We recently sat down with Jim Hodge of Hodge Defense Systems to discuss the recent launch of the new Spine Lock (S-Lock) Rail System, the company’s plans for the year ahead, his take on the brand’s growing popularity, and why we should consider being kinder to each other online as we discuss our favorite firearms.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Hodge Defense Systems, or if you missed our previous article with the man behind one of the most sought after ARs on the planet, be sure to check that out here.
Q: Jim, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat. Can you talk about the new Hodge Defense Systems builder kits that have been released, and how the idea to release as a kit came about?
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – With building guns, a lot of my full builds get cannibalized and sold off for parts on the secondary market. That’s the capitalist thing, and I get it. But at the same time, when you put a lot of effort into building something, and someone breaks it down to make money on it, it can be a bit frustrating.
Hodge Defense is a small company, and with the volume that people are asking for commercially, it’s hard for me to keep up with the demand. So, because many guys out there like to ‘roll their own,’ I thought it would be a good idea to produce builder kits.
Everyone has their own flavor of barrels, accessories, and things of that nature, and there’s a lot of good products out there. Doing the builder kits is an opportunity for AR builders to start with a good foundation and allow them to build their own. It also keeps me from having to make a bunch of complete guns and get them to commercial dealers…especially during this rush.
Frankly, getting all of the parts to land simultaneously to build complete firearms without sitting on barrels for six months while I wait for bolt carrier groups or whatever can be tricky. Timing becomes very difficult, especially when being so small; I don’t carry excess inventory when I don’t have to.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the new Hodge Defense Systems Spine Lock (S-Lock) rail and how that came about?
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – Going to the S-Lock, I had done the Wedge Lock and the Pinch Lock. To me, the Goldilocks is the S-Lock. It’s in-between. If you take the Wedge and the Pinch’s width and height, and you split the goalposts, take the measurements and cut them in half, that’s what you’d get. That said, it was not an easy rail to make.
The lock-up system in the S-Lock is the same as the Pinch. It’s a proven lock-up system that’s been rigorously tested. That said, there is even a bit more mass in the S-Lock versus the Pinch Lock.
We call it the S-Lock because it stands for “Spine Lock.” As I was designing, I took the upper part of the handguard – that cavity underneath the 12 o-clock rail – and made the wall thickness a little bit beefier there. My theory is that when you pinch or wedge something at the bottom, no matter whose rail it is, that is an area of least resistance. It is an area that may want to spread a little bit or deform because it’s truly not a bearing surface. As such, I tried to beef that up a little bit. I wanted to also beef up the bottom of the handguard a little bit more as well.
Over time, we went through four or five different extrusion dies, and test rails just to get the rail right. It ended up taking two years of development even though we already had the lock-up system. The bottom line is it’s not as simple as saying, “we’re going to take a Wedge Lock and Pinch Lock and have them mate and have a baby.” I wanted to make sure I added a few more individual things to it.
Looking at our other rails, the Wedge Lock has been very successful for us. It’s also a pretty successful OEM rail with some manufacturers now…What the S-Lock does is it allows Hodge to have some brand identity. It can be OEM’d, but it won’t say anything but “Hodge” on the side of it. It’s our rail, and it’s not going to be shared. If someone comes and says, “Hey, we want to build 100 guns with your S-lock rail,” that’s fine, but it’s not going to be branded. It will build a bit of brand identity for us, and there won’t be any confusion about who makes the rail.
In the end, the S-Lock sums up what I’ve learned about the Wedge and the Pinch. I tried to marry the two. I know I have my Wedge fans out there and my Pinch fans out there. I figure that if I can give them a little bit of both, they’ll find they really do get the best of both worlds.
Q: In addition to the S-Lock, what are Hodge Defense Systems’ goals for 2021?
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – In 2021, I’m just going to lean forward on Mod 2s. My Mod 1s are good, quality receivers. They do have some specs that a lot of other companies don’t share. Some companies do, but a lot don’t. They still require thermal fitting and have other little architectural things unique to them. However, they are still Mil-spec receivers, just high quality.
Alternatively, the Mod 2s come off of my dies. I own the dies, and no one else makes something like them. So again, from a branding standpoint, there is some individuality so that someone can’t say “that’s just like so and so’s.” Well, no, ours have their own look and their own unique attributes.
Our new Hodge Mod 2s are C405 alloy, which is kind of a derivative of a 7055. It’s the same alloy used in collegiate baseball bat extrusions, high-performance piston rods, and things of that nature. It’s an aerospace alloy that is very expensive, but I find it anodizes a lot easier than aluminum-lithium. It is a material change, but it still is stronger than 7075, and in fact, C405 is stronger than aluminum-lithium.
What you don’t get with it is the weight savings from 7075. From mass to weight, if you took a 1″ cube of 7075 and C405, it’s about the same. It is a bit denser of an alloy, but it takes anodizing way better than aluminum-lithium…
Q: Anything else you’d like to add or new Hodge Defense Systems products you can talk about?
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – I can tell you that I am considering Mod 1s getting struck from these same Mod 2 dies, but in 7075, non-ambi. So Mod 1s may change. Other than that, I am going to keep leaning forward on build kits. More product will come out from us this year, for sure.
