Friday, December 12, 2008

Okay, on to Part III of the M14...Everything Else.

Last installment we referred to the receiver as the integral part of the M14 - most every other part of the rifle hangs off of it. In this portion, we will talk of that "every other part" - and the functions thereof.

Stock - Originally the M14 rifle had a wooden stock - much like the M1 Garand. Later in the sixties, barely before it was "phased out" by the poodle shooter, the M14 was upgraded to a fiberglass (or synthetic) stock. The wooden stocks didn't handle the constant humidity and rain of SE Asia, the FG stocks don't swell in the wet. Just FYI, the fiberglass stocks are about an ounce or two heavier than the wooden stocks - and their forends are a little weaker; you can move POI (point of impact) on a FG stock by slinging in really really tight.

There are many aftermarket stocks nowadays - from precision stocks to stocks with miles of piccatiny rails... Maybe another post will deal with a few of them, but we don't have the space today.

Another point of interest with stocks is the fact that the M14 is not designed to use a free floating barrel - there is upward pressure exerted on the barrel from the stock. Rear Lugged receivers can compensate for this, but standard M14 receivers are not rear lugged. Another point of interest is bedding. Bedded stocks can improve accuracy, but at some cost: Both a cost in dollars and at the "cost" of not removing the stock for protracted periods of time... Every time a bedded M14 is removed from it's stock, the bedding suffers, generally loosening.

Hand guards are used on the M14 - they actually clip on to the barrel like a M1 Garand. Originally wood HGs were used, then FG slotted HGs, then solid FG HGs were introduced when it was found that the slots allowed too much heat to rise from the barrel and obstructed the front sight when the barrel was hot. Some scope mounts use special handguards, the SAI "scout" scope mount comes to mind.

Barrels - the standard USGI barrel on a M14 was a 22" chrome lined barrel. Chrome lined barrels are less subject to copper fouling and more corrosion resistant. Great for a battle rifle. Non-chrome lined barrels are supposedly more accurate, and stainless steel barrels are, well stainless steel, and therefore rust resistant. There are medium weight barrels (approx. 3/4 pound heavier than standard weight barrels), also, which can be had in stainless, standard, or chrome lined bore varieties. And then there are the heavy barrels (about 1.5 to 2 pounds heavier than a standard weight barrel), which generally use a standard, not stainless or chrome lined, bore.

The heavier the barrel, the more shots that can be fired before the barrel heats up; heating up causes changes in POI. Heavier barrels are generally more stable in a supported position, but can be very heavy when firing offhand, or simply when being carried around. Certain parts and accessories which mount to the barrel may or may not fit depending on the weight of the barrel, eg: generally heavy barrels use a different op rod guide (see below) than do standard or medium weight barrels.

Also, the "scout" length barrel (at 18" or 18.5" depending) is available in all the various combinations of weight and materials as the 22", and saves about 3-4 inches in length on the overall rifle, at the cost of some muzzle velocity and also sight radius (generally, the longer the sight radius, the more accurate the rifle..). SAI even makes a 16" barrel for their SOCOM models - originally this had a proprietary gas system, but current models are the same as a standard gas system, the only difference lying in the flash hider.. or lack thereof: The SOCOM uses a muzzle break only, although SEI has recently come out with an adapter which allows the use of a Vortex flash hider on a 16" SOCOM.

Flash Hider - Mounted directly to the end of the barrel, the flash hider provides less muzzle flash, saving the rifleman from being spotted as easily and from losing his own night vision while firing after dark. The standard (USGI) flash hider on a M14 is effective. The SEI Vortex is more effective at reducing the signature of the rifle at night, but the Vortex precludes the use of a bayonet on the rifle. There are muzzle breaks which can be used in place of a flash hider, reducing perceived recoil at the cost of vastly increased muzzle blast and noise. There are even "fake" flash hiders which appear at first glance to be standard flash hiders, but have no cut outs and do not function - these are generally used in places like the PRK (People's Republic of Kalifornia) which do not allow evil "Flash Hiders."

The standard flash hider (or muzzle break) is secured at the end of the barrel by a nut with a locking screw, but there are variations (notably the SEI Direct Connect Vortex - hereafter DC Vortex) that thread directly on to the barrel where that nut normally would thread on. This is to shorten the rifle, but the DC Vortex does not allow the use of a standard front sight mounted to the flash hider.

