AR Rifle Upgrade— Making Good, GREAT!

right profile AR-15 rifle with Elftman stock

I began this review by taking notes on the features of triggers I have written about in the past. I wanted to be certain I had a clear idea of what makes a good trigger and perhaps what makes a trigger good for the money, as well as trigger features that favor tactical or personal defense shooting. Being able to qualify claims for a fast lock time is more difficult than testing the trigger action and pull weight.

right profile AR-15 rifle with Elftman stock
With a few upgrades the PSA AR is a more useful firearm.

The difference between a factory MIL-SPEC two-stage trigger breaking at seven pounds and a custom-grade trigger is immense. The Elftmann, however, is a different beast among many triggers. The trigger uses roller bearings and highly polished hammer pivots. This results in excellent, smooth motion.

As for lock time, this is simply the time between the trigger pull and the hammer falling and cracking the primer. For a good shot, firing at long range, rapid lock time is very important. Lock time is measured in milliseconds. I am not equipped to measure lock time but the Elftmann trigger certainly feels tight and fast.

There are combinations that make for a fast break. These are a lightweight cut out trigger coupled with a full power hammer spring. This is important because a light hammer spring is often used to lower trigger release weight. This isn’t best for reliable ignition.

Bob Cambell shooting an AR-15 rifle with iron sights
Like all AR-15 rifles the PSA is comfortable and offers excellent handling.

You want a hard strike to fully-seat slightly off-spec ammunition and to ensure that hard primers are ignited. If the rifle is for pure competition use, well, maybe a lighter spring is OK, but a go anywhere, do anything rifle had better run with anything.

I don’t do full auto but hard primers are necessary to prevent cook off and other problems, and a lot of surplus ammo has hard primers. I sometimes load on the hotter side for the .223 Remington, so I use the slightly harder CCI small rifle primers as they handle high pressure well.

So far, I noted the full power hammer spring and lightweight trigger. The half-cock notch is what helps Elftmann make what they call a drop safe rifle. If the rifle is loaded and ready to fire, and somehow dropped or struck heavily, the hammer may slip but the half-cock notch will catch it. I like this feature.

Elftmann rifle stock extended
The Elftmann rifle stock is a rigid stock that aids in accuracy, yet is it easily adjustable.

I also like the easily manageable setscrew that allows adjusting trigger compression from 2.5 to 4.0 pounds. A very clean 4.0-pound pull is good for a personal defense firearm, while 2.5 pounds is excellent for competition or benchrest fire. The trigger also features setscrews to provide adjustment for the fit of the trigger inside the rifle. I like this a lot. This makes for a very stiff unit. You will not need to install anti-walk pins with the Elftmann trigger.

I installed the Elftmann without incident, racked the bolt, and checked both trigger compression and reset. The trigger worked fine. There is no take up to speak of. The trigger finger meets the trigger and you begin the press. The single stage trigger has it all above the two-stage trigger for accuracy and control. There is no creep. None!

I won’t say this is the perfect trigger, but perhaps it is a perfect trigger. Reset is fast, sharp, and distinct. I installed this trigger in an ordinary AR-15 rifle that represents a best buy at present. Most AR-15 rifles are available for less than $600 these days, with my particular rifle coming in at $499.

Elftmann rifle stock bottom
The Elftmann lightweight aluminum buttstock is steady and rigid.

The rifle was worth the money but the trigger could stand improvement, and perhaps the sights as well. This is true of all MIL-SPEC rifles with a two-stage trigger, and the beauty of the AR-15. It is the Mr. Potato Head of rifles.

I installed the Elftmann trigger in this rifle and the Elftmann lightweight aluminum buttstock. This is a very steady, rigid buttstock. It is easily, if not instantly, adjusted. These upgrades may not affect intrinsic accuracy—the built in accuracy of the rifle—but they helped practical accuracy.

The rifle is now far more useful in off hand fire, firing for fast hits and in precision fire to 50 yards. I expended 10 magazines of the accurate, clean burning, and affordable Federal American Eagle 5.56mm loading in testing the trigger. There were no failures to reset, no doubles, and no problems of any type. This is an excellent trigger with no drawbacks. The stock also provided a degree of rigidity that I like. Overall, this great upgrade will benefit any rifle.


Bob Cambell shooting an AR-15 rifle with iron sights
Like all AR-15 rifles the PSA is comfortable and offers excellent handling.

This rifle was used as a base for a home defense/truck gun. While it would be equally suited as a 100-yard all around rifle, with a quality load such as the Federal 62-grain Bonded Core loading, I wanted to experiment with the XS sights Big Dot front sight. XS also offers different sight blades from standard GI to a bit narrower, which would make for excellent practical accuracy at longer range.


I was looking for commonality with the XS sight-fitted shotgun I keep at home ready. Sometimes, specialization is good and sometimes, well, familiar sights are great for personal defense. The XS Big Dot just hangs in the air and offers a great advantage in dim light. When the rifle is at “home ready,” the rear sight is folded down and the tritium front is the only sight that would be used at close range.

The CTAS rear sight solves a lot of problems for home defense shooters. There is a standard aperture. However, flip the aperture and you have a nicely serrated close range battle sight. AR rifles fire low at close range. the second aperture sight below the CTAS notch allows accurate aiming at close range. This is an ingenious solution to a serious problem.

I loaded a magazine with Federal’s 62-grain bonded core and fired enough ammunition at 7 and 10 yards to get a clear view of the capability of this sight. The sight works as designed and demands practice to master. However, in the end, it was an excellent solution to point of aim and point of impact differences in the AR-15 at close range. This isn’t an expensive combination, but the rifle is workmanlike and works well.

Do you have a good AR-15 that you made great? What upgrades did you install? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. Maybe I am missing something, a round that “cooks off used to mean that the barrel was hot”. The primer had nothing to do with it. Hard versus soft primers would have to do when the bolt going forward ,hitting the round, caused it to go off. A high primer or one that is soft will cause what we used to call a slam fire.

  2. I’m not sure why some folks seem harsh in response to Mr Campbell’s articles. Usually, it seems he is trying something out and reporting on his findings. More knowledge is generally a good thing.
    Anywooo… as to this article, an improved sight and trigger are great improvements for the stocker. I like Timney’s triggers and have one installed in my high end AR 10 build and my AR pistol. A clean break at between 3 and 4 pounds makes a world of difference. I have literally had nightmares around tough to pull and squishy triggers. Thankfully, I usually wake before the stupid zombies get me!
    As for sights, I am a huge fan of iron sights. Not “backup” iron sights. I have some magpul for general use, a couple troy sets, but I think I will definitely look at the CTAS sights Mr Cambell mentions.
    Thanks for the info. Good stuff.

  3. “well as trigger features that favor tactical or personal defense shooting” There is a difference?? If so, how does an old military man who fully understands the definition of TACTICAL, know which one he needs?

    1. It is good for either is the point.
      Personal defense shooting isn’t as demanding as true tactical shooting and competition.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. I’m lost.

    Is this boiled down to “tweak it how you like it and it will be better?”

    Or did I miss something?

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