So you want to build an AR? You've seen the firearm, licked your chops and decided that you want to stand out! You want a firearm that you can customize to yourself.
The AR is as diverse as you are. You can literally have a rifle that you can swap out the upper and magazines, and have an entirely different rifle on your hands. It's entirely possible to build a .22 plinker for the range trip where you can drop hundreds of rounds down range for next to nothing, then swap out to a big bore and go hunting with it if you so choose for reasonable costs.
The AR is, for all intents and purposes, and to borrow a phrase from AgentTikki, a Mr. Potatohead for gun lovers.
It can be as fancy or as simple as you want.
Now, before we proceed, you have a bit of reading to do. This is critical to your first step in building one of these firearms.
Ah. You read the first page and stopped? Well, I'd strongly recommend you go back and read the rest of the thread. More information is added down the line on it, and it is all good, reliable information you can use. Remember, you're making a siginficant financial contribution to this, so to avoid spending money twice (once to buy, again to correct) go back and read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.
Remember, my post is nothing more than a primer. It's a nuts and bolts Q&A from one AR newbie and what I learned to the rest of you, those coming along and wanting to build your own.
Now, before you run off to the internet or your local gun store and throw down your hard earned cash, let's get a fresh cup of coffee, sit down, and go over the important basics you must cover.
I'll repeat myself one more time. The purpose of this is to help you to get the essentials you need. A reliable, effective rifle that will be there when you need/want it to, with no nagging thoughts of 'will it fire' in your mind. A security that you want to have. After we're done with this, you can then go out and add all the bells and whistles you want to your AR.
1. What do you want to do with your AR? Are you building an AR specifically for plinking? Are you building it for home defense? Varminting? Serious hunting expeditions? Or are you preparing for the zombie apocalypse? The typical SHTF scenario? Or, like a lot of us, is it your general purpose doing a little bit of all of it rifle? I am going to make the assumption that there are no professional/amatuer competitive shooters on here who are reading this, other than to attempt to pick it apart and show their brilliance.
2. Great!!! Now we know what you want it to be for. This is critical. It's the cornerstone of building an AR, and will insure that you build your rifle to make you a very happy person. Now it's time to grab your piggy bank and shake it around really good.
Hear that rustling and clinking noise? That's your budget. It's a good idea to set your budget up to include everything, including optics. I personally have learned, and believe, although others will be showing up at the door with pitchforks and torches shortly, to start with reliable iron sights, a decent RDS/Scope, and use that for a bit. It leaves more for the rifle on the front end, and you should always be proficient with your iron sights (which from here on will be referred to as BUIS, or Back Up Iron Sights, even if they aren't iron.)
The reason being, a top of the line, eat dust and sand and never blink nor lose zero optic can run you as much or more than your rifle if you aren't careful.
So, I'll give you a few minutes to count all your money that you have set up for your rifle build.
Done counting? Good. Now we can start the process of deciding WHAT you need to be buying. It all comes down to your budget, and your goals with the AR.
Now, once again, before you go running off to spend all that money? Let's get our priorities in order.
If you follow these steps, you should be a much happier camper than if you charge blindly into the fray getting sucked into all the hype and hoopla that is out there on the AR platform.
Yes, you can build an AR with a $300 free floating rail system, a $250 stock, a laser sight, a bada@@ sniper scope, a flash light that would cause a blind man to flinch, bayonets, and three spring loaded ninja that pop out with the push of a button.
You'll also need to join the gym and put on some serious muscle mass to carry that bugger down the road to the zombie outbreak.
But all that is pure bling. The basic premise and function of an AR is to fire ammunition. That's it. Break it down to the lowest common denominator, you want a firearm that, when you pull the trigger, shoots a projectile in a predetermined path with a predetermined outcome.
Part of what that means is, we're focusing on the essentials. The dressing can be done later. My goal is to guide you along the path to building a reliable firearm that is a stunt double for a billy goat. It will eat Tula, Wolf, Golden Bear, Federal or Hornady or any other ammunition you feed it and never burp. Last thing you want is to spend a significant amount of money on a firearm and have it not be able to shoot whatever you can find/afford. We'll cover the bling later.
First up, we need to order a lower receiver. About the main rule to remember is you want 7075-T6 alloy for the lower, and that it is milspec. You can find them ranging in price from about $80.00 to over $200.00 each. Personal opinion? A lot of times you wind up buying strictly on the roll mark on the lower.
Done ordering it? Good for you!! Now you get a lower parts kit. You can get some decent ones, and you can get some phenomenal ones that are way out there. Your lower parts kit will be your safety assembly, your trigger assembly, and your magazine release/latch assembly. That's really all it consists of.
Here, you want to look for quality. Palmetto State Armory, Daniel Defense, Bravo Company and many others make these parts kits. Again, prices vary. If you order an entire lower assembly completed? You can skip the next part. It's about assembling it with basic information.
