Sterling AR-180 Lower Hand Guard Problems

Reader John R. asked about a finish issue on the lower hand guard of his Sterling AR-180. I had never noticed a problem like that before so at first, I didn’t have an answer for him.

I dug out my Sterlings and had a closer look.

Looks like he might be onto something.

Sterling #1 is a recent acquisition. Serial S17700 and is in like new condition.




It is most pronounced on the right side where a straight line appears with the finish above the line is compromised.

Next up is my first Sterling S19827.


It doesn’t show any of these signs.


But some of you long time readers may recall that when I first got this gun it had a broken lower hand guard that I replaced.

It shows very similar finish issues.


More Sharpshooter Porn.


My third Sterling does not seam to have these problems but it has but hit with a light camo paint job which might be covering it up.



All my other Costa Mesa and Howa guns do not exhibit these issues. I did notice, however, that the Sterling hand guards do not rattle and the others do. I believe that these hand guards must have been built in different places and using different molds.

Does this mean that we can identify Sterling lower hand guards?


Take a look at yours and leave me a comment below.


A New AR-180S Upper is in the Works

A new AR-180S Upper

I just wanted to make a quick post to show you some pics of my progress today.


This is the barrel I found at my local gun store after I stripped the front sight base and extension. It is unmarked but I think it might be an Olympic due to the.750″ cast front sight base. I cut it off right behind the gas port.


After a bit of lathe work.


Here it is between my first shorty and a full size 180B.


Shown here with the original AR-18S lower hand guard.


An finally, a shot from the front showing the barrel profile. I tried to imagine what it would look like if Armalite had released a 180B pistol or SBR version and emulate that.

Still to be done. New OP rod. Drill gas port then parkerize the barrel and flash hider. I also need to make another flash hider and end cap. Maybe I will work on doing these in CAD so they can be reproduced more easily.

What’s New at

Things have been busy around here and I think it will only get busier. Just the way I like it.

My new job has me out of town during the week but I love to travel and weekends with the family can’t be beat.

Next stop the San Francisco bay area then on to Oklahoma City and Amarillo TX.

The parts lot that I purchased is leading to a potential new project. (Don’t they always)

Thinking about building an AR-180B in .458 SOCOM. Why not, right.

I’m thinking a disapator with carbine length gas and full length handguards in a 16″ barrel.

Mods may have to be done to one of the guide rods and ejection port as the clearance may not be enough to clear the larger case.

Tony Rumore turned down a case head to fit the bolt and snapped this pic to show how little clearance there is.



I have a stripped Bravo upper and bolt carrier group, front sight bases and all the piston parts. Everything to build an upper but the barrel but how boreing would it be to build a stock one. First thought was .300 Blackout but then it struck me. Go Big or go home.


Maybe I can fit the 180C gas block under the hand guards and use a stripped 180B front sight base at the end of the barrel.



I’m going to be moving ahead with this project as funds and time allow. (As I get back to work I gain more of one and less of the other)


By the way I still have a few complete bolt carrier groups available for sale from the parts lot. Pick one up for your next project or as a spare. I don’t have to tell you how hard the bolts are getting to find.


Made up a new flash hider from an original print that I was given access to. (Sorry it’s not anything I can share or publish at this time)

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You can see how it differs from the one that I reverse engineered from a picture. I do believe, however that the one I used as an example was not built to the same specs as the one that later made it into production

.AR180S Flash Hider

First AR-18 Carbine

The new to me AAA SAP is begging to be made into an SBR and I am trying to find an original stock.

The rear of the reciever was cut off when it was made as a pistol so some type of adapter would have to be made.

I am also considering the left over Vulcan V18 stock as shown in the teaser pics from my last post.



I still have to get it to the range to test fire it before I even consider sending off for a stamp on this one.

As always I am watching my local craigslist to see if I can find a bigger lathe and possibly a small milling machine.

I am also looking for someone with a Leader T2 MkV that is in southern AZ so I can take some side by side pics and show the differences that were made when AAA took over production.

