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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

The M14 rifle is a paradox in American service rifles. It was the last wood and steel service rifle adopted by US forces, born as the jet age gave way to the space age. Some have said it was obsolete before it was adopted in 1957. It earned a reputation as a rugged and reliable warrior in the early days of the Vietnam War.

When the army began field trials of the M16 in Vietnam, many soldiers were reluctant to trade their M14’s for the new fangled “Mattel Toy.” The M14 was officially replaced by the M16 in 1967. Since then, it has clung tenaciously to a place in the American arsenal. It has continued to serve as a sniper rifle, designated marksman’s rifle, watchman’s rifle for US Navy ships in port, and with Special Forces.

In conflict after conflict, the M14 has been dusted off and put into service to do jobs that the M16/M4 cannot do. It has served American soldiers from Vietnam to the War on Terror. It was the rifle used by Sergeant Randall Shughart in the Battle of Mogadishu when he jumped from a helicopter to defend downed comrades, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Despite having the second shortest career as the general issue rifle, the M14 holds the record for the longest time in service of any American military rifle.

The M14 is an evolution of legendary M1 Garand. It features a shortened Garand receiver and bolt with a simplified operating rod. The gas system was moved rearward and changed to a short stroke format. The Garand’s eight-round enbloc clip was replaced with a detachable 20-round box magazine because human wave attacks seldom come in groups of eight.

A rather complicated linkage was added to allow for select fire. Wisely the designers retained the M1’s iron sights, which are arguably the best iron sights ever installed on a military rifle. There are rails on the receiver for attaching an optics mount. Original stocks were walnut, though the army later developed a fiberglass composite stock.

It was rechambered from the venerable .30-06 to the new 7.62mm NATO round. The redesign has numerous advantages. First, an M14 with 20 rounds onboard weighs nearly the same as an M1 with eight rounds; roughly 11 pounds. Second, the box magazine and shortened gas system have moved the weight balance rearward. The M1 is a rather front-heavy rifle, while the M14 balances more naturally and handles better. Third was its select fire capability, though the M14 proved difficult to control with fully automatic fire. Finally, the M14 is a more accurate rifle, courtesy of the redesigned gas system.

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The M14F (bottom) with its forerunner, the M1 Garand (top)

Because they are select fire weapons, real M14’s are not generally available for mere mortals to own. Today a handful of companies manufacture high quality semi-automatic clones, including James River Armory (JRA) with their M14F. They begin with a new forged receiver and bolt made by Bula Forge and Machine, as well as a new barrel made by the same. All components are made using the original military specifications for steel type and hardness. The receiver is semi-automatic only and lacks the rear lug where the connector for the select fire hardware attaches. The rest of the rifle is assembled from surplus M14 parts, so you can own at least part of an authentic military weapon.

You can order the standard 22-inch barrel, or a shortened 19.25-inch barrel. Either barrel can be had with chrome lining, as is the standard military issue, or unlined for those who feel this provides better accuracy. Every rifle ships with a new canvas sling, one magazine, and a manual. The model reviewed here is a standard M14F with a 22-inch chrome lined barrel and a walnut stock.

Fit and finish on the M14F are top notch. The workmanship is equal to my original Springfield Armory M1, which is a high quality postwar example. A few tooling marks are visible on the receiver, but no more and no worse than those seen on the M1.

The Parkerizing is even on the new parts and the shade is indistinguishable from the surplus parts. The stock appears to be lightly refinished. All the original proof marks are still legible and the stock is beautiful overall. The M14F is a rifle that you can be proud to display, even though your gun buddies won’t know what it is. “Nice hunting rifle! Is that a Browning?”

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M14F laid out for the slow fire stage of a High Power match

The M14 is a surprisingly modular platform. A number of stock and chassis options are available that modify the ergonomics. Different chassis systems can adapt the rifle for long range or for a more tactical role. There is even a bullpup chassis available for those who feel the M14F is too American and want to give it a European flare.

Most chassis systems will accept standard AR grips and buttstocks, and also add Picatinny rails to the fore end. A number of optics mounts for the receiver are available, including fixed mounts and quick-detachable models. Replacement upper handguards that add full length rails are available. With the available accessories, you can adapt the M14F to just about any role that you would want a battle rifle to fulfill.

The field strip procedures are similar to other Garand-type rifles. The rear of the trigger guard is pulled backward to unlock it, and the entire fire control group is lifted out. The stock is lifted off the rifle, exposing the internals. The action spring and its guide rod are held in place by a captive pin. Once they are removed, the operating rod and bolt can be removed from the receiver.

