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Faxon Firearms: Customizable AR-15, AK-47 Blend Comes to Market

By Oleg Volk

Ohio-based Faxon Firearms came into the gun business from the background of contract machining. Excess industrial capacity plus an interest in guns added up to the decision to make rifles. Much of the design of the ARAK-21 (AR-AK, two in one) comes from prior art. The gas system and return spring are recognizably SIG SG 550; the piston and bolt carrier are quintessentially AK; and the magazine well and bolt could be descended from their AR counterparts. Various minor features—and, most importantly, the sum of their parts—are uniquely Faxon. Having a fresh approach has paid off in novel and functional results.

Each barrel and gas tube forms easily interchangeable units. It’s not a true quick-change barrel system, as seen with light machine guns, because tools are required. That said, it’s far quicker than most barrel change systems, as a hex wrench is the only tool required, and removing the lower handguard that keeps the barrel in place takes half a minute. A damaged barrel can be replaced with no fuss. No individual headspacing is necessary. A caliber change, currently between .223 Remington, 7.62x39 Russian and .300 Blackout, can be done as quickly. Swapping an overheated barrel for a fresh one would be possible but a little hazardous to the hands. On the plus side, a short pencil-thin barrel can be swapped for a long heavy fluted one before start of mission, so the rifle is readily configurable to fit diverse tasks. Extra barrels weigh and cost less than complete uppers, and the dismounting of barrels also allows for compact transport when discretion is necessary.

The Faxon ARAK-21 is a long-stroke rifle with the piston a part of the bolt carrier. It has fewer moving parts but more reciprocating mass during each firing cycle than either a short-stroke or a direct impingement design. In a semi-auto rifle, the extra mass dampens recoil nicely. Despite the hefty reciprocating mass, the automatic variant of ARAK-21 is very controllable with a slow rate of between 500 and 600 rounds per minute. The piston is attached to a generously sized bolt carrier, which ensures slow but forceful extraction of spent casings, with very low residual chamber pressure by the time the bolt face clears the edge of the chamber. With the ejection window on either side of the upper, that’s an important consideration for keeping gas out of the face of the shooter. The position of the recoil spring in the receiver permits the use of folding stocks. The rifle’s main advantage, besides its simplicity of construction, is that its greater momentum gives higher resistance to feeding and extraction problems. Like the SIG SG 550, the ARAK-21 has a rotary gas regulator up front with the following gas settings: Low, Medium, High, Takedown and No. The Takedown position is in between the full and straight pull (No gas) settings, so pay attention when adjusting, lest the regulator launch downrange with the next shot! Six screws retaining the handguard come off in seconds, and then the barrel can be swapped for another profile, length or caliber. Currently, 5.56mm and 7.62x35mm (.300 Blackout) barrels can be used with the same bolt, and the 7.62x39mm barrel can be used with a replacement bolt but the same carrier. Recoil springs are color-coded, and Faxon also offers rubber bands for labeling magazines to avoid mixing up calibers at the range. AR-pattern magazines are used for all calibers, including x39 available in five-, 10-, 20- and 30-round capacity. Either a dedicated Faxon lower formed for the best ergonomic and visual fit to the upper or a standard AR lower may be used.

Changing the barrel either requires re-zeroing or using multiple sights on return to zero quick-detach mounts. Bobro Engineering scope and red dot mounts showed no change in zero after remounting, so I would recommend them for all switch-barrel systems. Taking off and replacing the same barrel after cleaning showed no change in point of impact, thanks to the massive engagement areas between the barrel and the receiver. We also found that two Faxon barrels of the same caliber, weight and length show minimal point of impact shift. The full-length monolithic rail on the ARAK-21 is 0.4 inches taller than that on the AR-15 flattop, so remember that when calculating hold-overs for long range. Most of the extra height comes from the return spring positioned over the bolt carrier. The long-stroke design produces a very different feel during firing. Felt recoil is so light with all three calibers as to be negligible, on par with that of the blowback .22 rimfire—especially when the Faxon-designed single port short muzzle brake is used. Spread over a longer time, the gradual push-back does pull the gun slightly more off-target during the cycle than a direct impingement rifle would, but the impact on the shooter’s shoulder is lessened. At this time, I have put about a thousand rounds of various calibers through the ARAK-21 and have yet to experience a malfunction.

The gun runs extremely cleanly. That’s especially evident with sound suppressors. The back of the ARAK-21 receiver is enclosed, and so no blowback at all gets to the shooter. Among all AR rifles, only the side-charging JP Enterprises LRP-07 can match that feat. A variable gas regulator allows tuning for subsonic or high-velocity ammunition, and gas venting happens away from the support hand. A non-reciprocating charging handle may be placed on the left or the right of the forend, with the switch-over taking only a couple of seconds. The bolt can also be inserted into the carrier in two orientations, 180 degrees off from each other. Depending on the location of the extractor, empties come out of the left or the right ejection port. The change-over takes only a few seconds and makes the rifle very convenient for sharing between left- and right-handed shooters. Two plunger-type ejectors provide very positive brass removal!

Since Faxon produces a wide variety of AR and AK barrels, a user can match the barrel length, twist and profile to fit specific tasks. My accuracy tests with 5.56mm yielded good results with bullets that were heavier in weight, predictably so with the 1:8 twist rate. It’s difficult to comment conclusively on the accuracy of the ARAK-21 because it differs from configuration to configuration and from caliber to caliber. The best configurations are around 1 MOA, while the least accurate seem to be in the 2.5 MOA range. Even the lightweight barrels showed no stringing as they heated up. Faxon cryo-treats all barrels, and one of the industry’s best precision rifle designers consulted with them on setting up their barrel production.

Pretty much the only downside to the design is the close integration of the forend, which makes the upper part of it non-changeable. The bottom forend is relatively hefty, together with the recoil system position that gives the complete rifle a slightly forward balance. That’s great for rapid fire, but it also requires more strength to use effectively than a rear-heavy rifle would. On the plus side, the design is extensively modular, very reliable and is an absolute pleasure to use. The system isn’t inexpensive, but you could get all three calibers for the price of one SCAR-L. The plus of the switch-caliber system is that one upgraded trigger or stock can be applied to every barrel in the system.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N3 (March 2018)
and was posted online on February 9, 2018

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