Sage International Enhanced Battle Rifle Chassis Review

Introduction

Unveiled at the Orlando SHOT show in 2003, the SAGE EBR M14/M1A rifle chassis is breathing new life into an old .308 caliber battle rifle, the venerable M14. Currently available in two configurations, www.tacticalworks.ca purchased both an EBR and a ChopMod for review.


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Top: A 18.5 inch barreled M14 wearing the Sage ChopMod Rifle Chassis. Bottom: an 18.5 inch barreled M14 wearing the Sage EBR Rifle Chassis
 
 

History of the EBR Chassis

Originally founded in 1973, Sage International Ltd is currently located along the west shore of Lake Huron in Oscoda, Michigan. Sage currently manufactures a variety of rifle and shotgun accessories, vehicle gun racks and inspection mirrors.

In 2000, Sage International was asked by the US navy to assist in the development of a telescoping stock for the M14 which they initially approached by modifying existing fiberglass stocks. The simple modification entailed cutting at an angle the fiberglass stock and installation of a bracket such that sage was able to utilize their existing telescoping stock design already fielded on many of the Navy's Remington 870 shotguns.

Positive feedback began pouring in relating to the initial conversions, however many of the modified stock users indicated that it would be helpful to incorporate picatinny rail mounting points on the front of the stock for mounting accessories such as those that have these past few years taken the AR15 world by storm. Attempting to incorporate the feedback into their design it quickly became apparent that the fiberglass stocks used for the conversion were not terribly suited to the addition of the rails given that nothing was parallel or square on the front end of the stock.

After evaluating their options, the design team at Sage figured they were faced with two choices: 1: invest approximately $120,000 in an injection mold incorporating into the design the rail attachments, or 2: machine the replacement stock from a solid billet of aluminum. They chose the machining route and in 2003 the results of their efforts were unveiled at the Orlando SHOT show in the form of the Sage Enhanced Battle Rifle rifle chassis.


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Chassis overview of the EBR Chop Mod.
 
 

Several iterations of improvements have occurred since and have resulted in two models currently being fielded. The first is what Sage describes as their Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR). The second is their Chop-Mod EBR, essentially the same thing as the EBR with the exception that it forend is 1.60 inches shorter. In discussion with John Klein at SAGE, the primary reason behind the Chop-Mod's reduced length is weight reduction. Most of the EBRs we have seen have been anodized flat black while the Chop-Mods have been given a Navy Grey treatment. This being said, Mr. Klein indicated that both varieties are produced in both colors, and that they have also been producing a smaller number of stocks in Coyote Brown.

Design Description

Sage's design is, in our opinion, the result of a thorough and sophisticated engineering process and their execution of the design is exceptional. The main chassis is machined from a solid billet of aluminum as is the upper hand guard/rail platform which bolts to the lower chassis via 6 machine screws. A kydex hand guard attaches to the bottom of the chassis immediately in front of the magazine well and is quite comfortable as well as effective in preventing abrasions against what we would consider to be hard angles. The telescoping stock assembly borrows heavily from the design of SAGE's telescoping 870 stock and comes bolted securely to the back of the main chassis. It utilizes two steel rods with 6 notches to allow for an adjustable overall length/length of pull and features a polycarbonate cheekpiece that is adjustable in height via a lever on the right side of the buttplate. When the lever is rotated up, with a bit of effort the cheek piece can be moved up and down. When the lever is down, the cheekpiece is securely locked into place with no perceptible wobble or travel.


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Side and bottom picatinny rails are removable and firmly secured to the chassis via hex headed machine screws
 
 

 
 
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Receiver inletting of the Chop Mod
 
 

Unlike the cosmetically similar ROCK SOPMOD M14/M1A which requires significant modification to the weapon's gas system, the Sage EBR utilizes the M14/M1A's original gas system. In our minds, this is a significant advantage in favor of the Sage system as when eventual re-barreling of the host weapon is required or if repair/maintenance work is required on the gas system, standard M14/M1A parts can be utilized and the work need not required specialized equipment, parts, or training.

Installation

The M14/M1A is secured in the chassis by means of two attachment points. The first is via the standard trigger assembly attachment within the body of the receiver. The second attachment point utilizes a beefy replacement operating rod guide that is pinned to the barrel in the same manner as the original guide. This replacement op-rod guide sports three screw attachments to the EBR chassis where three hex headed machine screws effect extremely secure mating between the chassis and the rifle guts.