The manual contains detailed disassembly, cleaning, and lubrication instructions. Because the M14F is a piston operated rifle, the major working surfaces stay fairly clean during firing. The rifle can be cleaned after a day at the range by simply opening the action and cleaning the barrel and working surfaces. Most M14 type owners only strip the rifle once per year for a detailed cleaning and lubrication, unless they shoot an excessive number of rounds or drop the rifle in a muddy bog.

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The M14F field-stripped

The battery of arms will seem odd to someone acquainted only with modern sporting rifles, though it is simple enough.
To load, the bolt is retracted fully to the rear and the bolt hold-open catch is engaged on the left side of the receiver by pressing down on the latch. Magazines must be rocked in from front to rear. They lock in with a solid, audible click. Once the magazine is seated and the rifle is pointed in a safe direction, tug the charging handle backwards to unlatch the bolt and allow it to fly home with full force. Never ride the bolt gently forward when loading. The rifle may not go fully into battery. Besides, you look like a Boss Operator when you slingshot your bolt.

The safety is a small lever at the front of the trigger guard that is operated with the trigger finger. Moving the lever into the trigger guard engages the safety, and moving it out disengages it. Some dislike this arrangement, but I find it is intuitive and it forces you to take your finger off the trigger when manipulating the safety. The trigger is a two stage military trigger. The bolt catch engages automatically when the magazine is empty. A paddle at the rear of the magazine well releases the magazine, which is then rocked forward for removal.

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Most of the controls are visible here, including the trigger, safety, magazine release, bolt catch, and sight elevation dial

Ergonomics are surprisingly good for a 60-year-old design. The safety and magazine release work equally well for left- or right-handed shooters. The charging handle favors right handers, but lefties can adapt with some practice. The rifle shoulders well and handles quickly despite its weight. You won’t mistake it for a tactical carbine, but it points and maneuvers well enough.

The iron sights are easy to align and provide a good view of the target. They are adjustable for elevation and windage, and the elevation dial is marked in hundred meter increments. The two stage trigger breaks crisply after the initial slack is taken up. It is light compared to the standard triggers in many modern sporting rifles. Reset is short and consistent, which allows fast follow-up shots. The rifle’s weight and gas system help to tame the recoil of the 7.62mm NATO cartridge.

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The M14F on the bench during accuracy testing

Accuracy is excellent. I tested the rifle on the 50 yard range, rested on the bench but supported at the rear by the shooter, using iron sights. The test ammunition was surplus XM80 ball from Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. My best five-shot group was one single, cloverleaf hole with a maximum spread of 0.442 inches, which can be covered by a dime.

Based on my overall experience with the M14F, I would rate it as a 1 to 1.5 MOA rifle. This is excellent considering that I have always used XM80 ball and never match grade ammunition. The rifle is likely capable of better accuracy with better ammo, but I can only report my experience. The M14F is my rifle for club High Power matches, and it always turns in a good score if I do my part.

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Target shot at 50 yards with a dime for scale

Reliability has been impeccable. I have shot it in the hottest and the coldest weather that Michigan can offer, ranging from the high 90s to just above zero. It has always maintained accuracy and functioned flawlessly. I keep it lubricated and clean the action, but I don’t baby it. In two years, the only malfunction I have experienced was due to my own failure to seat the magazine properly. A misaligned round jammed the bolt open. A quick pull of the charging handle ejected the round and the unlatched magazine fell free, much to my embarrassment. The rifle operated normally after the magazine was properly inserted. According to my logbook I have 450 rounds through the rifle at the time of this writing, so this should be a good indication of the reliability.

The two downsides to M14F are the price and the weight. It currently lists for $2,195.00 on JRA’s website. The M14 and its clones have always been expensive to manufacture due to the intricate machining required on the receiver and several other parts. The M14F is made completely in America, which adds to the cost over some competitors. Accessories for the M14 platform are more expensive than AR-15 parts. In fact, many chassis systems for it will set you back the price of a new AR-15. The M14F is also a heavy rifle. It handles well, but you may notice the weight if you carry it for a long distance.

Overall, the James River Armory M14F is an excellent addition to any military rifle collection. Its authentic forged construction and high quality workmanship are as close as most of us will ever get to owning a real M14. It can fill many roles, from Cold War battle rifle to a modern designated marksman’s rifle to semi-automatic sniper. In standard configuration, the M14F is legal for High Power matches. The 7.62mm NATO round qualifies it for the Heavy Metal division of 3 Gun competitions.

