Armorer tips for the AR-15 Panic Buyer

Recent events have created a new round of panic buying of AR-15 rifles and parts kits. As companies race to meet demand, a lot of substandard parts end up in the hands of consumers. End users are often left frustrated when their new parts kit does not snap together like Legos or that factory gun they got a screaming deal on fails to feed or extract. But not to worry…! This article will cover the four most common issues I have personally seen with “panic AR-15’s” and how to correct them. I will also discuss basic maintenance schedules for the AR-15, maintenance tests, and offer insight about selecting an AR-15 for purchase.

Common problems and how to correct them!

Issue #1 Pistol grip is not attaching to the Lower Receiver

The most common problem I see with stripped Lower Receivers is that the grip screw hole is not threaded properly. Either the threading is crooked, the threads are crossed, or the actual hole is not threaded in its entirety. The fact that companies release defective stripped Lower Receivers is appalling, but can easily be fixed with a tap. The first thing to do when building an AR-15 Lower Receiver is secure it in a receiver block and see if the grip screw can be successfully screwed on. If the screw gets hung up, you can use a 1/4×28 tap to re-thread the receiver. You may not get a perfect thread, but in my experience, you don’t need a lot to hold the grip in place. After you have re-threaded, install the grip and make sure that it is secure and there is no wobble. Make sure to use a dab of Loctite or Rocksett on the screw. If the threads are an absolute mess, you can re-drill and re-tap to either M7 x 1.0 or 5/16 x 24.

I am using a Spikes Lower Receiver for demonstrative purposes only. Spikes make a fantastic lower receiver.

 

Fillister head screw. When I see an AR-15 grip attached with a Fillister head screw, I know that the company that built the rifle took pride in their work. Some tools are hard to find in certain parts of the world.  If you have to work on your AR-15 in the middle of nowhere, it is easier to find or make a flat head screw driver then find an allen key.

Issue #2 Rifle is not feeding/extracting: Bad Extractor

When it comes to keeping an Ar-15 running, I would argue that the Bolt Carrier Group is the most critical component. I will get into basic maintenance schedules later in the article, but for now, let’s look at why new AR-15s fail to feed and extract. The most common cause I have seen is a bad Extractor.

Below is a picture of the Extractor from a rifle that was failing to extract. On the right, you can see a new Extractor pulled from a Bravo Company Bolt. It is perfect. On the left, you can see the defective Extractor and the lack of lip, that grabs the rim of the case. The Fix? Buy an Extractor from a reputable company and rebuild your bolt.

Issue #3 Rifle is not feeding/extracting: Bad Ejector

Another part of the bolt that can cause malfunctions is the Ejector. The first thing I do after I have disassembled a Bolt Carrier Group for the first time is check the Ejector. I grab the firing pin and slowly push the Ejector until it bottoms out. What I am feeling for is small burrs in the Ejector recess that can hang up on the Ejector. I am also checking for spring tension. A bad Ejector is not as common as a bad Extractor, but I have seen it. The Fix? Remove the Ejector and Ejector Spring and re-drill the ejector hole with a 7/64 drill bit. If there is very little spring tension, or if the bolt will not fling an empty 5.56 case 5 or 6 feet away, replace the Ejector Spring.

Issue #4 Receiver Extension, aka “buffer tube” is loose.

There is absolutely no excuse for a loose Receiver Extension coming out of the factory. A loose Receiver Extension is caused by a Receiver End Plate that was not staked into the Receiver Extension Nut/Castle Nut. Worst case scenario, the Receiver End Plate displaces enough to where the Detent, Detent Spring, and Rear Take Down pin are lost. The Fix? Tighten the Receiver Extension Nut and stake the Receiver End Plate.

Simple stake job. Note the multiple stakings on the Receiver End Plate. The rifle pictured has been re-built several times and is on its 3rd barrel.

