T46: “What if the AR-10 won the M14 trials?” A 10 year AR10 project

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AR-10 with wood furniture.

In the late 50s, the DOD sought to replace the venerable M1 Garand with a lighter and more modern service weapon. That weapon would later be known as “US Rifle, 7.62×51, M14.” In the trials to determine what that weapon would be, Eugene Stoner’s revolutionary AR-10 was submitted as a contestant. It was not selected for the role. But what if it had been?

What Sparked the Idea for This AR-10 Project?

Oleg Volk’s Photos

In 2010, renown gun photographer Oleg Volk published photos of a girl named Rebecca holding an AR-15 fitted with wooden furniture made by Lucid Manufacturing.

Oleg Volk's photo of a girl named Rebecca holding an AR-15 fitted with wooden furniture made by Lucid Manufacturing.

Girl with an AR-15 with wood furniture.

The A2 length fixed stock had a wider flared cheek weld reminiscent of Monte Carlo stocks that were popular on bolt action hunting rifles back in the day that added an old school look to the design. The handguards had a finger groove cut along their length for added ergonomic function, which aesthetically called back to the M1928 Thompson’s handguard.

AR-10 wooden stock with a wide, flared cheek weld.

AR-10 with wood furniture, handguard has finger groove.

 

When I saw the pictures, the wood and steel look combined with those aesthetic features applied to the AR-15 reminded me of the service rifles of old, before the AR’s time. Knowing the AR platform’s design history and entry into military service around the world started with the Armalite AR-10 Battle Rifle chambered in 7.62×51 NATO, I wondered, “What would it be like if the AR-10 was around in WWII/Korea/Vietnam in US hands?”

AR-10 -Sudanese and Portuguese.

The original 7.62×51 Armalite AR-10 Battle Rifle, Sudanese (top), and Portuguese (bottom) configurations.

So the idea of a likewise 7.62×51 or .308 Winchester chambered AR with said wooden furniture was an idea I had on my mind and sat on for years. At the time, the aforementioned wood furniture was regularly available from online retailers like Brownells and Rock River Arms. AR-308s in a proper configuration didn’t seem hard to find, so it was something I had on the to-do list but kept putting off, figuring I had plenty of time to get around to it.

Brownells Retro Series

Years go by. At SHOT 2018, Brownells surprised everyone by debuting their Retro series, which became commercially available later that year. Noteworthy among them (which included several versions of retro AR-15 variants prevalent before and during the Vietnam War) were the BRN-10A and BRN-10B.

 The Brownells Retro line as it debuted at SHOT 2018.

The Brownells Retro line as it debuted at SHOT 2018.

Brownells retro series AR-15 variants, the BRN-10A and BRN-10B.

 

Put simply, these were reproductions of the original AR-10 (with some modernized design features like a delta ring and retainer cap for the handguards). They were based on the longer handguard Sudanese configuration it initially shipped out in, before its more iconic Portuguese configuration with the shorter handguard and barrel shroud entered production.

Between the A and B model BRN-10s, the only differences between the two were barrel profile (Heavy fluted under the handguards for A, Pencil profile throughout for B, both 1/10 twist and QPQ finish, made by Faxon Firearms,) muzzle device (Three prong for A, Portuguese birdcage style for B,) and polymer furniture color (Brown for A, Black for B.)

Brownells BRN-10A & BRN-10B, Final Production versions.

Brownells BRN-10A & BRN-10B, Final Production versions.

So now there was a retro-style AR-10 rifle with the OG topside inverted trigger-style charging handle within the carry handle. It utilized SR25/DPMS spec magazines and internal components and was made with up to date manufacturing and finishing processes. The BRN-10 wasn’t remotely heavy for what it was and clocked in at under $2000 retail. Considering the detail and effort Brownells put into the quality and historical accuracy of this retro series, and especially the BRN-10, you were getting a lot of cool ass rifle for a very reasonable price.

Once the BRN-10A with its brown polymer furniture came to my attention, I was reminded of my wood furniture idea from eight years before. Now that a cost-effective rifle that certainly looked the part was available, the furniture swap from polymer to wood was the easy part… Right?

Sourcing the Wood Furniture

Unfortunately, at some point between 2010 and 2018, not only was the wood AR furniture (made from walnut tree wood) by Lucid Manufacturing discontinued, but the whole company was gone — entirely dissolved. I checked the retailers that I’d seen selling it in the past, to no avail. The stock was completely dry wherever I looked, and the year was now 2019.

