Sunday, August 4, 2019

Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers: Tactical Lego Fun and Function




As much as I like to be practical with my tactical, there is some room for fun, especially when color options are a required choice. And nothing comes closer to tactical color fun than playing with Magpul’s M-LOK Rail Covers.






Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers, type 2 to be specific, are textured polymer squares that snap into M-LOK holes on most aluminium M-LOK handguard rails. There are limitations in that the Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers do not fit properly with Magpul MOE M-LOK, nor the Magpul SL and SGA foregrips. The Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers lock into place with a second rectangular plug that provides a near seamless surface of contoured textured grip surface. And I've found that just a bit of grinding on the center section pillar can make the rail cover fit where a gas block limits the clearance.







The Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers sit barely over 1/8th inch above the rail, and use a snag-free design that covers the rail considerably more than most other options. At about two bucks a rail section, adding some custom color to your AR has never been as affordable or functional.


Technically, Magpul makes five different colors including black, flat dark earth, grey, olive drab green, and pink. Since each piece is actually two pieces, and an average handguard can take five covers in a row, that’s five times five times five or 125 different rail combinations possible. Thus the Lego comparison. For my “needs” i avoided the pink and focused on the remaining four colors which left me four times four times five or 80 different possible combinations. And with three rail sides to cover, that would expand the available rail cover color combinations across my rifle to 240.




With all those choices, I first needed to add some system to my thinking. By laying out the and inserts, I could organize my choices into visible comparisons. Some additional factors I considered included contrast, other colors already present on the AR, and my love of certain tactical colors.



After a solid half-hour of mixing and matching, I decided on a set of rail cover colors. Moving from the staging area to the rifle, I quickly realized I needed some specialized tools to rapidly remove the rail covers to avoid settling for a color combination out of laziness. I found that a Snap On angled pic and a Snap On nylon smoothing pry bar worked wonders for rapidly removing the rail covers with no risk of scuffing to cover or handguard.







Of course, being Magpul, the design of the M-LOK Rail Covers allows easy adjustment with nothing more than the tip of a 5.56mm bullet. .223 rounds work just as well, but when safely home, the Snap On tools work better, in my humble opinion.



My Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers playhouse for most of this review was a Noveske AR15 with a Noveske M-LOK handguard filled with M-LOK holes in need of M-LOK rail covers.
 



The Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers come in packages of six for a total weight per six of under one ounce. So covering three M-LOK rail sections with five panels each will only add 2.3 ounces to your rifle, yet customize it in a breathtaking way that’s sure to both make you smile and make your gun nearly invisible through custom camouflage. Nearly.











I mixed and matched variations and thought about the pros and cons of that particular color scheme. After an hour of trial and error, mostly trial, I settled on a couple designs. From there I took the combination into the wild to see how it fared. Frankly, it seems like pretty much any combination of the Magpul’s M-LOK Rail Covers is a win-win.



Like Legos, it’s fun to play around with different color combinations, and Magpul, whether intended or not, provided an effective rail cover solution that goes so far beyond traditional rail covers that you might just rethink your handguard in order to use the Magpul M-LOK Rail Covers.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor: Essential Hardware for Serious Shooters


If only the speed and dexterity of camera tripods could extend to rifle stability. Ahh, but there is a saddle-like apparatus that snipers have been using for years. But the three drawbacks of the saddles include price (good ones exceed $300), weight (good ones hover round one pound), and the saddles completely consume the tripod head thus preventing it from quick use with other attachments including spotting scopes, cameras, rangefinders, and the like. Enter the Magpul Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor, a tremendous solution that solved all three problems in a one ounce $50 plate that seamlessly integrates the rifle into a stable support platform that is common across photography, and it follows the massive number of photo-oriented stability options.









Stable shooting platforms are not rare. From sticks and sandbags, to fence posts and pickup truck hoods, standard rifles smoothly slide around providing the shooter an optimum position. Then came the popular bench rests like the Caldwell Lead Sled. Now I love my Lead Sled for traditional rifle stocks, but the AR15 with its plethora of handguard configurations and accessories, tactical stocks, and especially the magwell filled with a stick up to a foot long. Further the stock-to-handguard alignment of an AR platform rifle tends to make it sit quite high in traditional rests. But what if you could just snap your AR into a tripod with the ease and security of a DSLR with large telephoto lens? Obviously you can since that is the point of this article. Enter the Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor.





Bolting onto the underbelly of your handguard, the Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor is barely apparent until it’s needed. In fact it makes are reasonable good handhold upgrade although not as efficient as Magpul’s own AFG.



