Five Reasons to Build Your Own AR [Contest Entry]

By Key Stone Scout

This past Christmas I wanted to get my two LEO brothers a gift and not blow the bank.  Mostly because I love them but also to fill up the good will bucket in case my foot feels too heavy. After scouring through the all-knowing internetsmachine I found a set of three consecutive Spikes Tactical lowers and scooped them up. I thought it would be fun for each of us to build a sword from the ground up.  As luck would have it one of the lowers matched one of their badge numbers so that made it feel even more like a home run . . .

For my build I immediately got impatient and started buying components daily (“No honey I swear this was on back order from a while ago – and yes of course I’m concurrently saving for Junior’s college fund!”). As the parts came in I got even more excited. “What a year,” I thought, “making a baby and making my first firearm”.

Once all components came in I ended up with is a rifle that will give me some serious utility.  Certainly this weapon lacks “top end” components. It lacks precision tuning by a skilled gunsmith. It lacks prestige because I don’t want to show it off to anyone, especially my gunsmith who might want to beat me senseless with it. It also is downright ugly as sin. But let’s get into the reasons why you too should build an AR-15 regardless of your skill level…

1.     I made it. There are few like it and this is mine. A pride issue involved after assembly and then punching accurate consistent holes at 150 yards. It also has never hiccupped once and this is after nearly 2,000 rounds through the thing. All of this stuff builds confidence and swells the nether regions.

2.     Customized is the way to go. This firearm platform is so ubiquitous that there are many quality manufacturers of components out there so it is a great first gun build. Also, being that I shoot most comfortably as a southpaw I ensured it was fully ambidextrous. Topped off with a little JV rattle can action this weapon turned into my truck gun ready for any situation good or bad. At first I was hesitant to spray paint my AR. But I weighted the options (black rifles stick out like a sore thumb) and went for it.  I was also comforted to know how easily the spray paint can come off. Even with the presence of Rem Oil it begins to wipe away.

3.     You will learn a lot. I like many readers of this blog am a life-long learner. It was a good experience to look up many articles and how to videos. You will learn about the laws. You will learn about what’s important to you personally for attributes and usage. You will also learn how deep your passion for self-defense and/or shooting sports can go. Even if you end up buying a complete upper as I did, you inevitably will be researching things such as length laws and pistol vs. carbine compliance. When I think about it more, I would even go out on a limb and say building an AR-15 is the responsible thing to do.

4.     You’ll save some money. Get the parts you want and leave the rest of the junk out. I realized that I had five ARs in the brief time I’ve been a Second Amendment enthusiast. Every single one I owned and sold had been slightly customized by yours truly. These were always small changes but the costs added up. I ended up selling each of them because they just weren’t quite right. I will keep this one. Lowers are still fairly cost effective. Even if you don’t have the means to build the whole thing right now, you should buy that lower and stash it in the back of your safe for when the time is right. You can start your build slowly. Next time you go to the gun shop buy two boxes of ammo instead of five. Now you probably have funds for that upgraded grip.

5.     The times in which we find ourselves make this a valuable piece of equipment for your kit.  Let’s face it this is an important piece of hardware to have at hand as an option no matter what the situation. Especially since there are insidious mongrels out there intent on doing us harm simply for being Americans. My LEO brothers couldn’t agree more. We have had conversations where they acknowledge where if there was a truly concerted attack, our police would be ill equipped. Local and even most state forces are trained (and staffed) to deescalate rather than fight and defend. What would they do if there are 10, 20, maybe even 30 attackers at once? If the time comes, it will be readers of this blog and the like who pick up to defend their neighborhoods and loved ones.

My next goal with this gun doesn’t have anything to do with hardware. Instead, I want to select a quality training outfit and take a carbine training course. It’s been some great fun building America’s rifle. It’s yet another piece of equipment in my inventory that my father-in-law could possibly ridicule. Then again, he won’t be seeing this little guy any time soon.


  1. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    Nice effort. I’m still debating whether I’m ever getting an AR-I don’t know if I would shoot it around here. However-if the hildebeast gets in…

    1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

      With the caliber choices out there you can build a 22 or 9mm. I am wanting a 9mm for indoor range use. Keep buying pistols instead however!

      1. avatar Kapeltam says:

        I’m debating a 9mm SBR myself. I say debating because a 10mm SBR is tempting too. (Low funds makes both impossible ATM)

        1. avatar 10mm says:

          10mm SBR. You won’t regret it. That’s a serious amount of energy you can place on a target, accurately and quickly, from such a small platform.

    2. avatar Accur81 says:

      Dude, get one! If you aren’t sure, just get an M&P Sport with a 16″ barrel in 5.56. Even better, get a lower from Palmetto State Armory with Magpul MOE for $189-209 and put a 16″ stainless steel complete upper – about $329 – $399 on it. If you don’t like a component, swap it out for something better.

