NRA - American Rifleman Chooses TacOps-CQB for AR-Build
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BUILDING A CUSTOM AR-15 AT HOME
What does it really take to build an AR-15 from scratch—and is it worth it? Here is what the author learned as he tackled the job for the very first time.
October 31, 2014
The AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle has become one of the most popular guns in the United States. Experts cite a variety of reasons as to why this platform is such a crowd pleaser, including its accuracy, flexibility, and at the top of the list, its modularity.
Not only can the AR-15 can be configured for competition, hunting, plinking, and self defense, the modifications can be made with just a few tools in the comfort of your own home-based workshop. In fact, plenty of AR enthusiasts say it's easy to build a complete rifle from scratch. They usually point to one or more of the following three reasons for going the do-it-yourself rifle route: Building an AR-15 instead of buying one saves money; you can build a rifle with the features you want; working on ARs is an enjoyable hobby.
But how easy is it to assemble an AR-15 at home? When I started this project, I was in the same boat as most beginning AR builders. I had an understanding of how to operate and maintain an AR but I didn't know how to go about assembling one from a box of parts. Although it was tempting to knock on the doors of friends and associates who could walk me through the process step-by-step, I really wanted to know if it was possible to pull off a first-time build on my own. It would also be an opportunity to see how the three most common reasons for at-home assembly played out.
To level the playing field for a genuine first-time build experience, I followed these rules: The rifle would be built only from new parts, so no filching components off of other rifles. Besides a few ordinary household tools (needle-nose pliers, hammer, work light, etc.) a new tool set would be assembled to find out how much it would cost. I would acquire components for the AR from multiple providers. All of the components were identified and ordered online so as to avoid any persuasion on the part of helpful shop owners. Finally, there would be no hands-on assistance from anyone else. Books, videos, online-resources, and phone conversations with product providers were all fair game for information gathering, but no sneaking off to the gunsmith to have him do the work for me.
Here’s what I learned over the weeks of researching, ordering, assembling, and testing my first home-built AR-15:
Identifying the Rifle's Primary Purpose
Building an AR-15 rifle is a big investment of time and money, so it's important to know what you want before shopping for components. The best way to do this is to clearly define what the rifle is going to be used for most of the time. Close quarters, self-defense rifles tend to be compact, lightweight, and fitted with accessory rails for attaching lights and laser sights. Competition guns often have longer, heavier barrels and specialized trigger groups to improve their accuracy. ARs designed for hunting may be chambered for larger rifle calibers.
For this build, my plan was to go all-out in building a high-quality target rifle with parts selected for tight accuracy and a custom appearance. I hoped it would be possible to assemble it with the weight and barrel length needed for enjoyable benchrest target shooting while remaining handy enough for mobile shooting events like 3-gun competitions. Chambering it in .223 Rem./ 5.56 NATO and using a traditional direct impingement gas system (instead of a gas piston) opened it up to a wide variety of AR-15 component options.
Learning the Lingo
The AR-15 design is often praised for its versatility and flexibility, which is a complimentary way of describing its complexity. Depending on the model, an AR can contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 individual components. New builders will find themselves surrounded by unfamiliar terminology such as Forward Assist Pawl, Buffer Retainer and Bolt Carrier Assembly. Now throw in the names of tools that are made especially for ARs, such as the Pivot Pin Depressor, Ejector Removal Tool and Barrel Nut Alignment Gauge. Finally, there are assembly steps that employ unique terminology, such as Staking the Castle Nut.
Don't panic. We've all had to pick up a new lingo to go with unfamiliar parts and procedures at some point in our lives. This learning process is no different. If you can learn to prepare a meal or change the oil in your car, then building an AR is well within your grasp.
I spent a good deal of time wading through a variety of print and online resources looking for an efficient, affordable and easy to understand set of instructions to take the first time AR builder from Point A to Point Z with as little wasted time as possible. Save yourself time, money and confusion by taking advantage of the following resources currently available through the Brownells website:
With these three resources at hand, I had everything I needed to know to successfully build an AR for the first time for less than $35, with the exception of a few instructions for specialized parts that were provided by the manufacturers.
The Brownells how-to videos are simply one of the best introductory AR building resources available. They provide a straight forward and easy-to-understand explanations of AR configuration options, must-have tools, and assembly steps required to complete a rifle. Printing and filling out the Brownells assembly checklist allows the builder to identify and track every single component and tool listed in the videos. Both of these tools are free on the website, or they can be purchased in DVD format. Brownells also proved to be an excellent starting point for researching and ordering parts and tools because they provide literally every single item needed to build a rifle.
Glen Zediker's Competitive AR-15 Builder's Guide provided a more detailed and advanced look at the build process. He gives a deeper level of detail, additional rifle configuration options, an expanded tool set and tips for trouble shooting and avoiding problems with the build.
Some Assembly Required
With the to-be-built AR-15’s purpose clearly defined and an understanding of the rifle’s components, tools, and assembly procedures firmly in hand, it’s time to look for components. Once the shopping starts, it becomes clear that there's an ocean of bits and pieces to navigate as well as a variety of parts kits and pre-assembled rifle sections intended to reduce the builder's time at the work bench. Remember that an AR-15 can be split in half with the push of a couple of pins into an Upper (upper receiver, bolt, barrel, sights) and a Lower (lower receiver, shoulder stock, trigger). Here is a high-level view of the various ways the parts of a rifle can come together:
1. Purchase a complete rifle, no assembly required.
2. Attach a pre-assembled Upper to a pre-assembled Lower.
3. Build the Lower, attach a pre-assembled Upper.
4. Build the Upper, attach a pre-assembled Lower.
5. Use a mix of pre-assembled sections, parts kits, and stand-alone components.
6. Use a mix of parts kits and stand-alone components.
7. Hunt down every single one of the 100 or so components individually for the fun of it.
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