The FNSLR Rifle

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                               The FN/SLR Rifle
                                                             By Charlie Haley

         ejoicing under the full name of the      engineers escaped to Britain,
         FN - FAL, this rifle is universally      along with their plans and
         known in this part of the world as       blueprints, and work on this
 the “FN Rifle”, and will be referred to as       new rifle continued. There
 such hereafter. For those of you who may         was, of course, no prospect
 be wondering, the initials “FAL” stand for       of it being adopted by anyone
 Fusil Automatique Legere, meaning Light          in the middle of a war
 Automatic Rifle. Those of you who have           (certainly not by the
 had occasion to carry its 9+lbs for any          conservative British, at any
 length of time may dispute the “light”           rate), but after the cessation                      The SAFN - The FN's predecessor.
 designation, but next to its squad mate, the     of hostilities the FN team
 MAG machine gun, it is as thistledown in         moved back to Belgium, and
 the breeze! During the cold war era, the FN      in 1949 the new rifle was a
 rifle was without doubt the most popular         commercial reality as the
 and widely adopted battle rifle among all the    SAFN (Semi-Automatique
 non - Eastern bloc countries (with the           FN). Bearing little superficial
 exception of certain deviants - the U.S.         resemblance to the later FAL,
 Army rejected it in favour of the domestically   disassembly of the SAFN
 designed M-14 rifle. There are those who         shows how similar the breech
 maintain that the trials were rigged in favour   mechanism and gas piston
                                                                                                        The standard FN - FAL rifle.
 of the domestic product...)                      designs actually are.
     Accurate, reliable and powerful, the FN      Produced in 7.9mm, .30-06,
 rifle was remarkably free of vices and built     7.65mm and 7mm calibres, the
 itself an enviable reputation, free from         SAFN enjoyed a modest success in the                   promptly modernised the basic SAFN
 controversy. Alas, the 7.62mm NATO               immediate post-war era and was adopted by              design into the FAL form. They chambered
 calibre it made famous (commercially             about ten different nations.                           it to fire the German 7.9mm Kurz round, and
 adopted as the well known .308 Win.) has             Then came the great Intermediate                   everyone was very excited about the new
 been overtaken in military circles               controversy. Most nations, from the                    rifle and the Intermediate concept.
 internationally by the newer 5.56mm/.223.        experience gained during the war, had come                Everyone except the Americans, that is.
 Now regarded as obsolescent, the FN rifle        to the conclusion that their traditional military      They steadfastly refused to even consider
 and the 7.62mm NATO calibre are now              rifle rounds (like the .303, .30-06 and 7.9mm)         this new heretical idea, and insisted on a full
 being put out to pasture world wide. Every       were needlessly powerful. The Germans                  power .30 calibre rifle round. They designed
 cloud has a silver lining though, because        had shown the way with their 7.9mm Kurz                a new round which was basically their old
 this has meant that limited quantities of FN     (or short) round in the MP-43 assault rifle,           .30-06 cartridge shortened somewhat (but
 and SLR rifles have been released on the         and it was realised that a less powerful               retaining virtually all the power of its parent),
 surplus market. Ordinary, suitably qualified     round would allow rifles to be lighter, permit         and forced it down everyone’s throats. This
 citizens now have the opportunity to own         more ammunition to be carried, have less               new round was to become the 7.62mm
 one, and it is time to have a closer look at     recoil and still be effective at all practical         NATO. Nothing daunted, FN re-designed
 these fine rifles from the perspective of        ranges at which the infantry rifle was                 their modernised rifle to handle this new
 individual ownership.                            normally employed. Such a round would                  ammunition and the FN-FAL in 7.62mm
                                                  have a power level between pistol rounds in            NATO calibre was born.
