My field study experience began when SDI informed me of the offer, explaining that I would have to choose one of six companies and apply for the position of intern. At that point, the company would review my SDI transcripts and decide whether or not to proceed with a phone interview.
I chose Aklys Defense for two reasons. They were the only company that listed research and development on their description, which was something I was very interested in. The other reason was their personality over the phone and on Skype. They were very nice and understanding of the hardship of moving across country for a month, and helped me with researching places to stay that had weekly rates, were worth the cost, weren’t in a bad part of town, or had fake reviews. They also let me decide on the timing of when it would be most comfortable to arrive at Aklys.
My first two days were spent getting used to the area, getting settled, and learning the shop. I spent the first week learning hand techniques on shotguns and wood sanding and treating, and then learned how to port barrels on a shotgun and how to strip and change the end color of the stock on Mossbergs and Remingtons. After that, they taught me techniques for assembling or upgrading AKs and AR-15s without marring the metal by using punches a certain way and by taking precautions not taught in books so that there’s less time spent on touch-ups and corrections on customers’ weapons.
Next, we got into NFA (National Firearms Act) weapons, such as suppressors, short barrel rifles, and shotguns, and what they do to the weapon when fired. They covered what changes they could make to the NFA weapons to change the sound and the way they reacted when fired. They also explained the different laws that they have to think about when shipping to other states.
After that, they showed me the R&D and CNC side of the shop, the basics of operating the CNC machines, and some of the different things they have to consider when going from a computer design to real life, as well as the different test models they go through to get the best quality-to-quantity ratio for production. During my last week they showed me how they take an idea that works and then develop a plan to be recorded for the CNC machine by making multiple versions using the hand milling and lathe machines and recording the changes to the plan so that the end result is the same every time, testing them against the original.
The last thing we covered was paint (Cerakote) and the best way to apply it to different parts and what changes should be made to the baking time for different types of metal.
I would like to note two things I would do differently if I were to do this again. The first has to do with money. I had planned my expenses based on the cost of living of where I live and not where I was going. As a result, I ended up spending 50% more than I had planned. So, be sure to plan accordingly. The second thing I would do differently has to do with expectations. I had gone with the idea that I would be knee-deep in R&D for four weeks, not realizing that this is not school and that there are slow points in a company’s week and you may spend a day assembling the same half of a weapon waiting for the other half to come back from paint. So, be prepared for tedious work as well as fun new stuff.
Overall, this was an amazing experience and well worth the time. There was a huge amount of hands-on experience I got that you cannot get from a book. I have read a lot of books and passed all my tests with good grades at SDI, but until you have done it and been told all the little “tricks of the trade,” it’s a whole different story. That’s what I loved about this trip. The people at Aklys definitely went out of their way to teach me everything they could think of and I loved it!
By Mitchell Hill