Featured We Knew Q LLC Was Going to Make Next-Gen ARs and Silencers, But We Didn’t Expect The Fix Rob Curtis January 16, 2017 0 COMMENT What would you do if you were given the chance to start from scratch? Take what you knew, a healthy development budget, grab a few trusted companions, and go for it. That was day three at Q LLC. With all of the company’s employees sitting around a table (it’s a small company, and a big table) Q’s HMIC, Kevin Brittingham, told them he wanted a bolt gun. It has to be light and it has to be cool, he said. He was speaking to a room of accomplished gun guys. Engineers and warfighters meshed their experience to map out the company’s first steps into the unknown. It was decided that Nick Schafer was the lead engineer on The Fix project. He’d worked eight years at Browning where he helped give birth to the Winchester XPR. He then spent a year with SIG SAUER where he worked on the 716 G2 for a Canadian Special Operations Forces contract. He had the rifle chops, and his boss, Ethan Lessard, Q’s V. P. of engineering, would be helping him out. Lessard was one of SIG SAUER’s senior pistol engineers when he left SIG to join Q. He also made a few silencers and was one of the principals on the Honey Badger design team while at AAC. The rest of the sliderule slingers who’d tweak the new bolt gun’s design were Patrick Law, an industrial designer who left Accuracy International to join Q, and Brian Mcdonald, a mechanical engineer who came from SIG’s stable. The other side of the table had the reality checkers, Robby Johnson and Lindsay Bunch, both accomplished military men who would provide broad guidance and validate the design team’s ambitions. Johnson, an Army Ranger, sniper, decorated combat vet and member of the Army’s elite competitive shooting team, the Army Marksmanship Unit. Bunch, a sniper with 20 years of experience using and developing precision weapon systems within the U. S. Special Operations Command. The team had less than a year to transform a whiteboard of ideas into Q’s flagship product, ready for its red carpet debut at SHOT Show 2017. REQUIREMENTS Aside from light and cool, The Fix was to be accurate, reliable, and relatively affordable. The team came up with a laundry list of things they all wish they could change about traditional bolt-action rifles. When it came time to decide which ideas to implement, the decision was ambitious and unanimous. “All of them,” they agreed. “There’s a hole in the market,” says Robby Johnson, Q’s 2IC. “There’s your Savages and Remingtons under $1,000, then there’s the GA Precisions, AIs and Surgeons for $4,000 to $6,000 with long wait times to get in the build queue.” They’d build a $2,500 production rifle that does everything a $6,000 custom can do, and more. The list of must-haves included an extremely crisp two-stage trigger, sub-MOA accuracy, an adjustable folding stock, end-user supportable multicaliber capability, standard magazine compatibility, AR-style controls, and robust accessory mounts. The Fix is designed so that it can be broken down and reconfigured with a T25 driver, barrel nut wrench, and a punch. Everything on the gun can be done on a benchtop or held between the knees; no vice needed. Caliber changes in the field take just a few minutes. “My vision originally was some sort of over-molded, carbonish, stock – like a Manners lightweight attached to this center chassis thing,” says Johnson, continuing in a disarming southern drawl so charming that it probably has it’s own seer sucker suit and bottomless pitcher of sweet tea, “I didn’t think we could get it light enough. I was really geared towards hunting. A precision gun I’d take on an elk hunt, a big sheep hunt or a deer hunt. My precision gun doesn’t really go in a tree stand with me.” Nearly everyone at Q has used and/or produced warfighting gear, so it’s not surprising this crew’s ideal hunting stick appears well suited to bagging two- and four-legged quarry. “We said we’re going to build this for the everyday user, but we know there’s going to be certain military guys that like it,” says Johnson, “Those guys are going to come to us, they have a specific need. But we never attempted to chase current military contracts. But there’s other programs within the military that we know this would be a fit for.” Two things seem worth mentioning at this point. First, when Q came over with The Fix prototype chambered in .308 Win for us, it was in a tiny ukulele gig bag. Ready to spring into the fight, the rifle fits in a space not much bigger than a skateboard. Second, Q is working on a. 338 Federal version of The Fix. They may deny it, but they’re just being coy. The Fix checks all the boxes mentioned