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-   -   Vader Spadeís 80% AR-15 build - Milling, Etching, & Anodizing (

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:17 PM

Vader Spadeís 80% AR-15 build - Milling, Etching, & Anodizing
With a Tactical Machining Jig. Customer support at Tactical Machining is second to none, they are great to work with, and have always gone above and beyond.

First I want to thank everyone for all the help I’ve received on these boards. I’ve done a few of these now, and I just about have the kinks worked out, so I thought I would pay it forward, and help others with their builds.

Now let me say if your trying to save money this is not the place to do it. It cost a lot more to make your own than it does to buy a lower ready to go. Unless of course you already have ALL the tools, cutters, anodizing equipment, etc.

The Tactical Machining jig is by far the easiest way to complete an 80% receiver that I’ve tried. I was lucky enough to find a killer deal on a nearly new mill for $850.00 on Craigslist.
If your going to try milling with a drill press I would recommend getting (at the least) an X, Y table, and a vise.

A small mill would be better. With a drill press you will need to go much slower. Although most jigs are designed to work with a drill press, there are a few problems; the most dangerous of these is your drill chuck coming lose at high speeds. I don’t recommend using a drill press, but I did with my first build, and sure enough the drill chuck came loose and buggered up my FCG pocket. I locked it back into place with RED loctite gave a day to set up, and had no further problems. If you do this you do so at your own risk.

I won’t be covering all the measurements and dimensions just yet they are easily available elsewhere. I’ll post a link at some point.
The Tactical Machining jig is very straightforward, use this plate with this end mill, and
go slow.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:17 PM
I try to get as close as possible to the edge of the plate, for the outline, but I like to leave a few thousandths for the cleanup stage.
Make sure your cutting edges are below the plate, or you will be ordering a new one.
Watch your clearance. I can’t reach the back with this setup, but we’ll clean that up later.
After you have a good outline remove the top plate, measure twice, and cut carefully.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:19 PM
Just short of the .690 spec. We’ll get that with a full-length end mill, for a cleaner cut.
It always spooks me when I break through the selector hole. What’s that! Oh ya it’s O.K.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:19 PM
As I mover deeper I leave just a little more, kind of a step cut. This keeps shaving from being crushed against the side, and cleans up easily when we move to a full length end mill.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:20 PM
Note the depth mark on my end mill, this is my warning mark. Don’t go too deep.
My sophisticated measuring tool.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:20 PM
First stage done.
Switching to the full-length end mill.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:21 PM
Taking those last thousandths off the sides and bottom.
Finishing the end I couldn’t reach with the short end mill. Measure carefully.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:21 PM
Make sure the trigger slides in before you change setups.
Now put the top of the jig back on with the trigger slot plate.
You may have noticed I skipped the second plate. That plate is for the full depth part of the pocket. If you’re going to use the edge of the plate as a guide it’s a good idea to use it. For me it’s just as easy to measure it in as I clean up with the long end mill.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:22 PM
I can’t express how easy this plate makes cutting the trigger hole. Before it was “Change tools from milling to drilling, take three measurements, drill three holes, change back to milling and hope you’re not too far off. Then file the little bit you WILL be off.”
With this Tactical Machining jig it take just a few moments.
Flip the jig and drill two 5/32nds holes.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:23 PM
Looking good.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:23 PM
Check the trigger, and upper fit. You don’t want to be filing after anodizing.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:24 PM


Half the fun of building a gun is putting your own mark on it. I have been experimenting with different methods, and short of buying a CNC rig electro etching is the best method I have found.
I am etching with a jewelry plating power source but a battery charger will work (not an automatic one).

First we make a stencil, by hand or with a vinyl cutter. I use one from U.S. Cutter;
Tape is used to pull the stencil from it’s backing in one piece.
The stencil is placed on the receiver with the letters in place.
This makes the stencil easier to place, and gives a solid surface to work against.
The letters or graphics are then “weeded out”. You will need a magnifying glass (I double up reading glasses) a long needle, and tweezers to pull the bits you want removed. Carefully remove (weed) the parts you want etched.
Carefully lift the edge of the bit you want to remove.
Pull the bits away with tweezers.
My charger is set to the full 12 volts @ 10 amps. The amps that trickle through are determined by how much surface area is contacted by the Q-tip. Place the clip about halfway up on the swab. I place a little solution in a shallow container and dip the Q-Tip, make sure it gets wet up to the clip. There will be bubbling, when this slows and the Q-Tip turns black repeat the process. It can be hard to see how deep your going, when the little islands within the a’s & e’s won’t stay in place you’ve gone about as deep as possible.