During my search, I did find alternative wood AR furniture options made by other manufacturers, but it wasn’t the same. They all lacked that old-school aesthetic. Everything else was either too stylized/contemporary to look appropriate for the era I was going for, or it was just a wood version of M16A1 furniture which I wasn’t looking for, or it was more M16A2 styled but was unfinished and required the customer to sand and stain it themselves.

Neither of these alternatives being appealing, the challenge became apparent. I needed to track down a used set, either listed for sale on a private forum or find someone that still had a correct looking set in their possession and talk them into selling it to me. The search was on.

I looked through arfcom. I looked through other forums. For any picture example I found posted, either they’d already sold the rifle and the furniture with it, or they weren’t interested in selling the furniture. I called the alternative manufacturers to see if they’d be up to reproducing the now discontinued set since there was no longer a company to lay claim to them. No dice.

The Exact Source

I took Oleg Volk’s pictures and posted them in a few enthusiast groups on Facebook: “Does anyone know where I can find a set of this specific wood AR furniture? Same color, same cut and length, same everything (there were some varieties there). Does anyone have a set that they would sell?”

A man named Joe responded to one of my inquiry threads on Facebook. He said, “Wow, that’s a blast from the past! That’s my daughter in those pictures, holding my rifle! I’ve still got the wood furniture on that rifle, even.”

The wooden AR furniture and the rifle it was attached to from Oleg Volk's photos, as the owner had it in his possession

The wooden AR furniture and the rifle it was attached to from Oleg Volk’s photos, as the owner had it in his possession.

So I’m like oh shit, no kidding? That’s the same set of furniture huh? Would you be interested in selling it? Joe declined, to my dismay. However, he did inform me that Dan Konrad was the guy that designed and manufactured them originally before teaming up with Lucid Manufacturing to have them mass-produced. He had modified Joe’s stock to insert a commemorative United States Army challenge coin into it. As it turned out, Dan is a personal friend of Joe’s, and he had his contact information, which he was happy to forward to me.

With a new lead directly to the source, I made a call to Dan Konrad. I introduced myself as a police officer upfront to assure him this wasn’t a prank call and that I wasn’t seeking to waste his time. I explained what led to my calling him and asked if he had any extra sets laying around.

Unfortunately, he only had carbine length handguards, one or two stocks left, and none in the same color finish that I was looking for. To make matters worse, Dan hadn’t manufactured any sets of his wood AR furniture in a long while and wouldn’t be anytime soon, since he’d developed some health issues in the time since. I was feeling a little discouraged at this point, but I wasn’t gonna quit yet.

A Surprising Detour

On Armslist of all places, I find someone with an A2 configuration AR-15 listed for sale for $700-some odd dollars, with a VERY similar set of Konrad’s furniture. The only difference was that it was more of a dark cherry brown color, and the handguards lacked the finger grooves. At this point I’m desperate enough so I figure, screw it. If push comes to shove I can sand it down, refinish the stain, and maybe find a way to cut the finger grooves into the wood while I’m at it.

Lucid Manufacturing wood AR furniture found by the author on Armslist.

The visually similar set of Lucid Manufacturing wood AR furniture found by the author on Armslist.

This was also probably the first time I had ever seen something on Armslist where the listing wasn’t ancient and expired. The Force was with me. I fished around and found the seller’s contact info and emailed him directly. I asked him if he would be willing to sell me the wood furniture off the gun.

He told me he only wanted to sell the full rifle. I told him I’d buy him whatever furniture he cared to put on the gun to sell it. He said he had the original furniture also. I was like fuuuuck. I reiterated, “Listen man I’ve got money in hand I will pay you for that furniture right now and you’re selling it anyway so it’s not like you’re out any money.”

He relented and said, “Okay, let’s meet up this week at (location in a state that is multiple states removed from the one I live in.)” I’m like whoa, buddy. I’m not local to you like that, I can’t meet you there.

Then he said “Nope, I only do face to face transactions, not interested in online sales, I’ve been scammed before and I’m not letting that happen again.”

I was like, “Come onnnnn man, I’m not going to scam you. I’m a police officer by trade and I don’t want or need that on my name, I promise I’m not screwing with you.”