Thanks for the feedback on the new mail system. It seems to have worked other that the fact that I sent out basically a blank message.

I hope the email you get for this one will be much improved.



AR-180 20 Round Magazines

Today we will be covering the subject of AR-180 20 Round Magazines that were original equipment with your rifle.

All AR-180’s came with two 20 round magazines when sold new but there are several differences in them that we should know about.

They came with magazines that are very similar to AR-15 mags but with a few important differences. They had no cut-out or dimple on the left side and had floor plates that were marked AR-18.

Howa’s came with magazines that were virtually identical but had a different floor plate design.

These are the most common ones found today.

These are generalities and as you will see in the pictures shown below, there are some minor differences even among the 20 round magazines.


Many would consider these magazines interchangeable but upon closer inspection we can see they are different and can be identified as early and late.

The mag on the right has a green/gray color and is quite smooth. The left one is fully gray and has a rougher texture. The one on the right is early and is correct for most Costa Mesa rifles, at least the early ones. It will be referred to as early and the other as late.


In this picture you can also see that the rivets in the early mag are smaller than the the ones used in the late.


Again showing the early mag on the right you can see that the floor plates are different as well. The early plates have a dull finish and the late ones are smooth and shiny. Shown propped on another early magazine.


The early magazines came with a device to block them to 5 rounds. This piece is often missing as this was one of the first things people removed after buying their new weapon.

I have not been able to determine when these early mags were phased out, we may never know. It is possible they shipped with all the Costa Mesa guns and the later ones went with the Sterlings. It is also possible that they were only used early on and the later CM guns used the late mags. More research is needed but the ease with which mags can be swapped around may make this an impossible task.

One piece of evidence that may help is the fact that the Howa mags were identical to these except for the floor plate design.


Here is a Howa next to an early mag. You can plainly see that the rivet is the same and other than the shade being a little off, the color is a close match.




Here the floor plate design changes are easy to see.

To my mind I believe the mags were made by the same company and in the same time period. That would put the manufacture in the mid 60’s to early 70’s.

Lastly we have the easiest to identify, the late Sterling magazine.


The Sterling’s were painted black over parkerization till somewhere around the S20,000 serial number. It is my speculation that they used the gray magazines as well as the black during that time and then used the gray during the remaining run of blue finished guns. I have no evidence to back this up.




Shown hear next to an early mag with a late one on the far right. You will note that the rivets are the same as the late mag.



The floor plate is also smooth and shiny like the late mag but features a white color fill in the lettering.


A better view of the different floor plate designs and finishes.


All of these mags used a black plastic follower that has a cut-out for the bolt hold open at the rear.

In order of rarity and application;

Late gray magazine, Late Costa Mesa? and Sterling. Overwhelmingly the most common.

Black Sterling Magazine. Not common

Early Costa Mesa magazine. Not common

Howa Magazine. Not common

All of the uncommon mags will be hard to find but many of them will be lumped in for sale with the common gray mags and will not be sold at a premium. This is not true for the Howa mags however as they are easily identified.

I would like to say thank you to Chuck at for the suggestion of this article and the load of original source material he is sending me to further my research and to bring you more articles in the future. Go check out his site, it is a wealth of information.



Subscriber Pictures #3

These pictures come from my friend Rich, who mentored me when I first got involved with this hobby. He is truly an expert in this field and my go to source of information. This site would not be possible without him.

First up we have a 30 round Armalite magazine¬†and it’s original packaging. Also shown in the first pic is an original 20 round Costa Mesa magazine with a rubberized USAF mag pouch.



Close up of the markings.




Next up is the markings on a Howa made 20 round magazine. The are different from the base plates that came on Costa Mesa or Sterling guns.



Next is a Howa “Shop Mag” that was used to check fit and function during manufacture.


This is also a “Shop Mag” but started life as a Colt 20 rounder that was modified and marked AR-18. It was also featured in an AR-18 Brochure.


Finally a set of chamber brushes that he believes are factory but he has not been able to verify that, and a cleaning kit in it’s original packaging.


Please send me your pics you would like posted and don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment.