By David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
The following is Part One of the transcript from a phone interview that David Crane, owner/editor-in-chief of DefenseReview, conducted with John Noveske of Noveske Rifleworks, LLC a number of months ago about his gun builds (tactical AR rifle builds a.k.a. tactical AR-15 rifle builds, specifically). We would have published it sooner, but it’s taken us awhile to be able to devote the time to transcribing even this much of the interview, since it was rather lengthy. If you’d like a little bit of a primer on Noveske Rifleworks tactical AR rifles, we’d suggest that you first read our previous article on them and their products titled Noveske Rifleworks Weapons Packages: CQB Barrel Meets ‘The Krink’, which Defense Review published (very) slightly over three years ago, on August 18, 2005.
Note: The following is an edited and redacted version of the interview. Editing and redacting were performed for the purpose of clarity, accuracy, readability and confidentiality.
Crane: Aw’right, well, o.k., a couple things, number one, I know you’re doin’ a buncha’ things over there, but I wanna’ talk to you about, basically, some of the latest stuff that you’re doin’ regarding…like, you’re double-chrome-lining your barrels, you’re usin’…I know you’re using Superior Weapons Systems [SWS] rail systems on your guns, now, right?
Noveske: Yes. We’ve started with their design, and we threw a bunch of modifications at it, so it’s our OEM product made by SWS.
Crane: Right. So you’re saying that they’re made to your spec for your guns.
Crane: Right. O.k., when they do their normal rail system, they’re not making the rail systems for anyone else to your spec. It’s just for you.
Crane: O.k., what did you change?
Noveske: We added heat sinks over the barrel nut, we adjusted the placement of the cooling holes, the length of the handguard, the tolerance of the 1913 rails, and we added quick-detach sling points at three positions.
Crane: So, do you have an agreement with them [SWS]? Before you made the modifications, did they have to sign an NDA, where all of those modifications, they can’t use them unless it’s for your guns, or what?
Noveske: I only like dealing with guys you can trust with a verbal agreement, and I have that with Art [owner of SWS]. He’s a straight shooter, and he’s the kinda’ guy that when you ask that this not be used for anybody else, you can trust him. I’m not gonna’ do business with somebody where I’m dependent on a signature. I want the man’s word to be enough for me, so I have that with him.
Now, after all the changes were made, I did receive a letter from the company stating that the design is my property, but that was at their…they sent it to me without me asking for it. So it was just a very nice gesture.
Crane: You’re not doin’ a piston gun, right?
Crane: Do you have any plans to do a piston gun?
Noveske: We have piston plans, but we don’t have any plans of putting it in production, because it’s…I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve got piston guns here from other makers, and they’re dirty, and I don’t see…
Crane: Whadya’ mean "dirty"?
Noveske: Open up the bolt and look inside, and it’s dirty inside. The whole thing about them running clean is not necessarily…o.k., let me back up. I only run the guns with suppressors for testing when I did my comparison, and with suppressors, direct-impingement and piston-operated were both very dirty, ’cause the blowback comes to the chamber, not the gas tube. And, I’m not real happy with the piston systems that I’ve shot and examined, so it’s just to me, it’s not…
Crane: Well, the piston…the advantage for a piston with a suppressor on there is supposedly it doesn’t blow all the gunk back in your face.
Noveske: O.k., but what you’re not paying attention to is that all that crap comes back through the chamber, not the gas tube. On a piston gun or gas-impingement, the case is being extracted while the suppressor is still under pressure. Now you have all the pressure in that suppressor exiting both out the front and the back.
Crane: Right, but you’re saying the piston gun doesn’t solve that?
Noveske: It does not solve that. They’re both dirty.
Crane: So then how come you hear about guys saying yeah, when they’re shootin’ the direct gas impingement guns suppressed, or whatever, they’re gettin’ a lot of gas and particulate matter in their face, whereas with the piston, that it dissipates that a bit, or whatever.
Noveske: Maybe they had a different experience.
Crane: Hm. So, in other words, you’re saying that basically the piston doesn’t really offer any real advantage for that.
Noveske: What I’m saying, with a suppressor, direct-impingement and gas-piston both run dirty, and even a blowback gun or a delayed-blowback gun, like an H&K [Heckler & Koch], or any other operating system–I don’t really care what operating system you have–on an auto-loader, with a sound suppressor, they’re gonna’ all run dirty.
