Steel & Wood AR-15 – Custom Case Colored TAR-15 Rifle from Turnbull Manufacturing Company.

If you click to make larger this and the other pictures, the extravagance of the hand machined steel receiver will really pop out. As you can see, the we photographed the case coloring in the Florida sun, but this is the worst thing for case coloring. Don’t do this at home if you want to retain the vidid colors.

Each gun is machined from solid steel. Turnbull Engineering does not start with a casting. There is roughly a 4-5 month waiting period right now on the guns, and they come in .556, .300 Blackout, and 7.62/.308. This case coloring is a special secret bone charcoal process that duplicates the methodology from the original case colored guns from the late 1800s. No pattern is the same, so every gun is unique.

Turnbull is in New York, so only 5 and 10 round magazines come with the gun. We used a 20 rounder for pictures.

If you make this in the shade picture bigger, you can see the deep blues and purples in the case coloring, as well as the meticulously formed receiver.

The inside is just as clean and neat. That this was formed from a solid block of steel is nothing short of the complexity of your smart phone.

The wooden furniture on our test gun is very simple stained Walnut. If you check out the Turnbull website, they are offering select grades of figured wood for only a few hundred dollars more. Darker, figured wood looks a lot less odd than the light stocks on our test gun.

For all intents and purposes, this is a standard AR. If you make this picture bigger you can see that they carved the wooden forend to the patern of the gas tube. You could take the wood off and put an M4 buttstock and quad rail.

This is a flat top and does not have the triangle sight in the front, so you need to put some kind of optic or electronic sight on top. Wouldn’t it be cool to make a case colored ACOG?

Our test gun came with a DPMS barrel and most of the hardware. These guns are custom made so other hardware could be arranged if it is available.

Our test gun shot into about an inch at 50 yards with a 2MOA red dot. This is about standard for a parts gun built on a MIL-SPEC receiver. This is 75 grain Hornady Custom ammo.

Our only complaint with the gun was from a shooter with small hands. The grip is somewhat beefy.

Higher grade, high gloss, wood, would fit the elegance of the gun much better than this plain jane look, but the lines and the fit and finish are nonetheless amazing.

These guns are absolutely unique pieces of art, and if you want a TAR-15 for next Christmas, now would be the time to get in line and order one. The folks at Turnbull don’t play around, and they are always backordered with both refurbishing jobs and manufactured guns.

Turnbull Manufacturing Company

What do you buy the tactical nut who has everything? The answer is: A steel framed, bone charcoal case colored Doug Turnbull AR-15 called the TAR-15. It costs $2,750 with a plain American Black Walnut stock, and you’ll have to get in line if you want to buy one, because they are selling like hotcakes and backordered 5 months. Wait a minute, you ask? Wooden stock? Steel? AR-15? Something doesn’t add up here. But no, your eyes are not deceiving you. The king of firearm restoration, Doug Turnbull, has been making his own firearms for years, and his newest projects are on the AR platform, in .308, .223, and even 7.62×39 and .300 Blackout. We were able to test the .223 version of the gun, just to see if it actually works, and not surprisingly, the TAR-15 is as functional as it is beautiful. Steel and wood will never take the place of aluminum and plastic in the AR-15 world, but if you want a genuinely unique gun, no two of these will ever look the same, and the price is very reasonable for something that only a handful of people will ever own.

Elegance or blasphemy. That is the question, and in showing the TAR-15 around, those are the two responses that have come from most folks. On the one hand, the AR-15 has always been the poster child for change in the way the world thought about battle rifles. Prior to the AR-15/M-16, rifles were made from steel and wood. The M1 Garand, the M14 (M1A), the FN-FAL, the HK-91/G3 (CETME), the AK-47, and every other bolt rifle and machinegun in military service all featured a steel receiver, usually with a wooden stock. Then along came the AR-15 and the US Military adapted M-16, made from aluminum and plastic, and that changed everything. Gone was the 10 pound battle rifle in favor of an under 8 pound rifle that also had lighter ammo. A steel and wood AR-15 to some degree spits on the legacy of the gun itself, and some people take offense to that. A diehard fan of the AR-15 wouldn’t want a TAR-15? Note that this is a question not a statement!

