Reject modernity, embrace traditionalism.
The war-cry of the “Carry Handle Gang” and part of a rather unexpected fashion craze. For so many years we’ve embraced the flat top AR-15, using it to mount optics at an almost universal lower 1/3 co-witness that many of us cast aside our non-modular uppers in favour of flip up irons and lower 1/3 co-witnessed reflex sights.
And then came the high mounts, the 1.93 and 2.26” high optics that gave shooters a more heads up stance and allowed the easy use of NODs without finding some awkward head position.
The big brain move though, the ultimate flex, was when the purists headed back to the mid 90’s and stuck an Aimpoint onto a carry handle upper and reaped the same benefit for much less money.
It never takes long for airsoft to follow suit, and with carry handle builds being very much in vogue with the likes of Administrative Results, Garand Thumb and lets face it, our favourite influencer The Geardo Crow, a new wave of enthusiasm hit the carry handle scene.
But that left me in a difficult position, mostly due to my preference for Airsoft replicas, specifically Tokyo Marui’s GBBR and NGRS system, neither of which offer a carry handle upper option.
Jim at LC’s Engineering Outpost is somewhat of an established and well respected engineer within the airsoft community, he’s been offering custom work and one-off items for a number of years, and has certainly contributed his skills to more than a handful of the L119A1/A2 builds out in the wild.
About 8/9 months ago I noticed that he’d been converting NGRS upper receivers to carry handle builds, and at first I wasn’t too sure it would work for me. Would it be strong enough? Would it affect performance and functionality? What if something went wrong?
And trust me, there’s a lot that can go wrong with major alterations like this. The transplant of the donor carry handle to the Tokyo Marui receiver has to be absolutely bombproof to prevent it from breaking off or damaging the upper receiver, as well as remain invisible to the naked eye once painted to achieve a seamless look.
However, once I’d seen a couple of mid-conversion photos (including one MWS GBBR conversion), I knew Jim was the guy able to do what I wanted with minimal risk to my (hard to replace) upper receiver. His reputation is stellar (even amongst those I know who are hard to please), and if I had to take a risk anywhere, I figured he would be the one to trust in.
So what makes his work so good? Well, Jim brings a very particular set of skills and knowledge to the table; Ultimately, he’s a competent Engineer who also understands Airsoft. That’s a harder combination to find than you’d think. I know engineers and I know airsofters, but generally engineers are funny fuckers who don’t like working with effectively a lot of unknowns and maybes, and airsofters wouldn’t know how to turn a milling machine on, let alone know how to set up a piece of work for milling.
So what do you need to transform a vanilla flat top M4A1 into a custom made M16A1/A2 upper? Well, it’s really rather simple;
- A “donor” AEG/GBBR/Real carry handle upper.
- A “base” flat top upper in your choice of platform (MWS/GHK/NGRS/PTW).
- Money, to pay the guy doing all the hard work.
A base flat top upper was easy to source, I had the choice of several. But it wasn’t until a random chat with Anvil Airsoft’s Tom Hibberd that I came across a suitable carry handle going spare. I’m a funny bugger, and sticking a CYMA carry handle on the Tokyo Marui upper just seemed like putting ketchup on a roast, but a G&P M16A1 upper? I can work with that.
It didn’t take long to decide on my base platform, I think I always knew what I’d end up choosing. Despite having an NGRS ready to strip down and chop, I quickly decided upon the Tokyo Marui ZET System “MWS” because, well, GBBRs are freakin’ awesome.
After stripping down the MWS upper and sending it all to Jim, he’d already told me that due to a busy schedule, I should expect a wait of months rather than weeks. The hardest part for me is always the waiting, but I kept reminding myself that there’s a saying in engineering:
After breaking my unwritten rule and asking for an update (about 7 weeks in) I was rather surprised to hear that he was planning on starting mine within the next few days, and that he only had one or two jobs ahead of mine in the queue.
Once my uppers were on his workbench, the actual machining didn’t take that long at all. Within a week of our conversation, my MWS upper was returned with its new carry handle affixed to it’s surface.
But what did he actually do to meld the two parts together?
I know a bit about engineering, certainly not enough to become one, but enough to understand the processes that turn a block of aluminium into a smaller, precisely made block of aluminium. I’ve grown up with engineering in my blood, and I’m fully aware that being able to program and hit “go” on a mill doesn’t make you an engineer. A true understanding of how to achieve the desired end result and a focus on precision is what marks out the truly skilled from the merely qualified.
After chatting with Jim, it’s clear to see that he’s a rather knowledgable guy and has a good grasp on the skills and traits that are essential in the world of precision engineering. The fact that he’d also done several identical jobs to mine and hadn’t fucked them up was also very reassuring.
The first job when mating two uppers together is to remove the parts you don’t need. With the G&P Upper, that was almost everything below the carry handle itself. It might sound easy to some people, the simple act of ripping out the bottom section of an upper receiver, but it’s all about the preparation.