Crane: Right. Now, is a piston gun gonna’ put any less gas and particulate matter in your face, or are you gonna’ get the same amount?
Noveske: All a piston gun is gonna’ do different from gas impingement with a suppressor is reduce the amount that is coming through the gas tube. The piston gun is gonna’ eliminate that. I am not a scientist, but from my observations in shooting and examining the guns afterwards, it appears that the vast majority of the gas coming through is coming through the chamber. And, one example is go look at any of the HK91 or HK93-type rifles. Those have the fluted chamber and delayed blowback, and the cases are always black just like the case fired out of the gun with a suppressor. That’s because the case is extracting while it is still under pressure, and you have gas blowing back along the case as it’s blowing out, and covering it with carbon. And, that’s what’s happening with any autoloader with a suppressor. The cases all have carbon on them, because gas is escaping around the case out the chamber and into the receiver.
[DefenseReview received the following post-interview via email from John Noveske: "Also, we should mention the poor choice of platform for the piston conversion on a round receiver bore as found on the M16/M4 system. All other piston type systems out there utilize a railed receiver design, like the M14, AK-47, M249, FAL and so on. The round receiver bore design used on the M4 is only acceptable for the standard op system. The carrier and bolt expand on axis with the bore under the normal gas impingement cycle, but on a piston gun, you run into off center impulse issues with carrier tilt and incorrectly designed carrier contact points. Some designs attempt to address the carrier tilt problem with over sized carrier tails and rollers. I do not believe the receiver extension should be used in this manor. I know many people are very happy with their piston weapons. This is not meant as a knock on the piston conversion systems out there, but as a philosophical dialogue focused the new physiological relationships applied to the M16/M4 platform through the introduction of an operating system which has traditionally been applied to receivers with rails for the bolt and/or carrier. I would rather see an entirely new weapon system designed for the piston from the ground up. I believe there several outfits currently working on this."]
Crane: What do you think about fluting the chamber? What’s your opinion on that?
Noveske: I don’t know. I’m not 100% German. I’m only 25% German, so I only understand fluted chambers about 25%.
[At this point, we discuss chamber fluting a bit]
Noveske: A gas-operated firearm needs an extractor. A blowback or delayed-blowback firearm may not need an extractor. Sometimes they’re put on for good measure, but it’s not always necessary, because the case is pushing the bolt back, the bolt is not pulling the case out.
[Some more conversation about fluted chambers, of which Noveske is not a fan.]
Noveske: I like havin’ a gas seal around the neck [as opposed to a fluted chamber], and I also don’t care for blowback [or delayed-blowback] rifles.
Crane: Right, o.k., now you’re double-chrome-lining your barrels, or some of your barrels, not the stainless steel barrels, but the…
Crane: Light Carbine barrels. You’re double chromin’ ‘em, and obviously, you must be getting a pretty nice even chrome job on there.
Noveske: Yes. I have a tolerance that is equal to a match-grade barrel.
Crane: Equal to a stainless barrel?
Noveske: Well, that doesn’t mean anything, because there’s a lot of different makers of stainless barrels, but there is a kind of an unspoken match-grade tolerance in the custom barrel world of 2/10ths of a thousoundth concentricity, or…in uniformity of bore diameter from end to end, and I spec that out on my chrome-lined barrels.
Crane: Are you the only guy that’s double-chrome-lining ‘em?
Noveske: That’s not the right [terminology]. "Double-chrome-lining" implies that I’m chroming twice. I’m chroming once to the technical data package requirements for the M249 machine gun [FN M249 Squad Automatic Weapon a.k.a. FN M249 SAW], which call out for a chrome thickness that is approximately twice the thickness of an M16 or an M4.
Crane: The barrels that we’re talkin’ about are Pac-Nor.
Noveske: Our stainless barrels are made partially in ourshop and partially in Pac-Nor’s shop. And, the relationship that I have with Pac-Nor…I used to work there, and now what’s goin’ on is I buy steel, I take it to Pac-Nor, when the guys clock out of Pac-Nor, they clock into our barrel production. They machine my blanks with our tooling, which is all made to our design, including the drills, reamers, button, so forth, so on. They stress-relieve to our recipe, and then they give the barrels back to us, and then we finish them all in our shop.
Crane: What type of stainless are they using?
Noveske: Well, they use 416 project 70. I use a different type of material.
