October 11, 2021
Geissele Automatics is one of those companies whose impact on the firearms market is much larger than their sales would indicate. Thirteen years ago, Bill Geissele was making AR-15 triggers in his mother’s basement; currently Geissele triggers are found in just about every rifle fielded by U.S. Special Forces. Geissele rails, triggers, and scope mounts can be found on everything from SOCOM M4s to the new HK G28 DMR. Geissele parts have been specified by the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) for the new M4 Upper Receiver Group—Improved. And Geissele just secured the rights from Barrett to produce the M240 LW and M240LWS machine guns for the U.S. military. Geissele Automatics makes just about every accessory you can think of for AR-15s including, now, complete rifles, and their workforce (including sister companies ALG Defense and Abraham and Moses Knives) now numbers over two hundred.
For this article I secured a sample of their Super Duty 16” Rifle, but in addition to a review of the rifle itself I wanted to detail how one small company in eastern Pennsylvania now seems to be the go-to factory and R&D department for U.S. Special Operations. I’ve spoken to Bill Geissele at length several times about his company’s history, and visited the Geissele Automatics facility. To understand the products, and the company, you also have to understand Bill Geissele philosophy, which is best described as “I can make that better.”
Folks, it ain’t bragging if you can do it. Let’s start with Geissele’s new rifle, and expand from there: While talking to Bill Geissele several things become very clear: 1. He’s a perfectionist, and 2. he makes products for two reasons: either because someone asks him to, or because he sees a problem with an existing product and wants to fix it.
"We have a donation program for the cops around here,” Bill Geissele told me. “Any police officer that comes into the shop with their gun we completely trick it out with Geissele stuff for free. That goes for all local and federal LE stationed in the area. What we find is they’re bringing us all these really cheap guns that don’t run. Even in our own guns, to test our triggers, we’ve had rifles with problems. I’ve been so dissatisfied with the stuff out there, extractors that have a hook that is too shallow, a bolt stem over a thousandth under tolerance, you name it. We just decided to fix it all.”
This was the impetus for Geissele to begin making complete rifles, first for police officers, and then for the commercial market. Geissele’s Super Duty rifles are the company’s top-of-the-line model, available in four different anodized colors—Luna Black, OD Green, Grey, or DDC (Geissele’s Desert Dirt Color, their version of FDE). Geissele shipped me an OD Green model to test.
This rifle starts with a cold hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel with a 1:7” twist and button rifling. It has a mag phosphate finish and is tipped with a Surefire SF3P flash hider which sports Geissele’s Nanoweapon coating (more on that in a bit). This barrel has a somewhat lightweight profile and offers Geissele’s “Super mid-length” gas system. What’s that? It’s slightly longer than a mid-length, but not as long as a rifle-length gas system.
BG: Instead of dealing with standard lengths that you can just buy, we optimized the gas system length for each barrel. Optimized it using high-speed video. We found a carbine length gas system works fine for 10-11” barrels, mid-length is great for 14.5”, and for a 16-inch we optimized it with our Super Mid-length, which is about an inch longer than a standard mid-length gas system. It’s a tremendously smooth shooting barrel, smooth recoiling and very reliable.
This and all the barrels found in Geissele’s rifles are made by Geissele in-house. When I first visited their facility in 2018, they had just installed their barrel-making machinery and were still getting it up to speed, and had just over one hundred employees. Now they’re not just making barrels but complete firearms, and have two hundred employees.
BG: The material comes in as a raw blank and we turn it into a rifle barrel. He have a forge. The only thing we’re not doing in-house is the chrome lining. I’m very happy with the accuracy, we worked with them for over a year and half, making a lot of changes, before I was happy with how they shot. With factory 77-grain ammo, like Black Hills’ Mk 262, it’ll do about 1 MOA, plus or minus .1. With other common ammo, M193/green tip, the barrels will do 1.5-2 MOA. I’m very happy with how it shoots with regular ammunition.
We magnetic particle inspect every barrel. I think very few people mag particle their barrels. We had to have consultants come in and train our people how to do it, it takes a long time. MPing a barrel is not straightforward. First you have to get the proof rounds and you’ve got to proof it. Then when you MP it not only do you use the oil with fluorescent carrier on the outside but you’ve also got to have a very special high-powered UV borescope that costs almost twenty grand.