Because on the other hand, gun nerds will always be gun nerds and the Turnbull ARs are really nifty. Why wouldn’t a diehard fan want one, if it fits the budget? Look at the pictures here. This is the base model, and it is gorgeous, though I would choose to upgrade the wood if I were to buy one, which I might. It is difficult to capture in two dimensional pictures the elegance of the lines of the steel frame itself, even without the case coloring. You can’t just use the same casting mold that you use for aluminum and fill it up with steel. The melting point of steel is roughly twice that of aluminum, over 2600 degrees depending on the alloy, and from a metalworking perspective this is like apples and oranges. That is why the Turnbull ARs are… drumroll please, 100% machined from a block of 8620 carbon steel. They do not start with any kind of casting and then work it to shape from there, as you would expect. To give you an idea of how hard that is, to get the clean, elegant lines and curves that you see on this gun, your smartphone most likely took less effort to develop than the TAR-15. Alien technology is almost definitely involved.

The internal components of the TAR-15 are mostly from DPMS, though other minor manufacturers are in there as well. What is most amazing about the gun is the fact that it actually works. If you think about the jigs that Doug Turnbull had to concoct to get all of the slots and curves inside that receiver to match the internals of a cast aluminum receiver, it is actually more incredible than what went on for the outside. Aluminum is easy to machine. Keeping a milling machine bit on track in aluminum is like a hot knife through butter. Take that same bit, or an even harder bit, and try to cut 8620 carbon steel precisely, and that is a completely different experience, and a whole other world in realm of metalwork. Yet every cut and curve on the TAR-15 matches the guts of an aluminum AR perfectly, and the gun works flawlessly. We put over 200 rounds through our test gun and it didn’t malfunction once. Every control on the TAR-15 is exactly where you expect it, and nothing is stiff or forced. Every edge is smooth and no cut or hole is rough or bigger than it exactly needs to be. Pictures may be worth 1,000 words, but holding the TAR-15 and shooting it is worth 1,000 pictures. If you eat drink and sleep AR, you will not believe how elegant this gun feels and works.

The only real differences between the TAR-15 and a regular AR are the weight, 8 lbs., 7 ounces empty for the TAR-15 vs. usually about 7.5 lbs. for a regular AR, and there is no gate on the ejection port. So if you are on your way to a security job in Iraq, probably leave the TAR-15 back in the safe while you are in the desert raking in all that cash. Sun is also the worst thing for case colors as well. It takes all those bright blues and purples out with a lot of exposure, so it’s not a good gun for the desert anyway. Whitetail hunters and hog stalkers might also want to be aware of the weight as well, but otherwise, the TAR-15 is a cool gun that can be used normally for most AR tasks. We measured the accuracy with a red dot at 50 yards and she looked to be about 1.5-2 MOA, which is about normal for a parts AR. Turnbull Manufacturing is known for refurbishing work, not accurizing and performance enhancements, but since these are custom orders I am sure they would be able to quote jobs with specific high performance hardware, assuming the parts are available.

And that folks, is the catch. These are custom made firearms and Turnbull Manufacturing is currently running 4-5 months for delivery. Sooooo, if you want to order one for this Christmas, or forward this article on to a significant other for this Christmas, the time would be now to get the information chain moving and get that order in. Please see our first article on Turnbull Restorations if you are interested in that part of the business, and for further explanation of how they do the case color with bone charcoal. It is cool stuff no matter what kind of gun nut you happen to be.

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Phil Clodfelter January 14, 2015, 11:35 am

    I have a friend that is looking for a AR-15, 20 in barrel 1:9, with a wooden stock already made. Do you make the or did you build your own? Very nice gun. If you know of a company that does would you send me the email address. Thank you

  • Andrew November 22, 2014, 1:47 pm

    I wonder if he’ll sell just the stripped uppers and lowers for people to do their own custom builds?
    I can see a blued bull barrel being a lot more pleasing to the eye as well as to group sizes.

  • rfnk December 23, 2013, 12:06 pm

    DPMS barrel on a 2K plus rifle? Wow, that is embarrassing.

  • JR September 7, 2013, 1:47 pm

    Why would you want an AR with a wooden stock? Does it help it shoot better, further, more accurately? An Ar is suppose to be a para-military rifle capable of being thrown in the dirt, water, or debris and come up shooting. They aren’t suppose to be “pretty,” they’re a purpose built rifle. Who needs a heavy rifle? Who cares if the receiver has twice the melting point of aluminum. Are you going to take it into a furnace? It’s not an auto with a high cyclic rate.

    2″ MOA @ 50 yards??? A Mossberg 22 will do this with room to spare. Come on Doug, AR’s are suppose to be accurate even out to at least 200 yds.