Crane: And what about the standard steel barrels? What kind of steel is that?
Noveske: Let me back up. You can’t call the barrel that we make a Pac-Nor barrel, because if you call Pac-Nor and order a stainless barrel, it’s gonna’ be much different. It’s gonna’ be different in every way from the barrel I sell. So when you say "what kind of materal do they use?", last time I checked, Pac-Nor uses 416 project 70 made by Carpenter, and I use a different material which is technically considered 416R, and it’s a lot harder than any stainless we’ve ever tested from other manufacturers. Our stainless comes in around 32 on the Rockwell C scale, and that’s harder even than the call-out for the M16 barrel.
Crane: And the standard barrel that’s being chrome-lined, the non-stainless-steel barrel, what kind of steel is that?
Noveske: That’s the same steel that’s in the technical data package requirement for the M249.
Crane: And what is that?
Noveske: Well, I’m not gonna’ talk about what it is, specfiically.
Crane: O.k., and then you have an Extreme-Duty Barrel, too, right?
Noveske: Right. Now, that Extreme-Duty Barrel, we put on hold because it costs too much to make, and I just don’t feel like putting it out there. It’s just too expensive.
Crane: Is that a stainless barrel, or is that a chrome-lined standard [carbon] steel barrel?
Noveske: No, that was 17-4 stainless with a Rockwell hardness of 38. It’s extremely expensive to make, but we made a bunch, sold ‘em all, every body loves ‘em, and I haven’t made any more because it justs eats up too much tooling.
Crane: Oh, so you basically weren’t charging enough money to justify it, essentially?
Noveske: Well, imagine if you had a 40% success rate on something that you made, and all that labor, material that goes into it, and all the tooling, and yes, you might make money, but you have to charge $1,000 for a barrel to make the same money that you make on a $400 barrel. It just didn’t make sense. So, you can buy the regular stainless barrel twice and still be under the price of a 17-4 barrel. So we basically stopped makin’ ‘em. Yes, they’re excellent barrels. I have two, myself, personally, but from a realistic product standpoint, it was too much of a Ferarri for me.
Crane: Right. There was no manufacturing protocol that could have been set up to make those more efficiently.
Noveske: Oh, we tried. We spent thousands and thousands of dollars workin’ on different approaches, different cuts on the tooling, and last week, even, I just told the guys to stop production on ‘em for now, untill I readress it, which I’m a little too busy to focus on…
Crane: How much are those barrels, apiece? 1,000 bucks?
Noveske: Yeah, about 1,000 bucks.
Crane: That’s pretty crazy, huh?
Noveske: Yeah, that’s why there’s no point, right now, even really talkin’ about ‘em.
Crane: And then, obviously you’re doin’ stuff with the [Vltor] VIS [Versatile Interface Structure], right?
Crane: But the VIS, isn’t Eric [Kincel] over there doin’ somethin’ to modify the VIS in terms of being able to handle an underbarrel-mounted grenade launcher, and stuff?
Noveske: Well, it already can handle an M203, barrel mounted.
Crane: Barrel-mounted, right, but isn’t he re-engineering the bottom rail of the VIS to reinforce it?
Noveske: Not sure.
Crane: If I were gonna’ talk about something that you’re doin’ that nobody else is doin’ right now, or something that separates you from, let’s say, what [another AR builder] is doing with his [redacted] package, or what have you, what would be something that would be significant to talk about.
Noveske: [Not sure where the interviewer is headed] Well,…
Crane: I’m not messin’ with ya’. I’m serious. If I’m gonna’ write an article on Noveske, and what’s special about your guns, just from a perspective of why do I want a Noveske vs. let’s say [another maker's] package.
[Noveske, at this point, assesses any biases I (Crane) may have to make sure I'm coming from a neutral perspective regarding my questioning, in order to figure out how much to share and how much to hold back. At this point, I assure him that I'm neutral on it, and that I'm not loyal to any other makers/builders.]
Noveske: I guess…I wanna’ know how much information to share and how much to hold back, I guess is what I’m…
Crane: Well, it depends. I mean, if there’s stuff that you want to tell me off the record, you just have to tell me, well David, this is something for you to know, but it’s off the record, or this is publishable, and you just have to compartmentalize with me. And, if you tell me not to publish something, I won’t.