above. It’s light; 6 pounds in the long handguard configuration we got to play with. It’ll come out of the gate in 16-inch. 308 Win or a 20-inch 6.5 Creedmoor with more calibers to follow. The action is a short, 45-degree throw fed by AR-10 compatible mags and woken up by a two-stage trigger. The back end features the folding stock that’s adjustable for length of pull and cheek height, and up front the slim handguard accepts Q-sert accessory attachments (Q’s own screw-in accessory attachment system). On top, there’s either a short or long optic rail, both bridging the receiver and handguard, adding rigidity to the system. Q will also have a direct optic mount for 34mm scopes. Coming in at 6 pounds, the rifle, sans optic, weighs barely more than some bare chassis systems. Accuracy International’s AX chassis alone weighs 5.6 pounds, for instance. THE FEEL We’re going off the reservation a bit to describe the feeling we got the first time we held The Fix. It’s the summer between fourth and fifth grade. It’s early evening and the streetlights lining the neighborhood just began buzzing. It’s street ball time and we’re up. We pick up the whiffle ball bat and, for the first time, feel that strange combination of power and maneuverability that comes from gripping something so sized and balanced. The narrow grip fits our preteen hands perfectly and we’re suddenly channeling both Babe Ruth and Sho Kosugi (readers born after 1975, Google him). It’s time to whip some ass. The comparison is close, but imperfect; while that whiffle ball bat gives a hint of it, The Fix carries a lot more authority. It’s like a carrying a 10/22 chambered in .308 Win. THE BREAKDOWN Despite being highly modular, The Fix is light, accurate, and affordable. Three of those attributes are rarely found together; but all four in the same gun is $1000 drop-in-auto-sear rare. The first thing Q threw out was the usual tubular steel receiver. This opened up a lot of internal real estate, giving Schafer and Lessard room to build their crazy MicroMachines-oil-refinery-looking striker cocking assembly (more later). The hybrid design also gave them real estate to use some AR-style controls and an AR compatible grip. The bolt shroud and receiver interface with rails that keep things lined up. Making it out of aluminum means it’s light, and if every aluminum-bodied, semi-auto .308 AR out there has so far managed not to blow the face off its user without Remington’s magic three-rings-of-steel force field, we’re OK with The Fix’s investment cast-aluminum body. Q is using an advanced, cooled investment casting technology that gives them extremely precise control of the material’s shape, doing things for pennies that would cost dollars to do any other way. “With the casting, what we end up with is the ability to make very complex shapes very inexpensively,” says Lessard. “That’s one of the reasons why this is going to be a $2,500 gun, not a $6,000 gun.” PRINTING FOR PROTOTYPES An innovation the consumer won’t see, but they’ll feel at the cash register, is the use of 3D printed casting molds. Traditional casting molds take weeks to make and require paying specialty shops tens of thousands of dollars per iteration. This kind of process doesn’t encourage experimentation. Q makes its own casting molds in-house using its Stratasys Objet30 Prime 3D printer. This way, the design team’s changes can be vetted in days, not weeks, and much more inexpensively. “We’ll eventually cut aluminum like their regular processed molds,” says Johnson, “but we did this to get through the design process. They’d never done this before; we had never done this before. We made it up.” The productivity boost for mechanical engineers using 3D printed casting molds can be likened to a photographer shifting from film to digital imagery. Q’s team will attest to the idea that near-instant feedback leads to increased creativity and lower design costs. 3, 2, 1 The ignition system in The Fix merits its own book; alas we’ve only a few paragraph to explain it. Schafer and Lessard wanted to do something very different; they wanted to incorporate some features of the SIG SAUER classic line pistols into the trigger and sear components. The idea was to reduce the number of components in the system, so tolerances wouldn’t steal the trigger’s feel. Instead of the six or eight parts found in a traditional bolt trigger, Q’s reduced the number of trigger linkage components to just three. The bolt carrier assembly can be taken apart with a punch and the bolt head swapped for different calibers. “The striker and both sear surfaces are controlled by the same component– the bolt,” Lessard says. “Traditionally you have some of this stuff in the