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I retired from full-time law enforcement two years ago, and I took a job as a part-time school police officer at a local school district. That means I now have summers off for the first time since I graduated high school. Last year I got a long-awaited shoulder replacement so that put a crimp on my first free summer, but this year I was pretty much free to do whatever.

How did I use all of that free time? I ended up being the unpaid Uber driver for my kids, and we did a few short family trips, but I still had a lot of time to myself. So I did what any sane man with loads of free time would do: I built a bunch of ARs and drank beer. Often at the same time.

I’m Not a Gunsmith, But I Tried It at Home Anyway

Let me start out by making it clear that I am not a gunsmith. I’m not even particularly mechanically inclined. With that said, AR’s are like adult Lego. They’re fun to build, you can cobble together all sorts of wacky configurations, and they’re honestly pretty easy to piece together as long as you have the basic tools.

Building ARs is more assembly, and sometimes some trouble-shooting than it is actual gunsmithing. It’s a lot like building GLOCKs, which I also dabble in. I at least took a GLOCK armorer’s course while I was at my old job, so that didn’t hurt, and some of those principles carry over to piecing together ARs too.

I first starting working with AR’s back in the mid 80s while I was in my teens, when my dad got interested in them and did some builds himself. A couple of decades in the Army Reserve and then later the Air Force Reserve gave me exposure to various military M16’s.

Most of my time was spent with the M16A1, a little bit with the old Air Force M16’s (which was still in service in the Reserves in the mid 90’s) and then later with those same M16’s that were upgraded to M16A2 standard. The Air Force never seemed to waste small arms and continually reused them, which ties into one of the builds I did over the summer, but more on that later.

The point is, my youth and military time gave me a soft spot for retro AR’s and military clones, and that was a big driver for what I’ve been working on.

Retro Summer

My first build of the summer was really a rebuild. About 10 years ago I set out to build an M16A1 clone like the one I was issued in the Army back in 1988 at Ft. McClellan, Alabama for basic training. My rifle was an old Harrington & Richardson in classic A1 layout. Twenty-inch pencil barrel, fixed carry handle and A1 sights, with a triangular handguard and a short A1 buttstock. It was light, handy, and what an M16 looked like if you grew up any time between the 60’s and early 80’s.

I scored a GI surplus Colt upper in excellent condition from a police armorer down south who was upgrading the M16s that his department got from the DOD law enforcement assistance program. He hooked me up and the example I got was mint, including perfect handguards. That’s a part that commonly breaks on the old A1’s.

I tracked down an original buttstock and grip, and ordered a Nodak Spud A1 correct lower in the old Colt anodized gray. My bolt carrier group, charging handle and lower parts kit were commercial in the more common black finish. I threw a basic GI silent sling on it and called it good.

Over the years I found a couple original lower parts and swapped them out, but it wasn’t until Palmetto State Armory started up their Harrington & Richardson division that I could truly finish the gun. H&R was picked up by PSA in 2020 when Remington Outdoors, the last holder of the H&R brand, went bankrupt. Around the same time PSA acquired Nodak Spud, which has been the go-to source for retro uppers and lowers for years. Not only did they acquire the company, though, they brought over Mike Wettleland, NDS owner, as the new CEO of H&R.

While a lot of folks may know H&R from their rugged, but inexpensive single-shot sporting shotguns and revolvers, they actually have a strong martial tradition and have supplied the US government with M1 Garands, M-14’s and M-16’s. They even made some Reising submachineguns during WWII, and T-48 FAL’s during the US battle rifle trials that led to the adoption of the M-14.

Mike has built the new H&R on that foundation and has been focusing on various M16 based AR-15’s using the old H&R logo and classic military style markings. They’re doing complete clone rifles, as well as individual parts like upper and lower receivers, barrels, stocks and parts kit. From the XM16E1, through XM177 and Commando carbines, to M16A2’s and even some newer GWOT builds, they’re running the table on military style designs. There is huge demand for what they’re making, too, which you can see by how fast things sell out when they’re listed.

