Previous Post
Next Post

I’ve never been a huge fanboy of the AR-15. My ambivalence isn’t based on the comparative hypothetical merits of gas guns versus piston guns, or the teething pains of the M16 in Vietnam. Nope: my decidedly “meh…” attitude toward Eugene Stoner’s Greatest Hit comes entirely from my own experiences with the gun itself . . .

The first one I ever fired had a failing disconnector and a tendency to pretend it was an M16A2 firing 3-round bursts. Hella fun, but wickedly unsafe and calamitously illegal, too. Don’t get antsy, ATFE guys: it was repaired tout de suite, and it all happened so long ago that the applicable Statute of Limitations has run.

The other ARs I’ve shot were also high-maintenance girlfriend’s, but it was Armalite’s M-15 that (eventually) started to bring me around. It had a superb trigger and outstanding accuracy, and once it was running properly I started to understand why “America’s Rifle” is selling hotter than Justin Bieber albums. Baby, baby, baby…

Lots of middle aged guys have expensive hobbies, and the back pages of Popular Mechanics are full of plans and kits for Tesla coils, Shelby Cobras, and even helicopters. Since my expensive hobby is shooting, I’ve always thought it would be cool to build my own rifle. I could pick the caliber (within reason) and customize everything about the gun exactly the way I wanted it, with nothing but the skill of my hands and the funds in my debit card.  M203 cuts on the barrel? Hell, No!  Stainless barrel? Hell, maybe…

With their almost-universally interchangeable uppers and lowers, buffers and barrels, ARs are as modular as LEGO kits these days. I know what I would buy if I wanted an off-the-shelf AR and price were no object (I’m lookin’ at you, Rock River). But I’m a babe in the woods when it comes to rolling my own.

So here’s my question: would you build yourself a custom AR from hand-picked components? If so, what kind of rifle would you assemble, and which components would get the nod? If any of our Armed Intelligentsia have already built their own AR, was it an experience you would recommend to the rest of us?

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Why do we say that we “build” ARs, when most of us really just pick the parts and assemble them? We don’t fabricate anything, and most builders don’t modify anything either. So, as an old timer who already gets a senior citizen discount on stuff, I gotta agree with you, Chris. I hated the M-16. Hated! I like the AR-15. But I’m not building one any time soon.

    • “customize everything about the gun exactly the way I wanted it, with nothing but the skill of my hands and the funds in my debit card.

      The “skill of my hands” went as far as sticking a bushy upper on an RRA lower.

  2. I built one this year, my first AR. I’m glad I did, because after seeing all the little tiny parts and how complex the design was, I realized that the AR is not for me. So I sold it and bought an AK and a Glock.

    • I am laughing as I write these words. Right on man.

      I’ll stick to my bolt action and a P226.

    • Complex? I’m not getting it. I built my first AR last month. I had never even shot an AR before. I after a few months of buying parts on the cheap (if it wasn’t on sale, I didn’t buy it) and researching the innarwebz, I built mine in about 3 hours. The only special tool I bought was one of those multi-tool deals. From barrel to bolt to springs, pins, and trigger and all,.. I was amazed at how uncomplicated the rifle is.

      My “armory” background is in repairing paintball guns. Compared some of those, the AR was a dream to build.

      Oh,.. 500 rds and nothing has fallen of yet 😀

  3. Another vote for “hate M-16”. Despicable POS. Even now troops can not rely on it’s “improved versions”, variations. Have talked to more than a few that have returned from the sands of hell, none had anything good to say about current 5.56 weapons. Took us a couple of trips to the firing range to realize we had been had, that was in the 60s. Vietnam use confirmed our misgivings. (I will admit, my experience with M-16 then, colored my opinion of it forever). If I could build from the start, it would have to be a 7.62 piston driven, slick, no fu-fu stuff.