Sights - the standard rear sight on a M14 is mounted on the receiver, and is the exact same sight used on the M1 Garand. It is adjustable for windage and elevation. The front sight is mounted to the flash supressor, at the end of the barrel. The front sight is adjustable only for windage. Variations include National Match front sights (which is a more narrow blade), National Match rear sights (which is a hooded aperature and is adjusted in 1/2 minute clicks versus the standard 1 minute click), and aftermarket sights and adapters to include the SEI Gas Lock Front Sight (reduces the sight radius, allows the use of a DC Vortex, looks like a HK front sight, is not adjustable for windage) and Gas Lock Dovetail (which allows a standard windage adjustable front sight to be used with a DC Vortex, but mounts the front sight on a dovetail on the gas lock versus on the flash hider / muzzle break).

Gas System - the M14 uses a piston that is gas driven to push the op rod to cycle the action of the rifle. There are a few parts of the gas system: First the gas cylinder itself is mounted to the barrel. A gas lock tightens the cylinder to the barrel, keeping it in place under the gas port. There is a spindle valve on the gas cylinder, which allows the rifle to be fired single shot when the valve is shut off (this was originally for use with rifle grenades). There is a gas plug which holds the piston in the gas cylinder (adjustable models are available, standard gas plugs are not adjustable). There is a piston which is driven by the gas venting through the gas port in the bottom of the barrel into the op rod which cycles the action (standard USGI pistons are good, aftermarket pistons are made by SEI and Sadlak, perhaps others). The front band is held between the gas cylinder and the barrel, by friction or unitization (see below)

USGI Gas cylinders are available still, as are new ones made by SEI, SAI, and LRB. A gas cylinder can be unitized, which attaches the front band permanently to the gas cylinder as a method of improving accuracy. There are two methods of unitization, the welded method (USMC preferred) and the 'screw and glue' method(USA preferred). Both work, but the screw and glue method loses the ability of the spindle valve to shut off the gas system (a screw is run through the spindle valve, holding it open forever).

Trigger Groups - Trigger groups are similar to the M1 Garand trigger groups, in fact some parts are interchangeable between the two. USGI trigger groups are widely available, SAI manufactures their own. SEI has a couple tweaks they can do to a trigger group to prolong the life of the pivot areas (which are prone to fail after quite a few thousands of rounds) and to adjust the weight of the trigger. The trigger group is the part that locks the rest of the rifle (via the receiver) into the stock, therefore fitment of the TG into the receiver / stock combination is crucial.

Contained within the TG is the trigger, safety, hammer & spring, magazine release, etc. The trigger in stock form is a two stage trigger, trigger pulls can be safely reduced to around 3-4 pounds. Sadlak makes a larger 'tactical' mag release that is brand new (within the last 6 months) that has received very positive reviews. Many parts of the M14 TG can be interchanged with M1 Garand parts, with very little or NO modifications.

Bolt - The Bolt on the M14 is an improved M1 Garand bolt - it uses some identical parts from the M1 Garand, but adds a bolt roller which mates the bolt to the op rod. USGI bolts are forged, SAI bolts are made both by casting and by forging. For my dollar, TRW bolts are the cream of the crop in bolts.

A Chrome firing pin is a nice addition to the bolt, saves some crud from sticking to the firing pin, which can keep the rifle operational longer. SAI extractors are very suspect and should be replaced or at the very least a USGI spare should be purchased. Speaking of spares, a bolt is the one spare part that no M14 Rifleman should go into the field without - make sure that the spare is headspaced to the rifle, and should something go wrong with the first bolt or any of it's internals, it can be replaced quickly, without tools.

Op Rod (system) - the Op rod on the M14 is driven by the gas piston to the rear, driving the bolt to the rear, which clears the chamber, and then the op rod is driven by the op rod spring forward, dragging the bolt along with it, chambering a round and returning the bolt into battery, ready to fire again with the stroke of an index finger. The op rod rides in a track on the receiver in the rear, and in the op rod guide (attached to the barrel) on the front. The op rod spring is guided (oddly enough) by the op rod spring guide, which is also attached to the receiver, and functions as a contact point for the magazine.

USGI op rods are forged, either in one piece or two. Some demilled op rods were rewelded, and may not be "as good as new". SAI makes their own op rods, which seem to be a useable part. This year a Korean company started forging op rods, these are for sale by LRB among others, and they appear to be on par with USGI op rods, for a few dollars less than a USGI op rod.

The final major part on the M14 is the magazine. USGI magazines hold 20 rounds, but manufacturers have a whole range of capacities; from 5 round magazines to 30 round magazines, with sightings of higher capacities than that from independant (home workshop) manufacturers. I recommend only USGI 20 round magazines, which are still being made today by CheckMate Industries (CMI), and are available - or at least they were until the election of Barack Obama....

Next: More on the M14... stick around!

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