Recycling AR-15 Barrels

Because you wouldn’t trade in your car just because you had a flat tire.

by Joe Carlos

A long time ago I remember shooters talking about gun barrels only wearing out at the back with claims that a shot-out barrel could be pulled off of a bolt gun and given a new lease on life. A gunsmith would cut another thread on the rear of the barrel and remove the same amount from the back, then run the chamber reamer back into the barrel and reestablish correct headspace, making it as good as new. Some of the guns allegedly were .22’s and others were centerfires. I figured that anyone shooting out a deer rifle either had to be way outside the law or the worst shot on the planet. I made it a point to ask everyone repeating this claim if they actually knew anyone ever doing this and the answer was always a reluctant, “no.”

I began to wonder if this recycling was real or just more “encyclopedic error,” something that has been repeated so often that nobody questions it but that may not be born of any real, provable fact. My interest in firearms at the time was limited to hunting and legally filling my game bag. Such pursuits are not as ammo intensive as competition shooting so I had no guns with shot-out barrels on which to test the “recycling” theory and the idea just lay dormant in the back of my mind for a few decades.

Fast forward to the late 1980s when I was competing with the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program and wearing out at least one M14 barrel a year. Remembering the “recycling” theory I took a good hard look at the M14 platform and figured that any attempt to recycle barrels for that gun would have to move the gas port rearward more than Mother Nature ever intended, perhaps making the whole notion untenable. I put the recycling theory back into mental storage for a spell.

The M14 wasn’t the only service weapon the Teams were using. The Combat Team tried the M14 for a season or two but found it to be cumbersome and too heavy in recoil to be competitive against the foreign teams using various assault type rifles firing 5.56mm. We initially switched to the M16A2 and iron sights, but as successful foreign military teams began using issue optics, we tried mounting the issue Trijicon ACOG to the A2’s carry handle. The scopes tended to jar loose and were way too high to establish any kind of cheek weld, resulting in troubling parallax. Use of the A2 uppers was short lived and the flat top became the best solution. Courses of fire were evolving to be more realistic and to better prepare soldiers for modern warfare. Time limits were getting much shorter and there were many quick engagements where targets appeared at random across a frontage and then quickly disappeared.

First Attempt

I set very few rules for the project. The one rule that I refused to violate was to invest no more machining work in the project than it would take to make a carbine barrel from a new fresh blank. I cut 5.5” off the back of the barrel, rethreaded it for the extension, and chambered it. The outside 1” fat contour of the parent barrel was turned down to issue M4 skinny specs under the handguards. A fresh crown job, a dip in the Parkerizing tank and I was done. The parent barrel already had the threads on the front for a flash suppressor.

Read more in our November 2014 issue. Back issues are available.

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