Novice AR-15 Build – Black Rifle on a Budget – Part 1

For those of you not chatting with me on twitter, my latest project is a first time novice build of an AR-15 ‘black rifle’.

I’m not going to lie, this is toys for grown ups time I’m talking about.

Well, it gets more complicated than that.

My son is really enjoying the Ruger 10/22 rifle and his shooting skills are coming along well. The .223 Remington round in an AR-15 rifle has comparatively low recoil and can be a fun gun to shoot, a step up from the .22 LR but not all the way to a .303 or 7.62 yet. As a next step in developing his shooting experience it’s a good rifle to go with. Also, building one ourselves will be a great experience for him, I’m looking forward to having him take part in the assembly once all the pieces have arrived to see just how everything goes together and how the system works.

The AR-15 is also the modern civilian version of the M16A2 rifle, the rifle that I used while in the US Marines. There is a strong sense of nostalgia to building one of my own, but even better since this one will be ‘my’ M16, built the way I’d like it. And I won’t have to check it back into the Armory once I’m done playing with it at the range.

One last thing… modern AR-15s have so many damn customization options and accessories and design considerations that you can trick yours out any which way, but the end result (when tuned right) is a lot of fun for ANYONE to shoot.

The Plan

I’m going to do a couple of posts over the next week as I build it and take it in to shoot. The last rifle pieces I have on order should actually arrive TODAY, so this is going to be a true novice work in progress, and any issues that come up are going to happen live. You’ll get to see exactly what happens as I try and build it and what the final results are.

The Disclaimer

This build is going to be a true novice “I’ve never built one of these damn things before” project. What’s more, it’s on as tight of a budget as I could manage while still getting the base features I wanted on my rifle.

Yes, I was in the Marines for eight years, and yes I know the M16A2 extremely well. That has nothing to do with building an AR-15 from scratch. I certainly never had to select my own components in the Marines. They hand you an M16A2 and you learn it exactly as it is. So building this thing will be a new experience.

On the flip side, I’m not inexperienced in firearms. No, I didn’t pick much up during my military service, but firearms and reloading were among my biggest hobbies bordering on obsessions before I went in. So I do have extensive knowledge of firearms… knowledge that ended in 1986. No, I’m not joking. As far as I’m concerned, my knowledge is as outdated and useless as a wheellock enthusiast at a 3 gun match.

Coming back to the firearms hobby has been a lot like playing World of Warcraft in vanilla original release and having a great time, hardcore raiding and defeating original Naxxramas. Then, imagine quitting the game only to come back seven years later wondering if anything changed while I was away. Oh, and since when did Druids get allowed to tank stuff, they’re only good for healing, right?

Stuff has changed a lot from when I was into firearms, but at the same time the core principles of centerfire rifles in general and the M16 gas impingement system in particular are still around, so things are thankfully familiar to me. But I’m taking nothing for granted as I research and plan this build out. I’m assuming that whatever I think I know is wrong or dangerous and I’m double checking everything.

So. If you’re reading this, I’m going to be writing about choosing stuff and assembling as a rank beginner, BUT I may use terms and describe in passing ideas that seem obvious to me but that you’re not familiar with. If something seems confusing, by all means let me know in a comment or sending me an email.

It occurs to me to mention for those reading that haven’t seen my blog before… I’ve been doing machine maintenance, both mechanical and electrical, for well over two decades now. I can weld, machine, fabricate and lathe, run a CNC and etc etc. I have a bunch of tools and a passing familiarity with which end of the wrench is venomous. If I encounter something during the assembly of this rifle that I think requires more than minimum mechanical know-how, I WILL say so. And I’ll also list what special tools I felt it important to buy or have on hand for the build, and why.

The Goal

I’m assembling an AR-15 black rifle chambered in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, legal to the requirements of the state of Minnesota. If you are building your own, make sure you check your local laws on permits, magazine capacities, barrel lengths, etc.

I am attempting to build this rifle for the absolute cheapest cost I can while at the same time reaching my own personal minimum standards of quality and equipment options. I may upgrade this build later by replacing components, or I may sell this rifle for a small profit and use the increased funds to build a rifle with better features or workmanship standards. Or I may keep it as is depending on reliability at the range.

