Retro builds: M16

Our take on cloning the famed in­fantry ser­vice weapon


The pre­vail­ing trend of cloning cur­rent and past mil­i­tary firearms is still go­ing strong. While some sim­ply wish to du­pli­cate a ri­fle that they were once is­sued while in the ser­vice, other en­thu­si­asts are on a mis­sion to clone them for their own per­sonal col­lec­tions. With so many ri­fle clone build op­tions around, it’s hard to choose which project to tackle.

In re­cent is­sues of World of Fire­power we’ve as­sem­bled two clones and we’re go­ing for our third in the se­ries in this is­sue. If you’ve missed out on the pre­vi­ous is­sues, lo­cate our back is­sues to see how our Mk12 and M4 clones turned out. In this in­stall­ment, we tackle the wide, and deep, world of the M16. As Amer­ica’s front­line com­bat ri­fle for the past 50-plus years, the M16 is not only iconic, but still serves as one of the work­horses of today’s mil­i­tary. Ver­sions of it first saw com­bat in the jun­gles of Viet­nam and are cur­rently em­ployed in the War on Ter­ror through­out the globe. Re­gard­less of how ac­cu­rate you want your clone to be, the many ver­sions of the M16 that ex­ist can make tak­ing on such a clone project an over­whelm­ing propo­si­tion.

Where shall we be­gin? We’ll start off by say- ing this ar­ti­cle is not meant to be a primer on the quin­tes­sen­tial M16 build. For that, you’ll prob­a­bly need a tele­phone-book-thick guide and a Mas­ter’s de­gree in M16 his­tory. If you want to get into the small­est de­tails and in­clude long out-of-pro­duc­tion parts on your build, don’t let us stop you. By all means, read up on the sub­ject and hunt for all the vin­tage parts you’d like.

For the pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle, we will as­sem­ble an M16 clone with off-the-shelf parts that are cur­rently widely avail­able. Per­haps you might even al­ready have what you need to start your build ly­ing around in a spare parts bin.

We be­gan our build by first de­cid­ing which model M16 we wanted to repli­cate. With so much his­tory, this is an im­por­tant de­ci­sion to make be­fore or­der­ing a sin­gle part. We de­cided to go with the ear­lier M16A1 vari­a­tion. The M16A1 saw ex­ten­sive use in Vi­et­man and was the stan­dard ser­vice ri­fle for the U.S. mil­i­tary well into the mid-’80s.

The M16A1 can be vis­ually iden­ti­fied by its tri­an­gu­lar hand­guards, butt­stock with­out the clean­ing kit stor­age com­part­ment, a three­p­ronged flash sup­pres­sor and se­lect fire ca­pa­bil­ity. Our clone will du­pli­cate the above mi­nus the full-auto fire fea­ture.

A1 Lower

To save a few bucks, we based our build on a Brownells M16A1 BRN-16A1 blem­ished re­ceiver. These are called cos­met­i­cally blem­ished by Brownells be­cause the Safe and Fire mark­ings are en­graved on both sides while the orig­i­nal only had them on one. For buffs of de­tail and au­then­tic­ity, the BRN-16A1 helps du­pli­cate an of­ten-over­looked de­tail that many M16A1 clones miss: It fea­tures the proper M16A1 front takedown lug pro­file and pro­file sur­round­ing the re­ceiver ex­ten­sion. Al­most all forged lower re­ceivers cur­rently pro­duced fea­ture the A2 takedown pro­file, which is in­cor­rect for M16A1 clone builds.

A1 Up­per

We mated the lower to a Brownells M16A1 up­per re­ceiver. Like the lower, the up­per is made

“To com­plete the look, we in­stalled a retro fur­ni­ture set.”

by Brownells in con­junc­tion with

No­dak Spud to match the fea­tures of the orig­i­nal M16A1 re­ceiver. Made to repli­cate the M16A1, this up­per du­pli­cates the orig­i­nal’s pro­file per­fectly. As with the orig­i­nal, the re­pro­duc­tion is made with no shell de­flec­tor and its A1 rear sight hous­ing and carry han­dle fea­ture proper con­tours.

A qual­ity pre­pro­duc­tion bar­rel was in­stalled in our up­per as­sem­bly. The Brownells Retro A1 ri­fle-length bar­rel as­sem­bly is cham­bered in 5.56x45mm NATO, is chrome-lined, and has a 1/12 twist. The 4150 chrome-moly steel 20-inch bar­rel is fin­ished in black phos­phate and is mag­netic par­ti­cle tested.

Other fi­nal de­tails added to com­plete the up­per in­clude a 3-prong A1-style flash hider as well as an A1 rear sight as­sem­bly, both made by Luth-ar. We also in­stalled a teardrop-style for­ward as­sist made by DPMS as these style as­sists were used on the orig­i­nal M16A1S.

Com­plet­ing the Look

To com­plete the look, we in­stalled a retro fur­ni­ture set, also made by Brownells. The M16A1 style butt­stock, hand­guard and pis­tol grip are mod­eled off of orig­i­nal com­po­nents, so au­then­tic­ity is al­most spot-on. We say al­most be­cause Brownells changes some ar­eas due to mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing meth­ods or to help avoid coun­ter­feit­ing con­cerns. The fur­ni­ture sets are avail­able in dif­fer­ent col­ors for those look­ing to build faith­ful re­pro­duc­tions of rare vari­ants. We chose black since it is proper for our M16A1 clone.

