22 Sep Village Praxis: The ZeroGov Practical Tips to “Accurizing” the FN-FAL
Publisher’s Note: Attribution: I am indebted to my good friend Skip who has guided me through a FAL kit build and has patiently answered my numerous questions along the way. This article is as much his as mine. -BB
I would like to begin with stating that accurizing is in quotes. The FAL, unlike its contemporary, the M-14, was developed from a different philosophy regarding the inherent accuracy of the MBR. Whereas the M-14 is a “product improved” version of the M-1 Garand, the FAL was developed with the intent of putting an MBR in the hands of a European conscript with little to no prior shooting experience. In contrast, the M-14 and its predecessor the M-1 were built with the somewhat unique American tradition of highly accurate battle rifles. To back up this claim, please refer to the 1912 edition of the USMC marksmanship manual where a 600 yard shot is considered “medium range”. It is more than likely that a stock, as issued, M-14 will outshoot a stock, as issued, FAL every time. It is also worth noting that “accuracy” as a concept is a completely human construct and not an objective standard, and the gulf between measuring groups punched out on a paper target and using a rifle in a high stress environment where the targets are shooting back is a wide one indeed. The FAL was designed to be “minute of a man” at 500 meters and that should be enough for practical applications.
That being said, there are modifications that can be made to the FAL to improve its accuracy. We’ll examine options for three assemblies, which are the barrel, trigger group, front and rear sight and what can be done to improve them.
The Barrel: A good barrel, properly timed and head spaced will do more to improve accuracy than almost any other assembly on the rifle. Without getting into the inch (UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) and metric (everyone else except the Israelis) variations, there are two basic types of barrels, chrome lined and non-chrome lined. Chrome offers outstanding corrosion resistance and longer life, but the plating process leaves microscopic variations in the thickness of the plating, affecting the overall diameter of the barrel, hence, affecting accuracy. Non-lined barrels have a more consistent diameter, but will wear faster and not offer as much resistance to corrosion. Surplus barrels that have reputations for accuracy are STG (Austrian made and found in the chrome and plain flavors), Imbel (Brazilian and chrome lined) and Argentine (chrome lined and plain).
If you are going to purchase a surplus barrel, I highly advise either you or the seller to check muzzle and throat erosion with the appropriate gauges. If the seller is gauging the barrel, please ask for photos to confirm the readings. The barrel that is listed for sale that looks in great shape could be almost shot out and the Imbel with the finish worn off may be practically new in terms of muzzle and throat erosion (Imbels are often referred to as “carried much, shot little” rifles). Once you have a barrel that gauges acceptably, you will now have to properly time the barrel to the upper. If this is your first attempt at building a FAL, I recommend finding a gunsmith in your area who is knowledgeable about FAL construction or another homebuilder who has built a few. It takes an experienced eye to determine TDC and if the barrel is not timed correctly it will shoot left (too loose) or right (too tight) since the front sight will be canted. If you are working on an already built rifle, it may pay off to gauge the barrel and check the timing, especially if it is a home build or a build from a less than reputable manufacturer.
Another import aspect to examine is the barrel’s crown. This usually involves removing the flash hider but is well worth the time. If the crown is nicked or otherwise damaged, there are several methods to correct this problem. For minor imperfections and nicks, the use of a marble and 800 grit valve lapping compound can be used to remove the defects and polish the crown. Apply a thin coating of lapping compound to the marble, place the marble on the crown and use your palm to rotate and spin the marble in place with a somewhat random motion akin to a random orbital palm sander. This simple (and cheap!) method can go a long ways toward improving a slightly damaged crown. For more extensive damage that cannot be corrected by the above method, I recommend having a gunsmith re-crown the barrel.
Trigger Group: The FAL trigger assembly is a marvel of simplicity. It is also a perfect example of why military match shooters do not use stock trigger assemblies. Unlike the M1, M-14 and AR family, there really is no “match grade” trigger assembly for the FAL. There are several steps you can take to improve the trigger pull, but breaking the proverbial “glass rod” is out of reach. In keeping with my inherent tinkering philosophy of working on the cheapest part first, I would start with replacing the springs in the assembly. For around $20-$30 one can order a complete spring replacement set for the entire rifle (and if you are going to replace the trigger assembly springs, you might as well replace all the springs while the rifle is apart).
If this did not enhance your trigger experience, the next incremental step would be to replace the new “stock” springs with a set of “Trigger Pull Reduction Springs” from Falcon Arms. As a caveat, I have found no need to do this after installing new “stock” springs, however you may have your own preference.
If either of these methods does not improve things to your liking, a Google search on “FAL Trigger Job” is the ticket. I won’t talk about those methods here since I have not used them but you are free to try if you so care. Just remember that altering the geometry of how the hammer, trigger and sear connect and function can lead to malfunctions and an unsafe rifle. I may add that an alternative to a trigger job, a nice break-in compound for new or mismatched H/T/S sets is to use a pumice product such as Gogo mixed with some Lucas Oil Stabilizer to lap the trigger group. It is likely that lapping it with pumice really won’t wear the parts at a rapid rate, unlike sand paper or, God forbid, a belt sander. A simple washing with Powder Blast (degreaser) clears the pumice away from the lower after the individual is satisfied they have broken in the trigger group after repeated trigger pulls against the palm of their hand.
Front and Rear Sights: If there is one single improvement that can drastically improve your FAL it is definitely replacing the rear sight with a Hampton Lower from DSA. It replaces the somewhat inadequate stock rear sight with an M16A2 rear sight. If you plan on replacing your trigger springs, you can swap out the lowers at the same time. As a caveat, DSA is extremely slow to ship and the wait times for the Hampton seem to average about 4-6 months. You can try searching on the second hand market for used Hamptons and Kaiserworks (which also made the FAL lower with an M16A2 rear sight) although not many people seem to sell them after using them.
Front sight posts for the FAL come in multiple heights, usually identified by white dots on the base of the post (1 dot, 2 dot, etc). If after zeroing, your rifle is shooting high or low after maxing out the front sight’s elevation adjustments, replace the existing post with one of a higher or lower dot count. DSA is not the sole source for the front sight posts, but I have linked to their offering as an example.