Whether you train with an AR-15 or just shoot a lot you know how expensive it can be. Ammo costs have skyrocketed in recent years and what we would normally consider affordable ammo is either non-existent or double the price of what it used to be. This is what got me to really start looking for a more affordable and readily available ammunition option. I wanted something that would feel and shoot similar to my normal 5.56×45 AR-15’s and the answer was Russian surplus 5.45×39 ammo. It can be found just about anywhere for roughly half of what it would cost to buy 5.56 and it shoots very similar to a 5.56 upper. Now I just needed to figure out what parts I needed to build my upper.
As it usually happens, great minds are thinking alike 🙂 and the guys at VooDoo Innovations (Sister company to Adams Arms) were getting ready to introduce a 5.45×39 Conversion Kit that included everything you would need to convert an existing AR-15 upper over to 5.45×39 but it also would make for a great kit to build a new upper with. I had originally just written an article and shared the info with you guys but when they found out I was interested in building an upper myself they offered to let me review one which of course made my day.
The 5.45×39 Conversion Kit from VooDoo Innovations is offered in both Carbine and Mid Length versions. I have to admit I had no idea what to expect when building this upper. Quite a few people told me that 5.45×39 is hard to get to cycle correctly, has hard primers, dirty ammo, etc. I decided standard with AR’s which is a carbine length gas system and then adjust things as needed from there. The kit showed up with a 16″ Melonite coated Carbine Length barrel, a Melonite coated 5.45×39 bolt, a Melonite coated A2 flash hider, one 5.45×39 ASC Stainless Steel magazine and a High Power Hammer Spring to ensure ignition even with harder primers.
If you’re looking to build a 5.45×39 upper you’re going to hear a lot about how corrosive it is. You can either clean your rifle a lot or get parts that are designed to deal with it. As I mentioned, the barrel, flash hider and bolt are all Melonite coated which is perfect for the corrosive Russian 5.45×39 surplus ammo. The Melonite coating is on the inside and out of the barrel and which gives it awesome protection against corrosion and extreme durability. The deep black coating looks really great too.
It just so happened that at the same time I received a box of goodies from my friends at Geissele Automatics. In it was a new SMR MK5 KeyMod rail, Super Gas Block and an SD-3G trigger (more on the trigger in a few). I knew immediately that I was going to put the SMR MK5 rail and gas block on this upper and got it all assembled. I added a few of my favorite KeyMod accessories which are the QD Sling Mount and Handstop pictured below from Impact Weapons Components.
For this build I went with what receivers I had on hand which was a forged upper from IS Fifteen and an AERO Precision Ambi forged mil spec lower. This particular lower is actually my favorite forged lower because it has the PDQ Lever installed and works great. Because I didn’t have a matched forged receiver set the fit was pretty tight. I installed a set of Battle Arms Development EPS (Enhanced Pin Set) pins and it made it much easier to push the pins in and out to separate the receivers. As you can see I decided to go with the Geissele SD-3G trigger. I was tempted to use a standard mil spec trigger with the High Power Hammer Spring instead of the SD-3G but I really wanted to try what I would normally do to an AR first and adjust things later. This ended up being a great decision.
At this point the rifle was done. I had added a Trijicon SRS red dot, some Troy BUIS, Rainer Arms RAPTOR charging handle, etc. I had purchased 1,080 rounds of 5.45×39 from AIM Surplus for $170 plus shipping. I still hadn’t shot it so the next step was to hit the range and do some function testing, nail down any issues and make any necessary changes…or so I thought.
I ended up taking the completed 5.45×39 rifle out to the range in 19 degree weather with some crazy blowing snow. If you’re gonna test something why not take it to the extreme, right!? After an initial inspection verifying that everything seemed to be installed correctly and functioning right it was time to shoot it. The main things I was keeping an eye out for were feeding issues, ejection issues, light primer strikes and making sure the bolt held open on an empty mag.
To start I put 2 rounds of 5.45×39 in the supplied mag, inserted it into the magwell and fired away. The first round fed into the upper very smooth. I pulled the trigger on the Geissele SD-3G and sure enough, BANG! First round fired properly. I check to see that the round had ejected properly, which it did and was laying on the ground to my right. I pulled the trigger again and just as it did the first time it sent a round down range with a great sounding crack! Remember I had only loaded 2 rounds so a quick twist of the rifle to my left and I can see that the bolt has definitely held open on the empty mag. (FYI, unlike what some people told me, 5.45×39 does not work in a PMAG unless its modified)
Right now I was pretty happy! I decided to load up a full mag and have at it. After a bit of sighting in we set a 6″x6″ steel plate about 75 yards down range and went medieval on it. Trigger pull after trigger pull, in extreme cold conditions, it continued to perform flawlessly. We were able to repeatedly blast that 6″x6″ plate with ease from a standing position. The Geissele SD-3G trigger had absolutely no issue igniting those hard Russian primers.
Surprisingly, this upper is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I simply can’t say enough good things about it. So far I have put over 300 rounds through this upper and have not experienced a single Failure To Feed, Failure To Eject, Light Primer Strike or any malfunction of any kind. I didn’t have to make a single adjustment to the upper after assembly. I’m very happy with the quality of the components and it’s proven to be very accurate. On my next trip to the range I’ll get some bench shooting in and grab some data on grouping at 100 yards, etc. If you’re on the fence about building a 5.45×39 upper or just looking for a more affordable option for the range, don’t hesitate. This 5.45×39 Conversion Kit from VooDoo Innovations is something I would recommend all day long. Quick thanks to VooDoo Innovations for making an awesome product and letting me get my hands on it.
I wanted to make it easy on you so below is a list of links to purchase the items I used in this build.
Geissele Automatics SMR Rails, Triggers and Gas Blocks
Impact Weapons Components KeyMod accessories. (Use code “ar15news” to save 5%)
Battle Arms Development EPS pin set and Safety Selector
Rainier Arms Raptor charging handle
AERO Precision Ambi Forged Lower
IS Fifteen Forged Upper
Trijicon SRS Red Dot
Magpul Stock and Grip
Phase 5 Weapon Systems Trigger Guard