As we stare down the barrel (no pun intended) of another potential gun grab/ban, I felt like it was time we take a look at exactly how to keep your AR running indefinitely.
One thing we learned from the 1994 ban, the components like magazines and lowers will last pretty much forever. In fact, there are very few things on an AR that actually wear out. That said, there are some critical parts that may need to be replaced. Today we are taking a look at those. And as a bonus, I’m going to show you how to build an entirely new upper in under 45 minutes.
First off, the barrel. Most people won’t shoot out an AR barrel in a lifetime, but if you shoot a lot, be prepared for this one. The life of the barrel depends on a lot of things such as coating, materials, and how fast you shoot.
The 10.5-inch barrels we used in the Army usually lasted between 10,000 and 12,000 rounds. I have had melonite-lined barrels that lasted 45,000 rounds before they shot out. A pretty good judge is 10-20,000 rounds. The nice thing is, your gun will still fire if the barrel is shot out. You just might not be able to hit anything.
Fortunately, barrel replacement on an AR-15 is one of the easiest tasks there is to do. ARs are like LEGO sets, no real skill required to swap parts. The only thing you might need is an armorer’s wrench, depending on the barrel nut. There are tools that make this process easier, but that is the only one required.
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Second is a bolt, with an even sketchier life cycle. I have seen them shear lugs around 10,000 rounds and others go 85,000-plus rounds. It is the most common breakage on an AR but still doesn’t happen often. You can score a new bolt for about $40, or an entire bolt carrier group for about $100.
Learning to swap a barrel is also a great skill to have, for a variety of reasons. In the current AR panic, you may end up with a cheaper gun. The nice thing is, as long as the upper is built to spec, you can replace everything else.
The difference between a 4 MOA gun and a .5 MOA gun is pretty much all barrel and barrel nut. As you save up your pennies, you can slowly turn a bargain-bin special into the meanest gat on the block. This is also how you change calibers, one of the best benefits of having a modern sporting rifle. With a base lower, you can easily build uppers in .300 AAC Blackout, 224 Valkyrie, and a variety of other calibers.
Building the Upper
To demonstrate how to swap a barrel, I opted to just build an entirely new upper. A shopping trip to ODIN Works, native to Boise, yielded all the parts I needed (see below).
The point of the exercise isn’t to show you how cool I am with the build skills, in fact just the opposite. I suck as a gunsmith, I make a much better gorilla in a suit. People built my guns for me pretty much until I started to work at GunsAmerica. The only thing I am certified to work on is a Glock, and that is mostly because the armorer’s kit consists of one punch and a razor knife.
If I can do it, you can do it. I also built mine without using any special tools because I also don’t care about scratches. Using just a hammer, one punch, needle nose pliers, and a crescent wrench, I slapped together a .75 MOA upper in about 45 minutes. This isn’t like a 1911 with all manner of hand-fitted parts.
If you are looking for new parts or a completely new upper, ODIN Works is a one-stop shop. These are the parts I used in my new ULTRAlite upper receiver.
Parts and Pricing
Don’t want to build your own upper? No worries. You can always: