We recently sat down with Chris from clonerifles.com to learn more about the state of building clone ARs in 2022, his take on the cloning community and its reputation, as well as a bit about the website’s background, what parts are getting hard to find, and some details on his upcoming clone shoot.
Q: Chris, can we start with a bit about your background and how clonerifles.com came about?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – I’m not a cool guy or anything; rather, just a regular person who started getting into guns and building, and I began seeing terms floating around like ‘SOPMOD’ and ‘Block I,’ ‘Block II,” and ‘Mk12.’ I remember thinking ‘man, what is this stuff?’ I started to try to figure it out and learn more about it, as I was curious what made something ‘that.’
I then built my first clone rifle, a Mk12 Mod 1. I spent tons of hours looking for parts, examining pictures, and determining which parts were correct and which were not, what you could get away with versus what needs to be right (laughs) for it to be legitimate. In the process, I found myself excited about it.
Around seven or eight years ago, it was hard to find out information. I would look at pictures on Instagram, but it was hard to find stuff, and no one was aggregating information. So I started an Instagram page called ‘Mk12rifles,’ just pulling pictures of Mk12 rifles and sharing them. The page started growing and gaining traction. My idea was never anything more than bringing the community together. I never had a thought beyond that. However, as clone guys do, I started getting into other guns and creating pages for those guns. I ended up wrapping everything up into one page called ‘clonerifles.’
As I was doing this, I would get messages asking what parts were correct for a particular gun or if I had a list. It was clear that guys were trying to find that information. Rather than send them to a thousand-page thread on a forum or answer the same questions repeatedly, it became clear that someone needed to build a resource. After a time, I realized that I should probably go ahead and do it. That’s how the website came about. The website became a free resource where we could aggregate information that I had found that other people had shared with me.
Q: How have you seen things change over the years regarding cloning rifles?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – Movies and video games have driven interest. For example, after Lone Survivor came out, I received a lot of messages about wanting to learn more about the Mk12. To answer your question, I think it used to be a very nerdy, obscure hobby.
Because of that, it was a small, close-knit community. It’s still tiny compared to other gun sub-cultures, but it’s grown rapidly. One of the most significant changes has been this explosion of awareness. There are a lot of people that are very into it, but there are also a lot of people who are very “anti” as well, and they like to make fun of the guys that are into it.
Beyond the increased awareness, you see a scarcity of parts. Guys are buying a lot of stuff up, and there are limited quantities due to parts not being made anymore. Given the sunset of the GWOT era, many parts have become legacy parts. Parts are discontinued, or the companies that make the parts no longer exist. In some cases, contracts have dried up, and the military isn’t looking to renew them, and those were the only things driving production. It’s changed the face of what the cloning community is like. You’ve got a lot more guys fighting for a lot fewer parts.
Q: That sounds a bit stressful from a builder’s viewpoint. So, would you say that it has changed for the worse? Or, is that a question I shouldn’t ask?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – I’m happy to talk about it. I think that the clone community always has been sort of a mixed bag. You’ve got guys with hyper attention to detail, and anything less than perfection indicates to them that you’re not committed to the build, and they see it as an insult. So these guys will really pick a photo apart when it’s posted. Then you’ve got guys who want to call what they’ve built a ‘clone,’ but they don’t want to do any of the work, and they don’t care if it’s even close. Then there are the folks that are in-between those two camps.
It’s a bit like a pressure cooker… fewer parts, more demand. Of course, that drives up prices, but it also creates an environment where you see clearly why people are into it. Some guys are into it because they want to quote-unquote ‘flex’ and show off how much money they spent. Other guys are into it for the story. That interests me – the idea that there is a bigger story than just ‘hey, I built this gun. I think it looks cool. What do you think?’ There is a story behind its development.
Take the H&K 416, for example. It’s super expensive right now and in my opinion, incredibly overrated in a lot of regards. You cannot deny the cool factor in its story, the parts and technology that went into it, the reasons why, and the problems it was trying to solve. It’s pretty fascinating. When you’re holding a real 416 upper, you’re holding a real piece of history.
Overall, I would say that more people into it is probably a good thing. If folks aren’t into it, these parts will go away forever, as companies will not make them because there won’t be any demand for them. You see this with companies building things like new versions of legacy suppressors and other things. Because of the demand, more people are getting to play, and it will continue further. So, the growth is positive, but it changed the landscape and made it more expensive.
Q: What does ‘clone correct’ mean to you? How accurate should these guns be to call them a clone, in your opinion?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – That’s the million-dollar question, and there are a lot of varying opinions. My mentality on it is to start from a place where I want people to feel invited to the community. There’s a stigma around a lot of the clone community that you will get a lot of angry screeching noises if one thing is off. That’s not really where I’m at with it.
In my opinion, it’s a journey. If you’re going into it with the idea that you respect and honor the legacy of the folks that carried these guns, but you have a different brand of barrel…if you’re putting in the effort and not just trying to hit the ‘easy’ button, you’re in the right place.