action, some of this stuff in the bolt, and when you have two parts that are separated, that are movable between the two, you have a lot more potential for differences in engagement.” The flat, hooked trigger is a balanced linkage with a small spring that provides about 4 ounces of takeup in the first stage. Once the trigger tail makes contact with the sear arm, the trigger in the prototype T&E rifle breaks at an incredibly clean 2.2 pounds. To break a shot, the sear has to overcome not only the sear spring, but a bit of pressure from the striker spring. This negative sear angle adds a bit of safety to the trigger since the striker spring will pull the sear surfaces back into engagement after a partial trigger press. The two-stage, flat-trigger shoe with a slightly convex surface has a hook bottom that makes it easy to index for a consistent pull. The pull on the T&E gun gave us 4 ounces of take up in the first stage with a 2.2 pound break. SAFETY FIRST Being a new animal, Q has some due diligence to perform before releasing a rifle with an unproven ignition system. They’ll drop test the hell out of the gun and run other safety checks to ensure the receiver, bolt, and shroud will contain and redirect an overpressure event through the magazine well, as it’s designed to. Similar to an AR-10, it also has an extra gas tap over the extractor support pin as an alternative way to vent gas. In the case of pierced primer, the back of the cocking piece will blow back into the bolt and plug the hole at the end of the bolt shroud. “Our test plan will follow SAAMI, NATO, and in-house specs and standards for overpressure and drop testing,” says Brittingham. “Our confidence in overpressure is very high, we’ve each blown up a lot of guns in testing in our past jobs, so we have a bank of experience here to draw from.” The engineers tell us this bolt is stronger than anything they’ve built prior. The bolt face and locking lugs that set up for a 45-degree throw. “We did what we’ve done in prior designs and added a 20% performance and safety buffer through stronger material and improved design,” says Lessard. Though Q hasn’t finalized the bolt material yet, the bolt in the T&E rifle is made from C250 steel. While this is overbuilt for the .308 application, we’re reminded The Fix will run a range of calibers with an end-user barrel and bolt head swap, so the C250 sets the bolt up for magnum ammunition with proof pressures in the neighborhood of 95K psi. GOOD JOB, BOLT The Fix’s AR-10–style bolt head has four locking bolt lugs and one that only feeds the chamber. It’s held in place with a cross pin and easily removed for a caliber swap. If you’ve been this deep in other bolt guns, the striker assembly will look familiar. But, the cocking piece, or cam assembly, as Q calls it, is another story. Physics and math tell us cocking a bolt that turns 45 degrees should take more force than a typical Remington 700 90-degree bolt. Our feelers tell us The Fix cocks with close to or slightly more force than our bone-stock 700, which is a pretty impressive feat. The short bolt handle isn’t helping to reduce the cocking force, but it does have enough leverage to work the bolt quickly while keeping the gun svelte. The cocking story is on the inside. That crazy collection of chutes and ladders at the bolt end is the cam. Schafer uses three rollers that ride on the cocking ramps to reduce cocking forces. And, yes, we said ramps. Unlike the 700-pattern action, The Fix uses a pair of opposing cam ramps to bring the striker straight back and hold it centered in the striker channel. Also, unlike a 700, where the cocking piece is attached to the back of the striker, The Fix’s cocking cam assembly is a free-floated ring that rides on the striker, like a bearing, and acts on a shoulder at the striker’s end. Removing the cocking piece from the striker’s end reduces the mass of the striker, making for a faster lock time. The business end of the bolt houses the sear surfaces and the balanced striker surrounded by a cock ring riding on a pair of bearings. The dark triangle in the center of the rear portion is the sear arm. It’s holding the striker back. There are a few reasons Schafer wants the striker light and centered. First, efficiency; the lighter the striker, the easier it is to accelerate. This allows the use of a lighter spring, which also means a lighter trigger. Second, keeping the striker centered prevents uneven, inefficient striker movement when it’s released from the sear. Third, bringing the striker straight back reduces the cocking force by minimizing side loading. Fourth, the cam actually holds the striker in alignment with the sear. The last, and still important, feature