Most of us who own AR-15s buy rifles off the shelf. That shouldn’t be a surprise. There are more than 200 companies making ARs today. With the vast array of available models, most shooters can typically find a rifle that fits all of his or her needs.
But I have yet to meet anyone who is serious about black rifles who hasn’t at least expressed a desire to build an AR from scratch. You don’t need to be a gunsmith. You don’t even have to be all-that-handy. The parts are designed around the concept of modularity, which means you can put them together like you would a model airplane–only with less messy glue. I asked a friend who has built guns about the experience and he swers its so easy that he could teach a seven year old to do it.
But why would you want to? And what will you need to do it? GunsAmerica News and Reviews will be covering it all in the coming weeks. This will be the first in a series of articles that will take the build process from the ground up, and today we’re looking at the first in what will be a long list of important concepts.
Why build your own AR?
Cost: Some are looking for an economical way to build a rifle. This makes sense. If you don’t have enough money to buy a complete rifle, but have the patience to spend smaller amounts over a longer time, you can end up with a complete gun. But beware–it will likely cost you more to build your own. You may not have to pony up all at once, but you will likely spend more over the long haul.
Why is that? Rifle companies build their own parts or buy in bulk. Think quantity discounts. Even when you see shockingly low prices on some parts from a retailer (like a striped lower that’s a steal), you will find that the other parts may not be such a bargain.
Still–I know this lay-away strategy all too well. I’m not going to admit to being deceitful, but I will say that someone significant may notice the sudden dent that a nice AR is going to put in your shared bank account. But if you spread those costs out over time, then you don’t draw so much attention to the purchase, and you have something to tinker with in the meantime.
If you’re just looking for an entry level rifle, though, the build-your-own, do-it-yourself approach may be ludicrous. Click on the link below to see exactly what I mean.
Buy a Complete AR-15 on GunsAmerica: /AR-15
Customization: There are very few guns that can be customized in half the number of ways the AR can. The 1911 comes to mind. The Remington 870, maybe. But the AR is really its own animal. This may seem odd when you think about the rifle’s origins. Rifles issued to armies are usually very similar. They are supposed to be exactly the same; it makes maintaining the guns, and training with them much easier. In the civilian world, though, we use the AR’s modularity to fit parts that fit us. And we change everything. EVERYTHING.
Bigger, better, longer, thinner, lighter–each of us have different needs, and the AR can be tailored to fit those needs. Need a long range rifle? The AR can do that. Want one that weighs 6 pounds? No problem. Need something that will fold up to fit in a briefcase? You see where this is going.
Expertise: With so many models and variants available, most of which are priced competitively, can’t you just find one off the shelf that meets your needs? Usually. But you would be giving up the experience you gain from doing the assembly yourself. What will you do when you are in the field and your rifle stops working? First you have to diagnose what’s wrong. Then you have to fix it. If you’re lucky enough to have built a rifle from the ground up, and you have a few common parts and tools on hand, you will likely be able to fix the problem.
We’re going to break it down. And while we’re putting together this series, we’re going to be building a couple of rifles.
How to Build an AR-15:
- Build an AR–Caliber Selection–The first piece of our new series is already up. 5.56 is just the start. From .22 LR to .416 Hushpuppy and beyond. Anything is possible with the AR platform. We’ll cover the popular, and the obscure. You have to know what you want your rifle to do, and a lot of what it can (or can’t) do depends on the caliber.
- Build an AR–Gas vs. Piston–It is a basic decision, but it shapes the way the rifle is going to work. Do you go with the tried and true (and often dirty) gas system, or do you pick the long term benefits of a piston system? We’ll break them down and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each.
- Build an AR–Tools and Materials–What do you need to build an AR? We’ll put together a list of the tools and various parts. While you won’t need them all at once, it is a good idea to see what you’re getting into before you get started–and after making the decisions about caliber, and deciding on gas or piston, you’ll be ready to build a functional list of materials and tools.
- Build an AR–The Low Down on Lowers–The lower is the serialized part on these guns, and there are a lot of options. As the centerpiece of the platform it is a defining feature. We’ll look at the various options.
- Build an AR–Uppers–It is hard to make uppers sexy, but they matter. Uppers hold most of the moving parts, and take a tremendous beating. They don’t get the attention they deserve, and we’re out to remedy that.
- Build an AR–Barrels–While the rest of the rifle is undoubtedly important, nothing makes or breaks a good AR like a quality barrel. And there are some subtle differences that we’ll explore in depth.
- Build an AR–Forends--Most of us like having something to hold onto while when the gun goes off, and the forend provides a convenient hand hold. They also shield heat and can provide extra real estate for mounting accessories. Well look at the various designs and offer up our opinions on what works, and why.
- Build an AR–Stocks and Grips–From minimalist designs and folding stocks, to adjustable stocks meant for a perfect fit, we’ve tried them. We’ll talk about design, purpose, and function of grips and stocks and how they break out into recognizable groups.
- Build an AR– Choosing the Right Optic — When deciding on the perfect optic for your AR build, the very first thing you need to do is match the performance window of the optic with the performance window of your rifle. For example, installing an optic that’s optimized for 1,500-yard shooting won’t do a whole lot of good on a Cricket .22LR bolt-action youth rifle. While that’s an exaggeration, the concept of matching performance characteristics does come into play with the AR family.
- Build an AR–Enhanced Controls–There’s a lot to cover in this section. We’ll be looking at everything from Mil-spec triggers to over-sized charging handles. If you’re new to AR customization, get ready–this is one of the more expensive segments we’ll examine.
- Build an AR–Magazines–AR mags are not as finicky as the mags of other platforms, but they’re still important. If they’re unreliable, the rifle won’t work. You don’t want to invest time and money in a rifle only to have it lock when you feed it.
- Build an AR–Extras–one reason why the AR has stood the test of time is because of the exhaustive variety of accessories that you can stick on a gun. We’ll look at the practical approaches (like lights and foregrips), and some of the whacky alternatives (like knives and other guns).
- Build an AR–Final Assembly–I’ve been told that assembling an AR is about as easy as making a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. I can screw that up, so I’m bound to run into some problems. What should you watch for when you put everything together? And how do you test out your new rifle–safely and thoroughly?
So Stay Tuned
Along the way, we’ll be compiling a running list of resources. We’ll talk in depth about manufacturers, retailers
I’m going to come clean about something. I’ve been slow to accept the relative dominance of the AR-15. I’m an AK devotee. I own several ARs, but I’ve come by all of them rather casually. As the Editor of GunsAmerica’s News and Reviews, I often find that I need an AR on hand. And I’m going to be building a rifle, too. For me, it is that last category that motivates me: expertise. It is time to stop sitting idly by, watching others build guns. Time to get my hands dirty. So I’m going to be building a gun as we go along. And if it can be done by a seven year old, I have one of those, too. Maybe we’ll test that theory and have him put down the Legos long enough to build a rifle.
More from this Series: