Interview With An Engineer: Ethan Lessard
Interview With An Engineer: Ethan Lessard
We were paid a visit by, in our opinion, one of the most well-known silencer moguls, Ethan Lessard. Currently the VP of Engineering at Q, his accolades span back to engineering at Sig Sauer and Advanced Armament Corporation. We were able to sit down with him for lunch and dive deep into Ethan’s expertise.
In an industry filled with an appreciation for its rich history, it's easy to get caught up in the way it's always been done. It takes prowess to look beyond what we already know to work and explore the dynamics of what could be. But it also takes a great amount of practicality to appreciate what’s been done in the past, why it’s been done, and why it will continue to be done a specific way. That balance is difficult to attain, but we believe ingenuity married with originality has met its match.
As you can imagine, he’s a busy man, so we hit the ground running with questions.
Silencer Shop: Will the Q Erector 9 use a cherry bomb compensator?
Ethan Lessard: Yes. A compensator directs it in one direction radially, whereas a muzzle brake just works axially. So, what a brake does is take the gas flow from the barrel and pushes on essentially sails to pull the gun forward to counteract the recoil. … The natural reaction when you shoot a gun, you have an axial load going into your shoulder for a rifle, it pushes you. But because your feet are planted on the ground, you want to rotate back. What a compensator does generally is direct gas in one direction or another to fight that. Not necessarily for recoil reduction but to mitigate the effects of the gun coming off target as you’re shooting. The Erector 9 for all the pistol caliber carbine excitement, we’re going to be doing cherry bombs, 9mm in ½x28.
Q: What’s the cherry bomb made out of?
A: 17-4 stainless. We make material selections based on what we want to get out of it. 17-4 is very stable, there’s no quench when you heat treat it. You just put it in the oven, easy bake, we heat treat a lot of stuff in house now just because it’s faster, it’s super easy to do. It’s cheap. And we get to control it. At this point, as weird as it sounds, sound reduction, as long as you’re buying a good silencer, sound reduction between the silencers doesn’t matter. Especially for supersonic… every other attribute matters so much more cause you’re getting to the point where you are basically just metering how loud the bullet is flying through the atmosphere.
Q: Why did you choose a cherry bomb compensator as opposed to the traditional brake or hider options?
A: We decided to have a little bit less brake efficiency to gain dispersion, so basically group size. With most traditional side port muzzle brakes, you end up seeing some amount of additional dispersion when you shoot with the muzzle brake and without the muzzle brake… The other thing it really does for us is that we don’t have to use a shim to time it rotationally.
Q: Is there a point of diminishing returns with diameter for the casing? Why do we use an inch and half? Is that just a standard?
A: It had been a long time ago. At AAC, we did 1.8 inches for the Titan. That’s because the vendor that we had for titanium tubing, that’s what they had on the shelf. So, we bought that size and made silencers for them. Then when I went to Sig, we started doing inch and ¾ tubeless silencers. But as far as diminishing returns, we haven’t found it yet; it’s just a compromise. The bigger in diameter, the harder it is to keep weight down. So, if weight wasn’t an issue, I would go with as big of a silencer that wouldn’t obscure the sight system. Because with volume, you can increase volume faster by expanding the diameter rather than changing the length… going bigger in diameter, you get to expand volume that much faster but it’s harder to enclose that volume in the same mass. So, the AAC SDN-6 is an inch and a half silencer. I looked at doing that just an inch and ¾ and it goes from a 19-ounce silencer to a 36-ounce silencer…without changing anything, just growing the diameter. The point of diminishing returns is at what point do we reach a weight that the customer will not accept… So at Sig, I did a 3 inch diameter silencer for a 240 and that thing is awesome. It’s heavy as [poop] but a truck mounted machine gun, who gives a [poop].
Q: How big does a blast chamber need to be and what affect is there by moving the first baffle closer, further, does it makes that big of a difference?
A: Yes, there’s a lot of sliding scales. Typically, with blast chamber, the bigger the blast chamber is, the louder the first round pop is. But, the other thing is, if you make the blast chamber really small, and there’s any asymmetry in it, the blast baffle is the one that has the most effect on the group size. So that’s why we were talking about the AAC Titan going to a flat blast baffle. If you have any asymmetry or eccentricity from the blast baffle bore to the barrel bore, that’ll have the most effect on dispersion… There’s like five or six metrics and a lot of them are directly opposing each other. So sound and dispersion are ones that are generally fighting each other. Having a really quiet silencer that also shoots really good statistically significant groups.
Q: Why does point of impact shift happen, how does it happen? How have you seen it mitigated and how does Q do it differently?
A: You can entirely mitigate it if you never take your silencer off. Because the shift between suppressed and unsuppressed only matters if you zero your sighting system for one condition or the other. If you just leave the silencer on, it doesn’t matter if the shift is two miles at ten feet. Who cares? The gun’s zeroed, leave it zeroed. Historically, that’s been a thing with the military, and some commercial stuff, just because with QD systems that were not very repeatable as far as maintaining the silencer bore relative to the barrel bore. Basically, the cherry bomb replicates a direct thread silencer with a taper so that it stays on. It’s a cylindrical doorstop.
Q: In your opinion, what are the benefits of a monocore baffle stack and the cons as they relate to the traditional K-baffle?
A: K-baffles are traditionally used in pistol silencers, so monocore silencers are generally easier to produce. They require less welding or interfaces. They generally have more first round pop. The manufacturability and first round pop are generally the two considerations with monocore silencers. We’ve made both.