The barrel free floats inside a 15-inch Geissele Mk16 Super Modular Rail. The Mk16 is a relatively new product for Geissele, and it was created for the USASOC (United States Army Special Operations Command) URG-I (Upper Receiver Group—Improved) project, which Geissele was deeply involved with. The URG-I is entirely new upper receiver assembly meant to provide improved reliability, durability, and accuracy over the original M4 carbine top end, in addition to superior ergonomics, and the military specced both a Geissele handguard (the Mk16) and Airborne charging handle for this kit.
Offering a full-length MIL STD 1913 along the top, the Mk16 rail has M-LOK attachment slots all around. Geissele is known for making some of the strongest handguards in the industry, and compared to some of their previous offerings the MK16 is somewhat slim and light, but uses the same very beefy precision-machined Geissele barrel nut.
BG: This was meant to be a rail for the warfighter, and it was a bit of an interactive design process. Those guys told me they wanted a slimmer rail, with M-LOK attachments all around, and they wanted a specific length—13.5”. A lot of these soldiers are 3-gun shooters, and gun guys, and knew exactly what they wanted. For this Super Duty Rifle the rail has been extended to 15 inches.
The Mk16 has four tabs which interface with the receiver to prevent the handguard from rotating, and the disassembly screws are captive, so you can’t lose any hardware if you need to remove the handguard. There are QD sockets machined at the rear of the handguard at the upper 45s for sling mounting.
Underneath the handguard you’ll see Geissele’s stainless steel Super Compact Gas Block, which is pinned in place (in addition to having set screws for an additional level of security) in what they call their “bombproof installation”. If you look close at the top rear of the Geissele gas block, you’ll see a stainless-steel pin set into a notch cut into the top of the barrel.
BG: I don’t feel that lining up a gas block with dimples and set screws is acceptable. Screws don’t line anything up. They have clearance. If there wasn’t any clearance, the screw wouldn’t work. So, it is not an alignment system, but people expect that to line up their gas system with the upper receiver perfectly.
I don’t like that, and I don’t think that’s right. We take every barrel, and we have a special fixture that works off an alignment dowel in the barrel extension. We get that exactly vertical and we put that small keyway right near the gas block, and our gas block has a small key that fits into that. That aligns our gas block perfectly with the upper receiver, and the set screws lock it into place, but they don’t align it, the stainless-steel key pin does that. Then we put the cross-pin in the gas block as a bombproof installation. I’m very much into that gas block being aligned perfectly because a gas tube that’s off to the side is gonna cause wear to the gas tube quickly, and when that starts to wear you’re going to get blow-by and your gun isn’t going to be reliable.
At the rear of the barrel is the bolt carrier group, and there Geissele has seen fit to improve over the standard AR-15/M-16 design as well. Inside this and every other Super Duty rifle is the Reliability Enhanced Bolt Carrier Group (REBCG).
BG: Military guys tell me their bolts are breaking, they’re only lasting 2,000-3,000 rounds (of the new high-pressure M855A1 ammo), so I decided to make this super bolt, the Geissele Stressproof Bolt. The bolt is actually constructed of a special steel, Carpenter 158 with ESR (electro-slag remelt) that makes the steel much cleaner and gives it a much higher fatigue life. We call it Carpenter 158 Plus. Carpenter steel is just down the road from us and we work very closely with them. I had to order 20,000 pounds of this stuff, but they cooked it special for me. The secret in the new bolt isn’t just the kind of steel, but how it’s manufactured.
BG: Our bolt is made from a forging. All other bolts are made from bar stock, most places take a length of steel rod and cut off pieces to make their bolts. We take a piece of steel and smash it between two dies and that aligns the grain flow, so the bolt is stronger, especially around the lugs. Most people aren’t willing to do that, but we’re willing to do things the hard way to get the best product.
So many companies out there say they high pressure mag particle test their bolts, but they don’t test every one, they just batch test, maybe one out of 500, but they mark each bolt as if it’s been tested. That’s what you’re getting out there, and people don’t realize they’re getting snookered. We do every one.
You’ll see the extractor is a different color from the bolt itself. The extractor is another Carpenter alloy, a special stainless steel called Carpenter 465. It is an extremely difficult alloy to machine. It is very popular in tools for orthopedic surgery, that steel will never shatter when it is put under stress, only deform. That makes it extremely strong and tough. Geissele expects this bolt to have five times the life of a standard bolt.
The cam pin is constructed of an advanced medical steel known as H13 which is also given a Nanoweapon coating. The coating combined with the new head slows down the cam pin wear in the upper receiver. It is also stronger so that cam pin should be less.
