Like so many of you, I am always looking for the latest and greatest gear the outdoor and firearms industry has to offer. It is a in my nature to be curious about such things so when I got my first look at the published, pre-production ARAK-21 by Faxon Firearms earlier this year, I was immediately intrigued.
“What’s that?” you say? A long stroke piston operated system that mates to an AR lower, is multi-caliber, folding stock capable, has AR accuracy with AK ruggedness…? Are you kidding me? Someone take my money! Well after the initial excitement wore off, skepticism set in. Hasn’t this been done before? Is this really different than all the AR piston operated uppers out there? Will I end up disappointed the same way I have been with some other unmentioned platforms that promised the world but never delivered? Is this really just marketing hype? Should put my AR and AK on the chopping block to fund a new rifle called the ARAK? And for that matter who in the heck is Faxon Firearms and how much experience do they have?
Mr. Bob Faxon started Faxon Firearms in 2012. So that would make them the new kid on the block, right? Not really. Faxon Firearms is really a branch of Faxon Machining. Bob began Faxon Machining, based out of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1978. They have spent the last 35 years machining parts for the defense, aerospace, automotive and medical fields just to name a few. So to put this in perspective, they have been cutting metal, to extreme tolerances, for demanding clients as long as I have been alive. Ok, you have my attention. Bob is an avid firearms enthusiast who decided to put his expertise in machining to improving his passion. Firearms. As a lifelong shooter, he noticed his legacy AR type rifles were missing the features he wanted in a gun. So what’s a guy to do? Bob decided to manufacture a complete upper receiver assembly to his specifications… from scratch. It was his attempt at creating a hybrid AR and AK. So in 2012 the ARAK-21 was born.
After watching an interview or two of Bob at Shot Show 2013 and doing as much research as I could at the time I figured I’d pull the trigger and get my double order in. I assumed I could always trade them in for something else if they didn’t live up to my expectations. So, with some reservation, I laid down the plastic for a 5.56 upper and a 5.56/300 Blackout combo set and waited.
Of my two ordered ARAK-21’s the 5.56 version arrived on my doorstep first. It was shipped in an unassuming white box which contained another, more rigid black box with a large Faxon logo displayed on the front. The contents of the box were packed very professionally in black rigid foam, precisely cut to match the ARAK-21. There was also a section cut out to accommodate a separate barrel should you order the combo deal which comes with an extra barrel. My 5.56/300 Blackout combo upper arrived a few weeks later, utilized this portion of the case.
Like any normal guy, I tossed aside the instruction manual, pulled out the ARAK-21, verified it was clear of any ammunition, and slapped it on the first lower I could get my hands on. This happened to be an AX556 billet lower by AXTS. Once the ARAK-21 was installed I noticed I had a slight problem. The bolt catch on the AX556 lower is abnormally large so it can be reached by the trigger finger of a left handed shooter to drop the bolt. This extension was in conflict with the bolt catch cut out in the ARAK-21 causing the bolt catch to be permanently engaged. (I later shaved off about a ¼” of the bolt catch, re-finished it, and reinstalled the ARAK-21 for perfect fit and function.)
I pulled the ARAK-21 off the AX556 and slapped it on a Noveske N4 GEN 1 lower. It fit perfectly with zero play between the upper and lower assemblies. As it didn’t come with any iron sights, I mounted a set of Diamondhead BUIS and got a feel for how it presented. The balance was good and it pointed well, however, I noticed the top rail was higher than my ARs. As this uses a long stroke piston system, similar to the AK design, there is about a ½” increase in height over your typical AR from the stock to the top of the rail. This is design feature is found in many piston operated firearms such as the ACR, SCAR, XCR, POF uppers and the HK 416 to name a few. This will have an impact on your normal cheek weld depending on how you set up your gun. More on that later. The 5.56 upper weighed in at 5.5lbs while the 300 Blackout was just under at 5.4 lbs. respectively. Of course when you start to load it up with lights, BUIS, optics, sound suppressors, etc., the weight goes up. Ergonomics are very familiar as the upper mates with your mil-spec AR lower. This allows for all the same parts interchangeability you have come to love with the AR platform such as triggers, grips and other parts common to the lower receiver. On top of that, the system doesn’t require the use of a buffer, spring or extension tube soooo… folding stock options are available. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for compact transportation. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any folding stock adapters to test for this article.