Q: Are there clone rifles out there that are now on the endangered list…meaning hard to find or prohibitively expensive?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – The Mk11 Mod 0 is going to be harder and harder. Those parts are very legacy. You’re seeing Knight’s discontinue some of their legacy rails and de-prioritize legacy part runs even if they are not discontinued. So, while some of the Knight’s guns have always been challenging from a clone perspective, I think you’re going to have an increasingly difficult time unless people build third-party parts that at least look correct.
Mk11 Mod 0 – Click here for the full parts list.
The 416 is another one. H&K has always been very difficult to work with on the civilian side. We saw a lot of parts for a while, but that was because LE agencies were trading them in. I think you can anticipate the 416 being increasingly difficult.
It also depends on how correct you want it to be. For example, you could build something that looks like a 416, but none of the parts are H&K.
However, if you want to build a 416 with the proper attributes, even the H&K MR556 doesn’t have that. You can get away with some things like the Brownell’s upper and lower receivers. You can start there, however it is important to know that MR556 and 416 parts do not always work interchangeably, as different generations have different issues. The bottom line is that building a 416 clone has become prohibitively expensive.
Q: Has the Mk12 become more challenging to build? And what’s the story with rifles called Mk12s that don’t look like a Mod 0 or Mod 1?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – Many companies have tried to hit on the clone market and use some of its terminologies to drive sales. It can be unclear for folks who are just getting into it. For example, someone might say that they just purchased a Daniel Defense MK12. Yes, Daniel Defense makes the RIS II rail, which you must have for a CQBR Block II or an M4A1 Block II…so there are companies that will call their rifle a Mk12, but it does not have the correct rail, barrel profile, or collar system.
As far as legacy parts that are starting to dry up, right now, for the Mk12, you can still find most of the parts you need. That said, Precision Reflex is a company that does not have the market share it used to. The same thing is the case with A.R.M.S. mounts. You see less and less production, and I see fewer runs. This leads me to be concerned about where things are headed.
Q: What are some clone rifles that would be easier to build for someone who wants to give building one of these rifles a try?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – The first thing I would consider is what do you want to do with the rifle? That should be the driving force. Yes, building a rifle is cool, but you’re going to have a lot more fun if you enjoy using the rifle. If someone wants to run drills and have a general, all-purpose rifle, I think a great place to start is an M4A1 Block I.
The RAS rails on those are going up a bit in price, but they are still available. You can buy one almost complete from Colt if you want…their 6920 SOCOM. It’s a great place to start. Parts are available, and there are a lot of options. I believe BCM makes a SOCOM barrel you can use if you cannot find a Colt or an FN. It’s cheap and an excellent way to get your feet wet. As far as optics, you can find an old Aimpoint CompM2, or if you can’t find one of those, you can use an Aimpoint PRO, which looks similar.
If you want to shoot something with more precision, I think a Mk12 Mod 0 or even a Mk12 Mod H; those parts are available. You’re going to be spending a little bit more money. You will also be spending more on the optic. Leopold discontinued their Mk4, but they are still out there, just commanding a bit more money. So, either a M4A1 Block one or a Mk12 would be the directions I would go.
Q: Any advice on where to buy hard-to-find parts?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – The first thing you need to do is get into the community. Depending on what you are looking for, it can be challenging to find yourself. There are some Facebook groups, but I don’t want to name names because when Facebook groups find out you are selling parts, they will shut those groups down.
Some forums will have equipment exchanges, and you can sometimes find parts there. As far as I know, there is no secret place to go. I don’t have access to some secret stash. There’s no black market that you don’t know about. It’s just hard to find stuff, but that’s what makes this cool, right? In most cases, you can’t just buy what you want off the shelf. There is a hunt, and that can be interesting for many guys.
Q: Finally, you’ve got a Clone Rifles shoot coming later this year. Can you talk briefly about that before we wrap?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – As I mentioned earlier, a lot of what I do is tied in with the idea of bringing the clone community together. For years now, guys have been talking about wanting to get together, meet up, shoot some guns, and share this passion. There’s also the idea of wanting to hang out with guys we’ve known from the internet for almost a decade but never met in person. Some of these guys I’ve talked to multiple times a day or FaceTime but never actually met in person. I know the names of their kids (laughs).
What we’ve got going on is a shoot on September 17th, 2022, at Thunder Valley Precision in Ohio. We will be camping out the night before, followed by a full day of shooting on the 17th. Bring your guns and ammo to feed them. Come meet folks and have some food… we’ll have some great prizes. We have a few companies chipping in, like Neil Batelli at 2AFufillment, Joel at Otter Weapon Worx, Thoroughbred Armament Company, Classified Defense, Otter Creek Labs, and more.
It’s limited registration because we have limited space, and we want to have guys get an opportunity to shoot and not feel like it’s super crowded. Nobody is making any money off it. It’s all getting re-invested with the goal of it being a good experience for anyone who attends. Guys will be able to shoot out to a mile, but we will also have an arena for carbines.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Chris, Clonerifles.com – If building a clone rifle sounds interesting, don’t be intimidated by the community. Clonerifles.com is a resource that was created to help you on your journey, and it will always be free. I will continue to add to it, although it can be a challenge, as we’re tracking a lot of information. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to reach out, as guys out there want to help. Use Google first (laughs) but if you’ve hit a wall with something, reach out.
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