As I mentioned above, the Surefire flash hider had been given a Nanoweapon coating as well. Bill Geissele had been in search of a “super” coating for his internal parts, and found it with DSL—Durable Solid Lubricant, developed by the U.S. Army. DSL is actually a PECVD (plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition) coating. Geissele calls it their Nanoweapon coating. It is applied in-house by Geissele’s own coating company, NCC (Nano Composite Coatings). The bolt carrier, cam pin, and gas key on the SD BCG are coated with Nanoweapon.
BG: We went to the scientists who developed the coating and they designed a special machine for us to apply it. It is extremely corrosion resistant, extremely slick, and extremely hard. It wears at a very slow rate. We have a carrier with 13,000 rounds through it and people can’t tell the difference between it and brand new. It rejects carbon, so all your dirt and fouling will pretty much just wipe off. The Nanoweapon coating goes into the bore of the carrier so it doesn’t need to be chrome-lined. You’ll notice how smooth those gas rings run and that is due to the Nanoeapon coating.
In addition to all of the above, the patented REBCG carrier has extended rails. The extended rails prevent the carrier from tilting inside the receiver, which helps a lot with reliability. Behind the bolt is Geissele’s Super 42 braided wire buffer spring and their H2 buffer to soak up even more recoil.
The upper and lower receivers are 7075 T6 aluminum and built to Mil-Spec, with the standard, familiar case deflector and forward assist. The upper receiver has M4 feed ramps. While the upper and lower receivers themselves aren’t fancy, just about every part in them has been upgraded over the standard G.I. offerings.
A huge improvement is the Geissele Airborne charging handle. This bilateral model has latches larger and much easier to use than the one-sided G.I. type, yet the handle is not so wide that it will catch on a soldier’s webgear. The right-side lever does not stick out past the forward assist.
As he mentioned above, Bill Geissele has been sorely disappointed in the quality of AR-15 parts, and that includes all of the lower receiver components. This rifle comes with Geissele’s Ultra-Duty Lower Parts Kit. Key components are made from stainless steel, heat treated, then nitrided.
For a bolt catch you’ve got Geissele’s oversized Maritime Bolt Catch, which has larger, checkered surface areas. It is much easier to use (especially when locking the bolt back) while wearing gloves or if you’re a left-hander. The receiver pins and magazine release feature the same kind of aggressive checkering as the bolt catch, for a very nice matching look.
The safety is Geissele’s Super Configurable Safety, which is a bilateral model. As it comes from the factory the right-side safety lever is shorter, and it doesn’t hit your trigger finger when being disengaged. If you happen to be a southpaw, you can swap the levers. The oversize trigger guard is Geissele’s Ultra Precision Trigger Guard, CNC machined from billet aluminum and anodized to match the receiver. You’ll spot the Geissele ‘G’ on the bottom.
Exclusive to the new Super Duty 16” Rifle is the brand new SSA-E X with Lighting Bow trigger. This nanocoated, two-stage trigger features a wide body and bow shape halfway between a traditional curved bow and a flat-face trigger. It provides a two-stage, 3.5-pound pull and has no more parts than a standard G.I.-style trigger.
Black, Grey, and DDC rifles come equipped with the standard A2 pistol grip. The OD Green model I received comes with B5 Systems’ Type 23 P-Grip, which has more material under the web of your hand, very aggressive texturing, and a more vertical angle. Every color rifle ships with B5’s Enhanced SOPMOD stock which has two storage compartments which fit batteries and/or spare bolts. It also has a non-slip rubber buttpad. The buttstocks are all in matching colors to the rifle, except for the Grey rifle, which ships with a black stock.
This rifle is not supplied with any sights, but for testing Geissele sent me a set of their Folding BUIS sights. These aluminum-bodied sights are like most Geissele products—not fancy, but solid, functional, and tough enough for combat. As in, I’m pretty sure I could bang on them with a hammer and while afterward they wouldn’t be pretty, they’d still work. Flip them up by hand, and they lock in place. To unlock them, you push sideways on the body of the sight itself, there are no small buttons to break or get clogged with dirt. A set of these sights retails for $200.
A trip to the range provided absolutely no surprises—the Super Duty rifle was soft-shooting, and with most ammo it averaged 1-2 MOA. The Surefire flash hider is very effective, but if you wanted to run this rifle in competition a good muzzle brake would totally kill what little recoil there is, and you would not have to swap out the trigger, the SSA-E X is fast, light, and crisp.
