Novice AR-15 Build – Black Rifle on a Budget – Part 3 (Finished Build)

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.

Standard Tools

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.

First complete build - small

Problems Arise

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.

Red Dot Config - small


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!

Rail and Light Config - small


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.

Range Day

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;

5 round grouping-small

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!

Novice AR-15 Build – Black Rifle on a Budget – Part 2 (Parts List)

Part 2 of the AR 15 build posts.

This post lists every part and special tool I ordered and received, why I chose it, and my impressions once I got it.

In all cases below, I have included the link to the actual item I purchased, and I’ve also listed the price I paid at the time, all purchases having been made during the month of July 2015.

I have learned from hard experience before placing an order to check the price on Amazon for the same or similar item and read reviews. Frequently Amazon has the same item for less, yes even gun parts and tools, and if you have Prime free shipping like we do that’s free money right there.

My intent on choosing what to build for my AR-15 went something like this;

I wanted a fully functional AR-15 chambered in .223 Remington that was built from Mil Spec or better parts, especially the barrel and upper receiver. I wanted solid metal receivers instead of composites, a mid-length barrel/handguard/gas system because I don’t like the increased gas system pressures of a carbine length but I do like a shorter overall system than the base rifle I am familiar with from the service. I also wanted to start with a vertical hand grip and a sportier style handguard than the default tube, but I didn’t want to go full into floating handguards due to the additional cost. I also wanted a flattop SOCOM style upper receiver with full picatinny rail without any carrying handle because I intend to mount a red dot scope as the primary sight. And I always thought the carrying handle was stupid. I’ve never known anyone to actually carry their weapon by the damn thing.

The key points of this build were an AR-15 on a very low budget but a fun looking and shooting rifle with full functionality.

There is always plenty of time to upgrade later, a bit at a time. I have definite ideas on where this can go, but also where I’d like to begin.

Future changes to this build include removing the A2 front sight and replacing it with a low profile gas block or a gas block with mounting rail for a folding front sight, replacing the MOE vertical grip with a 7 slot polymer rail and a combination vertical grip and bipod, or even replacing the vertical grip altogether and mounting a 45 degree grip and an independant folding bipod towards the front. Also look towards eventually upgrading to good optics with a quality red dot sight and secondary flip-to-side magnifier. Definitely things that can be done later and to look forward to researching.

One intentional decision I made was to NOT buy a rear mechanical sight. At the time I ordered all of my parts, I couldn’t tell if the upper receiver / barrel combination from PSA would come with a rear sight to match the A2 front sight post, and I didn’t want to buy stuff I didn’t have to. Now that I know it did NOT come with a rear sight, I will have to look for a modern flip-up rear sight to add on later, which I feel is critical for when the red dot scope fails. For now it’s cool, but I’ll be looking for a reasonably priced rear sight very soon.

Going ‘Tommy Tactical’

I know there is a certain amount of ‘Tommy Tactical’ fun that goes along with a lot of AR-15 custom builds. The desire to add all sorts of doodads to a rifle just for the sheer love of gadgets.

Kind of like sticking a spoiler and mag wheels on a Yugo.

I personally prefer clean minimalist weapon designs that emphasize form and function. If something is on the rifle, it should have a definite purpose that fills a need.

That being said, I’ve got a flashlight mount because damnit why the hell not, it’s my only AR-15. I want to do SOMETHING to customize it.

I could have gone with a laser pointer, but unless the beam itself is visible in daylight, I don’t think they add anything. It’s not like I shoot from the hip hoping to see a red dot on the target to tell me where the rifle is pointing, I aim.

But a flashlight, that’s just tacky enough to scratch the tactical widget addon itch. Which I suppose explains the desire to mount a plastic green fluorescent flashlight in the thing, because if you’re gonna go tacky, go the full monty. Fuck halfway measures.

Yeah, I don’t think the green plastic flashlight is going to make it to the actual range, I don’t have the balls to uncase the rifle in front of other people with that thing stuck on there.

A black aluminum flashlight on a mount, that will be okay. Tacky, sure. But hey, live a little. I always wanted one of those things. Pew! Pew!

You know I’m raising my son right when he looked at the flashlight mount, looked at me and said, “Really, dad? Really?”

