Tennessee Arms, a small American FFL arms manufacturer, has been getting attention lately for their low-cost, high-performance polymer AR-15 lowers. While the worthiness of polymer is up for debate by some AR shooters, TN Arms have consistently demoed and sold top quality parts. They use a patented process that securely embeds brass fixtures into the highest-stress areas of the receiver. The production lowers that TN Arms offers has reinforced buffer tube and grip threads.
Their latest demo is an entirely see-through lower that’s not currently being offered in a production run. The arms manufacturer posted pictures online of their clear 4.6-ounce receiver to widespread interest last week. More tests are currently being done to test the long-term reliability of this lower, but for now it’s just another one of Tennessee Arms’ showcase pieces.
Tennessee Arms has also demoed a pack-portable takedown survival rifle based on their composite fully-assembled lowers. TN Arms has put footage of their prototype on YouTube, showing off an ultra-light AR-15 chambered in .50 Beowulf which assembles in 28 seconds. These rifles manage to pack a huge amount more firepower than a traditional .22 survival rifle into a package that’s just as slim and light.
Polymers in general have already revolutionized the stocks and grips attached to the lower receiver, but some users worry about whether or not the stresses from the buffer tube could push the material past its breaking point. To a degree, polymers deserve the criticism. They don’t hold up to butt-strikes as well as a rigid steel receiver would, and there have been problems with cracking when threading steel components into the plastic.
Many manufacturers of polymer lower receivers take steps to reinforce the weak points and build sturdy lowers. Usually, shreds of fiberglass are impregnated in the polymer resin in order to improve overall strength and durability without adding too much extra weight. That lightweight strength, and the fact that polymers won’t ever corrode, make them popular with a lot of shooters. Where Tennessee Arms sets themselves apart from the rest is with their system that bonds reinforcement rings into the resin. The technique that they use is cheap enough to keep them competitive with other manufacturers, and offered enough advantages for the small arms maker to seek a patent on the process.
Whether you’re a fan of polymer hardware or not, the fact that small manufacturers like Tennessee Arms keep innovating is a healthy sign for the AR-15 community. Polymers make it easier and cheaper than ever for these companies to prototype new ideas and test their concepts. The next big innovation in ARs could come from a small manufacturer who’s able to quickly build and show off a new concept over the internet, which is great news for small, veteran-run Tennessee FFL manufacturers.