The State of The Transmog 2015

On our first Grumpy Druids podcast, I talked briefly about how I can’t play a character, even leveling up, unless I like the transmog.

I’m spoiled. The days of Outlands clown suits being acceptable are long gone. Fashionista, all the way.

It occurred to me that it might be nice to post all the outfits my ‘played’ characters are currently wearing, not just so you can see what a freak I am but also so a year from now I can look back and compare, see if I find something I like better or if I make a poor fashion choice.

So, without further blah blah, here are my current characters and transmogs. See if you can guess the class!













Yeah… so.

One thing does stand out, doesn’t it? I clearly like looking at heroic, PRETTY, characters when I play my video games.

Also, there are only a few faces in the game I like. Used to be more, but contrary to Blizzard’s expectations I tend to think they screwed up most of my favorites, most especially the Draenei. What they did to Unbearable has darn near ruined her. She used to look unsufferably smug and condescending, and now she looks… welp.

Oh, and the closest character I have to one that I would identify with is Beartrap. I get to be a bear, and ALSO wear visible armor. 🙂

As far as Winterborne… I really did that in tribute to my two best friends in the guild, Tom and Jared, neither of whom read the blog. They both love making the most outrageous slut plate outfits to irritate the rest of the raid, and it was through them I learned the Death Knight starter belt turned your belt invisible when used as transmog. Many belly button outfits were pondered in search of the perfect complement to twin light sabers.

I’m afraid that I have revealed too much… in more ways than one.

A New Podcast – So this Is A Thing Now

A New Podcast – So this Is A Thing Now

This morning, two secret projects went live at the same time.

I say secret, but only because I haven’t mentioned them here on the blog before. If you stalk me on Twitter to see just how bloody stupid I sound in everyday conversation, you might have heard about one of them already.

Secret Project number one

The first not-so-secret project is a brand new Druid podcast being hosted by me and Rel (@RelWoW on Twitter), and the very first episode just went live this morning.

The show is called The Grumpy Druids, and that’s because I’m a Bear and Rel is a Moonkin and we’re, well… yeah.

The Grumpy Druids

The plan is to record the podcast once a week and shoot for about an hour of airtime, and if we go longer because we get carried away, oh well.

The show will be going live at 6:00 am Central time every Wednesday. Just so if you get bored mid-week, hey, there’s a couple idiots talking WoW, why not listen. At the very least we’ll give you someone to feel better than.

“My life is in the tank, but shit man, at least I’m not one of those bliterhing idiots.”

See? It’s almost like we’re providing a public service.

The podcast format is going to be about WoW in general with a “Wacky Druid stuff” segment, and no theorycrafting. As you should already know, Team WaffleCast has the badass Druid theorycrafting on lockdown. They are the shizzle for rizzle.

See? If I can say that, you know we’re idiots. And twenty years too old to be cool.

We’re starting with having segments about cool Druid stuff, grumpy WoW stuff, rays of sunshine coming out our butts so we balance the grumpy with the grateful, and what we’re calling WHY?!?, or What Are You… doing in the game. Because when someone asks us what we’re doing in the game lately, and we tell them, invariably the answer is “Dear lord, WHY?!?!?”

The goal is to have fun, talk about the game we love, and do our own thing in hopefully a moderately entertaining way. We’re not going to be a podcast that reads a news blurb from MMO Champion, and then asks each other, “So, what did YOU think of that?”

Well, we’ll probably inevitably do some discussion about news, but hopefully it’ll only be when there’s, like, actual news.

“Hey, an expansion just came out and Druids got nerfed to shit and lost cat form. What did YOU think of that?”

Yeah, that one might be a relevant news topic.

If this at all sounds like it could be interesting to you, I’d love it if you gave our first episode a listen and dropped some honest feedback. I’d sure appreciate it.

Secret Project number two

Along with the podcast episode is a blog post on the website to accompany it, called ‘Visual Aids’. We talk about a few things on the show that really could use pictures or screenshots to accompany it, so I added a post containing those set to go live at the same time.