      It’s worth having, and the platform is the most versatile semi auto rifle ever made. You can literally shoot from .22 LR to .50 Beowulf with the proper uppers / conversion kits.

    3. avatar Hannibal says:

      There will be another huge price jump when\if a dem gets the presidency… I’m getting anything I want for the next few years now.

  2. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

    Not sure I saved money. With the exception of my fixed carbine stock, everything else was priced like Tolkien elves made it. I knew that much of it was a marginal improvement over stuff costing half as much but I liked and still like it.

    1. avatar Kapeltam says:

      I know i didn’t save any money building mine. But part of that cost is due to the night vision scope I picked up for it.

  3. avatar AlanInFL says:

    It is fun to build one on your own. Build it your specs and your are happy. Plus it is another way to feed the BRD.

  4. avatar Mike Stramm says:

    Very interesting, I gonna give it a go and build one myself. Thanks for the article. Poppa

  5. avatar Dave Lewis says:

    I’ve built two AR’s – a 20″ marksman’s rifle with the old Vietnam style fixed stock and Nikon tactical scope and a 16″ M-4 carbine with Magpul furniture, I built both of them with Anderson lowers and Delton uppers. I think that combination is one of the best low cost options going. If you’re are happy with the Delton stocks you can build a rifle for around $500. I’ve got less than $600 in my carbine including sights and four 30 round magazines. I’ve also got an older (pre Remington) Bushmaster and I think that my home brew ARs are every bit as good.

    1. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

      The cheapest I have built was Anderson/PSA parts, magpul Moe grip 16″ stainless barrel, cheap carry handle for rear, A2 front. With shipping and transfer fee $479 and change. I may be able to build them cheaper and still functional but shipping adds up quickly.

  6. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

    The reason I built mine from scratch is that I had no knowledge about the workings of the AR design and wanted to learn it from the ground up.

    Also ask the entry level guns were out of stock for years running.

    Also I wanted a fixed stock and a 16″ barrel, and those are hard to find.

  7. avatar tfunk says:

    I saved about $1000 off retail building my 308 SBR…and that was with buying a PWS complete upper. The Palmetto State Armory AR-10 lowers are really nice.

    On the next one I’ll build the upper as well.

  8. avatar Mr. 308 says:

    I didn’t have much choice needing to build a SAFE act featureless rifle in 308.

    Went with completed upper with no muzzle break or threads, put the rest of it together myself, which frankly was dead easy. I do know which end of a screwdriver is the business end, but on the other hand I am no mechanical engineer or gunsmith.

    Wasn’t about saving money, I wanted the learning experience and as stated and the ability to build what I wanted to into the gun.

    I just wish I had more time to get outside and shoot the thing.

  9. avatar Bob Lee says:

    How satisfying it would be to build , and then hunt with your AR ? A bill in Pennsylvania is almost a reality that will make this happen ….. but the NRA is holding it up . Ask the NRA why they seem against SB 737 in Pa.
    Learn more at – www PAFOA com . Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Assoc. // Get real NRA.

  10. avatar Defens says:

    I’ve assembled several AR uppers and lowers from purchased parts, then machined a couple 80% lowers. I just came in from my home shop, where I’m busily machining my third lower from a blank forging.

    Taking the next step to machine a lower from scratch (if you have the tooling) is a great learning experience. If you screw it up, the blank is only $20 or so, and aluminum is easy to machine and easy on cutting tools. I’m holding tight tolerances on all of these, and it’s a real thrill to drop all the parts in and have them fit perfectly – besides the fact the you can truly gunsmith the fit of the upper to the lower, pin holes, etc.

    Next thing to learn is anodizing. I have a big pile of lowers ready to sandblast, electro-etch with appropriate slogans and logos, and then anodize.

    Hat’s off to anyone willing to tackle building their own AR – no matter where they start from! The primary problem with building your own lower is it gets kind of addictive. Then you get “out of balance” and have to buy or build uppers to match, etc.

    1. avatar notalima says:

      “Then you get “out of balance” and have to buy or build uppers to match, etc.”

      Heh, I know exactly what that is!

      This, in turn, creates the “safe not big enough” out of balance 😉

  11. avatar steve says:

    Because like Burgerking

    “You can have it your way”

  12. avatar Crowbar says:

    Excellent article. I just built my first AR. I got everything from PSA. I had just under 500 dollars in the whole rifle and I have had no issues with about 500 rounds through it.

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m working on a super cheap build myself.

    Got a SAA complete upper receiver assembled (not an upper assembly) for $56 at the wanenmacher. Got a heavy/bull barrel (.875) in stainless 416 – 20″ from bear creek Arsenal on the super cheap – $116. Ordered an aluminum 16.5″ long key mod aluminum free float handguard for $80. Most of the other parts I have laying around.

    It’s going to be epicly cheap.

  14. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The first AR you build won’t save you anything – because you’ll need to buy tools to do the build.

    But the second one you build – OK, now you can claim with a straight face (for some value of “straight” involving higher order mathematics) that you saved money.

