Way back in 2016, I started developing an itch for a minimalist rifle. The BCM upper I had purchased two years earlier as an iron-sight training upper had changed too much. It was originally dedicated to my marksmanship training. But over time, I came to enjoy shooting it so much that I kept “evolving” it into something very different.
As much as I love my 20” BCM rifle, by the time 2016 rolled around it was far from minimalist.
At the same time, I had already filed my separation paperwork with the Air Force and knew I was getting out. I was looking for some kind of keepsake as a reminder of my service. My wife was very close to sending my Beretta off to Wilson Combat, but I instead chose to build a rifle.
Quietly, I constructed a mockup of the rifle in AR15.com’s Gunstruction tool.
By the end, I dubbed it the “Minuteman,” paying homage to my time as a Minuteman III ICBM officer. It represents a mix of old and new technology, just like my old missile system.
The Minuteman Rifle Concept
There was a single driving idea behind this rifle: a pure KISS project that would be lightweight, rugged, and user-friendly; a kind of “everyman” rifle to sit alongside my other more specialized rifles.
Sometimes I hesitate to use the term KISS because it usually gets applied to bargain-basement “frankenrifles” rather than purpose-built designs. But it’s fitting in this case.
This is a no-frills rifle, built for just about anyone to pick up and start practicing riflecraft. Since completing it, this has become one of my favorites rifles for a casual range trip. It’s almost universally the choice of new shooters I take along.
I think it presents a much less intimidating profile than my other options equipped with optics, lights, and collapsible stocks. I get it, those features aren’t anything special to those of us who are already into this stuff, but new shooters perceive those features as being more intimidating.
The Parts List
- Rainier Arms stripped lower
- Sionics Builder LPK
- Hogue Overmold grip without hump
- Magpul MOE rifle stock
- BCM rifle buffer tube, spring, and A2 buffer
- ALG ACT trigger
- Magpul MOE trigger guard
- V-Seven short throw safety (non ambidextrous
- Rainier Arms Non-FA stripped upper
- Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel (1/8 twist)
- BCM BCG
- BCM Gunfighter charging handle (Medium latch)
- BCM .625 front sight post and handguard cap
- BCM delta ring assembly
- BCM Sling Swivel
- Ashley Performance 1/2 MOA front sight post (with white strip)
- AAC Blackout flash hider
- Magpul MOE Rifle handguard
- Daniel Defense A1.5 rear sight
- Precision Armament Accu-Washer kit for muzzle device
- TAB Gear Sling
Breaking it Down
I wanted this to be an easy-to-carry, soft-shooting, “Everyman’s Rifle.” I took inspiration from the original M16A1, but wanted to modernize it a bit. There would be no undue weight or complexity in this project.
Receivers and Furniture
The Rainier Arms upper and lower receivers have the tightest fit I’ve ever dealt with. Even after muscling out the takedown pins, it takes a lot of effort to separate the receivers. Assembled, the rifle feels solid in the hands. There is no rattling, play, or movement of any kind.
I chose to go without the forward assist to keep everything streamlined and reduce even more weight. There’s a lot of debate out there on the usefulness of the forward assist altogether. I fall on the side of “better to have it and not need it…” but this project was a kind of special circumstance.
I stuck with Magpul furniture for the fixed stock and rifle handguards.
There’s no particular reason other than I like them both. They are very comfortable, stable, and I happen to think they look nice. I’m sure a question will arise as to why I didn’t free float it. The answer is that I just flat out liked the Magpul MOE handuards.
I realize that there are advantages to free floating a barrel. But I also honestly think a lot of people way overstate those benefits at times.
Speaking of that…
I used the 18″ Faxon Gunner barrel mostly because I thought it looked interesting. It has a nice profile, a good reputation for accuracy, and I wanted to see what the melonite treatment is all about. I’m happy to say I haven’t been disappointed by its performance.
The light weight of the barrel makes the rifle feel very lively in the hands. Despite being longer than my MCC build, it somehow feels…better. The big catch was finding a shop willing to drill and taper pin the front sight base on a nitrided barrel.
But I’ll get to that.
The AAC Blackout was something I already had on hand. It was the first muzzle device I used on the Recce rifle. It has moved around a bit looking for a home, seemingly always getting replaced by something else.
It works very well as a flash hider, and bonus points that it’s a three-prong design similar to the original M16’s muzzle device.
I opted to use the Precision Armament washer system to get good alignment without over torquing the device. I realize AAC says that no washers or alignment is needed, but I’m a bit picky with my rifles and want the flats of the device to be vertical.
You don’t want too much force on the threads to align a muzzle device. Too much torque on those threads negatively affects accuracy. I’ve also found that the best shooting teams go a bit past hand tight. With the washer kit, all you need to do is pick the right thickness, torque it just a bit, and add a little bit of Rocksett.
The rear sight took a while to decide. My choices were between a detachable carry handle (which I already had on hand), LMT, Larue, and DD. I eliminated the first two because adjustable rears were outside the set-and-forget nature I was going for.
The DD A1.5 ultimately won out over the Larue because it is slightly lighter and I got a pretty good deal on one. They both have great reputations. Scalarworks has another interesting rear sight option, but I just wasn’t into its appearance.