For everything but accuracy testing I topped this rifle with SIG’s ROMEO 4T red dot. This is a very interesting piece that’s been adopted by some serious warfighters—check out the sidebar.
My range time was once again affected negatively by this strange climate change event which seems to happen every year around December in Michigan, resulting in not just colder temperatures but sometimes, actually, snow. Where’s global warming when you need it? Still, I had a great time pounding USPSA silhouettes out to 100 yards just about as fast as I could pull the trigger, and clanging a few pieces of steel here and there.
Because Geissele makes just about every part on this gun and you don’t have to pay for a middleman, I feel this rifle provides a remarkable value. Out of any other company it would cost twice as much, and still be worth every penny. While it really isn’t a sub-MOA match rifle on the accuracy side, when it comes to reliability I would stack this rifle up against any AR made by any other company, no matter the cost.
Now, for a bit of history. If you’re not sure how Geissele Automatics came to be, it all started with one trigger, the Hi-Speed National Match.
BG: I had been shooting High Power for years, Service Rifle, shooting an A2. And at that time there were no good triggers. They would always go south. I tried everything. I started looking at the Milazzo-Krieger and was told it requires gunsmith installation. It literally took me a day to install, it was a nightmare. But I learned how it worked, figured out how to make it run, and my friends would bring me their triggers to get them tuned up.
Then one day I said I wonder if I can make a trigger that’s better than this. And that’s what I decided to do. I took everything out there, all the positive stuff from every design, and put it into my trigger, which was the Hi-Speed. In 2004 I went to Camp Perry, a month after I met my now wife Amy. I brought my triggers with me including one in my gun. I was shooting very good, and was squadded with Lance Dement from the AMU (Army Marksmanship Unit). Afterward I showed him my trigger, and he told me to show it to the guys at the AMU trailer, which has a mobile machine shop in it. Gene Clark, the head gunsmith of the AMU, checked it out and liked that it used a full-power hammer spring.
While I was there the Commander of the AMU came up, examined my trigger, and he said that’s just what we need. What I wound up doing was giving the Commander one of my triggers and he put it in his gun and he finished out the rest of his stage with my trigger. Five months later they called me up and asked to buy six triggers from me, and that was my first military sale, January 2005.
What I didn’t know was that the AMU is the R&D shop for the part of the Army that does a lot of the doctrine. The Infantry Board is down the street, and wanted the AMU to build them .308 gas guns so they could evaluate the concept of a semi-auto sniper rifle. The AMU built 6 AR-10-type rifles on Armalite receivers and these were the first SASS rifles. Proof-of-concept SASS, and that gun had my trigger in them, that’s what they wanted those six triggers for.
At this point Bill Geissele was in his late thirties, and had seen more of the world than most veteran spec-ops troops in one of the most interesting career paths I’ve seen….
BG: When I was fifteen and living in rural New Jersey there was a guy in our church who owned a one-man-band machine shop. He taught me just about everything I know when it comes to machining. I decided I wanted to be an engineer and started going to community college. I worked and went to school part time at night. I got a job at a big machine shop in Chester PA. They did a lot of big work, paper mill equipment, huge industrial pieces. All the machines were gigantic and I worked in their field service dept. After two years of doing this I ended up getting a job in the mining industry. As I interviewed with all the engineers and management people, they only had one question for me: Can you travel? I didn’t have a family, so travelling was no problem.
The company sent me all over the US and world to work on mining equipment. I went to Canada, all over South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, Indonesia, China. I worked at a lithium mine in Chile in the middle of the Atacama Desert, back when mining lithium was brand new. You’re on your own, you need to fix it, you’ve got to figure it out, usually working with people who don’t speak English, and there were no cell phones. I’d go into places and nobody could speak English. I learned how to pantomime and act out so people could understand me.
I worked a very long job in Russia up near the Arctic Circle and earned enough money to take time off from the job to finish up my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. I went back to the company and ran the department I had started in.
Eventually the company came to me and asked me to become a field service manager for the country of Chile. I saw that if I did this I could make good money, but I wouldn’t be able to come back home to the US that much, and my mom was getting older. If I went to Chile I knew I’d end up getting married to a girl down there. My life would be down there. I was 35 at the time, and I decided not to do it.
I got a design engineer job in the railway industry June 2001, and moved back in with my mother, who’d become ill. I designed components for track. Now all of a sudden, I’m in design engineering, I’m using 3D CAD. Within six months of being there I solved a design problem that had stumped the railway industry for 25 years and got a patent out of it. I learned later that product saved our company, although nobody ever told me at the time, and I eventually realized the company wasn’t going to take care of me.
