Steel & Wood AR-15 – Custom Case Colored TAR-15 Rifle from Turnbull Manufacturing Company.

Guns America

What do you buy the tactical nut who has everything? The answer is: A steel framed, bone charcoal case colored Doug Turnbull AR-15 called the TAR-15. It costs $2,750 with a plain American Black Walnut stock, and you’ll have to get in line if you want to buy one, because they are selling like hotcakes and backordered 5 months. Wait a minute, you ask? Wooden stock? Steel? AR-15? Something doesn’t add up here. But no, your eyes are not deceiving you.  

The king of firearm restoration, Doug Turnbull, has been making his own firearms for years, and his newest projects are on the AR platform, in .308, .223, and even 7.62×39 and .300 Blackout. We were able to test the .223 version of the gun, just to see if it actually works, and not surprisingly, the TAR-15 is as functional as it is beautiful. Steel and wood will never take the place of aluminum and plastic in the AR-15 world, but if you want a genuinely unique gun, no two of these will ever look the same, and the price is very reasonable for something that only a handful of people will ever own.

Elegance or blasphemy. That is the question, and in showing the TAR-15 around, those are the two responses that have come from most folks. On the one hand, the AR-15 has always been the poster child for change in the way the world thought about battle rifles. Prior to the AR-15/M-16, rifles were made from steel and wood. The M1 Garand, the M14 (M1A), the FN-FAL, the HK-91/G3 (CETME), the AK-47, and every other bolt rifle and machinegun in military service all featured a steel receiver, usually with a wooden stock. Then along came the AR-15 and the US Military adapted M-16, made from aluminum and plastic, and that changed everything. Gone was the 10 pound battle rifle in favor of an under 8 pound rifle that also had lighter ammo. A steel and wood AR-15 to some degree spits on the legacy of the gun itself, and some people take offense to that. A diehard fan of the AR-15 wouldn’t want a TAR-15? Note that this is a question not a statement!

Because on the other hand, gun nerds will always be gun nerds and the Turnbull ARs are really nifty. Why wouldn’t a diehard fan want one, if it fits the budget? Look at the pictures here. This is the base model, and it is gorgeous, though I would choose to upgrade the wood if I were to buy one, which I might. It is difficult to capture in two dimensional pictures the elegance of the lines of the steel frame itself, even without the case coloring. You can’t just use the same casting mold that you use for aluminum and fill it up with steel. The melting point of steel is roughly twice that of aluminum, over 2600 degrees depending on the alloy, and from a metalworking perspective this is like apples and oranges. That is why the Turnbull ARs are… drumroll please, 100% machined from a block of 8620 carbon steel. They do not start with any kind of casting and then work it to shape from there, as you would expect. To give you an idea of how hard that is, to get the clean, elegant lines and curves that you see on this gun, your smartphone most likely took less effort to develop than the TAR-15. Alien technology is almost definitely involved.

The internal components of the TAR-15 are mostly from DPMS, though other minor manufacturers are in there as well. What is most amazing about the gun is the fact that it actually works. If you think about the jigs that Doug Turnbull had to concoct to get all of the slots and curves inside that receiver to match the internals of a cast aluminum receiver, it is actually more incredible than what went on for the outside. Aluminum is easy to machine. Keeping a milling machine bit on track in aluminum is like a hot knife through butter. Take that same bit, or an even harder bit, and try to cut 8620 carbon steel precisely, and that is a completely different experience, and a whole other world in realm of metalwork. Yet every cut and curve on the TAR-15 matches the guts of an aluminum AR perfectly, and the gun works flawlessly. We put over 200 rounds through our test gun and it didn’t malfunction once. Every control on the TAR-15 is exactly where you expect it, and nothing is stiff or forced. Every edge is smooth and no cut or hole is rough or bigger than it exactly needs to be. Pictures may be worth 1,000 words, but holding the TAR-15 and shooting it is worth 1,000 pictures. If you eat drink and sleep AR, you will not believe how elegant this gun feels and works.

The only real differences between the TAR-15 and a regular AR are the weight, 8 lbs., 7 ounces empty for the TAR-15 vs. usually about 7.5 lbs. for a regular AR, and there is no gate on the ejection port. So if you are on your way to a security job in Iraq, probably leave the TAR-15 back in the safe while you are in the desert raking in all that cash. Sun is also the worst thing for case colors as well. It takes all those bright blues and purples out with a lot of exposure, so it’s not a good gun for the desert anyway. Whitetail hunters and hog stalkers might also want to be aware of the weight as well, but otherwise, the TAR-15 is a cool gun that can be used normally for most AR tasks. We measured the accuracy with a red dot at 50 yards and she looked to be about 1.5-2 MOA, which is about normal for a parts AR. Turnbull Manufacturing is known for refurbishing work, not accurizing and performance enhancements, but since these are custom orders I am sure they would be able to quote jobs with specific high performance hardware, assuming the parts are available.

And that folks, is the catch. These are custom made firearms and Turnbull Manufacturing is currently running 4-5 months for delivery. Sooooo, if you want to order one for this Christmas, or forward this article on to a significant other for this Christmas, the time would be now to get the information chain moving and get that order in. Please see our first article on Turnbull Restorations if you are interested in that part of the business, and for further explanation of how they do the case color with bone charcoal. It is cool stuff no matter what kind of gun nut you happen to be.

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