Monthly Archives: July 2010

Carbine/H/H2/Rifle Buffers Compared

More video. This one uses some of the clips from a previous video for comparison purposes, and new videos with an H2 buffer.

I noted that the H2 seemed to definitely improve recoil characteristics when compared to the lighter buffers used in the video. Again, there were no issues with function, to include the bolt locking to the rear.

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Elzetta ZFL-M60

I first saw an Elzetta flashlight in person about a year ago. It was sitting on a shelf in a local store, and it had seen better days. The damage was obviously intentional – the entire flashlight was seriously scratched and dented, far more than any of the lights I’ve had for years, even after being dropped on concrete many times. I asked the store owner about it, and he told me that it was a T&E sample that had been “torture tested”. The appearance of the light was impressive, to say the least – as was its function, which was flawless. The switch even felt like it was brand new.

Still, I walked out without buying one of the new ones on the shelf. I figured that if I was going to spend $150 on a light, I might as well buy another Surefire.

Since then, though, I’ve found – perhaps I’m still coming to terms with the idea, since I’ve been loyal to Surefire (for good reason) for many years – that the Elzetta ZFL-M60 might actually be better than a comparably priced Surefire.

On what grounds do I base such a bold statement?

Well, let’s start out with the question “What do you want from your flashlight?”

My answer is that I want something that’s bright enough for certain tasks, exceptionally reliable, durable enough to take some nasty shocks without incident, and has sufficient battery life for an extended emergency. If I’m looking for a weaponlight, most of the above applies, but the “user interface” must also be simple enough that I can access the highest setting instantly – without twisting anything or pushing the switch more than once. A standardized diameter for mounting purposes almost goes without saying. The switch must be easy to activate with a thumb or finger. For a handheld light, a “low” setting is also useful, but again, priority must go to being able to access “high” first. It should fit in a pocket without too much trouble. I should be able to turn the light on and leave it on until the battery dies – it shouldn’t overheat and kill itself after 5 minutes of continuous use.

The ZFL-M60 was practically written for that criteria. With the Malkoff M60, it’s very bright, and it provides what Surefire calls “useful light” for quite a long time, after being exceptionally bright for an hour to an hour and a half. It is, in my opinion, one of – if not the – most durable handheld flashlights in existence. It fits in standard 1″ weaponlight or scope mounts.

The switch and user interface are very simple – and this particular model offers a high/low tailcap. Tighten the tailcap all the way, and you just need to push the switch (it’s a “forward clicky”, offering momentary and constant on) to get 235 lumens of light out the front. Loosen the tailcap slightly, and you’ll get about 15 lumens of light that’s more than sufficient for reading or navigating in a dark area. You can also put the tailcap halfway in between those two settings, and if you push the tailcap slightly, you’ll get 15 lumens – if you push it farther, you’ll get 235. I think this is the “best of both worlds”, and it certainly gives you the option to use the light as you personally see fit.

Because I’ve often heard that “clicky” switches aren’t as reliable as momentary on switches (and this is most likely true), I decided to rig up a device which would press the tailcap button of the Elzetta light at a constant and rapid pace. Although I can’t be exact, the switch was certainly activated over 3000 times. It showed no signs of deterioration, and still looks and feels new. The click isn’t as audibly distinct as Surefire click switches, but it is definitely distinct in a tactile sense, and it gave me the impression that it contained very high quality components.

The ZFL-M60 uses 4 o-rings – one inside the bezel that sits atop the Malkoff M60, another around the body of the M60, and one at each end of the flashlight body. There’s not much of a chance of water entering the device unless you’re going diving.

The body of the light has also been machined specifically for the Malkoff dropin. This is for heat purposes – the light will get hot, but it has yet to give me any indication that it might overheat and fail. Putting a Malkoff dropin in other flashlight bodies may not lead to an optimal combination, and I’ve roasted several expensive rechargeable batteries as a result. Speaking of rechargeable batteries, the ZFL is meant to take CR123s, but it’ll function with RCR123s of the 3.2 and 3.7v varieties. In addition, the body of the light will take 17mm batteries, enabling you to use batteries such as the 17670 3.7v rechargeable (although you might want to swap the Malkoff M60 for an M30 meant for the lower voltage). Elzetta says they didn’t want to open the body up to 18mm (inside diameter) because it would allow too much movement of the 16mm CR123s during recoil. That’s right – they specifically designed this light to be mounted on a rifle or other long gun.

In addition to providing me with the flashlight, Elzetta also sent two of their light mounts, the ZORM and the ZFH1500. For the purposes of this review, I used the ZORM, and will discuss the ZFH1500 in another review (which will also go into more detail about the ZORM).

The ZORM mounts to any standard picatinny rail and allows the light to be “offset” from the rail. Although it’s meant to drop the light down for VFG use, I found it to be very useful on the top rail of the Spike’s Tactical BAR 7.0, where space is at an extra premium due to the lack of rail space on the sides. This placed the light in an easily accessible position. Mounting is achieved by a single nut that clamps the rail in an even fashion. The nut and bolt are designed to accommodate a cotter pin – a very nice touch, which allowed me to secure the mount easily and without any doubt as to its desire to come loose.