The CNC machined aluminum plate is designed to integrate with the popular Manfrotto RC2 and Q2 interfaces. The small footprint of the plate provides ample strength to the system. With the average balance point of a typical AR15 somewhere around the magwell, the Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor, mounted just forward of the magwell, safely and secures an AR platform rifle easily up to and over 10 pounds, in my estimation anyway. And that’s based on a quality tripod with an equally quality tripod head.




And speaking of tripod heads, a popular choice for the Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor is a ball head tripod head, in specific one of Manfrotto’s heavy duty choices. A quality ball head allows both freedom of movement and adjustable drag giving a fluid (but not literally fluid as with fluid-head video tripod heads) motion.







One of the amazing aspects of using a Magpul M-LOK Tripod Adaptor and tripod support is the extreme diversity of shooting positions, heights, and angles. Basically, any direction a camera on a tripod can point at, an AR15 or AR10 can as well.



Depending on the particular tripod, from ground level to seven feet plus is possible, and pretty much any angle that allows the rifle to remain balance is possible as well. Many quality (and I mean quality) tripods have legs that can spread far beyond the usual 66 degrees or so. And speaking of tripod legs, I fully recommend metal or carbon fiber over anything plastic. And of the metal, I suggest round aluminum over rectangular or channeled aluminum. Of course you can use whatever you like, but it will be a rude awakening when you start popping off shots only to have your lightweight tripod collapse, twist or bend.

For those with more extensive needs, Magpul makes solutions for a popular railed tripod mount that not only mates with more advanced tripod heads, but slides back and forth for additional balance preferences. Magpul’s Dovetail Adaptor chassis rail for RSS and ARCA tripod head interfaces is the next step for those with greater stability needs. If the future for rifle tripod adaptors looks bright, Magpul just makes it blindingly bright.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Benchmade Bugout Knife




Benchmade makes plenty of great bugout-worthy knives, but for Benchmade to actually name one of their blades the “Bugout” must mean something more. I had heard of the bugout Axis folding knife before I ever held one, which was precisely five minutes before I bought one. And as an FYI, Benchmade writes bugout as one word rather than two words, so I will follow their naming convention.

The Benchmade bugout Axis Folding Knife, known in Benchmade circles as the 535, is much lighter than what I thought Benchmade would call a bugout knife. I was thinking something more along the lines of the Benchmande Adamas folding knife. But I guess they already have that. And so do I. The Adamas is a tank of a knife. A buttery smooth tank, but still one nonetheless. So during my initial testing of the Benchmade Bugout, I also packed along the Benchmade Adamas for reference.



The Adamas is in a completely different class than the Bugout. As a folder, the Adamas wanders deeply into the territory and performance of a stout fixed blade knife. The Bugout, however, has very little in common with its fixed blade cousins. Things the Bugout does have in common with include air, invisibility, stealth, and svelte.

The Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife is a very light knife. It is slim in its design and minimized where possible. And also maximize where possible. The 3.24 inch blade, which is the true guts of the knife, is forged from the supersteel known as S30V. The supersteels used today are different from the blade steels of the past in that they were specially formulated specifically for knife blades of various duties. They are not repurposed tool steels, or ball bearing steels, or spring steels pounded from old truck leaf springs. In a nutshell, the Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife, like many Benchmade cutting tools, is handsome, elegant, tough as nails, and state-of-the-art. But does it live up to the name “Bugout?”



Well, I guess that depends on what “Bugout” means to you. My initial thought before handling one was that the bugout folding knife would be a stout piece of hardware that could stand up to excessive abuse so much so that you could tow a car with the blade or chop your way out of a burning 747. Instead, Benchmade seems to have taken a different philosophy on the term bugout, and one I now agree with. The Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife is exceptionally light. And that is compared to aggressively light blades they produce advertised and marketed as light. At under two ounces, the Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife shocks the first-time holder. It’s weightlessness is startling to the point of causing bugout confusion. The Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife begs the questions, “How can a bugout knife be so light and why?”


 

The answer is found in both the philosophy and the engineering of the Benchmade Bugout Axis Folding Knife. First of all, there is absolutely no compromise with the blade. And that is essential given that anything labeled bugout must double team as a last blade as well. Benchmade cut massive weight in the Benchmade Bugout Knife by using internally milled-out scales, and a ⅓ length steel liners. Topping it off is a shortened and hollowed steel pocket clip.

Just how non-massive is the Benchmade Bugout Knife? It tips the scales at under two ounces. Only 1.85 ounces according to Benchmade’s website, and according to my digital scale, 1.86 ounces. That difference could easily be pocket lint from my daily carry. Compare that to the 3.88 ounces of the full-sized Benchmade Griptilian or even the 2.8 ounces of the Mini Griptilian.