I should say large open areas do not work as well as smaller outlines.
I use about Ĺ cup of vinegar and a teaspoon of salt.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:24 PM
Tape the surrounding area to avoid sparks and etching areas you don’t want etched.
I mixed white vinegar with a little salt, dipped a Q-tip into this solution and attached it to the negative side of the charger, then clamped the positive side to the lower.
It takes awhile, and starts slowly, but after you break through the surface the pace picks up.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:25 PM

A few tips in response to some questions I've received.

A cheap NON-automatic automobile battery charger 12 volt, 10 amps should work fine.

An automatic automobile battery charger would read a dead short and turn itself off.

One thing I learned the hard way is that the positive side needs to be connected to the lower and the negative side to the Q-Tip. I got it backward once and it ate away the clip holding the Q-Tip, and barely marked the work piece (in this case just a piece of scrap).

If the bare clip touches bare metal there will be sparks, tape off the surrounding area.

I recommend testing any setup on a piece of scrap before trying it on a lower.

Example of text;

City State
serial #

Max is 10 maybe 12 letters/numbers per line.

If you want room for artwork the Manufacture and city should be moved to above the hammer pin/selector area.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:25 PM


I’m using the Moonlite Anodizing kit, and although I have nothing to compare it with I think it works just great. They have a great how to, so I won’t try to explain everything. I’ll just post pictures with some captions, showing the lowers being anodized.
The lineup.
Prep the surface, and clean. Submerse in 140 degree cleaner for 5 minutes, then rinse well.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:26 PM
Etch at room temperature for a few minutes.
Your part will turn black. Rinse.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:26 PM
Deoxidize/Desmut the part at room temperature about 3 minutes, and rinse well.
It should be shiny again. :)

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:26 PM
Now we’re anodizing! 68-72 degrees for 75 minutes. Read the instructions as to how to figure voltage and time with your power supply.
It should have a nice golden tone when it’s done. Rinse twice.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:27 PM
Before and After.
Into the dye. 120-140 degrees for 5-20 minutes depending on how dark you want it.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:27 PM
Looking good. Rinse it.
Finely seal it at 180 degrees for 20 minutes. And rinse for the last time.
After that final rinse I like to dry it with a hair dryer, and oil it up.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:27 PM
Finished. Never let the part dry between steps, and because of the heat used in some steps that can be tough.

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 5:28 PM

Why build your own???

For me I’m building family heirlooms, these guns will be here long after I’m gone. I hope they will say something about what I stood for.
That’s the second amendment etched into the upper receiver.
As to reliability, mine are as good as the best out there. Being perfectionist drives a lot of us that build our own.

I have collected arrowheads forever. Most were just chipped to be shot once and never seen again. The builders didn’t put much time of effort into them, and why would they.
But others are works of art. Why? Why would someone put so much time and effort into an arrowhead?
If you can find the answer to this question you will have your answer.
And yes I have built my own Bows and Arrows; I still chip arrowheads now and then.

AK4me 02-20-2010 5:33 PM

NICE, thanks for posting this, I have a TM 80% sitting in the safe, Im just waiting on my friend to have time for me to use his mill, Im going to do it without the jig although it would be nice to have one, it looks alot easier.

goober 02-20-2010 6:00 PM

i posted my response over @ CNCGunsmithing, but just in case, here it is also:
nice work VaderSpade! :D
i was literally reading this as you posted it... you were one post ahead of me and i just hit refresh each time i got to the end of one, and a new one was there!
you've covered the whole process very well... the only things i can think to add at this moment are the need to clean the part very well before it goes into the cleaner bath for ano, wear gloves at all times to avoid getting oils on the part (and protect your hands from nasty chems), and the need for circulation on both the ano and dye baths... your aquarium air pump is visible in your ano bath shot, but some folks might not notice it.
anyway, great thread and i'm sure it will be useful and encouraging to those considering getting into this um.... addiction we have :p

woodey 02-20-2010 6:05 PM

Wow, nice looking job. The ano set up looks like high school science project or Lake county crank lab. How do you make the stencils? or do you by them from a vinal graphics guy? Job well done. The colored ones are way cool

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 6:22 PM


Originally Posted by woodey (Post 3839956)
How do you make the stencils? or do you by them from a vinal graphics guy? Job well done.