of The Fix’s bolt is the way it performs primary extraction. Once the bolt handle is up, and before the bolt begins moving back, the bolt lever rotates back a few degrees camming against the shroud interior. This gets the bolt moving with a little leverage in case of stubborn brass. So, there’s a lot going on in the bolt and we haven’t even touched on the shroud. The Fix’s bolt shroud does more than the 700 shroud. Like the 700, it holds the striker while it’s cocked. But, the shroud on The Fix runs on rails cut into the receiver, preventing side loading from causing binding of the bolt. RUNDOWN There are dozens more innovations in The Fix, and we can’t explain all of them. But, we can give you a drive-by of the major sights. The 1.5-inch-diameter handguard is held in place primarily by a couple of bolts. One draws, the other pinches. Up top, the optic rail bridges the receiver and handguard and adds tension from above. It’s an effective system that keeps mass low. While we aren’t normally big fans of super-slim handguards on heat producing gas guns, a bolt gun barrel is unlikely to get hot enough to bother our dainty mitts. In addition to the 15-inch handguard, Q has a 10-inch version cued up for ounce-counters. Here’s the handguard, still a little dirty from use. Q bypassed KeyMod and M-LOK accessory attachment systems and chose to outfit The Fix with its own system called, Qsert, it conservatively rates 600 pounds of pullout strength. We mentioned the Q-sert earlier. This is Q’s take on handguard accessory attachments. No M-Lok or KeyMod here. Q-serts come directly from work the team did on SOCOM’s PSR sniper platform that called for accessory mounts requiring 250 pounds of pullout strength. Q cold-shouldered KeyMod with justified prejudice and even bypassed Magpul’s M-LOK — ending up using 36 heat-treated, stainless steel inserts that Schafer places at 600 pounds of pullout strength. He says it’s likely more, but the real number would sound absurdly high. The system is easy to use and more than strong enough to hold any accessory, including Andre The Giant. By the time the rifle ships, Q’s goal is to have every screw on the gun turn with a T25 Torx driver. One driver, a barrel nut wrench, and a punch and you can do everything from adding a rail section to swapping calibers — all without a vice. As part of Q’s commitment to end-user accessibility, there’s nothing on the gun you can’t do in a few minutes by laying it flat on a bench or holding it between your knees; including barrel changes and caliber swaps. Instead of wrench flats, Q’s muzzle devices feature a Star Tree interface that takes a socket for assembly and removal. The T&E gun came with a custom, lightweight profile, .308 Bartlein barrel with the chamber cut by Dave Tooley and a Q Cherry Bomb silencer mount/muzzle device. The muzzle is threaded 5/8- 24 with a 25-degree tapered shoulder that’ll accept standard muzzle devices along with Q’s “Quickie mount” tapered muzzle devices and silencers. We hand tightened Q’s all-titanium, 11.7-ounce, 6.6-inch Trash Panda silencer on the Cherry Bomb and left it on for the whole T&E. If maximizing carried weight is your thing, you can ditch the full-length handguard, full-length optic rail, and the Cherry Bomb QD-mount and Trash Panda silencer combo and instead run the forthcoming shorter, 10-inch handguard, short top rail (or skip the rail and go with the optional direct scope mount that replaces the top rail), and use Q’s direct-thread, Half-Nelson silencer for the lightest setup possible. The Fix’s handguard-to-barrel-to-receiver interface is a novel design that uses pinch nuts to secure the properly torqued barrel nut. Headspace is set at the factory with a locknut so all the user has to do is torque the barrel to 35 foot pounds it’s held there with the pinch bolt. The barrel nut looks similar to an AR’s, but with fewer threads, because all it’s really doing is guaranteeing contact with the receiver. The pinch bolt below locks it down with zero clearance. This means the bore is doing the work, and the barrel nut drives the contacts into squareness. Headspace is set at the factory with a permanently set jam nut. CUSTOMER SUPPORT The Fix is a modular system. And, the gun industry is littered with guns left behind by their makers. Promises of caliber conversion kits and proprietary accessories written on matchbook covers are left, forgotten on cheap motel nightstands. And yes, we’re looking at you Remington and your ACR. “I view it as lying to the customer,” says Brittingham. “If we don’t do our part, we’ll buy your gun back.” There’s sincerity in his claim. It’s based on the fact that Q is building the rifle system he himself wants. We’re