The Mini-14: A Cost-Effective Scaled-Down M14

Folding Stock rifle sold for $2,300 (the fixed-stock Texas Ranger one is selling in a future auction – sorry for the mistake! There is a folding stocked Ranger’s rifle in this auction, however).

The Ruger Mini-14 is certainly not a “forgotten” weapon, but I think there are some valuable insights to be taken from it. As a company, Ruger has an outstanding track record of making not flashy and exciting guns, but rather guns that are economical and dependable. The Mini-14 is an excellent example of that, with hundreds of thousands sold since its introduction in 1972. So today we will take a look at how Jim Sullivan simplified the M14 design when he scaled it down to 5.56mm for Ruger, and how the company used its investment casting expertise to further reduce production costs.

45 Comments

    • I have always been a fan of the Mini-14. I joined Vererans For Victory Over Communism around 1975. Many of the members were Klansmen. I bought a Ruger Mini-14 when they were first introduced to the Houston market by Oshman’s Sporting Goods Store in 1975. Ruger shipped 200 Mini-14s to Oshman’s, and the store sold them for $200 plus tax. VVOC members had recently upgraded from M1 Carbines to Colt AR-15s. None that I can remember went out and bought a Mini-14 at that time. But most seemed to admire my rugged Ruger Mini-14! I personally like and admire BOTH.

  1. “1972(…)Jim Sullivan”
    Interestingly in similar time Ingram (probably best known as designer of MAC 10 sub-machine gun) created weapon known as SAM-1, see photo:
    http://www.militaryfirearm.com/Forum/showthread.php?34834-The-other-223-in-the-Army-1957-SCHV-trials-The-Winchester-224-Light-Military-Rifle&s=20a10bd5816d33dde6e76a0b2dbc9d95&p=366254&viewfull=1#post366254
    which was derived from M1 Carbine. It also fired 5,56×45 NATO cartridge and accepted magazines for M16. But it was less popular than Mini-14, could anybody explain why?

  2. Interesting video. Ruger so well developed their casting techniques that their division that does casting, Pine Tree Castings, does castings on a contract basis for not only other gun companies but also for completely different industries. When you develop your manufacturing skills such that you become the leading subcontractor to general industry, you are on to something. Taking such work surely keeps the capacity utilization of the equipment high, and that keeps the cost down–cast houses generally need to work 24/7 to control energy costs.

    Incidentally, the “Springfield” M1A in the video is a casting too, but apparently not done to the same standards and some have dimensional issues, besides needing more machining and thus being more expensive. It is a forged design cast, not a cast design cast like the Ruger.

    The Mini14’s developed a poor reputation for accuracy, but that has improved a lot since Ruger retooled the production line several years ago, went to a heavier barrel, and brought the barrel production in-house. Their main strengths, besides cost, is reliability. It is a simple design and, personally, I have never had a jam of any kind while using factory magazines. Unlike a good name-brand AR that I shoot on occasion. With the Ruger, there is simply not much to go wrong. The debacle of switching gun powders without any testing or engineering input, that cursed the AR early on, would have been a non-event with the Mini.

    Recalling the recent video with Larry Vickers on the AR47–he suggested that elite troops were better off with an AR, while the rank and file would be better served by an AK. One could suggest that the same would apply to the Mini: troops who are capable of shooting quickly and accurately, who take care of their weapons and are backed by ace armorers, would benefit from the AR, whilst truck drivers, artillery men, et al, might have actually been better off with a Mini–certainly during the first few decades of the AR’s adoption when people were still figuring out just the right bit of plastic to stick in the extractor spring, etc.

    The Minis just don’t stop working and are accurate enough for most users within the realistic distances they would be shooting anyway. The ability to have a true folding stock makes for a compact, handy, rifle which would be even better for troops who spend most of the day in a vehicle. So while Bill Ruger’s thought that the Mini could have taken the place of the AR is a reach, it certainly could have well-filled a role with support troops.