Part of the visual aids are pictures and a description of my OTHER secret project…

A Feral/Guardian themed pistol build.

There are a lot more details on the Visual Aid post for episode 1, but here is a picture of the completed project to give you an idea of what exactly this is.

Ruger Mark III with custom modifications

Ruger Mark III with custom modifications

The family went to the range last night and tried it out, and it’s smooth as butter, and yes it turned heads and provoked grins.

Tuesday night is youth night at our local indoor range, and when I took the pistol out of the case on the firing line, a little girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old and bored as hell in the lane next to us took one look and her eyes just lit right up and she got what was almost the biggest grin ever.

Not quite the biggest grin in the world, since that would be the shit-eating grin on my son’s face when he shot it for the first time. He has a new favorite firearm for the range now. 🙂

I think the quote he made was, “I didn’t know a pistol could be that much fun to shoot, or that gentle.”

It’s a .22 LR pistol, and with the compensator and custom work I’ve done on the action, it’s just barely over 3 lbs of trigger pull and almost no kick at all. He loves it. Smooth and gentle.

as I said before, many more details on the pistol build, and the beautiful custom grip artwork that Tish Tosh Tesh designed for it can be found on the accompanying Visual Aid blog post on The Grumpy Druids website.

Wrapping It Up

I’m really looking forward to having this weekly podcast to do with Rel.

I’m often doing something in the ‘real world’, have an idea for a blog post hit me, and then have no time to really do anything about it anymore. But now, instead of those ideas going away unused, I can send off a quick email note to consider it later as a possible podcast topic. By recording day, that can be a lot of things to choose from.

At least, I hope it will be. And I hope some of them are interesting for you to listen to.

Thanks a lot for reading this far, and I hope you’ll go check it out!

Speculating about Class Halls

In Legion, we know that rather than continuing with Garrisons, we’re going to have what they’re calling the Class Hall. 

We’re also going to have a class-specific weapon quest chain, an expansion on the weapon quest chain they implemented from the Broken Hilt drop in Wrath of the Lich King.

That’s pretty cool sounding, but what has come before this?

We had an upgrade to our Guilds with ranks, reputation and special perks and vendor items. 

We had a character-specific zoned farm and quest hub tied to a zone/expansion.

We’ve had the guild system taken down many pegs and rewards removed or ranks flushed.

We’ve had the Garrison, a vastly expanded farm concept but still tied to a zone/expansion.

Now, Class Halls. 

Considering what we’ve seen in the past, what could we reasonably expect from the Legion Class Hall experience?

First thing we’ve seen is that a new character-specific system generally isn’t designed to be persistent. It is meant to tie into the expansion it is released in, grow with that story, and then be abandoned once the new expansion comes along.

Second, the system has a carefully crafted art theme that ties in to the concept and grows based on your efforts.

Third, there are NPCs that are tied to it that can provide daily quests and vendor items, possibly tied to new reputations.

Fourth, there are usually cute little interactive aspects you might not expect that add charm and flavor. As an example, the farm had dog and watering cans and upgradable tools, the Garrison had a special commander area to display archaeological items, etc.

So, what can we expect?

I’d say we could expect each class to have an area somewhere in the world tied in specifically to the new expansion that is zoned to your character. It is an area that will not be in a central area for whatever the following expansion may be. 

It will be populated by NPCs famous in each class who may provide lore when talked to, offer quests, have class reputation and items for transmog, mounts or toys relTed to your class.

The hall itself will be carefully designed so the aesthetic is not Horde or Alliance, but instead reminiscent of class interests. It will possibly start as one set size but can expand as you play and perhaps unlock/recruit more famous champions of your class to come and dwell therein. 

The Hall may also be customized by seeking out relics of lore associated with your class that you find by questing, interaction with items from old raids or dungeons, or as drops. Relics that you bring back and put on display. Current examples being Music, Archeology and Pepe.

Finally, we can fully expect this to be abandoned in the following expansion. Right when you’ve taken it as far as it can go and people are tired of it, a new expansion will bring new zones that we move the story to, and that area will have the next big thing. Maybe a trueGuild Hall, taking the lessons learned from Class Halls and Garrisons and the Farm and really rolling out something shared and special.