looking forward to the catalog of accessories and upgrades that Q has on tap that’ll make this thing even more versatile. For example, we dig the small bolt handle for carrying the rifle in the woods, but we saw a larger, ball-end style, bolt handle the company is considering offering as an accessory that’d be useful for precision competition. And, the way the bolt carrier is set up, it’s a five second operation to swap the entire handle. The whole thing is swapped at the root, unlike the screw-on knobs that seem to unscrew in your hand during operation. Smart. .308 Win and 6.5mm Creedmoor are at bat, .338 Federal is on-deck and there’s a bevy of options in the hole. Q plans to release standard and magnum sized bolt faces for The Fix, so look for barrels and extensions to come from Q’s partners in anything popular, up to and including short magnums. Brittingham will only say delivery of The Fix is set for 2017. We thought about waterboarding him for more fidelity, but that’d only slow development down, so settled for a quote about the first guns being 16-inch .308s with a 15-inch handguard, full-length optic rail, two accessory rail sections, a Cherry Bomb muzzle device, and two mags. ON THE RANGE AND TRAIL We went to the mat, grouping The Fix with a few cartridges. All testing was done with the Trash Panda in place, because we aren’t heathens, and we’re shamelessly pushing for the universal adoption of suppressors. The best holes we made came from Black Hills 175-grain Tipped MatchKing. We measured 0.62 MOA at 100 yards with velocity at 2,399 fps. One of our five-shot groups with Black Hills .308 175 gr MatchKing. Accuracy was as promised, though the thin profile hunting barrel did best when it was allowed to cool between strings. We launched Hornady’s Precision Hunter 178 ELD-X and Federal Premium’s 175-grain Sierra MatchKing Gold Medal Match downrange, too. They opened up a hair compared to the Black Hills, but all the ammo printed better than 0.79 MOA groups using a slow-fire, five-round, four-string series for each cartridge. It was a little touch-and-go at first, as we stomped the gas pedal a little harder than the lightweight profiled barrel liked. Some vertical stringing had us scratching our head until we slowed to a realistic whitetail hunting speed. Still, with the barrel hot, stressed, and stringing, it gave groups in the 0.9 MOA region. Hunters will keep the lighter barrel, but competitors might look forward to a heavier profile tube. We experienced zero bolt bind. Working at it, we found a moment of leverage that could make the bolt slow a little, but it wouldn’t straight-up stop. We’re fans of flat triggers, so we took right to the flat hook on The Fix. We found the hook is a great anchor point and serves as an index for consistent finger placement. The slight crown to its face makes it more comfortable than some of our favorite triggers, too. Its 2.2-pound break is instant and crisp with no overtravel and a complete absence of creep. For further refinement, Q plans to replace the no-name safety selector on the prototype with a 45- and 90-degree capable selector from Radian Weapons. The gun takes any AR grip without a beavertail, so pick your poison. The Magpul MOE-K put the grip at the right angle for us. We didn’t mess with the butt stock height and LoP but we’ll point out they’re each a one screw affair with a large jam nut maintaining adjustment while the lock screw is loose. The buttpad can be raised or lower without tools. The stock is adjustable for length of pull, cheek height and shoulder height. We found the gun kicked a little with the can in place, and quite a bit without. Ergo, we treated the silencer as a factory installed option. Q was still playing with the feed ramp angle when they brought us the gun and we ended up running P-Mags with four coils clipped to ease the loading force for the first round. We hope the Q crew looks at the mag catch, though. It extends far enough into the magwell that it stalls the mag on its left feedlip and needs a bottom chamfer for smooth mag insertion. It’s an easy fix, so we assume it’ll be addressed. Slinging the gun up for a hike through the snowy woods was a pleasure. Folded up, the can-less gun is shorter than an Mk18; add the can and it’s still an inch shorter than a 14.5- inch carbine. The hinge stayed folded, even swinging around over rocks and moving through heavy brush. The mag release on the prototype gun was an off-theshelf AR part that stood proud and made inserting a mag tough. We’ll call it a teething issue that Q’ll take care of. Set for 50-state hunting with a Leupold Mark 6 3-18 and five rounds in the tank, The Fix is 8.5 pounds of stubby barreled east