Basic maintenance tips

  • Keep track of your firing schedule. Around the 2,500 to 3,000 round mark, it is time to start replacing parts. At 2,500 rounds I replace the Extractor, Extractor Spring, Ejector, Ejector Spring, and Gas rings.
  • Every time I clean my Bolt Carrier Group I check for cracks. Cracks form around the Cam Pin and the lugs on the Bolt. If you are missing a lug on your Bolt, it is time to replace the Bolt.
  • I expect a Bolt/Bolt Carrier Group to last around 10,000 rounds. If your life depends on your AR-15, replace your Bolt Carrier Group every 10,000 rounds. For hobby AR-15’s, just shoot it until the Bolt/Bolt Carrier Group breaks, then replace it.
  • A lot of shooters will carry a spare Bolt on their rifle and swap it with their “duty” Bolt when training. If you cannot afford a training rifle, this is not a bad idea.
  • A great way to check Gas rings is to extend the bolt to its maximum, then stand it upright with the weight balanced on the bolt. If the Bolt Carrier collapses on the Bolt, replace the gas rings. This method only works on a “Mil-Spec” bolt carrier group.

Observations and Construction notes

  • You will notice that I did not mention magazines when it comes to feeding issues. Better magazines and followers have mitigated magazine related feed problems.
  • Whether you like it or not, every “direct impingement” AR-15 currently in existence is either a good or bad copy of the real thing, which is a Colt M4/M16. Colt did all of the research and development that brought us the slew of AR-15’s currently on the market.
  • Material composition may slightly vary, but there are certain “must-haves” when it comes to selecting a reliable AR-15. The Bolt needs to be made of 158 Carpenter or 9310 steel. The Bolt Carrier is usually made of 8620 steel, which is fine, but a Bolt made of 8620 steel will quickly fail. M4 feed ramps are a must, and the receivers should be made out of 7075 aluminum.
  • I avoid purchasing parts from companies that do not list detailed specifications. Unless you are running some hot-rod AR-15 for three-gun, nothing is really proprietary anymore, and there are no secrets on how to build a quality AR-15. Companies that don’t list specs are typically sourcing substandard parts.
  • I would never trust my life to a Gas block that was not pinned. Factory guns that don’t have a staked Castle Nut/Receiver Extension Nut have problems and are typically made by apathetic companies.

Should you buy an Ar-15 right now?

Absolutely! If you don’t want to worry about quality control issues, buy a rifle from an established company. My personal recommendations would be Colt, Bravo Company Manufacturing, Daniel Defense, Springfield Armory, FN, and Specialized Armament Warehouse. If you want a custom “boutique rifle,” Seekins Precision, Billet Rifle Systems, Black Briar and Noveske are hard to beat.

Can you trust your life to a “kit rifle”? Yes. Source good parts, take your time with the build, and when in doubt, have a certified armorer assist you.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below. I will diligently watch comments in the coming weeks.

There is a lot of satisfaction in assembling your own rifles. My new .224 Valkyrie. Fantastic rifle.

{ 51 comments… add one }
  • carl labbadia May 26, 2018, 12:37 pm

    i think Stag Arms should be added to your list .. there quality is that of a rifle 3-5x more $ .. they where one of the first companies to offer there rifles and pistols in right and left handed configuration .. they are not a huge company like colt which i grew up next to but Stag is in New Britain CT very close to colt and so many more great armament companies they are newer to the buisiness but have came in very strong and i dont know anyone who doesnt stand by the product there new 308 line is a nail driver would be great to see some reviews on them as i know you will be very happy

    Stag arms besides making some of the best black rifles in the business (best for sure out of others in there price range) Stag also has had since day 1 a lifetime transferable barrel warranty along with customer service that is second to none and staff who wouldnt ever allow any half a** work to leave there doors

    Stag Arms … # 1

  • John Beder May 11, 2018, 11:55 am

    Panic and manic. Having the ability to take normal “panic” to manic levels is a true skill. The hell with all the builds, we gotta get the proper word for the professor.

