I’ve heard much discussion about the AR15 parts kits by Blackthorne Products LLC. Some of the information has been positive and some has been negative, some has been based on actual experiences with the company and other posts have been mostly hearsay. Questions about Blackthorne continue to fly around the boards, both here and at AR15.com. Are the kits based on “seconds” or lesser quality parts? Has the company that previously sold Vulcan-Hesse products changed its ways? And the most basic of all milsurper questions… is the price too good to be true or is this truly a bargain worth looking into?
Forum members like Spystyle, Yoslick, and others have written excellent reviews of their Blackthorne-based rifles and have addressed some of the rumors regarding Blackthorne. But it can’t hurt to add more opinions from people that have first hand experience with the fit and finish, as well as the range performance of these kits.
I have been looking for a decent, complete parts kit to use as a basis for several upcoming projects. I thought it may be helpful to share my experiences with one of Blackthorne’s kits, but if you’re looking for a range report, you won’t find it here. My goal is only to show what sort of parts you can expect to receive from Blackthorne, both cosmetically and in terms of ease of assembly. I’ll leave it to the experienced Blackthorne owners to address the abilities of their rifles at the range since any new rifle needs to be shot several hundred times before one can begin to write with any level of confidence concerning its strengths and weaknesses.Ordering
I ordered the Rifle Kit, Standard, A3 Upper, 20” AR-RKA3http://akpartskits.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=272&osCsid=5b0987b973f6b2e81138d01838d2804e
The price of the kit was $369, with $20 shipping for a total of $389 to my front door.
The order was placed on Monday morning and I had the box in my hands by the end of the day on Wednesday (from PA to MI).Packaging
The first thing I noticed regarding the box was that it was squashed in multiple places around the perimeter. Aside from grumbling about the bozos that drive the UPS trucks in my area, I assumed that the packing inside was probably skimpy. My assumption was confirmed when I opened the box to find my parts kit rattling around among a loose jumble of glossy, Sunday newspaper ad inserts.
From the box emerged three, clear plastic packages. One contained the complete upper itself, another one contained the lower parts kit, and the third contained the buttstock and buffer assembly. Perhaps “contained” the buffer assembly is a misleading term. I was amazed that the spring hadn’t fallen out of its open-ended packaging as seen in the photo below.
Note that the only bubble wrap in the container was around the buttstock. I would have liked to have seen a little more protection of the upper… the single most expensive item in the box. Nevertheless, upon inspection of the parts, it did not appear that any were harmed during the bumpy ride from Blackthorne’s shop.Inspection
Below are a bunch of pictures of the various components of the parts kit as received:Buttstock…
The only flaws evident on the buttstock were a couple small, very light scuffs on the left side of the stock.Buffer Assembly… not much to see here…Receiver…
Notice the uneven coloration of the barrel where it shows up in these pictures. It is possible that these are the sorts of cosmetically flawed parts that allow Blackthorne to offer their kits at such a substantially reduced price when compared to their competitors.
Also notice in the picture below that the ears of the upper receiver show signs of test assembly prior to shipment. Not pictured here is the bore which shows signs of the upper being test fired prior to shipping. While these kits may contain blemished parts, they do exhibit signs of proper assembly and test firing prior to being sold.
TopBolt Carrier…Charging Handle…Lower Parts Kit…Assembly
Assembly of the Blackthorne A3 parts kit on a Superior Arms lower receiver was accomplished flawlessly. I did not take any pictures of this process because there was very little of note that transpired. I did wrestle a bit with the trigger guard roll pin and despite using a plentiful amount of tape during the process, managed to bang up the anodizing a bit around the hole. This is much more a case of user error than any fault of the parts kit.
The upper fit perfectly with the Superior Arms lower with no wiggle that would cause some builders to go running for an Accuwedge to tighten things up.
The final product:Conclusions Regarding Blackthorne
Overall, Blackthorne Products LLC seems to put together a nice kit for those on a budget that would like to assemble their own AR-15 and don’t mind the no-name parts in the kit. I have no reason to doubt Blackthorne’s claims that their uppers come from LMT or LAR, although there are no stampings on the receivers that I could find that would indicate the origin of the parts. It is very probable that these truly are seconds from major manufacturers, in the sense that they are fully operational, though cosmetically blemished parts which did not meet the standards of companies selling their finished product for upwards of $800. Even if these are “seconds,” in my kit, the barrel was the only major part which showed any significant blemish. The upper receiver itself appeared brand new and nearly flawless which leads me to believe that Blackthorne may also procure its parts from manufacturer overruns of otherwise perfectly acceptable parts. The upper appears to have been test fit and fired prior to being sold, just as Blackthorne claims. Fit with a Superior Arms lower was excellent with no alterations needed.
Shipping was quick and my order was processed and shipped the same day, but the packaging of the product left something to be desired. It is clear that Blackthorne is saving on overhead costs wherever possible, but skimping on packaging of expensive parts is not the way to go. My parts kit arrived intact, with no shipping damage, but I worry about the next guy that may not be quite as fortunate.
Based strictly on the actual assembly of a rifle from a Blackthorne complete parts kit, I feel that Blackthorne offers a real bargain to those unconcerned with minor finish blemishes or lack of brand names. All parts fit and function as required with no special tailoring needed during the assembly process. I would not hesitate for a moment to use Blackthorne for future AR15 builds that call for an emphasis on cost savings while maintaining Mil-spec tolerances and proper fit during assembly, where the savings accrued while accepting parts with possible surface imperfections outweigh the cost associated with name brand notoriety. Different strokes for different folks… Blackthorne may not be right for everyone, but it should not be dismissed as a viable option for the budget conscious shooter.