With optional five-round magazines it is legal for hunting in most states. Its traditional stock makes it less scary to your hoplophobic neighbors. The M14 type has escaped the ban list in some states that are cracking down on “evil assault rifles.” Forged steel parts are extremely durable, so the receiver should last through many barrels, which equates to tens of thousands of rounds. The price of entry is steep, but the value is there.

Specifications: James River Armory M14F

Chambering: 7.62mm NATO / .308 Winchester
Capacity: 20 rounds standard capacity. Other magazine sizes available
Weight: 11 lbs. with loaded 20-round magazine
Action: semi-automatic, Garand type rotating bolt
Barrel: 22 inch, 4 groove, 1-10” rifling
Sights: Post front, peep rear. Rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage.
Finish: Parkerized
Price: $2,195.00

Quality, Fit, and Finish: * * * * *
The rifle is well constructed and solid. The working parts fit tightly and the action beds snugly into the stock. Finish on both wood and metal are well done and even.

Accuracy: * * * * *
The M14F shoots dime-sized groups at 50 yards, which is more than enough to live out your Cold War Zombie Apocalypse fantasies (on a safe range, of course).

Reliability: * * * * *
The only malfunction in two years and 450 rounds was due to my own incompetence in seating the magazine.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The rifle is well balanced. Sights are excellent. Controls are somewhat unique, but intuitive and mostly ambidextrous. The trigger breaks cleanly. If you can’t stand traditional stocks, then you will have to invest more money in a new stock. It loses half a star for that reason, and another half star for weight.

Utility and Practicality: * * * *
The M14F will do anything you want semi-automatic 7.62mm NATO rifle to do. It is well suited for mid-range shooting, and can be tuned for long range shooting with an aftermarket chassis. You probably won’t win any “Tacti-Cool Rifle of the Month” contests with it though.

Value: * * * *
The M14F is expensive as fighting rifles go. There are cheaper M14 clones, and AR-10 clones tend to be cheaper still. That said, the M14F is a fine work of American craftsmanship in steel. It carries forward the US Rifle M14’s six decade heritage of accuracy and reliability, and makes it available to civilian shooters. You get what you pay for with this rifle, but other rifles will fill the 7.62mm NATO battle rifle role for less money.

Overall: * * * *
The JRA M14F is a solid reproduction of America’s Cold War battle rifle. Its construction is authentic and as “mil spec” as you can get with an M14 clone. It is accurate, reliable, and well made. It can adapt to a variety of roles. It loses one star for being expensive and heavy, but it is worth the price of entry.

41 Responses to Gun Review: James River Armory M14F Rifle

  1. The idea that M-14 was obsolete before it was fielded is a product of 1960’s thinking that was heavily influenced by SLA Marshall. Post Vietnam analysis and flaws discovered in Marshall’s work showed that the utility of select fire weapons was grossly oversold. You can argue that the FN FAL or even the final version of the AR-10 are marginally better rifles but the M-14 was far from obsolete which is why we still use it.

    We tend to evaluate the performance of small arms in a 1 v 1 engagement but in the military environment any advantage found in a single weapon washes out at unit organizations as small as the squad level. With a semiautomatic firing doctrine the difference in rate of fire between the M-16/M-4 and the M-1 are marginal at the squad level.

    • Not an M16 fanboy in the least, but the M14 was certainly looking backward instead of forward. No major nation (or indeed any combatant power) was to adopt a rifle in the M14 configuration after 1957.

      • May not qualify as a “major” nation depending on how you look at it, but Italy developed and adopted the BM59 a bit after. It was a cost effective weapon, since they could convert their existing M1 Garands. The other users of the BM59 were smaller nations. Argentina adopted the BM59E, but for second line use while they were acquiring FAL’s.

      • The FN may have a different action but it qualifies as a similar configuration. The AR-10 was the forward looking design and no Army adopted it..

        • I’m hoping to avoid an argument of semantics, but the FAL, and most “modern” military rifles have vastly different configurations to the semi-automatic rifles of the 1900-1957 period. Features like pistol girls, stocks and forends as separate (and changeable) components, closed or covered receivers, simplified trigger mechanisms etc… all represent the modern age of the combat rifle which the M14 was simply not adaptable to join. I do not think that the M14 is unserviceable, nor do I down play its re-issue as a weapon for specialized use, however, at the very best the rifle was obscolete within just a couple of years after introduction.