One thing I’ll be curious to see is if the Class Hall is zoned to one character, or if it’s shared to a faction, or even cross faction like Dalaran.

I’ve seen a lot of assumptions so far that I think are more wishful thinking than anything else. Like that of course all Class Halls will be large enough to hold all players of that class of both factions on a server simultaneously. 

I personally expect that it will be zoned to your one character, or that like Dalaran did with Factions there will be shared areas with smaller sub-areas zoned for you alone. 

Okay technically in Dalaran the faction areas just ported the other faction out instead of zoning.

I think we are going to be sent on a quest that leads to a fabled artifact of our class. That will take us to our first famous class NPC who will examine it, share lore and generally herald you as the new wielded of blank and the class champion. 

Alternately it will be that first NPC that sends us on a quest to track down the weapon and sets it in motion.

Either way, having recovered the class artifact and becoming the class champion, we will begin with that NPC to create from scratch a Class Hall or get access to a class related place that may have “always” been there.

From that point we can begin recruiting more class champions to our cause, the overthrow of the Legion.

I would also question whether the Bodyguard system will be expanded, allowing us to quest in the company of a true class lore champion.

Looking past the opening bars of Legion, I could see the next expansion finally seeing the coming of Sargeras, but once you’ve gathered the heroes of your class where do you go from there?

The Guild Hall, bringing together all the class champions (you) officially as a Guild with your massive fortress may be the end game.

If the invasion of the Legion is as devastating as Blizzard has suggested, dividing our forces along Class lines may not be enough to save Azeroth.

We may lose.

We’ve seen from Mists of Pandaria that in pursuit of a satisfying story, Blizzard can transform an entire zone through phasing to show the devastation of war.

What if post Legion sees our max level characters in a phased Azeroth scorched and barren, dominated by demons, and our forces thrown back into isolated fortresses where we are making our last desperate stands against final oblivion?

The fortress itself would be our new expansion capital city, and could have a Guild Hall area for the last desperate forces of light.

Where I’m going with this is kind of a cautionary tale. And a reminder.

When Legion comes, I hope everyone tries to remember to enjoy what you have as you have it, make the best of it and really dig into the gameplay of the moment. It won’t be forever, for better or worse, and who is to say for sure if it, any of it, will still be there tomorrow.

How many wish that they could have just one more day in the blessed valley of the Four Winds, to take tea in the village and camp along the golden grasses?

Seize the day, enjoy the Garrison, ride the hills, for tomorrow we go to war, and our world may never be the same.

WoW, I’m Loving It!

I’m loving WoW and feeling a little frazzled, because as usual there are too many things I’d like to be doing like RIGHT NOW and not enough time to do them all.

I blame Blizzard for adding so many awesome new systems into the game, some of which seem pretty simple but can have a subtle but powerful impact on the multi-alt player.

While the vocal part of the community seems hell bent on bashing Blizzard for any delay in flying, I’m praying they make haste a little more slowly because time, time, ask me for anything but time!

Yes, of course I’m eager to Fly Draenor and enjoy those majestic vistas and go exploring. I have my screenshots of the glorious skies over Outlands, now it’s time to see what nice scenery my tourist butt can find in da land of Orcs and Honey.

But not yet, please not yet! If flying gets released I’m going to feel guilty if I don’t start doing archaeology again, and I have enough guilt from my gaming.

Here’s the deal, buttercup.

I’m like thiiiiiis close to getting my 250 mounts for that achievement that nets me a fel green fire hawk of my very own. It would also position me within spitting distance of that future 300 mount achieve from Legion.

Getting those 250 is a done deal, I just need to consistently do the Argent Tournament dailies on my Druid each day for maybe three or four more weeks, tops, and I’m done.

In the process of working out what mounts I’m missing and where they can be found, a process that the website SimpleArmory made easy, I started messing around with the Custom Group system and made some alarming discoveries.

Now, I’m sure what I’m going to talk about is old hat to most players that are current on blogs, websites and the community.