Installation of the replacement op-rod guide requires disassembly and removal of the host M14/M1A's gas system. After removing the original guide by driving out its' spring pin with an appropriately sized punch, the replacement guide is easily installed. One point worth noting is that there is a definite right and wrong orientation to the replacement guide�.before setting the replacement op-rod guide to the barrel with the spring pin we would advise checking to make sure it is installed the correct way. Which way is the right way becomes obvious when the rifle guts are lain into the EBR chassis.


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Replacement Operating Rod Guide
 
 

Once the replacement operating rod guide is secured to the barrel by driving in the rifles' original spring pin, re-assembly of the rifles' gas system is required. The rifle's front band, formerly required as a mounting point for a traditional styled wooden or fiberglass stock, is no longer required. Taking its place is a small 0.065 thick washer that allows proper longitudinal alignment of the gas cylinder with the gas ports on the barrel. Sage also has available small shims that can be used to time the gas cylinder lock to near perfection.


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Action in Chassis
 

 
 
 
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Top view of action in chassis
 
 

 
 
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View through the magazine/trigger well of our EBR
 
 

With the gas assembly re-installed, the rifle is tightly fit into the EBR chassis and the replacement operating rod guide is cinched into place with the three machine screws. Installation of the trigger assembly secures the back end of the receiver, and rotating the trigger guard on our test unit exhibited an extremely tight fit, much tighter than what we have experienced in both wooden and fiberglass surplus US GI stocks. The upper handguard is dropped into place and affixed via her 6 machine screws, and the lower kydex handguard is installed with two hex headed machine screws. As the threads are different, take care not to mix up the lower handguard screws with those used to secure the op-rod guide.

As an aftermarket accessory to the EBR system, Sage also manufactures a rear picatinny mount that replaces the stripper clip guide on the gun's receiver. This mount sits parallel and at the same level as the upper handguard picatinny rail, and allows for mounting a rifle scope via the standard two rings.


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Closeup of the gas cylinder shim.
 

Handling Characteristics

One of the original criteria US small arms designers were faced with when exploring a semi-automatic rifle to be fielded by general troops was to keep the weight below 11lbs (5.0kg). A trend towards lighter rifles and the ability to carry greater volumes of ammunition developed and widespread adaptation of 5.56 NATO as the caliber of choice ensued. Indeed, a select fire M4 carbine currently fielded by American troops weighs in at a meager 6.6 lbs and an additional 1.0 lb for every 30 rounds of 5.56 carried in a magazine. By contrast, an original M14/M1A weighs in at approximately 10.0lbs and an additional 1.8lbs for every 20 rounds of 7.62 ammunition carried in a magazine.

Despite the significant weight increase associated with the M14/M1A, recent experience by the American military has effected many older M14s brought out of storage and given a second life as a weapon with both superior range and terminal ballistics. With the phoenix rising from her ashes, weight of battlerifle caliber system has been re-discovered by those wielding the weapons. Hearing this feedback much of Sage's design refinements of the original EBR were focused on weigh reduction. Currently an 18 inch barreled M14 set in SAGE's most recent EBR chassis weighs in at approximately 11.2lbs. The chop-mod variety reduces this to 10.8lbs and at the time of writing Sage is in the process of producing a M4 style telescoping stock version that is will shave another 1.1lbs off the total mass of the system. While only a mere 0.4lbs lighter than the EBR, the weight shaving was certainly noticeable in the handling characteristics of the gun.


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Our flat black anodized EBR chassis...we felt this rig was slightly muzzle heavy.
 
 

In a standard length EBR chassis, our impression of an 18.5 inch barreled M14s' balance is that she is slightly muzzle heavy, whereas the Chop-Mod balances beautifully. The slight muzzle heaviness of the standard stock is not all bad though, for one of the initial criticisms of the M14 was uncontrollability with full-auto fire. The combination of more mass to begin with, more of that mass located slightly forward, and the fact that the barrel is directly inline and parallel to the stock should help considerably for those M14s fortunate enough to have a functioning selector. As in all of life, balancing of many variables results in a complex game of give and take.

We're read much criticism surrounding the Sage style pistol grip, however our impressions were that it was quite comfortable and in no way a negative stroke against the system.


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Our light grey anodized ChopMod. We felt this rig handled beautifully.
 
 

Optics

Mounting optics has historically been problematic with the M14. Recently this has changed with several well engineered 3 point mounts being made available by companies like Smith Enterprises and ARMS. The Sage EBR complements this list significantly. At the time of writing (early 2005), the EBR and Chop Mod stocks we evaluated were incompatible with the more popular three point mounts however it has been suggested that a revision is in the works which will allow removal of 2 inches of the top rail such that the Sage stocks can be used in conjunction with these scope mounts. Sage also has available a piece of picatinny rail which can replace the stripper clip guide.