Although “beamshots” of the M60 are easily found on the internet, I thought I’d add one more to the pile. For reference purposes, the speed limit sign is about 90 yards down the road from where I was standing. I found the beam pattern to be useful at range and up close.

For comparison purposes, here’s a Surefire G2 LED – the 80 lumen version. It’s not the most fair comparison, but it is a light that I believe many people will have used, so it is simply a point of reference.

In summary, the Elzetta ZFL-M60 is really a great light. It’s more expensive than some of its imported competition – but every single component of the ZFL-M60, right down to the raw materials, came from the United States. The build quality and finish (both in terms of appearance and durability) are second to none. It’s very, very bright, but it has a long useful battery life, too. It’s everything I could ask of a flashlight.

When I receive an item for T&E, I think to myself, “Okay, this is a good product. But would I buy another one?”

The answer: I’ve sold or traded half a dozen Surefires since acquiring this ZFL-M60, and I’ll use the proceeds to buy more Elzetta products.

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More High Speed Video

This time I slowed the video down to 1000 frames per second and used 5.56 caliber weapons.

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AR-15 Buffer Comparison – High Speed Video

Have you ever heard a rifle manufacturer say that their weapon has been “tuned” to run a certain ammunition while maintaining excellent recoil characteristics?

Do you believe that this is achieved by some sort of magic spell?

Well, if you do, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re wrong.

These manufacturers are simply paying close attention to important factors such as gas port diameter and location, action spring rate, buffer weight and construction, chamber dimensions, and so on. They thoroughly test their weapons to ensure function and allow the end user to put rounds on target in the most efficient manner possible.

Other manufacturers simply assemble an AR-15 out of parts, using components and methods selected to minimize production costs. Testing does not progress beyond exceptionally basic function and accuracy testing (if at all). If you asked such a manufacturer what the gas port diameter of a specific model was, and what testing led them to use that diameter, their answer would probably not be very impressive.

It’s difficult to describe why function isn’t enough. In my opinion, the AR-15 is at its best when it is a system that works in harmony with itself, not simply an amalgamation of parts constantly fighting one another.

To illustrate this point, I have high speed video (well, kinda high speed) of a 5.45x39mm AR-15 using three different buffers. Function with each was what some would call “perfect”. The weapon did not malfunction due to any of the buffer changes, and most folks would be content to use a carbine buffer, because it’s cheap, and “it works.”

What they don’t realize, though, is that the weight of the buffer is not as important when the action spring, extractor spring, magazine spring, etc are all in perfectly functional condition. The weight of the buffer becomes critical when said items begin to reach the end of their lifespan (or were never satisfactory to begin with), or when the weapon has been fired for thousands of rounds without any lubrication, or when various types of ammunition are used.

As you can see, the carbine buffer allowed the bolt carrier to bounce back after making contact with the receiver extension. Many people say that this isn’t a problem unless the weapon is firing full auto. While malfunctions are not as common on semi auto, is this really something you want your weapon doing? Even the heavier 9mm buffer allowed a similar amount of “bounce” – it doesn’t have the heavy internal weights of the carbine or H buffers. The BCM H buffer, though, with its heavier (and separate) internal weights, practically eliminated the issue.

The AR-15 platform is great due, in part, to its modularity. However, this modularity also allows inefficient combinations of parts to function with one another. By understanding how each component affects overall function, the last .01% of reliability can be achieved, and recoil characteristics can be improved.

I’d like to thank Mike Pannone for making me think hard about buffer weight and spring rate again, and especially the importance of the action spring.

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Microtech Knives: An Exercise In Futility

From the moment I first handled one, years ago, I felt a strong urge to buy a Microtech OTF (Out the Front) automatic knife. It wasn’t just the “cool factor” of having the blade extend and retract with no more than thumb pressure…the knives seemed so well put together that the $400 price tag was nearly acceptable. Still, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one. As I did more research, I found that Microtech’s reputation was not as stellar as I was led to believe.

Last winter, though, I saw that Microtech had apparently lowered the price of some of their knives, for what seemed like the same model I looked at in 2004 was now less than $200. It was much easier to convince myself that I could afford the knife at that price, so I ordered one – an Ultratech DE. It seemed to be everything I remembered and more. I cast aside those reports of problems, for mine certainly seemed to work…at first.

I carried the knife for a few weeks, using it almost every day, until, suddenly, I noticed that the blade wouldn’t always lock in the forward position. The switch, at that point, was useless – it wouldn’t fire any farther forward, and it wouldn’t retract. I could pull the blade forward into the locked position with my fingers, but that defeats the purpose of an automatic knife. The failure rate was only about 20%, but even 1% would have been unacceptable.

“No problem,” I thought. “I happen to know a customer service guy at MSAR who can get this taken care of for me.” I’d met MSARDave in person at the 2009 NRA show in Phoenix, and had business dealings with him prior to that. I sent the knife to Microtech (in Pennsylvania) and went on a trip outside the country, figuring that it would be at the post office when I returned.