I’m not current, I haven’t been spending any time reading blogs or WoW sites anymore except for Twitter or the front page of MMO Champion and, sometimes, following a link to Wowhead, and that only rarely. When I get home from work, I’m too busy playing the game to read about others playing the game. Kinda why I don’t watch videos or streams, either. It’s okay, if you’re a streamer, please don’t take it personally. It’s the same reason why I don’t watch any sports at all. I’d rather be doing than watching others having fun. This bear ain’t got time for that.

But the custom group thing, this took me completely by surprise when I really started looking at it and wondering what I could do with it.

See, I’ve been using the Find Group tool and Custom Groups since day one, just like many, many wonderful people in WoW to do cross-server hopping looking for rares that are up in the zones that can drop mounts (or for rare pet spawns), looking for Garrison daily commodity traders and pt quest givers, all that stuff.

I mean, everyone does that, right? You have a Blacksmith, you don’t wait weeks hoping that when the Ore Trader is in Garrisons, your character with Blacksmithing just HAPPENS to be lucky enough to have that NPC, right? No, you check Wowhead’s front page where they kindly list all of the things active in the game that day (including Garrison trader NPCs and quests), and if it’s the vendor you need, you go to Find Group and Custom Groups, and find some incredibly nice soul who has started an auto-join group so you can visit their Garrison where they have the trader up and ready to go.

This right here, this feature and how people are using it, has restored my faith in the actual players of WoW. No matter how many angry twits are spewing venom to community managers or Blizzard Developers, the fact remains there are a lot of people, all the time and every day, who go out of their way to form Custom Groups just so others can come and use their Garrison for vendors, traders and pet quests. God bless them, they are magnificent people.

But I hadn’t gone any further than that, not until I started working on making Custom Groups so that I could get my account and my son’s account both grouped up to run some old raids for mounts, and came across the most amazing thing.

You can group up with your own alts, and share raid lockouts!

All internal to your one account!

This is insane, and I love it, and it’s caused my gaming to explode lately.

It’s really simple.

Say, like me, you don’t have the Pureblood Firehawk that has the potential to drop from any version, heroic or normal, of Ragnaros in the Firelands.

Well, Ragnaros is the last boss in there, and even at level 100 a full clear of 25 normal can take a half hour to forty five minutes. Lot of loot drops, sure, but time! Ask me for… you get the idea. 45 minutes per character clear across, what, I’ve got 7 alts to level 100 now, that’s a lot of damn time.

But with Custom Groups, what you can do is go in on a character, in my case my feral Druid, and clear all the bosses in 25 normal Firelands through Majordomo Staghelm. So, everything except Rag.

Then my Druid leaves the instance, sits down and logs out just outside the entrance.

Now, I pick one of my alts, log in, fly out to Firelands and stop outside the entrance. I open Custom Groups, start a group, name it ‘test run’, and list it. Then I make sure it’s set to ‘auto join’.

I log that alt out, I log in the Druid that cleared Firelands, search for Custom Groups, and right there is my ‘test run’ sitting there. I join it, and then log out again.

When I log my alt back in, I’m still the group leader because I started the group, I’ve got my Druid in the group but offline, and maybe there are other players who are joining groups to server hop that are in there as well.

I edit my group so that it no longer lets you auto-join. Then I remove other players besides me and my Druid, if there were any.

Then my alt walks into Firelands, and no shit, the warning pops up, “You have joined an instance where 7/8 are killed, if you accept you will be saved to this instance.”

I accept. I am now the raid leader in a Firelands that has everything but Ragnaros killed.

Then I boot my Druid from the group. 🙂


I go on from there to go straight to Ragnaros, kill him, loot him, and hearth to my Garrison. Elapsed time on that character for a Rag kill from first log in to return, about 10 minutes, max.

Log in to my next alt to run it, repeat the process.

The next time I enter Firelands with my offline Druid in the group, it gives me the same warning, 6/7 or 7/8, whatever it is. I’ve run it so many times, and so many others raids, they’re all blurring together.

I don’t even have to reset instances or any of that on the alts, as the group leader that booted the Druid, the Druid was never in the raid when the last boss was killed.

