When I first heard that Anderson made an AR that never needed lubrication, my immediate thought was, I’ve got to see this! After all, everybody knows an AR won’t run unless it’s lubricated, right? Whether it’s CLP, cooking oil or some fabulously expensive “propriety” blend, traditional wisdom from decades of use dictates you keep your upper receiver and bolt carrier group wet with lube if you want to avoid stoppages.
That was the gospel truth until Anderson became the new prophet of the AR. Based on my background research and testing, I am convinced its claims are completely true.
A NEW PARADIGM
The Anderson RF85-treated rifle will change the way you look at ARs. In addition to running bone, desert-with-blowing-tumbleweed-dry, it also runs faster (23 percent faster in government laboratory tests), and it cleans up in a third of the time needed for a standard AR. In my opinion, the RF85 treatment is the most important development for the AR platform in 50 years. It is much more significant than the evolution of piston-driven guns. Whereas the gas piston was a workaround for the AR’s original dirty and hot direct-impingement (DI) system, the lubricity of the RF85 treatment makes a traditional DI rifle run cleaner and cooler than Eugene Stoner could have dreamed of, because it has no oily lubricant to attract dirt and clog up the moving parts.
SOAP AND WATER CLEANUP?
Cleaning Anderson’s RF85-treated rifle is not the laborious ordeal associated with cleaning an ordinary AR. With sustained shooting and no cleaning, yes, you’ll still build up thick carbon fouling in the usual places (the back of the bolt head area, under the extractor claw, etc.) that has to be scratched and scraped off with pointy metal instruments. However, the rest of it cleans up with soapy water and a toothbrush. Lacking that, just plain water will remove the majority of the carbon residue. In a regular AR, the carbon fouling and oil get baked into a varnish that’s hard to remove—not unlike what happens inside your car engine. Because the RF85-treated rifle runs dry, the carbon fouling stays dry, too, and wipes off the metal more easily.
You don’t even need to use solvent inside the barrel. It’s more like brushing soot out of your chimney than what we traditionally think of as “cleaning” a rifle. In fact, you could easily clean the RF85-treated rifle in the bathroom while you shower, with no stinky solvent to aggravate your domestic circumstances. Two important cautions related to that: Don’t drop the bolt carrier group on your foot (this hurts much more than a new bar of soap), and thoroughly dry the rifle after cleaning it. Anderson says solvents don’t harm the RF85 but that they aren’t needed for cleaning.
There’s no need to carry oil or cleaning solvent afield anymore. You can clean this rifle in a stream. After running 2,000 rounds of various Federal ammunition through the test rifle, I got it washed up in 10 minutes (excluding the five minutes I pre-soaked the bolt carrier group in a plastic coffee can of hot soapy dishwater).
After a good tooth-brushing, everything rinsed off except the thick, cooked-on carbon previously mentioned. It’s like cleaning a black powder rifle without the smell. One old black powder cleaning trick I employed was to rinse with near-scalding water from the tap, because the hot water evaporates quicker off the hot metal.
According to Anderson, the RF85-treated rifle passed 160 hours in a salt spray test for corrosion. That result is equivalent to chrome, but Anderson doesn’t advertise RF85 as a rust inhibitor. In fact, although it’s as good or better than the typical anodized and parkerized rifle finish, Anderson recommends you make sure it’s dry before putting it back together.
Using my air compressor, I blew all the water from the rifle’s nooks and crannies in about a minute. (I got finished cleaning this rifle so quickly, I had to lay low for the rest of the day to avoid getting saddled with a load of household chores.)
IT’S FASTER, TOO
Because the RF85 treatment provides superior lubricity and removes the drag of conventional liquid lubricants, it actually speeds up the rifle’s cycle time during firing. Anderson hired the respected and impartial U.S. government-operated Oak Ridge National Laboratory to evaluate the RF85-treated rifle. High-speed cameras documented the dry rifle’s bolt cycling at 23 percent faster than that of an ordinary lubricated rifle.
WHAT IS “RF85”?
The name, “RF85,” originates from this treatment’s ability to reduce surface friction between steel components by 85 percent. (If both parts are treated with RF85, the friction is reduced even more.) It is nanotechnology of the molecular-scale (super-duper small) engineering type, rather than the science fiction (tiny, self-replicating robot) kind.