    • The folks at Picatinny Arsenal disagree… the M-16 platform has been refined and proven. Unfortunately, what you got in Vietnam was the prototype, thanks in part to a General Petraeus like thinking of getting an 70% solution in the field now and a 100% solution later. Ultimately, if a proper developmental program were undertaken, you would’ve seen the M-16A2 or an AR-18 type weapon right out the gate (in 1979 instead of 1963), but the neccessities of war gave us the original M-16 (and all it’s issues).

      • And they didn’t give out cleaning kits. Because ya know its so “self cleaning”. All from some low life who decided his hate for the rifle was worth a few lives.

  4. I makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of guys who build their own computers to fit their needs and wallets. I personally don’t see myself doing it anytime soon. I just don’t know enough about the different parts manufacturers.

  5. I have trouble building anything but a rectangle with Legos. Build an AR? My wife would laugh herself silly. In fact she might buy me all the parts just so she could watch and laugh and laugh… and laugh…

    Fortunately she doesn’t read this blog. I would hate to try to explain to a jury why I snapped.

  6. I’m not opposed to the idea, though honestly I’d probably just buy a factory AR if I had the cash.

  7. What kind of question is this? Would you build your own AR? The real question is how can you call yourself a shooter and not have already built yourself an AR? I don’t even like the AR all that much, and I’ve built a couple. For better or worse, this is America’s rifle. Loving it is optional. Learning it is mandatory.

    • You reminded me of something Jeff Cooper once said…

      “All the people constitute the militia — according to the Founding Fathers. Therefore every able-bodied man has a duty under the Constitution to become part of the “well-regulated” militia, specifically to understand and perform well with the individual weapon currently issued to the regular establishment. . . . Thus one who has not qualified himself with the M-16 may not be considered to be a responsible citizen.”

      • “Thus one who has not qualified himself with the M-16 may not be considered to be a responsible citizen.”

        Jeff Cooper never tried to fire the POS that I was issued. If he had, then he would be not be considered a responsible citizen. With my 19-yo eyes, I could knock the balls off a mayfly at 100 yards with a good rifle, and I had the trophies to prove it. With the M-16 I barely qualified. It wasn’t just that the gun was bad, it was inconsistently bad. One round would go right into the hole, the next into downtown San Antonio, and the third would jam. Man, did I hate that rifle.

        • Y’know, they figured out a twist rate to stabilize the 5.56 a long time ago. It’s not that difficult. If it’s pure accuracy you want, you couldn’t pick a better rifle. It’s fairly easy to float the barrel, and the direct impingement system, while dirty and hot for high volumes of fire, does have an advantage in that it minimizes interference during the firing cycle. You can even buy a decent trigger for the AR these days that approximates the geometry of the M1A’s trigger. As a result, ARs now rule everything from the prairie dog town to Camp Perry.

          Maybe it’s time to take another look. If you like accuracy, a varmint model with a heavy stainless barrel and float tube will put a big grin on your face.

          • I was talking about my old M-16. My AR is pretty good. It’s reasonably accurate, and the only feed problems I’ve had with it are mag related.

    • “Loving it is optional. Learning it is mandatory.”

      Loving it is highly unlikely unless special attention is given to the bolt group. The bolt has a bad tendency to break where it contacts the camming pin.

      The M-16/AR-15 can be made reliable but the time and expense involved is better spend on a less problematic system. Yes, you must learn the Stoner system but learn alternatives to it, too.

    • +1. “Learning it is mandatory”. Oh, yes. Learn it inside out, top to bottom, backwards and forwards. Learn it well. It is the SMLE, the ’03A3, the Garand of our age. Is it a perfect rifle? No such thing has yet to be invented. Will it do the job when it is needed? Absolutely, provided that it is built well, it is cared for properly, and that the tool and its owner come to terms with each other.

  8. I have built few. Just about every major instructor that I know tells me that the rifles that go down the most when run hard (LOTS of rounds fired in a short period of time) in their classes are Frankenbuilds (assembled by individuals). The rest that go down, are mostly made by low end, yet popular, manufactures. Even high end guns go down, but at a greatly reduced rate. All recommend purchasing from a top tier manufacturer. Lots of ARs made today are not worth their weight in pot metal.