  3. While not being a big fan of Mini14, I like this example of design rationalization as presented by Ian. Good job!

    To talk about Ruger’s cast metal approach is like taking wood into forest; it is not overly necessary – witness of it is on every product by that company. I have seen their Prescott AZ facility in video and it leaves me impressed how they handle the process staring with cast operation. To control the metallurgy is the key.

    When I look at my Savage Mark II I see similar direction, taken even further. That thing is a masterpiece in combination of clever features while remaining well priced and in reasonable quality. These findings underline role of manufacturing engineering in small arms production.

    • “These findings underline role of manufacturing engineering in small arms production.”
      This is good place to inform that https://www.kalashnikov.ru/konets-epohi-pistolet-yarygina-pya/
      basically it says that while PYa was adopted in 2003, it was designed in 1990s with having Cold War-era productions level – you know 1000000 or so, so it was quite well optimized in term of production technology, but not necessarily ergonomics. With new conditions and much smaller requirements in terms of quantity Russian Federation is looking for different automatic pistol. Lebedev automatic pistol is likely candidate.

  4. Loved the Mini-14 episode. I expected a real sleeper but was surprised at how informative the show was. If the opportunity presents itself, do some more on the engineering of firearms. Also, I have a question or two that I’ll save for your next Q&A session.

  5. In the mid-90’s I was working on a marijuana eradication team and carried a select-fire AC556, with the short barrel and folding stock. Don’t think there was hardly any rifling left in the barrel by the time I got it. Never fired it in the course of duty, but it was a LOT of fun on the range. It was issued to me with a couple of Ruger 20-round mags and several off-brand 30-rounders. The Ruger factory mags worked fine, but the off-brand mags were hit or miss on functioning.

    The next agency I worked for had several civilian-model Mini-14s for the patrol cars. Again, reliability was good with Ruger 20-round mags but temperamental with off-brand. The accuracy on all of them always seemed lacking, and with one of them it was more like patterning a shotgun at 100 yards.

    I remember seeing magazine ads for a larger .308-chambered version, but Ruger never delivered it to the market. I heard somewhere Ruger cancelled then larger version due to not being able to fix the accuracy problems, but I wonder if Ruger decided they didn’t want to compete with Springfield Armory’s M1-A for such a limited market.

    • The .308 version was the XGI–in the catalog in 1984 and 1985, but never shipped.

      Your experience with magazines seems typical of everyone’s else, mine included. Ruger mags work great, everything else not so much. If a person were deciding between the Mini and an AR, now that basic AR prices are down to Mini prices, I would have to say that being able to buy good, inexpensive, magazines for the AR would have to be kept in mind.

  6. Ruger’s philosophy of making their products good enough for most of the use they will be put to can be seen in the Ruger Mark I,II,III etc. series of target pistols
    The internals,particularly of the bolt, are durable enough for most people. For those who shoot more the firing pin,springs,extractor etc. can be replaced very cheaply and in a matter of minutes when they wear out, A very cleaver manufacturing philosophy.
    Of course there are also after market suppliers who will be glad to sell you more expensive and indeed perhaps better replacement parts if you just must have them.

  7. A fellow MARINE from Alaska once told me that his cousin and a friend who were in Alaska”s Nat guard were allowed to use the Mini 14 instead of the 16 as they constantly used theirs for hunting etc.

          • How would you describe the gas system of the SVT and related systems where the moving part is a hollow cylinder sliding over a fixed inner cylinder that the gas goes through?

          • Hi Joel
            how would I call it? Reverse bored piston or hollow piston, meaning with hole inside. Maybe our friend Daweo can explain to us why Tokarev did that step and why HK repeated it.

