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Preview – Anorexic AR-10

Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper

We send Armalite’s Super SASS to Fat Camp

After hearing about a few too many “game changers” that didn’t live up to their marketing hype, I’ve become pretty jaded when it comes to new products in the firearms industry. When I sat down with a company called Proof Research at the 2013 SHOT Show in Vegas, I had my BS detector with me. They were claiming to have perfected the process of building rifle barrels out of carbon fiber. Well, technically, it’s actually wrapping really thin steel barrels in the space-age compound. I’m always up for carrying less weight so I was intrigued. When they offered to put a barrel on the Armalite Super SASS languishing in my safe, I figured I’d let them prove their claims.

Proof Research is based in the emerging gunmaking Mecca of Western Montana and encompasses four previously independent companies. The firm combines a small custom rifle company specializing in ARs and bolt guns, a traditional steel barrel factory, its carbon-fiber barrel operation, and a synthetic stock manufacturer. Proof Research builds rifles from the ground up, as well as sells components to consumers and manufacturers alike. Though I’ve used some of its other products, which are first-rate, it is the innovation in the realm of carbon-fiber barrel construction that is making waves in the firearm industry.

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Carbon fiber is roughly seven times stronger than steel by weight, and though it has been around as long as the AR-10, it didn’t see widespread use on firearm parts until the past decade. Even now, the process of producing carbon fiber barrels that meet claims of strength, accuracy, and heat dissipation has proven difficult for even the best manufacturers. Using fibers traditionally found on race car brakes and wrapping them in a manner that favors the longitudinal heat dispersion of the materials, Proof Research’s barrels are designed to dissipate the heat emanating from the steel barrel rather than insulate it. Proof’s barrels begin as full-profile cut-rifled match grade 416R stainless steel barrel blanks made in-house that are turned down to a thin profile everywhere but the shank, muzzle, and gas block journal. This pencil-thin steel is then wrapped with carbon fiber in a helical pattern and secured with a proprietary bonding agent. The process provides a finished product that is stiffer, stronger, and 20- to 64-percent lighter than a steel barrel of equal capability — and it dissipates heat far faster, too. Stiffer barrels mean less harmonic “whip,” resulting in better accuracy; the improved heat dissipation means that the barrel will maintain that accuracy over longer sessions of fire.

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