    The vast majority of AR owners never shoot their rifle hard enough to make them fail and they proudly score their rifle high on reliability even though it has never really been run hard. Just about every AR can handle a few rounds at a time. Shooting 1500 rounds a day in a 3 day class is a great test of hardware.

    I love the ergonomics of the AR and own many from 22 to 308. There is nothing wrong with the AR platform that 6.8 SPC can’t solve. 🙂

  9. I am in the middle of making the decision to build an AR or build a Saiga, I like the .223 round and i like the idea of an AK in .223 that can use USGI mags, they roughly cost around the same and each one has their little quirks, the AK would require some milling, whereas the AR is just expensive tediousness. I am weighing the pro’s and con’s of each, but my budget is pretty firm $750.

  10. My dad bought his first AR, a Rock River M4, and has built two. Seeing how easy it was I decided to construct my own too. Its a flat top with 16” barrel, carbine length free float tube, and fixed stock. Building seems to be a tad bit cheaper than buying and you get what you want. Last time I shot I got about a 3” group at 100 yard and could probably do better if I could afford to go to the range more often.

    Buying different brand’s parts can make it act funny some times; one of my Dad’s short strokes fairly often and we haven’t worked it out why yet but mine, built from three or four different part brands, likes to shoot anything.

  11. For my first AR, I assembled the entire lower from parts and bought a complete upper from Spikes Tactical. My next upper will be completely assembled by me. I was a little fearful of getting something wrong in the upper assembly for the first gun, but now that I know a bit more about the platform… I’ll do it myself (with the proper tools of course).

  12. I started tweaking 10/22s. then it grew to try and assemble an AR, then it was like playing with G.I. Joes and dressing them up. Barbies are for girls.

    The idea that I don’t have to pay $1500 for the gun I want built, and if I don’t like something, I can take it off and do it differently, without paying a gun smith or taking it back to the factory.

    From gas blocks to handguards/quad rails stocks and the like, I have been able to try out what I thought would make a neat AR that I didn’t see on the market anywhere. I built a few, some of them i have taken apart becuase the didn’t feel right or really looked awful. But i got to try with little expense.

    And it has taught me what the balance between accuracy and weight. Function over form. That not all of my birght ideas were so bright.

    But beyond that, it make s me better at knowing how to take care of them, work on them and it’s just plain fun.

    “Hey where did you get that one?”

    “I built it.”

    “naw no way.”

    can’t beat it.

  13. I’ll “slap” one together someday. Of that, I’m sure. I just don’t know when the initiative will overcome me. Up ’til now, I’ve always been satisfied with one rifle or another. However, the AR is not a rifle. It’s a platform based modular tactical weapons system.

    • “It’s a platform based modular tactical weapons system.”
      +1 +1 +1 +1

      The POS M-16 I was issued many many many years ago was so inaccurate (12″ groups at 100 yards, on a very good day) that the CWO who was the armorer apologized. He wouldn’t issue me a new one and said it wasn’t a repairable problem, but he did apologize.

      Fortunately I never had to use the thing for real. I fired a range-owned M-16 for all of my quals and usually managed a sharpshooter rating. With the .308 I actually used for my job, I qualified expert every time.

  14. I’m in the middle of building one right now. I’ve wanted one since I was playing with plastic army men and now is the time to do it. I’d probably rather buy a complete one, but buying it piece by piece over the course of a few months hurts less than dropping $700-$900 all at once. Not to mention I’m picky with what I want and to find what I want usually means it’s out of stock.

    We’ll see what tune I’m singing after I complete it (only the lower is done so far, upper parts are either ordered or backordered). I probably won’t be so encouraged if I have any problems, haha.

  15. I have enough mechanical aptitude to identify a spark plug by sight. That’s about it.

    That said, I have built four FrankenARs, two from stripped lowers. They are pretty simple and modular.

    I’m a glutton for punishment, as I also built a FAL out of parts kit broken down to the roll pins. The only thing I didn’t do was time the barrel. I paid a smith to do that one.