Q: What do you sacrifice when you get modularity versus nonmodular? The benefits are well known, but what are some cons?
A: Anytime you allow the user to disassemble something, you have to make the interface heavier and more complicated. The simplest way to connect two things is to stick it together and weld it. It’s fairly permanent. It’s a very repeatable, tough, simple, cheap interface. But you can’t take it apart, within reason. Threaded intersections – it’s more expensive, there’s no way around it… at some point you’re losing strength because thread engagement is how you determine how strong a thread intersection is. A threaded intersection is great if you need to put it together and take it apart multiple times. A welded intersection is great if you do it correctly and do it once. It’s probably the most permanent thing we have for making things stick together.
Q: Since its original design, the booster assembly hasn’t changed. Is there a more efficient way to do it than a spring or is that the most efficient option?
A: The most efficient thing would be to make the barrel fixed and use a different locking system. The booster system, the Nielsen device, is dealing with the way the gun unlocks. It’s terrible for a lot of reasons. Keeping all that shit aligned is really difficult and expensive. If we had a different locking system, like that’s what you see in the Maxim9… they were going the right direction: fixed barrel, some sort of hesitation delay system, to keep it so you’re not opening under pressure or changing head space under pressure.
Q: Do muzzle brakes actually act as a sacrificial baffle? Is there a noticeable delta for the blast chamber?
A: All the times that blast baffle erosion really matters, it’s on short barrel 5.56 and you put a flash hider on it anyway. Muzzle brakes is not a thing, generally, for these kinds of guns. The 10 inch [HK 416] creates the most hellacious blast baffle I’ve ever seen when you put a flash hider on it. I don’t know of anybody that’s said “good thing we replaced that muzzle brake because it saved that silencer” like, I’ve never seen that in real life… it helps some, but to me, it’s not worth considering.
Q: Why are specific materials so prevalent?
A: A lot of it is – I’ve got an idea for a silencer, what materials do people typically use? There’s a lot of historical back up. A lot of the stuff on The Fix, it’s a pretty neat and novel gun but we copy as much stuff as we can just for a safety factor… Going wildly outside of the materials you see typically, it’s cost prohibitive but it’s also a pressure vessel… you have a pretty narrow range of material requirements that you need to have and the number of those materials that fit the bill and are cost effective and are manufacturable and are readily available, it’s pretty narrow.
Q: What do you think about mirage covers?
A: It depends on what you care about. If you’re looking to shoot super tight groups at great distances, they are not your friend just because it’s another mass... Generally, with what we’ve seen for military and commercial customers, mirage is very infrequently in the top five to ten issues. I’ve seen other very clever ways around it, like the diving board thing they put on some of the MSR’s where it attaches to the 1913 gun on top of it; it doesn’t even touch the silencer. Granted, it’s a wicked snag hazard, but that’s a really good way to deal with accuracy, dispersion and mirage all at once.
Q: Does tolerance of the bore/bullet make a big difference? And what about diameter of the end cap versus the apertures of the baffles?
A: Tolerance is how much it’s allowed to deviate from whatever the drawing says. So, a lot of times we hear people confuse tolerance with clearance. Clearance is the amount of space between the bullet and the bore… You have a 308 bullet, we typically run 375 to 383 we typically go with a very large bore. Generally, that makes a silencer louder, but you’re able to shoot much better groups… the ratio of gap between the sides of the bullet, or the bullet to the bore, is much, much smaller. So, if you had a 310 diameter bore and a 308 bullet, if the silencer is off by .0001 you’ve gone from 50-50 to 66-33. You’ve changed the ratio of distance between the bullet and the bore significantly… Again, it’s one of those tradeoffs. If you want the absolute quietest silencer, you make the smallest bore possible, but you have to accept that it’s going to be a lot harder to shoot really good groups, or you’re more likely to have a bullet contact one of the baffles. That’s a tradeoff you have to make.
Q: Let’s say I have a concentric silencer set up and you have the same specs for baffle to bore, and you change just the diameter of the end cap because the Omega, for example, you can put a 5.56 cap on it. Does that matter?
A: It’ll make it quieter, but again, shooting a 30 cal silencer on a 5.56 that’s almost like best case scenario for dispersion; you can shoot wicked good groups. But the front endcap is the one that’s the furthest from the muzzle so small deviations in angle are going to matter the most there. As long as you can keep it lined up good, who cares? Any time you make the bore smaller, you’re going to increase the chance of hitting it. Nature of the beast.
Q: Is there any way, in your opinion, to develop some sort of reliable sound standard, or no?
A: No. NATO is trying to do it with a 16-microphone array 4 meters above the ground to give you a single number to compare things. If you have multimillion-dollar contracts where you have to say it needs to meet these requirements and you have to compare three companies and you have to compare which one is quieter, you have to do something like that. It’s to the point now where there’s good silencers and pretty good silencers. And then there’s some shitty silencers but it’s up to the retailer to let the people know, hey, I’ve had five of these blow up in the past year. There’s very small differences in sound from the really good silencer companies. Sound should not be the deciding factor at this point. Just because the differences are so small. It should be cost, weight, size, accuracy and dispersion.
We could have sat with Ethan for hours discussing the intricacies that go into silencers. And while the time flew by during this Q&A, we gained a lot of perspective, and we hope you did as well.