Tuesday, April 14, 2015

10/22 Takedown Project, Part 2 - AGP Arms Conversion Kit

In Part 1 of this series, I gave some background on why I embarked on building a takedown .22 for the truck, and gave an overview of why I opted for AGP Arms' conversion kit for a 10/22. In this article, I'm going to deep dive the AGP Arms takedown system, including some guidance on what to avoid when buying their kit, and walk through the assembly. In subsequent parts, we'll get into upgrading the rifle's internals using parts from Kidd Innovative Design and finally take it out to the range.

Ordering the Kit
Getting the AGP Arms takedown conversion kit is straight forward. They have an easy to use website - almost too easy - and it will probably take you longer to order the kit than to assemble it. One thing I feel compelled to note. As part of this project I ordered parts from Brownells, AGP and Kidd. With Kidd, shipping happens almost as soon as you say "Go", every time. They're on it. Brownells ships your order quickly as well. My experience with AGP was not as great. I put in the order on the 12th, requesting 2nd-day air shipping, and four days later still hadn't received notice that it had been shipped. After inquiring, AGP responded the same day saying it sometimes takes a few days to get orders out and then shipped it that afternoon. They're a fine group of folks to work with, and it really wasn't a big deal, but just expect something closer to island time than the German train schedule. If you're in a hurry, maybe include that in the order instructions.

The kit I ordered included the following components:
  • The takedown adapter for the receiver
  • The 16" stainless threaded barrel with black Cerakote finish
  • Black aluminum slotted hand guard (doubles as the barrel nut) w/ 4" rail
  • Folding stock, black
  • 1" butt pad
  • Flash suppressor
  • Front & rear iron sights
AGP Arms takedown conversion kit, assembled
This setup put me back just north of $425. As I said in the last article, the options and accessories start to ratchet the price up quickly. It's cheaper to buy them as a kit than to buy them à la carte with at least one exception, which I'll get to in a minute. 

First, you may be asking yourself why I'd spend over 400 clams on this when I can get a new-in-box Ruger factory takedown 10/22 for the same or less. Well, remember that the factory takedown does not have a threaded barrel, a folding stock, a picatinny rail, rear aperture sites, and comes with a lesser quality barrel to boot. So I look at this as spending about $200 to convert my existing 10/22 into a takedown, and another $200+ in add-ons that I'd have to consider for a factory takedown anyway.

Back to it - this is as good a time as any to follow up on my earlier comment in Part 1 that some of the accessories mentioned above are worth skipping.

Better Iron Sights
In the comparison photo below, the sight on the left is what comes from AGP if you add iron sights to your conversion kit. I believe it is a Tech Sights TSR200. This is a photo of it mounted on my rifle before I swapped it out. Let me enumerate its problems. The sight-to-receiver fit looks shoddy, as the sight base is flat until it angles upwards, while the receiver gently curves downwards long before this transition. This imprecise mating looks out of place on the gun. You get a single aperture with elevation and relatively imprecise windage adjustment. Finally, since it bolts down into only two of four screw holes on the receiver through somewhat cavernous holes, there's significant play in how it sits, so aligning it and leveling it will be problematic. God help you if you're as OCD about this stuff as me.

AGP Rear on left, NoDak NDS26 on right
Enter the NoDak Spud NDS-26. In the right hand side of the same image, you'll see it mounted to my rifle, though I apologize that it's not the best photo for illustrating the drastic improvement in fit. By clicking the link above you'll see the manufacturer's photo illustrating that to which I refer. It conforms to the curves of the factory receiver almost perfectly. The benefits are as follows - it's made of high-temper 6061 aluminum, bolts into all four screw holes on the factory 10/22 receiver, giving very little play in alignment, provides a picatinny rail running the length of the receiver to accommodate a scope or red dot sight, offers finer windage adjustment (ten stops instead of the TSR200's five) and two flip-over apertures like an A1 rear sight. Which would you rather have? The NoDak is a no-brainer. 

So, the iron sights (front & rear) from AGP cost about $90 as an add-on to their kit. The right move here is to leave this OFF the kit, and purchase the front sight from AGP as a separate line item on your order for $40, saving you $50. Next, go find a NoDak Spud NDS-26 at Brownells for about $75. 

Finally, be aware that the rail on the forend or hand guard - a $12 add-on - is made of plastic. If you're the kind that wants either a longer and/or aluminum rail, skip this option. The hand guard is slotted and accepts any number of aluminum options available at your LGS.

Plasti Dip to protect barrel Cerakote finish
Protect the Barrel Finish
So we've covered some accessories that you can better source elsewhere, but as concerns the AGP Arms takedown system itself, there are a couple things to be aware of. If you order the black Cerakote finish on your barrel, you'll immediately notice the aluminum hand guard will start banging against it whenever you take the barrel off. Additionally, the ends of the bolts holding the picatinny rail to the hand guard will start marring the barrel finish. To work around this, I used black Plasti Dip to give the forward edge of the hand guard a protective coating. This is reversible, and holds up to the barrel heat of a .22 just fine. It successfully prevents metal-on-metal contact between the guard and the barrel.

