What started as a personal passion project for Tommy Built Tactical has culminated in the resurrection of a long-sought after collector’s piece – the near unobtainable H&K G36.
While we can all appreciate a beautiful AR build, there’s something striking and eye-catching for me about the H&K G36…As an H&K collector, it was one rifle that was pure unobtanium. To now see a committed, creative builder literally resurrect the rifle through sheer force of will is a story worth sharing.
To learn more about the rise of the Tommy Built Tactical t36, we recently spoke with Tom Bostic of Tommy Built Tactical…who you may also know from Junkyard Empire, or whose work you may know if you’re a Star Wars obsessive.
Q: Tom, can we start with how your adventure with the t36 began at Tommy Built Tactical?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: I’ve always been a fan of anything cool and fun, and of course firearms have always been that. I’m a big fan of the movies and all sorts of the guns used in movies. That’s been something I’ve been drawn to since I was a kid. The H&K stuff was always pretty prominent in most of the 80’s action films. I jumped in as a consumer and started buying some of the fun stuff that was out there. I bought a USC back when it came out in the late 90s.
I stared a lot at the SL8. I really wanted one of those but I just couldn’t afford it. One day, I was eventually able to get ahold of one and I just started tinkering with it. I mostly got into the work part of it all because I bought a really bad clone that didn’t run.
Nobody would look at it and I ended up spending a year on forums trying to figure out how to get the stupid thing working. I finally got it to work and during that time, I learned a lot about how the firearm operated. As frustrating at is it was, it was also a lot of fun figuring it out.
UMC to UMP Conversion
After that I jumped into the UMC to UMP conversion. I sent my gun to one of the guys who had started doing the first UMP conversions. He had my gun for a little over a year, that scared me because it was only about two hours worth of work. I thought that I’d never see my gun again.
While I was waiting, I began making magazine followers and floor plates for my gun so that it would be 922r compliant. Once I did that, I started selling followers and floor plates to other people and it really just snowballed from there. It’s been a fun journey.
“A lot of people say H&K hates us, but…”
A lot of people say H&K hates us, but it’s more that Germany hates us. Their export laws on what they consider “sporting” and what they allow H&K to do with the end product is a lot different than what other manufacturers can get out of other countries. When it is manufactured there, it has to be sold here in that same form. You can’t bring it here, change it to something else and then sell it. That’s what FN and a lot of other manufacturers do…adding in compliance parts, changing the complete configuration of it and making it to something different.
Germany will not allow H&K to do that, so their hands have been really tied with what they can offer us, and everybody wants a G36 and a UMP and all that cool stuff that is not available otherwise.
“It’s such a cool collector’s piece”
So, I had this SL8 that is so far from being a G36, although they do share a lot of the same components as far as basic stuff like the fire controls, barrel assembly, gas system, handguards and top rail.
So, I kept cutting mine up and changing it until I could get it close to a G36. I figured out how to make it identical to a G36 on the outside. I was able to make a pretty exact clone, and that’s been a really neat option to have. It’s such a cool collector’s piece.
Q: You were able to make yours, but for other guys out there, it was becoming more and more difficult to get one of their own, correct?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: I’ve had guys spend between 5-7,000 dollars collecting the parts and doing the conversion and getting everything they wanted out of the build. That includes the SL8, which they stopped manufacturing and shipping around 2010. There were a few around in 2011, 2012 and then they were just gone. They vanished.
Now, you can only find them on the used market and the prices are through the roof. I had sort of made this new market for the SL8, pushing them to be sought after to be converted into one thing or another. Not many people want to keep them in their original form.
Q: Was it this scarcity and pent up demand that inspired you to make your own Tommy Built Tactical receiver? That could not have been a decision you made lightly…
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: When I started this, I didn’t really consider making my own receiver (laughs). It was not something that I had any interest in doing, but it just escalated. The remaining SL8s had dried up, and I had so many calls from people who were trying to come up with a receiver. I just decided to jump in and make it happen.
To do so, we have our own injection mold tooling, which is just ridiculously expensive to make, but it made sense for us. Now, this is still a niche product. Tommy Built Tactical is not some big company, but we are able to get complete U.S. made guns out today for half the cost of what a conversion would be typically.
Q: Will you still do an H&K SL8 conversion though, if asked?
Yes, but as I mentioned, finding an H&K SL8 to do that with is quite difficult. It’s really tough. You might find one on Gun Broker at any given time, but they’re just not out there. A lot of the guys out there that do have them now want to save them, which makes sense now that there is a clone available.
Now, if you want to do a really cool collectors piece and do it all up as a G36, I still do one, maybe two of those a week for guys who want them all German marked up. Those guys are the same guys who will also buy one of mine and leave their collector’s one in the safe. They can beat the crap out of my clone version, because it’s just another gun at that point (laughs).
Q: By building your own Tommy Built Tactical receiver, you also open up the possibility for other sorts of builds, is that correct?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: Because we’re doing receivers, we can do pistols, which has never been a thing with the SL8 because they were all built as rifles. So, to be able to have a 36C pistol has been the dream of a lot of guys for a lot of years. We’re just happy to bring that to the table and open the market up a little bit so it’s not all just MP5 clones out there. So, it’s been a neat run and now we’re expanding to make all sorts of things to go with it. H&K abandoned the G36 project years ago and they haven’t done much with it. They moved on to the 416, and the 433 is out there as well, which is a very slick design.
The H&K G36 kind of stopped. And without new contracts, they didn’t have the need to develop any new stuff. That said, the platform has been around for twenty years and there still is plenty of room to develop new things for it…new top rails, handguards, different fire control group lowers that take AR grips and triggers like Geissele.
