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 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
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.
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 wanted 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?