  • Noel P. May 4, 2018, 1:48 pm

    What do you have against Savage, Ruger and a host of other fine companies that put out AR15 clones ? I have two Savages and had a Ruger and just about bought a A Saint that was a good deal. All have given excellent returns without problems. I’ve shot a build 20 inch heavy barrel that I was told was over 10,000 round and liked what it produced and I’m seriously thinking of building one with a 24 inch heavy barrel just for the pleasure of doing so.

    While I’m sure there are scufflais out there in the AR business Most seem to be upright and reliable that I’ve seen or dealt with. For future posts by you I would appreciate your opinions on the AR10 group. I’d like to have a couple but other than my initial contact with a Netherland’s produced early AR10 that was disposed to go to Nicaragua (a total looser and a sad note to Eugene) I have no reference point. Thanks for your reports they make my week even when I can’t afford something.

    • Thomas Gomez May 4, 2018, 8:06 pm

      Hello Noel.

      Absolutely nothing. Did I say something negative about them in the article? Just because they didn’t make my personal list doesn’t meant they are bad rifles.

      If you are looking at a 24 inch barrel, look at the .224 Valkyrie!

      AR-10 – Totally different animal and I have very little experience with them. I plan on building a 6.5 Creed out of a Palmetto Kit. I actually have more Armorer experience with SCAR Heavy’s then Ar-10 derivatives.

      I hope this finds you well.

      • Drew May 5, 2018, 7:02 pm

        Be careful with the Palmetto as they are NOT DPMS compatible. Thats not necessarily a bad thing just be aware as other receivers will not work with them. I have several Aero Precision uppers and a lower in 308 and 6.5 Creedmoor. They are beasts with 24” barrels but they are fun to shoot and perform outstandingly. I’m still working on my Palmetto AR-10. I found out the hard way that they weren’t compatible but it all worked out. I have several of their AR-15 receivers and they work great.

  • just1spark May 4, 2018, 12:28 am

    Why not mention trigger and hammer spring upgrades? I was told by a couple different SEALs that no matter who made their AR, there are parts they immediately remove and replace before putting into service.

    The trigger and hammer springs among the parts. Rest of which I cant recall. 🙁

    • Thomas Gomez May 4, 2018, 8:12 pm

      Hello. Triggers are outside the scope of this article. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a standard AR-15 trigger, though if you need to do 3-gun or precision work I recommend an AR Gold Trigger. I cannot comment about what the super secrets squirrel guys are using because I simply do not know. If you are cop or a federal agent you may get in trouble if you start tweaking your duty gun at the kitchen table.

      I generally do not care what SEALs do with their firearms. I have a different mission then your standard Navy SEAL. Also, in my experience your average soldier, Marine, sailor, cop, federal agent know next to nothing about the operations and maintenance of firearms. They have armorers for that.

      • Tom Yarbrough May 11, 2018, 8:48 pm

        You should never have included Marines in that last comment. We did indeed know our rifles intimately.

  • Mak-Attack May 3, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Tell me what you think of Bear Creek Arsenal ?? -which is Moore Machine Co. -they just decided to name that part of the company, “Bear Creek Arsenal in recent years.

    -I’ve purchased the most part of 2guns from them.-a complete AR & a .300blk upper. when I tried to post my problems with their products in a review, they refused to post it..&also refused to answer my repeated emails. so I had to go to Sportsmans Guide (they sell their rifles and uppers) &post my probs there!

    • Thomas Gomez May 4, 2018, 8:14 pm

      Never heard of them. There is no excuse for poor customer service.

      What is wrong with the parts? Let me know if I can help.

  • Charlie May 2, 2018, 9:02 am

    What do you think of using Phillips head screws to attach the pistol grip? I would think that any screwdriver would be pretty much universal anywhere in the world. I like the way I can hold the screw with the driver during installation.

