Moving on to the actual build, aside from the tools I mentioned in the previous article that I bought special, here are most of the rest of the tools I found useful in assembling the components.
Since fixing stuff has been a large portion of my professional life, I have lots of tools just sitting around in various boxes and covering my main workbench. When I decided to add a tool cabinet to my crafting table so I could work on firearms there, every time I needed something I went into my workshop, grabbed the tool I needed at the time and brought it back. Aside from the tools pictured above, you should also have a really good bench vice, a variety of vice jaw covers that are either rubber, plastic or soft-metal so you can get a secure grip on something without marring it. That, and a torque wrench with a 1/2″ socket drive, since that is what the special AR-15 wrench is designed to fit onto for torquing crown nuts onto the stock and other parts if you’re working on barrel and upper receiver mods.
Do you need the metal pick in the picture? No, but I find it handy for fishing in cramped spaces for o-rings, springs and such. Do you need your allen keys to be fancy T-handles? No, any set of standard allens will do fine. I just happen to have about 15 different allen sets, and when working on firearms, your space isn’t limited so there’s no reason not to use the big honking T-handles that have nice ergonomics and can give you solid torque. The red handle allens above are all standard, the blue handled one is a metric, but it’s not for the AR-15 build. I use it to loosen the stock bolt on the Ruger 10/22 when I clean it… and it’s a handy size for pushing pins through the receiver.
A small hammer with rubber or plastic heads is a must. It’s great for tapping on pins when you don’t want to mar the finish metal on metal. I even went so far as to tape mine up with blue painters tape just like the guy in the Youtube video, because again, I didn’t want to risk scratching anything before it ever hit the range when tapping roll pins into place.
Anyway, as you can see below, you don’t need some fancy workbench to do this, until you get to a point you need to apply some specific torque. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about… um. Okay, it never occurred to me I’d be writing this for people who may not know how to use a torque wrench, but really, if you’ve never needed to before, where or why would you learn? I just took a five second break to check Youtube, sure as hell someone made a video on how to use a torque wrench. In fact, what I’m finding is if there is something you want to do, check Youtube, someone made a video showing how to do it. Or five hundred someone’s.
As you can see below, not only did I have a book showing diagrams of parts for easy reference, but I also propped my iPad up so I could watch various Youtube videos of people doing the steps I was on, as I was doing them. Because why the heck not.
I purchased a book from Amazon, called Build Your Own AR-15 Rifle by David Strauss, mainly because I wanted a book of some kind. You know, sometimes you just like to have a book with prints to refer to. The book was okay. I wouldn’t say it was great, because if you were using it as your ONLY guide for assembling your AR-15, you’d be fucked. His descriptions of the steps don’t relate to the included pictures very well. He also makes a lot of assumptions about what you already know. If you already know how to build one, or if you’re following along with some Youtube videos at the same time, then it’s fine. It’s a nice reminder. I would NOT use it as your sole resource.
In fact, if you use Youtube videos and the following picture of what all the lower receiver kit parts look like along with their proper descriptions, you should be fine.
There are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds of videos showing step by step exactly how to assembly upper and lower receivers out there.
I personally just picked one at random and used it. Worked out just fine, I know how to put roll pins in properly, I was concerned with the order of assembly, and following this guy’s videos worked great. And it was a different order of assembly from the book I had, so like I said… this isn’t rocket science.
The videos I followed along with were made by 2phast tactical, the Palmetto State Armory Lower Receiver Build videos. The guy has three videos in the lower receiver build, and he does a pretty darn good job of covering everything along with his recommendations of how to be super uber careful not to scratch anything up. He even covers torqueing the castle nut on the stock, which I appreciated, because the book I had didn’t talk about it at all.
A brief word on the book, the videos, and setting up a workstation.
Don’t overthink it.