Using the DD A1.5 also left some rail-estate for a red dot sight if I ever wanted to mount one. You know…for reasons.
The Ashley Precision front sight post was an experiment. Since the Minuteman is a rifle focused on iron-sights, I wanted to help make it as easy a possible to acquire them. The white strip definitely speeds up acquisition, and the 1/2 MOA adjustment is a bonus.
I’m definitely a fan of this front sight.
If I have the time and funds, I still want to experiment with a CSAT notched rear sight.
This is now the only rifle, AR or otherwise, with a single stage trigger.
The ALG ACT is a product-improved milspec trigger. It does its job fine, but I can definitely tell the break isn’t as clean as my Geisseles or the Larue MBT. Since it’s essentially a dressed up mil-spec trigger, I don’t think it could get any more rugged or reliable.
I honestly don’t have any complaints with the ACT, which is why I solidly recommend it for your first rifle rather than immediately jumping to a $200+ Geissele.
Another shift for me is the safety lever. I’ve become a huge fan of short throw versions over the years. Thus far, I’ve been utilizing BAD-ASS-ST levers, but I find that I dislike the ambidextrous nature of them.
You see, unless I am careful, the knuckles of my shooting hand are liable to bump the safety back into the “safe” position. If not that, then it just generally gets in the way of my trigger finger.
For this project, I decided to keep the short throw lever but only on the left side. I may go back and do the same to my other ARs. The V7 just seems like a nice piece of gear to use, but Battle Arms Development (maker of my other safeties) does offer a simple cap to replace the right-side safety lever if I want.
You’ll not find any QD studs or swivels on this rifle.
The goal is ruggedness, and you don’t get much more rugged than avoiding QD all together. I stuck with a more traditional shooter sling from TAB. I already had it on hand, and it’s a very good sling for marksmanship use.
Equally in contention was my Riflecraft RS2 from Todd over at The Art of the Rifle, which is now on my M1 Garand and is a closer approximation of a traditional GI sling.
Getting it Together
All of the parts for this project came together quickly and easily. Except for the barrel, that is.
You see, the Faxon Gunner barrels come from the factory with a very nice nitride treatment. If you aren’t familiar, nitriding is a surface conversion technique that produces a very hard and uniform surface without affecting accuracy.
I wrote up a whole post on the process, check it out.
The problem I ran into was the gas block. Faxon pretty much intends for you to use a low profile gas block with this barrel. Another option would have been Fulton Armory’s front sight post with the “Power Wedge” system, which is basically the same thing as clamping and set screwing. I saw a rifle similar to mine on AR15.com using that path.
But my priority was ruggedness. You don’t get much more rugged than a classic triangle front sight tower with drilled taper pins. Unfortunately, I also found out that very few shops are willing to do a proper drill job on a nitrided barrel.
The treatment is very hard on the drill bits used for the job.
After a lot of asking around and making connections, I found myself in front of Drew at WAR Rifles in Manassas Park, Virginia. They agreed to do the drilling, pinning, and upper assembly for a very reasonable fee, which probably included the price of a new set of bits. Drew and his guys are very friendly guys with quality work. I plan on going back to them for future projects.
And there you have it, another breakdown of one of my rifles and why I made the decisions that I did.
In all, this is actually one of my favorite rifles of all time in my safe. I feel like i use it more for dry fire and general handling than just about any other at this point. It definitely scratches the itch of keeping things super simple and handy. The way this thing handles is also a testament to how well the original M16A1 performed as a field rifle.
So, over to you, do you have any KISS projects you’d like to share? Are you considering one? If not, why not?
Short throw safeties are awesome. I put one on my first AR build and cannot imagine using a full 90 degree lever.
Definitely agree, I’m a huge fan of the short throw lever.
I’ve got all 90 degree ones now. Is it worth upgrading to the short throw, or would I be best served using them on future builds?
I wouldn’t go out of your way to upgrade anything if it’s working for you. If you’re planning future builds, try one there and see what you think. If you like it, then it’s no big deal to go backwards and swap them out.
I’d swap out one of your current rifles to a 45 degree lever and see how you like it. If you hate it, then you’re not out a lot of money. If you love it, you won’t have to wait for a new build to find out.
Very nice KISS simple rifle build Matt. The Ashley Precision front sight post is a nice find for the iron sight platform you built. Definitely going to purchase for my A2.
I’m a big fan of the Ashley post. If you get one, make sure to get it for the appropriate sight radius.
Good call out Matt. I see they have the handy drop down option for rifle length. Will ping Ashley Precision on a Garand solution as well. Had to pass on a monster buck last November, couldn’t pick up the front sight in low light heavy cover conditions.
Is the Ashley post better or about the same ad the blitzkrieg post? I was looking to do the blitzkrieg in the glow in the dark yellow.
I don’t have any experience with the Blitzkrieg version, so it wouldn’t be fair of me to say. As long as your eye picks it up faster, then it would probably work about the same.
The Ashley does give you finer adjustment to the zero, though.
