So you want to get an AR-15? This magical modern sporting rifle is light, versatile, can shoot a shit ton of calibers, can be customized to your wallet's content, and have great parts interchangeability with almost every other AR out there. So the first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want to build or buy. With the advent of the internet, building an AR-15 is much easier than ever before. In a pinch, you can get by assembling a rifle with an armorer's wrench, a set of punches, and a screwdriver. Of course, a vise and some other tools are preferable, and make building easier, but they are not required. This is the main reason that the AR-15 is likened to a LEGO set. It's easily built, and has a huge aftermarket. Of course, buying is also acceptable.
NOTE: This guide is set up for a basic 5.56 NATO caliber build, which is the "default" chambering that the rifle was made for. Yes there are other calibers out there, but I'm going to ignore those for now.
So you want to take the easy way in. Thats fine. Not all of us have the ability, inclination, skills, and/or tools to build their own rifle like the Kube intended, and that's OK! The main thing you need to focus on is budget. AR's range in price from anywhere around ~$500 (on sale) to $1000-$2000, all the way up to custom boutique $6000-$7000 rifles. $7000 rifles are for people who shoot competition or are super elite operators. Since you're reading this guide on a Taiwanese scrapbooking website, I'll assume you're not in one of those groups.
Generally speaking you want to spend around $800-$1000 on an AR, around that price range is where the good quality stuff (and a few bells/whistles) gets you your best bang for the buck. Do you have to spend that much to get a decent AR? Nope! But around that range is the sweet spot in terms of quality, reliability, and bang for your buck. Does that mean that a $1500 AR will outshoot/be more accurate than a $500 AR? Not really, although generally the more you spend, the more accurate the rifle, I have yet to shoot a $1500 rifle that shoots $1000 better than a $500 rifle.
Buying a Budget AR Edit
Bear in mind if you're on a budget, don't be afraid of low-tier ARs. A Smith and Wesson M&P-15 will shoot just as well as a DPMS Oracle which will shoot just as well as a Wyndham Weaponry. Of those brands listed I recommend the M&P-15. Its an excellent starter rifle. When you get really comfortable with the M&P, you'll be more understanding of what you want more of in an AR. Plus you can upgrade the M&P however you want to over the time you own it.
Another option is to sort of mix and match. The AR15 is made up of two receivers, upper (which holds the barrel, bolt, and charging handle) and lower (which holds the magazine, stock and trigger). These receivers are held together by two takedown pins, so if you want to buy a lower receiver and an upper receiver from two different companies, you can. All you have to do is open the pins on the lower, put your upper on, and push the pins home. This can be done by hand, no tools needed.
You can buy a cheap lower from Palmetto State Armory, for example, and buy an expensive upper from BCM. If you're going to take this route, spend more money on your upper than your lower. The upper is where all the magic happens and its where you should invest a bit more of your money.
Below in the build guide, will be a parts list. Pay attention as some features are offered on cheap pre-built rifles while others only come on rifles with a higher price point.
So you want to build. Good job. This is the proper way to do an AR-15. You can pick all the parts yourself. Often times you won't necessarily be able to build for cheaper than you'd find pre-built rifles, but you can get some features and parts that are only really offered on higher end builds. Also there is an immense satisfaction to having built a rifle yourself. Here is a parts list of all the all the parts you're going to need. I'll have bullets below each part to explain the finer points of each.
- Stripped Lower Receiver-This is the only actual part you need to fill out a 4473 for. A stripped lower receiver is considered a firearm by the ATF. Its basically a bare piece of metal (or polymer) with holes and pockets drilled and milled. Most lowers you come across are going to be forged. This means the metal is forced into a hot mold and subjected to a lot of pressure. The other type is billet receivers. Billet receivers are machined from a solid block of metal. Billet receivers look totally sweet, but are no more durable, lighter, or better than forged receivers. They are however a shit ton more expensive. Another option is polymer receivers. Its best to get a metal receiver, but if you want to go for a lighter receiver or get one in a certain color, polymer can be the way to go. Make sure its reinforced with some kind of metal however. Tennessee Arms Company usually offers a 3-pack for around $120 You can usually cheap out here. Anderson Lowers can be had for around $40-$50.
- 80 Percent Lower- There is however, a second option. If for some reason you are unwilling to fill out the paperwork and are in need of a rifle, or are just interested in building an AR that from the ground up as much as possible, there is always the 80 Percent Lower option. An 80 Percent Lower is an AR lower with only 80% of its machining done, not enough to legally qualify as a firearm. See in the picture that the fire control area (where the trigger goes) and the selector hole are not drilled out yet. Note also that some 80% lowers do not have a finish either, the one pictured is "in the white." As it is not a firearm this means that an 80 Percent Lower can be ordered, machined, and assembled into a fully working rifle without the need for paperwork or serial numbers. State and local laws may apply (note that a felon crafting an 80% lower into a 100% is illegal, since they will be in possession of a firearm once complete). Various websites sell both 80 Percent Lowers and the jigs used to machine them into fully operational 100% Lower receivers. While this may not be the most cost effective option, for the Dale Gribble inside of you the benefits may outweigh the cost.