Then after I mounted all the pieces of the upper together including the flashlight, he grabbed it and pretended the flashlight was a raygun, holding it by the vertical grip and saying “Pew! Pew!”

See? SEE?!? That’s exactly what I’M saying!

He makes me very proud.

On to the actual parts;

Retailer – Arsenal Arms Group, Osseo, MN. They are brand new, and haven’t yet finished building their e-commerce website. I found their lower receiver listing by following the Armslist website for Minnesota for several months.

Lower Receiver – Stripped (Anderson Manufacturing) – $69.95

The lower receiver is the foundation of an AR-15 build. It is the only piece of the rifle that is directly controlled under Federal Firearms License regulations because it is the piece that has the weapon serial number etched into it. In order to purchase one you need to follow all FFL rules and regulations. If you purchase one through the internet for mail order, it has to be shipped directly to someone in your area with an FFL license, and there is almost always a fee that you will need to pay to an FFL holder to do this. The fees vary and there is a website you can visit to find FFL holders by region so you can see the people near you that have one you could ship to. It doesn’t have to be a brick and mortar retailer, many private citizens obtain their Federal Firearms License and operate out of their house, and charge nominal fees of anywhere from $25 to $100 to receive a shipped firearm for you.

Because of these rules, you can purchase the lower receiver as part of a finished rifle, as part of a complete subassembly like a finished lower receiver, or as you see in the picture below, which is what is called a ‘stripped lower receiver’. It’s the lower receiver without any parts whatsoever. The point of buying one of these is to get the only serialized item done locally as inexpensively as possible, and purchase everything else over the internet at the best prices you can find.

This particular lower receiver is made by Anderson Manufacturing, and they have an excellent reputation for quality. I was specifically looking for a locally obtained lower receiver so I wouldn’t have to pay shipping or an FFL transfer fee for it, so I spent some time watching Armslist for Minnesota, knowing that many small dealers list items there. This showed up, and I jumped on it. At $69.95 for it I felt I was getting an excellent deal for an aluminum milled receiver, and after close examination and measuring it’s everything I could hope for. Perfect finish, excellent tolerances so far, and when I match it up with my upper receiver it fits smooth and snug. Couldn’t be happier with it so far.


AR15 stripped lower receiver

Retailer – Palmetto State Armory (online)

PSA complete upper receiver assembly with melonite 16″ barrel, 1/7 twist, chambered in 5.56 including lower parts kit, pistol grip and stock kit – $389.99

This is what makes this a build suitable for a novice. By purchasing a complete upper receiver and barrel assembly, I eliminated having to purchase and assemble individual parts for the bolt carrier group, gas sytem, forward assist and dust cover. I was intending to get each item individually, and I’d even already purchased a stripped upper receiver, but then Cassie (my wife) found this, and it was so perfectly suited and at such a great price I ended up returning the stripped upper and getting this.

This kit even came with the complete lower parts kit you need to finish your stripped lower receiver, the adjustable stock and the pistol grip (which often but not alwasy comes with the lower receiver parts kit).

Basically, if you bought a stripped lower receiver, a magazine and this upper receiver/barrel assembly you would have everything you’d need to have a fully functional bare bones rifle except for the rear mechanical sight. All the rest of the parts below this are accessories for customizing the build and aren’t strictly necessary to go shooting.

The quality of all the parts in this from PSA have been outstanding. I installed the magazine release catch and some of the trigger assembly to the lower last night and they’re great. I also installed all of my replacement parts on the upper assembly like the handguard, and everything fits perfectly. This really is very nice.

The reason I chose this particular complete assembly from among the others available were for the flattop SOCOM style rail top, which I like for mounting a red dot or scope, the mid-length handguard and gas system, and above all else the melonite metal treatment of the barrel. There are many different metal finishes and treatments available, and one of the more common upgrades is chrome plating the barrel. From what I’ve read, I actually prefer melonite as a metal treatment as it is an actual metallurgical change rather than a surface plating, and helps provide better protection against corrosive ammo than a non-treated barrel.

Other reasons for choosing this one are the forward assist and dust cover, which not all upper receivers have.

