Tiger McKee's Rat Rifle (courtesy tacticalwire.com)

Tactical Wire’s Tiger McKee writes:

I was organizing my shop, a constant process, and noticed I had a lot of old, beat up AR parts. Years ago I used to build hot rods and Harleys. The older I got the less I worried about looks, concentrating more on function. They ran like hell, but were painted with spray cans and looked rough around the edges. Technically they would be called “rat” rods or bikes. Today this is a huge trend; you can’t pick up a bike or car magazine without seeing these rats. As I was sorting through boxes of parts I thought, “Why not build a Rat Rifle?” . . .

Later that evening I had my first Rat Rifle, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a project in a long time. I have to make all the parts match. I just picked and chose what looked good. There was no worry about scratching something up during assembly. Everything was already beat up. And it was cheap because I had everything needed.

The only problem was the lower receiver. It was shiny, new and black. Technically, with this being a Rat project, I could have just used the black receiver and rolled on. However, part of a Rat Rifle is art, and I wanted that retro look. The black just wasn’t going to fit with the gray parts.

To “distress” the new lower, aging it so it visually fit with the retro look I was after, I put it in the blast cabinet and hit the areas I wanted wear showing with light pressure and a small nozzle. I made sure to stay away from any critical areas, and worked on the edges of the magwell, behind the extension and the raised areas of the outside of the receiver. I used 800 grit wet sandpaper and smoothed out these spots for that shiny worn look, then sprayed the receiver with Perma-Slick G, a gray mil-spec looking finish. Once it was dry I scuffed it up to reveal the shiny, sanded areas. I did the same thing to the black barrel. I also ground and sanded down the front sight base to take off the casting marks, just like Colt used to do in the old days. To keep that old look I used cut down triangular handguards.

The Rat Rifle concept is to build it and use it. Don’t worry about saving up for that perfect part. Put something on there and get it on the range. You can always replace a part later. If it gets scratched, who cares? There’ll be a story that goes with that mark. The thing is to actually use the rifle, keeping it up and running as opposed to letting it sit in the safe.

The modular design of the AR makes it perfect for projects. You still have to know what you’re doing and have a few specialty tools, but with a good education and some time you too can own a Rat Rifle.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns,” writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911

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33 Responses to Tiger McKee: Rat Rifle at the Ready

  1. I think purposely distressing parts is like buying ripped jeans. Beat the crap out of it yourself. I like the idea, and the final project. I just can’t get over sanding good parts.

    • But that is the difference though. He made it look that way, he didnt buy it looking that way. Sure, he had to help the aging process out, but I think it’s a neat idea. It achieves a certain look, like the rifle has been out in the field forever, doing what it does. Rough ‘n’ ready.

    • I agree 100%. I am a lifetime hot-rodder and car nut, and artificial “patina” always grates me. If some part has normal “honest” wear and tear, and you want to leave it that way for character, fine. But , in my opinion, you can’t artificially create character or (ughhh) patina. I get ugly memories of car forums where the owner takes a pristine body panel, sands the paint off, and asks readers for the best method of inducing rust. Double ugghhh.

  2. This article needs more pics than the tiny one at the top. It would have been nice to see developmental pics along the way during the build process. Otherwise, it is fun to build leftover parts guns. That is how my wife ended up with a pink AR.

  3. Having built a few “rat bikes” and several “relic” guitars I like the concept, I just don’t have a supply of AR parts laying around.

  4. My bike is a rat because I ride it. I keep it tuned up and serviced, but I could care less about washing or polishing it. Same way with my guns. I keep them clean and lubed, but there are no safe queens in my collection. I don’t deliberately scratch the finish or ding the stock to achieve a certain look, but if it happens, so be it – I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I liked the story up until he sanded the lower. If he truly didn’t care how it looked, then he wouldn’t have wasted his time on that.

    • I agree. That’s the joy of the rat. Some stuff looks relatively new and shiny, some is beat up looking, and some is 50/50, 40/60, or 10/90 mix of the two. The functionality is what makes it so enjoyable.
      I don’t know why someone would make a part look beat up because he doesn’t care if parts look beat up. I understand there’s a retro/antique look, but that’s different from the rat.

