Gun Review: Chris H.’s 80% AR Build

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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By: Chris H.

What started as a project to do the most with as little as possible has turned into what might be my greatest point of pride and frustration. Initially I wanted to create an AR15 for myself, as I’m comfortable with the rifle from my time in the military. And as election year was coming around I thought it would be prudent to make a move on an “assault weapon” or more accurately a normal semi auto rifle. So I decided to start with an 80% lower.

Fortunately at the time I was a machining student and had access to a fully equipped machine shop. The whole process took about an hour. Maybe a bit more as I had to look up dimensions. For the two of you who don’t know how it works, to finish an 80% lower it’s simply cutting out of aluminum the part of an AR15 that holds the trigger group in place. For those of you who have machined an 80% lower, I hope you used a jig. I didn’t and it was incredibly loud. No changes to my speeds or feeds would do it. Yeesh. But all in all, a prideful moment for me.

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So $50 well spent, and I chose not to engrave it. I know others would disagree with this practice but I love the look. No markings whatsoever

The other major component that I machined was the handguard. I got very lucky. Handguards are best made using an extrusion that has the profile of the handguard. But my instructor just so happened to have taught Glen Seekins his first lesson in G code for CNC so they know each other fairly well.

So from him we received a few five-foot sections of the very material he uses to make his high end handguards. Several hours of computer work and about eight in the four axis CNC machine and…viola! My own one of a kind handguard. Not super fancy but something that works great for me.

And my flash hider, made that too.

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The second part of this gun that is somewhat unique is that I spent absolutely as little money as possible. Between my birthday, begging friends and trading parts and other stuff, I have a working rifle for about 150 of my own dollars. Pair that with my own machined parts and you have a bit of a strange but awesome franken-rifle. With a few strange parts like a plain Jane Palmetto upper and a DPMS commercial spec stock and buffer tube.

But before I delve into the nuances of my review I must say that this rifle has brought me lots of joy and pride. It’s not perfect, I’ve had issues (as you will see) but I made it with my own hands and nobody can take that from me, and that’s why I chose to share this rifle with all of you. Not because I think I’m the best reviewer. But because guns are a part of American culture and we should share that with each other. Ok, off the soap box. Here we go.

My rifle is chambered in 6.5 Grendel. Why? I can’t hunt deer in Washington with 5.56. Plus I’ve really bought into the idea of higher BC bullets with better downrange performance. Using a ballistic calculator I’m still getting about a 1000 ft pounds of energy at 300 yards with a 16 inch barrel. Well outside my normal hunting range so as long as I do my part there should be no problems in the field.

Talking about the field 6.5 Grendel still has 25 round magazines so I’m not giving up much capacity for the increased firepower. So as a defensive rifle I’m still very confident in my ability to lay down fire if needed. I won’t expand much more on the Grendel round since it has been extensively covered in other articles and other places online.

As long as I’m talking about the round let’s talk about my barrel for a second. It’s a Doublestar 6.5 Grendel 1 in 9 twist 4140 chromemoly with parkerized outside and a M4 profile. Pretty standard as far as AR barrels go, but I did catch a sale and saved a good bit of money from J&T Distributing.

All around, it’s been good to me, but at first it would only chamber when I released the bolt catch. If I ride the bolt home and use the forward assist to nudge it in, it didn’t want to chamber my Hornady 123 grain ammo. But, after a few rounds downrange and a good cleaning that seemed to sort itself out. 

On the range I did encounter one major malfunction. The C-Products magazines that I bought. Follower tilt. What is follower tilt? Here’s a picture.

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And here’s what happens to the rounds if you have this issue.

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Ouch. That was annoying. But I sent a courteous email off to the folks over at C-Products. They told me to box em up and send them back. After a week or so I got a box back with two brand new magazines and that fixed that. Beyond that, it feels and handles like any other black rifle just like you would expect fairly light, and easy to point and carry. I should also note the Magpul grip is a big step up from a milspec version. No finger bump and the texture is much better.

I mounted a nice little 2.5 power scope. A little hand-me-down from my boss. With that and my average skill it can produce groups as well as I can shoot with what is essentially a stock trigger.

The fancy exterior coating on this rifle is rattlecan tan. I never did like black. In the army everything has camo pattern. Except our rifles. This seems like a huge oversight in my book but hey, what do I know? So this is my homage to that time, painting over bare aluminum and black anodized so that it has a nice uniform look. Plus as it wears off the weathered look is pretty cool to me and isn’t that what’s important?

Without a shadow of a doubt I think every person of the gun should go down the road of building their own AR15. There’s a lot of personal growth that can be had and in my experience most people enjoy working with their hands. But, I would not recommend doing your own machining. It is labor intensive and considering the tooling and man hours a very uneconomical choice. Having said that pride of ownership on this one is through the roof.

So while it’s just another AR15 and there are many like it, this one is mine.

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style: * * * *
While tan is a great color I really need to swap out the stock for something more acceptable. Otherwise my forend is super cool and all my own.