He asked where I’m a cop and for how long. I told him where and said 10 years (at the time, going on 11 now as of this writing). Then he told me he’s been a cop for 17 years out where he’s from. I was like “Oh, how bout that?”

He told me finally “If you send me cash in an insured envelope and drop one of your agency patches in the envelope, I got no problem selling you the wood furniture.”

Done deal homie! Cash and a patch went into the USPS cardboard envelope and was sent his way.

So now, the consolation prize wood furniture was on the way to me in the mail. I looked at the pictures of it, and I remembered Joe from before and figured maybe he’d like a follow-up. So I said, “Hey Joe, look what I managed to track down and get a hold of.”

I sent him the pictures and Joe said, “Those are nice. Mind if I ask how much you can buy them for?”

Something about the way he said it struck a chord with my sixth sense, and I felt lucky. So I rolled the dice and took a shot in the dark: “Wanna trade?”

He said to me, “I could be so inclined.”

I sat there looking at my screen…ô_ô. We worked out the details, exchanged pictures of the furniture, and upon inspection, he agreed to the trade. We mailed each other our respective sets. “Thank you so much, Joe,” I told him. “They will be honored and appreciated. I can’t wait to show you what they’re going on.”

BRN-10 Assembly

Now, while all this was going on, I had purchased my BRN-10, but not as a complete rifle. Brownells decided to offer the parts of the BRN-10 individually and in builders kits, for customization purposes. So I ordered the receivers, the internals, the barrel, basically everything but the handguards.

The Brownells BRN-10 Builder Kit components as received by the author.

The Brownells BRN-10 Builder Kit components, as they were purchased by the author.

Brownells 308 Bolt Carrier Group.

Brownells 308 Bolt Carrier Group.

BRN-10 assembled lower receiver with buttstock and grip.

BRN-10 assembled lower receiver with buttstock and grip.

BRN-10B Portuguese style flash suppressor.

BRN-10B Portuguese style flash suppressor.

Everything about my BRN-10 is BRN-10A — with the exception of the muzzle device, which is the Portuguese birdcage model off the BRN-10B. While waiting for the wood furniture to arrive, the rifle itself (or the pieces of it at least) were standing by, waiting to be completely assembled. I put the smaller parts together in the meantime.

There was yet one more obstacle to be crossed before this project could fully come to fruition. Because the wood handguards were *kind of* M16A1 based, they required a triangular handguard cap. The BRN-10 barrels shipped with a round handguard cap. Having purchased the triangular handguard cap in anticipation of switching it with the original, one thing stood in the way: a cross pin and a front sight tower that wouldn’t fit into a standard front sight bench block.

wood compatible triangular shaped handguard retainer cap.

The factory round handguard retainer cap needed to be replaced with a triangular-shaped retainer cap for compatibility with the wood handguard.

I took it in to my local shop and we looked at it and said screw it and hammered the shit out of that cross pin until it finally budged and came out. We pulled the gas block and round handguard cap, slid on the triangular one, back went the gas block sight tower and gas tube, and a fresh taper pin was hammered into place to lock it in.

We replaced the brown polymer stock and grip that shipped on the BRN-10 lower with the wood Konrad stock, and a wood A1 style smooth grip that was made by Gene Fields over at Black Guns Wood. Then came the piece de resistance — pull back the delta ring, insert the left side handguard, then the right side, and release the delta ring with a satisfying pop.

T46 BRN-10 after complete assembly and modifications.

The T46 BRN-10, moments after it was completely assembled once all necessary modifications had been made.

Short of a sling (I went with a brown two-point sling made by Gene Higdon over at Mean Gene Leather to complete the look) she was finished. To finally hold in my hands something I had imagined doing for years and endeavored to make a tangible reality against odds stacked so high was remarkable, to say the least. A dream come true, in every sense. What stood out to me right away was how M1 Garand-like it felt, between the weight and length of the rifle and the feel of the wood furniture.

When I took it home later that day I showed it to my father. As soon as he saw it he said “Nice. That looks sharp with the wood.” I handed it to him, he shouldered it, looked down the sights, felt the balance of the rifle, and handed it back. “I like it. You did good.” That was the first time my dad ever said that about any of my ARs, which he’d usually disregard as “Crazy GI Joe shit.” It was a proud
moment.

When I showed it to Joe, he said “Damn, that’s hot. Looks great.” I thanked him again for his help, and he flashed the thumbs-up of approval.