          • If you find CUP as not sounding seriously enough, then please refer to this solution as 2nd type in Blagonravov classification and “piston inside cylinder” as 1rd type in Blagonravov classification. For more data see Основания проектирования автоматического оружия Благонравов (1934)
            Anyway, now to why SVT has such solution, V.G.Fyodorov (this is designer of Fyodorov Avtomat) in Основания устройства автоматического оружия. Выпуск 1. Классификация автоматического оружия says so:
            In category of gas operated weapon with gas port in wall of barrel [this category is such named in opposition to gas operated “gas-trap”] two sub-categories might be differentiated: first where gas is pushing all the time during movement of parts and second where there is short “pulse” [and then movement due to inertia] after which gas is allowed to escape [to atmosphere].
            Examples are as follows: first Lewis machine gun, second Degtyaryov machine gun.
            Regarding advantages and disadvantages: in first type gasses are used more productively, gas action is more intensive, but there might be problem with powder residue in tube – such systems need more care, more often cleaning and greasing, in second type inversely – gasses are used less productively (as part goes just outside), but it needs less maintenance and offer better reliability.
            DISCLAIMER: Fyodorov presents 1930s knowledge.
            Now when you consider average level of 1930s rank and file of technical dexterity of Worker and Peasant Red Army combined with a lot of wartime production 7,62x54R cartridges left over from Great War Tokarev’s choice should be not surprise to you.
            Regarding HK: I do not have any data regarding whyabouts of HK choice, therefore you must ask someone with better knowledge of that manufacturers designers than me.

      • More like long stroke with a female piston. There is no separate piston with a less-than-full-travel stroke like on the SVT, M60, M14, M1 carbine, etc.

        • lf AR15 classified in Dl gas operation, it seems Mini 14 works two times in Dl gas system since having no piston and direct gas impingment pushes the bolt carrier just in form what it should to be.

          • Hello Strongarm
            This is just a mixup of terms; something like delayed and retarded blow-back. Anything what has hole in barrel can be called “direct gas” because it is gas which acts directly against a mechanical moving obstacle (usually bolt carrier). AR15 has its own piston in form of bolt.

            I suggest to you to look at all modern rifles, staring with G36; they all look alike inside. There is an elongated tappet of sort (just like we see here) acting on extended bolt carrier. It is probably the best around solution since there is no need for operating rod and charging handle is inserted right into it.

  8. I’ve heard rumors for years of a “maxi-14” (for the lack of another name)..a larger rifle built similar mechanically to the mini-14, but in .308.

    the manufacturing and mechanical changes would allow ruger to put out essentially an M1A for a lower price point. I don’t think the idea ever left the drawing room.

    I have friends that work at Pine Tree Castings, some for over 30 years, that say they’ve heard rumors a few times but then they die out.

  9. Ironically how mostly failure parent gun turned out to be big success in the scaled down children form
    (of course there is a difference in official users, civilians vs.military, as mini14 was not cast into the green inferno of Vietnam war)

    • “Ironically how mostly failure parent gun turned out to be big success in the scaled down children form”
      But we must differentiate mechanical soundness from tactical soundness, in case of M14 it has first, but it is doubtful if that second – i.e. it would cycle reliable, did it can replace all weapons it was supposed to – I do not know.
      However, implied association of Mini-14 and M14 might lead to “low accuracy” rumor, as at longer distance second would have advantage, simply due to fact of using 7,62×51 NATO rather than 5,56×45 NATO.

  10. Look, there’s really only one thing you need to know about the Mini-14: it was good enough for the A-Team so it’s good enough for you too!

  11. I bought one of the first stainless steel Mini-14s (which came with a flush mount 5-round magazine) but soon switched to the Ruger 20-rounders. In spite of the dust it gathered bouncing around in the rear window rack of my ranch pickup for 30 years (and wearing groves in the unnamed “hardwood” stock) it still WORKED when I needed it to. 🙂

  12. They are better now than they were several years ago. Ruger went to a heavier barrel profile and started paying more attention to the trigger. The trigger on my mid-1980s mini is a gawd-awful bumpy, grindy piece of crap! I typically wind up with two distinct groups on the target: one where I managed to get a surprise break, and another where I didn’t. That’s why there are entire forums and a cottage industry dedicated to making these rifles more accurate. A good AK is more accurate. A run-of-the-mill AR is FAR more accurate. I think Ruger owes all of us older Mini 14 owners an apology and a brand new trigger group! Seriously, Ruger, how about it? I send you my factory original un-messed with trigger group, and you send me one of the decent new ones? It’s the least you could do.

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