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Recently, I acquired a new BCG (Bolt Carrier Group) from APOC Armory for trial against Fail Zero’s famed EXO coated variant. Travis Hamlin (owner of APOC Armory) was kind enough to send one for demo and use. As many know, I have made numerous posts, and have spoken quite frequently of the Fail Zero, as it is used very often for numerous tests (as well as practice for 3 gun competition, as well as in competition its self.) of products, and in and of its self is tested. My results for the Fail Zero have been somewhat disappointing at times.
Looking at the specifications of the APOC Armory BCG, we see that it is manufactured by Toolcraft. Toolcraft is a North Carolina based, OEM manufacturing company of Bolt Carrier Groups, and produces BCG’s for the US Military as well. The Nickel Boron metal treatment process is completed by Cryptic Coatings, a popular firearms coating company which provides many types of coatings and metal finishes (including PVD and CVD).
I contacted Fail Zero last week via email with questions concerning their BCG’s (as well as a concern that their gas keys may be cast or MIM as opposed to machined.) However, I have not had any response or contact in regards to the product. Their website isn’t revealing as far as specifications as well (please see bottom of post for link to site), so we as consumers are left to guess at specifications on materials. My questions are, really, what most people’s questions should be; “Are they shot peened, are they Magnetic Particle Inspected, are they High Pressure Tested, are they case hardened, 8620 steel carriers, are they C-158 steel or 9310 steel, are they properly heat treated, are they grade 8 fasteners (clearly not, these don’t wear the “YFS” badging, however, the modern ones do), if so, are they properly torqued to spec, are they Permatex 3D gasket sealed, are they machined or cast gas keys?” These are just scratching the surface of questions I asked Fail Zero, but received no response (however, if I do receive a response, I will be sure to screen shot the email and post it.)
APOC Armory has their specifications clearly listed on their website (please see bottom of post for link to site). They are, in fact, HPT and MPI (High Pressure Tested, and Magnetic Particle Inspected) bolts, they are made from 9310 low alloy steel (While my preference is C158, 9310 is a great alternative, providing it is properly heat treated and inspected.) Case Hardened 8620 steel bolt carrier, machined 4130 steel gas key (I will explain why I made sure to emphasize machined later.) 8740 Steel firing pin, grade 8 fasteners, Permatex 3D Gasket sealant for the gas key (this is done per Mil-Spec). The fasteners are properly staked, and are torqued to proper, Mil-Spec torque as well. This comes with an unconditional lifetime warranty, and even covers any type of chipping or flaking of the “coating”. Are APOC Armory BCG’s Mil-Spec? No, but they are a nice quality BCG, have great specifications, a rock solid warranty and are (in my opinion) everything Fail Zero should be, and more for the same price tag of $159.99.
Upon examining the sample from APOC, I noticed some immediate differences between it and the Fail Zero. One of the most noticeable would be the properly staked Grade 8 fasteners. The staking job is very positive, with metal protruding over each of the fasteners (“correctly staked”, or a more acceptable way of putting it, a more “Mil-Spec staking job”). The gas key is made from 4130 steel, and is machined as opposed to the seemingly popular (with cheaper products) cast or MIM steel, 4140 steel extractor, and 8740 Hard Chromed steel firing pin. A couple of things I really like to see, especially with 9310 low alloy steel bolts are; High Pressure Tested and Magnetic Particle Tested. With the 9310 steel, personally have concerns that without these tests, any issues with improper heat treating will not be noticed until a failure, keep in mind, bolts themselves are put under stress with the firing of a 5.56 cartridge.
Are there negatives? Of course, nothing is perfect, here are some of the negatives I have noticed with the sample APOC Armory BCG are; the firing pin has some rather noticeable machining marks, leaving a very rough surface. This is a slight concern as of right now, however, I will be pushing this BCG very hard in upcoming weeks and months. 3 Gun competition is pretty much coming to a close with the winter months coming, but winter time means practice time. It will see a couple thousand rounds before March and 3 gun season is upon us again. There are some minor machining marks in inconspicuous areas as well (while they are visibly noticeable, they still leave a very nice and smooth finish.) The firing pin its self is not Nickel Boron finished, but is finished in a satin, Hard Chrome. To me, this isn’t a concern (coating wise), however, to some this may be considered an issue, as the Fail Zero is EXO coated as well.
While Fail zero is somewhat cryptic with their specifications, I have learned that they do work, and work very well… as long as they are properly lubricated, much in the same way as a standard phosphate or QPQ would be. I did somewhat of an informal “test” with the Fail Zero BCG when it was new, I put a very light coat of oil on the carrier and ran it to failure. It was very short lived, failing after only 400 rounds (see photo). The bolt started to stick in the barrel extension, and started to fail to operate. Now, Fail Zero strongly advertises that their BCG’s will operate with absolutely no conventional lubrication is needed (please see links below) and goes on to state that they have fired “50,000 rounds” through AR-15 type rifles “lube free”. My experience is drastically different. After a lubrication schedule however, I have ran almost 2,000 rounds without cleaning, just simply lubrication (I did wipe down the carrier of carbon deposits before a 3 gun competition.) One thing Fail Zero’s EXO coating does do, it wipes clean, I didn’t have to use any type of solvent at all on the carrier or bolt.
Fail Zero makes claims that their gas key fasteners are in fact “Grade 8” but shown here, they are not, and have a striking resemblance to YFS fasteners (in fact, some of the recently released Fail Zeros have YFS fasteners.) and not even close to proper staking. This, combined with lack of staking on the gas keys are two major concerns to me, while this one is used mostly for competition use, some people buy these for use in a defensive application. This is one area the APOC Armory BCG excels. Flipping the Fail Zero over, I noticed a couple of spots where the finish is very thin, and an almost “case hardened” look is showing through (see photo for example.) While this doesn’t necessarily concern me at this time, I feel that this could be a weak point in the metal finish, and could eventually lead to flaking, or peeling away from the surface.
The Fail Zero is very widely used, and has quite a die-hard fan base. I personally believe, that while the Fail Zero is a good product, it is not on level with a BCM, Daniel Defense, Colt, or SOLGW (meaning, it is not a Mil-Spec BCG, and is not assembled or made to Mil-Spec tolerances. I am not here to get into the Mil-Spec debate either, I refuse.) of course, this is two different realms of products, the APOC Armory (at this time) seems to bridge a gap commonly found on commercial Nickel Boron coated BCG’s and adds highly sought after traits that people often look for. While neither BCG is technically “Mil-Spec”, at this time, APOC Armory beats Fail Zero hands down in fit, finish, quality, and specifications. I will know more after 2,000 rounds, and the APOC Armory will receive the same light lubrication “test” as the Fail Zero to keep things fair. But, if I had $160 to spend on a BCG between Fail Zero and APOC? I’ll let you guess which one I’d choose.
“50,000 lube free rounds” Fail Zero:
“No Lubrication” Fail Zero:
Fail Zero “Grade 8” fasteners: