hand understanding of how they work. Knowledge is most useful with practical application, so read, understand, and go try these methods out for yourself.

Methods of Fire Starting

Butane Lighters – Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Carry a lighter with you at all times and you never need to worry about having fire when you need it.

BIC LighterThe best over-the-counter butane lighter I would recommend is the tried and true BIC lighter. They work in almost all temperatures and climates found on Earth and will light even after being completely immersed in water (after it dries). Not only do these reliably produce a flame but in the larger models of BIC lighters, the butane will last for about 3000 2-3 second lights.

In addition to the flame it produces, the flint will usually outlast the butane giving you a light weight and easy to operate flint sparker. When the lighter runs out of butane remove the metal wind shield and place tinder next to the flint wheel. One or two spins and the tinder will usually catch flame allowing you start your fire.

Zippo Lighters - The venerable Zippo lighter has been used on every continent in every major military conflict since WWII. While it may be stylish and durable, the Zippo requires fluid at regular intervals and contains certain proprietary expendable parts such as the wick and flint.

zippoMany will tell you that the Zippo is not a good survival lighter but I disagree. The flints are small and easy to pack with the lighter; and while the fluid does evaporate quickly the cotton batting inside of the lighter can be used as tinder to start fires. While it’s not the simplest or longest lasting solution to creating fire, the Zippo can be an effective tool in your survival kit.

Also, the lighter may also be used (if it’s one of the polished finish models,) as an emergency signal mirror.


Ferrocerium Rods or “Flint Sticks” – The most popular way to create sparks to start fires lately has been through the use of a Ferrocerium Rod or “flint stick.” These are essentially giant versions of flints found in common lighters.

Flint StickThese products require nothing more than a striker (made of any material harder than the rod itself) to produce a shower of sparks. The sparks created by firesteel rods are extremely hot and depending on the size of shaving can persist for 1-2 seconds. I find these are extremely versatile for survival situations as they can be used right after being submerged and weigh next to nothing.

There are many varieties of ferrocerium rods out there and some include a small block of magnesium to aid in the production of fire even when tinder is wet or unavailable. I personally don’t like to use the magnesium block types as they weigh more, take up more space, and it can be a major pain creating a sufficient pile of magnesium to light. Keeping good tinder dry and on your person is the better solution, in my opinion.

Ferrocerium rods can be found in almost every sporting goods store, on eBay and other online retailers, as well as hardware stores for a very reasonable price. I personally recommend keeping a few around and in your kit.

Fire PistonFire Piston – The fire piston is a handy little piece of kit that ignites tinder through the use of air pressure similar to the theory of a diesel motor’s use of pressure to ignite fuel. Fire pistons can be made out of anything such as wood, metal, or plastics. They usually incorporate a small o-ring to ensure the pressure in the chamber does not leak out of the sides.

To use the fire piston you place a small piece of tinder into the end of the rod and place that into the cylinder. You then quickly compress the rod into the cylinder causing the pressure to generate heat and light the tinder. You can then transfer the ember onto more tinder then onto kindling to start your fire.

This tool is very advantageous as it does not require any expendable materials (other than periodic replacement of the o-ring) to start fires. It is usually light and easily packable, and will work even after being submerged.

The best tinder to use in fire pistons are small pieces of char cloth or amadou (the soft felt-like inner layer of many bracket fungi such as horse’s hoof.) Fire pistons are sold online by survivalist supply retailers and on auction sites.

Mag GlassThe Sun - One of the simplest ways to start a fire is to use the Sun. There are several methods of using the sun to start a fire: everything from magnifying lenses to plastic bottles of water to even ice! The basic concept is to focus sunlight onto one spot on your tinder to create enough heat to light it.

The easiest way I’ve found to use sunlight to start fires is to carry a small plastic magnifying lens in your kit. These don’t break as easily as their glass or crystal counterparts and are extremely light and packable. To light fires with this technique place your magnifying lens over your tinder and position the lens until the light passing through focuses into a small point. Eventually you will notice a small amount of smoke rising from your tinder. Keep holding the lens while you gently blow onto your tinder. With any luck the tinder will catch light and you can then transfer it onto your kindling. Simple, easy, cheap, and most importantly it works.

Friction Fire Lighting Methods 

Firebow – This method takes practice, stamina, and most importantly PATIENCE. The first few times I attempted to start fire this way, I will admit that I cursed like a sailor with cancelled shore leave.

Fire BowThe fire bow or Indian Fiddle is the most common way to start fire with friction and is in my opinion the easiest method. To create fire with a fire bow you must first select two pieces of wood that are soft and non-resinous. My favorite types of wood to use are Yucca and Sotol stalks after they’ve dried. You can also use woods such as cedar and aspen.

The first piece of wood should be shaped into the fireboard. This is where your drill will spin to create the hot dust that will create your ember. I recommend using the base of your Sotol stalk for this as it is the widest section; you want the fireboard to be large enough to hold down with your foot or knee and still have sufficient room to drill into.

The first thing I do to prepare the fire starting is cut a small notch about a half inch away from the edge of the fireboard. I then prepare the drill portion by smoothing out an approximately 5 inch section of the same wood and cutting a very slight, dull point into one end. Then make the bow out of a 1-2 inch diameter, 2-3 foot, slightly curved piece of wood that is rigid. Cut notches on both ends to hold my string (550 cord, shoelace, or piece of rawhide) and tie the string on with only SLIGHT tension. You do not want this to be tight as it still needs to wrap around your drill. Once the bow is made I like to search around until I find a nice roundish stone or make the bearing block (the item used to provide downward pressure onto the drill as you reciprocate the bow) out of a piece of harder wood by cutting a deep round notch into it.

Once the materials are made I wrap the drill portion once around with the cordage on the bow. I then place the drill section into the small notch I created in the fireboard and hold it down firmly with the bearing block. With one foot I hold down the fireboard and position myself so that I have sufficient room to push and draw with the bow.

To use the bow I lubricate the notch cut into my bearing block with a few leaves if it is wood, this reduces the friction on the bearing block as to not rob the fireboard of the speed and friction needed. I then start slowly at first and push and pull allowing the string to settle and confirm that the drill is secure. At this point the drill may slip out of the bow but you just got to reset and try again. Once the drill is secure and moves consistently in the bow I begin to drill slowly gaining speed after every push and pull cycle.

After about a minute of this the small notch on the fire block becomes slightly charred and the small notch becomes about the same diameter as your drill section. Once this is achieved I then cut a notch out of the fireboard to open the drilling area to the side of the fireboard. You should have what appears to be a small charred Pac-Man on your fireboard. This notch opening up to the outside of the board is where your hot dust will collect and create your ember. Once the notch is set I like to place a flat sliver of wood under the “mouth” of the “Pac-Man” as a “tray” to catch the hot dust I will create.

Now reset the drill and bow setup and begin to drill into the fireboard again. You need to provide ample pressure and drill until the fireboard starts to smoke and sufficient hot dust is collected onto your tray. When you think you’re good to go, keep drilling for about 30 more seconds. You don’t want to have to start all over because you were impatient and didn’t collect enough hot dust to start an ember.

Once enough dust has been collected and your ember starts to glow, carefully set your drill, bow, and bearing block aside and flip the ember from your tray onto your tinder pile. Lightly compress your tinder bundle around the ember and blow into it. Once the tinder has caught flame transfer it into your kindling and your fire is born!

This method is very challenging for the first timer and requires extreme patience and persistence. If you can’t seem to get it right, remember, the struggling you have to acquire this skill in the learning setting is preferable to having to try to learn this skill when you really need it. You may not have enough energy or may be injured when you really need this skill and having the technique down beforehand may save your life.

manlab-handdrillHand-Drill – This method is similar in concept to the fire bow method but it requires less materials but more patience and persistence. The fireboard construction is the same but you do not need to build or find the bearing block or the bow. The drill section should be longer (about 9-10 inches) to provide you enough area for your hands to drill.

When the fireboard is made the initial drilling notch is made by drilling into the board with your hands. This technique takes lots of practice as a simple hand-over-hand prayer-type grip is not the best hold for the drill. The method I use is the “itsy-bitsy spider” method. I spin the drill with my hands rotating so that my pinkie finger one hand almost meets the thumb on the other hand and vice-versa. This method allows you to spin the drill with more revolutionary distance than a standard hold, which in turn provides more constant friction on the board.

Start at the top of the drill and spin it in the notch until it becomes charred and the notch completely houses the end of the drill. You then cut your “Pac-Man” notch and reset the drill onto the board. Place your “tray” item under the fireboard to catch your ember and begin to drill again.

Provide constant downward pressure onto the drill as you spin it. When your hands get close to the bottom of the drill quickly reposition your hands onto the top of the drill and continue drilling. After sufficient time you will collect the hot dust that will become your ember. Like the bow drill method, when you think you have enough dust collected, go for another 30 seconds to a minute. You don’t want to have to start over because you were impatient.

Once the ember is created transfer it to your tinder, bundle it and provide it with air. This method is difficult and requires stamina. Unless you have thick-skinned mechanic or oil field hands you will most likely get blisters; but like the fire drill, you want to get the struggle and blisters out of the way when you practice. Don’t give up and remember many have been successful at this method of fire starting. It just takes practice and patience.


So there you have it. These are my preferred and tried methods of creating fire while out in the bush. There are many more devices and methods out there for starting fire, these are just the ones I have personally tried.

If the information about making fire by friction seems confusing, there are multitudes of YouTube videos and documentation on the Internet that provide examples and clarity on the subject. These skills, like the procurement of water, are not only useful and fun to know, but they can very well be your saving grace in the future. Like any skill, practice makes perfect and patience is paramount when it comes to skills such as these. Don’t let frustration get the better of you when trying to learn new techniques of survival. And remember, many people have successfully used these techniques before. In the next article in this series I will go over types of tinder, kindling, and fires that can aid you to be successful in survival. ‘Til next time, stay warm, stay motivated, and keep moving.

-Oscar Mike

AR-15 Workbench Tips

Random Shop Tips for the Home AR-15 Armorer

For you home AR builders and armorers, here are a few useful tips.  You probably already know more than a few of these but you might pick up one or two useful ideas.

#1 – Oil your Roll Pins

Break Free CLPUsing a little oil on your roll pins before driving them in can help them go in easier.  It will reduce the likelihood of the head of the pin blossoming open or the whole pin seizing in the hole.  For AR-15 builders this is especially important when installing the trigger guard.  Even though it does NOT replace the use of a block for supporting the trigger guard hinge ears, it lessens the likelihood that the bottom ear will break off and thus ruin your lower receiver.  Every roll pin is different.  Even when the dimensions are the same, some pins will be tougher to drive than others.

#2 – Leather/Vinyl/Plastic Scratch Guards or an old Mouse Pad

Mouse PadA scrap piece of leather or vinyl, or a flexible plastic binder cover can help save your softer aluminum parts from dings and scratches during the assembly process, especially when driving in roll pins.  Online build guides commonly suggest using duct tape or painter’s tape.  Leather is significantly tougher and can prevent damage from even direct strikes.  Use the painter’s tape to help secure the leather if necessary.  It’s not a bad way to use up an old mouse pad either.

