Black guns are out, brown guns are in.

No, that’s not true, we have sort of reached a watershed moment where all guns matter. What is true is that people are being more likely to buy what they want than what the market drives them to buy. So there are a lot of companies making nice sporting arms that run the gamut from cheap and cheerful to miniature giraffe opulence.

The standout thing for me, because I am in the thick of the manufacturing process all the time, is QC. I am often stunned by the quality of the stuff I see at SHOT, because why the hell are you not bringing your best work to display? The whole show is populated by things that are hammered together at the very last minute. Yes, I also understand that sometimes tradeshows are a special case, and they often are loaded with things done at the last minute. I’m talking about manufacturing processes that are loaded with hand work. Don’t get me wrong, nothing pleases me like a well and carefully handmade object, many of which are works of art in their own right. No, I’m talking about manufacturing processes that should be, but aren’t, foolproof.

If you are making a product using modern manufacturing techniques, and that product requires more than the most minimal hand finishing, you don’t know what you are doing, and you should probably stop doing it. Granted, I have a jaundiced eye, but I have been in manufacturing for so long I tend to be extremely critical of what passes for modern manufacturing.

Most, if not all, of the major manufacturers of firearms and accessories, and this applies to nothing more than AR’s and AR parts, are loaded with hand operations, and the QC is, to put it mildly, not as good as it could be.

Gauging is the simplest part of this. And most people have no idea how to use a gauge. Here’s an example.

I have been to a round dozen manufacturers of AR parts, and some of them are the big names in the new hotness, and many of them do not even have a go/no go for the upper threads on an AR.

What this means is that their stuff all works together, but if you want to use someone else’s barrel shroud, it may not fit. Now the brilliance of Stoners design lies at least in part in the ability to make some allowance for under or oversize, but dramatic changes aren’t going to be tolerated.

When Whitney did his “Interchangeable parts” demo for Congress, everyone could immediately see the value, but the actual production of interchangeable parts didn’t happen quickly or readily. And it still doesn’t today; mostly because different companies use different manufacturing methods and gauging standards. Within a company, you will get all the parts to the same spec and they will work together, but decide that you want to put a caspian slide on that old Ithaca 1911? You will either have lots of hand fitting, or it will be so loose as to be useless. Almost nothing comes out of the box and still works.

And the more the manufacturing process wanders off the reservation, the worse this is going to get. Right now almost everything for Glocks is basically bolt on, but that won’t last long as other companies begin to aftermarket parts.

Apple tried to head off a lot of this QC drift by retaining control over what got certified and what did not. Hardware and software for Apple products had to be “approved”. This kept the system stable and for users this was a very good thing, the platform started and stayed reliable. The open architecture of the PC made for an anything goes no holds barred PC deathmatch even within it’s own OS, and this had it’s own set of advantages, and frankly, disadvantages. There isn’t anything stopping anyone from building anything for any gun, and this has meant some real innovation, and a powerful lot of freaky crap.

A lot of the freaky crap has been as a direct result of market forces. People want their stuff to be cooler than other people’s stuff. Accessorizing is a way to make that happen. Most of those accessories are crap.

But they’re not always crap because of the way they’re made. They’re crap because of design and implementation, or maybe even the actual concept. (Manley Innovations, anyone?) if you buy a chinese made product to bolt onto your AR, you will probably find that it fits a little loosely. That’s because they build it to fit on even the most out of tolerance mating part they can find. They know Bubba will just put a bigger wrench on it to get it tight and apply loctite to keep it from wobbling. A good armorer will discard it out of hand, but it isn’t bad because it’s quality control is bad, it’s quality control is very nearly flawless, it is doing just exactly what it’s makers intend for it to do; fit, no matter what.

That high end AR you paid dearly for is a very good piece of equipment. And because all the parts came from one place they made sure they fit together well, and they made sure that the accessories you wanted would bolt on easily as well. But until all those companies are using the exact same methods of QC on their parts, until they all refine their manufacturing processes until they require NO hand work to make anything fit, the idea of “interchangeable parts”, while strictly true, does not mean that you can, as Whitney did, throw all the parts onto a table and make ten guns that are all as good as the ten guns you began with. And unless you have the skills and equipment to do these QC checks yourself, this is all still best left to a good smith.