Those bolts from the rail are a different story. Truthfully, I'd probably skip putting this rail on until you actually have a defined need for it. About all I can comprehend is a bipod, and that seems a bit indulgent to me. If you need it, you can better protect your barrel finish by putting simple rubber screw connectors over the bolt ends. I picked up a couple at Home Depot or Lowes in those specialty fastener drawers, cut the depth in half and slipped them over the bolts. That actually took some doing though. I can't work in that confined space very well, so I used a dab of super glue to temporarily suspend the rubber cap from a chopstick, and much like I imagine building a ship in a bottle, arranged the cap over the bolt end just so and set it down over the bolt.

All of this may just inspire you to get the stainless barrel, and I wouldn't blame you. The black looks far better to my eye though. Other than these caveats and nits, the system works great.

Stock Assembly
If you've never taken apart a 10/22, fear not! It may be the easiest gun on the planet to disassemble. On a factory 10/22, one bolt takes off the barrel band, two bolts free the barrel from the receiver, and one bolt frees the receiver from the stock. The receiver falls out of the upturned stock. Set the factory stock aside, attach the AGP takedown adapter onto the receiver with two screws, put the receiver into the new AGP stock and secure with one screw, and you're done. 

Bolting on the Fixin's
Assembling the NoDak sight to the receiver and the rail to the handguard is best done with some low-strength threadlocker. For this I recommend and use Loctite 222MS. The commonly used blue Loctite is for fasteners over 1/4" in diameter. With the exception of the threading for a suppressor at the end of the barrel, none of the fasteners we're working with on a 10/22 qualify. The purple 222 is appropriate for fasteners under 1/4" in diameter. The MS is the milspec version of the purple. Again, revisiting the fact that the rail from AGP Arms is plastic, one might be concerned using 222 on it, but in my experience it seems to be holding just fine and hasn't eaten at the plastic. The backer that the bolts thread into is aluminum.

Barrel Components
Okay, so now onto the front sight, hand guard and flash suppressor. There's an order to this process - obviously the hand guard will need to be on before the front sight, and the front sight needs to be on before the flash suppressor. Your rail, should you choose to use it, should be positioned and in place before the putting the hand guard on the barrel. The implication here is that if you plan on adding a rail later, or have to reposition it, you'll be taking off your suppressor and front sight to do so, which will be a hassle. One thing I noticed is that the stop-point for screwing the hand guard onto the receiver changes after putting a few hundred rounds through the gun. Basically the hand guard screws on about 1/8th of a turn further now that I've put some rounds down range. You'll only notice this if you centered the rail at the six o'clock position and now find it at about 7:30. Therefore, you may want to skip the thread locker on all barrel components until you've broken 'er in a bit.

Leveling the Sights
Leveling the sights is pretty easy if you have the tools. I used a retical leveling system from Wheeler, though if all you have is a couple torpedo levels from the garage, you should be good to go. Screw the NDS-26 onto the receiver. Because it uses all four mount points on the receiver, there's not a lot of play on either axis, so not much guesswork in aligning it. Place your first level on the flat surface of the picatinny rail, and rotate the gun in the vice until the gun is level on the vertical axis. Now, put the front iron sight onto the barrel and place the second level across its "wings" perpendicular to the barrel. Rotate the sight until it matches the level on the rail and tighten the sight into place. In truth you can do this all with one level if you can ensure the rifle is locked in place after taking the level off the receiver, but it's definitely easier and more reliable with two levels.

One final note on the sights - the post in the front sight from AGP uses the standard 8-36 threading of an AR-15, so I swapped my post out for a Hi-Viz fiber optic. I'll have more on this later in the series, but thought I'd mention this while we're assembling things.

Well, that's it for assembling the AGP Arms takedown conversion kit. In the next part of this series, we'll get into upgrading the rifle's internals using parts from Kidd Innovative Designs, including a trigger upgrade, replacing the bolt and guide rod, and a couple other nifty doo-dads. Then we'll take it to the range and start the real fun.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or questions, feel free to post them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

10/22 Takedown Project, Part 1 - Truck Gun Options

With .22LR ammo still being in short supply in my neck of the woods, who in their right mind would embark on project rifle in this caliber? I still don't know why I let myself get fixated on this, but you know how it goes - sometimes you get an idea and can't shake it until you see it through. That idea was to buy or build a takedown .22 rifle that I could stash behind the rear seat of my F150 supercrew.

So in this mult-part article, I'm going to take a look at the options I reviewed, the solution I settled on, the process of tricking it out, and the performance results from the range, including some fun with a red-dot site. Then we'll finally discuss storage options.