#3 – Parts Cleaner Dunk Tank

opplanet-mpro-7-gun-cleaner-1030-1-gallon-bottle-070-1030Cleaning solutions can be had for less money when bought in bulk.  For what it costs to buy 5 or 6 moderately-sized bottles, you can usually pick up a gallon from a large parts supplier like Brownells or MidwayUSA.  Fill an appropriately sized plastic container (with a lid) with your favorite cleaning solution (that is plastics safe of course).  You can dunk or leave parts in your cleaning tank and better yet, you can use it over and over again, unlike the small spray bottle which just gets sprayed away during use.  You can even leave your brushes in the tank (kind of like combs and brushes in the jar of blue Barbicide at your local barber).  My personal favorite is MPro7’s Gun Cleaner.  The dunk tank will cost more in the short term but will eventually save you money and it will save you considerable amounts of time.  One fill of the tank will last for years.  If there is excess sediment in your tank, pour your cleaner into another container and strain the fluid using a cotton cloth.

#4 – Clear Nail Polish

nailNever ever use thread locker on an AR-15 except for on the set screw threads of a gas block where needed and on a muzzle device when so prescribed by the manufacturer (if necessary but still not recommended).  A weaker, less permanent substitute for thread locker for parts that may need to be removed in the future is clear nail polish.  For you California shooters, this is a great substitute for thread locker on Bullet Buttons which are nearly impossible to remove if thread locker is used.  Just put a drop on top of the inner nut after installing your Bullet Button.  Never use any type of locker (including nail polish) on barrel nuts or buffer tubes.

#5 – Allen Wrench Detent Installation Tool

Photo Credit ITS Tactical

Photo Credit ITS Tactical

Using a flat face of a hex wrench makes a handy installation tool for your Pivot Pin.  5mm or 3/16” seems to work well.  Insert the pivot pin detent spring into the pivot pin detent hole first.  Then insert the hex wrench into the pivot pin hinge from the side opposite the hole.  Press the detent into place and slide the hex wrench over the detent to hold it in place.  The flat face of the hex wrench will keep everything where it is.  Then you’ll just need to slide in the pivot pin to replace the hex wrench.

#6 – Cheap Cleaning Patches

Face padsCotton facial pads used for removing makeup can often be had for much less at your local pharmacy than bore swabs.  Be sure to buy pads that are lint free.  These are perfect for applying oil to your bore or pulling out fouling, and at a fraction of the cost.  You’ll want to check the bore afterwards for remnants.  Also make sure that the pad will fit in your bore!  If it’s too big, a quick snip with a pair of scissors will bring it down to size.  Otherwise these can be used to wipe down, oil, or clean other non-bore parts on all of your guns.  These are cheaper and they usually comes in bags of higher counts.

#7 – No Compressed Air Cans!

AirPhotographers already know this.  Do NOT use compressed air cans on your optics.  The chemicals present in these products will damage many coatings found on the surface of high contrast lenses and glass.  Instead, use a high quality lens cloth or get a rubber air cleaning tool from your local camera store.  Carson’s  DustBlaster even looks vaguely like a grenade.


#8 – Lower Receiver Vise Block

lower blockEven lower priced lower vise blocks retail for about 12 to 15 dollars.  You don’t really need to buy one if you’ve got an old (perhaps not so reliable anymore) magazine lying around. You can use that as a vise block instead.  In most markets, actual magazines are less costly than the vise blocks.  Fill it with a hardening plastic or other high compression material to make it withstand the compression from the vise.  Just remember to notch out the magazine catch hole.  Or you can buy an already super strong Magpul PMAG.  Wrap it in the leather from Tip #2 to give it more grip in the vise.

#9 – Silicone Gun Cloths

gun clothThere really isn’t a lot of magic involved with those expensive silicone gun cloths that range anywhere from $4 to $10 at your local gun shop.  And some still argue about the real benefits of polishing your gun with silicone.  Nevertheless, you can make your own with a square foot of felt cut right off of the bolt from your local craft store or from the fabric shelf at your local Walmart.  One square yard will yield 9 square foot cloths.  Then, pick up a can of spray silicone from the auto department or use your favorite CLP or gun oil instead.  With your own can of silicone you can always ‘recharge’ the cloth whenever you need to.  While you’re at it, use the same wipe to clean and protect your tools as well.  If you find that the raw felt leaves lint behind, toss it in the washer/dryer before oiling it.

#10 – Painting Your AR – Rattlecan Style

Photo Credit Modern Service Weapons

Photo Credit Modern Service Weapons

Once you’ve taped off your unpaintables, remove your bolt carrier group and run a piece of paracord through the bore from the muzzle end.  String it through the chamber and tie it off to something inside the upper receiver (but not the hammer!).  I used a split ring from a keychain wrapped in cloth to prevent any damage to the inside of the gun.  Close up the rifle and hang the other end from the ceiling.  This way you won’t have to flip the gun over after one side dries or balance the rifle on the end of the buttstock where it might get knocked over.  It also frees up a hand to apply the pine needle or leafy branch camo method.  If you use a pulley at the top, you can even adjust the height of the rifle as you paint so you can hit it from all angles.  When you’re done, just leave it where it is to dry.  You should only be dusting it with light coats and not soaking it with heavy runny coats of paint.  Be sure not to get any paint into the bore from the top and remember to close your dust cover!

#11 – “I pulled the charging handle without a buffer or spring in the lower and now my rifle won’t open.”

This happens every once in awhile when you’re building or cleaning an AR-15.  It is easy to forget to put the buffer and buffer spring back into the lower before putting your rifle together.  And usually the first thing you do after reassembling your rifle is pull on the charging handle to make sure all is well.  This will result in your bolt carrier getting stuck in your buffer tube and because of where it is located you won’t be able to pivot your gun open to unstick it.  Undo both your takedown pivot and pivot pin and slide your upper way from your lower parallel to each other.  It may take a wiggle or shake but they will come free from each other.

#12 – “I have a stuck round in the chamber and the bolt is stuck and won’t move no matter how hard I pull on the charging handle.”

Punch 1A bad round can expand quickly in the chamber and cause the bolt to stick so hard that it just won’t move.   Pushing the bolt forward may allow the bolt to move all the way forward again, but another pull on the charging handle and it gets stuck again.  Remove the upper from the lower.  Use a brass punch on the front edge of the bolt carrier ramp to get a little extra kinetic energy into releasing the bolt.  The 8620 steel that the carrier is made of is harder than the punch and shouldn’t sustain any damage.  One or two taps and the carrier will come free.

B. Revell

Get Wet!

Lubricant for AR-15s

I’ve seen it a thousand times.  A new shooter will walk into the store with his recently purchased AR-15 rifle and complain about its reliability.

“Dad gum thing keeps jammin’ up on me.”

“Did you clean and lube it?”

“Clean and lube?”

Believe it or not, improper lubrication is the second most common cause of malfunctions that we’ve encountered at Shield Tactical with the AR-15 platform.   Just for reference, the most common is cheap or worn out magazines.  The third would be a misaligned gas block.

Moving metal parts makes lubrication a necessity.  The good part: there are so few moving parts on an AR-15 that you don’t need to do much to keep your gun in the game.  But there are so many different lubrication and cleaning products out there.

“How do I know which lube to go with?”

It’s a common question and the usual answer from the shop guy is ‘the lube that just so happens to be available in our store.’  Rest assured, they would likely not carry a product that doesn’t work, lest they should have to field complaints about it.  But there are many different products and different grades of lubricity, and certain products do work better than others.

So let’s focus on some of the common products that are out on the market and popular for use in the AR-15 rifle.

RemOil4oz-prodRemington Rem Oil – This low cost lubricant from Remington is commonly found at your local Wal-Mart sporting goods section.  It is affordable and easy to find and is a good choice for field cleanings because of the relatively low cost.  We’ve found, however, that most lubrication failures are due to the use of Rem Oil.  It does tend to evaporate quickly and unless you pay close attention to it, Rem Oil will virtually disappear.  As far as lubrication, Rem Oil runs a little thin and likely doesn’t protect like some thicker products do.  Constant re-application is recommended.  GRADE: C-

Break Free CLPBreak-Free CLP – It’s in the name.  It cleans, lubricates, and protects.  Extensively used by the military, it is popular, easy to find, inexpensive and slightly more viscous than Rem Oil.  Like Rem Oil, it is an excellent choice for cleaning because of its relatively low cost.  It can make for a quick clean and lube in the field to keep your rig rolling for a long day of training/shooting.  But, like Rem Oil, it does tend to evaporate quickly, though fewer failures are associated with the use of this lube.  Be sure to get ‘CLP’ and not Break-Free’s ‘Powder Blast’.  The cans look similar and both are sold at Wal-Mart (under the Winchester brand), but they do VERY different things.  Powder Blast is a different product for a different purpose.  Although Break-Free CLP may not be the preferred storage product, it is an indispensable part of your cleaning group because of its affordability and ease of use in an aerosol can.  GRADE: B-

Hoppes 9 Gun OilHoppes No. 9 Gun Oil – Hoppes Gun Oil is an old classic and a high quality gun lubricant.  While it is effective, it is also costlier than the previous two options, thicker with a higher lubricity, and it has a distinctively pungent chemical smell.  Some people like that smell, I prefer to open my windows and wear gloves.  Hoppes products are found commonly in most gun stores. Hoppes No. 9 also works well on stored guns and lubes well for shooting.  Beware here as Hoppes has several No. 9 branded products.  We’re only talking about the classic Hoppes No. 9 Lubricating Gun Oil.  GRADE: B+

Slip EWLSLiP2000 EWL (Extreme Weapon Lubricant)
– EWL was designed for high rate automatic firearms and is the lube of choice for companies like LWRC International.  This high-tech synthetic lubricant resists evaporation and particles, and over course of time will leave a micro-layer of lubricant which bonds to the surface of your gun or gun parts.  It is pricy but a little goes a long way.  Because it does not dry out EWL is ideal for storage and extended use.  EWL will aid in cleaning your bolt the more you use it.  Less of the bad stuff will stick to your parts once the EWL has had a chance to season the surface.  There are few products that are as slick as SLiP.  GRADE: A

Mpro7MPro7 Gun Oil MPX – Hoppes has a more advanced CLP that unlike some others does not evaporate or dry up.  It is heavier, looks and feels like proper gun oil and it is available for a reasonable cost.  Best yet, you can clean with it too and it works as a storage treatment.  While I like the fact that this is a multi-purpose chemical for field use, MPX works great as a standalone action lubricant and works great in conjunction with MPro7’s Gun Cleaner.  Unlike the old Hoppes No. 9, MPX does not carry a heavy chemical odor.  GRADE: A


Weapon ShieldSteel Shield Technologies Weapon Shield – This is a rarer and less known lubricant with the same types of benefits found in SLiP2000’s EWL.  This fully synthetic lubricant bonds to the surface of your bolt, increasing dry lubricity and making cleanings easier.  Like EWL it can get pricy but a little goes a very long way.  SteelShield also offers WeaponShield in a refillable syringe-like precision oiler to help reduce waste and to aid you in getting the lube into those hard to reach places. This has the same type of viscosity as does SLiP2000’s EWL.  It also resists drying out and evaporation.  GRADE: A

FirecleanFIREClean Advanced Gun Oil – FIREClean brings us a newer product that resists evaporation and drying.  The lubricant attacks carbon and carbon fouling and melts it away while safe for both metal or polymer parts.  Non-toxic, non-flammable, and odorless, FIREClean has excellent bonding properties for use in guns with tight tolerances and little room for heavy lubricants.  A little bit goes a long way just like EWL and Weaponshield. This is as high-tech a lubricant as I have seen.  GRADE: AA