How’d it do on the range?

When I finally took it to the range, I figured that since this would only ever be an irons-only rifle, I’d zero them at 50 yards. I was a little apprehensive about this, knowing the process would be quite different from how one would usually zero an AR. Rather than dialing in clicks, you simply loosen the bolt retaining the rear sight. Manually slide it left or right for the desired windage adjustment along the corresponding witness marks etched into the receiver. Then, refasten the retaining bolt.

BRN-10 sight adjustment

All sight adjustments on the BRN-10 for windage and elevation are made at the rear sight. Brownells really dug deep into the details for the historical accuracy of the rifle.

Elevation is dialed in with the rear sight also, using a familiar A2-style drum dial for corresponding distances, since the front sight post is machined into the sight tower and doesn’t adjust for elevation, just like the original AR-10 back in the day.

Using M80 ball, the first few shots I took saw the rifle choke on itself and fail to extract and feed. This was completely my fault for firing the rifle bone dry with no oil. Once I rectified that, I slapped in a new mag and sent five shots downrange.

When I checked the target through my binoculars, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all shots had landed within the 4″ circle on the target, perfectly grouped within the desired POA/POI. I fired another five rounds and checked again, seeing the same thing. Then I finished the magazine entirely. Out of the box and freshly assembled, the thing was dead on, and the rifle required no adjustment to its rear sight whatsoever. Very pleasing indeed.

Why I named it T46

The AR-10 at the M14 Trials

The name “T46” goes back to the original question that inspired this project: What if the AR-10 won the M14 trials, and was around during that time as a standard-issue service weapon? During said trials, in our timeline, the AR-10 catastrophically failed and was disqualified early on in its testing although late in the trials. The failure was due to a subsequently abandoned (for good reason) barrel manufacturing method that sought to laminate steel and aluminum together (something insisted upon by ArmaLite’s president George Sullivan, against Stoner’s vehement objections) not unlike the polymer sleeved barrels popular today.

the Armalite AR-10's experimental dual metal laminate barrel failed catastrophically, disqualifying the AR-10 from any further testing or consideration for the M14 role.

During testing in the M14 trials, the Armalite AR-10’s experimental dual metal laminate barrel failed catastrophically. The AR-10 was disqualified from any further testing or consideration for the M14 role.

Because the two metals heated up at different rates, the barrel ruptured, and that was the end of the AR-10’s run in the M14 trials, or for any US military service period. It wouldn’t be until Eugene Stoner developed the AR-15 by downsizing the AR-10 design that the AR platform would be reintroduced as a contender for US military service. In the meantime, the AR-10’s design flaws were reworked and refined, and the improved versions of the rifle would later see combat abroad in the hands of Dutch, Cuban, Sudanese, Italian, and Portuguese soldiers, among others from additional countries.

M14 Trial Contenders, T44 and T48

So, when the M14 trials moved onto their next phase, it came down head to head between two rifles: What eventually became what we know as the M14, then known as “T44,” and a variation of the FN FAL referred to during the trials as “T48.”

T44 and T48 - M14 trials.

The final contenders of the M14 trials: The T44 (and eventual winner,) and the T48.

Springfield Armory comparison display: T44 and .30 cal FN.

Though the testing and results thereof between the two is a hotly debated subject not relevant to this article, the testing names T44 and T48 are the important detail. Since there was no other rifle involved at that point, and since it fit right in the middle, “T46” struck me as the appropriate thing to call this particular BRN-10. And so it was named.

What if the T46 Had Been at the M14 Trials?

It is this author’s belief that if this rifle was the one submitted for M14 trial testing it would have dominated the M14 trials and won hands down. (Albeit perhaps with the adjustable front sight tower like that of the Prototype AR-15 and reproduced for the BRN- PROTO, which couldn’t be fit onto a BRN-10 barrel as the parts are currently manufactured) Going forward, US military small arms design would have then taken a different, but very interesting path. I’ve speculated about that path in my spare time with a fun little alternate history project I preoccupied myself with. I’ll get to that another time.

AR-10 project - modified, completely assembled with wood furniture.

What could have been…

So, after having this in my mind’s eye and wanting to do this rifle project for years, this one’s super special to me. That’s not only because of what it took to make it happen but especially since it’s now home to the very same set of wood AR furniture from Oleg Volk’s photos that inspired the project, to begin with, ten years ago.

