Keith our resident instructor and AR-15 home build fanatic, has started a series on building an AR-15 from scratch. This first article discusses why or why not you may want to build an AR instead of buying one. While cost is a factor it should not be “the factor” when making this decision. This series will be an excellent compliment to the AR-15 pistol build series I am working on. We will also over the coming weeks make every effort possible to speak specifically on the parts each of us used in our builds and what lead us to those choices.
The question of buying or building an AR15 type rifle has been debated among the gun owning community extensively for the past decade and beyond. There are merits to both options depending on your needs and desires. Here I share with you my personal experiences so if you are considering one, the other, or both options you can make a more informed decision to put the rifle you truly want in your hands.
SIDENOTE: If this is your first AR, buy it and keep it simple, avoid rails and anything with an overabundance of acronyms. ‘Sport’ Models from names like Smith & Wesson are your friend. Once you know you like the platform and have discovered its idiosyncrasies you have my permission to go nuts on the next one.
Let’s start by addressing the ‘Common Wisdom’ of the AR build.
You can get a better rifle for less!
There is some merit to this but the impression across the internet seems to be you’ll be getting a Noveske or Daniel Defense for the price of a Bushmaster.
This is not the case.
The reason those rifles cost what they do is material quality above all else and if you want the same quality parts you will be paying the quality prices.
The real and most substantial savings comes in selecting your key parts and the quality level you want out of those parts and then finding the lowest price part that fits that category.
Here is where you can lose the savings battle, you can lose badly. The explosion of high end parts with flashy names and catchy descriptions can easily run up the total in that shopping cart to a level you were hoping to avoid.
This isn’t a problem, unless you hit “place order” without trimming the list to essentials. Don’t be afraid to buy piece by piece either, it makes the process longer and a bit more agonizing in the waiting department but much easier for the finances to absorb.
Where should you spend?
Believe it or not the military uses an $800 rifle. The M16A4 and M4/M4A1s are about $800 a pop for the basic assembly. It gets pricier in a hurry once the gadgets start getting installed (The Knight’s Armament rails jump the rifles to $1100 before they leave Colt or FNH USA)
So we can keep costs low when we stay away from the extras. Plan the extras you absolutely want into your budget and focus on the function you are seeking above any particular brand. Let each part win its place in your build rather than picking it out ahead of time. I found this to be much more efficient in controlling my costs.
The three parts that are going to make or break your rifle are the bolt carrier assembly, trigger, and barrel. The majority of your budget lands here. Even with that said don’t be scared of less expensive parts with good reputations. If you can track an “off brand” part’s origin you may discover a big name company who use said parts in their guns. They might even be OEM for a number of AR makers. Most companies that produce ARs buy the parts and assemble them, usually making only a limited number of items in house and getting the lowers properly marked with their logos.
Build or buy the rifle you want!
This is part 1 of 3 guys, the next two will focus on actually putting them together whereas right now we’re discussing parts. But build the gun you want, if someone who warranties their work builds the gun you want than I honestly suggest buying it instead. One of the greatest features of the AR is the fact it really is the everyman’s rifle, bought or built you can change it to suit you.
Building an AR is a fairly substantial undertaking so make sure the end result is something you will enjoy! After spending the time, effort, and maybe some old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears, if you end up not satisfied with your end product because you decided against a piece you had your heart set on, like a barrel or handguard, then you did yourself a disservice.
It is my heartfelt recommendation to pick performance over brand name to fulfill each part’s role but this is also your project so feel free to pick at least one or two things for it you like just because (examples in part 2).
To be continued!