Frog LubeFrogLube – FrogLube can be found in both paste and liquid(more like semi-paste) form.  It is completely non-toxic, easy to clean, and an excellent lubricant.  FrogLube is even edible and has a subtle minty smell (and taste).  Over repeated uses, FrogLube acts as a microfiller and seasons the surface of your parts filling in fissures and imperfections and reducing the ability of fouling to bond or attach to your gun.  Cleaning is made easier because of the waxy dirt repellent barrier it creates.  The applied FrogLube paste looks dry when left aside, but continues to lubricate your gun.  The wax-like application should be repeated at least a few times before you really see what it can do.  It is easy to apply though it does take a little more time to do so, and it takes several applications to really take advantage of the full benefit of its use.  FrogLube is not as slick as some products, but much slicker than others.  It leaves your guns smelling minty and does an excellent job of protecting your guns during storage.  GRADE B+

Mobil_1_ESP_FormulaMobil 1 Synthetic Oil 0W-30 – There are folks out there who use motor oils to lube their guns.  It is a novel idea since automobile engine oils are formulated to withstand high levels of heat while providing consistent viscosity in all conditions.  Logically any lubricant designed for machine use under those conditions would seem to be a good candidate.  As a lubricant, Mobil 1 Synthetic oils do a fine job and do so at a significantly lower cost.  In fact, you can save even more with Wal-Mart’s SuperTech synthetic oils.  Many synthetic oils are also designed to trap and keep captive carbon particles so that they will flow out during oil changes.  That being said, these oils are not specifically engineered to be used in firearms.  Considering how little is needed to lubricate your gun, it would be wise to use oil that is engineered specifically for firearms.  Nonetheless this is a creative solution in a pinch.  Not recommended for a full-time lube but it works.  GRADE: B-

Tetra Gun GreasePastes and Gels – Most gun dealers also sell lubricants in the form of paste/grease/gel.  Like some of the above oils, these products are more solid to keep the product from running and flowing off of the contact surfaces that need them.  While well-suited for certain handguns and rifles, greases are not recommended for the AR-15 except where needed in the trigger group.  Examples of these include products like Tetra Gun Grease, Mil-Comm TW25B, and Militec-1 among others.  Do not use these in your bore or on your bolt.  Leave it in the trigger group and nowhere else.  GRADE: NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ARs

AndersonAnderson Rifles RF85 – This is a dry lube coating used on Anderson Rifles’ AM15 rifles.  Anderson is adamant about the effectiveness of a non-wet lubricant that will not run, reduce, or evaporate.  It cannot be combined with a wet lubricant but you can see the advantage of a dry system to which dirt particles will not stick.  That being the case, it remains to be seen if the RF85 coating is effective enough for a high friction small tolerance gun like the AR-15.  All of Anderson’s testing suggests that the RF85 coating works and even excels.  Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether RF85 is substantively reliable in the field.  This is an intriguing leap into what may be the future of lubricants.  GRADE: ?

Food Grade Oils – I don’t think I have to explain this too much in detail.  It has been done before.  Surprisingly enough, butter does seem to stick pretty well.  What’s more it leaves behind a sweet smelling buttery cordite residue that reminds me of breakfast in Detroit.  If you want your gun to get sticky and messy VERY fast, food grade oils and butters are your master plan.  A low burning point and an uncanny ability to attract carbon and overweight zombies make your Mazola or Land-O-Lakes the worst gun lubrication option.  Delicious as it might sound, GRADE: NOT AN OPTION BUT MIGHT BE NECESSARY SOMEDAY… ON REALITY TELEVISION

Dry Lube FinishesThere are several products available with different names that advertise as a dry finish lubricant.  While some may claim to be good products for action parts like bolts and slides, in an AR-15 I wouldn’t recommend these.  The concept and science behind it is certainly impressive, but if you are going to use a dry lube on your AR-15, I would suggest using it on a non-action part like the buffer tube, takedown and pivot pins, and perhaps even the charging handle.  There are different types of friction occurring in your rifle so it stands to reason that you could use different types of lubrication for those various systems. GRADE: MAYBE AS A SUPPLEMENT

WD40WD-40 – There is sometimes an overwhelming temptation to use aerosol multipurpose lubricants like WD-40 or even bicycle chain lube (teflon or otherwise), and only because it says ‘lubricant’ on the label.  WD-40 may not be a bad cleaning product.  It is used for everything from cleaning glass lenses to cleaning car parts.  It can be used to revitalize drive belts and get rid of startup squeal in your car.  But it really should not be used in your gun.  WD-40 is too lightweight and not viscous enough to the degree where it would not be a sufficient barrier against wear.  It also has a tendency to attract dirt and grime and would be the quickest road to an operating malfunction. GRADE: NO

There are a plethora of options both new and old.  The real adventure is discovering your own favorite.  This doesn’t apply only to lubricants but for cleaning products in general.  You’ll find a wealth of information and reviews on the Internet.  Take care when exploring though since everyone seems to have their own taste in lubricants.  My suggestion would be to buy the small size lube and give it a try, and then try a few more.  You’ll end up with a small lube bottle you can keep in your field kit which you can refill from your larger workbench bottle.  Buy the large bottle after you’ve determined that you like the product and will continue to use it.

Take all the above advice with a grain of salt.  The grades are based on my experience with those products and don’t necessarily mean you will have the same experience.  Take your time and find your favorite.


As an experienced gun owner, you know that a good quality oil protects the varied finishes on your gun.  For non-repeating action guns, the oil’s primary job is to protect the gun’s surfaces.  Lever actions, bolt-actions, revolvers, and break action guns can sometimes benefit from the use of nice thick oils and greases in their action parts.  With most guns, there is such a thing as too much oil and the “less is more” philosophy is usually a good one.  AR-15s are a little different however and their oiling requirements are different as well.

A new, off-the-shelf AR-15 requires generous oiling to run properly.  Our customers at Shield Tactical hear the advice from us, “run it wet” for at least the first 500 to 1,000 rounds.  When you oil it this way, you will usually see oil leaking out from between the upper and lower receivers.  If you use the “less is more” philosophy, your AR-15 may not be sufficiently lubricated.

To lube your AR before heading out to the field to shoot:

Vent HolesWith an aerosol lubricant
Take out your entire bolt carrier group and spray and soak it until it is dripping oil.  Let all the excess drip off and shake it until it is no longer dripping.  It should be completely covered.  Be sure to get some into the vent holes on the ejection side of the carrier.  Pull and twist the bolt back and forth out of the carrier a few times.


With a non-aerosol oil: Put a few drops of oil on your finger and wipe down your bolt carrier parts generously adding oil as you go.  By the time your BCG is completely oiled, you will have used a fraction of an ounce to cover it.

Notice that in both cases, the bolt groups are oiled generously.  The parts should not be dripping with oil but they should be glossy and wet.  Excess oiling can cause malfunctions just like insufficient oiling can.  Oily ammunition can even cause feeding issues in the AR so take care that oil is not dripping onto your magazine/ammunition.

This is the condition in which you want to run your new AR-15… WET!  As you progress through the first 500 to 1,000 rounds, the gun will “loosen up” a bit and the lubrication requirements will gradually diminish.  You will get a feel for what is sufficient just like you will get an idea of which products are your favorite.  What you mustn’t do though is under oil your NEW AR-15.

Having a bottle of lube with you in the field is essential since hot carbon-filled gases will dry up or saturate the lubrication in the action over time.  You’ll want to touch up the bolt with a few drops of oil every once in awhile.  Contrary to popular belief, a good AR will run reliably when carbon dirty, as long as it is well lubricated.  In other words, even if you are dumping a few thousand rounds at a time, if you take care to add some oil to the system during the course of use, it should keep running.  An insufficiently lubricated system and/or the introduction of moisture are the usual causes of carbon fouling related failures.


The gun is made primarily of anodized aluminum and plastic… but all of the essential working parts are made of varying grades and types of steel.   The aluminum and plastic does not require much attention if at all.  But you definitely need to keep an eye on all of the steel.  So where does the lube go?

Barrel – The outer surface of the barrel should have a light coating of oil to help protect it.  Give it a wipe down with a thin layer of oil and repeat occasionally even while the gun is in storage.  The inside of the bore should also have a light coating as well as the chamber.  Take care though that the inside of the bore is dry before you shoot.

Bolt – On a benchtop clean and lube, you should disassemble the bolt and generously lube each part.  This is the only part that needs generous lubrication.  In the field, you can access part of the bolt via the vent holes on the ejection side while your gun is fully assembled.  Inject a drop or two into these holes and then give the charging handle a few racks.  That will cause the oil to seep into the bolt area and partially re-lube those surfaces.  Handy in a pinch.

Trigger Group – You can use grease on these parts or whichever oil you have on hand.  Just use it where it’s needed.  You don’t need too much.  In fact the less oil you use here, the less often you’ll need to take it apart and clean it.  There should be some lubricant however as these parts you’ll want protected.

Piston – There should not be any oil inside of a gas tube.  But if you’re running a piston AR you will need to coat your piston parts with oil to protect them and to reduce friction.  Every piston manufacturer will have their own care and operation instructions for these parts.

Inside the Charging Handle – It is not an absolutely necessary item, but at the very least, the underside channel of the charging handle where the bolt gas key fits into should be clean and free of any fouling.  A light coating of oil is enough.

Inside the Buffer Tube – Do not lubricate (with a wet lube) the inside of the buffer tube.  If you must, only use a very light coating of oil and let it dry.  I know you’re thinking, a wet bolt carrier will inevitably get oil inside the buffer tube.  You’re right, but it is not as much as you think.  And taking out the spring and buffer and wiping it down should be a part of your normal cleaning regimen.  I just want to prevent you from dousing these parts with oil just because they are mechanical in nature.  No need to do so.

For the rest of the AR-15, the oil’s main purpose is to keep things black.  Since aluminum doesn’t rust and the anodized surfaces prevent corrosion, you only need a little oil to make things dark.  Likewise on a standard A2 fixed stock, a coating of oil will darken the velvety gray surface of the stock body.

Depending on the materials used on the rest of the gun, you’ll still want a thin layer on all of the non-aluminum metal parts.  On any of these (including sights, muzzle device, sling loops, etc.), only a thin layer is needed.  Whenever you apply a superficial light coating of oil, the moment you slip that gun into a soft case, that oil is gone.  So consider your storage options if the outer surfaces need to be oiled.  On an AR-15 however, that shouldn’t be too big of an issue as the gun and its finishes are designed to be jungle proof.


The AR-15 rifle is not like the other rifles in your safe.  It is more like an automobile than a gun in the classic sense in that it needs oil in the motor.  The bolt, which is the very core of the gun, needs help with the metal-on-metal contact.  Without any lubrication, the bolt, like a piston in a 4-stroke combustion engine, can seize or stop, and possibly break.  So regardless of what you know about other guns needing just a thin layer of oil, remember that your AR-15’s bolt should be noticeably oily and should always be so.

Avoid introducing water into the bolt.  When a dirty AR-15 comes in contact with water, carbon particles are attracted to the water droplets and form little carbon marbles that grow as they gather moisture and more carbon.  It is these larger chunks of carbon that can cause a bolt to seize up or stop out of battery.  Of course, adding oil is no substitute for properly cleaning and maintaining your AR, so remember to disassemble, clean and re-oil your gun after every shoot and periodically during long periods of storage.