Ergonomics: * * * *
It’s an AR15…no surprises here.

Reliability: * * *
With the few issues I’ve had I’ll be replacing a few parts in the future.

Accuracy: * * *
Stock trigger on an AR15. A drop-in will be a worthwhile investment.

Customize This: * * * * *
It’s an AR15.

Overall: * * * *
Currently not a perfect rifle. But with all the time, sweat, and tears, this rifle isn’t going anywhere

comments

  1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Good job.

    1. avatar other chris says:

      Thank you

      1. avatar PeterW says:

        Go directly to jail, felon.

        -Jerry Brown, Kevin DeLeon, Gavin Newsom “the Kommiefornia dream team”

  2. avatar Bob says:

    Only the first one isn’t economical. Economy isn’t typically the goal nor purpose with finishing 80%’s in our world of inexpensive stripped lowers. Makes a great father-son project.

    Take your time and the machining can indeed come out beautifully, even without big expensive equipment. Drill presses can make them functional, but a bit ugly(only on the inside though… when its all together, it doesn’t show anyway). Just takes some good thought and planning at the front end.
    http://www.tacticalmachining.com/

    1. avatar Stuart K says:

      My first lower cost me around 300 so I think I’ll need a bit more than two to break even! My jig can do ar10 also though, that’s gonna save a ton.

      Its a great experience, highly recommended.

  3. avatar Shawn Graber says:

    A friend of mine had a Cetme .308 rifle that liked to dent cartridges like that. Is that caused by the bolt slamming into a tilted round?

    1. avatar other chris says:

      Basically the bolt misses the rim and starts pushing the round along the side until it gets stuck right around the shoulder.

    2. avatar Removed_californian says:

      I would think so. But with regards to the cetme, I would like to think that the denting comes from being forcefully thrown out of the chamber and being slammed into the side of the receiver of the rifle.

      1. avatar Anner says:

        The G3/HK91 design absolutely mangles brass. Sounds standard to me.

        1. avatar anaxis says:

          My own CETME doesn’t exactly mangle brass, besides putting a slight dent at the mouth of some cases; but it does launch them nearly into orbit. If I fire 20 rounds I’ll find maybe 5 cases within 30ft, and the rest are probably flying around with Sputnik.

  4. avatar James69 says:

    1st nice build. I enjoy making things my own as well. 2nd you can’t go wrong with PSA anything. I have two uppers (5.56 and 7.62×39) and one lower with shoulder thingy (that NEVER touches my shoulder 😉 and out of the box, dead on and eat every ammo I feed it. If I need ANYTHING AR I go to PSA and order it. Needed more 5.56 mags – $8.99 each, new in the wrapper ……yeah $8.99….

    I’m interested in getting a 6.8 SPC II upper for longer range shooting I’ll be getting one from PSA.

    Off topic – Has anyone noticed how many AR’s and 1911’s are for sale used?(used as in 30-50 rounds) Here there is a flood of them (some at crazy prices)

  5. avatar notalima says:

    I’ve done several 80s (both on drill press and in combination with the newer router jigs). Nice projects and both my boys will be doing their own once they can own their own.

    I’ve also built a (Type 1) ‘Grendel on the cheap’ and have been EXTREMELY pleased with it. It has performed way beyond my expectations and given me a bit of enthusiasm when taking to the reloading bench lately. Just loading 123gr A-MAX as close to factory specs as I can. Definitely taking the place of my DPMS pattern .308 that I built last year.

  6. avatar AR says:

    Great review.

    Question, did you consider a
    base-plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan?

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      You just need to plug the right code into the machine. It’s a head code, anyone can get it…

      (Love that video!)

    2. avatar other chris says:

      Actually I used a panametric fam using six hydrocoptic marzel vanes soffited to the ambifacient lunar wainshaft such that side-fumbling is effectively prevented.

      1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

        “ambifacient lunar wainshaft such that side-fumbling is effectively prevented.”

        I gotta call you on this one.

        Everyone that reads arfcom KNOWS that particular wainshaft won’t prevent side-fumbling at all, much less effectively.

        Sheesh.

    3. avatar Bob says:

      https://youtu.be/Ac7G7xOG2Ag

      If there no turbo encabulator, this build is crap. ;D

      seriously, good job

      Your comment about the machining noise reminds me from my time spent with machinists. Anytime someone’s job was making a racket everyone gave them a raft of shit.

  7. avatar Swilson says:

    Nice build, looks great

  8. avatar PeterW says:

    Go directly to jail, felon.

    -J. Brown, K. Deleon, G. Newsom “The CA Anti-Gun dream team”

  9. avatar Kroglikepie says:

    Building your own is the best way to go. Did it with a stripped lower, two uppers, and now an SBR. I may have used stripped lowers and uppers (didn’t have immediate access to machine tools for an 80% lower to work), but the pride in my workmanship is the same. Plus, I built a sub-moa AR in two calibers for less than 2G. Good luck buying that anywhere.