Now, there has been a learning curve. I’ve been working on this for weeks, in multiple raids.

For one thing, you have to clear a normal raid, not heroic, on your original clearing character. And you have to be set to normal on the alts when you’re entering the raid for the boss you intend to kill.

Only after you have booted the Druid (or clearing character) from your group can you choose to convert raid from normal to heroic, from inside the raid. And of course, if your alt has never killed the raid on normal before, he can’t convert it to heroic. You’ll have to get at least one normal clear under your wing first on every character in order to do heroic bosses.

Also, you can do this the other way. You can start the group with your clearing character, have the alt join, then wait around for a while and the offline druid will eventually time out and lead will automatically pass to you. I don’t like that because the whole time you’ve got the auto-join setting on and other people will be popping in and out to see what’s going on. That’s great if your group is going to be up long enough for them to do cross-server stuff, not so good when you’re trying to farm a raid, or hoping lead passes to you instead of someone else. I personally prefer my alt to form the group, and have the character that cleared the raid join it and later on be booted after sharing the raid ID.

This whole thing has been transformative to my play.

As I said, I’ve got seven characters at level 100.

Thanks to Apexis Crystal upgrade gear, Garrison missions, LFR and Shipyard mission drops, all of them are at least iLevel 645, and three of them are over 675. ALL of them can clear Ragnaros 25 normal easily. Ridiculously easy.

Last night, I killed Ragnaros on EVERYONE.

I didn’t get the mount, but my Druid and my son’s Death Knight both got Sulfuras, the two handed mace, to drop. And both can use it for transmog. well, the Death Knight can when in Unholy, which happens to be my son’s favorite spec. He’s INSANELY excited.

I can’t wait to level up my Warrior to 100 just so I can start farming Ragnaros weekly for Sulfuras, JUST to Titan’s Grip the mace and dual wield it. I’m almost in tears, that vision is so glorious.

The night before last, on server reset, I killed the Lich King on almost everyone. It turned out to be a bit too difficult for me to do on my Rogue, I kept getting bounced off the top to my death by those glowing balls of shame.

I was killing the Lich King on Heroic 25, which is the only mode that Invincible can drop from.

I didn’t get the mount, but again, my Druid cleared the place on 25 normal, and then my alts all started groups, the Druid joined them, the alt walked in, booted the Druid from the group and then converted it to Heroic. Boom, a Heroic 25 Lich King only run, instantly. This only works, as I said, if the alt has cleared the full normal mode before. can’t convert it to a Heroic otherwise.

I’ve run Ulduar 25 no lights a few times to try to get Mimiron’s Head to drop, but that was before I ever found out about this, and as much as I love Ulduar, doing a full clear 5 or 6 times a week was just too much.

But this… as soon as I get either Invincible or the Pureblood Firehawk, I’ll drop that raid from my weekly rotation and start up Ulduar.

Talk about a revitalized interest in running things.

And on the subject of old raids, do you have any idea how powerful we are now? I hadn’t completed the achievements for Icecrown Citadel 10 man before to get the Bloodbathed mount thingie. I only did it with blog readers on 25 man a year ago or so.

Well, I started off at zero, ZERO achievements for the 10 man version, and soloed it in two weeks with my Druid as Feral, using a hastily thrown together Resto spec for the green dragon.

It only took two weeks, and it wouldn’t have taken that long except one week I had to kill the vampire queen after getting bitten, and the second week I had to burn her super fast so she died BEFORE I got bit.

Maybe you’ve long ago gotten every mount and pet in the game, you’re sick of soloing old raids, you’re bored off your ass and there’s nothing for you to do byut wait for flying.

If so, I’m really sorry. I am. I love this game but I need goals to excite me and shape my activities. Whether it’s chasing that transmog set, farming legendary staff drops or going for mounts os achievements, I have to have a goal.

But this Custom Group thing has me running my butt off, and frankly I love seeing all these different places… as long as I only have to clear it once.