Back to the A1 Build

So that brings me to 2023. At SHOT Show in January I got to talk with Mike and check out H&Rs complete M16A1 and Colt 635 9mm subgun clones. I already knew Mike’s work from Nodak Spud and the new guns looked great. Shortly after the show I ordered an M16A1 lower and an H&R 635 lower, along with a couple of gray charging handles and other small parts.

I swapped out the lower with the Nodak Spud one that was on my A1 build, and moved my original stocks over to the new gun. I finally had a clone that was dead-nuts-on to the gun I was issued in basic, right down to the H&R markings on the receiver.

As a finishing touch, I added a KAK Industry selector switch which lets you rotate the selector all the way to the Auto position, which is marked on the H&R lowers. It (sadly) doesn’t give you auto fire. It’s purely cosmetic, and will still fire only in semi-automatic whether in the Semi or Auto position, but it’s a fun touch for a clone build.

Just to add some flavor, I still have my old steel pot helmet from the 80’s and a set of my old load bearing equipment, as well as a variety of M7 bayonets, including one that my dad had from the Army National Guard back in the mid 70’s, in addition to a long T65 M7 brought back from Panama during Operation Just Cause.

After 35 years, I once again had a rifle like the one Uncle Sam handed me back when I was 17 and scrambling around in the red clay of Fort McClellan, Alabama.

May as Well Build an A2 and an A4 to go with the A1

The next gun I worked on was another rebuild. This was an M16A4 I had built a few years back. It was initially built on a Del-Ton lower, a flat top upper from my parts bin, and a new FN A2 barrel that I found at a gun show. Initially I had a set of surplus A2 handguards I picked up from Sarco, and I actually had an A1 length buttstock, but used an A2 style stock from Cavalry Manufacturing that I had picked up somewhere years before. I have run a variety of optics on it since it was first built, although I have yet to score an appropriate ACOG for the build yet.

Over the years I managed to get a set of issued and well-loved Knight’s rails, a surplus Knight broomstick foregrip, and a surplus MaTech rear sight. I settled on a Lucid HD7 as my poor man’s ACOG alternative. It’s not clone correct, but it has the right feel and has been solid.

Even before PSA brought out the H&R line they started doing PSA lowers with military style markings. They do M4, M4A1, M16A2 and M16A4 lowers stamped appropriately with “Property of U.S. GOVT” as well as Safe, Semi, and Burst or Auto selector markings. They were inexpensive, too. With sales and deals on blemished models. I only paid $50 or $60 for mine and I ended up with an A4, an A2, and a couple of M4 and M4A1 lower.

With the M16A4 lower in hand, I swapped out my Del-Ton lower for the A4 marked one and also tracked down a salty surplus A2 stock with rack number on it from Shark Arms since I was moving closer to clone-correct anyway. While I was doing my rebuild, I realized as well that my random upper actually had M4 feed ramps that didn’t line up correctly with my FN A2 barrel. I hadn’t shot the rifle a lot and apparently had been lucky feed-wise, but figured I’d best correct that too while I was working on it.

Finding a flat top upper without M4 cuts was actually a bit of a challenge, but I managed to track down a new old stock Aero Precision and swapped that out. I’m calling my M16A4 clone close enough, until I actually find an ACOG or an Aimpoint Comp M2 or M4. I have a surplus Marine Corp OKC-3S just to round things out for that build.

Since I also had an M16A2 receiver I figured I may as well build one of those, too. I used standard GI spec lower parts, and added another KAK selector, and a basic bolt carrier group and charging handle. I found a used A2 upper on the Equipment Exchange and ordered a new A2 barrel from Brownells. I had a pile of A2 grips laying around and ordered another surplus A2 stock with more rack numbers off of a guy on Gunbroker.

The surplus handguards I originally had on my A4 build went on this one. I only used an A2 in the service occasionally, after I had transferred to the Air Force Reserves and they had finally upgraded to those but it was till nice to have one in the collection. I already had a decent M9 bayonet that I picked up in a trade that would go nicely with this build.

While these builds and rebuilds occupied some of my time, I still had plenty of summer left to work with. That meant more builds. Stay tuned for more on How I Spent my Summer Vacation coming up.

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  1. I only built 3 AR’s this summer. Last summer built 8.