Noveske: O.k., that’s good. I just, I’m trying to get a feel, here, so…and, by the way, I’m real greatful for the last article you put up on your website [DefenseReview.com]. I got a lot of traffic to my website from that, and it was a very nice gesture on your part, and I appreciate it.
Crane: Well, you’re very welcome. And, to this day, by the way, that article, if you type in Noveske on the web, my article [on Noveske Rifleworks] comes in on the first page on Google and various other search engines.
Noveske: Great. Very good. I appreciate that.
[Some more conversation on this.]
Crane: So, talk to me.
Noveske: Here is the thing I hate doing, which is the used car sales pitch, o.k., ’cause I pretty much don’t really do it very often. But, what separates my product from the rest of the products out there, is…the obvious thing’s the barrel, and, from start to finish, the barrel goes through more inspection and testing than any other barrel out there that I’m aware of. From the point we pull the steel of the trailer in 12-foot bars, we instantly hardness test and serialize each bar. Then, every bar throughout the entire production process is numbered accordingly to its parent bar. And then, like I said, we designed all the tooling so the diameters on the drills, the bore reamers, the hand-lapping process, the button that does the button-rifling is our design, and it’s an improvement over conventional polygonal [rifling] in that you get an extended barrel life over conventional polygonal [rifling]. In fact, I’ve never heard of one of our new barrels shooting out. In a year and two months, there’s never been a report of one of my new buttons…the new types of rifling types [barrels] shooting out.
We designed that new rifling for our Extreme Duty Machine Gun Barrel Project for the M249 and the Mk46, and we had so much success with that new design that I quickly applied it to all of our M4/M16-type rifles. So, the new rifling is 1-in-7 twist. It appears, when you look down the barrel, as a 6-land-and-groove, and what we did was we adjusted the angles on the sides of the land to give us the optimal performance. After rifling, there’s a stress-relief process that is designed to pull out all the stress without losing any hardness. The barrels are then trued-up so that when we put ‘em in our CNC-contouring lathe, the contour is 100% concentric to the bore, so that you don’t have an strange harmonics when the bullet travels down the barrel, and that’s part of the process of…the contouring process is…I’m pretty protective of it, so that’s about all I want to say is that it’s very accurate.
And then, when we go to chambering, it’s a chambering process that I developed as an employee of Pac-Nor, and I looked at how they were chambering barrels, and I saw the logic in it, and I found ways to improve it. The reamers are all custom-made for me as far as the grind, the angles, the number of flutes. The way we chamber, you never get any scoring on the lands forward of the throat like most other people have to deal with, because our chips are forced out the back. The end result is a beautiful, highly polished chamber. Every barrel is individually inspected to ensure against or prevent reamer wear and have an undersized chamber. They all get gauged on every point, and the design of the chamber is a design I developed after many different evolutions. This was designed to work…to do full-auto mag dumps with [Black Hills] MK 262 Mod 1 [77gr Open-Tip Match (OTM) 5.56x45mm ammo], and now you can sit there and pour as much ammo as you can through the gun on full-auto, and the thing that’s gonna’ fail is the gas tube. We haven’t had any stuck chambers since I came up with the recent chamber, which is called the Noveske…the acronym, which we write on the barrel is "NMm0", and that stands for Noveske Match Mod 0. It’s a chamber that gives you 100% reliability with as much retained accuracy as possible. You can have a more accurate chamber design, but you sacrifice battle-grade reliability. You can get stuck cases and other things with different chambers.
So, from the chamber, our barrel is hardness-tested again, just to make sure we didn’t lose any hardness in the heat-treating process, and every barrel is serial-numbered at that point. So, now, all the information about the barrel, the heat-treat lot, the packing slip number, the bar number, all that information is now attached to the barrel with a 6-digit serial number, and it goes through the rest of the process with all the information attached to it by that number. And, we keep a log book with every end-user and every bit of information, just in case there was a problem with one customer’s barrel, we can track down all the related barrels and pull ‘em in in an efficient manner. And we’ve never had to do that, but I can if I need to.
Crane: And all the barrels are polygonal-rifled, right?
Noveske: All the stainless barrels have…that button that we designed, I call "Improved Polygonal". The polygonal that I used in the past and that some other people are using has one shortcoming, which is an unpredictable end-of-service life. It goes from shooting great to tumbling bullets. Our barrel now gives you a predictable end-of-service life. As it’s shooting out, it’s going to open up in group before the bullets tumble.
