Building an AR-15......... This could be addictive.
The AR-15 platform, more so than any other rifle in the world, is an utterly American creation. Born in controversy, raised in battle, and matured into the 'Hot Rod' of gun owners all over the nation. Much like a hot rod, the AR-15 takes customization to a unique level. Buildable with minimal tools and just some basic knowledge, these rifles can be assembled by almost anyone with a moderately decent mechanical ability. In fact, ten minutes on the internet will supply all the instruction manuals (and videos!) one needs to construct a service quality AR-15 from the ground up. Options? Accessories? Choices? Oh MY........ as many as there are fish in the sea. The ability to build the rifle exactly as one wishes may be the single best reason for a shooter to assemble their own AR. Cost savings? Perhaps..... perhaps. Certainly some money can be saved in building ones own AR-15 if shopping is done carefully, some used parts are (luckily) found, and absolute top quality is not insisted upon. As this is written, it's possible to build a perfectly serviceable rifle for less than $600. The thing is..... also as this is written.... it's possible to buy a brand new entry level AR-15 from a major manufacturer for about $650.
So.... why build? One simple word..... customization. In building the rifle from scratch, the entire AR universe can be drawn on to make a weapon exactly suited to the shooter. Caliber, length, sights, features.... all can be changed, mixed, and matched to serve a particular use. To that end..... here's The Old Fat Man's recent build.... Beginning with a Rock River Arms stripped lower, and an RRA lower parts kit, a complete lower was assembled. Using only a few simple hand tools, an AR armorers wrench, and a video supplied free by the fine folks at MidwayUSA, the lower assembly process took no more than 30 minutes. This includes some trial and error during the adventure, and taking it all apart again just to be sure it was right. For a buttstock, the Fab Defense Mako was chosen, along with it's buffer tube, spring, and buffer. This stock is solid, doesn't rattle, has a storage solution for batteries, and importantly to me.... has a rubber butt pad that looks like it was stolen from a snow tire. I LIKE the way it sticks to my shoulder while firing.
Installing an adjustable AR buttstock requires using an end plate between the stock and receiver. This gives an opportunity for a low cost but valuable upgrade..... a sling plate. This widget allows attaching a sling at that juncture, just behind the grip. Perfect for use with a single point sling, and generally costing less than $15 for a simple one. Sure.... $50 name brand sling plates are available... if one just HAS to have something fancy (g). The RRA lower assembly kit comes complete with a standard AR plastic hand grip, which is serviceable. The Fat Man, on the other hand, favors a Hogue Monogrip on his AR's. They fill my hand better, are 'stickier', and I think help aid in accurate shooting. When it comes to the upper end of the rifle, I wished a 16 inch barrel of fairly heavy and stiff contour. Accuracy is one of my goals, and I value it somewhat higher than light weight. I also wanted a flat top receiver for mounting a holographic sight, but a standard A-2 front sight post to use with a back up iron sight. Also.... a midlength or full length (dissapator style) gas block placement to give me a longer sight radius when using iron sights. Decent quality should go without saying..... and such an upper unit as I describe could be built from scratch for under $600including the bolt carrier group and charging handle. To my fortune as I was building this, AIM Surplus had a sale on Spikes Tactical uppers, complete with bolt carrier groups, for only $519 with free shipping. That was a deal too good to turn down. It's only downside, which most shooters (myself included) might consider a good thing, is a minimum spec chamber. Reloading for this rifle requires small base dies. For forearm furniture, I chose a Magpul MOE handguard. I like the fit and feel, and the internal heat shields are excellent. In addition, bolting on a rail section allowed attaching the one 'gadget' I wanted on this rifle..... a really bright light. It's 300 lumens right under my thumb as I grip the forearm, and I appreciate having that option.
As main sighting optics, I installed my trusty old EOTech 512. This unit has been on rifles of mine for years and years... and still keeps working perfectly. I've even handed it off to teenagers for a weekend at a time.... and it still works! The fact it takes cheap AA batteries is a plus. Backup iron sight? A Magpul MBUS unit (Gen 2), mounted backwards..... yes, I said BACKWARDS.... as described here. That's MY AR-15.... as assembled by me. It's hard to say 'built', since I just put parts together like a semi-trained monkey..... but whatever it is, it's all MINE. At 8.8 pounds, it's not light, but it is handy.... and quite accurate. As for dependability, I really can't say. A thousand rounds in, and I'm still waiting for the first hiccup. Accuracy? Well..... it's okay... even without a magnified sight.