    Build that AR. You’ll learn a lot and have fun doing it.

  16. Just started the build on my first AR. My slush fund isn’t much per month, so building is a great way to acquire a defense rifle “on time.” A friend who’s built two is guiding me through it. I started with a S&W M&P-15 lower. Love all the comments here.

  17. I’ve built a couple AR-15s. Assembling the lower is quite easy, assembling the upper just requires some specialty tools. The AR-15 I use for home defense is a Noveske Rifleworks Light Recce.

    I think it’s important to be familiar with some weapon systems in wide circulation. I drill with AR-15 and AK-47 rifles as well as Glock, 1911, and revolvers. The former because you never know, and the latter because they are the 3 things I carry on a regular basis. They are all also common firearms in the US, and that’s no accident.

  18. Seems to be a good mix of “no, I hate the platform” and “why wouldn’t you” answers so far. I started assembling my lowers several years ago, which is something I’d recommend any AR15 user do to better understand the operation of the rifle. There is very little that can be hosed up, aside a little cosmetic damage here and there, and very few lower parts are stressed by firing (buffer, spring, etc.). While I have most of the tools necessary, I have not gone so far as to assemble an upper from scratch. Replacing flash hiders with bi-locks, or peel washers for reliable suppressor mounting is pretty common.

    Even with the lower, there is some decent customization that can be done these days – trigger parts, buttstocks, grips, etc. I have done 2-4 day 1K+ round training experiences and matches with both factory and assembled rifles without much malfunction, but you’d want to make sure it is well wrung out.

    Were funds unlimited, I’d probably stick to factory rifles now that we have “premium” MSRs from the likes of Noveske, Baer, LMT, Barrett, etc. Sadly, not the case.

  19. Just “built” one myself. Traded an SKS for a Rock River lower fully assembled they way I wanted it built. Then found a locals gunsmith who shopped around and over time found the quality of upper and barrel I wanted and but it together. I am getting my own rail and butstock along with sights and optics. Yea, I could bought one off the shelf cheaper but when I’m done I’ll have a $1500 AR for about $1200 and it will be exactly what I want.

  20. Assmbled mine from a CMMG piston upper and a bunch of personal picks for everything from butt to sights. I even went with Dura Coat and it’s now woodland green. Had a lot of fun and it’s nice knowing that it’s the only one in the world!

  21. I am about to build my first AR-15 in a few weeks. I’ve been using an M4 for the last 7 years and haven’t had any problems on any deployment. It is a decent system and it stands up to a lot more abuse than most give it credit for. The only part of the build that I haven’t done before while cleaning or fixing an M4 is attatching the barrel. I’ve spent the last couple of months downrange looking at parts and deciding what I wanted on the rifle and started to order them so they would be there when I got home (the wife is getting annoyed by all the UPS drivers knocking on the door). Building your own is a great way to learn about the weapon and you get exactly what you want.

  22. I’ve had no failures with the platform. Never had a problem in A….stain. Went thru two battle loads in on TIC alone. Not the best round sure better ones out their no doubt. But since you can’t take the weapon you would like it has to be a grin and bear it situation. And yes I am in the process of getting parts to build a 300 AAC BLK .

  23. I have a Spikes Tactical lower and Barrett Upper (6.8mm). Just got a Nikon 3×9-50 for deer season. MagPul accessories.

    The AR platform is an excellent project. It is the Chevy small block of guns. There are plenty of companies providing parts and pieces. Don’t like on aspect of the weapon, change it.

    Okay, some people have issues with the weapon. This is a pure voting situation. Vote by buying/building another weapon of your choice.

  24. I’ve built (assembled) 4, the wife has built 1, my son (13) has built 1 and my daughter(22) has built one. (total of 8 we have a damn arms room) The guns are all accurate ( in the right hands) and function properly with , as of now, no issues. Everyone of them has over 4k+ rounds thru them.

    So, yea. I would build one (BTW, all were stripped lowers and stripped uppers, every part on the weapons were assembled by us).