      • The biggest reason why was that the newly-renamed Department of Defense (instead of Department of War) was trying to serve three masters with the M-14:

        1. They wanted a select-fire weapon, because it was seen that the StG-44-like weapons (eg AK-47) were going to be what we had to contend with going forward.

        2. The “gravel bellies” in the USA wanted to keep a full-powered (ie, .30-06 class) .30 round. None of this sissy-pants .276 or .243 type stuff that had been talked about in the past or currently. No, it was going to be .30 cal, and a real .30 cal bullet of about 150 grains. None of this lightweight stuff, no sir. The Army’s brass could remember when they were shooting 405 grain monsters out of .45-70’s, and they weren’t going to allow the youngsters to fire a rifle that had no recoil!

        3. The USA wanted to retain the Garand design. People who don’t read up on the adoption of the Garand (M1) don’t understand how much time (years) and money the Army had in the Garand design, nor how many other designs the Army had examined, or how much time it took to hold trials, etc.

        The Army wanted something that was going to win the trials, be adopted and be familiar to lots of people up and down the line. They had no patience for “pig boards” and then “goat boards,” they didn’t want to go through a big overhaul of tooling (remember, the Armory system had their own machines and tooling) and so on.

        Out came the M-14.

        What we really needed was something like the AR-10, but in 6 or 6.5×47, shooting a 120 to 130gr pill with a high Bc. It would have exceeded the capabilities of every other battle rifle in the world then – and today.

        • Yep on the caliber. The British tried but NATO (i.e. the US) said no. Not sure if a DI AR-10 would have been that great at the time. One thing about the CETME, FAL, and M-14 is that they are very effective clubs if you run out of ammo.

  2. Spot on review! Back in the day, I built up four M14SA’s with FedOrd receivers and G.I. parts for about $370 apiece. I sold all but one, and changed the barrel and gas cylinder at + 14,000 rounds. You can not wear them out! My only advice is to get a buffer for the op rod and change it often. Thanks for the review.

  3. First rifle I ever qualified on was a USN m-14. They may not be controllable on fully auto but they sure are fun.

  4. The question for a Maryland resident would be parts interchangeability with banned rifles. Springfield Armory BM-59, SAR-48, G3, SAR-3, M-21 sniper rifle, M1A, excluding the M1 Garand are banned.

    Polytech M14, not banned! yay, China knockoffs!

    It would be thrilling to know this was not fully interchangeable with M1A and not banned.

  5. How does this one compare with the Springfield M1A or the Fulton Armory builds? Would like to know who’s making the best M14 these days. If you are gonna get one of these you might as well lay down the cash and do it right.

    • James River and LRB Arms both make a hammer forged receiver like the original, and offer all USGI parts except for bolt and barrel. LRB is a bit higher end and with more options. Springfield and Fulton both, I think, use investment cast for their receivers with new production parts except where specified. All are excellent companies, and I know Springfield has excellent warranty.

      But remember, a good warranty is nice, but it also means the company can afford to replace whatever breaks and still make a profit. If you want something as close to or better than the original, you can’t go wrong with James River or LRB. And like the other traditional .308 battle rifles, FAL and G3/HK91, the original was built to last.

    • Qualified on the M-14 in 1969. Next time I held one was a Fed Ord M-14A (so marked) bought in 2007. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to fire as its weight absorbs recoil like a sponge. Even after 35 plus years firing the plastic toothbrush with the ka-ching in your ear to compare it with, the M-14 is the best.

      If a sofa ever were to become a firearm, it would become an M-14. I say that because at my age I like my guns the way I like my cars and my women.

      Built for comfort, not speed.

    • An M1A was my third rifle purchase a little over 2 years ago. About a dozen more later, it’s still my favorite. Popping clays on the berm a little over 100 yards away pretty consistently with iron sights is fun as hell. Recently put a scope on it and got some match ammo rather than the xm80 to see what I can get out of it. OP has 450 rounds over 2 years? I lost count around 2500 at about a year and a half.

  6. I’ve probably been full circle with modern M14 collecting more than most, and I’ve got a few things I’d say about the platform:

    As a wood and steel, 22″ barrel rifle, it is wonderful at what it does. The sight radius is amazing (probably the high point of the gun) and the rifles are reasonably precise when *properly* assembled, even with M80 ball. The original FA design that could be quickly switched to SA-only by an armorer was simple yet effective.

