February 2006

AR-15 Barrel Swapping: $1300 Later, We’d Pass On All Three

After a great deal of time and effort, we’d likely not buy Olympic Arms’ Ultra Match, Merchant’s Service Rifle Match Barrel Model 2, or Evolution’s Match Barrel, all for different reasons.

We tested the fine Olympic Arms K3B (AR-15) in the December 2005 issue, and liked it a whole lot. It was one of the better AR-15s we’ve seen. It had an excellent trigger and lots of good stuff like a flash hider, 30-round mag, and a collapsible stock. Though it probably had enough accuracy for almost anything, on the order of 3 inches at 100 yards, we wanted more. To that end we decided to test three “drop-in” barrels obtained from Brownells to see if we could get tighter groups for our money. When we told the fine folk at Brownells what we intended to do, they asked us if we had the required tools. We planned to use the services of a gunsmith on our staff who had zero experience with AR-15s, so we had no tools at all. Therefore we acquired not only three 16-inch barrels, but also all the tools needed to do a barrel swap on the K3B Oly.

The barrels were Olympic Arms’ own stainless-steel Ultra Match (Brownells No. 795-020-016), $318; Merchant’s Service Rifle Match Barrel Model 2 with 1:8 twist (565-015-802). $397; and Evolution’s Match Barrel (298-015-015), $415. We stuck with 16-inch tubes because we didn’t want to sacrifice handiness for accuracy if we could help it. When everything arrived, it seemed like a daunting array of tools. There was a high-impact polymer (Rynite) block (Peace River Upper Receiver Action Block, Brownells #702-003-015, $44) that fitted around the action to hold it in the vise, with an insert to keep the action from collapsing under stress. Next was a serrated barrel wrench (Smith Enterprises Armorer’s Wrench, Brownells’ #851-115-001, $37); a strap wrench for “free-floated” forends (Glenair AR Strap Wrench, 382-100-015, $24); and a set of snap-ring pliers (531-460-000, $12). There was also a tool that made removing the two-piece forend extremely easy (Darrel’s Custom E-Z OFF Hand Guard Tool, 100-000-438, $25). These tools came to about $142, and though you might not need them all, you’d surely need the block and wrench, which will set you back $81 plus shipping. Any tool expenditure probably won’t make a lot of sense for only one job, especially if your local gunsmith can do it for you. But the use of a gunsmith makes these less than drop-in barrels -- unless you define the job as dropping in to your gunsmith and dropping money into his pocket.

No instructions came with the barrels, so we were temporarily stymied. But a search of the Internet found a detailed and well-illustrated set of steps to follow, so we jumped in. We suggest you start by looking at http://www.ar15.com/, and follow your nose. Here’s what we discovered about each barrel.

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