  5. Funny, I see this discussion trending the same way it does on the Guitar sites. (my other hobby is guitar collecting). If you purposely age or distress a part to make it look old, the implication is you’re a poser that didn’t get the look through honest wear. I’ve got a few guitars I’ve had for 40 years so yes, they have honest wear. I’ve also painstakingly finished a Telecaster body with nitrocellulose lacquer only to put it in a freezer for days then leave it out in the Texas sun just to get those tiny age cracks that look so cool on a guitar. I wouldn’t buy one of the aged looking guitars or bikes new but building one is fun. Also, I haven’t had the urge to build or “relic” any guns so far, but who knows?

  6. More pictures,great idea,remember the rat rides too.Also come back and let us know how it shoots.Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

  7. Used parts, used car~used gun
    Personally I paint my guns w/rattle can and my cars with a paint roller, great results either way.

  8. Found on the trail, one AR.

    Cool, it its nouveau-retro way.

    I’ve a television I occasionally fire up that would get channel 1 were it broadcasting. For those who don’t know, channel 1 was yanked from TV in ’48 by the FCC and given over to radio use, but they didn’t renumber the remaining channels.

    I keep it running from a storehouse of old parts — which I use for other projects and repairs as well — and when needed I make parts.

    Hmmm… I’ll have to watch recordings of Rat Patrol on it some time.

  9. This has been done with another iconic rifle for quite some time: The frankenFAL is a collection of disparate parts put together to produce a functional but visually unappealing (to those who like shiny stuff) firearm.

  10. Nice Job, If YOU like it thats what counts. Wish I could find old parts too! Come to think of it….anything AR-15 is lackin atm. Mine sits in safe crying for ammo……and clear weekend.

  11. “The older I got the less I worried about looks, concentrating more on function.”

    I came to this assessment very early on.

    “Function over Form”, I call it.

    So many books are judged before being read, a distinct advantage when it comes to the impromptu quarter-mile boogie.

  12. “Rat Rifle” seems more approrriate to an AK, but since they aren’t usually built from on hand parts the concept works for the AR platform. Seems like a rattle can camo job would have served the purpose without the “poseur” implications.

  13. This reminds me of knife pimping. One very popular style is often called “Fallout.” The blade, scales and all exposed metal are acid and stone washed to give it a dark and distressed finish – contrasted by the honed edge of the blade. The end result can look pretty cool.

  14. My first project was a J. C. Higgins tube-fed .22 I found in pieces in the garage as a teenager. It’s made out of whatever parts I could find that would fit. The only piece I bought new was the front site, which is not correct. I had a box of mixed parts from other similar but not matching .22s that I used to fill in the gaps, and then eventually tracked down a matching scope on eBay for like $15. The original finish was completely gone, so I re-did it with a Birchwood Casey cold blue kit. I keep it around for trying new ammo (24″ barrel and the bolt locks shut) and to try out new techniques. I think, as far as guns go, it’s as “rat” as they get.

  15. Something about intentionally distressing the rifle irks me, like it’s soul has been stolen. On the other hand it looks great (at least the little of it I can see in that thumbnail). I’ve had a few ‘rough out’ rifles over the years that took their abuse the honest way (sliding around the metal bed of pickup trucks and spending nights out in the rain) and a couple of them developed that iconic distressed look that makes you think of heroic hold outs on the one hand and good times on the other. The distressed rifles are melancholy for me.

  16. It’s always nice to see how a project looks like after it comes together. Just my humble opinion, but it would have been interesting to see pictures of the build as it progressed. Not really a big deal at all, but I love how “in the white” it looks. While the idea of refinishing it lingers around, I’m against it in this case – that combination of parts created a rifle with the sole intention to RUN! Something to take pride in sir. Again, love the project idea and the results!

  17. My AR build has actually taken a backseat recently BECAUSE of my rat rod project(and limited budget). The AR build got to the point where I just quit trying to find parts. All I wanted was a 20″ hbar and original(old) parts kit but people want INSANE $$$ for parts right now IF you can find them.

    I wish I just had an AR laying around waiting to be assembled…lol.

  18. I love it. The AR is the most personalizable firearm ever made. Why not take it that one step further?

    I would never say anything bad about someone else’s paint job. It’s their gun. Now if they were to paint my gun, I would feel free to critique their work for good or ill.

    It does not matter if you get a $1000 automotive-grade custom job or a DIY $20 krylon job. Paint it how you want. Or not.

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