coast quadruped assassin. Add a can and bipod, and it’s 10 pounds and ready for a 500-meter overwatch mission. (The same setup on a chassis-mounted 700 is more than 15 pounds.) Add options for a longer, heavier barrel and bigger calibers and The Fix will deliver quarry from the North Carolina woods to the Hindu Kush. Sure, it’ll presently only go up to short magnum calibers, but it’s $12,000 cheaper and 12 pounds lighter than a Remington MSR. At $2,795, we know this gun isn’t for everyone. But, it is for everyone who wishes they could have the performance of a $6,000 rifle in an incredibly scalable package for $2,795. The Fix shows us how a company can reap the benefits of advanced prototyping and manufacturing on both performance and price. Starting with a clean slate, Q took every opportunity to let machines, computers and a “why not?” attitude build a gun that provides well more value than is evident in its price tag. Reducing development costs while bringing a better, more accurate and more capable product to market at lower prices represents the next generation of doing business in the firearms industry. The Fix represents the next evolutionary step in the development of the bolt action. Where the family tree branched into the separate species of hunting and tactical rifles decades ago, The Fix is their offspring. It blends the best of both platforms– the light weight of the hunting rifle with the adaptability of the tactical bolt gun. The full-length handguard and optic rail can be replaced with a short, 10-inch handguard and a short optic rail to shave some weight. Further, it does this without introducing any unfamiliar paradigms to the operator. It uses standard, large frame AR platform magazines, provides an AR-style cockpit, and takes your Picatinny rail-mounted optics and accessories. There’s no expensive, proprietary mags, no dicking with unfamiliar controls; it’s like your significant other shrunk your favorite Saturday afternoon sweatshirt in the wash and, not only does it now fit better, but you get an apology date to boot. And, by date, you know what we mean. While we can’t say The Fix is revolutionary, it’s a historic evolutionary step bringing the AR generation the bolt gun they’ve always wanted, even if they never quite realized it. Photos by Straight8 Photography and Rob Curtis/RECOIL TEST AMMO: Black Hills Ammunition .308 Win Match 175gr Tipped MatchKing Hornady Precision Hunter .308 Win 178 ELD-X Federal Premium .308 Win 175 gr Sierra MatchKing Gold Medal Match Make: Q LLC Model: The Fix Caliber: .308 Win Twist Rate: 1:10 Barrel Length: 16 inches Overall Length: 35.25 inches (26 inches, folded) (31 inches, folded, with can) Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds Weight Unloaded: 6.02 pounds with short handguard MSRP: $2795 URL: liveqordie.com FEATURED ACCESSORIES: Q LLC Trash Panda Silencer $911 Knights Armament Company Precision Bipod $437 Leupold Mark 6 3-18x44mm $2860 Nightforce X-Treme Duty Ultralite One-Piece MagMount $295 Price as Featured: $7,298 For more RECOIL, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 29 This has been a special SHOT Show installment of Industry News What is the NSSF SHOT Show? The NSSF SHOT Show (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show) and Conference is an annual event held by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Typically attended by thousands of people from all 50 states and over a hundred countries, it is (quite rightfully) described as the “…world’s premier exposition of combined firearms, ammunition, law enforcement, cutlery, outdoor apparel, optics, and related products and services. Imagine the Worlds’ Fair, but packed with everything from mini-guns and every breed of body armor, bows and boots; from eye pro and ear pro to optics and ordnance, socks to swords…you get the idea. If you’d like to see a sampling of the companies who will be showing at this year’s SHOT, there’s a live map right here, though it doesn’t reflect the organizations set up elsewhere, in hotel suites, etc View imagery from our coverage of last year’s SHOT Show here; 2015’s is right here. SHOT 2017 Schedule January 15 — Special invite-only events; Veterans Training Fund/Wishes for Warriors at The Ranch, SIG Sauer Range Day, and others January 16 — Media on the Range, Boulder City Rifle & Pistol Club January 17 — 20, 2016 Sands Expo and Convention Center Las Vegas, Nevada Hours Tuesday, January 17 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 18 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Thursday, January 19 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Friday, January 20 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.