Sunday, April 13, 2014

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 $600 including 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.


Long Island Mike said...

Is the handguard free floating? Thoughts on that with regard to accuracy?

jimmie said...

Addictive? Not hardly, well maybe if you ask my wife, 2 in 556, one i built for $450. 2 in 300 blackout both for under $700. Now im working on a 9mm ar rifle and pistol. You know you might have a point about it being addictive. Oh well.

Daddy Hawk said...

So, what did your rifle end up costing you all in?

Old NFO said...

Nice build, and you 'know' what you did... :-)

Carteach said...

Not including the EOTech, and discounting the buttstock a bit since it's an upgrade I already had on hand, I figure I have about $850 in this rifle. Comparable Spikes or RRA models are running about $950, give or take a smidge.

Carteach said...

Long Island Mike,
This handguard is not free floating.
My thoughts on free floating in regards to accuracy? I'm not really entitled to any, since I don't have an AR with a free floating handguard.

YET. There is always the next build :-)

Long Island Mike said...

Not to hijack the thread here...but I thought you might be interested.

In the springtime the optics guys put all their wares on sale. This includes Nikon. I just got an email that the Nikon rifle scopes are on sale pretty much all over. This includes their wonderful rimfire scope that you and I have on 10/22s. Checked one shop and the price is around 150 with free shipping and no tax. THAT is a good buy. Here is one link over on Optics Planet...

Pedenzo said...

Carteach, how did you get the combo to my safe? If it wasn't for yours having a longer barrel, I would be headed to my safe just to make sure my baby is still there....nice build....


Hartley said...

OK, I'll give ya one of my favorite "mods" for building ARs.. You know how pesky the little spring & pin are underneath that "sling plate"? You go to change plates, and the spring & detent pin (forgotten until then) go walkabout, requiring an intensive hands & knees search..

So next time, take about 1/8" off the spring with a sharp set of dikes, then tap the hole 4-40. put in the pin, spring, then turn in a short 4-40 set screw - and the problem disappears forever!

Carteach said...

Hartley, That is an EXCELLENT idea!

Carteach said...

And...... this is me ordering a sharp new 4x40 tap....

Anonymous said...

MBUS is backwards...just sayin'

Carteach said...

Yes Anon, it is. If you'd like to know the reason, read through the link in the post.

Hartley said...

And unlike the NYPD, anon, he DID get the Eotech on right way around..:-)

Glad you like the mod, Art - I can't remember where I got it, but has been done on every one of my ARs. I also like to put in the "easier to open" versions of the takedown pins - like these: Not especially tacticool, but useful when you are swapping uppers and lowers around.

Windy Wilson said...

And this is me ordering a 4x40 tap, because I aspire to build my own AR, just as Carteach did, customized to my preferences.

Anonymous said...

Mine is built on Aero Precision matched receivers, chambered in 7.62 X 39.
Bolt and M16 carrier by Cason Engineering. Bolt and carrier bore are hard chromed.
Med contour 16" barrel, carbine lgth gas port, YHM gas block w/ flip up HK-style front sight and short rail at 6:00, A2 hider.
MilSpec M4 buffer assy.
ALG QMS trigger group. Magpul MBUS rear sight and MOE socks in FDE. QD sling mount @ left front handguard. ERGO pistol grip also in FDE. No accessory rails, a light can be mounted at gas block if necessary.

I chose this caliber based on my experience with Mini 30 and SKS. It will handle anything I anticipate and streamlines my ammo inventory.
I used carbine lgth gas port and M4 buffer to simplify transition to a 5.56 upper assy.

Some attention to detail is required when building an AR in X 39.
Cartridge head is larger than 5.56 so a dedicated bolt is needed. Case taper is also more pronounced, 20 rd+ magazines must be curved to accommodate the taper. Current 10 and 20 rd. CProducts Defense mags work well for me, but others may need some tinkering.
I polished the M4 feed ramps. Runs fine with a few drops of oil, never bothered to try any other lube. Never tried any premium ammo either.

This was built several years ago as a general purpose, rather than an all purpose carbine- short, lightweight and gadget free.
With that in mind I mounted a PA red dot optic. This proved effective but less reliable than I hoped.
I replaced it with an old Simmons 4X SKS scope in medium rings. Much better, and no pesky button cell batteries.
One of these days I might even try to print some groups on paper...

Quite happy with this carbine. Very little I would change if doing it again. I reckon such a build would cost less now due to market conditions.