The MAX-31 Lage upper receiver with bolt assembly. The MAX-31 lowers the cyclic rate of the M11/Nine down to a manageable 770 rounds per minute. Optional cyclic rates of 830 and 840 rounds per minute can be achieved with use of the optional Variable Buffer System.
By Frank Iannamico
Both organized and informal machine gun shoots have been around for many years. The firing lines at these events are usually dominated by the belt-fed guns, often leaving subgun owners feeling somewhat left out. Before long, the subgun crowd decided they would organize their own special event for subguns only. The contests were won by successfully engaging the most targets in the fastest time. Before long, new challenges were added that included the jungle walk, the fun
house and others.
The first documented submachine gun contests, like those now held semi-annually at the Knob Creek Range in Kentucky, started in the late 1970s. Early contests were largely dominated by those wielding Thompsons, which soon gave way when HK94 to MP5 submachine conversions became available becoming the submachine gun of choice for serious competitors. One disadvantage to the MP5 was they were/are expensive. Subgun contests have substantially evolved and refined since those early days. Today the playing field has evened out with the introduction of specific categories for the old classics, as well as modern, open class, open-bolt, closed-bolt, rapid-fire weapons (like MACs) and a special class for the growing number of female competitors. With the proliferation of rails and modern optics, a few more categories were added for weapons so equipped.
Like many endeavors, those with the best (read expensive) equipment usually prevail. However, Americans like an underdog, which what the MAC-type series of guns would certainly qualify as when attempting to compete with MP5 or M16/9mm submachine guns in a contest environment. This is probably the mindset that began the evolution of MAC-type guns to be competitive. The first known transformation into a competition weapon was of an SWD M11/Nine by individuals from the Triad Action Shooter’s Klub or TASK. Their earliest modifications included a wooden buttstock, a muzzle brake and an inexpensive red-dot sight. The cyclic rate was reduced by using 9mm cartridges with a reduced powder charge.
The original TASK M11/Nine design continued to evolve with the addition of an M16 buttstock, which utilized a substantial M16 spring and a special heavy buffer, along with a modified bolt to slow down the cyclic rate to approximately 500-550 rounds per minute. Other modifications included a magazine housing to utilize British Sten 32-round or Lanchester 50-round magazines, and an extended magazine release lever. A vertical grip and longer barrel were also implemented. In capable hands, with these modifications, the underdog M11/Nine was able to record times that could compete with, and often beat, the MP5, M16/9mm and Uzis in the Modern and Open events.
The (relatively) inexpensive MAC-type submachine guns modified for competition opened up participation in the matches for those who could not afford an expensive weapon to be competitive.
Note: The SWD M11/Nine is often (incorrectly) referred to as a MAC or MAC-11 confusing it with the original .380 caliber Model or MAC 11 as manufactured by the Military Armament Corporation, RPB and SWD.
The SWD M11/Nine Submachine Gun
The 9mm M11/Nine submachine gun was introduced in 1983 with an advertised dealer price of $165. Patterned after the basic Model 10 Ingram design, the more compact M11/Nine was one of the first submachine guns manufactured specifically for the civilian market. However, the M11/Nine had a lot of negative features that included a fast cyclic rate, poor stock design, crude sights and perhaps worst of all its “revolutionary” Zytel plastic magazines.
The SWD M11/Nine was primarily constructed from sheet metal; bent, formed and welded, similar to its Ingram designed counterparts the Model 10 and Model 11/.380. The upper receiver of the M11/Nine was fabricated from 16-gauge sheet metal with a steel block located at the front end that was threaded to support the barrel. The lower receiver was made of slightly thicker 14-gauge steel, except for the magazine well/pistol grip, which was fabricated from 16-gauge steel like the upper receiver. A steel block was welded onto the bottom of the lower receiver for strength and to support the two struts of the wire buttstock. The buttstock was of a slightly different design than that used on the original MAC. The M11/Nine stock could be deployed by simply pulling the stock out in a single movement. The bolt was made from a steel casting. Most of the internal parts were castings or steel stampings. The magazine well was welded to the back of the trigger guard, which was made from 12-gauge steel strap. The back of the magazine well was welded to the bottom of the receiver. The front and rear sights were formed from sheet metal. The cast metal magazine catch was held in place by two metal tabs and a steel pin located at the bottom of the magazine well. The magazine catch pivot pin and spring were held in place by a black plastic grip extension, secured to the back of the magazine housing by a single machine screw. The take-down pin holes at the front of the lower receiver were reinforced with a U shaped piece of steel welded to the receiver. This was done to prevent elongation of the holes, a condition caused by movement between the upper and lower receivers.