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SAGE's rear scope mount replaces the stripper clip guide on the back of the gun's receiver.
 

Of of the most difficult things to do is to try and find a rifle that can fill both the CQB and the longer distance role. While we feel the SAGE M14/M1A significantly addresses this conundrum from the perspective of caliber, there are still some difficult decisions to be made from the perspective of what optics are best suited across the complete spectrum of CQB through to the longer distance type engagements. The light and fast optics that favor CQB-type applications become lacking at medium to long range, and the longer range optics can become a significant liability in close quarters. Throughout our evaluation, we tried a number of different solutions; including an Aimpoint CompM2, a Trijicon Tripower, an EOTech 552 Holosight, and a Leupold Mark IV 3.5-10x 30mm scope.


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For a long while we favored this setup for optics: a Leupold 3.5-10x 30mm Mark IV set in medium height titanium Nightforce rings.
 

What we settled on after extensive range time was the Trijicon Tripower. We selected the Tripower over an aimpoint ML2 for several reasons, namely that the trijicon sight was lighter and that it had a chevron style reticle. We felt the chevron was more appropriate for a rifle chambered in 7.62 as it offered a somewhat higher degree of precision over the aimpoint's 4MOA dot and provided some crude holdover features. Installation of the optic onto the rifle chassis was straightforward and was capable of repeat zero across a several on-off sessions. Even with the lowest mount we could find, some elevation was required on the chassis's adjustable cheek piece, quickly and easily accomplished by loosening the lever and manipulating the small detent on the right side of the buttpad. While we eventually selected the Tripower as the optic that was going to stay on the rifle, it was only after we acquired our Aimpoint 3x magnifier (soon to be the subject of it's own review!)

Until the Aimpoint 3x arrived, our optic of choice was the Leupold Mark IV 3.5 to 10 power scope sitting on a set of ARMS quick release throw lever rings. In order to clear the rear sight aperture of the rifle, medium height 30mm rings were required. This combination of optic/rifle/chassis also held zero to 0.75MOA across multiple installation/de-installation/re-installation sessions. Swapping back and forth between the high power optic and the tripower was a breeze and stress free. One thing is for certain; with the already significant weight of the rifle in the EBR or Chop Mod chassis, the 1.7lb addition of the 30mm Mark III eating your wheaties every morning were you to have to lug it around for any distance.


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When mounted with a set of Nightforce medium heigh titanium 30mm rings, our Leupold Mark IV cleared the rear sight by a couple of millimeters.
 

We had such a difficult time defining the role of the rifle that choosing the most appropriate optic was not an easy task. We ran the Tripower for several weeks, and then switched over to the Leupold for a couple of weeks after. It became clear to us during these exercises that each scope excelled at it's respective end of the spectum, but was left considerably lacking at the other. After our initial trial runs we settled on the higher power magnification being more useful for a battle rifle chambered in .308 NATO. With a heavy heart we removed the ARMS rings and replaced them with a more permanent set of Nightforce 30mm rings. Several weeks later though the solution to our dillema arrived in the form of Aimpoint's new 3x magnifier. Some minor milling was required to get the quick-detach 3x magnifier mount to attach to the SAGE rear scope mount, however once done the magnifier aligned perfectly with our TriPower (affixed in an ARMS throw lever mount) and mounted on and off in a flash (fast and simple enough that it could be done in combat conditions).


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What we had settled after much deliberation until our Aimpoint 3x magnifier arrived.
 

While lacking the longer range precision of the 3.5-10x leupold, the 3x Aimpoint allowed the Tripower to be used for close range engagements out to about 200 yards and when employed in tandem with the 3x magnifier significantly bridged the gap between the CQB style optic and a longer range tool such as the leupold. We'll post some photographs of the rig soon.

Closing Thoughts

While many speculate that the recent renaissance of the M14 is merely a stopgap measure taken by the various branches of the American military while they further the development of a semi-auto medium range 300 to 700 yards) rifle, it's been written that in 2004 the US Navy contracted to upgrade approximately 3000 of their in-arsenal M14s with the Sage EBR Chop Mod chassis. After a careful look at and prolonged shooting of the system they chose it's not hard to see why. What is difficult to imagine is what remains for improvement in what has been transformed into a modern, big bore battle rifle. While dogged for many years through her development and ultimately dying under then secretary of defense McNamara, perhaps we'll now see the M14 shine into a new light of her own.