Now, I’m not even doing this as far as I could. I haven’t tried it, but I’m pretty sure I should be able to push the raid instance lock each week after reset, and never have to clear the place after the first time. Just keep pushing it every week.

I’m not doing that, because I LIKE clearing ICC and Firelands on my Feral Druid. It’s so damn FUN!

So after all my alts have killed the boss in a week, I go in on my Druid and kill him too, get that one extra chance, and I’ll just clear again next week.

Sorry, i know this is really long, and all I’ve talked about is soloing old raids, which is nothing new and has been our fall back plan when times were slow for years.

I haven’t even had the chance to talk about how easy it’s been to farm ALL the rare drop mounts in Draenor thanks to the cross-server Custom Group feature!

With most active players hanging out in Tanaan Jungle, the rest of the zones are fairly quiet.

It’s been a great time to go to each spawn point where a rare could be that drops a mount, usually three or four spots in each zone (and easily crossed if you have a Feather) and then

use Custom group to quickly check four or five servers at each spawn point to see if it’s up.

I got all of them except Poundfist and the Voidtalon portal mount within an hour of deciding to target that rare. Felt really nice to finish that up, it had been nagging me.

So much to do, so many places to go, so many mounts to get!

Shoot, I’ve even been enjoying jousting at the Argent Tournament once again. And I’ll admit, it’s nice to be able to just walk up to a Commander before the gates of the citadel and smack him a few times instead of having to mount up with a lance and try and joust them. Makes the actual doing of the quests a breeze.

My only complaint has been that I don’t like to leave my Garrison for too long… I’ve got missions to complete and more gold to get! Those 120,000 gold mounts on the Auction House aren’t gonna buy themselves, you know.

Geez, I also didn’t mention the new Night Elf Death Knight alt I made to level. I’m already up to 72, and having a good time feeling my way through Northrend quests again. It’s been a long time, but it’s just like coming home. These heirlooms from the new system are so nice, and the Void Tendril heirloom trinket you can get from a Garrison mission (if your character is over iLevel 675 and so are your followers) is so overpowered it’s insane. Oh, and that trinket comes in a bag, the trinket is BOP but the bag reward you get is BOE. So you can buy that heirloom trinket from the Auction House if you search for the bag it comes in! It’s called the Void-Shrouded Satchel, and the trinket is called the Touch of the Void.

So much to do, so little time….

Please, Blizzard, just hold off the patch and expansion, just… yes, bring them, I really want them, but… not yet!

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!

Concerning Arming the Military in America

Since the tragic terrorist attack and the murders of our servicepeople in Chattanooga, there has been a lot of talk in the state I live in, Minnesota, about arming ‘the troops’.

The discussion itself highlights the growing feeling among some civilians that we here at home in America are under an active, ongoing threat of attack. Talking about arming active duty military servicepeople is a response to the feeling that we are engaged in a war on our home territory. A terrorist threat, a guerilla war, however you’d like to phrase it.

As a former Marine that writes about video games for people who mostly don’t have anything to do with active duty military stuff, or who aren’t familiar with America (waves to Rel and Hunni!) I wanted to give you a little more insight into some of the issues involved here. Stuff that I just don’t see included in the discussion.

The first big thing is, this discussion is mainly being driven by civilian citizens that want to do something to try to address what they feel is a vulnerability for our armed forces. The argument goes, “We allow them to be armed and defend themselves when we send them in harms way, but here at home we disarm them but require them to wear their uniforms or be in clearly marked areas, painting targets on them and making them helpless victims.”

As an example of where this comes from, take a look at this relevant picture from the news coverage of the recent Chattanooga terrorist attack. That picture is of the front door of the recruiting station that took quite a few rounds through the glass.


That’s right, a sign proudly stating that “this is a helpless victim zone, fire at will, we can’t shoot back.”

Oh, no, sorry that was my editorializing. It’s a typical sign declaring an area to be a gun free zone, so please don’t bring your guns in here.

How that is any different from posting a sign saying, “Hey whackjob, helpless victims inside, have fun” I have no idea.

So civilians want to do something. And something probably should be done.

But you can’t just say, “Oh well let’s arm them all and then we’re all safe.”