    1. avatar Bob says:


      The first one will cost MUCH more than just buying an AR if you count the time you put into it. I did my first one CNC. So I planned out and did all the work beforehand, then pushed a button and it was done. As someone else mentioned… you get out of balance with too many lowers pretty quick. Still buying parts to this day in different fun configurations.

    2. avatar BLAMMO says:

      The tools are pretty basic but there are a few specialty items most of us don’t already have in our garage or basement toolbox. An armorer’s tool (don’t bother with anything but Tapco), a set of starter punches and a set of long finishing punches, a magazine vise block, and a 1/4′ universal clevis pin from Home Depot is worth the few bucks even if it’s just for installing the take down pin. Always keep a spare part kit on hand.

      They’re almost as much fun to build as they are to shoot. But I’ll be dipped in $#!+ if you’ll end up saving money on your initial or even subsequent builds. You can buy an AR for <$500 and you can probably build one for less than that but you won't. You'll end up selecting better quality components and you'll have trouble keeping the cost that low.

      A sub $500 AR is not the same as a $1000 AR.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        You should also invest in a 1/2″ drive torque wrench. You should invest in roll pin punches, to keep your punches from slipping off the roll pins and scarring up the receiver(s).

        The Tapco tool is good, but I prefer individual tools built for one purpose. Multi-tools are a great way to scar up a customer’s gun, in my experience.

        1. avatar notalima says:

          And, don’t cheap out on your punches. I’ve seen friend’s pin punches bend, break, and head-flatten because they did not want to spend a few dollars more on a good set of pin punches.

        2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          The following tools are where quality and “the right fit” are absolutely required in gunsmithing:

          1. Screwdrivers. Not much used on an AR, but absolutely essential on most every other gun out there.
          2. Punches. There are pin punches, roll pin punches, drifts, etc. Dozens and dozens of punches.
          3. Vises – with soft jaws. You can make the soft jaws. Get a Wilton vise.
          4. Files – I have hundreds of files, some of them highly specific (eg, 1911 files for the slide or sight dovetails).

          You can make your own screwdrivers and punches – and I often do. I start with O-1 drill rod, machine what I need, harden, (heat to red hot and quench in oil), then temper to the appropriate level. Every serious gunsmith needs to learn how to make tools out of O1 drill rod, because there are some tools that are simply not commercially available.

        3. avatar notalima says:

          “Dozens and dozens of punches.”

          Lol. I am, at best, shadetree, but friends who come over to use my workshop for their build projects almost always ask “why do you have soooo many punches?”

          My answer is “Well, you are about to find out.” 😀

          Like a friend of mine who is a hobbiest blacksmith. He has a double handful of anvils of various kinds. Very interesting learning the whats and whys of anvils.

  15. avatar barnbwt says:

    “You didn’t build that” -BHO


  16. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    I investigated the cost of building an AR, buying the parts from Brownell’s. I could not see any economy.

    The Ruger AR-556 goes for $600. It’s not exactly match grade, but it’s a good, reliable rifle with a good barrel. You can swap out a real nice trigger and a free-float handguard and have a sweet rifle for around $1,000.

    One of the keys to a project like this is to find vendors who don’t charge you sales tax, and combine parts into a single order to save on shipping. Those things can add up.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      There is no “economy” in building your own. There’s so many choices in aftermarket devices, you can’t contain yourself and you start up-selling yourself. Oh, you don’t want the stock, GI Joe BCG. You want a little better BCG. You don’t want a Homer Simpson barrel, you want a better grade of barrel.

      Of course you want a better trigger. That’s a buck-fifty on up. And on and on and on and on and on… until you look at the Brownells’ cart summary and you see a comma in the number… and then you realize you’ll be in less trouble with The Management if you just go and buy a Ruger or similar COTS AR-15 and then upgrade one piece at a time…

      Been there, done that. Frank and Pete don’t give out T-shirts, so all I have to show for it is several AR’s.

  17. avatar notalima says:

    WARNING: Building your own AR can lead to a compulsive desire to build…MORE ARs. This behavior will typically present itself in building multiple configurations, calibers, parts, etc., and a never-ending outlook toward ‘the next project’…


  18. avatar ADM says:

    I recently built my first [only?] AR, in 7.62×39. It was a learning experience to be sure, but I didn’t do it because it was more or less expensive: I did it just to do it. I may end up building more uppers for different calibers down the line, but as of now, I have no plans to do so. My uncle has built maybe seven or eight and has no plans to stop, so I guess the bug just bit him and not me.

    Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic to be able to point to one of my guns and say “I made that” [or, more honestly, “I assembled that”], but I’m just fine with the rest of my ever-growing collection being stuff that was made by professionals, instead of me and my uncle in his basement shop with mostly-improvised tools. My AR runs like a dream and has earned a place in my collection. But I’m not about to go out and buy parts to make several more. There are plenty of other guns I want.

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