    Now the rest:

    When you try to increase the accuracy the platform, you spend a lot of money for little gain, and end up with a fairly delicate rifle.

    When you try to modernize the platform with chassis/fiberglass stocks, heavy or short barrels, etc. you spend a lot of money for little gain, and end up with a boat anchor of a rifle w/o the wonderful sight radius of the original platform.

    The last M14 I sold off was a Mk 14 Mod 0 clone *and* a complete Mk 14 Mod 1 “kit” that basically would turn a barreled action into a Mod 1 clone. Combined total of the rifle and kit was over $10k without glass (and I still lost over $2k in machining costs, etc.). The M14 is a hobby on it’s own.

    With some of the money I “made” (i.e. recouped) I bought a SCAR 17S and it weighs half of the modernized M14 and outperforms it in every way I can think of.

  7. IMO, the M14 is the greatest battle rifle ever made.

    Battle rifles firing full-power rifle cartridges have been on the outs for a long time, because they and their ammo are heavy (limiting the load out) and full auto recoil is a bear. But the M14 is powerful and very accurate, which negates the current spray-and-pray thinking that’s infected the military since Vietnam.

    Compare the M14 to the early M16. The latter inadvertently killed a lot of GIs, but it was cheap and that’s all Robert McNamara cared about.

    • The Army officially discarded spray and pray in the mid 1970s but late in the Vietnam War the Army was already having second thoughts,

    • Unfortuntely your opinion isn’t supported by the facts. The M14 is a failure of a weapon on multiple points. Its development was a nightmare. It was sold on the premise it could save money by using the old M1 tooling to manufacture which wasn’t. Its accuracy is nothing great. Its horrible in the elements compared to a FAL, AK, or AR.
      The failure of the M14 is the reason the M16 was rushed into usage. And even with the lack of chrome lining in the early. US SOF much preferred the M16 over the M14.

    • In what sense is M14 better than literally any other combat rifle chambered in the same catridge? Let’s start with AR-10, FAL and G3/CETME to begin with. Specifics, please.

      The only thing I can think of is weight – M14 is relatively light for the caliber. In all other respects – size, ergonomics, inherent reliability of the action – it was subpar.

  8. I don’t know diddly about the M14, I am a shotgun and handgun guy. In terms of the review, as a guy with a yet to be posted entry, nicely done. If I lost to this review, I would have no shame. I really enjoyed the history in the beginning.

    Well done.

  9. Great entry! I’ve been wanting one of these for quite a while. A lot of my gun buddies insist when (if) the time comes I should get the Springfield Socom 16 CQB. I’m not particularly tacticool and just want a standard model.

    • Standard location is the left side of the receiver; there is a long lengthwise groove and a short vertical groove with a single threaded bolt hole at the intersection. I don’t know that this mount ever worked very satisfactorily. Other mounts use the described grooves as well as the clip guide dovetail and a threaded bolt in the front of the rail which pressed on the front receiver ring. LRB also has a reciver with scope mounts forgers right into the front and rear of the receiver, the best option for a dedicated scoped rifle.

    • Fifth picture shows the left side of the receiver with the threaded hole for the mount. SA Inc has gone through at least 4 iterations of a side mount. Just ’cause you can, don’t mean you should. Bula also has a Pic-railed receiver variant.

      I like my Garands and my M1A for what they are, and scoped rifles they aren’t. SOOOO many optics-ready options out there, why screw up a good thing?

      Good review, thanks!

  10. People who are interested in what was involved in making military arms when the “armory system” still did it can find the M-14 data package out there, floating around. There are complete drawings, forging, heat treatment and surface treatment specs in the specs.

    It’s a far cry from “put it in this jig in your drill press, drill out these holes and install your trigger group…”

  11. Hmm, got Ar15 and M14, love them both. If I had to leave one I guess good bye AR. I would live on top of a mountain and be save as I could be. well up to 800 or so yds. Be safe out there

  12. I love my Federal Ordnance M 14!
    I know there is a lot of hate out there for Fed Ord, but I bought it new 20 years ago and it has always shot 2 m o a with Chinese, Pmc, Zqi 147 grain or even Federal Gold Match 168 grain
    Mounting a Zeiss Conquest 3 X 9 in a Sadlak mount on that side groove and stripper clip guide was not easy
    I agree with Steve when he says you can accurize an M 14 but it is a lot of money to go from 2 m o a to 1 m o a
    I can center a 100 yard 5 shot group in either the left eye or right eye

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