Molle seat cover from Sunrise Tactical Gear
Recently I purchased and installed a molle cover for the rear seat of my F150 from Sunrise Tactical Gear. They cost about $100, and are one of the most practical accessories dollar-for-dollar that you can get for an F150. Really. In a nut shell, the seat cover lets you attach any number of molle pouches to the underside of your rear seat. The existing space under the rear seat gives enough clearance that the pouches and their contents aren't crushed when the seat is lowered back down. I use this system to store key components for what's known these days as a 72-hour or walk-away bag. Things like water purification, EMT bag, fixed blade, hand warmers, multitool, space blanket, compass, etc. Most people's reaction to seeing this is that, hey, why couldn't you store a shotgun or AR on that thing? Well, of course you could. Space is obviously at a premium, but it got me thinking. A better solution might be to stash a truck gun BEHIND the rear seat. Doing what's known as the "Rear Seat Mod" in the F150 community, you can get convenient access to a small amount of otherwise unusable storage space between the rear wall of the cab and the seat back. It's not a lot of space. For that reason, I started thinking about takedown .22 platforms that might fit in there. While a .22 may not be much help storming the Bastille, it's a great small game rifle. Hey, I'm not planning for some theoretical zombie apocalypse, just after something that can get food in a pinch, and augment other personal defense solutions.

Possible Solutions
The solution is divided into two main parts - identifying the gun, and storing it effectively. The latter turns out to be the more difficult, the former more fun, so this series of posts will begin with buying and tricking out a gun.

Selecting the gun for this project gave me the opportunity to revisit the current and impressive selection of "survival" .22s and new takedown offerings.
Here's the shortlist of what I was looking at:

The selection process was one of elimination, really. There are myriad articles discussing the pros and cons of these guns, so I'll just summarize my conclusions here. 

Henry Repeating Arms AR-7
The venerable AR7 has been around for decades, and I owned a Charter Arms version for a while, so I have some experience with the system. Henry reportedly (and I'm sure) builds a better version today. It's claim to fame is that the whole thing can be stored in the buttstock, making for very compact and resilient storage, and that it floats. Note, however, that it's not waterproof, so there's a time limit on that float. The offset rear site, lack of a forend, lack of a threaded barrel, and lack of accurizing options, and somewhat finicky ammo needs removed this from my list. That said, at about $250-350 MSRP based on coatings, it's an attractive option. Being self-contained in its own stock easily solves the storage issue in my project. Both the receiver and barrel are thus protected while being knocked around in a truck. Because of this, it ranks as my second choice for this project. 

Marlin 70PSS
Marlin's Papoose is a pretty slick setup. They offer a floating case, and if your use-case makes flotation storage a priority (what, spilling your canoe?), this is on your shortlist next to the AR7. I like the "last shot bolt hold-open" that the 70P offers - different from 10/22 behavior, but you can imagine many of my objections remain the same as above - lack of forend, no threaded barrel, limited accurizing options and aftermarket accessories. At around $350 MSRP, for about $50 more you can get a 10/22 takedown, and it's hard for me to see why the Marlin presents a more compelling case. Well, literally, it's the floating case, which is nothing more than a curiosity to me. 

Ruger's 10/22 Takedown might be the obvious choice. The original 10/22 provides nearly endless options for aftermarket accessorizing and accurizing. Some of these will not be compatible with the takedown version, but you can certainly upgrade the fit of the takedown mechanism, add a folding stock, upgrade the internals, and add higher capacity magazines than either the 70P or AR7 offer. So what don't I like about the Ruger 10/22 Takedown? These are nits and it almost comes down to what I preferred about the next option. 

Author's first iteration of AGP Arms 10/22 Takedown conversion
You know that ubiquitous and obligatory walnut-stocked 10/22 that everyone has collecting dust in their cabinet? For about $200, AGP Arms offers a kit for converting it into a composite takedown. That's the base price. Believe me, it goes up from there based on the accessories you buy with it, some of which are worth it and some of which you should stay away from, which I'll detail later. So what do I like about this? All the advantages of a 10/22, with an arguably better takedown setup than Ruger's factory solution. This is what I ultimately went with, and the photo to the left was taken after dropping my receiver into the AGP folding stock. The barrel is 16", add maybe 1.5" with the flash suppressor. So it offers a very compact setup, gives me the threaded barrel, a forend/barrel shroud, and all the accurizing and aftermarket options inherent to the 10/22 platform. I should note here a couple nits I have about the stock and takedown models 10/22 that the AGP kit addresses. First, the site radius on 10/22 is shorter than I like, with the rear site being dovetailed into the barrel ahead of the receiver. The AGP kit includes a stainless 16" barrel without that dovetail, and there are preferable rear site options I'll detail in Part II. Additionally, the barrel band around the factory 10/22's forend means you're certainly not free-floated, and I think I can safely say that the AGP kit effectively free-floats the barrel. Whether this really matters on a .22 rifle in most use-cases is debatable, but I certainly like it better than the barrel band. Additionally, the pistol grip and folding stock are nice additions that I would probably add to a Ruger Takedown anyway.

So that's the field I looked at and how I ended up pursuing the AGP Arms takedown conversion kit. Since I already owned a 10/22, the AGP kit also allowed me to save a little money put my money into other 10/22 upgrades. 

In Part II, I'll detail the assembly process of the AGP kit, taking a critical look at some of the accessories that they sell with the kit that you'd be better off avoiding, and look at some parts from KIDD Innovative Design that will turn your 10/22 into a real rifle. 

Thoughts on the above options or questions about some of my points? Feel free to comment below!