The reason I went with a mid-length gas/handguard system I mentioned briefly above, but one thing I wanted to repeat was how the chamber pressures and weapon responsiveness can change based on the length of the gas system and gas tube. The way this rifle system cycles is by diverting part of the expanding gas going down the barrel into a small hole in the barrel hidden inside the front sight assembly. The gas goes up the ‘gas block’ which is part of the sight, and into a thin gas tube that runs above the barrel and feeds back into the receiver. That gas pushes the bolt carrier group back, ejecting the empty casing and recocking the weapon. the bolt carrier group, being pushed back against the buffer and buffer spring inside the rear buttstock, then gets sprung back into position peeling a round off the top of the magazine and seating it in the chamber ready to fire.

What this all means is, the further down the barrel the gas port is, the lower the gas pressure being pushed back to the bolt carrier group. A short carbine length gas system has the shortest distance for the gas to travel, meaning much higher gas pressure flinging the bolt back into the buffer spring, and that can mean harder recoil as well as higher overall chamber pressure.

To adjust for this, you’re supposed to match up the buffer spring stiffness and buffer itself (which comes in different weights) with the length of the gas system you’re using so you get the bolt throw right; not too light or it jams, not too heavy or it recoils harder than necessary.

From what I’ve read, a mid-length gas system provides a nice middle ground between smooth recoil and chamber pressure. This means any accessories I get have to be sized for a mid-length system. And if I choose to replace the buffer or buffer spring later, or replace the front sight gas block, I need to make sure I match them up correctly.

There is another alternative, and that is to replace the gas system completely with what is known as a gas piston system. It uses the gas to push a piston to move the bolt carrier back instead of sending the gas directly into the rear chamber. It results in a MUCH cleaner weapon, because the dirty expanding burnt gunpowder residue isn’t flooding your chamber with every round fired. But… the retrofit kits for gas piston systems are expensive, and this is a novice build on a budget. That will be a project for next year, probably.

AR15 upper receiver and barrel assembly complete

AR15 PSA lower receiver parts kit with stock and grip

Retailer Cheaper Than Dirt (online)

Magpul PMAG Gen 2 AR-15 magazine (x2) – $12.30 each

Not much to say here. From everything I’ve read, these magazines by Magpul are outstanding quality and are certainly cheap to buy. I got two for less than a single BX-25 magazine from Ruger cost for my son’s 10/22.

AR15 magpul 30rnd mag

Magpul MOE Mid Length Drop In Handguard (black) – $33.20

When it came time to look at options to replace the drop in front handguard that came with the complete upper kit, I decided to try the MOE system by Magpul. There are two ways to go with the handguards, drop in or free floating. Free floating are considered inherently more accurate, and a better option. To install them, however, requires dissassembly of the barrel, removing the flash suppressor and gas block assembly so you can get at the ring where the barrel enters the upper receiver. And you also need an upper receiver action block to mate everything up perfectly, and of course the special tools and torque wrench. It’s definitely the best way to go long term, BUT. My M16A2 in the Marines didn’t have free floating handguards, they were the drop in design, and I consistently shot high expert at the rifle range every one of the eight years I was in. I figure chances are the drop in handguards are going to be just fine.

I chose the Magpul MOE system because I like the lines of it. I don’t feel the need for a full quad rail system, because I know I’m not adding a ton of stuff to it. A mounting point for a vertical grip at the bottom and the option of adding other rails as needed seems prefectly legit. And it got good reviews for the heat shield after lots of firing even for a polycarbonite light weight system. And, hey, cheap.

I mounted this last night, and aside from some fiddling for a minute it went in perfect, and now that it IS in it’s nice and snug, extremely solid. Looks great too.

AR15 magpul MOE handguard

Magpul MOE Hand Guard Picatinny rail section, 7 slot – $6.60

I only intend to mount one accessory, a flashlight, and the vertical MOE grip doesn’t need an additional rail. So I only bought one of these. I may get another later if i want to add a bipod. Or see if there are MOE bipods that don’t need a rail.

AR15 magpul 7 slot polymer handgrip rail

Magpul MOE vertical hand grip – $18.95

This handgrip, again designed specifically for the MOE handguard system, has monted on very securely and is very comfortable and has solid quality. Overall I’ve been delighted with the quality of all the Magpul parts I’ve purchased, they’re all perfect.

AR15 magpul MOE fore hand grip vertical

Leapers UTG 38mm SCP-129 Red/Green dot sight – $29.97

This one, I’ll be honest, scares ths shit out of me.