We did not cover the cleaning aspect this go around.  Even though many of these products are formulated to both clean and lubricate, there are many other products that are specifically made for cleaning which can do a better job for hard-to-beat carbon, copper, and rust.  We may cover this at a later date.

Lastly, it seems that there are a lot of folks out there who like to get creative with their lubrication choices.  It stands to reason that there will always be a need for occasional improvisation.  But for those of us who keep a stock of lubrication products on the workbench or in a field kit, it is far better to use a superior product for what amounts to just a few cents more per use.  ARs are reliable and can handle getting dirty just fine, provided you take care of it and keep it lubed.

B. Revell

SURVIVAL SERIES Pt 2: Purifying Water

PURIFYING WATER: “Is This Water Safe to Drink?”

That question has led to disaster for many people who were caught unprepared. Knowing how to acquire water is one thing, but what do you do to make it safe to drink? In this article, we’re going to cover some of my preferred methods for making water safe either in the field or at camp.

Before we begin I would like to clarify the differences between water filtration, purification, disinfection and distillation:

Disinfection, such as with chemical treatments or boiling, kills pathogens in the water, but it does not remove them. Nor does it remove chemical or heavy metal contamination.

Filtration removes most common pathogens and may or may not filter out heavy metals and certain chemical contaminants by the use of charcoal and micropore filters. Viruses cannot be filtered out due to their size and their ability to pass through even the tiniest filter pores.

Purification is the removal of all biological pathogens including viruses and most heavy metal contaminates.

Distillation is the process in which water is evaporated or converted to steam and recaptured.

Purification and distillation are the most effective forms of water treatment.

We will cover a sampling of techniques which range from makeshift filters to solar distillation. Just to note: I have personally researched and practiced these methods. Knowledge is important, but in my opinion, it is incomplete without experience. By putting information to practical use, you can see what really works, what won’t, and how to employ the techniques effectively.


LifestrawMini/Straw-Type Water Filters - If you have been paying attention to any of the recent survival buzz, you have undoubtedly heard of the Lifestraw by Vestergaard Frandsen or the Frontier Filter by Aquamira. Both of these tools and others like them operate on the same principle. These are enclosed filtration devices that provide protection from cryptosporidium and giardia and improve the taste of turbid water. (The Lifestraw boasts a 0.2 micron filter and is able to filter out most waterborne bacteria as well as protozoa).

To use a straw-type filter, you simply dip the pickup end into your water source and suck the water through like a straw. These filters are extremely efficient and especially hardy because there are no moving parts that can break. The primary drawback to these filters is their non-replaceable filter elements. However, with an average usage span running from about 110 liters (Frontier Filter) up to 1,000 liters (Lifestraw), and given their low relative cost, these are a lightweight and inexpensive solution to filtering drinking water while on the move.

Now if you find yourself stranded without your kit or if your kit is lost, you can still replicate (to some extent) the filtration abilities of these straw-type filters with items you might have lying around the house or work-site. All you need is:

  • an 8″ length of a 1/2″ to 1 1/2″ diameter PVC or other non-toxic pipe
  • some twine, zip ties, or hose clamps
  • a clean sock or rag
  • some peat moss
  • sand
  • some charcoal

STEP ONE – Thoroughly clean the piece of pipe to ensure nothing contaminates the water past the filtration elements.

STEP TWO – Wrap the bottom end of the filter with a small piece of rag and secure it with the twine, zip tie, or hose clamp.

The next step is to create the filter element inside.

STEP THREE – Stuff a piece of the rag into the pipe so that about one inch of volume is taken up at the bottom.

STEP FOUR – Add about an inch of clean sand, and then about an inch of peat moss.

STEP FIVE – This next layer is the most important. Crush up the charcoal to the consistency of very small gravel and add about 2 inches above the layer of moss. (DO NOT use commercial BBQ coals! Use either coals from a non-chemically treated wood fire or even better use some activated charcoal for fish tanks which you can find from a pet or aquarium supply store).

STEP SIX – To finish up the filter, repeat the bottom layers with one inch of peat moss, one inch of sand, and one inch of tightly stuffed cloth.

STEP SEVEN – On the top, loosely wrap the end with cloth and tie it off just like the bottom end. You want the top end to be slightly concave like a trumpet mouthpiece so that you can press your lips into it and create a good seal.

This makeshift filter uses the same process as the commercial ones. You just stick the end of the straw into your water source and suck up the water. You should make sure to suck through about a gallon or two through the straw before you swallow any of the water to ensure the filter elements settle and shed any harmful dust.

And there you have it, one makeshift water filtration straw. Mind you it’s not as pretty as the commercial product, nor does it filter out harmful particulates as effectively, but it does work. In a pinch, something like this could save your life and provide you just enough filtration to hydrate before you find a better source of water or better supplies to filter/purify water.

Also bear in mind, this filter will not have nearly the same filtration capacity as the commercial ones. If you have to use this system for an extended period, be sure to change out the peat moss and charcoal at roughly 10 gallon intervals and wash the cloth and sand in clean water and/or let them dry in direct sunlight for a few hours.

Pump-Style Filters - There are loads of different pump-style water filters out in the market today. Because of the overwhelming variety, it would take a small book to go over all of them in detail. What I’m going to do instead, for the sake of brevity, is go over my top three choices. I chose these three filters because, in my opinion, they are the easiest to pack out, the easiest to operate, and they all work exceptionally well.

KatadynKatydyn Hiker ProThe first filter on my list of favorites is the Katydyn Hiker Pro. This filter was the first water filter I ever bought and continues to be one of my favorites. It is the lightest pump filter I own at about 3/4ths of a pound with outside dimensions of about 6.4 x 3.2 x 2.4 inches. This filter is extremely easy to pump and I can fill a two-liter bottle in about two to three minutes.

The water from this filter always tastes fresh and the filters are easy to replace. The Hiker Pro features a draw line particulate filter as well as a replaceable 0.3 micron glass-fiber element with activated charcoal. The filters will last about 1,000 liters before needing replacement.

Be careful when replacing filters though: if you use too much force, you can crack the filter body and you’ll be forced to buy a new one. Don’t ask me how I know this, my wallet can’t take it.

The Hiker Pro and its filters are extremely common and can be found at various sporting goods stores and at your favorite web retailer. Also, don’t be confused by the two different colors. The Hiker Pro previously came in a kind of blue-grey body but now come in black; filter elements work in both and other than the color, nothing is really different between the two.

MSR Miniworks EXMSR MINIWORKS EX Microfilter - is one of the more efficient water filters available weighing in at a pack-friendly one pound with dimensions at about 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.2 inches. It features a three-stage filtration system consisting of a particulate filter on the draw hose and a ceramic with carbon filter element.

The particulate filter ensures no large particles are drawn into the ceramic filter element while the 0.2 micron ceramic element filters out bacteria and protozoa. The carbon in the ceramic filter element then filters out much of the potential heavy metals and provides clean tasting water. These filter elements last on average about 2,000 liters, can be cleaned in the field, and are replaceable. They are also very inexpensive, which is always a huge plus in my book.

The flow rate is impressive for the size and filtration capability. I was able to fill a 2-liter bottle in about three to four minutes. Like the Katydyn Hiker Pro, the MSR Miniworks EX is carried by most sporting goods stores and popular web retailers. So finding replacement filters and parts is easy.

General Ecology First Need XL Water PurifierGeneral Ecology First Need XL Water Purifier - I like to save the best for last. The First Need XL water purifier is by far my favorite water filtration device out on the market today. Notice how the item is designated a water purifier. That’s because unlike the previously mentioned water filters (as well as most pump-style water filtration devices), the First Need XL filters not only bacteria, cysts, and protozoa, but it also removes viruses and does so without the use of any chemicals!

This pump weighs in at about 1.3 pounds with dimensions of about 3.8 x 1.2 x 2 inches. The draw line features a micro-mesh liner for particulates just like the previous filters. The magic behind the First Need is the “Structured Matrix” filter element that traps all the contaminates and leaves nothing but pure clean tasting water.

The First Need XL has a shorter filter life at about 600 liters. However, these filters, like the MSR MINIWORKS, can be backflushed and cleaned for extended use. The flow rate with the First Need XL is slower than basic filters. It took me about five minutes to fill a 2-liter bottle. But this is a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing your water is completely pure and free of viruses.

Another great feature of the First Need XL is the included carrying bag that features a food-grade plastic liner and draw line adapter. The carrying bag allows you to use the pump system as a gravity filter as well! You simply hook up the filter element to the adapter on the bag, fill the bag with water, hang it up, and the filter will purify water without any pumping. This is a great option if you want to purify water at camp while you engage in other activitiess.

The price and filtration capacity of the individual filters are the main disadvantage to this system. The filters are a little pricy and a bit harder to find. I always keep a few on hand though as this is the perfect filter for natural disaster situations where water is likely to be contaminated by human or animal waste. With this filter, there is no need to worry about the potential for viral contamination through water.


Photo Credit: news.discovery.com

Photo Credit: news.discovery.com

The Boil - One of the simplest and easiest ways to make water clean and potable is to boil it. Boiling kills all of the pathogens in the water and render it safe to drink. You can take it a step further and distill the water which will remove all of the contaminates, chemical or biological, and yield pure water.

There is one considerable drawback with this method: you need a heat source capable of bringing water to the boiling point, enough fuel to sustain boiling, and a container suitable for boiling temperatures. Certain situations may not afford you the ability to build a fire and you may not have the equipment needed to properly and safely boil water.

Most “preppers” include a hydration source in their kit like a bladder pack or a Nalgene-style water bottle. While these hydration sources may be good for carrying water with minimal bulk or weight, they do not allow you to heat water in them. One of the easiest ways to prepare for the possibility of having to boil water is to include something like a Kleen Kanteen in your kit. Kleen Kanteens are stainless steel water bottles that can double as a boiling receptacle if the need arises. Their weight is marginally greater than Nalgene’s plastic bottles, and because they are made of common 304 Stainless steel, they are more likely to bend and bulge before they crack.

Be sure to include in your survival kit, some reliable receptacle for boiling water.

What happens when you’re stranded with nothing at all? People in survival situations and many primitive people across the world have used items from birch bark containers, large leaves like skunk cabbage leaves, and even extremely tightly woven baskets buried in sand to boil water. You typically cannot put these types of receptacles over open flame, but there is an ingenious way of making a boiling still. Once the water is trapped in these types of containers you must heat rocks in a fire. Be careful when you do this as some types of rock can splinter and shatter violently when exposed to high temperatures. Have the rocks in the fire when you start it or add them in gently before the bed of coals is fully established to mitigate this possibility. Once the rocks have become sufficiently hot (too hot to think about holding but before they glow), drop them into the water. Enough of the hot rocks can and will bring water to a boil and render it safe to use.

“I’m not living in the woods how am I going to make a fire or heat in the city when the power and gas is out?” Good question. The solution: improvise.

For fuel you can simply use wood from furniture. Clean water trumps that Ikea computer desk when it comes to priorities.  You can also burn bundles of paper. Tightly rolled-up newspapers and phonebooks [yes, they still make these] make great, long-lasting logs for fires. You can make a newspaper or phonebook log two ways:

Method One – Tear the paper into small pieces and soak them in water until they become soft. Then, take the paper pulp and pile it roughly into the shape of a log (2-3 inches in diameter) onto a towel or other piece of cloth, roll the pulp in the cloth tightly and twist the ends of the towel to close them off. Keep rolling and twisting the towel until most of the water has wrung out (or until your hands can’t take it anymore). Gently unroll the towel and remove the newly formed log. Let it dry in the sun and you have yourself a reasonably long lasting source of fuel.