  10. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

    You should whip up one of those muzzle brakes for Jeremy S to test!

  11. avatar JR_in_NC says:

    Very nice and timely, too.

    Just got my first 80% lower and jig and just waiting time to work it as a father-children project.

    Excited about that prospect, and 10 years ago I thought I’d never want to own an AR platform rifle.

    1. avatar Scoutino says:

      Last Friday night my friend stopped by to mill his 80 percenter on my jig. That inspired me to do mine Saturday morning with my son helping. His help consisted mostly of holding the vacuum hose and bringing beverages as he is only seven years old.
      It is not my first build, but it is his. It will be “the gun we built together “.

  12. avatar glenux says:

    I hope Chris H. scrubbed his GPS coordinates usually embedded in the metadata of cellphone pictures and videos.
    Assuming he used a cellphone to take the pics.

    1. avatar other chris says:

      My phone does not record GPS data. I’ve checked my pictures a few times. But I appreciate your concern.

  13. avatar Bob says:

    I keep meaning to run the numbers for 6.5 grendel vs .223 75gr, out of the same barrel length. I like 6.5’s (have a bolt creedmoor) but if i recall the grendel is pretty sluggish MZ.

    http://www.hornady.com/store/6.5-Grendel-123-gr-A-MAX/
    http://www.hornady.com/store/5.56-NATO-75-gr-BTHP-Superformance-Match/
    http://www.hornady.com/store/223-Rem-75-gr-BTHP-Match/

  14. avatar James69 says:

    I like this one.0% ar lower…… no really. 🙂 only $28.00 “where’s my dremil?”

    http://www.80percentarms.com/collections/lower-receivers/products/0-billet-ar-15-lower-receiver

  15. avatar Aerindel says:

    Or, build your own ak instead, much easier.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      Perhaps, but then when you’re done, you have an AK.

      1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

        So, a better rifle, then. Win win. {tongue out picture thingy would go here}

  16. avatar Anner says:

    Excellent work, wish I had that machinery in my garage.

  17. avatar JG says:

    Great work! You actually “built” your AR vs assembling like many people who say they have “built” an AR do. Semantics, I know, but I always chuckle. I have yet to machine a lower, but have assembled a few ARs and “built/assembled” a few AK variants from parts kits. No CNC there. 🙂 The challenges and personal growth/accomplishment you speak of are real. Thanks for sharing!!! I might try an 80% lower now after being inspired.

  18. avatar Mark N. says:

    I bought an 80% (polymer) lower because kevin DeLeon wanted to ban them I was just going to throw it in the ammo cabinet, but……I thought, wouldn’t that be fun to mill out the firing pocket? So I did. and that was going to be that, but….I bought a lower kit, an ALG trigger, and a bullet button. Now I had a complete lower, and that was going to be that, but… One piece at a trime, I bought the upper, the barrel, the handguard, etc. And then I had a rifle. Which Kevin DeLeon tells me now is an “assault weapons” that has to be registered by January 1, 12018. Sheesh. Maybe I should have saved myself $800. (whn you buuild it a piece at a time, you get to buy what you want, not just what’s cheapest.)

  19. avatar Geoff PR says:

    That build looks good.

    OK, you just reminded me of something –

    What causes that same type dent in the neck of the brass on a Ruger Mini-14 on ejection? My dings were perhaps half as bad as the ones in your picture.

    Would a ding on the neck of the brass like that ruin it for reloading?

    1. avatar other chris says:

      Brass from a mini 14 hits the charging handle on the way out. There’s slow motion footage of a mini firing on YouTube.

      As for reloading, as long as the ding is right on the mouth you can expand it back open with a pen. But if it’s a bit farther down I personally would not. You might be able to find a way to reform it but the outside could be out of round and give you issues. Besides, .223 brass is fairly easy/cheap to get ahold of.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Ah, OK, thanks.

        Is that malady curable with competent gunsmithing?

        Or an aftermarket charging handle?

  20. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    Forgot to paint the magazine.
    Looks kinda tacky.
    Get out your spray can.

  21. avatar Dan l says:

    6.5 123 smokes 223 75 grain, same barrel length, in long range trajectory and energy. The 6.5 with 123 has the same trajectory as the 308 175 gr. It will stay supersonic to 1k yards with a minimum 14 inch barrel. The 223 with 75 starts out a little faster but that bullet is a .4 g1 bc and the grendel is a .52 g1. 223 v 6.5 grendel is no comparison imo….6.8 spc would have a shot if they made a high bc bullet for it….

  22. avatar Maps Bam says:

    Ugh! What a biased review! LOL I’m completely kidding. You should be proud of this gun. Not only did you build it, but you made it using your own, custom parts. That is awesome. Most of us don’t have access to CNC machines or mills so I personally am jealous. That it works reliably just means you should be all that more proud of it and your work. Nice job! Well done!

    I am hoping to build an AR. I also want to start with an 80% lower, but I will have to do it with a drill press and maybe a router.

    Why is your gun loud from not using a jig? That part confused me.

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