We didn’t go over­board with the de­tails of this build and just kept it sim­ple. If you wish to sink deeper into it, there are plenty of small de­tails that you can delve into. We com­pleted our A1 build with a mod­ern bolt car­rier group (BCG) and charg­ing han­dle by Brownells. The M16 pro­file BCG is black ni­tride treated for re­li­ably smooth op­er­a­tion and easy clean­ing.

Fu­ture Gen­er­a­tions

A part of the fun of the AR-15 plat­form, other than shoot­ing it of course, is to out­fit it in dif­fer­ent ways. Now that we had our A1 con­fig­u­ra­tion com­pleted, we looked into what it would take to form our ri­fle into other M16 vari­ants.

“the M16’s many ver­sions can make tak­ing the project an over­whelm­ing propo­si­tion.”

From our re­search, the M16A2, which was de­vel­oped at the re­quest of the U.S. Marine Corps from com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence gained in Viet­nam, uses a slightly dif­fer­ent up­per re­ceiver that fea­tures a new rear sight and brass de­flec­tor, round-style hand­guards. It also has an up­dated pis­tol grip, flash hider, for­ward as­sist and a butt­stock that has a stor­age com­part­ment for a clean­ing kit. A2-style parts are quite com­mon even today. We imag­ine you prob­a­bly have a few of these parts al­ready.

Those with su­per-sharp ob­ser­va­tion skills will also no­tice that the front sight base and lower re­ceiver’s takedown area are also con­toured dif­fer­ently. We ob­tained many of the parts to re­con­fig­ure our A1 build to A2 from Del-ton. A proper A2 build will also switch out the bar­rel. The A2’s pro­file and twist rate are dif­fer­ent, with the rate go­ing from the A1’s 1/12 to 1/7. The real M16A2 also switched its al­ter­nate fir­ing mode to burst, from the A1’s full-auto, but that doesn’t af­fect our semi-auto-only clone build.

The M16A3 is a slightly mod­i­fied ver­sion of the M16A2 that was used by the U.S. Navy SEALS and other units. The main dif­fer­ence be­ing that it fea­tured the M16A1’S full-auto mode trig­ger group in­stead of the A2’s burst fir­ing mode. For the pur­poses of clone build­ing, the A2 can stand in for the A3. If you’re go­ing for an even more au­then­tic look, per­haps the fir­ing mode can be laser etched to match the orig­i­nal’s mark­ings.

Today’s mil­i­tary-is­sued M16 is the M16A4. The most no­table dif­fer­ence of the A4 is its fully railed flat-top up­per re­ceiver with de­tach­able carry han­dle as well as its railed hand­guard. We ob­tained an up­per from BCM and fit­ted it with a Knights Ar­ma­ment Com­pany (KAC) M5 Ri­fle RAS Forend As­sem­bly. The KAC M5 is the same rail that is is­sued to the real M16A4 and is per­fect for a clone build.

Fi­nal Thoughts

We set out to build a sim­ple M16A1 clone and were able to do it rel­a­tively eas­ily thanks to the many com­pa­nies that are now sup­port­ing the retro build move­ment. We made a con­scious ef­fort to avoid go­ing into the never-end­ing road of minutely de­tailed vari­a­tions and came out un­scathed. If you want to take your build to another level, there are re­sources on­line that can take your clone build there.

Armed with com­po­nents to cob­ble to­gether A2, A3 and A4 vari­ants, we’re now tempted to build out three more M16 clones. As a gun fan—es­pe­cially an AR fan—you may know how it is. But with so many projects to get go­ing, we’re al­ready con­jur­ing up our next clone build.

“you might have what you need to start your build in a spare parts bin.”

The M16 is not only iconic, but still serves as one of the work­horses of our mil­i­tary today.

01. Both the M16A1 up­per and lower re­ceivers of­fered by Brownells are made of No­dak Spud forg­ings and ma­chined by Brownells to ex­act­ing de­tail. 02. As seen here, the M16A1 uses a teardrop shaped for­ward as­sist, an up­per with­out a shell de­flec­tor and a lower that is con­toured dif­fer­ently from more com­mon A2 ver­sion lower re­ceivers. 03. Ea­gle-eyed en­thu­si­asts will no­tice that the A1’s front sight base is con­toured dif­fer­ently from the ones found on later mod­els.

04. The M16A1’S carry han­dle in­cor­po­rates an early ver­sion of the M16’s rear sight. 05. If you want to go with a more mod­ern clone, BCM makes a com­plete M16A4 up­per re­ceiver group that is ready to slap on your lower.

06. A flat top re­ceiver and de­tach­able carry han­dle can be found on mod­ern M16A4 mod­els.

To be­gin our build, we used a Brownells M16A1 BRN-16A1 lower and a Brownells M16A1 up­per.

There’s noth­ing quite as sat­is­fy­ing as sourc­ing and assembling a clone build piece by piece.

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