The fit and finish of the ARAK-21 are impressive and let’s be honest, it just looks mean. I ordered mine in flat black, but other colors like green, red, blue and silver are available. No, FDE is not an option at this time. Mine also came with their subdued logo in black. You can also order it with their full sized logo in white, but that’s not really my cup of tea. The upper is birthed from an aircraft grade 6061-T6 aluminum billet block into a one piece design that is hard coat anodized. It sports a full length 15 inch 1913 picatinny rail that is indexed for repeat optic and laser placement. The sides of the upper have facets that have been milled in at 45 degree angles. In these facets there are ventilation holes top and bottom on both sides. The way it is machined the forend appears stealth like and very reminiscent of the F-117 Nighthawk especially when viewed from the front of the upper. When put on a beefy billet lower like the AX556, those aesthetics are further enhanced. It also comes with three removable aluminum rail sections at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions for you lights, lasers, grips, etc. Each rail section sits on a .060” thick phenolic shim to act as a thermal break between the forend and the rail sections. This is important as the front of the forend is clamped to the gas block which allows for heat transfer to the upper during prolonged shooting. The insulated shims help to dissipate the heat transfer to the user’s hands if one is shooting without rail covers or gloves. The charging handle is on the left hand side; however it is easily transferred to the right without tools. It is also foldable, non-reciprocating (thank you Faxon) and spring returned. The ejection port comes sans dust cover and is on the right hand side but can be ordered for left hand ejection if desired. Faxon uses a deep black Nitride finish on the gas tube, gas block, carrier, piston rod, bolt, gas adjuster, muzzle device and barrel for extended life of the parts.
My uppers have 16.2 inch medium contour barrels for both 5.56 (1:7 twist) and .300 Blackout (1:8 twist). The barrels can be ordered in a heavy contour barrel as well. 20 inch barrels are also available. The caliber is marked on the side of the barrel for identification and the 300 Blackout barrel has three tactile rings near the muzzle that can be felt in low light conditions. This was done because it is not a good idea to feed your gun the wrong ammunition which can be an easy thing to do with 5.56 and 300 Blackout as they can use the same magazines. Faxon is very proud of their barrels as they make them in house. The Barrels are made from re-sulpherized 4150 chromolly gun barrel quality mil-B-11595-E pre heat treated 28 – 32 Rc Steel. The barrels are button rifled and QPQ nitride finished. They “use a .223 SAMI certified proof round to test every 5.56 barrel, barrel trunnion, and bolt. As there are no SAMI standard 300 BLK proof rounds, the 300 barrels we test the barrel trunnion and the bolt with a 5.56 barrel and a .223 proof round. Every part then goes to a third party for magnetic particle inspection. After the inspection passes, the trunnion, bolt, and barrels are certified and marked…” Faxon states they have put over 10,000 rounds through their barrels with no discernible wear. The barrels also have the gas block pinned to the barrel. The gas settings are adjustable and there are four positions. Three for gas flow and one for no flow i.e. single shot function. There is also a clean out port for the gas block between the gas cylinder, and the barrel. Each barrel is fitted with a Faxon muzzle device that has the company name and caliber stamped on the front.
After I finished getting a feel for the assembled rifle, I finally took the time to find the manual I earlier tossed aside just to verify the disassembly and reassembly process. When I opened the manual I found an inspection/thank you card, my order info and bunch of pages full of detailed isometric CAD drawings describing every part of the ARAK-21. It laid out the operation, maintenance and had a parts list with part numbers and service codes. Very impressive and helpful if you ask me. The amazing thing about this manual is it really showcased the fact that the ARAK-21 was not just a reworked AR or AK, rather it was a brand new system altogether.
The disassembly and reassembly process is completely intuitive for anyone remotely mechanically inclined. It really comes down to a few easy steps. First, make sure the weapon is clear and safe. Next remove the upper from the lower just like you would on a standard AR-15. Push the recoil spring guide retainer pin out. Note: It is captured so it will not fall out in the field. Push in and down on the recoil spring guide. Once clear of the upper, it will slide right out. Lastly, pull the charging handle to the rear and the bolt carrier/op rod assembly will slide out. The cool thing about the bolt carrier assembly is it rides on hardened steel guide rails that are mated with the aluminum upper. The result is it is a completely self-contained system that has zero carrier tilt issues like the ones that need to be accounted for in current AR Piston guns. This concludes your basic field strip.
