Tools Of The Trade
When discussing the Belgian military’s excellent equipment, undoubtedly the conversation must turn to the FAL. Home of Fabrique Nationale, Belgium fielded this ubiquitous Cold War–era rifle beginning in the mid 1950s. The earliest variants were relatively straightforward rifle versions of the design, with the nation later adopting “Para” carbine versions that employed a shorter barrel and a folding stock assembly (to allow its paratroopers easier accommodation inside cramped aircraft and other vehicles).
The Para variant of the FAL represented something of an engineering feat, requiring more than simply “chopping” the barrel and throwing on a folding stock. As the original FAL design employed a recoil spring assembly jutting into the buttstock, the Para FAL designers moved the recoil spring assembly into the top cover above the receiver, allowing the use of a full folding stock assembly. To accommodate the spring in this location, the bolt carrier was internally bored out deeper to allow the spring assembly to sit inside the deepened recess.
As a result, designers were able (after earlier design attempts, which featured an underfolding stock configuration) to settle upon a rigid side-folding design that offered the dual benefits of a full-stock profile and cheekweld with the ability to fold along the right side of the receiver. The folding mechanism itself featured a “tongue-in-groove” system where downward pressure on the stock body against spring pressure released the stock to fold alongside the receiver.
The Para FAL retained the numerous positive characteristics of the basic FAL rifle. One of the most notable of these is the finely adjustable gas system. The piston-operated system, retained by a gas plug on the forward face of the front sight base/gas block, is operated by gas bled off the bore through a port. A circular gas regulator sleeve (around the gas tube and behind the front sight) can be rotated to access a variety of differently sized gas ports. This allows the user to closely regulate the amount of gas allowed into the gas system, modifying the rifle to fire a wide variety of ammunition types and function while even heavily fouled.
The other very unique characteristic of the FAL rifle is its locking mechanism. Rather than employing the more commonly encountered rotating bolt system, it instead features a tilting-block locking mechanism. In this system, the rear face of the bolt assembly fits into a recess inside the stressed-steel receiver just to the rear of the magazine well. As the bolt carrier is driven rearward by gas pressure, the bolt’s rear ledge is lifted and unlocked.
The rest of the design is reasonably straightforward to anyone familiar with a repeating, magazine-fed 7.62x51mm rifle. The FAL employs steel 20-round magazines (although newly manufactured variants in higher and lower capacities are available), and the receiver arrangement is made up of two sections: an upper section (topped off with the top cover) that houses the bolt and bolt carrier assemblies, as well as the mag and bolt release levers; and a lower receiver that accepts the stock, pistol grip and trigger assembly and hosts the rotating safety lever.
Although the Cold War may be currently relegated to the dustbin of history, the FAL has lived well beyond that era. Still seen in conflicts today, the FAL has even found a permanent home here in the U.S. thanks to the efforts of DS Arms. Carrying on the heritage of FAL-pattern rifle manufacturing, DS Arms FALs are considered by many to not only rival the quality of the original Fabrique Nationale rifles but also possibly exceed it. But how did DS Arms get in to the FAL business on this side of the Atlantic?
DS Arms (named for its founder and owner, Dave Selvaggio) began life in the late 1980s and soon developed a reputation for digging up rare and interesting FAL parts from around the world and offering them for sale. As part of this relentless focus on the FAL rifle, the company was fortunate enough to learn in the mid-1990s that the Steyr Arms plant in Austria was planning on selling off its licensed FAL manufacturing equipment and spare parts as surplus. As a result, DS Arms was able to purchase the original blueprints, tools and parts for the Austrian StG 58, Austria’s variant of the FAL rifle.
Shipping all this to its location in Illinois, DS Arms soon had the distinction of manufacturing U.S.-made variants of the FAL rifle on original, proper-spec tooling. This line of metric-pattern rifles came to be known as the SA58 series, which quickly became renowned for its exceptional quality and attention to detail. And, the line was not simply a direct re-creation of the StG 58 but rather a modernized and updated version of the classic design.
The heart of the SA58 is the semi-automatic-only receiver. Machined from a billet of 4140 steel, the receiver requires a manufacturing process that takes eight full hours (including heat-treatment and finishing). The company offers the receivers in two versions: Type I and Type II. The Type I is patterned after the original FN receiver, and the Type II is patterned after FN’s later receiver design, which features a modified lightening cut near its rear-lower portion.