    But I got three more gift AR’s I’m planning on next month. One is going to the now ex anti-gun couple I ran into a while back, and two are for Christmas presents.

  2. BREAKING: Judge rules FRT’s ILLEGAL and BLAMES company for misleading public into BUYING MG’s… a New York judge.

  3. a while back i built a mk12 spr budget clone
    used an 18 inch bca .223 wylde 1:8 twist midlength gas upper with fluted barrel
    a del ton lower with usgi grip and rra 2 stage match trigger
    an h buffer
    a b5 systems stock
    a utg pro bipod
    and strike industries j comp flash hider
    with a 4-16x vortex and 4 inch sun shade that i always leave on it just because it looks cool af
    it groups 1 moa or less to 300 yards with just about anything in the 62-69 grain range
    anything lighter or heavier the groups open up to 1.5 to 2 moa
    it recoils like a 10/22 with .223 ammo
    just under 1k total spent

  4. Mike, I was TDY once and was issued an A1 built by the Hydramatic Division of General Motors. International Harvester built M-1 rifles. Rock Olla built M-1 carbines. I think GM’s lamp division manufactired the M-3. Then there’s Remington Rand, Smith Corona, etc Milling and folding steel is the same. Wheather building weapons or typewriters.

    • AQ, they sucked! They wouldn’t work if their name was work. Couldn’t wait to get my hands on one in basic training. That lasted until the first time time I went to the range. The first time I pulled the trigger it malfunctioned. And every time after. The company armour couldn’t make it work. He said, “Keep cycling it by hand.” That’s a conference builder for a weapon you might carry into battle.

      • “The company armour couldn’t make it work. He said, “Keep cycling it by hand.” That’s a conference builder for a weapon you might carry into battle.”

        No wonder in Vietnam battle-field pickup AK-47s were known to happen…

        • Incorrect powder and original design internals apparently gave that experience fairly often early on. Can’t say much about the A2 experience but by the A4/ M4A1 versions you had to be doing something like using the magazine as a bipod to force a jam so long as you took minimal care of the rifle for basic. In the sandbox it needed more frequent cleanings but was good enough for where we were.

  5. Sigh…and I have to figure out when to stash my AR. Buddy volunteered already. Dunno about any exotic retro builds but it’d be nice to have the option🙄Not registering it ILL annoy Dimscum© You make Swallowwell look like a fangfang piker!

  6. Nice set! Go for a precision bolt build next if you haven’t been down that black hole. Whole next level of fun even before you get to sorting a few hundred identical once-fired cases by weight.

  7. Most newbes assemble the AR platform based on what they heard about this part and that part from people who also heard the same through the grapevine. Just because it has a trusted name on it does not mean the component/part is trustworthy.

    Building the platform correctly requires gauging, measuring and fitting every component, etc. Not knowing what and where to gauge and measure AR components is like not knowing how to gauge and measure engine components picked up from a machine shop, etc. I.E. If you want to jump in and assemble an aligned honed block direct from a machine shop without gauging, measuring and cleaning everything over and I mean everything over well be my guest.

    Too many people assemble an AR based on components that “look good” and that is not how it works or is doing it right Lego simple.

  8. Nice set of cool toys. Having been in the Air Force back in the day and attached to the Army and issued their weapons I learned to love A1s with a 203. I can’t get the 203 but I did put together a semi clone of my own. A Deleware Machine lower, A2 stock, BCM Govt. upper with bcg, A1 trianle handguards, and a M4 sling. Yes I have the bayonets. Started with a mil spec fire control group then changed it to a Hiper Fire. I did cheat and used a slick top upper but added the carry handle. The first time at the range it felt like going home. Still does. I am envious of all the versions but the decision of which one to take today would be hard.

  9. There are good AR’s out there but I definitely recommend building your own yourself.

    I’m personally not a huge fan of the A1/A2. About the only thing on them that does interest me are the fixed stocks. Free floating barrels with mlok guards are more my thing.

  10. That first picture is going to send multitudes of Libturds into therapy, what with that scary black hue, pistola gripper, that bjillion bullet “clip,” a out end “silencer,” horrific cutty thingy mount, a no hand burn shroud, et el. Scary, I tell you, SCARY!!!!!


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