    • Thomas Gomez May 4, 2018, 8:17 pm

      Hello. I don’t think you can achieve proper torque with a Phillips head screw and I do not recommend it. The whole point of flat head screws is that the driver is damn near universal and easy to make. I would take an Allen over a Phillips, and a Fillister over an Allen. I hope this finds you well.

  • Frank May 1, 2018, 9:22 pm

    Totally agree that biting the “bullet” by paying up for a quality made AR is worth it in the long run by providing quality materials, workmanship, fit and features. Over the years I have acquired AR’s from Colt, Daniel Defense, LWRC, LMT, Sig, and FN. They are extremely accurate and trouble free with the only upgrades being triggers and pistol grips on some.

  • Joseph May 1, 2018, 3:26 pm

    I wonder what Mr. Gomez’s thoughts are on the M5L model made by HM Defense.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:15 pm

      Hi Joseph. I wish HM listed bolt carrier group specifications, but the rifles look well made. I like 1/8 twists. The brake combined with the mid-length gas system probably lends itself to a soft shooting rifle! I hope this finds you well

  • PHILIP WALKER May 1, 2018, 12:57 am

    Good information, I’m considering the Ruger SR 556 Takedown.
    Any input would be appreciated
    Thanks

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:17 pm

      I have done some modifications to the Ruger DI style guns, and they are fantastic. I don’t have a lot of experience with op-rod AR-15’s. I don’t see the point of an op-rod/piston on 5.56/223 AR-15’s that have a barrel longer then 11.5 inches. Ruger makes good firearms.

  • Wes James April 30, 2018, 9:54 pm

    I purchased a barrel from eBay- from what appeared to be a good US manufacturer. Almost as an afterthought, I checked the headspace. The bolt would not come within an 1/8″ of closing! Stripped the bolt and tried it again, no joy. Sent it back, mfr said first time they’d ever had that problem. 2nd barrel- identical! Would not even come close to headspacing, and a local gunsmith broke a reamer trying to fit it into too tight of rifling.
    Sent it back, done with that mfr. Ordered a Green Mountain Barrel, good stuff.
    Pays to check headspace.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:18 pm

      Indeed! Headspacing was outside the scope of this article, but headspacing is very important. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope this finds you well.

  • Warren R Burch April 30, 2018, 12:30 pm

    Good day! What are your thoughts of the complete rifles made by Troy Manufacturing? I am one of the lucky ones that got a dirt cheap price from Dick’s Sporting Goods years ago. Your thoughts?

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:20 pm

      Troy makes fantastic, military grade rifles! I remember those rifles, and that was a great find.

  • Bryan April 30, 2018, 10:45 am

    I had a build recently that the BCG would no lock back when trying to lock it back. Put it in a different lower and it worked fine. Could the bolt stop be out of spec?

    • Jimmy April 30, 2018, 1:06 pm

      I had this happen to me. It was resulting from a cheap buffer tube, that was too short. Check a different tube if you can, this is probably the problem.

      • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:23 pm

        Wow. First time I have heard of that. Do you remember where you sourced the receiver extension?

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:22 pm

      I would check the bolt catch. Is it articulating freely when the upper and lower are disassembled? It could be out of spec. Have you tried a different magazine?

  • Jim April 30, 2018, 10:27 am

    I hate staking. It’s ugly and can cause damage to aluminum threads on disassembly. Use medium grade Loctite instead. It’s more effective, and the next time you take it apart the threads will be in perfect condition.

    • kane April 30, 2018, 11:04 am

      Good point

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:26 pm

      It is not more effective. If your life depends on your AR-15 stake the castle nut. If you don’t want your AR-15 to get scratched, purchase two, use one and put the other on the wall to look at it.