I’m also really going to focus on getting my dealers what they need, while at the same time not maintaining a bunch of inventory. That’s part of what Hodge is. What I do at Hodge is not for everyone, nor will I build it like it is for everyone in regards to volume.
To more directly answer your question – your readers can expect more Mod 2s, more builder kits, more S-lock rails. I’ll do some Pinch Lock rails for contract use more than anything. And again, I may get funky and do something new with Mod 1s. We also did a forward assist with Forward Controls Design.
Q: As someone who follows the industry closely, it seems like Interest in Hodge Defense Systems has really picked up as late. How does that make you feel? From past discussions, I had gathered this was never the primary goal you had for the company.
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – I’m a bit uncomfortable, not in a negative way, but in a “humility” way about where the brand has gotten to. I think many companies aspire to be there, but at the end of the day, I am very humbled and blessed by it. That said, I also know that there is always someone around the corner who could beat my ass. (laughs).
While I am very blessed and grateful, as time has passed, I do notice there is a particular segment of folks, a very, very small percentage of my customer base, that buys my stuff strictly for the collectability of it, and sometimes for the purpose of flexing on social media. People can do what they want to do, but I don’t think it’s honest.
I want folks to appreciate the effort we put into the Mod 2s and the S-Locks. I hope that most are purchasing them due to the performance and quality of materials they get with something from Hodge. I’d prefer that’s why people are buying my products, rather than to merely hop on the internet with the sole intention of saying, “Hey, I have one of these, and you don’t.” Seeing that makes me feel awkward…Again, I would much prefer that instead, folks base their purchase on the merits of what goes into them.
Truth be known, there are many great guns out there. I respect a lot of manufacturers out there. I really do. If something like a Colt 6920 is what an individual needs and can afford, then for that person, at that time, that is the perfect gun. There’s nothing wrong with that. It does not mean that he’s a “poor.” It just means that’s what he needs. Degrading someone because they cannot afford to acquire something is not “cool.”
Q: I have certainly seen my share of passionate debates turn into something uglier. It has always struck me as odd that two people who basically have so much in common can so quickly be at each other’s throats.
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – It’s not for me to teach anyone a lesson. We’re all grown men here. But I would certainly stress that we’re all in this together. I see a lot of people on social media attacking other brands. I’d remind everyone that we all share similar values about the 2nd amendment, and having something to protect your house with, or something to go shoot hogs with.
If that’s a super simple and affordable 16″ barreled rifle with iron sights, that’s cool. If it’s Bravo Company, H&K, Knight’s Armament… that’s cool too. We should celebrate people getting involved rather than reflexively telling them that their brand of gun is a piece of garbage. Are there better guns out there than others? Yes, but it kind of depends on what you’re doing with it, doesn’t it?
For some, the analogy is having a super rad sports car in the middle of Manhattan. It’s not like you’re ever really going to flex it. But if you live somewhere like west Texas where you can really get out on the open road, then yes, maybe that supercar is what you want. My point is that I’d just like to see less unnecessary bickering. I see a lot of that. I see people looking down on others because of what they buy, and I don’t think it’s called for.
Q: I’ve found Hodge Defense Systems enthusiasts to be very helpful and friendly overall, but on some forums, the amount of venom and sarcasm can be a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who is just starting out.
Jim Hodge – Hodge Defense Systems – At what point and time can we just allow someone to buy something that they can actually afford and then learn from it on their own journey? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could then help that person on their journey with meaningful data and meaningful support, rather than saying, “Yo, dude, your gun sucks compared to mine.”
Perhaps instead say, “Hey, I see you got a nice deal. Here’s what you have and here’s what you can expect from it,” but do so without looking down on and denigrating the person. I see this a lot, and it does not need to be this way. We do not need to be at each other’s throats and competing with each other.
I said it before in our first interview. Guys look at brands like their sports teams. They get emotionally attached. That’s fine, but let’s just face it, we all still like football, right? I’m still going to drink a beer with you if you root for this team or that team. We can still have a good time together. It does not need to devolve into a high-brow status thing. Before casting stones, just remember that this is someone who wants an AR-15. How can you fault him for that? (laughs).
I get the idea of pride in ownership. I want guys to have pride in ownership, but I want guys to buy my stuff based on its merit, not because of the rarity of it.
In our last conversation, we discussed the fact that I’m never going to put a bunch of stuff out. Does that make something from Hodge Defense Systems a bit more desirable? Well If you want it, maybe.
Again, I totally understand that Hodge isn’t for everyone. The fact of the matter is that it can’t be. So, if you’d rather buy an MR556 or another company’s gun because they’re a bit more available, that’s absolutely cool. On the other hand, some people out there enjoy the chase. That chase can be fun for some people. However, the end result of that pursuit is not something that you need to flex on people about or rub people’s noses in.
I cannot control human nature, but If I had a wish, it’s that guys who get into Hodge Defense Systems will continue to be the guys who wear the white hats, helping others. Most of the guys who buy my brand are that way. There’s way, way more good than bad out there, and I hope more than anything that the spirit of goodwill will continue.
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