If you’ve ever put together an erector set, you’ll be fine. This isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s really not, although it might seem that way before you do it. What it is, is a process that requires very patient attention to detail. You want to make absolutely certain you are placing the correct springs and pins in the correct places, from the correct angles, in the right way. I absolutely assure you my 12 year old could do this, so do not be worried about whether you can handle it. What it requires is patience and attention to detail, and a beginner’s familiarity with tools.
In that picture up above, there is a small bottle of blue Loctite visible. You may wonder wtf. Blue Loctite is a medium strength threadlocker. It’s not permanent like green, and what it is for is to put a small drop on the threads on the side of a threaded bolt, right before you screw it into a nut. The blue Loctite hardens and prevents the screw from slowly backing itself out of the nut or fastener from vibration. It’s commonly used in fastening nuts in place so that they don’t come loose from the vibration and shock associated with recoil. You can still unscrew the bolt later when you want, it just helps provide a retainer. I didn’t actually use it on internal components of the rifle, because it’s more useful for things like scope mount bolts, things that you attach on the outside of the rifle.
Internal components are designed for the most part to be fastened with roll pins and castle nuts and torqued barrel nuts and standard machine pins. So do you need to use Loctite? If you’ve never used it before, I say no. I would suggest you build your rifle, take it to the range, make sure all your bolts are snugged down firmly, and if over time you find scope mounts or others accessories are working themselves loose, then you’ve identified where you might want to apply some Loctite.
Just make sure the threads of a bolt are dry and free of oil or grease before applying, and a single drop is fine, you don’t need to soak the thing. Also, make sure you don’t get it all around on other surfaces, it’ll make a mess. Be clean and careful.
Yes, I know the cover for the iPad looks pink. I let my son pick it out, the color looked purple on Amazon. You’d be amazed how many people I meet at work who feel the need to mention it, I’m finding it to be an outstanding asshole detector.
So, following along with the 2phast tactical videos, referring to the parts chart I posted above, it took about a half an hour to complete the lower receiver build, and another half hour to tighten everything else together for the build below.
Once I had it finished, I found out that my first concern was a reality; the scope mount did NOT sit high enough on the flat top rail to allow the sight picture to clear the front sight post.
Worse, it was too low for my check weld on the stock to offer me a clear view through the scope without having to scrunch up uncomfortably.
I had figured it might end up like that, but until I had everything assembled I didn’t want to buy any accessories. If a scope on standard mounting rings or rail does not sit at the height you feel comfortable with, where holding the rifle in the correct shooting position allows you to naturally see clearly through the optic to your target, then you need to add (or remove) height to the mounts.
The easiest way to add height is by adding a riser. There are many picatinny rail risers of various heights, attachment methods (screws or quick disconnect QD twists, etc) and lengths.
The other thing you might find is that the scope is at the correct height that is natural for you… but the front A2 sight post is in the way.
If the front sight post is in the way, you can replace the entire front sight post and gas block assembly with a low profile gas block with mounting rail, and then add a folding front sight post. Leave the post folded down, scope is now clear.
In my particular case, the scope was about 3/4″ too low for my field of view, which was an easy fix requiring the purchase of a single riser. I chose one 13/16″ high, with a length long enough to accommodate the 5-slot scope mount as seen below. Mounting it that much higher also cleared the front sight, so I didn’t have to do any further messing about with it. I’d still like to replace the gas block and put in folding sights front and back, but hey, that gives me something to look forward to down the road.
The other thing I did was decide to go ahead and mount a regular black aluminum bodied flashlight to the offset mount I got, just to see if I liked it. I had a Streamlight lying around with a zenon bulb and backup LEDs, but the nice thing about these mounts is that they are designed to fit any standard aluminum flashlight with a 1″ diameter grip. Funnily enough, a lot of flashlight makers are pumping out flashlights with a 1″ grip now. Isn’t that interesting!