  • buhbang April 30, 2018, 10:18 am

    it’s not just lower end companies pushing out parts without checking 1st either. the rifle i just finished took 3 trips to wilson combat because their gas block was too small and would not fit the barrel like it was supposed to. then I had trouble with the black rain ordnance bro-dit trigger, then my bear creek side charging upper came with a bad bolt in the bcg. the company i got the handrail said my gas block would fit and when i got it, it did not clear the gas block. the company i ordered a mid length gas tube from took 3 weeks and sent me a carbine length tube. and I just returned 2 out of 3 tn. arms lowers because they were hurriedly shipped out before being finished and did not meet their normal standards, and they took 6 weeks to get here after i was told 3-4 weeks. all from companies i have bought many things from and never had any trouble until this latest gun control talk started and everyones business doubled and tripled in orders for parts.
    I have emailed or called these companies and told them to email me when they get their quality control back, because im not buying anymore from them until they do. and won’t go back to black rain ordnance for anything, and that hurts because they are local for me and its a short drive to go see them, but they have been jerks lately and i no longer want any of their stuff. I can go online and get a bro receiver for half the price they want at b.r.o. where they make the parts.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:30 pm

      Thank you for reading my article, and sharing your experience. I don’t know how certain companies can stay in business. If you have any specific questions or need to talk, email me at loadthatbipod@gmail.com. I hope you have a fantastic week.

  • George April 30, 2018, 9:59 am

    Filister head screws are nothing more than a PITA. They are no more indicative of a “quality” manufacturer than a chrome lined barrel. Both have been superseded by superior materials, nitrided barrels being the other.

    The Allen head offers multiple advantages over the filister which include ease of assembly and re-assembly, the ability to easily torque it to a repeatable level and replacement from pretty much any Ace hardware if you lose one for some reason. I speak as a qualified master armorer and former VP of Operations for a major high end AR manufacturer. Allen wrenches are available everywhere and anyone who is contemplating working on an AR should have one in their toolbox. Its a damn sight easier to have the correct Allen wrench than it is to have a properly sized, hollow ground screwdriver. Other than that, you made some decent points.

    • Jimmy April 30, 2018, 1:09 pm

      Agreed 100%. When a grip comes with an Allen screw, I thought I was buying quality. When it was flat, I thought it was the company was selling cheap junk as an after thought.

      • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:37 pm

        @Jimmy. Nope, the company was giving a s***.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:36 pm

      Chrome is better than bare metal, though I think QPQ nitriding is superior. In regards to Filister head screws I disagree with you 100%. I got my armorer certification from a gentleman who found himself in the middle of a war with a loose grip on his M16. He fought for several hours holding the grip in place. After the battle, he broke into a gas station, found a flat head screw driver and fixed his rifle. That particular gentleman also designed Colts armorer program. I wouldn’t be caught dead with an Allen screw on my AR-15. But, if your setup is working for you then rock on. I hope this finds you well.

    • just1spark May 3, 2018, 7:49 pm

      Agreeeed! If a company really cared, they would flat slot an allen head bolt, in addition to having an external socket profile on it aswell. 3 different ways to remove the same bolt.

      • Thomas Gomez May 4, 2018, 8:18 pm

        I think Magpul is shipping out a hybrid with their grips. Pretty slick!

  • Mike Clark April 30, 2018, 9:28 am

    What brand and twist rate is your .224 Valkyrie?

  • Mark April 30, 2018, 9:19 am

    I would never buy another Colt. After their willingness to abandon sales to the public in favor of a military contract during the Clinton regime. They do not deserve our money. And wasn’t it Armalite that brought the AR to the table, not Colt. I think LWRC or Sig are far superior anyway, on a budget, buy a Saint or a Ruger, anything but a Colt.