    No forward assist, not a winner! Wooden stocks, poor for anyone who uses it roughly which is the way AR design was meant to be used. Can you say water born problems with swelling forearm and stock. Color case hardening is not conducive with rough treatment. Not impressed, nor is it something I would pay well over $2500.00 for. Doug you missed the boat with this one. Of all the variations you could have come up with, this is definitely the worst.

    *****It’s an AR and it’s suppose to be ugly. It’s not a wall hanger!*****

    • Frank Pierce February 25, 2016, 6:58 pm

      What an ass! I am a firearms dealer and instructor. I can’t tell you how many women have asked about wood stocked, pink, hot red, pink camo, I even had a lady ask if I could cerakote hers with two pink tones in a lace pattern. I have to say it turned out pretty harassed.
      My point to all this is, If a pink or Wood stocked AR gets women into the shooting sports. Then Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is your problem?

  • John Wayne September 2, 2013, 7:03 pm

    What complexity to mill the lower? Sure it will take some time but in todays CNC machines and on point tollerances this is a walk in the park.
    The rilfe fully assembled looks like something out of planet of the apes.

    It’s about time someone made the lower out of steel.

  • Alex j July 29, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Very neat ideA! Not sure if this has already been asked, but on the 7th pic why is the inside of the wooden forend a lighter color than the rest of the forearm? It’s just a tiny patch of light brown. Just curious is all. Great review, as always I enjoy reading your reviews.

    • Administrator July 29, 2013, 10:11 pm

      I think it is just the way the grain took the stain.

  • Scott July 24, 2013, 4:24 am

    The most beautiful AR I have ever seen. Solves one of the things that kept me from the AR platform for years. I was always taught that a gun should be wood and steel. Kinda like an AK47. I was redeemed several years back by a $4oo AR a few years back.

  • ExUSGI July 18, 2013, 7:30 pm

    Great thing bout America,you can have it any way you want it. Nice job Mr. Turnbull. Ever give any thought to relocating to a gun frendly state,like say Kentucky? I would buy two if uins was located here.

  • Ericbc July 17, 2013, 10:27 am

    Why put so much effort into a 2 moa (1 inch @50 yds)? I would expect this level of accuracy from an AK but would never accept it in any AR unless your planning to hang it on the wall. I would prefer to hang a picture of this on the wall and shoot an ugly AR that does 1 moa or better.

  • Mikelasnicov July 16, 2013, 6:37 pm

    I love the concept but I’m not crazy about the design choices. I would want a quality barrel that has a high level of accuracy, because it seems like that coupled with a forged steel receiver it would make for a very accurate shooter. Something this well engineered and high end should not be built with this DPMS crap. They used the kind of parts you would normally use when you’re trying to build just an OK inexpensive AR15 without breaking the bank. Also it should at least have a brass deflector, and maybe even a forward assist. Building one of these on a Colt platform would also be pretty sweet. So what kind of parts choices will they be using when there is no shortage of quality components? Also like some other posters said on here, I would not be too crazy about sending my money to New York. Is there also some kind of super high anti gun, socialist tax that you would also be paying to New York for buying a NY made gun?

  • SteveFAL July 16, 2013, 12:39 am

    Beautiful AR variation.. Reminds me of a top-notch, small Florida gunsmith, Dow arms (his shop is Dow Arms Room, in Dade City FL), that makes a gun he calls the “FAL-15”. It’s an AR with FAL-like wood furniture. It is absolutely GORGEOUS. If you have ever seen a really nice woodie FAL, just picture the furniture on an AR. His wood would look great on this colored-streel baby. I’m not even an AR guy and I would buy one if I could spare the cash.

  • Alex July 15, 2013, 10:27 pm

    I wonder if your last name is Turnbull will you get a discount? It’s is a beauty! I am in love.
    All it needs is the brass deflector and forward assist and it would be a perfect 10!

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 10:28 pm

      Wouldn’t hurt to ask.

  • Murph July 15, 2013, 9:47 pm

    I agree with some of the other guys in that I would never buy one because of the New York thing. Also when I first saw the weapon before I read the comments I said out loud “why would they put a cheap barrel with a grenade launcher and really DPMS?? I have several DPMS guns and like all of them, but not here and not on an expensive rifle like this.

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 9:58 pm

      And the question was already answered that it was probably a matter of parts availability. Also, as we explained, Turnbull is not a performance shop. It is a finish shop and the guns they make are elegant.