“We’re also able to make it our own”
So, we’re bringing it up to speed with today’s tech and we’re also able to make it our own a little bit as well. Of course there is still that nostalgia for the plain Jane OG G36 version, but for the guys that want to make it more up to date and have options, we’re just getting started and that part of it is very fun to be able to develop new stuff for it. It’s definitely an exciting time for Tommy Built Tactical.
Q: We’re big H&K collectors, so I do understand the somewhat mystic allure of the G36, something that you just could not get. Can you describe that for our readers?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: When I got my H&K SL8, I had no idea that the H&K G36 existed. When I finally saw a G36 about three years later, I was like “what is this space gun? I need it. What is that crazy carry handle/optic thing?” It just looked so futuristic and so slick. Knowing what I knew already with the SL8, it’s also lot more modular than people think.
It has a lot more options than people think. But it was just one of those ‘unobtanium’ type of things. Police departments and law enforcement bought them…Capitol police bought them…you’d see agencies with them. You’d see them in the movies, but they were just kind of this obscure thing.
Then Germany told H&K “no more dealer samples.” You can’t just sell dealer samples because guys are just taking parts off of them and selling them because they are worth more than the gun. Because of that, the G36 just became impossible to get. There was no chance for guys to buy them for movies or anything like that. It just made it very difficult to buy them from directly H&K for anything other than if you were a PD.
“It just didn’t make sense…”
With their (H&Ks) hands being tied with what they could do, and they couldn’t import them…and we were under a ban for ten years and the threat of a ban for another ten years, it just didn’t make sense for H&K to even attempt to try to put a factory here to put together something that might be banned, even if they got Germany’s permission. Because of all that, it just became one of those unobtainable products.
Also, because the H&K G36 features a ton of injection molds, you’re injection molding the receiver, the handguard…the top rails, the selectors, half of the parts for the fire control group, the grip, the plug for the grip, the two different stocks, rubber over molds for the stocks, the buffer plates. And, every one of these injection molds is big money.
Nobody wanted to jump on spending the money to do it. It’s a huge, huge expense and that’s one of the reasons we’ve never seen it. You could make the receiver all day long, but unless you’re making every part that goes with the gun, forget it. There is no other source.
Q: Describe your feelings on the gun itself? I have not handled one, nor will have most of our readers.
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: To me, the platform is super slick. It’s a piston gun that is extremely lightweight. It shoots super flat. They run very clean. During testing they had one run 26,000 rounds with zero failures and zero cleaning. The only reason that test was stopped was because some dummy didn’t realize it was a test gun and they accidently cleaned it. It didn’t go any further than that. There’s not a lot of guns that you’re running 26,000 rounds out of, machine guns anyway, and not even cleaning and having zero failures. It’s just a really cool platform.
“Everything on it is streamlined”
You start looking at the ergonomics of it and everything on it is ambidextrous. Everything on it is streamlined. The weight is really low. The maintenance is really low. With the inside being polymer, you really don’t need a lot of oil in it. H&K did a lot of things in it, that when you really start understanding the back end of the design they are very neat.
There’s special water channels in there, there’s special serrations on the end of the barrel that go into the trunnion so that water can get out. It can be shot with water in the receiver without issues. If there is a catastrophic failure, there are blow plugs that pop out of the actual trunnion. There’s things like that which a normal person would not know unless they actually started manufacturing or unless they’ve done some serious research (laughs).
Q: Is there something about the ergonomics that appeal to you?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: I’ve also always been a fan of the ergonomics of it compared to the AR….with the charging handle being up front like HK does, with it being ambi like most of the newer MP5s and being able to fly back and forth to either side…to me it’s just way friendlier than a lot of the other platforms out there. Combine that with the fact that it has pretty much been unobtanium until now, has kind of helped the mystique a bit.
Q: Did you have to buy these polymer machines? Can you speak to the durability of that material?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: An injection mold is basically a giant tool that has a bunch of hydraulics hooked into it. This particular tool weighs around 3,000 pounds and it goes on a 500 ton machine and injects a nylon glass-filled polymer at about 20,000 PSI, which compacts it and makes sure there are no air bubbles, etc…H&K will never tell anybody what exact model of plastic they use, neither will any other manufacturers, but pretty much we all use the same stuff.
As far as durability, we have rental ranges with our guns that have 50,000 rounds on them already with no problems. H&K will tell you that the life expectancy of a G36 is 25,000 rounds, granted the gun can go way further than that…but I can tell you that I did some SL8 conversions years ago for Battlefield Vegas and those guns when they were retired, had 420,000 rounds through them. Granted, they had replaced a lot of barrels, but it is amazing how much these polymer receivers can really take. Keep in mind, these were guns that were mostly used for mag dumps. (laughs).
Q: Let’s say someone reads this and now wants one. What’s the next step?
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: We actually have these ready to go right now on the website. They are built, done and ready to go. When we first started, we were just selling receivers because the parts kit production had not caught up with the receivers yet, but now we have complete guns. Typically it costs less money to buy the complete guns than it is to ship stuff back and forth and build a gun. You do need special tools to install the barrel. The tool is about $250…it’s not a hard install, but for a one-time thing, most people don’t want to spend $250 and try to assemble it themselves.
Q: Any final thoughts? Personally, a gun like this makes some sense for a guy like me who grew up at just the right time to be fascinated with the original…it’s also a cool collectible for the guy who has everything.
Tom Bostic – Tommy Built Tactical: I’d just say that building these…It’s been an awesome run. We are happy to bring these things out to market. In a gun world where everybody pretty much has two of everything, it’s so nice to be able to bring something else out that didn’t exist before, rather than just creating another version of an AR or another version of something else. Now someone who has always wanted this piece of history can add it to their list.
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