Crane: And how many rounds are you gonna’ get out of that?
Noveske: I don’t know. I know of barrels that are over 15,000 rounds still in service. So, I don’t know how long they’ll go, but I know that they’re going quite a ways.
Crane: What about the chrome-lined barrels? Are those polygonal, too?
Noveske: Those are strictly made to the TDP for the M249, so they’re a 6-land-and-groove MILSPEC conventional land-and-groove with a 5.56 NATO chamber.
Crane: If you’re settin’ up an AR carbine for somebody, most of the time, are you gonna’ recommend the stainless polygonal?
Noveske: Well, it depends. I ask them what they’re gonna’ do with it. The stainless-barreled uppers and rifles that we sell are a precision carbine. The chrome-lined light carbines are…for the guy that says he’s gonna’ beat it up, he’s gonna’ abuse it, he’s gonna’ train hard, he’s gonna’ do full-auto mag dumps, that’s the gun for that kind of treatment. The guy that’s gonna’ be sniper, counter-sniper, or anything precision…
Crane: What if you’re doin’ a lot of…let’s say you’re gonna’ compete in 3-gun with it on semi-auto, and you’re just gonna’ do a lot of rapid fire semi-auto shooting and stuff like that, then what?
Noveske: Either one’s fine. They’re both very accurate. I’ve got groups that people have sent me with both barrels under half an inch at 100 yards, so it’s kind of like I’m competing with myself.
Crane: If you’re looking at both the stainless barrel and the chrome-lined barrel, what’s standard MOA on these guns, on these barrels.
Noveske: Stainless barrels–and I’m not sayin’ this from what I’ve shot. This is reports from customers—The typical end-user report on my stainless barrels is about .6 MOA, and the Light Carbine barrels, most everything I hear is sub-MOA, and that means it can be three quarters of an inch [3/4" MOA] or half an inch [1/2" MOA].
Crane: So stainless is gonna’ be a little bit more accurate, but not much.
Noveske: Right, ’cause they’re both very accurate, already.
Crane: In terms of the rail systems that you’re usin’, you chose Superior Weapons Systems, I guess, just because you liked the base rail that they were doin’, and you figured you could just…
Noveske: I made a phone call to him in the summer of 2006, and I asked him to send me a sample of one of his handguards, ’cause I was just seein’ what was out there. When I asked for some samples, I asked for samples from SWS. He sent me five of ‘em next day air, they showed up, and the machining was so marvelous, and he actually even machined the chamfers on the sides of every lug on the 1913 rails. I’ve never seen a machined chamfer on anyone else’s rail. It’s an exercise in machining ridiculousness. And, when you look at the cycle time on his handguards, it’s hours per handguard. It’s [SWS handguards] an amazing product. So, I looked at it. We came up with, I think, three different revisions before I was ready to make it my production handguard, and Art has been very professional and very nice to deal with. Everything he says happens on time. I get as many handguards as I need, and he basically stops what he’s doin’ to make ‘em for me. So, I couldn’t ask for a better relationship with a handguard maker. I get the best handguard out there and the best service. So it’s very nice.
Crane: Yeah, I’ve only heard good things about him, in terms of just the quality of his rail tubes and stuff, I’ve only heard good things.
Noveske: We’ve never had a bad rail. Every one is perfectly straight. It’s just a dream. So, I’m very happy.
Crane: That’s about as good as it gets, right?
Crane: Aw’right, now, in terms of receivers, upper and lower receivers, are you doin’ your own lowers, or are you usin’ other people’s lower and upper, or what?
Noveske: Most of the MILSPEC parts, I contract out. And, I use a lot of different shops based on who makes the best of that component. Like, one place makes my bolts and another place makes my carriers, and it’s because…it has nothing to do with money. It’s which ones I like better. And, right now, I feel that as far as the MILSPEC parts go, I couldn’t do better. They’re just excellent. I get ‘em in volume. I’ve got my purchase orders in to January ’09. Everything is just hunky-dory.
Crane: Who’s doin’ your lowers?
Noveske: The lowers on our rifles are made by CMT [Continental Machine and Tool]. We had some made by LAR [LAR Manufacturing, Inc.] with a B prefix on the serial number, but that was a limited production run. We have a PO into another company, but it will depend on approval of the samples.
Crane: What about your upper receiver?
To be continued…Part Two coming soon…
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