Method Two – This method is much easier but it does not produce as good a log as the first. Just soak sheets of paper in water until they become fairly soft. Then tightly roll them together until you get a log roughly 2-3 inches in diameter. Then tie the log with twine or string in 1 inch intervals from end to end. When the log dries it should yield a decent source of fuel for a fire.

These skills may be useful in a disaster scenario when supplies become scarce and municipal energy sources are not available. Keep them in the back of your mind when you prepare for these types of events. Whenever you burn these logs (or burn any fire for that matter) ensure you are in a well-ventilated area or outside.

The most efficient use of any fire is to ensure that your cooking or boiling container is directly over the flame without a standing medium like a grill or plate. Whenever possible, hang whatever you are heating over the fire low enough for the flames to spill slightly over the sides. This should help you make the most of the precious fuel you have.

You do not need to boil your water for an extended period of time. The amount of boil time needed is a much debated topic among survivalists and formal sources. In my personal experience, simply bringing the water to a rolling boil is sufficient, as long as the water is filtered of sediment and particulates.

If you must boil cloudy water or highly contaminated water you may want to extend this duration to about 2 minutes. It is also important that you don’t over boil water as any steam that escapes is water that you lose. Having a lid on your container will help mitigate the loss of water through steaming.

Allow water to cool before you drink it and be sure to properly store boiled water to prevent recontamination.


The best way to make water pure and safe to drink without filters or chemicals is to distill it. You can either use a fire to boil water and trap steam or you can use the sun. There are hundreds of known methods to trap steam from boiling. For simplicity’s sake we will go over my preferred method.

First, buy a second screw top for your wide mouth Kleen Kanteen. Drill a 3/4 inch hole into the screw top and insert a 4 foot length of silicon tubing. Be sure to use silicon (or equivalent) tubing which can be used for either hot or cold water. Normal PVC tubing can only withstand temperatures up to about 175 degrees. Fit a hydration bladder adapter into the other end of the tubing and hook it up to your bladder.

To distill water with this setup, simply wrap the exposed portion of tubing in a wet bandana or sock, and boil water in the Kleen Kanteen. The Kanteen should only be filled about halfway. Otherwise a good boil can cause particulate to enter the tubing. As the water boils in the Kanteen the steam condenses on the sides of the tubing and enters the bladder as water.

This method takes some practice, and remember, the longer the tubing the better. If your tubing is too short the water will not fully condense and you may damage your hydration bladder due to heat and pressure.

There are quite literally endless methods for distilling water, but the the core principals remain the same. Capture steam, allow it to condense, and catch and store the water in an appropriate receptacle. Experiment (safely) and find a method that works with the items you have lying around. Knowing how to apply this method can save your life.

Photo Credit: http://survivalpreppers.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: http://survivalpreppers.blogspot.com

Solar Still – If you do not have access to fire and fuel, you can still use solar energy to distill water.  The solar still has saved many lost both in the desert and at sea. Like the other methods the concept is the same: capture water vapor and condense it.

Because sunlight does not heat water as quickly or as hot as a fire can, this process is less efficient than distillation with fire, but it is effective.

To make a solar still:

STEP ONE - Dig a pit about 3 feet in diameter
STEP TWO - Place a container in the center of the pit to capture the water
STEP THREE - At this point you have two options: 1) place pieces of non-toxic, succulent vegetation around the container or 2) pour unfiltered water or urine around the container
STEP FOUR - Once that is done you must cover the entire diameter (and about 1 foot around) of the pit with a plastic tarp. You can use opaque tarps but a clear one such as an inexpensive rain poncho works best.
STEP FIVE - Secure the tarp with stones around the perimeter of the pit
STEP SIX - Gently roll a stone into the center of the tarp create a drip-off point for the condensing water.

As the water from either the vegetation or surrounding wet earth evaporates it will condense onto the tarp and run down into the center and drip into the container, yielding distilled water. This method, as previously stated, is not very efficient and requires hot temperatures and direct sun to work.


The treatment of water with chemicals is nothing new to survivalism. The actual application of these treatments do require practice and experience to ensure proper disinfection of water. Also, these treatments disinfect water but they do nothing to filter out particulates or chemical contaminants. The treated water may not have anything alive that can make you sick but may still contain chemicals and contaminates that can cause you to fall ill.

Ensure that the water you use does not carry high levels of chemical contaminants when you acquire it. Additionally, carefully monitor the quantity of treatment added to your water as most of these chemical treatments can be dangerous if used in too high of a concentration.

Potassium PermanganatePotassium Permanganate – This useful survival chemical can be used as a fire starter (with glycerin), a first aid treatment for minor skin conditions, and as a water treatment. Potassium Permanganate can be purchased in pill or powdered crystal form. It should be added at about 1 gram per liter of sediment-free water. Carefully add the crystals to the water and stir until they are completely dissolved. The water will turn a slight purple-pink color but it is safe to drink.

iodine tabIodine - Iodine tablets have been given to troops as early as the Vietnam conflict and their use has been documented for hundreds of years. Iodine should always be kept in a dark container as it will degrade when exposed to light.

Ideally, when using iodine, your water should be at or over 70 degrees fahrenheit. The typical dosage of iodine for water treatment is 5 drops per quart of water. If your water contains sediment, up to 10 drops is acceptable. This treatment is tricky to perfect and there are many variables that can affect iodine’s efficacy, but it is possible to yield safe drinkable water and it is a method that has been used for many years.

bleachChlorine (Bleach) - This is my own preferred method of chemical water treatment. I like it because bleach is cheap and easy to find and it does not degrade as quickly as iodine. In fact, chlorine treatment is how many municipal water sources are disinfected.

Using the right type of bleach is very important. Do not use any type of bleach that has “color-safe” or fragrances added. What you want is plain, old-fashioned bleach. The most common concentration of bleach found is a solution of 5-6% sodium hypochlorite.

To use bleach, add about 16 drops (.08 milliliters or .16 teaspoons) to every gallon of water being treated. Stir the bleach in or shake it in a container. At this point you must allow the bleach time to oxidize the contaminates in your water. Wait at least 30 minutes to an hour.

Once the bleach has been allowed some time to work, open the container and smell the water. There should still be a faint odor of bleach to the water. If there is no smell that means the bleach has been completely depleted by the contaminants in your water and a second treatment of the same dosage should be done. The sniff test is important to determine whether or not all the biological contaminants in the water have been oxidized and whether any unused bleach is still present. This technique can be used on cloudy or sediment-filled water but you may need to repeat the process 2-3 times for the water to pass the sniff test.

There is one catch to this procedure. Chlorine bleach does not effectively kill cryptosporidium; they are resistant to halogen type disinfection methods. Keep that in mind when you want to use this treatment for water that may be potentially contaminated by cryptosporidium.

SteripenSteripen - This is one technique that I have used and would not personally recommend. The Steripen is a UV stick light for disinfecting water. Don’t get me wrong, this is a tried and true technique and it does work. I have, on multiple occasions, successfully disinfected water with the Steripen and consumed it without ill effect. But I do not recommend it because of my experience with it.

During a hunting trip I took out my Steripen and it stopped working. At the time, I believed the batteries had died on me. The unit I had used CR123 Lithium batteries and if you don’t know already, these are not common (aside from tactical usage). Luckily for me my everyday carry flashlight contained these batteries and I always make sure to check and top off my lights before I head out anywhere. I popped these batteries into the device, but still nothing. It had broken and I had no idea until I needed it.

It was not a big deal for me at the time as I had water in my camp a few miles away. But it does illustrate the inherent fragility of electronic devices like the Steripen. The fact that it ran on batteries also irked me. What would happen if I ran out of batteries? After doing more research online I discovered my own experience was not uncommon. Numerous users complained of units breaking or failing to achieve desirable results. My experience with the Steripen was the factor that drove me to learn more sustainable and reliable ways to purify water while out in the field.

Also, UV light disinfection tools are less effective in cloudy or sediment-laced water. While it is not extremely difficult to filter most sediment out of water, it requires more time and won’t always be successful.


Having water or access to water means nothing if you cannot use it safely. By filtering, purifying, or chemically treating your water you stand a better chance at avoiding illness and staying on the move. Nothing can be more debilitating than intestinal problems in a situation that requires you be to productive or vigilant.

In this article, we covered some of the more basic techniques for making water safe to drink, but there are numerous other methods available. As with all survival preparation, knowledge is key. Not every technique will be practical, and not every piece of gear can be carried or bought. Remember, gear can fail. Chemicals can be spilled, and containers can be broken or lost during high stress situations.

Having the knowledge to make water potable is a fundamental skill for war-fighters, survivalists, and people that love to be outdoors. Additionally, as with any self-sufficiency skill, share this knowledge with those around you. The better your peers are prepared, the less chance there is of them losing their grip on civility in chaotic situations and reverting to savagery.

Never stop learning, share what you know, and always plan ahead. And of course, if you have any questions or would like clarification of any technique, feel free to drop a comment and I will try to answer.  I can, at the very least, send you in the right direction. ‘Til next time, stay safe and keep moving!

Oscar Mike


Finding Water

Water: The essential requirement for all life. It seems simple enough for any survivalist to keep water high on their list of priorities. While it may seem obvious to pack plenty of water or keep water stockpiled during a survival/SHTF/WROL situation, what happens if you’re stuck away from home and social services collapse? What do you do if you find that egress is the most practical and sound solution to your situation? Simple, right? Pack up water in your hydration sources and bring your trusty water filtration device and head out. How long though will it be until your supply runs out?

There’s only so much water one can pack out considering the weight of water (8.34 lbs per gallon) and the weight of other essential gear. In a situation where mobility is key, finding water from natural sources to supplement your ready supply is essential to keeping your pack weight low and to keeping you on the move. In this article, I’m going to cover just a few of the easy ways to procure water in a survival situation.

1. Transpiration Bags

tranpiration bag-credit practical survivor

photo credit: practical-survivor

One of the easiest and simplest ways to obtain water in the wild is by the use of a transpiration bag. While this method may not be one of the more mobile methods for obtaining water, it is reliable in any environment that contains living and green vegetation. This method does require you to carry large, clear polyethylene or similar bags in your kit. In a pinch, gallon-sized or larger Zip-Loc bags will work as well.

The first step in gathering water from plant materials is to first ensure the plant you’re planning on using is not toxic. There are plants that release toxic alkaloids as they transpire as well as plants that have a surface coating of irritating chemicals such as urushoil oil. Always determine beforehand whether or not the plant you’re going to use to obtain water is safe.

The concept of the transpiration bag is simple. As plants undergo photosynthesis, pores on the leaves open to allow the passage of carbon dioxide and oxygen. During the period that these pores are open, oxygen exits and water vapor is also released. Your goal in this process is to trap this transpiring water as it escapes.

Transpiration bag w:stone-credit survivalresources

photo credit: survival resources

The first step in setting up your transpiration bag is to secure a fairly large leafy branch (preferably one that is under full sunlight) and place it gently into your transpiration bag. Try to ensure that one of the corners of the bag is on the bottom as this is where the water will collect. Additionally, you can add a small clean stone to that corner of the bag to ensure that the water pools there. Secure the mouth of the bag as tightly as possible to prevent the transpired water from escaping the bag. With the bag secured, the only thing left to do is to wait and allow the water to collect during the heat of the day.