The SWD M11/Nine submachine gun is approximately 1.9 pounds lighter (unloaded) than the original 9mm and .45 ACP Model 10. The sheet metal of the M11/Nine upper receiver is the same thickness as the M10, the lower receiver is .027-of an inch thinner, its receiver is .44-inches narrower, and its height .63-inches shorter than that of the MAC 10, but the overall length of the M11/Nine receiver is approximately .69-inches longer, to compensate for the smaller inside dimensions of the upper receiver and corresponding smaller-lighter bolt assembly. The extra receiver length is required to absorb the recoil energy generated by the 9mm cartridge.
The first production M11/Nine was sold to a dealer on 27 June 1983. While the earliest production models had an integral firing pin on the bolt face, it was eventually replaced by a metal stamping for ease of manufacture. The firing pin is secured in the bolt by a pin and easily removed.
The magazines designed for the vast majority of production SWD M11/Nines were made of “space age” Zytel plastic, which were considered quite revolutionary when they were first introduced. The excitement over the new “space age” magazines was short lived, as after a period of use, feed lip failures as well as problems with the magazine bodies splitting at the seam became commonplace.
To solve the magazine problem, an aftermarket magazine housing was designed that would allow the M11/Nine to utilize inexpensive surplus Sten magazines. This modification required the removal of the original housing and fitting and welding the new one in place. There were also a small number of aftermarket upper receivers introduced that not only reduced the cyclic rate, but also allowed to use of Suomi 71-round drum magazines and the 50-round 4-row duplex magazine, better known as the coffin mag because of its shape.
Over the years there were many innovative products introduced that attempted to improve the little subgun’s ergonomics and tame its fast cyclic rate. Many of the endeavors were short-lived either due to a lack of customer interest or the company offering the products going out of business.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
In the early days of subgun competitions NFA weapons were far less expensive than they are today. Back then it was more practical to spend an additional $1,000 or so to buy an MP5 or 9mm M16 rather than spend a similar amount to modify a MAC-type subgun to be competitive. Unfortunately today, a transferable MP5 can cost up to five-times that of a M11/Nine.
Richard Lage bought his first machine gun, a SWD M11/Nine for $700 in October of 2000. The transfer was approved and Richard took possession of the gun in July of 2001. After shooting it for less than a year, the novelty of the fast cyclic rate wore off and he wanted to slow it down. Apprehensive about any modifications that required drilling or welding on his (then) expensive submachine gun, Mr. Lage decided to bite the bullet (pun intended) and convert his M11/Nine to the very popular TASK Slow Fire configuration, which required the drilling of a hole in the back of the receiver. Experimenting with different weight steel AR-15 buffers to adjust the cyclic rate, Lage was able to lower the rate of fire down to 400 rounds per minute. Deciding that was a little too slow, he eventually settled on a ideal rate of fire around 600 rounds per minute. With the rate of fire slowed, he moved on to other improvements and created the MAX-11/9 (not to be confused with the MAX-11). The MAX-11/9 used a modified M11/Nine upper receiver. An aluminum rail attached to the top had front and rear sights and a short accessory rail for mounting a scope. It had a cocking knob on the side and was non-reciprocating with a spring return as well as a polymer foregrip with an accessory rail on the bottom. No bolt was provided with the upper – the customer was required to use their original M11/Nine bolt assembly. The barrel was 8.5 inches long and had a birdcage flash hider installed. There were only 22 of the MAX-11/9 upper receivers
manufactured and sold.