 

The reason I mention bugout philosophy with the Benchmade Bugout Knife is that I always assumed a bit of pre-planning would be possible when it comes to bugging out. That would afford me and you the time to choose a major knife ready for whatever bugout action the particular scenario calls for. So an ultralight nearly invisible pocket carry blade was not on my menu. At least at first.

Having put the Benchmade Bugout Knife through my daily domestic and outdoor chores for a couple months now, I am actually thrilled with the Benchmade Bugout Knife. Seriously. As long as one considers what it takes to make this ultralight bugout knife and exercises a bit of restraint with non-cutting tasks especially prying, chopping and twisting, the Benchmade Bugout Knife will slice and dice well above its weight class. And due to its weight and svelte, the Benchmade Bugout Knife will be with me always.



 

The Benchmade Bugout blade came razor-sharp from the factory. The version I’m working with has a smoked gray, chromium nitride coated S30V blade with a wonderful eve- so-slightly textured feel. The thinness of the Bugout blade works very well with the grind Benchmade chose for the Bugout. It’s a classic drop point blade with flat grind, well slightly more of a high flat grind to be specific, with a mild unsharpened swedge on the tip.

Thumb studs grace both sides of the blade, and the obvious Axis Lock lever also offers an opening option by a retraction and wrist flip. Because of the light weight of the blade, there is little mass to put into motion so it might take a few dozen openings to get the Bugout properly seasoned for wrist-flip Axis opening. But when it does, its plenty good.

The handles are more handles than scales since scales usually screw onto metal liners, but with minimal liners the scales are the handles. Either way, the Benchmade “Grivory” material is a polyamide thermoplastic synthetic resin in the nylon family. It has great heat tolerance, durability, strength, electrical neutrality, and tremendous chemical resistance. Plus with the right texture, it’s darn grippy. And the Benchmade Bugout Knife has the right texture.

Rounding out the aft end of the Benchmade Bugout Knife is a generous lanyard hole. Triangular in shape, it is both functional and weight saving. The knife is just under seven and a half inches open, and just under four and a quarter closed.


 

Due to the light weight and minimalism of the Benchmade Bugout Knife, aggressively scratching a firesteel, especially a big one like I carry, is better served by leaving the blade inside its shell. Keep the knife closed and strike the spine of the blade down the length of the firesteel. By keeping the blade closed, any blade-bending lateral force is held within the pocket limits of the scales. The pivot point up front is a solid anchor, and the tip of the knife will push up against the inside edge of the Grivory handle forming a solid scraper. Frankly, the blade-closed striking is a great idea for all folding knives.

There are two main versions of the Benchmade Bugout Knife, one with a shiny uncoated stainless blade and sky blue scales retailing for $140 (#535), and for $20 more, one with a fully-coated in chromium nitride dark grey blade and Grivory scales colored somewhere between flat dark earth and olive green; a color Benchmade calls “ranger green” (#535GRY-1). Adding a finer blade choice, there is the option for a partially serrated blade in addition to the classic continuous edge. And for those well-heeled but still bugout curious, there a $750 Gold Class version of the Benchmade Bugout Knife (#535-191) complete with “Munin pattern Damasteel and ghost carbon fiber handles are coupled with smoked gray physical vapor deposition (PVD) coated liners…” Not sure if I should drink it, smoke it, or eat it? Needless to say, I won’t be reviewing that particular Bugout Knife anytime soon. Or possibly I will since I did review a Rolex Deepsea watch.



 

Back to reality, the Benchmade Bugout Knife uses the famous Benchmade Axis locking system. A horizontal bar moves back and forth with a thumb stud to allow the blade to either swing freely or lock solidly in the open position. Many Benchmade knives allow blade deployment by simply flicking the wrist with the Axis stud retracted, usually with both thumb and index finger at the same time for grip security. My Benchmade Bugout Knife, however, seems a little stiff to do the wrist-flick-thing. I could loosen up the main pivot bolt, but have chosen not to because the minimal hardware inside the knife is better served by a snug fit than a fast deployment. Further, the 0.09” thickness of the blade (not too thin, certainly not too thick), is fairly low in mass so the flick needs to be precise or aggressive with a clean snapping stop. So as mentioned above, get used to the thumb studs on this one as well.