    The FN rifle saga actually began during       sub-machine guns and the older too-
 the troubled years before the Second World       powerful rifle rounds, hence the Intermediate             It was an immediate and unqualified
 War. The FN (Fabrique Nationale) plant in        term. The Russians lost no time in adapting            success. Adopted by some 90 nations, it
 Belgium was actively working on a design         their 7.62mm Intermediate round in the AK              was also the standard military rifle of the
 for a new self-loading rifle, but then came      and SKS rifles, and the Western nations                then Rhodesian army, and is still in use with
 1939 and Belgium was invaded and over-           also started casting about for a suitable new          some units of the Z.N.A. Zimbabwe is
 run by Nazi Germany. The FN design               calibre. FN were not slow on the uptake, and           actually one of only a very few nations

Page 32                                                                                                                 African Hunter Vol. 5 No. 3
 whichstilluseriflesof7.62mmNATOcalibre,            dimensions are metric, whereas the S.L.R. is        from the carrier, then slide the dust cover off
 but even so a batch of old FN rifles was           built to the old imperial “inch” pattern. This      to the rear of the receiver. Remove the gas
 recently phased out of service and released        means that parts from one will not fit the          plug by pushing its spring loaded release
 to the surplus market. Also retired from           other, except by coincidence. Even the              catch from left to right and then rotating the
 service were quantities of S.L.R. rifles, which    magazines do not interchange - FN                   plug a quarter turn anti-clockwise (keep a
 are the British equivalent of the FN, and          magazines can generally be used on an               grip of it, as the piston is also under spring
 both types have found their way into the           S.L.R. rifle, but S.L.R. magazines absolutely       pressure). Remove the piston, unscrew and
 eager hands of the buying public.                  will not fit the FN.                                remove the handguards and loosen the gas
                                                                                                        regulator. No further disassembly is
                                                                                                        recommended, nor should any more be
                                                                                                        necessary for routine cleaning. Re-assembly
                                                                                                        is, of course, the reverse of the foregoing.
                                                                                                        One little tip - when putting the gas plug
                                                                                                        back into place, ensure that the letter “A” is
                                                                                                        uppermost (or that the grooved surface is
                                                                                                        up, depending on the model). If the
                                                                               Left to right: The
                                                                                                        ungrooved surface (or letter “G”) is visible,
                                                                            7.62mm NATO round,
                                                                                 the 7.62mm
                                                                                                        all gas supply is cut off from the piston and
                                                                            Intermediate, and the       the rifle will not cycle. The gas plug is only
                                                                                   5.56mm.              placed in this position when one wishes to
                                                                                                        launch rifle grenades, which I would hope
                                                                                                        none of you are planning on doing! Another
                                                                                                        re-assembly tip is to point the rifle down
                                                                                                        when replacing the bolt and carrier. Please
                                                                                                        note that all the aforementioned field
                                                                                                        stripping and assembly steps can be carried
                                                                                                        out with the safety catch in the “safe”
     First let’s have a look at the differences         The FN rifle is gas operated, and works         (uppermost) position.
 between the FN and the S.L.R. (meaning             on a tilting bolt locking principle. The bolt           A word now on the cleaning and
 Self-Loading Rifle). Britain, along with a         has to be locked at the moment of discharge         lubrication of your rifle while it is field
 great many other nations, decided that the         in order to contain the pressures generated         stripped. You will, of course, remove all
 FN was the best of the 7.62mm rifles, but          when fired, and this is achieved by the bolt        powder fouling and specks of brass casing
 wanted to set up a domestic plant in the U.K.      riding inside a carrier and being tipped            wherever visible, and clean the barrel as you
 to make them. While this was being done, a         down at the rear to lock into a shoulder in the     would any conventional rifle (not forgetting
 few changes were incorporated to make the          receiver. The “gas operated” designation            the chamber). The gas tube will also have to
 new rifle more suited for British service. One     means that the mechanism is worked by a             be cleaned, and this is best done with an
 of the most obvious was the flash hider,           gas piston within a tube above the barrel,          appropriately sized brush with soft bristles.
