AR-180B Shorty Project Pt. VIII: The New AR-180S

A quick update on the AR-180B Shorty Project or what I like to call it, the New AR-180S.

I had some time to attend a therapy session in my shop this past weekend and I have to say it was successful.

I have been bothered by the hand guards on this gun from the very beginning and I finally decided to do something about it.

I have tried and failed to make a retainer for the hand guards out of sheet steel like the originals. I’m good with my hands but I am no body man.

I have long thought about machining a retainer from aluminum but a figured in could only be done with CNC, which I don’t have.

I decided that I would throw caution to the wind and try to mill it manually on my mill. Whats the worst that could happen?

For reference, this is the method I am trying to emulate.


My original, and always temporary method, was to take the end of the cut off piece and glue it inside the remaining piece. It has already broken once and was coming loose again.

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I started with a piece of 6061 and laid out the shape a needed.


I squared up the sides then drilled out my holes and checked to see if I had my dimensions correct.


I then moved my end mill down to the depth I wanted and followed my layout lines using both knobs at the same time. This is where the therapy came in. It took a lot of concentration but in the end I think I did a pretty good job, if I don’t say so myself.


I made sure it actually fit the hand guards.



I then flipped it over and shaved it down to .035″, the same thickness as the steel retainer.



Then I trimmed up the sides on my porta-band.

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And finished up with some flap disc and file work.


A final test fit.



Since I have no way to anodize I shot it with my favorite substitute, Rust-Oleum Dark Grey Primer.


And here she is an all her glory the New AR-180S!



I can’t tell you how much better the hand guards feel. They have always moved a little and never felt secure.

Now they are rock solid.

Fingers crossed that I can get some time this weekend to go shooting. I hasn’t had a round through it since it was a pistol.




The First 1000 Howa AR-180s

In the world of AR-180 collecting one of the top prizes could be considered the early Howa AR-180s.

Several notable features are readily apparent but some subtle clues to it’s origins are hiding just below the surface.

The most obvious feature of the rifles is the placement of the serial number, on the upper receiver as opposed to the lower.


The second is the 180 degree swing safety, which is unique to the Howa.

Some examples show a distinct misalignment of the 0 in the 180. This our first clue that these guns started life as AR-18s.

Further clues can be discovered when looking at the bottom of the upper receiver.

HowaUpper1HowaUpper3 HowaUpper2

It is obvious when compared to the underside of an AR-18 that the part that held the auto sear has been removed.


The firing pins also look different and it looks to me like these Howas used modified AR-18 firing pins.


The really interesting thing about these guns is when they were actually made. I think the evidence makes a strong case for 1967. Much earlier than many thought.

The first piece of the puzzle is an article in the January 31. 1966 issue of U.S. News & World Report. It states that a provisional agreement was reached and Howa would undertake the first mass production of this rifle.


Japan then, during the Diet session of 1967, introduced the “Three Principles” which forbid the exportation of arms to nations in active conflict. Anyone remember what the US was doing in 1967? In southeast Asia? That’s right the Vietnam War. Howa would not have started production of a rifle they could not export so it makes sense that they were built sometime between Jan ’66 and the passing of the law in 1967.

Yet another clue, and the one first postulated by my friend and mentor, Rich, was that the earliest scopes sold in this country were originally matched up with these first 1000 Howa AR-18s. These particular AR-18s were known to have matching serial numbered flash hiders and Rich speculated that the scopes were matched as well. All the first scopes have serial numbers that start with 67 and do not go above 1000. After the rifles were banned from importation, ArmaLite ramped up production themselves and since there was no ban on the importation of the scopes, there separated from the rifles and sent to the US. These were sold as accessories with the Costa Mesa rifles.

I would like to thank all the generous folks on the retro forum at and all those who have helped with the gathering of this information.

Like I said when I started this site, I want it to be a central depository for information about these cool guns.



AR-180B Shorty Project Part VII

It’s been far too long since I updated y’all on the project that launched about the same time as this blog, The AR-180B Shorty Project.

I was not entirely happy with the VZ-58 stock and although I want a folding stock, I could not resist attaching an original AR-180B butt stock to see how it looked and handled.

I could not be happier. I’m hoping to get it to the range now that it has cooled off and put it through it’s paces.

As shown, with an empty magazine, it is weighing in at about 6.5 lbs.

Shown with the GunLab lower completion kit, which should be ready to ship soon.

Make sure you hit me up and get your name on the list to save your spot. Just use the Contact form at the top of the page.

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I need to make a hand guard cap and park the flash hider (it is painted currently) and I will call this one done.

Lessons learned by taking on this project?

I actually found an original AR-18S lower hand guard and discovered that my reverse engineered from pictures attempt was off by about 3/8″.

The placement of the front sight block is further back than it should have been and I can’t replace these hand guards with 180’s because of where the stiffening ribs are.

I guess I will just have to build another one!

Much thanks to those who helped make this project possible.


NoDak Spud

Retro Arms Works

And a special mention to Ian at Forgotten Weapons for the inspiration to write about these cool weapons. I ran into Ian and Karl at the last gun show and I have to say, they are a couple of really nice and knowledgeable guys. I hope to get this particular gun closer to completion and let them shoot it. If anyone can find it’s flaws, they can.


Reader Letter: New Bolt Hold Open for Original AR-180’s

Reader Eric just sent me a message via the contact page and I have to say, it is something I have never considered before. I think it is a great idea. Here is the message he sent me;

From: Eric XXXX
Subject: Can we do a poll?

Message Body:
Hey guys, I was wondering if it was possible to put a poll up on the blog? Reason being, I’ve been communicating with Chuck at Gun Lab about making a bolt catch for original AR18/180’s modified to use mags with standard STANAG followers. I believe this will be a great opportunity for him plus provide us Armalite owners with a much-needed and way-overdue mod for our rifles. Simply put, no more “STANAG or Armalite” mags, just put a slit in a standard STANAG, PMAG or any of the dozens of other mags and it’ll function in the Armalite AND M16/M4/STANAG platform with a simple slit cut in the right-side mag body.
The poll would be simple…
“YES, I would buy this and maybe prepay”
“Yes, I like the idea but want to wait to see how it turns out (price, availability, quality)”
“No, I like being limited to overpriced, rare mags or modifying others to where they can’t be used in any other rifle”
Chuck might be on to one of the best mods to happen to the AR18/180 since it went to market. If we can put up a poll so he can see the interest, I’m sure he’ll move this up his “to do” list.
Thanks and thanks for the site and reviving the AR18/180 legacy!
~Eric, proud owner of a 1982 “widow-maker”


Please comment and let me know what you think of the idea.

Subscriber Pictures #4

These come from a self professed AR-180 Fanatic, John.

With 14 rifles I would say his diagnosis might be accurate, at the very least, he has a severe case of RBRD.

That’s Retro Black Rifle Disease for those who are unfamiliar with the acronym. A disease that I too, suffer from.

Here is just a sampling of some of his collection from the last time he pulled them out of the safe.

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I especially like his early Howa. I hope to have one of those myself someday.

He likes to shoot his ,which is what they were made for, and reports great success with steel case ammo.

He also has a surplus of parts, accessories, and guns for sale so send me a message via the contact form if you are looking for anything and I will put you in contact with him.

Thanks again for all the e-mails and suggestions. Keep them coming and don’t forget to subscribe and comment.