I can vividly remember my first encounter with Will Larson. It was in a Facebook group focused on the technical side of the AR-15 platform. I was freshly graduated from SDI and thought I was on top of my game. I had always preferred to learn things by testing them myself, but I still made it a point to heed the advice of those I knew were more knowledgeable. I recall reading a post asking for an explanation on something, so I responded with the little I knew and thought the case was closed.
Not long after I had posted I saw that Will Larson had posted his own response. His response expanded on what I had written with such depth that I realized I knew next to nothing compared to him. It was a humbling moment. That was in early 2019, just six months before his passing.
Will Larson – A Lifetime of Dedication
For those who never knew Will Larson, he devoted his entire life to the AR platform. Will was a veteran of both the US Army and US Coast Guard before working as an instructor and armorer for the Department of Defense. All of this was before working for Bravo Company Manufacturing and then finally SIONICS until the time of his passing.
On top of working for two of the most respected AR manufacturers in the world, Will also operated Semper Paratus Arms, his company that he used for teaching classes across the United States. This was what Will was probably best known for, as he had a passion for sharing his knowledge with students. The Semper Paratus courses were in-depth, but to-the-point.
Carrying the Torch
Let me get this out of the way now: No one person can replace Will. There are several that are paying homage to him, though in their own way. Mike Mihalski is one example, as he was both a student and friend of Will’s. Mike, who is one of Sons of Liberty Gun Works owners, is using what he learned from Will along with his own experiences to keep high-level armorer’s courses going.
By sharing his knowledge of the platform with students across the United States, Mike can in a small part, pass on a bit of Will to everyone he teaches. if you were to ask Mike about Will, he would tell you that Sons of Liberty wouldn’t be the brand they are without Will Larson.
Will’s impact can also be seen in several brands in the AR market. Will had a hand in developing several parts for brands, through his feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Brands like Forward Controls Design, SIONICS, Centurion Arms, Bravo Company, Multitasker, and many others all listened any time Will offered suggestions or feedback. Through his touch on various products, Will lives on in the guns many people build and run daily.
A Will Larson Tribute Rifle
After Will Larson’s passing, many of his friends and colleagues in the industry decided to pay homage to him. The original plan was to clone one of Will’s guns, which proved to be an impossible task. Some of the parts needed were non-existent, and the number of people involved proved to be a logistical nightmare. Ultimately this proved to be too tall a task, and it fizzled out.
Fast forward a year, and the project was renewed but in a different direction. Rather than cloning one of Will’s guns, the decision was made to build a firearm honoring Will by using parts he had a hand in developing and/or made by companies he supported. This was no small task as COVID-19 had sent the gun industry into record sales, and parts were still tough to find. A project like this required a level of quality and authenticity, though, and no shortcuts were taken.
The upper half of the gun is packed full of parts that will be familiar to readers of this site. A VLTOR MUR upper receiver was the backbone of the gun. The MUR has a thicker wall which increases strength. This in turn can help with accuracy, extend the life of parts housed inside, and can aid in increasing reliability.
A 16” Midlength Centurion barrel with a pinned Forward Controls Design GBF (Gas Block Forward Controls) and a Battle Comp 1.0 were attached, and the Centurion CMR 13” rail was the last of the structure.
Will was a big fan of leaving some barrel exposed, and it was important to stay true to that aesthetic with this gun. Centurion is a company that prides itself on producing some of the finest components in the market. Their barrels are cold-hammer-forged, chrome-lined, and have impeccable quality control. Their rails are light-weight and rock solid in their performance and lockup.
Adding on a SIONICS-marked Radian Raptor and a SIONICS bolt-carrier group finished off the upper. SIONICS is a company that may not be as recognizable to some as other names in this article, but they produce high-quality guns and components. The SIONICS bolt-carrier groups are built from Carpenter 158 steel, are HP/MPI tested, gas keys are properly staked, and come with Sprinco extractor springs (another company Will appreciated).
Everything was built as Will Larson would have done, with the use of Aeroshell 64 on the barrel nut install, and proper torque values being monitored closely. If there was anything Will tried to impart to his students, it was doing things the proper way and understanding why.
On barrel nut installations, the use of Aeroshell is important to achieve the proper torque value, which is a wet torque, as well as making sure parts don’t seize down the road. Similarly, with castle nuts, an anti-seize agent is needed for similar reasons, though Will often used a copper anti-seize for that application, insisting that the “WHY” was just as important as blindly preaching the result.
The lower half of the gun is much the same story. A SIONICS lower receiver housed a Sionics enhanced 2-stage trigger. A VLTOR A5 receiver extension was secured in place with a Forward Controls Design end plate and castle nut, staked twice with a 5/32” Mayhew punch.
The A5 system was a must for this gun, as it was a product that Will Larson whole-heartedly believed in. The A5 system changes the recoil impulse of the gun and makes for a more controllable, more enjoyable shooting experience on almost every AR platform gun. For more about the A5 system, check out this article (https://www.arbuildjunkie.com/vltor-a5-buffer-system-overview/).
A Bravo Company Manufacturing Gunfighter Grip and Gunfighter stock were the final touches before assembly and test firing.
Finally, a Multitasker Twist was included for any on the range maintenance that needed to be done. Multitasker is a company that follows the idea of function over fashion, which is what Will very much taught.
The Multitasker Twist is the minimalist answer to common adjustments that need to be done on the range. In a tool not much larger than a pen, you have a light-duty screwdriver, multiple sighting platform adjustment tools, a small punch, and more.
Will Larson – Gone But Not Forgotten
Will is survived by his wife Lisa, and their children. The benefit rifle raised more than $5,000 to support Will’s family, but it isn’t the only way to support his loved ones. A GoFundMe campaign organized in Will’s honor has raised nearly $30,000 to date and is still going (https://www.gofundme.com/f/rsyh3-the-will-larson-memorial-fund). If you were a student of Will’s, someone that he chose to mentor without ever meeting him (like me), or anyone else that Will impacted, I urge you to give if you are able.
As a whole, the industry and Will Larson’s friends have shown that he impacted the lives of many people, and in turn, many have given back. That is only a small part of Will’s legacy but is a window into the type of person he was. Will had a tremendous passion for the firearms industry and to make people better at understanding their guns. He was a man that will forever live in the hearts and memories of those he touched…and that is a large audience to live through.
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Awesome.Thanks Todd and to AR Build Junkie for sharing.