I bought it because cheap. NO OTHER REASON. I fully expect it to implode after the first shot when the recoil of the AR chambering a .223 round hits it. $30 for a red dot sight is so dirt cheap it can’t possibly be good. Amazon reviews said it was great, all gun forums I read say it’s a piece of crap.

BUT. It’s $30. If you go by the gun enthusiast recommendations, you could easily spend more on your optics than the entire rest of the weapon system. EASILY spend more. It’s a lot like digital cameras and DSLR cameras and all of that mess. Some people will tell you a $125 point and click is fine, others will insist that if you don’t have the $900 Canon DSLR you’re screwed.

I got my son a red dot reflex sight for his Ruger 10/22 and he loves it, I love it, it works great. But it only has to deal with the recoil of a .22 long rifle, not a full sized .223 Remington. You add that constant hammering shock to an optic and you’ll see how well it holds up. It may look fine on the bench but you can’t know until you’re on the range.

Regardless, I bought this because it was $30 and you never know, maybe I won the lottery that day and got one that will last me. Or maybe it will crack apart after the second round. If there is any one piece of this entire build that I’m embarassed about (aside from a certain tool purchase I made) it’s this. This optic is… well, I have no justification for it other than cheap.

I hope like hell I’ll be able to tell you that actual experience with it at the range turns out to be wonderful. I really do.

Meanwhile, I continue to read optics reviews and worry.

AR15 Leaper UTG red dot sight

Retailer –

Monstrum tactical 1″ flashlight mount, offset for picatinny rail – $11.95

This cute little offset mount for a flashlight is pretty cool. It seems to have mounted on to the rail extremely well, for a quick disconnect it was easy to adjust and seems solid, and it is gripping the 1″ diameter black aluminum bodied flashlight I attached to it very well. I did not yet use blue loctite on the threads because I’m still not sure I’m going to keep that flashlight in there.

AR15 1 inch flashlight quick mount

NcStar AR handguard removal tool – $8.84

This. This is… don’t buy this. Just… just don’t. This tool purchase goes to prove that yes, I am a dumbass and can be swayed by reviews even when I absolutely fucking know better. Dumbass.

From everything I read, it’s supposed to be very hard to pull the handguard drop in retaining ring back far enough to remove and install your handguards, so you need a tool.

Protip – in 8 years in the Marines I never once saw a tool for this. That should have told me something, and it DID tell me something, and yet I somehow decided to second guess myself and wonder if ring spring tension somehow tripled over the last decade or more I’ve been out.

It turns out it did not.

AR15 handguard tool

Roll pin punch set, 9 pieces – $13.99

I’m very happy with this tool set. The lower receiver has a lot of roll pins that need to be hammered in, and while I had plenty of punches I did NOT have a set that went down to the very smallest of sizes needed.

AR15 Roll Pin Punch Set

Aim Sports AR15/M4 combo wrench tool – $19.97

The upper receiver kit came with an adjustable stock that has a castle nut, and if I ever decide to replace the barrel, install a free floating handguard or replace the flash suppressor or gas block I’m going to need this one special combo tool, so i decided to just buy the damn thing now.

I checked, and it does fit the stock castle nut and upper receiver barrel ring holes perfectly.

AR15 combo tool

All the parts in my planned layout;

AR15 All Parts


That fluorescent green plastic flashlight in the picture, that’s my little joke. I would LOVE to have the balls to mount that sucker and uncase that at the gun range just to see the look of horror on uptight gun snobs faces. But my son won’t let me. 😦

The final tally;

Rifle cost – $585.21

Special Tool cost – $42.80

Impressions so far;

Every single damn part I’ve bought has not only met but exceeded my expectations of quality. Things are nicely finished, perfectly coated, mate well without slop and generally are just kick ass.

It doesn’t matter how nice it looks or goes together until I get it assembled and to the range, but at the bench it looks great.

And then there was this damn tool.

The fiasco – exhibit ‘A’. That stupid handguard removal tool.

Look at that thing.

I present to you the barrel, the tool, and the handguards I took off without the tool in about 3 seconds. Just… if you have any upper body strength at all, don’t buy this stupid damn thing.

AR15 Useless Tool

I’m so embarassed I bought that damn thing.

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.