Above is a closer picture of how I attached my flashlight to the left side of the handguard using the Magpul attachment rail. I placed it forward on the handguard as far as it would go on the left side, and it’s a QD mount so I can pop it off whenever I’d like without tools. It’s forward enough so that the light from the flash isn’t obstructed by the muzzle of the barrel, causing shadows, and it’s angled so that my left hand, when forward on the stock, can easily reach the ‘on’ button. You can get flashlights with cables and little remote switches so you can run the on switch for the flashlight right to your hand grip, but meh. I don’t care for the idea of a loose wire and switch on my rifle.
Preparing for range day
Having assembled the rifle, I then thoroughly lubricated it with CLP. I know there are lots of cleaning and oiling materials out there, but I’m a child of the Marines from the eighties and nineties. CLP all the way. At least I know it works. I paid particular attention to taking apart and lubricating the bolt and bolt carrier group, and checked that the three gas rings had offset gaps. Does it matter? Well, that’s what they taught me in basic so that’s what I do.
Are you unsure how to lubricate an AR-15? Again… Youtube. Yes, there are even how to demonstration videos on how to clean your rifle. Well, why not? It’s been two decades for me, a quick refresher never hurt anyone. And I liked the suggestion of adding a little high-temp lithium grease to the more serious wear parts of the bolt carrier rails. But for a quick and dirty reminder of where to lubricate the bolt carrier, this is a nice one page cheatsheet.
For sighting it in, I used a .223 caliber laser boresight to get a rough alignment between barrel and optic at 25′ before I ever headed to the range. If you look on Amazon, you’ll see there are many to choose from, but they all function about the same way.
You empty the chamber of your rifle, slide the activated laser cartridge into the rifle chamber, and slowly ease the bolt forward onto it. That gets it nice and snug, and leaves you with a laser dot being projected out of the barrel of the rifle.
Shine it on a flat surface 25′ to 50′ away, and then zero your optic until the crosshairs/dot are resting on the laser spot. Boom! You’ve got a very rough sighted rifle.
A few things to consider when doing this.
You’re not firing a laser rifle. The bullet, when it leave the muzzle, is immediately affected by the pull of gravity and begins it’s descent towards earth. This means the path or trajectory of your bullet describes an arc, not a straight line. But a laser is a straight line. If you try to sight in your optic with a laser out past 50′, you’re liable to have the actual impact be higher as the initial trajectory rises. Knowing the ballistics of your rifle based on the ammunition and caliber and rifling is part of the game. You should know what range you’ve sighted it in at so you know how to compensate at other ranges.
Also, the laser is not indicating the effects of the lands and grooves and twist of the rifling of your barrel on the bullet, or the weight (grains) of the bullet. The laser is only showing where the cartridge body and your cartridge chamber are in relation to the projected laser point.
The true zero is when you adjust your sights to the actual bullet impact at a known distance.
So why bother with a laser boresighter?
Well, even at the best prices I can find, ammo for this AR-15 costs around a quarter a shot. The closer to a zero starting point you can get before you fire off a few downrange, the less money you’re wasting chasing the bullseye. This is a budget build, after all, and an investment of $10 in a laser now seemed a fair trade for dozens of rounds zeroing later.
Speaking of Ammo
I have been looking for good prices on ammunition, and I’m really grateful for the Ammoseek website and app. I found a store selling steel cased Tulammo .223 for about .23 cents a round after shipping, so I bought a hundred rounds of it for the first range day. Came in within a couple days, great communication and tracking info. The actual website Ammoseek directed me to was Able’s Ammo, and they were certainly great, but Ammoseek brings up the cheapest specials from around the internet on any given day so your mileage may vary.
The ammo I bought was .223 FMJ in 55 grains. Now, my particular AR-15 is a 16″ barrel with mid-length gas system and a 1:7 barrel rifling. What that means is, I should really be using a heavier weight bullet for optimal accuracy at longer ranges.
If you’re interested in rifling, twist rate and comparative bullet weights, this is an excellent article from Cheaper Than Dirt about the subject.
The reality is, 55 grain seems to be the most commonly available in the cheaper categories, and until we get our membership confirmed with one of the outdoor gun ranges we’ve applied to, the longest distance I’ll be shooting with it is 50′. Might as well be point blank, for all the effect the bullet weight will have on it. But we’re gamers, and that means we love to min/max the options and know the stats.