The armed forces won’t do that, because THEY’RE in charge of how the internal firearms policies work, and those policies are based on long and careful considerations of lots of stuff. No, really.

See, the first issue is the conversation is happening in the wrong place. Civilians aren’t going to get SHIT done about this.

Armed forces aren’t democracies. It’s a top down hierarchy that is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, not a civilian legal code. There are specific rules about firearms use by active duty military.

Changes in the civilian legal system, especially at the state level, can’t dictate how a federal armed force will choose to arm or equipment individual mission classifications or MOS dutues. The National Guard may work differently, but sure as hell Governor Dayton in Minnesota ain’t gonna get the Marines all issued pistols and ammo. So talking about it is just a barometer of the concern we all have about wanting to do something.

Any action will come from the military themselves.

A valid question would be, “Is there anything in the civilian legal system preventing the various branches of the military from arming recruiters or other service personnel?”


They can absolutely do this. The armed forces can indeed, at any time, choose to make internal changes up to and including assigning weapons to, issuing weapons to, and instructing active duty servicemen to carry them while going to and from and about their duties here and anywhere else they are assigned.

The main issues as to whether they will or not are armory and supply logistics, firearms safety, weapons inventory control and mission requirements.

Let’s talk about mission requirements first.

All it takes for this change to begin is for the upper ranks of military leadership to re-examine what the mission requirements are for, say, active duty servicepeople assigned to recruiter duty.

If they re-examine the requirements for that mission and determine that the capability of an armed response to a potential threat is required, then they can determine what type of the equipment needs to be issued to a serviceperson fulfilling that mission. That includes the issuing of a firearm, what type of firearm, and deciding at what times that firearm is to be carried and how.

Regulations and standards get written. It’s called your T/O equipment, or table of organization equipment. Every rank, every role has a place within the Table of Organization, and if your role requires you to carry a Beretta 9mm pistol as your T/O weapon, then there you go.

It does not require any interference by an outside agency or civilian legal system.

I can tell you flat out that before that happens, before the T/O gets re-evaluated for recruiters to be required to carry firearms, then someone will have to admit that our armed forces in the United States of America are under credible and consistent threat on domestic soil by armed terrorists, whether foreign or domestic.

Despite all the talk in the media, ain’t nobody official from the federal government gone anywhere NEAR saying that, or admitting to it.

But let’s say our military leadership does change the mission requirements, they determine our military forces assigned to recruiter duty, or living off base, all need to be armed.

The next step are all those rules and regulations and standards that have to follow.

First off, it won’t be a case of just letting military personnel carry their personally owned firearms. Not in this lifetime.

This may surprise you, but most active duty military don’t OWN personal firearms. Not while they’re active and living on base. If they do have them, they mostly have them at their parent’s or relatives home, or at a friend’s house off base.


Because if you have a personally owned firearm on base, you have to keep it stored in the on-base armory, where it is controlled, maintained and issued by the armorers just like any government owned firearm, and if you want to check your personally owned weapon out to go hunting, then you have to go there and request it, fill out the inventory control card, and after shooting it you have to clean it before they let you check it back in.

Most people don’t want to deal with the hassle.

Also, there will not be a requirement that active duty military must spend personal funds to purchase a firearm for official use. So no, no they won’t make active duty recruiters carry personal firearms. And I cannot see them allowing the possession and carry of personally owned firearms while on duty in uniform. I just cannot see that happening, because holsters and rifle slings and safety and OMG just no.

No, if the mission changes so our recruiters need to carry a firearm for personal defense, it will have to be an official firearm identified and supplied by the military, controlled under armory conditions and inventory rules, and the service member will have to train with it and qualify on the range with it.

So, on to the next one. Armory and logistics.

The military will have to get enough inventory of these firearms to issue out to meet this new requirement. Also ammunition. Also all associated equipment like holsters, etc.

Training in the rules and regulations on grooming and cleanliness standards will have to be provided, since  aside from Military Police and officers, few active duty servicepeople are ever issued a pistol for their T/O weapon. Your average Marine sure as heck knows how to march with and salute with a rifle in his possession, but a pistol?