 which on the S.L.R. is an elongated, slotted       utilising gas bled off from behind the bullet       A .45 calibre brush works fine. Follow this
 design. The cocking handle was made                as it passes the gas port. Feed is by means         up with a cleaning patch on a pistol rod. A
 folding on the S.L.R., which is a nice touch,      of a 20 round detachable box magazine.              word of warning here - when using cleaning
 but so was the rear sight. This is a mixed             Field stripping is relatively straight          patches in the gas tube, especially on a pull-
 blessing, as while it is nice to be able to fold   forward. Begin by checking to see if the rifle      through, don't be tempted to use too large
 the S.L.R. rear sight down when mounting           is unloaded (safety first!). With the safety        a patch. The very first time I ever cleaned an
 a telescopic sight, it does open the distinct      catch applied, remove the magazine by               FN rifle I managed to get a too-large cleaning
 possibility that one day it may not be up if       pressing in on the magazine catch and               patch stuck in the gas tube. This got me into
 needed in a hurry. The pistol grip is quite        rotating the magazine upwards and off.              an awful lot of trouble, necessitating me
 different on the S.L.R., as is the foresight.      Then pull back on the cocking handle,               pushing a Land Rover uphill by myself. This
 The foresight on both can be adjusted for          visually inspecting the breech to ensure no         reinforced the lesson like you wouldn’t
 zeroing by screwing them up or down, but           round of ammunition lurks within. At this           believe, so don’t you go and do it, OK ? You
 the FN has very fine click adjustments             point, it is a good idea to work the cocking        will notice that after firing the piston is
 whereas the S.L.R. foresight is adjusted in        handle back and forth a few times as an             covered in a hard, dark grey residue which
 180 degree, half turn increments. This feature     additional safety measure - if by some              is difficult to remove. Recipes abound for
 does make the FN more popular for                  mischance you have inadvertently failed to          the best way of removing this gunk, but the
 competition target shooting, but the benefit       first remove the loaded magazine from the           easiest way I have found is to use a square
 is more perceived than real - the S.L.R.           rifle, a cascade of rounds from the breech as       of green pot scouring material. Avoid the
 system is more than adequate for most              you work the cocking handle will alert you          use of harsh abrasives (like sand, for one)
 purposes. The safety catch on the S.L.R. is        at once that all is not well! Next, with the bolt   and be very careful of strong acids. These
 definitely superior, though, being far broader     forward, “break” the receiver/barrel unit           can seriously corrode the piston and tube.
 and more easily operated. The S.L.R. bolt          from the trigger group/butt section by              Lubricate the bolt and carrier sparingly along
 carrier has zig-zag cuts machined into it to       operating the release catch on the left hand        the rails and sliding surfaces, and ensure
 deal with sand and dirt which may infiltrate       side of the trigger group. Allow the barrel to      that the gas regulator can be turned by
 via the ejection opening. However, all these       pivot down (gently) and pull out the bolt           hand. If it can’t, unscrew it and clean it. Now
 differences are very minor. The most               and carrier by the “rats tail” (the steel rod at    a word of advice on lubricating the piston
 fundamental difference is that the FN              the rear of the bolt carrier). Separate the bolt    and tube. Don’t. The piston and tube are

Page 34                                                                                                                African Hunter Vol. 5 No. 3
 subjected to repeated blasts of gas at high        the gas regulator is closed, your
 temperature and pressure when fired, and           gas tube is most probably
 oil will merely bake on and add to the fouling.    cracked.
 Damage can also result to the gas tube,                Zeroing the FN rifle is easy.
 depending on the type of oil used. Under           Elevation is handled by the
 great pressure, many oils exhibit a                foresight, which is simply
 phenomenon known as “dieselling”, which            screwed up or down (when
 is basically detonation. This adds to the          zeroing an S.L.R., you must first
 pressures within the port, and will contribute     slacken off the foresight locking
 to cracking of the gas tube. Such a crack          screw in front of the sight block).
 occurs across the threaded portion of the          Remember, to RAISE the point of
 tube, and the rifle will not cycle no matter       impact on the target, you must
 what. Many old FN rifles are found with            LOWER the foresight (and vice-
 cracked gas tubes, and I am convinced that         versa). Lateral adjustments are              The FN's action broken and working parts partially
 the main culprit is oil on the piston and in the   made on the rear sight, by means                       removed. (Note "Bats Tail").
 tube. Another word of warning - there is a         of the opposing screws on either
 fair amount of corrosively primed 7.62mm           side of the sight. To move bullet
 NATO military ball ammunition floating             impact on the target to the LEFT,
 around. If you use such ammunition, you            you will need to move the
 will have to take the additional cleaning          foresight to the LEFT (and vice-
 steps of flushing the barrel and gas tube out      versa again). In order to do this,
 with boiling water, making sure that you           first slacken off the left hand
 thoroughly dry them afterwards. The bore           screw by the desired number of
 of the FN is chrome plated to resist corrosion     clicks, then tighten the right hand
 and wear, but I have not found such plating        screw by the same amount (one
 to be an absolute preventative against the         click = approximately 1cm. of
 ravages of corrosive priming.                      adjustment at 100 metres).