I tried to get a few sign shops to make them for me, but they all told me it could not be done that small. So I bought a cheap vinyl cutter, ($250.00) and made them myself.

goober 02-20-2010 6:44 PM


Originally Posted by VaderSpade (Post 3840038)
I tried to get a few sign shops to make them for me, but they all told me it could not be done that small. So I bought a cheap vinyl cutter, ($250.00) and made them myself.

which one did you end up getting? a GRAPHTEC?
i know you had some installation/software nightmares with it...
i think i may need to get myself one of these things :rolleyes:

VaderSpade 02-20-2010 7:12 PM


Originally Posted by goober (Post 3840150)
which one did you end up getting?

U.S. Cutter MH-721, I bought it off of eBay. I waited for one with no bids, and stole it at the last second.

goober 02-20-2010 7:17 PM

whoah thats a biggie... like 25" or something...
i have no plans to make big signs or anything... think i'll stick to the hobby letter or legal size models :p
thanks for the info, you got a great deal if you got one of those big boys for $250!

oldyeller 02-20-2010 7:27 PM

Great write up- should be a sticky! Thanks for sharing.

Cobrarlc 02-20-2010 8:04 PM

Looking Good to Go...

adamsreeftank 02-20-2010 9:10 PM

Very nice tutorial.

How does the anodizing compare to a commercial hard-coat anodize?

Would you consider selling custom stencils? Maybe text only? I'd be interested.

LexLuther 02-20-2010 10:25 PM

We're not worthy, We're not worthy.
Nice build, I hope to see it in person someday. Can we have a geocache shooting event up here?

bigcalidave 02-20-2010 10:43 PM

That is SO COOL!! Nice work Vader, can't wait to see them!

pacrimguru 02-20-2010 11:09 PM

great job, very impressive!

VaderSpade 02-21-2010 7:06 AM


Originally Posted by adamsreeftank (Post 3840868)
Very nice tutorial.

How does the anodizing compare to a commercial hard-coat anodize?

Would you consider selling custom stencils? Maybe text only? I'd be interested.

I donít know how you can test true surface hardness; there should be a scale somewhere. I have anodized pieces of scrap and then tried scratching them with 2x2 steel angle iron. I was whacking them pretty hard and could not scratch, or dent the surface, but the same raw aluminum marked quite easily. For some only type III will ever be good enough, but Iím quite happy with type II. These same people say only 7075 aluminum is hard enough, when others are making receivers out of plastic.

I'll think about the stencils, but I don't seem to have enough time latley.

VaderSpade 02-21-2010 7:08 AM


Originally Posted by LexLuther (Post 3841244)
We're not worthy, We're not worthy.
Nice build, I hope to see it in person someday. Can we have a geocache shooting event up here?

Locate your target with GPS, shoot and head to the next! I like it.

Joe308 02-21-2010 7:37 AM

Awesome job! Great write up! Thanks for sharing!

asabspade 02-21-2010 7:43 AM

Nice thread. Whenever I'm working on projects I like to be able to see pictures that go along with the text instructions. There are some things that just can't be put into words and it can be very worrisome to take a step you think you have right but have never completed. Also, it looks like you put a lot of work into documentation, the pictures are all perfect. I know from experience that it can take all day to take pictures while completing a process that might otherwise take an hour or so; add to that another day for selecting, cropping pictures etc.

I think guns rank somewhere between family members and pets in our family; each one is full of stories and memories; each has it's own personality.

craneman 02-21-2010 9:46 AM

very nice work. The only question I have is. What is the type of tape used when doing the etching? Where do you get it? Thnaks for any info on this.

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