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TommyBuilt Tactical’s T36 Puts a Pop-Culture Icon in Reach for the Rest of Us

Photos by Niccole Elizabeth

Because you suck and we hate you?

It’s anybody’s best guess as to why Heckler & Koch still refuses to bring a legitimate G36 variant to the civilian market. So their unofficial crowd-sourced marketing slogan will have to suffice for explanation. Despite its unattainable status for real people, the entertainment industry has latched onto this rifle, almost from inception, and put it on a pedestal that may be somewhat undeserved. We say that because, after negative performance reports from German soldiers serving in Afghanistan, serious questions about the G36’s accuracy and abilities were raised, examined, and deemed to be substantiated. The net effect was that, as of this year, the Bundeswehr will be phasing the G36 out of frontline service.

Having said that, at the time of its inception in the early ’90s, it was an earnest attempt at advancement. The G36 makes extensive use of plastics and polymers, and even first-gen guns included a 1.5x optic built into the carry handle as a standard feature. Future iterations would include the ability to screw on Picatinny rail sections to accommodate modern accessories, as well as a top rail for more sighting options. All in all, the G36 was a well-intentioned stab at a lightweight, modular, piston-driven assault rifle with early gen combat optics and a downright cool space force feel. It may be this aesthetic, more than anything else that endeared it to American pop culture. A fan favorite in both the Rainbow Six and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video game franchises, the G36’s unmistakable silhouette is a staple of movie, TV, and game productions.

Despite its laundry list of Hollywood and Silicon Valley casting credits, HK has yet to meet its American market anywhere close to the middle. In 2014, they teased the HK293 as a true civilian version of the G36 but, at time of writing, we have yet to hear or see anything concrete on this rifle.

The Stop-Gap

What they did do, in the late ’90s, is release the SL8. The SL8, though based on the G36 chassis, was heavily modified to comply with import restrictions. The biggest changes were deleting the carry-handle-optic setup and changing both the bolt and magwell to feed from single-stack 10-round magazines. It also came standard with a ban-compliant, non-threaded “sporter” barrel and thumbhole stock. Yuck. The good news was that actual G36 parts were, at least for a while, available without too much hassle. But the bolt and magwell required to get an SL8 to feed G36 mags are both German. Which means that any attempt at conversion brings 922R compliance into play — mandating a certain minimum number of American parts be used in any SL8/G36 conversion build in order to keep from running afoul of the 1968 Gun Control Act. Red tape aside, the labor hours required to properly install all these conversion parts is not insignificant. During the early 2000s a cottage industry of niche gunsmiths specializing in SL8-to-G36 conversions arose to meet the rabid demand of HK fanboys who, for better or worse, don’t half-ass anything they set their sights on.

One of those ’smiths was Tom Bostic of TommyBuilt Tactical. Right around 2007 they came up with a formula to convert the back end of an SL8 to original G36 coolness. To give you an idea of the complexity of this conversion process, here’s an abridged list of the parts and procedures required, as noted on the TommyBuilt website:

  • Add G36 rear hinge section to SL8 receiver with laser-cut stainless steel support plate, add stock hold open ledge to the top of the shell case deflector, remove top alignment nub from carrier.
  • Double stack magazine conversion, mill receiver, install laser cut metal support plate, plastic weld cover and refinish area to look factory. (Magwell and bolt head required, but not included.)
  • Convert German G36 lower to semi or swap in SL8 fire control components and modify lower to fit.
  • Sl8 to G36C barrel conversion (gas piston, op-rod/spring set and flash hider required and not included)
  • Mill G36 carrier to semi specs.

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