- 0 Percent Lower- Literally, a billet (block) of aluminum. This is only recommended if you have the expertise and access to specialty tools. You'd be a dumbass to try this without having a plethora of manufacturing/gunsmithing skills.
- Lower Parts Kit (LPK) - This is your fire control group (trigger), roll pins, hand grip, trigger guard, safety and takedown pins. Plus a shit ton of springs. Most cheap lower parts kits are built to mil-spec, don't worry about cheaping out too much here.
- LPK's can be upgraded pretty easily with an aftermarket trigger. An aftermarket trigger kit made by RRA, Geissele, Timney, and ALG can make your gun wonderful to shoot. However, if it comes down to it, I'd put more money into the upper and buy a nicer trigger later. "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."
- Buffer tube and/or stock - Here now is where things get a bit complex. You need to decide if you would like to build a pistol (an AR with a barrel shorter than 16" with no stock) or a rifle (a gun with a barrel of 16" or greater and a stock) or a future SBR (an NFA item that has a barrel shorter than 16" and a stock and a tax stamp).
- Rifle-Most people will build a rifle for their first and there is very little to it. You can either get a fixed A2 stock or a collapsible stock. Each requires different buffer tubes and buffers. I personally recommend the collapsible stock
- Pistol/SBR-This is basically a buffer tube that does not accept standard rifle stocks. They can accept braces (items that will help you brace the pistol when firing it (but not against your shoulder)), and wraps that will make it a little more comfortable to handle. Its ideal to buy a pistol buffer tube if you want to build an SBR because it can take months for the tax stamp to approve. Also having a lower with a stock and an upper with a barrel length less than 16" is defined as constructive intent by the ATF. With a pistol you can at least shoot it until your tax refund comes in.
- Stripped Upper Receiver-This too is one place where you can cheap out on. This is basically where your bolt and barrel meet up. Palmetto State Armory frequently sells blemished ones (with next to no blemishes anywhere on them) for around $40. Some don't come with a dust cover and/or a forward assist. These are not quite necessary, but they're handy to have if you ever need them.
- Dust cover-Basically a little trap door that keeps closed while the rifle isn't in use, and pops open when you chamber or fire a round. It keeps dust out of the rifle. Unless you operate frequently in a sandbox, you probably will never need this in real life.
- Forward Assist- basically a little knob that you can push on to get a round fully into the chamber if it doesn't want to go quite in. Depending on school of thought this is either something you'll either almost never need to use, or shouldn't use even if you have the opportunity. The reason given is that if there's something keeping the bolt from going completely into battery trying to jam it into place is just going to make whatever problem you have even worse. Either way, it's perfectly fine to cheap out or even ignore this part.
- Barrel - Here's where I recommend you invest some hard-earned dollars into. Barrels come in all shapes and sizes and while a barrel isn't the end all, be all of whether or not you will have an accurate rifle, there are some important factors to consider when choosing one:
- Material - Barrels are made of steel, but different alloys. The main two differences are Chrome-moly and Stainless
- Chrome-moly - Most barrels you find are going to be chrome-moly. Chrome-moly is a strong steel used in most military rifles. Its cheaper than stainless and will wear a lot better than stainless in certain situations. Chrome-moly barrels are often chrome lined to enhance feeding and wear-resistance. If you're just planning to have a carbine or pistol and shoot at distances less than 100 yards, get a chrome-moly barrel
- Stainless - Stainless steel is much more rigid, giving a more accurate rifle at longer distances. Generally if you want to shoot at greater than 100 yards and you are only going to be shooting small 5-10 shot groups, stainless steel is what you want your barrel to be made of. However it is much much heavier than chrome-moly. Bear this in mind when deciding if you want a stainless barrel or not.
- Treatment/Lining - All chrome-moly barrels and some stainless barrels will have some additional work done on the bore to increase longevity, ease of cleaning, and a few other things.
- Chrome-lined - Only found on chrome-moly barrels, this is the traditional barrel lining, and in use by most militaries of the world. Chroming the bore increases the lifespan of the barrel, and makes it much easier to clean.
- Nitride/Melonite - Unlike chrome, this isn't actually a lining, but a process that actually changes the outside surface of your barrel to a different, much harder material. It has several advantages over chrome lining, including better accuracy retention (because you're not layering on new material there's no risk of adding new imperfections), greater durability, and usually smaller cost. The only disadvantage is that it doesn't deal with heat as well as a chromed barrel. However, you won't get your barrel hot enough to see a difference unless you're spitting out LMG-level strings of automatic fire. This can also be applied to stainless steel barrels with no ill effect.