     Any owner of an FN rifle should properly           Something that will strike
 adjust the gas regulator to ensure reliable                                                         The gas adjustment ring (on setting '4').
                                                    anyone who handles an FN rifle
 functioning, so here’s how to do it. The gas       is the degree of care and the
 regulator is a ribbed ring situated just behind    volume of machining that goes
 the foresight, some specimens having               into the manufacture of it. Just
 reference numbers around the circumference         look at the bolt and carrier, and
 and others not. You will notice that as the        imagine the work that goes into
 regulator is unscrewed (anti-clockwise), a         the crafting of just these two
 slot in the gas tube is being progressively        parts. Furthermore, all the
 exposed. This has the effect of releasing gas      metalwork is smooth, and free
 pressure away from the piston, venting it to       from toolmarks and roughness.
 the atmosphere and allowing less gas down          This will give you a clue as to one
 the tube to operate the mechanism. Closing         reason why they have been
 the regulator by screwing it the other way         largely superseded - they are
 directs more gas into the gas tube and thus        dreadfully expensive and time
 increases the force with which the                 consuming to make by modern                 The FN gas plug as it should be. Note tactile groove
 mechanism is operated. What we’re after is                                                      and "A" (Automatic). If you cannot see this, your
                                                    standards. It makes for an                               gas plug is upside down!
 enough gas pressure to reliably operate the        absolutely superb rifle, but the
 mechanism, but not so much that the bolt           FN was made to a standard that
 and carrier are excessively battered. To           we will not behold again in a military rifle.        economics appear to have caught up with
 achieve this, open the gas regulator by one        Stampings, pressings and castings have               the FN and the S.L.R.
 complete revolution so that the venting slot       taken over.
 beneath is exposed by the maximum amount,                                                                   However, all this is a huge bonus to the
 and fire away. The rifle will not cycle with the       It has been maintained that the FN               individual firearms owner, who can now
 regulator so open, of course, so gradually         should never have been. Cheap and easy               own one of the most finely crafted and well
 tighten the gas setting until the rifle reliably   manufacturing methods were around in                 made battle rifles of recent years for a fraction
 cycles ten out of ten times. Closing the           World War 2, as well as the Intermediate             of its real cost. The FN rifle is not, and never
 regulator another two clicks now gives your        rifle cartridge. The FN, with its old                has been, a battle rifle intended for use by
 recommended setting. The ejection of the           fashioned manufacturing methods and                  large volumes of semi-trained conscripts,
 empty cases is a fairly good indicator - if all    its full power cartridge was an                      but is peculiarly suited to individual
 is well, they should land two or three metres      anachronism, a ballistic dinosaur, dated             ownership by those who appreciate fine
 away. If they are merely falling out of the        even as it appeared. Another viewpoint is            firearms - it is truly a rifleman’s rifle, for those
 ejection port and landing right next to you,       that it is one of the finest rifles of its type      who can utilise its accuracy and full potential.