  25. If you think the AR is complex well, I hope you don’t ever try to fix anything mechanical…

    I think the biggest problem that people have with the rifles is that they buy the wrong ones. They end up with some overgassed piece of crap and have no idea how the weapon actually works, so they don’t know where to begin to fix it. There is no reason to buy DPMS and Bushmaster rifles when you have Bravo Company Manufacturing selling mil-spec rifles and carbines for slightly more money.

  26. Unfortunately, building one is the only way I can get one due to financial limitations. Coming up with the $800 or more for a decent one won’t happen, but a little here and a little there will. And I won’t end up with parts I don’t want or need. Yes, the total will be higher, but spread out over months and it will be what I want.

  27. RRA is and will continue to be smarter at building ARs than I am (and I’m pretty handy with a CNC machine)…


  28. I built my very first gun from parts and it was an AR. I have NO experience with gun smithing or building. But I built an AR for less than 700 bucks and its crazy accurate right out of the box.

  29. Are you going to “build” or “assemble”? Most of the comments are to me “assemble”. If you want to “build” then buy an 80% machined lower, jigs and finish the machining yourself. Its easy and instructions are included. See here:

    This is one of several manufacturers who sell forged lowers partially machined for you to finish. And since the partially machined lower is legally not a “firearm”, you don’t have the ATF paperwork trail with which to deal. The only part of an AR15 that is a “firearm” is the completely machined lower forging. Everything else is just parts, including the upper.
    After your lower is completed, you are the only one who can legally own it, but its yours. No, you shouldn’t try to make it a full-auto lower, those parts aren’t legally available and the included instructions don’t tell you the additional machining you need to do to make it full-auto. There are alternatives, it just depends how “handy” you are and if your shop is equipped with a drill press. Comments?

    • Jaybird….you miss the point. “building” an AR is no longer a financial advantage but certainly offers the “builder” an opportunity to completely customize, tweak, and claim satisfaction for assembling a mechanical device that works.

      It’s kinda like that old bumper sticker for the early Lotus automobiles: “Lotus: if you have to ask what is, you won’t know how to drive it.”

      And I must comment on Chris’ first words: “I’ve never been a huge fanboy of the AR-15.” Have you been living in a deep cave?? Fanboy? You make it sound like AR’s are some sort of fashionable fad like those skinny jeans you’re known to wear.

      GALABAAR…since TTAG is steeped in acronyms, I’ll throw that one back at you. Good luck.

  30. Built mine last year, fist rifle I’ve ever owned. Seeing how simple it was, the engineering that went into it, changed my opinion of the platform. Of all of my firearms, that one is truly mine. Sure it cost more than I had originally anticipated, but I chose each & every part, took a collection of parts & made a tool… the tool I wanted.

  31. In the process of acquiring parts to build one now. It’ll be slow, it’ll be the most budget-y build ever, but I’m looking forward to the eventual end result.

  32. I looked into the buy vs. “assemble” issue some time ago. I guess I didn’t do enough homework, because I could not see much of a cost savings by assembling individually purchased components. Also, I don’t know enough about the ins-and-outs of one brand of component vs. another. Bought a few ARs before revisiting the idea of “building”, not assembling. Bought 80% Arms 308 lower with jig, and bought a cheap but reliable drill press and a good router. Not a machinist, and I was not real happy with the finish after “milling” with a router. As this was going to be a “practical” gun, I went with somewhat generic internals. Didn’t have the cojones to install a barrel, so I bought the upper as a complete piece (Aero Precision). Took it to the range and the dang thing worked almost flawlessly (needs more rounds through it, but had shoulder surgery so won’t be shooting any time soon). Checking out of the range, the gunsmith was at the front desk and asked to see my “build”. I sheepishly told him of the crappy milling on the internals, and he broke it down and looked inside. Then he asked me how it worked. When I told him it was almost flawless, he said, “well then, I think the inside looks beautiful.” I have a 5.56 billet to start a new project when shoulder heals.

Comments are closed.