Once the temperature begins to cool it should be time to gather the water. Keep the small pool of water in the bag low and gently shake the branch that the bag is on. Then carefully untie the mouth of the bags and slide them off the branch. Collect the water in your hydration source and pick out any leaves or bugs that may have fallen in and consume within 24 hours. While the water may be clean and safe to drink, fallen plant materials or insects may contaminate the water if they are left to sit for too long.

The advantages to this system are: the fact that the bags are easy to set up, that multiple bags can be set up to increase your chances of both collecting water and to increase the volume of water collected, and that this system can be used indefinitely. In addition, the water that is transpired through the plants is clean and ready to drink. The main disadvantage to this system is that it is only effective during the day.

2. Dew Collection

photo credit: wikipedia

image credit: wikipedia

Collecting dew is an easy way to procure water in even the most arid environments. Before anyone collects dew it is important to have situational awareness of the area the dew is being collected from. Dew is simply water condensed onto surfaces when temperatures are optimal and the dew point of a certain area is reached. Reference the chart to the side to determine at what temperature the dew point may be in your locality. Dew should not be collected in or near areas with a high possibility of chemical contaminants, human or animal waste piles, or poisonous plants.

In humid areas, dew collection is as easy as tying on an absorbent cloth from your ankles to your knees and walking through tall grass. Another method is to simply get on one’s hands and knees and pat dew off of vegetation. Once the cloth is soaked with dew, just squeeze the water into your hydration source.


image credit: survival-world

In arid or desert climates, dew collection is a little more complicated but still possible. While you may not able to collect dew by using the walking method, condensation can still be found on vegetation and rocks in the early morning. Soak up this moisture with an absorbent cloth and wring it into your hydration source or directly into your mouth. Be careful around desert vegetation, however. Even if you don’t see large cactus spines, many varieties of desert plants harbor glochids which are tiny irritating hairs that can contaminate your water.

You can also devise a simple dew collection device with a tin can and tarp. The concept is simple: you just need to create as much cool surface area as possible for dew to condense. Be sure to collect the moisture before the ambient temperature rises as any surface dew will evaporate quickly. Dew collection is an easy way to obtain supplemental water in any survival situation. And because it is water that is suspended in the air around you, it is essentially air-distilled pure water. The one disadvantage to dew collection as a means of water procurement is that the technique is only plausible in the early hours of morning. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem however, as someone trying to stay mobile should be up early to be able to cover as much ground as possible before the heat of the day.

3. Wildlife-Based Water Indicators

Many insects and animals can be used as good indicators of local water. While animals in general may be evidence of a nearby water source, they do not guarantee the presence of water. Certain reptiles and carnivorous animals can go long distances and periods without a water source and are not good indicators. The trick to using this method is to know what types of animals to watch, and to watch their behavior closely.

  • photo credit: Bubblews

    photo credit: Bubblews

    1. Bees: Bees are usually found within 3 to 5 miles of a water source. A high concentration of bees can be a pretty good indicator of water. While they cannot alone be used to determine the location of drinkable water, they do provide a good indication that water is nearby.


  • 2. Ants: Ants can be a good indicator of water especially if they are found running up the side of a tree or into shaded areas. If you find a trail of ants running into a crevice in a tree, there’s a good chance that water has pooled there or that dew has been caught and hasn’t evaporated.

    ants tree -credit survival.com.au

    image credit: survival.com.au

An easy way to check is to gently dip a dry stick into the crevice and check to see if there is moisture present. You can capture this water by stuffing a piece of absorbent cloth into the hole, and wring out the moisture into your hydration source. While this may be a nice collection of potable water, it should still be purified and filtered prior to consumption.

  • photo credit: fish-game.com

    photo credit: fish-game.com

    3. Birds: The best avian indicators of water are finches, sparrows, and doves (pigeons). These birds typically live near sources of fresh water and travel to them either before or after they roost. If you spot a colony of finches or sparrows, probe the area and you are sure to find some source of exposed fresh water.

Similarly, doves can aid you in finding water as well. Doves flying low and fast are usually a sign that they are moving to their watering hole. Observe these birds carefully as they may lead you to a source of water late in the day. Typically, after doves have had their fill of water, they will stay near that source and will not be seen flying long distances as they are full of water and sustained flight becomes burdensome. Watching animals and their behavior is a key tool in tuning one’s senses to the natural patterns and locations of essential life assets.

  • 4. Mason Bees and Mud Daubers: Both of these types of insects are good indicators that there is moisture nearby. These insects use mud to construct their nests. Wherever one finds these nests, there is or was a source of water nearby. Sometimes it’s as easy as following one of these insects to their source of mud. Once the source of moisture is located, you can usually dig on or around the area of wet earth and find moisture seeping forth.

    mud_dauber_credit extention.emn.edu

    Mud Dauber   photo credit: extention.emn.edu

While both of these types of insects can help you locate water, they will most likely not lead you to a source of clean, readily drinkable water. In this case, you can collect the water with either your absorbent cloth or if you can dig deep enough, create a seep pool. You can obtain the water and allow the sediment to settle before filtration and/or purification.

Even if the nests seem old and abandoned it doesn’t mean that there is no source of water nearby. Search for patches of cracked earth or very obvious areas of green vegetation. Many times pools that are available after rains dry over but still retain obtainable water underneath. Don’t give up. If you find a spot that shows signs of prior water dig down. You may be rewarded with enough moisture to keep you alive.

  • 5. Land Markers and Digging for Water

photo credit: outdoorlife.com

There are many land features that can lead you to water. Game trails that converge while dropping in elevation are good directional indicators of a watering hole. Heading up  or down dry creek beds (depending on the type of terrain you are in) can usually yield either pools trapped in shade or the actual source of water itself. Even stream or creek beds that seem dry may provide water if you search near them. Even if there is no surface water there are usually always good sources of water a few feet or even just a few inches under creek beds. Some tribes in Africa, such as the Maasai, hide shovels at strategic locations near old stream beds so their fellow tribesman can dig in those spots for the life giving water underneath.

When you do locate water and it’s obviously contaminated, or if there isn’t any water present but just filthy, game-trampled damp earth or mud, what do you do? Dig, but farther away. The general rule of thumb is that 9 feet will provide enough natural sedimentary filtration to keep many harmful contaminates from your self-dug water hole. However, you must dig the hole below the waterline of the originating source of water. There are stories, however apocryphal, regarding Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts) in his time during the Boers war, of digging 9 feet away from poisoned water holes to obtain clean drinking water. While the 9 foot rule does help to filter out much of the contamination in water, any water obtained this way should still be filtered and purified prior to consumption.

In Conclusion

Finding water may seem like a daunting task but nothing could be more crucial to continued survival. The ability to find water from one’s surroundings has saved many from dehydration and death. This article covered some of the basic methods in finding and obtaining water but there are many more techniques available. The most important aspect of any survival method is putting it into practical application. Go out and try some of these methods for yourself. Learn more, gain experience and teach others. The more self-sufficient others around you are, the less danger they will be in a SHTF/WROL situation in which others may try to plunder from you.

Additionally skills such as these require no added weight in your pack and knowledge will always trump gear. A hydration source can fail. You can lose or have your gear and provisions taken from you. Knowledge to be self-sufficient can never be stolen from you and will offer you the confidence you require to fearlessly drive forward.

These techniques may cover finding water, but a critical question to ask at this point would be: “How do I make this water safe to drink or use?” While methods like dew collection provide clean and easy drink, a large sustainable source of water will likely need purification before use. In the next article, we will cover various methods of filtration and purification of water found in the wild. ‘Til then, stay hydrated, stay motivated, and keep adding to your skills to survive. You may need them.

Oscar Mike

Zombies, the Prepper and the End of the World

ZOMBIES!  *Face Palm*

CityMost of us are sick of hearing it.  Zombie this, zombie that.  A few gun industry folks were late to the game too, thinking they could capitalize on the “craze” and brand zombie green items accordingly.  And while there are legions of zombie-lovers out there who still cling to draugr lore and keep undead-themed wares and media a worthwhile capital venture, all of it has been a red herring from what most of us already know.  The zombie apocalypse is a broad euphemism for what we more commonly encounter in reality as mayhem or disaster.  While we may lighten the mood and refer to it as the zombie apocalypse, what we are really considering are the realities of life and the disorder of panic.

ZombielandThere is a problem.  Popular movies and shows like Zombieland, World War Z, and Walking Dead are pieces intended to entertain and yield profits.  Because of entertainment media, many end up taking a rather naïve approach to what they believe to be preparedness.  Well expectedly so, as there are no common remedial courses on disaster preparation, though there have been a few, very good books on it (one in particular is zombie-themed and worth a read!).  To approach preparation as flippantly as many do is just not preparation.  It is not a shallow endeavor.  It takes a great deal of planning, of investment, and an extensive practice of games theory, not to mention physical training.  Merely following the rules of Zombieland might get you farther, but probably not much.

Everyone has an opinion as to which is the best course of action.  Hundreds of extensive forum threads and write ups litter the Web with both useful and not so useful tips on how to survive the SHTF bombshell.  Rather than truly offering an opinion, I’d like to just take us through certain questions to consider when making your preparations.  I can’t fix your problems.  I can’t write just one article to comment on the various risk factors that will apply to everyone’s particular situation.  We just want to look at some of the prevailing thoughts and question them.  Those questions might save your life… or save you from getting infected. *Face Palm*


While I have been fortunate enough to avoid serious disaster, I have been in exceptional proximity to a number of events to make me keenly aware of the need for preparedness and to see its aftermath.  As a youngster growing up in Southern California, I’ve had my feet knocked out from under me by the Whittier Narrows Earthquake, my school library totaled by the Northridge Quake, my city held under siege by the LA Riots, and mass LA Riotsevacuations in the wake of numerous impending brush fires, not to mention the occasional NBA Championship taken too seriously by unruly Lakers fans.  As a Texas resident I’ve seen firsthand the wake of Hurricane Katrina and boarded up my own house while Hurricane Rita sighted in the Gulf Coast.  I also used to live in New Jersey, which at the time was just the worst place in the world to stop for McDonalds.  Having seen these disasters up close, I may not have figured out the ‘correct’ course of action in a disaster, nor did I really know (except in hindsight) what was best in terms of what to prepare.  All of that is somewhat left to chance.  What I have experienced though is a reality check.  Seeing what happens and recollecting what I’ve seen, I realized that disaster presents unforeseeable obstacles and limitations.  Let’s first go through why we prepare:

Fema1 – FEMA just isn’t big enough, fast enough, or well-funded enough to deal with you. – Originally FEMA was never intended to be a highly-organized, uber-efficient, rescue force that could be deployed nationwide.  The agency itself was intended to help create organization and planning for the States to deploy their own conjoined resources to handle disasters.  So for Katrina victims to blame FEMA, is really just absurd.  The verdict: no one is responsible for your well-being or even survival, except you.

2 – Your locality cannot sustain your local population for more than a few days. -  And that is if they can get those resources to you.  Ask your local city councilperson whether city hall has stores of high nutrition non-perishables and stacks of bottled water.  They may say something diplomatic like, “Bring it up at the next meeting good citizen.”  What they’re really saying is, “Dude, go to the market and buy some water and Chef Boyardee.”  If you aren’t prepared to sustain yourself and your loved ones, don’t expect anyone else to.  Relief does exist, don’t think that it doesn’t.  But there aren’t enough resources to get everyone out of trouble at the same time.  It may be days, weeks or even months before help arrives.