Enter the Geissele Hi-Speed National Match Trigger, and his first six-unit sale to the U.S. military. And word started getting around.
BG: At this point I’m making triggers in my basement, actually my mom’s basement, by hand. I still had my railroad day job. The company insisted everybody take an hour lunch. So, I would quick eat lunch, drive over to one of the idle factories in this big industrial park and sleep in the parking lot. Every day in my car I got twenty minutes’ sleep and would have my wife call me to wake me up. I worked the rest of the afternoon, left work at five, got home, ate dinner, napped on the couch until 7:30, and then would work until one or two in the morning on triggers. I worked every Saturday and Sunday. I was chronically sleep deprived, but this is what it took for me to do this business.
During my tour of Geissele’s facility in 2018 (which is a former pottery factory of all things) I wasn’t allowed to photograph most of the place due to ITAR issues. As I was shown around the facility I observed that every piece made by Geissele was hand-inspected at every step of the manufacturing process from CNC machine to final assembly.
For lunch, we met up with Bill Geissele’s wife Amy and headed to the Purple Meteor Canteen, the in-house café helmed by a local chef, where every employee gets a free breakfast and lunch, the java is from Black Rifle Coffee Company, and the TVs are tuned to One America News Network, which I’d never even heard of until then. It’s the little things like that which make an impression, like every female Geissele employee getting fresh flowers on her desk every Monday.
BG: In 2006 I got calls from the guys in the Army. They said they got my name from Gene Clark, and asked if I made triggers for an automatic weapon. I said I don’t, but I can.While I hadn’t made any yet I had designed the SSA the summer of 2006. It was designed to be a non-adjustable combat trigger. I worked and made prototype select-fire triggers for these people, who wouldn’t identify themselves. That trigger became the SSF. These Army guys came to visit me in my basement shop in my little row house, toting big gun cases, and they had to walk past my washer and dryer to get to my work space, but they didn’t bat an eye.
They pulled out a bunch of guns including M4s, HK416s, and a SCAR. You have to remember at this time, I’d heard about a SCAR, but I’d never seen one. And they adopted my trigger. It led to a long and fruitful relationship with this organization.
Geissele declined to identify the specific Army unit he was working with, but at that point in history there really was only one Spec-Ops unit that was fielding SCARs and HK416s, and they are considered the top of the food chain. It was their adoption of his triggers—and word getting out about that—that put Geissele Automatics on the map.
BG: I was talking to one of the program managers at Fort Bragg and he mentioned that they needed a new rail for their HK416s. We got into the rail business by making rails for them because nobody else wanted to do it. Once we did it, one of the guys said, “You should make a rail for an M4,”… and the business just started moving along. I was down at Fort Bragg, talking, and one thing led to another and the Super Precision Scope Mount came about in the exact same way. It was built for them, at their request.
The firearms industry is filled with geniuses and idiots, nice people and horrible people. Bill Geissele isn’t just a design genius, he is genuinely is one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. And humble. His wife has the nice office in the building; Bill’s desk, on the other hand, was rescued from a neighboring business’ Dumpster. Seriously.
Geissele Automatics is far from tapped out. In addition to being thrilled to work on the new M240LW/LWS weapon system with the military, Geissele and Surefire have teamed up on a project designed to modernize the AR-15/M-16/M4 from the inside out. I suspect the best it yet to come.
Geissele Super Duty Rifle 16” Specifications
- Caliber: 5.56 NATO
- Weight: 7 lbs, 1 oz
- Overall Length: 34.0" (stock collapsed) 37.25" (stock extended)
- Receiver: Forged aluminum
- Barrel: 16.0", CHF, chrome-lined, mid-length gas system, 1/7" twist
- Gas block: Geissele super compact
- Muzzle Device: SureFire SF3P
- Stock: B5 Systems Enhanced SOPMOD
- Pistol Grip: B5 Systems
- Handguard: 15" Geissele Mk16
- Charging handle: Geissele Airborne
- Trigger: Geissele SSA-E X two-stage, 3.5 pounds (as tested)
- Sights: none, Geissele BUIS as tested
- Accessories: 1 30-round magazine
- MSRP: $1,599
- Manufacturer: Geissele Automatics, Geissele.com
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
About the Author:
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current novel, Splashback, is available now through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.