The ArmaLite AR-18 was initially designed as a lower priced competitor to the AR-15. It uses stamped metal construction instead of milling, similar to rifles like the AK47. The AR180B is a modernized, semi-automatic version of the AR18 that uses a polymer lower and more AR parts. If you’re really interested in the history, check out the Wikipedia page on the AR-18.
Here in Canada, the AR-180B (technically the AR-180B2 which uses an integral muzzle brake instead of thread-on brake) is somewhat significant because it is non restricted. While the restricted AR-15 can only travel from your safe to the range, the 180B can go hunting coyotes or for a trip to the gravel pit to shoot rocks, tannerite, bouncing ground targets, or other fun targets that you may not be able to use at your range.
Note: this particular rifle has been painted and has had a few modifications.
- Many AR180B’s come with a fixed or folding stock, while this one uses a stock adapter to enable use of AR-15 buttstocks.
- This rifle has a picatinny rail permanently installed on the receiver. AR-180B’s don’t come with a rail, but Stormwerkz sells a rail that can be used.
- A small picatinny rail section has been added to the bottom of the rifle forend. This is not stock.
AR-180B Video Review
AR-180B Operating Characteristics
If you’ve used an AR-15 or any non-bullpup 223 Modern Sporting Rifle, you can probably figure this rifle out quick. The safety, magazine release, magazines, and trigger are either directly from the AR-15 or very similar. Instead of a non-reciprocating charging handle, it uses a fixed, reciprocating handle attached to the bolt. There is no bolt release, instead you need to pull back and release the bolt handle. It’s a more basic system than the AR-15, but simple isn’t necessarily bad.
The trigger is a single stage unit and mine pulled at a gritty 8.5 lbs. Not the greatest trigger in the world but if you really disliked it, you could replace it.
The firing pin is retained by a spring! That means you don’t have to be picky on primers and only choose the hard military ones for reloading, because the spring will keep that firing pin from denting primers significantly when the bolt slams forward on a fresh round.
The iron sights are basic but decent quality. The holes are drilled in the middle and nothing looks crooked or crude like you’d commonly see on a Norinco M14. Elevation is adjusted via the front sight post, while windage is adjusted by a large knob on the right hand side of the rear sight. The rear sight offers a small peep and large size peep. Shooters more familiar with traditional, low mount sights will appreciate how much lower they are on the AR-180B vs an AR-15.
With more moving parts, the AR-180B can be a bit less accurate than the AR-15. The heavy stock trigger doesn’t help, but many AR180B owners still report being able to shoot groups of 1-2.5″ at 100 yards. That’s still better than many other modern sporting rifle designs.
AR180B Gas System and Design
The AR180B uses a short-stroke gas system that is extremely similar to that of the WWII SVT-40. The fixed piston stays attached, while the vented gas cup/cylinder travels over it during cycling. Nothing wrong with this system: it’s reliable, keeps powder fowling way up front on the rifle (instead of dumping it into the bolt/action like the AR-15), and is very easy to clean. Because the bolt/BCG are no longer pulling double duty as gas piston, they can be nice and compact. Instead of needing a buffer+spring that go into the stock, the AR180B uses a double recoil spring system on dual guide rods.
Shooting the AR180B
Shooting the AR180B at the range is very similar to firing an AR-15, with a few minor differences.
- The stock is not straight line, it’s dropped a bit. This means that your iron sights & optics are lower and closer to the barrel.
- The bolt is very smooth to operate.
- It’d be nice to have a bolt release like on an AR-15. I dislike using my left hand to reload a mag and then reaching around or using my right hand to operate the bolt handle.
Other than that, it’s basically the same as an AR: very fun to shoot!
The AR180B is thoughtfully designed and features an easy disassembly.
- Just below the rear sight is a trough where you can insert a 5.56 cartridge, punch, nail whatever, to push forward on the rear plate.
- Rotate the rear of the rifle upper upwards just like you would an AR-15.
- Remove the recoil springs and guide rod assembly.
- Move the bolt carrier group rearward until the charging handle is at the disassembly hole and then pull out the charging handle.
- Remove the bolt carrier group
- Push in the firing pin from the rear and remove the firing pin retaining pin. Then, remove the firing pin and firing pin spring.
- Pull out the cam pin from the side
- Remove the bolt from the bolt carrier group.
- (off the bolt and action for a bit): remove the forend.
- The gas system disassembles quickly into 4 pieces: the cup(cylinder), operating rod link, operating rod, and operating rod spring. The middle connecting link can be removed easily first, then the cup, then the operating rod.
- If you really want, you can remove the gas piston to give it a thorough cleaning. I just use a pipe cleaner to clean mine out.
Full AR-180B Disassembly
AR-180B Weak Points
- Polymer lower. The front pivot point holds the upper and lower together and it’s metal pin acting on plastic hinge. If you use an AR-180B in winter when that polymer is brittle or if you’re abusive with it, it might break. Some people add in a “recoil lug” to reduce stress on the hinge point. Stormwerkz also offers a more robust replacement pivot that looks like it’d completely eliminate this issue. The polymer lower also includes the grip, which can’t be replaced.
- Lack of a picatinny rail on the receiver is somewhat offset by the easy-to-add Stormwerkz rail. Or, find a competent gunsmith to permanently add a section of rail to the receiver.
- Lack of factory support is something of a problem. You probably won’t find many replacement parts at your local gun store.
- The stock trigger sucks.
- The safety isn’t as solid as the one on the AR15, but at least it’s quiet.
- The action has some openings so it won’t survive dirt/mud/sand as well as rifles with dust covers or more enclosed actions.
- If you really love a scope, you’d have to mount it further forward or permanently remove the rear sight to get it out of the way.
- Common AR-height scope mounts will end up being uncomfortably high without a high cheek riser. ACOG mounts, scope mounts, and red dot mounts designed for the AR-15 will give poor cheek weld without really building up the cheek rest or getting the buttstock adapter AND a buttstock that features an adjustable cheek rest.
Long story short: it’s not a perfect firearm, but there are inexpensive modifications that help eliminate some of the weak points.
If you’re in the US, this is a bit of a silly firearm to own. CNC machining is a lot cheaper these days, so the cost for a new AR-15 is much lower and they’re a more ubiquitous platform. If you’re in Canada, it’s a different story because only some firearms are granted “Non Restricted” status. For non restricted, semi automatic 223 rifles, it’s slim pickings and many of the options are priced very high. To get a platform very similar to an AR, with trigger parts that can be replaced with aftermarket, and a great gas system like the one on the AR-180B, there are few options available at under $2000.
For a Canadian who loves going to the range, but also wants to be able to plink at a gravel pit or shoot coyotes at close range, the AR-180B is one of the best options available for the dollar.