What is your mechanical apptitude? To assemble an AR lower, you don't need to be a NASA engineer. If you have basic mechanical abilities, you can put together a lower assembly, and realistically, all you really need to do it, in spite of all the 'recommended specialty tools' you find, is a butter knife, a brass hammer (or synthetic. You don't want to bring a four pound sledge to this process), a flat head and phillips head screwdriver, long tweezers and a pair of needle nose pliers. The only specialty tool I had was an armorers wrench, which you will want to have. Yes, you can get a lower vise block and a vise. I got them, and realized I just wasted very good beer money on stuff that I just didn't need and found to be more of a nuisance than a benefit. That's really all that is required for a lower assembly.
We'll start with a good primer.
Now, spread your parts out.
It's a good reference if you don't mind spending some time with it reading.
Here's a very good video on the process. No, it's not me. I just found it very helpful on my first build.
That's part one. Again, remember that I found the vise block set up to be annoying, and I used a butterknife in place of the utility knife because you just don't need something that sharp.
Here's part two of the video.
Test your safety and others, as he instructs. All worked? Congratulations. You just built your first AR lower.
Now take a break, pat yourself on the back, and grab a refreshment. You've earned it.
When you come back, we'll proceed to the next step.
So, we now look at how much money we have left. I know, I know, no sights yet!! But just hang on. We're doing this is order or importance, right?
We're going to, since this is a first build, order a completed upper. Again, make sure that it is milspec, and has 7075-T6 alloy for the upper receiver.
You can get quality at reasonable prices. BCM, LMT, Noveske, Knights Arms, all are top of the line.
After that you get to the other tier rankings. Now, you're going to hear a lot of people come along and rant and rave about 'brand X', and others praising 'brand Y', which will lead to a bunch of grown men standing up and passing a ruler back and forth as they measure how much of a 'man' they are.
Reality of the situation? There's junk barrels, there's precision barrrels by master craftsmen, and there's good barrels that will meet most everyone's needs. If it hits the target in a reasonable spread in a ten shot group at 50 yards, then it's doing it's job. A reasonable spread at fifty yards should be your handspan.
Yes, you'll get others that swear by you need to be able to neuter a gnat at 100 yards with your AR while sprinting down a hill and dodging incoming rounds, but I think if you can consistently nail the target in center of mass at fifty yards in a quick shot set up? You're golden.
Your opinion may differ, and that is great. Makes us who we are.
So...off to the barrel. You now choose your barrel, again, buy the best you can get. Decide whether you want carbine, midlength, or rifle length. Again, I refer you to AgentTikki's primer. It's wonderful for this.
Another issue to cover on this, however? How tall are you? Seriously. If you're short (say, 5'8" or less) I'd recommend Carbine. If you're between 5'9" and 6'2"? I'd recommend Middie. If you are over that? May as well break down and buy a rifle. Don't believe me? My picture is floating around on here with my carbine length AR. As many have said, I look like I'm holding a child's toy. My next build will be at the least a middie, but I'm leaning strongly toward rifle.
Enough of me. Back to you. You have located your barrel. You've re-read the primer, and know what twist rate and steel you want.
You also need to determine do you like the fixed front sight or want to go with a low profile gas block? This is important. It's really purely cosmetic to some. To me, I prefer to have more control over my sight set up. My next rifle will be low profile. During this phase, you can also now add your forward rail to it, based on your remaining budget, and after choosing your sights.
You have seen the prices, and regained your breath, depending on the website.
Now, order it.
Get a comfy chair, sit by the window, and stare every time a brown truck drives by.
It'll be in the next one, I'm sure of it!!
In the meantime, now comes the fun. You've got your lower completed. It is sitting on a shelf looking all sad and lonely. It's like Laurel without Hardy. Just...something sad about it. So we're going to distract ourselves.
First, we sit on the computer and start browsing for our BUIS, unless you ordered it when you ordered your upper. Same with your forward rail and stock. Order them, depending on what you have left, and just how much you want to spend on an RDS/scope.
Okay. Now you have your upper in. Congratulations. Slap on your furniture and sights, get you some ammunition, and go to the range!!
It's really that simple.
The summary? Better to get the best you can afford, but to at least get into the game than sit around waiting ten years to save enough to buy that top of the line tank killer that you'll probably never need anyway than not to have.
Don't be cheap, but don't be stupid. Don't let your kids miss a meal so you can get a gun. At the same time, we can all afford to skip a trip to McDonald's now and then, right?
Don't be a gun snob when you get yours. Encourage everyone that has one, and remember to be safe. Always follow safety precautions. And have fun. That's crucial. You didn't buy that to be a safe queen, and it is designed to shoot the cheapest ammunition out there, as well as the most expensive.
I hope you found this rudimentary guide helpful.
Last thing I'll offer? The following people (and there are many more, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind) who you should heed for advice? Quentin, AgentTikki and fsted2a. They probably build these things in their sleep.