Yes, these are important considerations. You don’t just hand a pistol and holster to a Sergeant on recruiter duty and tell him to figure it out.

And finally, one of the biggest considerations; safety and public opinion.

Before the recruiters are assigned weapons and ammo and directed when and how to carry them, someone in the military leadership will have to decide that the benefits of arming the recruiters outweigh the potential negatives of loss of life, bad press and other fallout that would come from an active duty service person firing on and wounding or killing a civilian when it wasn’t in response to an actual terrorist assault.

If you arm a shitload of recruiters, you HAVE to address the conditions that permit those recruiters to use those weapons.

Only in defense of themselves? What about in defense of others? All service people swear an oath to protect and defend the citizens of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

That’s pretty fucking cut and dried. it doesn’t get much plainer than that.

Yes, there is training provided on when it is appropriate to apply lethal force. Yes, that training can and would be freshened up for everyone involved. But it is a consideration that would have to be rexamined in light of arming active duty people and sending them out to interact with civilians all the time. The training is normally focused on what to do while on active guard duty and witnessing a security breach, or in the field, not when walking across a mini-mall parking lot to your POV.

But this is the real world, and if you’ve never been in the active military you have no freaking idea how much your base and unit commanders fear and dread having their Marines or whatever get into trouble with civilians off base.

No, really. You really have no idea.

Just for a moment try to imagine that the unit commander is the father of 200 or more smelly, messy testoterone-addled teenagers whose only desire is to get out of the house, get drunk and get laid at any opportunity.

What is worse is none of those kids are yours, they come from your wife’s former marriage. So you’ve got all the responsibility, but you aren’t related to those pains in the ass by blood.

And finally, realize that these kids are off base, out of your control, and when or if they get into trouble it will be with civilian authorities that are going to resent having your charges out of their legal control because they fall under the UCMJ for most things.

That base or unit commander, therefore, rarely feels much mercy towards someone that fucks up to the point that the civilian law ges involved, from say a DUI off base.

You cannot imagine the reaming you endure and the punitive actions that can be taken when a dry cleaning store owner calls your base commander to tell him, personally, that Private Dumbschmuck wrote him a bad check for the uniform dry cleaning bill.

Think about it.

Now we’re talking about those military leaders having to address how to deal with having all those recruiters, working out of small offices all over the country, being armed and living exclusively among civilians all the time, with the increased potential for incidents that would come with it.

So there you go. Those are just some of the real issues involved behind the scenes right now while people are yelling about how OF COURSE our active duty military should be armed and why hasn’t it happened already, jerk that knee.

Could be those folks are right. Maybe our recruiters should be armed. Maybe ALL active duty military should be armed while not actively on base or at a secured facility.

But those decisions need to be made after careful consideration of all the many aspects of this change, and as part of an overall analysis of how to respond to the situation as a whole.

I can assure you that if our military leaders are looking at the pros and cons of increasing defensive capabilities on an individual basis among recruiters and off-base active duty military, they are also looking at ways to be proactive and go on the offensive, identifying the threats in each community and taking action against them to neutralize them before it gets to a shooting at a strip mall.

That would require increased military intelligence and cooperation with local and federal law enforcement, but those are the kinds of things they WILL be examining.

This isn’t going to be about a sudden popular fad in the media asking why they’re not arming recruiters.

It’s going to be about analyzing the overall threat, and how best to address it. And just tossing guns to recruiters isn’t going to be the only solution discussed, or the only layer to the solution, if any, that they eventually go with.

Never lose sight of the fact that before any of this happens, there will have to be an official recognition by the government and the armed forces that this is a serious ongoing threat that needs to be faced. I’ll be honest, our current sitting President does not seem capable of using the term ‘terrorist’ or of acknowledging that anything out of the ordinary is happening in America. Can’t fix it if you’re too proud to admit it’s broke.

In the short term, I’d expect many, many, many safety briefings and terrorism counteraction classes are being given and an overall “let’s be careful out there” message is being delivered to the troops.

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.