Unfortunately, it was not. Although Dave tried his best to keep me apprised as to the status of my knife, it was eventually lost by the repair folks. Dave happened to find it (in North Carolina) almost 5 months later, and immediately sent it back to me. I received the knife today and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had also been cleaned and sharpened. Whoever sharpened it really knew what they were doing – it is exceptionally sharp.

As I fired and retracted the knife, I noticed that it required more thumb pressure than before – not a problem, especially if it meant that the knife would always function. Unfortunately, after only 8 “in/out cycles”, it failed to lock into the fully retracted position – about 3/8″ of the blade protruded from the handle. Again, I was able to pull or flick the blade forward into the locked position, but I could also do that with an $8 knife from Walmart. This time, the failure rate is around 90% – it’s rare for the knife to lock into the retracted position at all.

The bottom line is that I will never carry this knife again. I simply have no confidence in it. I don’t really feel like sending it back to Microtech, given their past performance. I can’t, in good conscience, sell it.

As if to add insult to injury, Doug Ritter’s RSK Mk1 was briefly available in M4 high speed steel at around the same time I bought the Microtech – for $50 less. I bought two RSK Mk2s in M2 HSS – basically, Benchmade Griptilians with a really great blade steel – almost 5 years ago. I still have one, and it is superb. Had I known about the RSK, I would have ordered one in a heartbeat. Of course, it was a limited run, and they’re now sold out.

I never thought that the third most expensive knife I’ve ever bought would end up in my “broken junk bin”…but it has.

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Subdued Arizona Flag Patches Available

I know, I know. Only a fraction of the people who read this blog live in Arizona. Still, given the current political climate, a lot of people are supporting Arizona. A quick-thinking entrepreneur has begun selling subdued Arizona flag patches, and I couldn’t resist buying one. They’re $8 shipped and available here. They have a velcro “hook” backing and also include a “loop” backing just in case you don’t have anything to stick the patch on.

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Ruger SR-556 Range Update

Today I made it to the range with the SR-556. I had 6 other rifles to shoot, so the total round count was limited, but I started to get a better feel for how the weapon handled.

I was in luck – also at the range was Mike Pannone of CTT Solutions and Viking Tactics. An all-around good guy, Mike seems always willing to take a minute (or an hour) to help me with my shooting technique. Today, he ran me through a drill he was working on for the Border Patrol agents that he’s paid to train – two shots to the chest and one to the head of a silhouette at 20 meters, two shots at an IPSC A zone steel plate at 50 meters, then two to the chest and one to the head of the silhouette again, and finally back to the steel plate for 2 more hits.

My times with the Ruger SR-556 and an EOTech were in the 10.5 second range, though I was consistently missing shots on the steel plate at 50 meters. Shooting his own AR, Mike was in the low 6 second range – he said an 8 second run was, for him, “slow”. Note that the EOTech XPS2-0, my time with it having expired, has been replaced with my well-used 552 on a LaRue LT-110 riser.

Below, I run through the drill with a BCM lightweight midlength. The steel plate is the black dot to the left of the silhouette. With the BCM (equipped with a TA33 ACOG), my times were in the high 8s to high 9s – no misses. Although the magnified optic certainly helped, it took a little time to get used to the extra weight out at the front of the Ruger, and I kept “overshooting” as I switched from target to target, which led to frustration, wailing, and gnashing of teeth on my part.

I did not bother with accuracy testing after zeroing the optic, though the weapon seemed consistent enough for the task at hand. Later, I shot the drill once more with the Ruger. It was a “clean” run – no misses – and although the timer was not available, the pace was similar to my earlier ~10-11 second runs. I should add that Mike Pannone considers a 10.2 second “clean” time to be average for the shooters he was training.

Recoil is quite mild – as one might expect from a 10.5lb AR-15 with a rubber buttpad shooting .223 American Eagle. Still, recoil characteristics are not ideal, and the weapon exhibited a little more muzzle rise than I expected. As you can see in the first picture of this review, fired cases were ejected between 4 and 5 o’clock – more to the rear than I’m used to. I left the weapon on setting 2 for the day, and experienced no malfunctions. My only functional complaint – if I really wanted to get nit-picky – was that the selector was stiff when going from “fire” to “safe”, but not “safe” to “fire”.

After that last drill, I tried holding the rifle at the ready for as long as I could – after only a few minutes, my arm became quite sore. Unlike a lightweight standard AR, which I feel that I could hold at the ready or low ready for a very long time, the SR556 was just too much for my weak limbs to hold up all day.

My initial impression of this weapon is that it is a decent firearm – it functions, and it puts the bullets where you want them to go. If you are willing to train with this weapon and this weapon alone – or its SR-556C brother – you will probably do quite well with it (them), and be happy with the performance of the weapon(s). However, as an AR-15, for my intended use, it is not exactly satisfactory. Its handling characteristics are so different than a “standard” AR-15 that I would find it disconcerting to go back and forth between the two, or at least, I would personally have a fairly steep learning curve every time I switched. It is also unsuited for comfortable all-day carry, such as when hunting or backpacking.

I would like to thank Mike Pannone for taking a good chunk of time out of his busy day to help me out with my shooting yet again. If you get the chance to take a class taught by him, don’t miss out.

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