To disassemble the bolt, press down on the firing pin release lever and remove the firing pin. Remove the bolt cam and pull the bolt out. Lastly you can push out the extractor pin to remove the extractor and spring like an AR. Reassembly is in the opposite order. It should be good to note at this point that the only parts that are compatible with the AR platform (lower excluded) are the firing pin, ejector spring and extractor spring. Yes, the bolt looks similar to the AR bolt, but upon closer inspection they are very different. The AR has lugs that are squared off while the Faxon has lugs that are rounded. The lugs are spaced differently and the extractor sizes are different. The gas rings are also missing from the ARAK bolt. All proprietary parts can and must be ordered through Faxon.
As the ARAK-21 is multi-caliber platform the barrels can be changed out very easily in about three minutes or so. It is as simple as clearing the weapon, removing the upper from the lower and removing the internals. Next loosen the 6 screws on the bottom of the hand guard. These screws will not fall free as they are captured within the hand guard. Next remove the hand guard, lift up on the barrel and pull it out. Side note: As the upper clamps to the gas block the barrel is not free floating. Next, put in your new barrel and reassemble in opposite order. It should also be mentioned the 300 Blackout comes with a shorter recoil spring that must be used for proper function. It is colored yellow for easy identification.
The first ARAK-21 I shot was the 5.56 variant mounted to my AX556 lower receiver. It was fitted with an Aimpoint T-1 (4MOA) in a Larue Tactical LT571 mount with 3x Aimpoint magnifier. I was getting about 1-1/2 to 2 MOA with American Eagle.223 55 grain rounds off the bench. With better ammunition, a finer retical and more magnification I am sure the groups would have tightened up some. There were zero malfunctions. Ejection was to the 1 and 2 o’clock positions throwing the brass about 8 feet or so. Recoil was a non-issue thanks to the duel spring recoil system and the Faxon muzzle device. I was using a Magpul UBR stock which adjusted the weight of the gun to the rear some to help balance it out. As I mentioned earlier, the top rail is ½ inch higher that your typical AR which the UBR stock was designed to run behind. This necessitated shooting with a chin weld to get the proper eye/optic alignment, which for this shooter is not ideal. This can obviously be fixed in numerous ways such as getting a stock adapter such as the Magpul CTR riser or the Battleline S.A.P.R. I ended up testing both of these products for my 300 Blackout gun. Another solution would be to buy a mount and BUIS that sit lower on the upper. The choice is up to you and how much money you want to spend.
Once I received my 300 Blackout combo upper a month or so later I put it on the Noveske N4 lower and as mentioned above, utilized both the Magpul CTR with ¾” riser as well as the B5 SOPMOD with the Battleline Industries S.A.P.R. attached. Both of these devices raised my eye level for proper alignment behind the Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II 1-6×24 scope which was secured in an American Defense MFG mount. I was using PNW Arms 125 grain match rounds. Shooting it un-suppressed was rather uneventful. Everything worked as it should once I adjusted the gas settings accordingly. Recoil was outstanding and amounted to nothing more than a slight nudge. Due to ammo availability, this was primarily a function test and I did not evaluate for accuracy. A few weeks later I had the opportunity to get my hands on some PNW Arms sub-sonic 220 grain rounds and an AAC 7.62 SND-6 sound suppressor. This was an absolute pleasure to shoot once the gas system was tuned to the sub-sonic round. The gun stayed on target for reaction drills like a laser beam. Follow up shots were very quick and the gun functioned without incident. I think I found my new favorite round… I just which I could afford to shoot it more!
Overall I am very happy with the ARAK-21 and look forward to getting more range time with both the uppers. I am I going to revert back to my original back up plan? No. I don’t see myself getting rid of either anytime soon. Is it better than the AR or the AK? Only time will tell, but if you ask me it is a huge step in the right direction and incorporates many of the great aspects of both platforms. It also has a ton of potential in regards to a variety of calibers and configurations. Faxon has already announced they are planning to offer many more calibers in the future starting with a .22 LR kit! Personally I am looking forward to a .308 version for an AR-10 lower (cross fingers). They are also working on full auto and SBR versions for you folks who live in states which allow that type of freedom. Do I think you should sell off your AR or AK at this point? No, but if you have the means, give the ARAK-21 a try. You may find you have the best of both worlds.
For pricing and availability visit http://www.faxonfirearms.com.