    • kane April 30, 2018, 11:01 am

      I believe Colt has changed ownership several times since the corporate decision to prohibit the selling AR\’s to US civilians. Since the decision was reversed long ago and Colt AR\’s has been available to the public for many years I see little point boycotting the US manufacturer. Corporations should be given a chance to correct bad policies.On the other hand, if you believe those other name brands are better than a Colt then that\’s plenty of reason to take your business elsewhere.I know gun owners that boycott Ruger based on employee health care coverage for motorcycle riders.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:50 pm

      Armalite created the concept, Colt created the Rifle. If you want to really look at the work Colt did, I suggest you read Black Rifle I and Black Rifle II. Whether you like it or not, ever DI AR-15 in existence is either a really good, or bad copy of the real thing, which is a semi-auto version of the Colt M4. FYI the company calling itself Armalite is not the original Armalite that created the concept. Hate on Colt all you want, but when you buy a Colt you are purchasing a rifle that is built really close to the Colt TDP, save for the fully automatic feature. LWRC is not superior to Colt. The SIG MCX in my opinion could be an actual suitable replacement of the M4/M16 family of weapons. The SIG MCX does borrow heavily from M4/M16 family of weapons, and one could argue that it is another platform standing on the shoulders of Colt R&D.

  • carter April 30, 2018, 9:06 am

    what are your oppinions on the quality of PSA, anderson, and radical? those lower cost brands rifles are everywhere now, so they must be cranking out a lot of products, which makes me wonder about QC.

    i have at least one gun or upper from all three. i had a bad upper receiver shell from radical (top rail out of spec) and sent it back only to get back an upper with the same problem. they were dicks about when i emailed again, suggesting i must be doing something wrong if their gunsmith didnt find the problem.

    that rifle ran fine and aplnother fit and finish is good. i just need to replace the upper receiver myself using the same barrel and parts and then it will eliminate the optics problem.

    my guns from psa and anderson have been fine, except for poorly centered crush washers on the barrel. an easy fix.

    One of my PSA rifles is more accurate than my BCM and spikes rifles. which i’ll be honest was frustrating since it cost half as much as the BCM.

    do you think ive been lucky or do you have confidence, in general, in those companies?

    • Chris April 30, 2018, 9:19 am

      I have bought parts or parts kits from all of the companies you listed…. In 7 years, I’ve had one problem with parts I bought from PSA, and they made it right no questions asked!!!

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:58 pm

      Hello Carter. Low cost Ar-15 rifles and parts kit are the whole reason for this article. You do get what you pay for, but I think most of the problems can easily be fixed. I have lowers from PSA and Anderson, and minus a few quirks, they were turned into fully functioning Ar-15’s that I would trust my life to. In your defense, you typically see bad batches, so I don’t doubt for a second you had problems with your upper receiver. I have a very high opinion of PSA barrels. Paired with the right ammunition they can be very accurate. The most critical piece of an Ar-15 is the bolt carrier group, and for a firearm that you had to trust your life to, I would only source that from a few places. (Colt, DD, FN, BCM, Specialized Armament Warehouse…to name a few.)

  • James Miller April 30, 2018, 8:45 am

    Thank you for a great article with valuable info. Have not had any of these issues (yet) but will now know the fixes if needed.

    • Thomas Gomez May 1, 2018, 11:59 pm

      Cheers amigo!

  • Bryan April 30, 2018, 6:55 am

    Please stop using the word panic. Your creating a situation that’s not existent. This is the most ridiculous title I’ve seen in awhile.

    • Thomas Gomez May 2, 2018, 12:05 am

      Does the word “panic,” make you panic? I have consulted or built a dozen AR-15’s in the last 3 weeks, that is more then the previous year. There were 2,767,699 NICS background checks last month. I think it is fair to say Americans are purchasing a lot firearms.There is over 10 years of armorer experience in this article and you are going to stress about one of my key words? Give me a break.

  • Mark April 30, 2018, 6:39 am

    What panic buying ?

  • Joe April 30, 2018, 5:33 am

    I don’t shoot much anymore so I wont be in the market for any more spare parts kits. Anyway my nephew who has about three more years in his enlistment in the Marines and his older brother have dibs on my AR 15 and my AR 10. God bless the two of them who both respect the second amendment and our responsibility to keep it alive in our Constitution !!!

    • Thomas Gomez May 2, 2018, 12:06 am

      God bless your family. They will be in my prayers. I hope this finds you well.

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