Keep in mind if you’re reading this, there are hundreds if not thousands of customization options for every aspect of an AR-15 rifle on the market. Johnny Cash built his Cadillac one piece at a time, and he might have needed to do a little fiddling to get everything to work right together. I expect the same result.

I intentionally chose low cost options that had positive reliability or quality reviews for a budget rifle. You can pay thousands more than I did for top of the line components and systems. You can take a shitload of money and throw it at manufacturers and build the Rolls Royce of gun systems.

The thing to remember is, at the heart you are building a rifle whose parts should all be ‘Mil Spec’, meaning they are designed to conform to the military specifications for the M16 rifle system to be a perfect interchangeable fit with the same minimum quality tolerances and standards acceptable for service. Can you get better than Mil Spec? Absolutely. But Mil Spec parts means that the rifle should at least be able to serve as a safe and fully functioning rifle using the same commercial grade ammunition as every other .223 rifle. At least, it will as long as you match your system parts such as buffer tube and buffer to barrel length and gas system, or bullet weight to gas system length.

Sorry, another tangent. The point is, to have a fully functioning and safe AR-15 doesn’t require purchasing the top of the line parts.

Those parts may improve reliability in adverse weather conditions, increase the durability of your components across thousands of rounds fired downrange, make the gun easier to clean after firing, reduce overall recoil, reduce barrel rise, improve accuracy or tightness of groups, etc etc. But you expect that from a Rolls Royce. If you’re looking to take a Pinto out and do donuts in the parking lot, you can probably settle for less.

My goal is a fun gun to take to the range and put holes in paper. Maybe go to an outdoor range and ping some tannerite, watch a pretty flash.

What This Build Isn’t

One thing I want to be clear about, I’m not building a home defense rifle. I’m also not going to arm myself with an ‘assault rifle’ to take back my streets like some kind of 80’s action hero. This is a grown up toy that I do not have a personal need for unless zombies really do take over the country, and if that happens I’ll be using this rifle only long enough to get me a 12 gauge shotgun like an 870.

I would personally never choose an AR-15 chambered in .223 for my home defense weapon. I own a home in the suburbs of Minnesota, so if I shoot at an intruder, and God forbid I miss, the last thing I want is for a bullet to overpenetrate the thin exterior walls or windows of my home and enter someone else’s house with enough foot pounds of energy left over to cause harm to an innocent.

For home defense I prefer a shotgun, and NO not because it is guaranteed to hit, because they’re not. In the hallway of a home, or at ranges you could expect to find within a home, a shot pattern won’t spread more than a few inches apart at most. It does NOT fan out into some huge basketball sized never-miss thing like you see on TV. You still have to be able to hit exactly what you’re aiming at. But the shot from, say, a 20 gauge will still do considerable damage to an intruder while not having the individual pellet energy to be life threatening if they hit someone else’s house across the street.

Specifically, if I were to select a firearm for home defense I’d probably choose a 20 gauge shotgun with the shortest barrel length legal in my area, mount a flashlight on it for positive target identification, stick a pistol grip and folding stock on it to be easier to move around corners, and stick it loaded by the bed with a 3 number trigger lock on it that I can move one digit to unlock by feel in the dark.

The point is, I don’t intend the AR-15 to be a home defense weapon. But I AM putting a flashlight on it. A flashlight is supposed to be for positive target acquisition in the dark so you don’t shoot the wrong person (or your son sneaking into the house drunk at 3 in the morning), but in my case it’s going to be so I can get that ghetto Tommy Tactical look I crave by hanging a widget off the barrel.

Okay, I kid.

Well, maybe not. Wait until you see what I’m going to use for a flashlight. Oh man, just thinking about uncasing this thing at the range is making me laugh my butt off.

Wrapping Up

My next post will go right into the parts list I ordered for the build, including web links, the cost of the items, and the breakdown of why I chose each one. I heartily encourage those of you that know far more about this than I do to mock the living shit out of me.

Until then, have fun and happy shooting.

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