  • Sam July 15, 2013, 7:05 pm

    I will never buy one of these, for they are made in New York…enough said

  • M.Hatch July 15, 2013, 6:52 pm

    Guess I’m the only one then. Great work on the AR..and Doug’s known for fine firearms, etc. Just not for me. I’ll keep the case-coloring and wood to my cowboy guns and collecting of such.

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 8:00 pm

      Nah the gun just isn’t for everyone. With the high lux wood it looks a lot better and is something that some people would want to own, but it’s for gunubernerds primarily. They’ll sell a bunch of them.

  • MArco July 15, 2013, 1:26 pm

    …I have to favor, the “beefy” pistol grip. My hands are rather large and I need a large grip for the comfort. I am very curious as to how, to get my hands on one of these?

  • Evan July 15, 2013, 12:29 pm

    I notice it seems to be a slick side. Are these available with a brass deflector and forward assist? I for one would never buy an AR without a forward assist, and as a lefty and someone who doesn’t particularly like getting hit in the face with hot brass, I like brass deflectors too. Oh, and I agree with the guy who says the M4 barrel on this thing is absurd, and would go further to say that so is the flat top. An A2 style upper on this thing with iron sights would be much better looking, the patterned steel and wood look doesn’t really work with an ACOG. Cool idea though.

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 1:43 pm

      I would call them.

  • Sig July 15, 2013, 11:55 am

    Need I mention, one of these in 308, engraved in gold inlay, and exposition grade wood, sold for over One Hundred thirty thousand dollars at auction! I’m impressed, I’m very impressed!

  • ofotherworlds July 15, 2013, 11:36 am

    Do they have a birch laminate stock for the 7.62×39 version?

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 1:45 pm

      Our crystal ball isn’t back from its 50,000 insights checkup in Romania. I would just call them rather than wait.

  • Marc Smith July 15, 2013, 10:28 am

    So you take a old design weapon that most folks curse, add wood to it, so when the gas tube heats up will catch on fire (ever see one glow? probably not) so now you have a $600 weapon for sale for what, $2700. Uh, no.
    Marc Smith
    ODA311 A/3/10 1977-79

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 10:35 am

      Ever put a 75 round drum through an AK? They don’t catch on fire they just scorch lol. Wood is actually a better insulator than glass filled plastic.

    • MArco July 15, 2013, 1:28 pm

      Marc, what you have to say, makes sense! What exactly, would you be comparing? To get these numbers to be actual comparisons?

  • Thomas July 15, 2013, 10:14 am

    I don’t understand the barrel choice on this steel AR. Why put a chopped up M4 barrel w/ a grenade launcher slot on THIS unique gem? Seems to me this would be more appropriately finished off with an HBAR. You’d be getting tighter groups as well with an HBAR. I really like the concept of this rifle though!

    • Administrator July 15, 2013, 10:36 am

      I think it was an availability issue. AR parts have been scarce and the mil parts were all you could get for a while, if that.

  • Brenboy July 15, 2013, 10:08 am

    Very cool to have a company think of us old guys that are still stuck on wood and steel cause it makes a “proper” firearm. But this all begs the question: Why are they still in New York State? I would never buy it, boycotts work. Many manufacturers are refusing to sell to NY, CT, CO. Time for Mr Turnbull to leave NY.

  • Ralph Bosen July 15, 2013, 8:19 am

    What a refreshing breeze of ‘common sense’ coming from one of those who are truly being hurt the most from the liberal efforts to put a ‘chicken in every pot’ that has historically ‘taken the pots’ from those who’s pots need the chicken! I look forward to seeing more of Colion Noir on the airways. I’m sure Colion is not the only “Black American” who feels this way! How about taking some of my contributions to the NRA and find others like Colion?

  • herbert FOSTER July 15, 2013, 5:31 am

    Nicely Done Doug.

  • herbert FOSTER July 15, 2013, 5:28 am

    Nicely done Doug. You never seem to amaze with new I novations. I am showing this to my old friend and Winchester saviuor Bourdon Scribner Harrison me ,. He has had all of his case colors done by you for the last ten to 12 yrs through Jeff Ward gunsmith in Norway me. HE has a model 42 in 318 B being readied for his rack now at your shop. He is 86 yrs old and in remission for type 4 Cancer. I know he would love to have u send something personal from you for his collection when that gun is returned. His birthday is in August. He has taught me so much about Winchesters that most people don’t know,especially the model 1886. I thank you for your time and consideration . A long time admirer, Herbert Foster Po box 245 Norway me 04268

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