The concept of an actual bugout is one based upon assumptions and predictions. And with the sharp blade being at or next to the most important single bugout tool, essentially the tool that makes the other tools, then the knife must be of sufficient standard to move seamlessly between and across bugout scenarios. A solid build, a fine steel, a flawless edge, and a rock solid reputation for quality simply gets a knife through the door for an interview. From there it is up to the user and his/her skill to make the final decision. So at the risk of a pun, I am confident the Benchmade Bugout Knife will make the cut.


So whether or not the Benchmade Bugout Knife is a true bugout knife depends on your interpretation of a bugout knife. This is Benchmade’s offering, and while I was surprised initially, I now have a complete appreciation for the feature set of this knife, and consider it essential bugout kit...along with some other bigger Benchmades of course.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Magpul BEV Block AR Tool: Essential AR Kit



The Magpul BEV Block is the second in Magpul’s two-deep lineup of armorer’s tools. The other tool, Magpul’s Armorer’s Wrench, is an exceptionally well designed and executed tool that works equally well for the professional and the weekend armorer. At over 11 ounces, the roughly 4.5” x 2.25” x 1.25” block weighs twice what a basic Delrin plastic mag well vise block does.





BEV stands for Barrel Extension Vise and is specifically designed for use with the AR15/M4 platform rifles and AR pistols of the .223/5.56 variety due to mag well and bolt size. The multipurpose Magpul BEV Block can be used as a standard magazine well vise block, but its real advantage is as a upper receiver vise block. Regardless of which end is in the rifle, the other end must be secured into a bench vise for maximum stability.



 


The Magpul BEV Block has a unique other end. And on that other end are two unique other ends. The Magpul BEV Block mimics the AR bolt on one end by meshing perfectly with the barrel extension splines. Opposite the barrel is another mating point where a bolt carrier sans the bolt, cam pin, firing pin, and firing pin retaining pin. The bolt carrier is inserted like normal with the charging handle locking it in place.



The combined fore and aft security of the Magpul BEV Block with the base seated in a vice provided phenomenal upper receiver stability for serious work. But where the Magpul BEV Block really shines over more traditional clam-shell designs that grip the outside of a forged milspec upper receiver is that the Magpul BEV Block doesn't get anywhere near the top rail meaning any optics or other accessories can remain untouched. And reading between the above lines, billet and other custom upper receiver millings and forgings may keep the clam-shells from working at all.


 





For upper receiver work, the Magpul BEV Block locks into the forward takedown pin uses an o-ring to hold the BCG onto the BEV Block. Depending on the BCG, the fit can be quite tight and necessitate a bit of muscle to seat it. Although the block part of the Magpul BEV Block is polymer, the splines that lock into the barrel extension are solid steel as is the bolt post.



In use, the Magpul BEV Block as a lower receiver vice block rocks as well as any other I’ve used. The narrower profile of the upper receiver mating components keep them out of the vice jaws when inverted for lower receiver work. With an MSRP of $49.95 and a street price as low as forty bucks, the Magpul BEV Block sells for as much or not much more than a single function magwell vice block that works only for the lower receiver.

If you’re shy about pulling apart your BCG, the Magpul BEV Block may work fine with or without the added security of the bolt carrier. There will be more play and the upper receiver is tilted a bit, but as long as no receiver work pushes or pulls the barrel forward, the Magpul BEV Block with barrel-only seating works fine.



The Magpul BEV Block works great holding the upper receiver in one position, and the lower receiver either right side up or upside down. The upside down is for when you might be working on the grip and need to keep the safety selector detent and spring under the control of gravity. Or when playing around with the trigger guard. And of course, right side up allows full access to the lower receiver guts including trigger, safety, and buffer tube.



In practice the Magpul BEV Block is essential for many tasks including torquing the barrel nut, snugging the castle nut, and loosening and retighting muzzle devices. And it makes most other AR tool tasks easier and safer including trigger work, anything to do with the buffer tube, and installing or removing handguards whether free floating or delta ringed.



The debate about the AR 15 as a first choice survival or SHTF rifle is just as lively now as last year. Opinions often diverge when it comes to the number of moving parts, especially springs and fasteners, of the AR platform compared to traditional bolt action long guns. While spring numbers don’t lie, the fear of springs that many bolt lovers have may be rooted in a low comfort level with the clockwork of an AR 15.

It is hard to appreciate a design when the nuances of the mechanism can shoot springs across the room, or have detents slide out into oblivion when a receiver is rotated, or require more tools than a screwdriver. But for those of us who appreciate the AR15 and all its idiosyncrasies, the more we can tinker with our rifles, the better. So the value of a solid tool ike the Magpul BEV Block is amplified through repeated use. Good tools encourage quality work. Great tools encourage confidence and understanding. And the Magpul BEV Block is a great tool.