Jim uses a purpose made jig for this part of the job, a pair of bars sit on the top of the receiver, another against the carry handle holds it tightly in place, and finally a through bolt clamp holds the upper firmly in place. This whole jig is then securely fastened within a machine vice, ready for machining.
When Jim cuts off the carry handle, he leaves a slight ridge on each side. there are a number of reasons why this is a good idea, it’s stronger (as an individual part), it helps line up the carry handle with the upper and it also makes the completed upper far stronger due to it’s mechanical bond between components.
After the carry handle has undergone it’s initial preparation, it’s time to look at the base MWS upper.
Clamping the MWS upper to another jig (This one using a pair of plate shaped clamps, one at each end), the sides and top of the flat top rail are machined off and a step is machined onto the rail to provide an anchor for the corresponding ridge on each side of the carry handle. After this, the top of the base upper is machined down to a height that allows the carry handle to sit on top at the correct height.
The fit is so precise between base upper and donor carry handle that it creates a tight friction fit, maybe not enough to provide enough strength to keep the handle on, but more than enough to assist with the next step.
A series of holes are drilled and threaded from the underside of the upper receiver, short grub screws are then fixed firmly into place and then machined and sanded down to prevent any unwanted interference with existing working parts such as the charging handle.
The two parts are then sand blasted to remove any remaining surface coating from both sections, this provides a bare metal finish to better allow the filler to bond to the surface.
Then comes any remedial work… This will vary according to the parts supplied, but on mine it was rather simple. The G&P carry handle is a touch wider than the MWS’s upper, so a small amount of tapering is required to create a seamless join without the carry handle looking odd. This is done by hand as it’s not a lot and is a lot easier to achieve the desired result than by machining.
The join between the two uppers is than carefully blended together using an aluminium based filler, and then comes the sanding… Apparently it’s Jim’s favourite job, he absolutely loves it.
Once the sanding is done, there’s really not much else for him to do except package it up and post it back. The rest of the work is down to you!
It’s not just carry handle conversions that Jim offers, there’s a lot of other jobs that can also be completed whilst the uppers are with Jim. One of the other options for conversions like this being the removal of the brass deflector (and even forward assist if required). The majority of the metal is removed by milling and then the small remaining amount sanded off by hand for a smooth and seamless finish.
Now before the purists get on my case, I’m aware that the brass deflector is a part of the C7/M723/M733 upper, but I wanted to keep my options open.
I’m a sucker for Vietnam movies and the option to build mine into an M16A1 or XM117E1/2 remains on the table. I’m also left handed and that brass deflector does tend to dig into me when the rifle is slung.
Either way, an upper without the brass deflector on a mid 90’s Colt Commando is more credible than a brass deflector on a 1969 “in country” carbine.
Once the upper was returned, the next stage was to look at suitable coatings and see what option was best. I’m not an expert in the field of classic AR-15 coatings, but I know that you probably can’t go wrong with black.
An initial coat of Halfords Etch Primer onto the upper helped provide that all important primer “key”. This was followed up shortly after with a pair of light coats of Halfords Flat Black “Camouflage” Spray Paint.
I did consider a full Cerakote treatment, but I wasn’t sure how the filler would react, and I also didn’t want to risk a thin application of Cerakote not covering up the transition between the base and carry handle. The paint will eventually chip and scratch, but it will hopefully add to the character of an old battered carbine.
Another part I asked him to look at, was my barrel. I sent him the standard 14.5” M4 barrel and asked him to chop it down to 10” and machine me a nice new 1.5” barrel extension. This gave me a host of future options, a 10” barrel means that an L119A1 build is possible and it also hides the joint near the front sight block.
I’ve simplified the process that Jim used by quite a lot, it’s all about the set up and attention to detail that makes this different from your typical hack and patch job were used to seeing in Airsoft. The finish is superb, and that’s born from a fair amount of skill and time that’s been put into the build
Now that there’s a drop in solution for MWS carry handle uppers offered by Angry Gun, you’d think that I’d be interested in getting one. But the ridiculously high price tag coupled with Angry Gun’s previous failures to address common issues with their MWS products has made the idea of paying for a £450 receiver set a bit of a joke. A joke that I don’t want to become the punchline for.
So would I recommend his work? Absolutely. I’m a real bastard for details and looking over his work, I couldn’t find a single thing to pick fault with. The methods he’s used are literally over-engineered, but they give you a real reassurance that nothings moving, EVER.
The cost? Well, it’s custom work… You gets what you pays for. I wouldn’t say his rates are expensive, they’re very reasonable. A full time machine shop would probably charge you in excess of £700 for the work I had carried out, I can tell you now that you could send off your stuff to Jim and for the same money you’d have enough money left over for a dirty weekend in Paris with your best mate’s sister.
Thanks once again to Jim, and should you have any questions or would like to make any enquiries for his work, please contact him directly on either his Website, Facebook page or his Instagram account.