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one of the country’s top shooting-components providers, has been a longtime supporter of this country’s enthusiasm for AR-pattern rifles. When I built a direct gas-impingement operated AR-15 at home for the first time a few years ago, this company proved to be an invaluable source of tools and information for the first-time builder and more experienced at-home hobbyists.

Although I have yet to find any reason to complain about the performance or reliability of the well-made direct-impingement platforms I’ve worked with, plenty of folks are devoted to ARs that use short-stroke gas-piston systems to cycle the action.


They run much more cleanly, since exhaust from the cartridge is not being blown back into the action. They also don’t heat up as quickly, for the same reason. However, piston guns do tend to cost more and generally don’t print quite as tight of groups as impingement-operated guns.

The debate over which is the better action type for an AR will continue. Rather than just watch from the sidelines, I opted to get into the game by building a piston driven AR in order to see the differences for myself. Once again, thanks to new-products released last year and this year, Brownells has made building a piston AR just as easy as an impingement model. Most of the components shown here were available through the company’s website.


Brownells could have gone in a variety of directions to develop in-house piston driven options for their customers. In 2019, it opted to go the retro route with the launch of the 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem. BRN-180 series of factory complete AR-15 uppers inspired by Eugene Stoner’s AR-18/180. As a scaled-down version of the AR-16, the AR-180 sported a piston system that was ahead of its time. However, other features and factors in play at the time kept these rifles from being adopted by the military or picking up much steam in the civilian market.



Rather than try to replicate the AR-180’s

stamped-and-welded steel receiver, the BRN-180 uppers are assembled around milled billet 7075-T6 aluminum upper receivers, which are compatible with mil-spec AR-15 lowers and typical AR-15 STANAG magazines. This gives customers the option of snapping this upper into a lower they already have or using it as the starting point for a simplified at-home build.


The flattop upper receiver has more of a square profile than the typical AR-15 along with an integral Picatinny optics rail. On the left side of the receiver is a cut out to accommodate the bolt catch and a small round rubber bumper to protect the finish if a folding stock is installed.

On the right side of the upper receiver is a modified polymer dust cover fitted to the ejection port, but a the familiar AR-15 forward assist is absent. The top mounted non-reciprocating charging handle has been replaced with an AR-180 type reciprocating bolt handle which protrudes from the ejection port.

11 thoughts on “Brownells BRN-180

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