I’m recent convert to the Hogue grips, though I use the grooved ones. One of my chief complaints about the A2 grips was they just felt so small in the hand. Of course, this is largely due to being used to the feel of battle rifle rifle stocks. All of my ARs have gone over to Hogue grips.
Yeah, I’m a big fan. After using it in this project, I did it two more times. It just feels good to me.
I don’t know if you mentioned it here or elsewhere, but how much did this rilfe weigh in the configuration shown (i.e. no light or optics)?
Hmph, that seems like quite the oversight for me to leave it out.
The total was 6.9 lbs unloaded. The balance point is about a half an inch behind the front of the magazine well, which is practically ideal for me.
I could probably shave more weight by using lighter furniture than the Magpul stuff, but I just really like the way it feels. Right now, I have a detachable carry handle mounted instead of the DD sight, so that probably brings the balance point a little more to the rear at the expense of a little weight.
Out of curiosity, why did you switch over to the carry handle?
No good reason, honestly. It happened as part of one my tinkering sessions and just kinda stayed that way. The fixed sight is riding on the MCC behind a red dot sight. I was on the verge of moving it back last night, actually, lol.
Tinkering never ends
True about the tinkering. The one Matech rear sight I have has made similar rounds across my rifles. One last weight question: what’s the weight disparity between upper and lower?
Sorry for the delay, this afternoon was the first chance I’ve had to break open the safe. I mounted the DD 1.5 sight back on it and weighed everything again. The sling is attached, so it added a few ounces to the total.
The upper half weighs about 4.5 lbs (72.35 oz specifically), the lower is about 2.6 lbs (41.6 oz).
I could pretty easily shave some more weight if I wanted without negatively affecting the durability, such as a lightweight freefloat tube, but that wasn’t the priority for this one.
Very nice build. My only rifle is set up very similarly as our needs are the same. Mine is a bit guccied out but you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. I think every rifleman should have a dedicated irons only rifle. I am running Troy fixed front and rear sights with an XS skinny white stripe post. The XS is similar to the Ashley but not as tunable.
Hey Jarrett, thanks for commenting! How is your guccied out? I’m always curious as to how other people choose to set up their gear. It’s kind of funny that you mention that everyone should have an irons-only rifle. I recently came across a discussion where folks were discussing the value of doing that in the age of optics.
It’s a Daniel Defense V7LW with the following Geissele parts: charging handle, bolt release, SSA trigger and their spring and buffer. I also mounted a Surefire Scout on an offset Aarisaka mount. I’m pretty much done with it for now but I am looking into the short through safeties. The rifle is a point and shoot out to 200 with minute of bucket accuracy off handed. It clocks in at just a little over 6lbs without a magazine. I like to think of it as the sleeper hot rod.
Oh, that sounds like a fun one! I’ve been meaning to dip in to Arisaka’s mounts and lights for a while, but never committed.
For the short throw, I like my V7 a lot, but also enjoy my BAD levers.
Matt, so I’ve been bit by the AR bug, and am considering switching out my mid-length USGI plastic handguard in order to mount a light, but I want to stay true to the minimalist concept. Unless I’m missing something, Magpul seems to be the obvious choice. Can you share what made you choose the Magpul MOE handguard vs. the slimmer MOE SL handguard? Not sure what should factor into my decision besides the size differences…any perspective is appreciated! Thanks!
Hey, thanks for reading and commenting! For me, the main reason is simple: Magpul doesn’t offer a rifle length MOE-SL.
We’re this a mid length build, the deceit ion would probably be a little harder. That said, all of my rifles with front sight towers also have triangular handguard caps, which also don’t work with the SL. I would have had to think king and hard about significant modifications before trying it.
If you already have a round cap and like the look and feel of the SL series, I see no reason not to go for it.
Very nice rifle indeed! But how did it shoot?
Hey Jack, thanks for asking. I probably should add a shooting impression portion to this one. In short, this is consistently one of my favorite rifles to shoot. When I take new shooters to the range, this is often the one I’ll bring along to introduce them to the platform (usually with a RDS attached for simplicity). I haven’t done any formal accuracy testing with it because it wasn’t really a priority for me. But from the time I’ve spent zeroing it, I’d estimate it’s somewhere between 1 MOA and 2 MOA. The recoil impulse is extremely smooth,… Read more »
I am a big fan of the Riflecraft slings too. Unloaded at just under 7 lb is not too shabby at all!
Cosmetically, I love how it almost has a FAL vibe.
Some day I want to try out the RS1 and RS3 as well, but for now the RS2 has been great.
You’re not the first person to compare this to a FAL, lol. I just recently popped a small RDS on this to see how I like it.
I like it. It’s practical It’s cost effective. Every AR one owns need not be a JP, DD, LT or LWRC.
I love KISS rifles, which is I built a M16A1 clone but with some nice modern internals. I really like the CMMG improved LPK with polished mil-spec trigger and have been getting pretty good groupings with my no brand 1:9 Lightweight. Though the best croupling barrel I have used yet was a E.R. Shaw 1:7 Govt.
Sweet gat, man. I think I may go with traditional A1 furniture on mine. And a suppressor mount, even though I don’t plan on suppressing it often.