When I actually took the rifle to the range this past week, I only needed 8 rounds to bring it into a zero at 25′. I then fired two thirty-round magazines through at 25′ and it responded beyond my wildest dreams. No gaps or rattle between upper and lower receiver, not a single jam or misfeed, no short stroking on the gas impingement system throwing the bolt back. Just solid punches downrange.
Everything worked smooth as silk. Fucking amazing. I mean, perfect. I did NOT expect that, not at this price point, and I freely admit I probably got lucky as hell with the mating of the parts fitting so well.
After firing those two mags, I sent the target downrange as far as the range allowed, 50′, and fired off 5 slow aimed shots at dead center in the offhand to test my ability to generate a tight group.
This was my target;
Now, that is a full size target at 50′, with a 5 shot group small enough to cover with your thumb. Well, with my thumb. I’ve got big thumbs. And you know what big thumbs, mean, don’t you?
That’s right, big gloves.
You can see that what looked zeroed and shot tight groups in the X at 25′ left me a little to the right at 50′. It needed a more careful fine tuned zero to be dialed in better. As far as being too high, remember what I said earlier about ballistics and bullet rise? I sighted in at 25′, so at 50′ the bullet was still on the upward slope of the ballistic trajectory. It hit where it should with the red dot centered as far as height, but it was a little off to the right, and that was in my zero.
But as far as accuracy is concerned, I’d rather have a tight group a little off target first day at the range than a group that is all over the place. This way, at least I know the bloody thing works.
I can honestly say I couldn’t be more pleased with how this has turned out.
A few words about the quality of the various components, now that they’re all put together and tested at the range.
The scope is cheap, no question. But it’s functional, and it’s still working fine. The red dot is fuzzy, you can certainly tell where the quality improvements are in good optics. Do I wish I had an Eotech 516 or something along those lines to test out? Of course, but I also don’t have $800 to $1500 to spend just on good optics. This is a fun rifle as is to go shoot at the range, so my standards are definitely beer budget all the way. Maybe someday.
The Magpul magazines are sweet, in fact everything I bought made by Magpul is really nice. I’m a believer now. Based on this, I’m thinking of replacing the generic stock that came with the upper receiver with a Magpul version that will be higher quality and more refined. It’s still okay, though.
What I did find was it feels… odd… to load plastic magazines. I’m used to the metal ones from the service, and loading these things, I could feel the plastic sidewalls give a little bit. There are load assist tools out there that hold the sides of the magazine and speed up loading, and I think buying one would be a good investment down the road.
I’ve also found that nobody else in my family wants to shoot the rifle. It’s a heavy beast compared to a Ruger 10/22, and I didn’t consider that a bipod might be a good idea to take some of the weight of the front end off for younger shooters.
There are some options out there, a regular bipod mount or even a foregrip that has a pop out bipod that seems popular but looks flimsy. I might consider one of those for next time. I talked to my mother in law about the AR-15 she has been shooting when she visits friends in Kansas, and it turns out she doesn’t hold it properly in the offhand either, she shoots from a bench rest with sandbags. So I guess maybe a bipod is a good idea if I’m going to let other people shoot it.
Everything considered, I am amazed at the results. I wouldn’t trust the optic to hold up in a 3 gun match or any kind of rugged conditions, but everything else is rock solid and feels strong and dependable. Even shooting steel cased ammo, I had no problems with the gas system or the feeding, even at the fastest rate of fire I could run through on one magazine. I also had no issues with the steel cases jamming in the chamber after the gun warmed up.
I’m not sure what else you can expect, really. It looks cool to my tastes, it fired reliably and accurately, and after adjustments was quite comfortable to attain a clear sight picture.
If you have any questions, just let me know. I’ll be sure to do a follow up review after I’ve had it to the range a few more times.
Thanks, and have a great night!