The TASK style conversion with the MAX-11/9 was a good concept, but Lage wanted to be able to have the option of adding a folding or collapsible stock to the gun. Around this time Garrison Precision was making their VSF Upper (Very Slow Fire) for the M11/Nine. It basically was an upper that was twice as tall as the M11/Nine upper and had a 1-inch square block of steel welded to the top of the bolt to slow the gun down. While this achieved the rate of fire reduction, it was not a very aesthetically pleasing design. Lage realized that a better upper could be made by using a lower profile bolt weight that overhung the trunnion. He made a prototype by cutting the top off of a stock M11/Nine upper and welding on some steel channel to increase the height by a 1/2 inch and lengthening it on the front. He fabricated a weight and bolted it on top of the M11/Nine bolt. It test fired great, having the reduced rate of fire he was looking for. The design was further refined and it evolved into the MAX-11. In 2004, Richard Lage won the Arizona State Subgun Match using an M11/Nine with a MAX-11upper receiver. Lage Manufacturing LLC produced the MAX-11s from 2003 to 2013. It has now been replaced by the redesigned MAX-11 Mk2.
The MAX-11 Mk 2
The MAX-11 Mk2 was designed to be stronger, lighter, faster and smoother than the original MAX-11. The Mk2 upper receiver is made from 6061 Billet aluminum and is hardcoat anodized for a durable finish. A steel shell deflector is attached behind the ejection port to protect the finish. The billet upper receiver design eliminates the need for a polymer foregrip and side panels. Unlike the MAX-11, the foregrip is built into the upper receiver. The improved cocking piece is a more ergonomic design and is much stronger. The Mk2 is 1-1/3 pounds lighter than the original steel MAX-11. The lighter weight results in faster target acquisition and quicker transitions from target to target.
The MAX-11 Mk2 comes standard with a 670 rpm bolt assembly and with the optional Variable Buffer System (VBS-3) the rate of fire can be easily changed to 690, 770 or 950 rpm. The bolt weight sits lower on the bolt, closer to the centerline of the bore providing a smoother shooting gun that is easier to keep on target.
The MAX-11 Mk2 features a longer top rail; 12.5 inches versus the former 10-inches. This allows a longer sight radius for fixed iron sights that result in greater shooting accuracy. This additional length also provides extra space for adding secondary optics or laser aiming devices. The top rail is lower, which moves the sight line closer to the centerline of the bore. This results in less elevation adjustment when shooting at distant targets. A 3-inch rail is mounted underneath the upper for mounting additional accessories.
The Mk2 features a chrome-moly steel 8 3/8-inch barrel threaded 1/2-28 at muzzle and fitted with a 9mm “Birdcage” flash suppressor.
Rifling twist is 1:16.
In addition to the popular MAX-11 Mk2, Lage Manufacturing LLC also offers the MAX-31 Mk2 upper receiver for the SWD M11/Nine submachine gun.
The Lage MAX-31 Mk2
The MAX-31 Mk2 upper receiver, designed for the M11/Nine submachine gun is specifically designed to allow the use of the 71-round Suomi M31 drum magazines. The longer receiver converts the M-11/Nine into a carbine length submachine gun to provide greater control and ease of handling. The 71-round drum magazine allows longer time between magazine changes, to save precious time during matches. The upper features an ambidextrous paddle-type magazine release.