 you need to tighten up the regulator, whereas      available, and that all the points against it        A few have been made available in recent
 if your empties are heading off into the           are just so much theory and accountancy.             years, and it is probably the last chance
 subregion you need to slacken off! If your         I am very much inclined towards the latter           anyone will have of owning one of these
 rifle refuses to cycle, no matter how tightly      viewpoint. Be that as it may, time and               masterpieces. Don’t worry too much if your
African Hunter Vol. 5 No. 3                                                                                                                       Page 35
 specimen looks well worn - FN rifles remind      (which should be the case anyhow,                  was the next door range. A volley of further
 me of old Land-Rovers, in that they were         regardless of the type of rifle you use).          expletives of a descriptive nature was
 built to be fixed and re- built.                     I certainly treasure mine, despite getting     bestowed upon my cringing person,
    Why should anyone want to own an FN           into trouble (again!) the very first time I ever   whereupon certain things were pointed out
 or an S.L.R.? Well, for one thing they           fired one. We were on the range, cocked and        to me, to wit:-item (a), a Land Rover, and item
                                                                                                     (b), a hill. As I struggled to cause the
                                                                                                     placement of item (a) upon the top of item
                                                                                                     (b), I wondered if I was ever going to get it
                                                                                                     together with this strange new beast, the FN
                                                                                                     rifle. I also reflected somewhat bitterly upon
                                                                                                     the presence of engines in Land Rovers.
                                                                          The disassembly catch
                                                                                                     What was their purpose, if not to facilitate
                                                                           on the left side of the
                                                                            receiver - lift up to    getting them on top of hills? I am glad to relate
                                                                              "break" action.        that all went well after this somewhat shaky
                                                                                                     start. I obtained my marksmans badge, and
                                                                                                     the FN remains a firm favourite of mine. The
                                                                                                     only lasting effect has been an aversion to
                                                                                                     there being any Land Rovers around when
                                                                                                     I am competing in service rifle competitions,
                                                                                                     and a slight tendency to have dreams that I
                                                                                                     am a Land Rover engine when feverish.

 possess a degree of reliability and              ready to go, and
 robustness virtually unheard of in sporting      Yours Truly was
 rifles. They will shrug off abuse which would    just itching to start.
 destroy the average sporter, and come back       All we were waiting                                                                     Bolt and
 for more. They are pleasant to shoot, their      for was the word of                                                                    bolt carrier
 weight and gas operation making recoil           command            to
 very tolerable. They are also accurate - an      commence. I then
 FN rifle with good ammunition is generally       heard firing, and
 capable of 1+-2 inch groups at 100 yards,        assumed that with
 and a well set up specimen can shoot below       the combination of
 the magic minute of angle. They are the rifles   my position at the
 of choice for service rifle shooting             end of the line and
 competition, and they can be easily fitted       the ear muffs I was                                                                   The FN gas
 with a telescopic sight. Such a sight combined   wearing, I hadn’t                                                                       plug and
 with .308 ammunition turns an FN into a very     heard the starting                                                                    piston. Keep
 suitable hunting rifle. A couple of caveats      signal. Off I went. A                                                                 them clean,
 here - firstly, avoid the use of military ball   boot thudded into                                                                        but not
 ammunition on game animals. Full metal           me. It was the
 jacket bullets can be very erratic performers,   instructor. He
 particularly on the larger species, so rather    seemed vexed and
 go for proper soft-nosed projectiles.            discontented about
 Secondly, avoid the temptation to use the        things in general,
 large magazine capacity and rapid rate of fire   and about me in particular. I was informed in          A final reminder would be appropriate
 of these rifles as an excuse for bad shooting    language liberally bespattered with sundry         here - a reminder of how fortunate we
 and poor bullet placement. Behave in an          expletives that he had nQoQtQ in fact given        shooters are in Zimbabwe that we can
 ethical and sporting fashion at all times        the word to start firing. What I had heard         own and use rifles like the FN and S.L.R.
                                                                                                     Most parts of the world do not extend
                                                                                                     their citizens the same courtesy, so
                                                                                                     remember that with this privilege comes
                                                                                                     an equal and even greater degree of
                                                                                                     responsibility.         Any form of
                                                                          The bolt release catch
                                                                                                     irresponsible or criminal use by any
                                                                            (L) and magazine         individual with a privately owned FN or
                                                                          release catch (R) just     S.L.R. rifle would undoubtedly have
                                                                          in front of the trigger    dire legislative consequences for
                                                                                  guard.             everyone else, whether justified or not.
                                                                                                     Current statistics show that crime
                                                                                                     committed by private licenced persons
                                                                                                     with rifles such as these is precisely nil.
                                                                                                     Lets keep it that way, and retain the
                                                                                                     pleasure of owning and using these fine
African Hunter Vol. 5 No. 3                                                                                                                Page 37

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