3 – “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” Agent K, Men In Black – There isn’t much that certain folks won’t do when it comes to survival (or looting).  It won’t always be a rational or a humane course of action.  When that happens it does not matter at whose expense it will occur… perhaps yours.  Some of you are thinking, “Oh people aren’t like that.”  Probably not in most cases, but it just takes one to ruin your day.  And it probably happens more than you think.  Point is, as much as we’d like to believe in the goodness of humanity, it’s better to be prepared for when the city folk go wild.

4 – Life happens, nature happens, and neither of them care too much about you.– Plate tectonics, fluid dynamics, and pyroclastic surges are all processes of nature that don’t really take human feelings into account.  And since they don’t care about you either, it’s best you stay out of their way.  Now since they usually like to show up unannounced, your best bet is to make sure you’re ready for them, as best as you can prepare.

There is a lot more to say than what we have just mentioned.  Your preparation may not save you, and it may not even help, but it does increase the likelihood of extending your survival until help can arrive.  There shouldn’t be any argument at this point.  If you’re still under the delusion that some hero is going to come and save you if you just stay put, well you’re welcome to do what you want… best of luck.  Sometimes help does arrive.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  If you live in a large metropolitan area, ask yourself how many helicopter trips it would take to rescue everyone from off the rooftops of all of the homes in your city.  How many buses and thousands of gallons of fuel to evacuate the city?  How many bottles of drinking water per day will the city need to stay alive and how many truckloads will it take to do it?


Sometimes the movies get it right.  Usually they get it or some aspect of it wrong though.  After all, the goal of the movie writer is to drive the story of the protagonist and not necessarily educate the public as to the extensive complexities of disaster fallout.  So always take movies with a grain of salt.  Speaking of salt, include it in your food plan as it helps you to retain water.

Alot of gunsREALITY #1: You cannot carry 10 guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.  Really.  You can’t do it.  If you are on your own in a firefight, you would be fortunate to survive through a single tactical loadout much less enough ammunition to arm a decent sized squad.  Many of you have training so I have no doubt you can carry a lot.  If you’ve never done it before, I dare you to try it.  Put on a full loadout and as much survival gear as you will dare to carry and cook dinner with it on.  Then go out and wash your car, take the dog for a walk, and take out the trash.  Once you’ve done that, come back inside and imagine humping all that gear all day on your feet while maintaining a high situational awareness and at the same time asking yourself, “Where the hell am I going to get a refill of clean water?”  There are limitations and you will need to be mindful of them.

You are not the only one who is armed.  Just because you can make quarter inch groups does not mean you will survive.  You have to assume everyone out there is trained and capable, because, hey, that’s what we Americans do, we shoot stuff and we’re good at it.  No matter how much training you have, you are always in a position to lose a fight.  There is good argument here for constant training and practice, and I highly recommend you take every opportunity to learn as much as possible and practice what works for you.  Split second advantages are as important in Zombieland as they are in personal defense situations.  But remember, the next man is as motivated to survive as you are.

GearREALITY #3: When resources are scarce, they are valuable.  If you have resources, they are also valuable to other people.  If they are valuable to other people, those other people just might try to take them from you.  Keeping those resources discrete can save your life.  Walking around like a high-speed super warrior with bars of gold jingling in a sustainment pouch, a ballooned up water reservoir, and stacks of ammo splayed across your belly, might get you a steel pipe across the back of your head.  You’ll wake up with a bad headache, a growling stomach and a giant load off your back (literally).  There are exceptions to this that I’ll get to later.  But consider making your egress package consist of a small concealable firearm rather than a full battle load.  Situations will dictate the most prudent course of action.  For instance: North Korean paratroopers landing in suburban Spokane… light ‘em up [watch Red Dawn (2012)].

TrafficREALITY #4: If you just happen to have the same plan as everyone else, it’s not a good plan.  In Southern California the most common plan I heard was “I’m heading to the mountains.”  When mass evacuations occur, there is no quick route to any kind of safe zone.  When Hurricane Rita hit, Houston ran out of gas, freeways were stopped in both directions, and Houston evacuees were trapped.  It happens in small neighborhoods as well.  Irvine, California was sieged by a brush fire causing the county to call for an evacuation of the Turtle Rock tract, a process that took all night while the fire bore down on them.

REALITY #5: There are skills other than marksmanship that are required to survive.  You may need medical skills beyond first aid to treat yourself or a loved one.  If you have left home, you may need knowledge of the local flora to help sustain you during egress.  You may need to hunt, dress, and cook game.  You may need to know land navigation to get you “through the mountains.”  Your escape will not likely occur in the way you imagine it so you want to make sure you are equipped with the kind of knowledge that will ensure your survival.

REALITY #6: Night falls on disasters too.  Ever try to move around on a moonless night where there is no electricity?  Now try to do it discretely.  Technology can help you here, but it is incredibly expensive.  More choices to make here.   Night time can also be extremely cold.  Cold drains both energy and optimism.  If your goal is to stay alive, cold can be your enemy.

REALITY #7: In contrast to night, sunscreen can only do so much.  The sun is basically a giant oven, and you’re inside it.  If you’re unaccustomed to heat, you will need to manage your body temperature to prevent going into shock.  Even if you can prevent getting sunburned, heat stroke can still get you.  And drinking water can’t always save you, especially if it is as warm as your environment.  The problem will be compounded if you are carrying/wearing a plethora of gear.

There are too many realities to list, but let’s get to one more:

REALITY #8: From the moment disaster strikes, you must make life and death decisions.  There is no best course of action because every situation is different.  Ultimately no one can decide but you.  Do you decide to leave the relative safety of your home and head for a place where you can get help/resources?  Will you try to acquire more resources from your friendly neighborhood looter’s market?  Now that services have stopped and you have no air/heat/water/electricity, do you hunker down and wait for aid to arrive and services to be restored?  Every single decision you make in an emergency can affect the safety and welfare of you and your loved ones.  You’ll have to decide and you’ll have to bear responsibility for it.


Future Warrior = Survivor – There are a lot of preppers out there who are also gun people who believe that the best chances for survival is to be a soldier, or at least someone who is equipped as a soldier would be.  Thus the key elements of their survival kit would include a rifle, one or more secondary weapons, military style camouflage and deuce gear, and not to mention several session of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and a hydration system among other things.  All of that makes sense but what about as a lone wolf?

Keep in mind that soldiers act as a single unit in a much broader organization of members.  A soldier is part of a fire team, which is part of a squad, which is part of a platoon, etc. which on varying levels have deployable resources including communications, medical assistance, food and water, fuel, intelligence, air support, supply and to tie it all together, a highly disciplined command structure.  I have no doubt there are commando types out there who can do just fine on their own.  But the everyman is not that person.

If you own a plate carrier, FAST helmet, and an MBITR radio, you’re probably preparing for something other than a natural disaster.  This is also an aspect of preparation that deserves your attention, but not quite what we’re talking about today.  If you’ve set yourself up to be a warrior during a natural disaster, you may be psyching yourself up for battle.  From a preparation standpoint that might not be a bad idea.  But you’ve got to ask yourself if as a fully-equipped, fully-loaded unit you are nothing more than a walking tactical thrift store.  What if you are in a crowd?  What if you fall asleep?  If you hear, “Check out that guy’s rifle“ behind you while you’re walking down the street, you may want to walk faster.

Stockpiling – How much ammunition can one man use: Probably not too much of it.  Well, it will all depend on a lot of factors and whether or not a substantial amount of luck exists.  Nonetheless, I’ve seen firsthand certain individuals stockpiling thousands of rounds of ammunition and dozens of firearms for their own use.  The stated reason for it varies.  Now is there truth to the “you can never have enough” motto that everyone uses when wiping out the local Walmart’s ammo supply?  Of course there is: oftentimes there just isn’t enough ammo to go around.  Does it mean you should do it?  As a fellow shooter I’m begging you not to.  Buy a few boxes and then come back and buy a few more.  Try not to hoard all of the ammo from the sporting goods department.  Everyone needs at least some ammo.  Your taking it all is just needlessly greedy.  We are talking about preparation, not plundering.  If you really need cases of ammo, buy it on the Web and have it delivered.  It’s what Web vendors do and you’re likely to save a little money that way anyway.  Buying up practice ammo is fine.  When it comes to tactical/defensive/hunting ammo: please save some for others.

ammoAs for why stockpiling may not be as practical: if you have to leave and possibly do so on foot, how much can you possibly carry?  As a matter of perspective, even a 7 magazine loadout of 5.56mm NATO has some good heft to it.  Combined with a full hydration pack and a “tac’d out” rifle, one quickly remembers those famous words, “Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain.”  Again, some of us have training and can bear that kind of load for considerable time and distance.  Not all of us.  Know your limitations.

If you get into a firefight and you’re lucky enough to have 10,000 rounds of ammunition stockpiled, are they all loaded into your 358 magazines?  Wait, you don’t have 358 thirty round magazines?  Me neither.  Nor do I want to be loading magazines in the middle of a firefight.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the ammo.  I’m saying you need to be cognizant of the limitations you may face.  Your ammo will be useful for collecting food and providing security, but it takes up both room and increases weight.  You will have to make compromises to accommodate the other basics of survival and how you prioritize those basics is up to you.  After evaluating those needs you may find the cost of all that extra ammo might be better used to pay for other items.

ShelterBomb Shelters – There is a flaw in the individual fortress concept.  In order for humans to survive, they must have air, water, and food.  Panic rooms and bomb shelters introduce limitations to accessing all of these and they are incredibly expensive.  You’ll be able to hold out for awhile.  But these are not zombies trying to get in to your goods.  These are intelligent, resourceful, and motivated human beings trying to take your stuff.  Depending on how desperate they are, they may figure out that one of the pipes on top of your house is your fresh air supply.  No shelter is planned out perfectly and even a minimally intelligent individual will eventually figure out how to flush you out.  Best to keep your cache of prepared foods, fluids, and supplies a secret.

ARAwesome Guns – There is nothing wrong with having great guns.  In fact, your guns should be of a sufficient quality where they can be dynamically employed in a multitude of situations while being both reliable and effective.  That said, maybe you can plan out your guns while considering continued access to resources.  For instance, the most popular handgun caliber in the US is the 9mmx19 cartridge followed by the venerable .45 ACP.  Law enforcement agencies tend to favor the .40 S&W cartridge but otherwise will tend to use one of the other two if not all three.  It would seem logical that if you choose to use one of these calibers, you stand the highest chance of being able to replenish your supply.  Think likewise of rifle calibers like 5.56mm/.223, .308 Winchester, and 7.62x39mm Russian.

Now I like to think that there is a useful need for a long range bolt action rifle, a tactical shotgun, a sub-compact handgun, a crossbow, a tomahawk, and two swords.  But try to choose a flexible firearm that can handle the bulk of, or all of your needs.  Skills acquired while playing Call of Duty will not save you, and the Quick Draw and Marathon perks will not be available.

Going It Alone – If you are resource rich at the time the mobs encounter you, you likely have your work cut out for you.  No one likes to get shot so feel fortunate if you are armed.  But also assume that you are not the only one present who has a gun.  Assume, that they’d prefer to win a fight rather than lose.