The treatment involves soaking the rifles for a period of time in a patented, heated, chemical bath containing certain calcium and carbon molecules. The calcium molecules attach themselves to the metal’s surface—but not in the mechanical manner of a coating (such as Duracoat or Cerakote) or a plating (such as hard chrome or nickel boron). Calcium molecules in the RF85 become part of the metal, Itself, by forming a strong ionic bond with all the metal, deeply penetrating its pores to create an ultra-thin, permanent outer layer. The test reports from Oak Ridge National Laboratory showed that the RF85 wouldn’t chip or flake off. You can’t even see it with the naked eye. When subjected to pressure and heat (for instance, friction), the calcium molecules elongate and act as a lubricant.
You never have to lubricate an RF85-treated rifle, because it makes the surface of the metal into a lubricant. The amazing thing is that the RF85 doesn’t appear to wear off the metal it’s applied to, even though surface finish does.
THE ONE AND ONLY
The broader commercial implications of the RF85 process are a lot bigger than the gun industry. This is the stuff that billionaires are made of. The company that owns the RF85 technology is called Better Than New, LLC (BTN). Anderson advertises that it has a proprietary agreement with that company regarding the firearms applications of RF85. To get the straight dope on how Anderson Manufacturing “caught the golden goose,”
I interviewed Tom Steffner, the company’s VP of sales. He confirmed the claim and informed me Anderson already treats parts for three major firearms manufacturers—but it will never allow a competing RF85-treated commercial AR platform. If you are waiting patiently for the day your favorite AR maker releases its own lubeless rifle, I’ve got sad news for you: It’s not happening. I speculated that a huge firearms company was sure to offer
BTN a mint to break its agreement with Anderson. Steffner confirmed that it had already happened, but BTN didn’t do it and never would. I asked him how he could be so sure, and he told me:
His dad owns BTN. Steffner and the Andersons are more than just business associates; they are old friends. He was the guy who came up with idea of using RF85 on guns while fishing with his dad. After he successfully tested the concept, he acted as the middle man to bring Anderson and BTN together, and the first and only lubeless rifle was born—at least the first and only civilian lubeless rifle, that is. The Department of Defense is currently evaluating the Anderson RF85-treated rifle for military use.
THE TEST SPECIMEN
The rifle I tested was a new product that targeted 3-gun competitors. The AM15-M4-TAC is mechanically a conventional DI carbine with Magpul flip-up sights, stock furniture, trigger guard and B.A.D. (battery assist device) lever. Its unique features include Anderson’s RF85 treatment on all metal parts; its machined aluminum, rifle-length, 15-inch EXT free-float, ventilated handguard solidly joined to the receiver by a proprietary long barrel nut; a low-profile steel glass block; the company’s DR20 No-Rise muzzle brake; and its Ambi-Latch tactical ambidextrous charging handle.
“In my opinion, the RF85 treatment is the most important development for the AR platform in 50 years.”
The EXT handguard has a Picatinny rail machined along the full length of the top, with flats on the sides and bottom and tapped holes for attaching additional rails as desired. This rifle had a 5.5-inch rail on each side and a 10.5-inch rail on the bottom for mounting the competition angled foregrip. I like the EXT handguard, because it gives the shooter the option of adding rails on the sides and bottom.
It also has a detachable sling swivel that uses a ball detent lock to solidly attach to the handguard where it meets the receiver.
“In terms of maintenance, this is as close as any AR is ever going to get to an AK.”
Anderson Manufacturing is a privately-owned, high-tech machining business that got into making ARs in 2008, when Barrack Obama was elected president. It quickly established a reputation for high-quality, well-made and reasonably-priced rifles. Producing most of the company’s parts in-house allowed it to maintain quality control. Anderson’s receivers are machined from forged billets for maximum strength.
Metal injection-molded (MIM) parts, such as the trigger and safety, are subcontracted locally and made on tooling that Anderson designed and built. Springs, magazines, sights and stock hardware are sourced outside from American vendors. Anderson also manufactures parts, including receivers, for numerous firearms companies.
I let the rifle cool down to a toasty, but tolerable, temperature before doing my accuracy testing. I didn’t notice any significant muzzle climb in rapid fire, which suggests that the No Rise brake was doing its job. It should be noted that this rifle weighs 8 pounds and is rather muzzle heavy, which would also tend to make it less susceptible to muzzle rise.