Like the MAX-11 Mk2, the MAX-31 Mk2 upper receiver is made from aluminum that is hardcoat anodized for a durable finish. The MAX-31 Mk2 features include an 18-1/8 inch long accessory rail on top and hard mount points for additional M1913 rails on the right and left side of the front handgrip. The 5.25-inch bottom rail is integral. Contained within the upper receiver is a heavy weight bolt assembly with a longer length of travel than the factory M11/Nine upper receiver. This reduces the cyclic rate of fire from 1,100 rounds per minute down to approximately 770 rounds per minute. Optional cyclic rates of 830 and 840 rounds per minute can be achieved with use of the optional Variable Buffer System. Due to the reduced cyclic rate and longer bolt travel, muzzle rise is reduced, the gun is considerably smoother in operation and easier to keep on target. The non-reciprocating cocking handle is located on the left side of the receiver. The MAX-31 Mk2 attaches to the stock M11/Nine lower receiver without any modification to the lower receiver using the original retaining pin. 50-round M31 coffin magazines can also be used with the MAX-31 Mk2, unfortunately the design doesn’t permit the use of the Suomi double-feed 36-round box-type magazines.
The standard barrel of the MAX-31 is 8-3/8 inches long. The muzzle is threaded 1/2-28 with a 9mm bird cage type flash hider installed. Optional at extra cost is an 8-5/8 inch long barrel threaded 3/4-10 on the muzzle for use with the original SWD factory M-11/Nine or MAC suppressor. Also available at extra cost is the 8-3/4 inch long barrel with an HK type 3-lug machined on the muzzle. All Lage barrels are made from 4140 chrome-moly steel with a black oxide finish.
Overall dimensions of the MAX-31 Mk2 when assembled to an M-11/Nine lower receiver: overall length with optional 7.5 inch buttstock is 29-inches, height 6.5 inches, width- 2.25-inches. Unloaded weight is 6 pounds, 2.5 ounces. Weight of 72-round drum Magazine: 2 pounds 2-1/2 ounces.
In addition to their upper receivers, Lage LLC offers a host of accessories designed to enhance ergonomics and performance to include both fixed and side-folding buttstocks made of black polymer in a choice of lengths to fit any shooter. A collapsible buttstock with a fixed polymer butt plate is also offered. All stocks have a provision for attaching a sling.
The optional two-piece molded polymer grip features a finger groove, a ribbed front and stippling on the sides. The rounded backstrap is more
comfortable than the stock grip and extends lower. The bottom of the grip features a funnel shape on the bottom to facilitate faster magazine changes.
A second grip is available with the addition of a lever above the grip to activate the heel mounted magazine release. The grip is the same as the standard two-piece molded grip except it has an internal mechanism to activate the heel mounted magazine release with a thumb actuated lever at the top of the grip. When used with “drop-free” magazines, the empty magazine can be released while reaching for a replacement magazine, saving valuable seconds, a highly desirable feature for timed subgun competitions.
A vertical K-Grip is designed to attaches to any M1913 Picatinny rail. The canted angle allows a natural shooting stance that is more comfortable than a straight vertical grip. The clamp is made from 6061 aluminum and finished in black anodize. The grip portion is made from black polymer.
For those who need additional rails for attaching accessories to the sides of the upper receiver such as flashlights or lasers, Lage offers left and right side mount rails made from 6061 aluminum and finished in hardcoat black anodize.
Other available products include an extended safety lever that mounts at the front of the trigger guard. The lever makes it quick and easy to positively engage and disengage the safety on a M11/Nine. Great for use in subgun competitions. Also available is an internal safety slide that has more bearing surface and is made from steel with a black oxide finish. It is designed to replace the original slide that is made of cast aluminum.
Also available for the M11/Nine are several competition triggers, an improved extractor, a hardened sear, extended safety lever, buffers and steel feed lips for the original Zytel magazines.
Richard Lage was not the first one that has attempted to tame the fast cyclic rate, and improve upon the poor ergonomics of SWD’s M11/Nine. However, he has certainly had the most success and longevity of those who have tried. Many potential buyers of similar products paid their fees and got on a waiting list only to find that the individual or company had gone out of business. With Lage you get on the list and pay only when your purchase is ready to ship. Being in business for over twelve years and having a growing waiting list is testament to the quality of his products and excellent customer service.
Lage Manufacturing LLC
Gordon Ingram, the MAC MAN
Chipotle Publishing LLC
Phone: (102) 565-0746
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N7 (September 2015)|