Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So you want an AR-15? (Part I)

James tells me Luke recently became the proud owner of an AR-15. It just so happens that James and I are in the slow process of building a couple ourselves. James has tasked me with documenting our trials and tribulations for the benefit of Michael and anyone else that's interested in joining our little club.

Luke bought a complete rifle, and we're partially assembling ours. What's up with that? Buying the complete gun is certainly the easiest way. We went to the gun show in Austin on Sunday and it looked like most were running around $1200+. You can probably find them for less (perhaps sub 1k depending on what you want). This route also requires little explanation. Hand over some money, walk away with cool firearm.

From here onwards are my notes regarding our assembly process. Like skinning cats, there's more than one way to build an AR. The first thing you'll find right now is that parts aren't as plentiful as you'd like. Something must have happened last year that caused a run on firearm purchases. The supply shortages also mean prices might be higher than in the past.

(Rant: If you read any of the AR-15 forums you'll probably see people complaining about "price gouging." Which I think is defined as: Exceeding the amount of money I have determined which you must accept in exchange for what I want. But enough of my basic economics theory.)

What do you need to buy? We started with a stripped lower receiver. We're using one from DPMS, but I suppose they're all mostly the same. It has a serial number on it, and if you buy it from a store you have to go through the same process as if you were buying a complete gun. You don't have the same issue with the other pieces, so you can order them online and have them shipped to your house if you want.

Cool, you now have an expensive, useless aluminum block. From here you could buy a kit that has everything else you need. Here's an example


That's too easy, so for us the next purchase was the lower parts kit. It contains all the stuff you need to jam into the lower receiver (e.g., trigger, springs). There are instructions for assembling this mess here. It also helps to watch these videos beforehand:


I guess the hardest part for me was getting the pin for the bolt catch assembly started with the huge hammer I was using.

James was kind enough to give me a Command Arms collapsible butt stock for my birthday. I also picked up a 20 round Magpul magazine. I think some 30 round mags are called for eventually.

That's where it stands for now. A bigger, useless object.

From here you could buy more pieces and build the upper, but I'm leaning towards buying a complete upper assembly.

Examples of some complete uppers.

Rock River Arms
Stag Arms
Lewis Machine & Tool

LaRue Tactical in Cedar Park (right outside of Austin) makes parts, but the price for an upper is a little on the high side for this project.

I've skipped a lot of things to consider. There's plenty of information at ar15.com. Here's an example of advice you can find on various forums regarding brands, etc. This one mentions being Cali-Legal so maybe this will apply to Michael.


I should also note that I'm planning on starting with a rifle chambered for .223/5.56 NATO. But there are other calibers you could go for. We saw some AR57 uppers at Red's Indoor Range a couple weeks ago. These shoot a 5.7x28mm cartridge, but the uppers were close to $700 I think.


Anonymous said...

I must say that I become more and more interested in the idea of building my very own AR-15 by the second....beginning last night with my conversation with James. In fact I'm online shopping now and I've already got several questions. Since you and James have already done a lot of the research on this, I will use you both for info thus allowing me to kickback and be lazy. My first question is this. I looked online at DPMS for the lower receiver and the disclaimer came up that I need to have an FFL to purchase online. Is this true and did you also go through this same process? Please shed some light on this topic. Thank you.

John said...

Yes, to order a stripped lower you have to have an FFL. We don't have one either. We're fortunate enough to have a couple of gun stores locally that had receivers in stock. So we bought ours at the store. We saw quite a few at the gun show too.

If you can't find one locally, your other option would be to find a local dealer with an FFL that does transfers (for a fee of course). Then you can buy online and have the receiver shipped to them. I think the store where we bought our receivers will do FFL transfers for $20, but based on my research that might be on the low side of things.

We paid $175. I definitely saw cheaper lowers online, but they weren't in stock at the time.

DP said...

You better get busy....


John said...

Yeah, we saw that. It's been bumped up to #1 on the priority list. I'm also trying to decide which 9mm I want, a Taurus 24/7 or Springfield XD.

DP said...

Shot my buddies XD 45 last weekend and it is a sweet little rig. Have him scoping me out an XD 40 sub compact.