AR-10 Project: T46 with Mean Gene leather 2-point sling.

The T46 as it sits today. It’s newly equipped with a Mean Gene Leather 2-Point sling, appropriate for the era the rifle evokes.

Special thanks go out to Keith Ford & Ryan Repp over at Brownells, Inc. for being patient with all my questions, as well as Tim Orrock of Dead Air Silencers for the same. Thanks also to Paul Levy & Co over at Brownells for making the BRN-10 a thing, and Nathan for selling me the walnut AR furniture off his Armslist listing that facilitated the trade. The biggest thanks to Joe for trading me his walnut set for the one I got from Nathan. He made this all possible with the last piece of the puzzle. I’d also like to thank Ian McCollum & Karl Kasarda for providing plenty of footage and feedback on the BRN-10A to keep me occupied and for answering any quality and performance questions I had been wondering about initially.

Keep your eyes peeled, folks. This story has a sequel. In the meantime, stay safe, shoot straight, and make it count.

 

See also: 3 Art Guns for Your Edification: Concepts, Clones, and Classics

 

Frank Woods is a ten year veteran of Gotham City PD1 and a devoted scholar of Hoplology.  In addition to the experience gained during his tenure, he has amassed a considerable amount of training time beyond what his agency provides to its rank and file. This is as much a reflection of his enthusiasm for learning and honing techniques and mindset as it is a desire to enhance his ability to serve and protect. If you’re on Facebook much, check out his discussion group, Tactics & Applications.

1 His agency’s policy and procedures (and a desire for PERSEC) prevent the use of the real agency and name. GMW has vetted him, however.

  • Doc Jon

    This is the first, and last, article from GMW I will read. It is basically the story of one guy who assembles a parts kit and then fantasizes about his build being selected over the M14 and FAL as the US Service Rifle. No valid arguments why, no review of ballistics or battlefield reports. No significant discussion on the history of the M14 or FAL. Rambling, foul mouthed, article that’s essentislly about a rifle novice’s daydream.

    Would have been a waste of time if I wasn’t sitting in a waiting area to board a plane.

    • Medic

      Sad that so many people use vulgarities as part of their everyday conversations. Just as bad in print. Another indication of the degradation of society.

      • Frank Woods

        Guys, I’m not a rifle novice and this wasn’t a fantasy, this was just a fun alternate history/what if build project I did and felt like sharing. If the light profanity bothers you, that’s unfortunate. Glad you enjoyed the article 🍻

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonabrown/ JASONABROWN

    Interesting story. Nice looking rifle. I love the BRN-10A and it’s on my lottery winnings list. One question and one comment. Why didn’t you keep the matching grip? And I hate to burst your bubble, but a 4″ group at 50 yards isn’t impressive for an AR-10. That’s 8 MOA if I did the math right.

  • wittzo

    I always read that the AR-10 submitted for trials had a titanium bore with an aluminum sleeve. I also read that they actually plugged the bore with dirt, which they did not do with the other two rifles. They hated that rifle, they wanted steel and wood instead of aluminum and fiberglass.
    The testers were strongly biased toward their rifle, the T-44. It’s a wonder they didn’t rig the tests for the T-48.
    A similar thing happened when the M-16 was introduced. Any changes Sullivan and Stoner objected to with the AR-15 to the M-16 were completely ignored. The original AR-15 Stoner and Sullivan designed was closer to the M-16A1. They designed a trap door for the pistol grip to store a cleaning kit. Both were eliminated to save a few dollars. Chrome lining in the barrel and chamber? Gone. Stoner actually objected to the forward assist, he said if you’re trying to force the bolt onto a stubborn round, something’s wrong and you need to check it out before you blow yourself up. The big problem was the ammo manufacturer changing powders so they could use some old WW2 surplus powder to save money without checking with Remington or Winchester.

  • Ken Martins

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f60297a345280224ed66f3bd7ec1469e4440b9c057cc4ba97428a8f355370c2f.gif

    That’s a beautiful gun. I did similar, but, chambered in 7.62×39 (AK47 Round). See photo. She’s a great shooter as well and only 21 cents per round.

    P.S. That is an “wing” behind the pistol grip to meet California laws.

  • Fred

    Interesting story, beautiful firearm! Makes me want to build my own in a similar style ( though hopefully, not as much hunting for furniture )! Thanks for the ideas!