- Profile-Barrel profile is basically how thick a barrel is from the base to the tip. There are several terms used:
- Pencil - Super light and super thin.This is probably the lightest barrel profile out there. However it will be the least resistant to heat and wear. If you are doing an ultra-light build, get this profile. If not seek others.
- Government - This is the standard profile used by the military. It has a decent balance between rigidness and weight. Sort of a do-all profile. The vast majority of barrels will be government profile
- HBAR/Bull barrel - This is the heaviest (read: thickest) of all barrel profiles. A stainless bull barrel will be the most accurate barrel, but will also be super heavy. If you shoot from a bench/bipod for long distances, this is the profile you're looking for.
- Twist - How many 360 degree "twists" the rifling makes in one inch of barrel. Most barrels have 1/7, 1/8, and 1/9 twist. For a novice, with a jack-of-all-trades rifle, get a barrel in 1/7 or 1/9.
- Pistol- Pistol lengths are technically anything less than 16". However 5.56 velocity drops off a ton after 10.5in. However 5.56 barrels come as short as 7.5". Do research to find out which is best for you.
- Rifle-Most rifle barrels run the gamut from 16" to 20". A longer barrel does not guarantee more accuracy, but keeps the gasses from the explosion inside the barrel behind the bullet longer. This leads to a flatter trajectory and a faster bullet. If you're shooting for longer range and accuracy, an 18-20" barrel will suit you. If you just wanna operate around your house in your underwear, a 16" will do just fine
- Gas System-This is where the hole is drilled at the top of your barrel to allow the gases to come back into the upper to cycle the bolt. There are a few choices, but most of these choices will be made for you by manufacturers This can also affect your handguard placement later on.
- Pistol length-Pretty much for pistols only.
- Carbine length-You'll often see this for 16" barrels with an A2 front gas block (one with the triangular sight) M4's have carbine length gas systems. In all honesty you'll be fine with a carbine length, but its a bit more harsh on the gun (more gasses coming back = more pressure, carbon, and dirt in the upper) the gas port is drilled about 6-8" from the upper
- Mid-Length- Usually seen on 18" barrels. The gas tube is drilled about 12" from the upper
- Rifle length-Usually seen on 18" and 20" barrels. This is the gas system from the original M-16 and provides the least gasses going back. Many feel it is superior.
- Muzzle Device-For 75% of you, just get an A2 birdcage flash hider. Its ~$8 and will do you just fine. If you plan to suppress later, get a muzzle device that will fit the suppressor you wanted.
- Material - Barrels are made of steel, but different alloys. The main two differences are Chrome-moly and Stainless
- Bolt Carrier Group-This is another place where its worth it to spend a bit of money. Most bolt carrier groups come assembled and are a drop in. Try to get one that has been HPT/MPI tested and has a staked gas key. Nickel-Boron is also a plus, but isn't required. Try to get one that has a full auto cut as well.
- Charging handle-this is what you use to pull the bolt back and chamber a round. Ambi charging handles are nice, but not required. You can cheap out here to unless you're a super operator.
- Gas Block-part that sends the gasses back into the upper to cycle the bolt. Generally come in two different flavors:
- A2 Gas Block-Has the original M-16/M-4 triangular front sight on the gas block. Works great as an iron sight, however if you plan to install a free-float handguard, can be a bit of a problem
- Low profile gas block-a block without the A2 front sight post. Use this if you want a free float handguard
- Handguard-These come in even more flavors and kinds than the scope of this little article to mention. However two main kinds need to be mentioned
- Drop-in-drops right on a standard AR. These touch the barrel and are often 2-4 pieces. Unless you're trying to hit field mice at 300 yards these will do fine.
- Free Float- These usually have a proprietary mounting system via a barrel nut. They don't touch the barrel at all and are generally more accurate, however they are more expensive.
- Sights-If you have an A2 front sight block, all you need is a rear sight. However if you have a low profile gas block, you need both front and rear sights.
Once you have all of these you'll need a few tools to put it all together.
- Hammer and punches-Buy them off amazon. Or use two sticks and a rock. whatever
- Optional tools-These are not needed, but greatly enhance the building experience. Plus if you plan to build more than one rifle its handy to have these on hand
- Bench vise
- Upper receiver block-Holds your upper steady for barrel and/or muzzle device installations
- Lower block-basically a fake magazine to hold your lower in place while you hammer in those pins
- AR-Tool-go pick one up for like $10
- Front/Rear sight tools-for adjusting
This is not the final guide to buying/building an AR, but it should at least get you started on your path to owning one of the best rifles a person can own. The key to building a decent AR is to research, research, research. Figure out what you want to do with it and where you want to compromise. Or go nuts and order everything from the KAC catalog. Once you've got everything, watch videos and pay attention. Its not very hard and can be done in an hour or two.
Video tutorial on how to build an AR
http://www.itstactical.com/warcom/firearms/diy-ar-15-build-introduction-parts-and-tools-required Written tutorial with pictureshttp://www.midwayusa.com/General.mvc/Index/how-to-build-ar-15-rifle