If you are equipped like a high-speed 99 Zulu, you are better off fighting in groups where you can divide defensive responsibilities into sectors, support each other during movement, and share the burden of collecting and carrying supplies and equipment.  This means, ally yourself with as many capable individuals as possible in order to increase your numbers, enhance your security, and multiply your capabilities with regard to resource acquisition and safe movement.  Hopefully you and your group have the scruples to not end up being a gang of post-apocalyptic thugs a la Dennis Hopper’s Smokers in Waterworld.  Better yet, you may have like-minded friends or acquaintances.  Perhaps you can all plan to muster at the first sign of trouble to a pre-arranged location.

Egress – This is probably the most important section in this article.  Leaving the disaster area is the best way to ensure your safety and access to food, water, and shelter.  If you are one of the fortunate few who are able to leave the disaster area before anyone else, you might squeeze through before everyone else gets stuck in traffic or runs out of fuel.  If you are not, you should think about preparing contingencies.  This can mean everything you can think of including carrying one or more extra fuel cans, choosing the right vehicle to carry you out of harm’s way, choosing the right resources to carry with you in the vehicle (as you likely cannot carry it all), where you will be going, how you will be sleeping, even which seat in the vehicle each specific person will occupy and whether or not they will be armed.  Getting out of the disaster area is the most logical way to survive.  If you are trying to leave an urban disaster area, it will be difficult.  Access to roads will be limited and the already densely packed population will be attempting to leave all at the same time.  If you wait too long, fuel may run out, looters and rioters may take to the streets, and roads might be blocked by abandoned cars.

OPSEC (or Operational Security) – We use this as a generically applied term referring to protecting your assets while working to achieve a goal.  Posting a picture of your preparation supplies on the Internet along with your address is probably not a good idea.  Certain unscrupulous individuals, or even desperate friends may attempt to take advantage of you.  If you choose to be discretely armed, you’ll want to be able to carry discretely and protect your most powerful means of personal security.  Someone might want to take that Glock from you but only if they know you have it.  In other words, safeguarding your resources so that you can use them is a good idea.  Protect them like you protect your identity now.


Whatever happens, hindsight is the only real perfect preparation and that is unfortunately not available.  But what we can do is plan through the most likely scenarios, plan for the most important needs like food and water, and be mentally prepared to survive.  What one can expect to encounter during a disaster is exhaustion, pain, and frustration along with environmental stresses, possible shortages of supply, and very little available information.  Keep your head up and fight for survival!

The best thing a prepper can do is support his/her community and help them prepare for disaster as well.  Communities have tremendous potential to provide safety and support for individuals during disasters as well as security for the entire area.  There is usually a diversity of skills that exist in most neighborhoods that include doctors, mechanics, and tactically trained soldiers as well as a collective knowledge of various useful sciences.  Keep in mind, your neighborhood LEO is often required to report to duty during disasters and likely will not be able to help.  But there is still safety in numbers.  The prepper would do well to help prepare their neighbors… so they don’t have to share… as much.

In all likelihood you will never have to encounter Hollywood-style mayhem and most of your resources will be safe and unnecessary.  Most of the time some help will be available.  Don’t get carried away and compromise your quality of life.  Preparation isn’t a lifestyle, it’s an insurance policy.  You should still take it seriously because it may save you and your family.  Plan and mentally prepare.  Train, practice and then do it some more.  Then give yourself a pat on the back.  You’ve just prepared for danger which is something most Americans don’t do.  Then take stock of what you’ve done and live on.  Don’t spend your life preparing for that moment, prepare for that moment so that you can live your life.

B. Revell

Don’t Walk Out On Me


KNS on rifleTrigger pins and hammer pins (which are essentially the same part used twice) sometimes drift out of place.  Given that these two simple grooved pins hold both your trigger and hammer in place, it is important to know exactly what jobs they perform and how they do it.  It wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a tendency for these pins to move.  This is NOT due to a flaw in the design of the gun.  It is simply a matter of poor quality or excessive wear.

The best part is, the problem is easy to solve and can be fixed quickly and easily.  We’ll also go over the design of the common trigger/hammer pin, what causes the pins to walk, and we’ll talk a little bit about anti-walk pins and the kinds of advantages and disadvantages they may present.

How Does a Trigger/Hammer Pin Do Its Job?
Let’s look at the basic design of a Trigger/Hammer Pin:

These two parts are built to do separate jobs but because their basic dimensions are identical, they are hybridized so that they can be interchanged.  Most lower parts kits will come with two of the same pin rather than one of each.  That isn’t always the case as some manufacturers prefer to make a separate trigger pin and hammer pin whose functions are specific and non-interchangeable.

Trigger/Hammer PinLooking at the image to left, you’ll see that a basic trigger/hammer pin consists of a simple rod with beveled ends and two radiused grooves, one in the middle and the other close to one of the ends.  The center groove is for use by the hammer and would essentially be called the hammer pin groove, and likewise the side groove is for use by the trigger and is called the trigger pin groove.  Sometimes the pins also have dimples in the ends to help guide your tool when making repairs or replacing parts.

Every angle and radius is specified in military specifications to ensure consistency and ease when replacing parts or assembling trigger groups.  As well, the measurements are precise to ensure that the gun will stay together under the stresses of combat.  If the grooves are radiused too deep, the pin will be weak and may break, and will be much more difficult to extract from the receiver.  If they are radiused too shallow, the pin will likely fall out of place and walk out because of poor retention.

Hammer PinHAMMER PIN – This is the pin with the center groove.  The hammer pin holds both the hammer and hammer spring in place inside the fire control pocket in the lower receiver.  Now look inside the hub of the hammer through the hole where you would put the hammer pin.  You should see a round hole with a slice taken off one side.  That slice is the arm of a small spring that resides in the hub sometimes known as a j-spring.  That part of the spring sits inside the groove of the hammer pin and keeps it captive.

If that j-spring is not the right shape, or if it is worn out, it won’t provide the right kind of tension to keep the pin from drifting.  The spring itself is sometimes easy to remove and sometimes (and with certain brands) they are significantly harder.  If you can remove the spring, you can simply re-tension that portion of the spring by giving it a little extra bend.  If you have to do it more than once, it is time to replace the spring.  If you can’t seem to remove the spring, replacing the hammer is the fastest and most practical means of fixing this problem.  If you haven’t thought of it already, this is a good time to consider upgrading the trigger.  Hammers are among the more costly parts in a lower parts kit so if you were thinking of a better trigger, now is the time!

Trigger Pin OnlyTRIGGER PIN – This is the pin with the groove closer to one end.  The trigger pin holds the trigger, trigger spring, and disconnector in place while keeping the disconnector spring captive.  One arm of the hammer spring sits inside the groove and holds it in place.  Certain lower assembly instructions have left this detail out.  Believe it or not, this is an easy detail for some to miss.  If the arm of the hammer spring is not in that groove, the pin can drift out.

So there is no part of the actual trigger that holds the trigger pin in place.  It is actually the hammer spring that keeps the trigger pin from drifting.  If the pin drifts, the arm of the hammer spring is likely not seated in the groove.  You can try bending it to give it more tension, but the cost of a hammer spring is low enough to replace it without much afterthought.  In fact, I would say don’t bother re-tensioning this spring as it can lead to future issues if not done correctly.  The hammer spring shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.  Just replace it.  A trigger pin walking out can be a telltale sign that the hammer spring is either worn out or installed improperly.  If you are getting light hammer strikes as well, the hammer spring is probably on backwards.


KNSAnti-Walk (and Anti-Rotation) pins are designed to eliminate any possibility that your trigger and hammer pins will be the source of a function failure.  KNS Precision is the most well known of manufacturers to make these types of products and they carry a variety of models all of which do the same basic job.

The anti-walk pin is a straight grooveless dowel with threaded or keyed ends that attach to receiving bars that sit on either side of the lower receiver.  The anti-walk pin kit has three jobs:

ANTI-WALK – The pins are held captive by the receiving bars which are held in place by screws.  Except for the absence of the screws, which can be secured with a threadlocker, there is no physical way for the pins to drift out.

ANTI-ROTATION – A gradual rotation of the pins during gun operation is the theoretical cause of the trigger and hammer pin holes wearing on the receiver and opening up.  What is specified as a .154 inch opening (on small pin ARs) will eventually open up to .155 inches or more.  By making the pins stationary, there is no friction on the inner surfaces of the holes.  This has been a point of contention as some argue that the force of the hammer during rotation, striking, and resetting is enough to alter the shape of the receiver’s holes over time, but any evidence of either being the case is likely only conjectural.  Likewise, backwards force on the trigger during a trigger pull may have the same effect on the trigger pin holes.  Either way, anti-rotation seems to be a good theoretical way to mitigate some of the wear.  Think of this as an added benefit to the Anti-Walk function of the pin kit.

ADDED STRENGTH – KNS Precision machines their anti-walk pins out of 416 Stainless Steel, which has a significantly higher shear strength than the more commonly used 4140 tool grade carbon steel.  It can withstand greater stresses over longer periods of time and will be far less likely to break.  Certain manufacturers will use lower grades of steel but will not advertise them as anything lesser than ‘mil-spec’ basing its qualification only on its dimensions.  If the steel is not up to par, these pins can break.  Hammer pins will sometimes break down the middle because the groove introduces a weak point in the pin.  416 Stainless Steel is also a better grade of steel to handle the stress exerted on the very small threads on either end of the pin that receive the mounting bolts.

Are Anti-Walk Pins the Better Design?

While anti-walk/anti-rotation pins offer a large number of advantages over the traditional pins, it certainly isn’t absolutely critical to use them on your AR.  As we talked about early in the article, walking pins are a symptom of worn or improperly installed springs.  It is an easy problem to fix.  The anti-walk pins simply provide additional assurance that the pins won’t be your flat tire in the middle of a race.

You never know when you might break a hammer pin.  In many cases the gun will continue to function for a short time (albeit inconsistently) despite the pin having broken in half!  You never know when a critical spring might wear out just enough to cause a fault in your firearm.  You won’t be able to see it happening until that pin starts sliding out.

Your alternative is to carry a good field repair kit.  Unlike the anti-walk kits, which use small allen wrenches to remove, standard ARs can be mostly disassembled with nothing more than a round of 5.56mm Full Metal Jacket ammunition.  It is certainly easier with tools but it can be done nonetheless.  Let’s say for instance one of your cartridges overpressures while firing and the primer pops out of the casing and lodges itself underneath your trigger.  This renders your gun inoperable.  Unless you have your allen wrenches with you, you may not be able to remove the anti-walk pins to get to the errant primer and get your gun working again.  But with a standard mil-spec trigger, removing the trigger group can be done with little more than a single ammo cartridge.  If you decide to go with the anti-walk pins, be sure to add your allen wrenches to your field kit.  You’ll want to be able to access the very important parts in the fire control group when needed.


Much like a $5 thermostat buried in the core of a car engine, your $1 trigger and hammer pins are likewise simple, inexpensive, and absolutely critical to the continued operation of your AR-15.  Anti-walk pins might be your answer.  Alternatively, you may want to make a habit of checking your mil-std parts regularly, and carrying some spares in your field repair kit to keep at the ready, as anti-walk pins are significantly higher in initial cost than the mil-std pins.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the anti-walk upgrade is worthwhile.  There is no reason to believe that the anti-walk pins should pose any kind of functional danger to your gun.  After all, if you have a pin-related malfunction during a firefight, you will hopefully have a secondary weapon at the ready as taking the time to rebuild your trigger group is not a likely option.

Feel free to leave your queries, inputs, and experiences in the comments below.  As always be safe everyone and have fun!

B. Revell