Although the Magpul B.A.D. lever is a somewhat fragile-looking thing, I found that it simplified my gun handling once I got accustomed to pushing it down with my trigger finger (rather than reflexively reaching for the bolt release lever with my left hand after changing magazines). This lever is actually made of aluminum and proved quite sturdy in use. The one critique I offer is that as a point of safety, there is an argument to be made for keeping controls that aren’t the trigger outside the trigger guard. You be the judge.
Shooting prone with the front of the rifle resting on sandbags, I did all my testing with the excellent Magpul MBUS iron sights. The square front sight post is exceptionally easy to adjust, requiring only some pointy object (bullet, stick, etc.) to depress the lock and your fingernail to turn the sight post, itself, up or down. The elegantly simple MBUS sights are locked up or secured down with a single push.
I shot 2,000 rounds without any cleaning and no oil—and no failures of any kind; I left an old microwave and tin bucket so full of holes that they were virtually transparent. The Anderson performed as advertised and shot accurately, as one would expect from a quality rifle. The trigger broke at 5 pounds, but with the usual creep one
finds in traditional AR triggers. Some might prefer to put in a quality aftermarket drop-in target trigger, but using the OEM trigger allows you to keep the rifle completely free of dirt-attracting oil.
After those 2,000 rounds, there was finish wear on the spots you would expect: the body of the bolt cam pin, the edges of the bolt lugs and the raised tracks along the bolt carrier body and their corresponding contact points in the upper receiver.
Inquiring minds might wonder, “If RF85 is so slick, why isn’t it protecting the finish?” The simple answer is that it doesn’t bond with the finish; it bonds with the underlying metal. Tom Steffner explained, “Those calcium molecules penetrate pretty deep through surface finishes and into the underlying metal structure, just like rain would penetrate your clothes. Wearing off the finish is like taking off those wet clothes. Your skin still gets thoroughly soaked. Those bare-metal areas are protected by the RF85.”
IT JUST KEEPS GOING AND GOING…
The RF85 treatment adds $200 to the cost of the rifle. Is it worth it? Consider that an RF85 rifle should last a lot longer. Anderson conducted a test and found that a standard (non-chrome-lined) barrel will start showing significant signs of wear at the 7,000- to 8,000-round mark. The RF85-treated rifle barrel didn’t show the same level of wear until 14,000 to 15,000 rounds (if Anderson ever starts treating chrome-lined barrels, it will take a DoD budget line item to pay for all the ammo needed to wear-test them). The Anderson RF85 rifle is the “Energizer Bunny” of ARs: It just keeps going and going: 2,000 rounds in one day with no oil, no cleaning, no failures. In terms of maintenance, this is as close as any AR is ever going to get to an AK.
If you are lazy, uninformed about how to maintain a rifle or are perhaps too busy evading cannibalistic raiders while leading your family to safety in the aftermath of a massive EMP attack—or maybe you’re just tired of laboriously cleaning ARs— this is the AR for you.
Average Velocity (fps)
|Average Group (inches)||
Smallest Group (inches)
|Federal Premium Gold Medal Match 69-grain Sierra MatchKing BTHP||
|Federal American Eagle 55-grain FMJ||
|Federal 5.56mm M193 Ball (White Box) 55-grain FMJ Boat Tail||
|Hornady Black 62-grain FMJ||
|Hornady Steel Match 55-grain JHP (steel case)||
|Winchester 5.56 Match Competitive Target 77-grain Match BTHP||
NOTE: Velocity testing was five rounds at 15 feet from the muzzle. Accuracy testing was done with three five-shot groups.
TYPE: Gas operated (direct impingement)
CALIBER: 5.56mm/.223 Rem.
MAGAZINE CAPACITY: Accepts all AR magazines; supplied with a 30-round ACS
RECEIVER: Milled 7075 T6 aluminum forgings
BARREL: 16-inch 4150 steel M4 contour ⅛-inch twist with Anderson DR20 No-Rise muzzle brake
SIGHTS: Magpul MBUS flip-up front and rear
STOCK: Magpul five-position adjustable buttstock, pistol grip and angled foregrip
TRIGGER: 5 pounds
WEIGHT: 8 pounds, 1.5 ounces
ACCESSORIES: Plastic foam-padded transport
case; Anderson-branded, 2-to-1 point, black nylon, tactical sling
MSRP: $1,400 (For those who want a tactical rifle, Anderson offers basic RF85-treated M4-style carbines with military stock furniture and without sights starting at $850)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.