I often see these questions asked on the forum...I want to build my first AR, can I do it cheaper than buying a complete rifle? I am planning a build but my budget is around $600, can I do it?
The answer to both questions is, it depends. Yes, it can be done but often the quality of the parts suffers. For example, I have seen 16" heavy profile barrels for sale at $89. Would I buy one...no. Would putting one in your build help you get to that magic $600, absolutely...question is do you want a rifle built around a $89 piece of no-name steel? So putting my money where my mouth is I will attempt to construct a virtual rifle using parts that I consider to be the bare minimum in terms of quality. Obviously the result isn't going to be a totally custom, fully tricked-out rifle with all the latest tacticool bells and whistles but it will be a servicable AR with a solid core group of parts.
So lets get started:
Lower receiver - $59.95 - free shipping - Surplus Arms and Ammo - AimSurplus.com
Perhaps the easiest piece to find at a reasonable price. A quick search through Slickguns.com turned up 2 at $79.95 and 59.95...a Spikes Tactical and a Surplus Arms and Ammo. Similar deals can be found at many of the vendors right here on FTF.
Lower Parts Kit - $79.95 - free shipping - Daniel Defense LPK - AimSurplus.com, joeboboutfitters.com
The lower parts kit contains one of the most critical components to a smooth operating system, the trigger group. At $79.95 the DD kit is a good bargain. Unless you are planning a National Match build or looking for a two stage setup, the DD milspec trigger is all you really need.
Stock and Buffer Assembly - $83.95 - Spikes Tactical M4 with T2 buffer - joeboboutfitters.com
Options abound here, you can choose a standard A2 style to capture the traditional look or go with one of literally hundreds of different styles, options, specs, etc. Problem is some of the higher end stocks themselves go for $300-$400 so we will have to be a bit more frugal on this build. Good thing is that a stock is basically a drop in upgrade when that spare $300 is burning a hole in your pocket later on. For this project I am going with a basic Mil-Spec 6 position collapsible from Spikes Tactical. This kit even comes with the T2 buffer so we may have saved a few bucks as most carbines will require a heavier buffer to absord the added shock of the shorter gas system.
To recap so far we have a lower, all the parts needed to build it and a complete stock assembly for a total before tax, shipping and FFL transfer fees of $223.85. Not to bad, we still have $376.15 left for the upper and a mag.
Upper receiver group - Palmetto State Armory
Again we have a few options here, buy a kit that includes the LPK, buy a complete upper with BCG or buy the upper receiver, barrel, BCG and charging handle as components and assemble. Generally it is recommended that novice builders purchase as much preassembly as they can afford. Lets look at a few option.
Option 1 at $449.00 is a complete 16" PSA upper including BCG and charging handle, carbine length gas system with basic A2 FSP and M4 style handguards. Couple of things to note here, the sights, gas block, foreend, BCG and charging handle are all fairly simple drop in replacement parts. Although the PSA supplied parts may be all that you ever need, future upgrades as funds allow are not that difficult and only take a few minutes. Similar deals can be found on comparable uppers.
Now here's the problem we are about $75 over budget. Lets check out a kit.
Option 2 - A rifle kit from Palmetto State Armory for $489.00, a bit pricier than the complete upper but we save $163.90 on the LPK ($79.95) and the stock assembly ($83.95)
Checking the new total we are now at $548.95. Throw on a Magpul MBUS for about $50, a NC Star flip-up for $30.00 or an A2 carry handle with rear sight for $40, plus a 20 round mag for $15 and we are ready for the range with a total build cost of between $613.95 and $593.95.
As stated, the finished build is not a blinged out $2,000 rifle that was built for $600.00 but it is a damn good, reliable rifle with a solid core of critical parts. Foreend and optics can be easily upgraded as can the stock. The trigger can even be swapped out with a drop in two stage. Point is, the guts of the rifle are solid. Adding another $100-$150 gets a step up to Daniel Defense or Bravo Company upper, just to name a few "upscale" names.