This is the second part, If you missed the first part, click the link above… This is a continuation of my attempt to build a lightweight, cheap, AR-15. Why? because Texas, and the Second Amendment, that’s why. I’m kidding (kinda). I just wondered if the average person can build one (not that I’m average), and if it actually saves any money…
When you buy a barrel you will have to determine whether you want chrome-lined or not. Just as all things ‘AR, everyone has an opinion. Match Competition shooters prefer non Chrome-lined for accuracy while if durability is your thing, you should definitely buy chrome-lined. If you’ll be shooting cheap steel cased ammo, yea go for the chrome-lined but the truth is… you probably won’t notice too much of a difference in a rifle that will never see a battlefield and will not be living in a harsh environment. So, all that said, I went the non-chromed route. Both barrels will last a lifetime… and if they don’t, they are easy enough to replace.
So where would I go to buy a barrel? A gun store? Some online specialist firearms retailer? No! I went to Amazon and ordered up a Barrel. For $118 I picked up a 16-inch M-4 Profile barrel, with the cutout for an M-203… cause you never know when you’ll get the opportunity to own one. With the barrel in hand. I applied some Wheel-Bearing grease (do your own research… Some people only use Aeroshell, others use only Moly-based) and mated the barrel to the upper receiver. The grease is to ensure the steel barrel doesn’t fuse with the aluminum Upper Receiver over the long-term due to heat and corrosion. The Upper Receiver was placed in a AR-15 Upper Receiver Vice Block, duct-taped together and torqued on without the use of an actual vice. I used the side of a workbench and some carpenter clamps and a cheap AR-15 armorers wrench I also bought from Amazon. Just be creative (and CAREFUL to avoid damage or crushing).
This barrel has a hybrid (Wylde) chamber that allows it to reliably shoot both 5.56mm NATO, and .223 caliber rounds. Yes they are technically 2 different sized/shaped rounds (so pay close attention when you buy a barrel). The Wylde barrel/chamber provides the flexibility to shoot whichever’s clever.
The barrel will be topped off with a 3-prong Flash Hider from the 1970’s. Perhaps not as efficient as some of the more modern flash hiders. Does not have a flat bottom to avoid disturbing the dust on the ground when attempting to be tactical, but… If I ever need it to, I can buy one of the standard birdcage flash hiders later. But for now… we’re going with Nostalgia.
The Gas System
A Gas Tube is the tube that makes a gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle work the action of the rifle. How does it work. The trigger is pulled, the primer on the round (bullet and casing) is struck by the firing pin causing gas to shoot down the barrel behind the bullet
(mostly). A small hole in the inside of the barrel allows gas to be siphoned off. That gas is redirected back towards the bolt via a little tube (gas tube as it were). Bolt shoots back ejecting the expended casing and upon being pushed forward loads another round from the magazine and locks shut. Gas tubes are cheap BUT you have to pay attention to which size you need (pistol, carbine, mid-length, and rifle). Size is based on where the gas hole is drilled into the barrel. For the M4 type barrel, it is carbine length. That’s what I’m building. $12.50 on Amazon.
An essential part of the rifle’s action is the Gas Block. The gas block is the origin of where the gas tube is connected. It siphon’s off a portion of the gas traveling behind the bullet through a tiny hole in the barrel and directs that to push the bolt back ejecting the empty case of the round that was just fired. This action of the bolt then strips a new round from the magazine under buffer spring tension and chambers the next round so the rifle is good for the next trigger pull. There are dozens of types of Gas Blocks on Amazon. Some have no sights, some fold down, but they’re not for me.
JP Enterprises makes a great Gas Block that looks similar to the standard AR A-frame sight to give it that look we all recognize. The JP Enterprises sight is milled out of aluminum. It looks great. It is a tad costly at $129, but you must also take into account, that you will not need an armorer to install it which can cost time and $60 (but will not be adjustable). All you’ll need is an Allen wrench and some blue Locktite. Looks great, professionally made, works perfect. Worth the cost!
So, Should You Buy Or Build?
It can go either way! If you want to tell people you have a “Colt”, “Stag Arms”, “Windham Weaponry”, “DPMS”, “Bushmaster”, “Mossberg”, “Smith And Wesson”, or “Armalite” (which would be cool, actually) and have their name emblazoned on your rifle, you will have to go out and spend the money. If you just want an AR-15 that you actually built that works great, you might want to build it. You’ll have to do the work to get exactly what you want, however, I will stipulate that buying one off the shelf will be easier, Drop $500-$650 and you’ll get a rifle that you might have reliability questions about but you’ll be in the AR-15 game. Throw down $650-$800, you’ll buy a big name rifle that you’ll spend more money on trying to make exactly the way you want it. You’ll end up buying new handgaurds or something to make it yours. Plop down $800-$900 bucks and you won’t have to do anything but shoot it. People will think its a good rifle. Spend anything more than that ($900+)… and you better be getting everything you want. It should be exactly how you want it and you don’t have to change a thing.
When you build, you’ll have to take in to account shipping costs. But one benefit to ordering from Amazon is that shipping is free over $35. You may have to buy parts/tools that have limited use and you may only use once (if you only build one rifle). This would include a vice (even though I didn’t use one), punches, Vice Block, and Armorers Wrench, to install the barrel. I already had everything else I needed and you may as well. If not, take the trip to Home Depot and call it a day. Obviously, every rifle you build subsidizes the cost of these tools — so there’s your motivation to build more than one.
Now if you build it… you will have to accumulate all of the parts. You’ll have a learning experience and you may love the rifle because you know EVERYTHING about it and how it works. Will you save money? Some! But you probably won’t mind since you’ve built the rifle as you could and and did not have a one time hit to your scarce finances. You also got exactly what you wanted. But most importantly, you built it — and just like your daddy told you… There’s no better project than the one you completed with your own two hands (so long as it works).
So CAN YOU Build One?
Absolutely! The physical process of putting the parts together is not actually that difficult. It is the deadly risk of malfunction that people confuse with difficulty. But, if you can follow simple instructions, you can do it. Sure some may see it as a risk, and yes, it is, but you cannot really do much to mess it up. You’re not cutting anything, welding anything, or permanently attaching anything to anything. Any mistakes you make can be taken apart without damaging any components, fixed, and put back together. No harm no foul. As long as you insert the barrel (which only goes on one way) on, the bolt carrier group will lock into the chamber and will not blow up in your face.
The truth is… that if you can follow simple directions and put together the components of a Lego set, you can build an ‘AR. The only difference is you must buy the parts you’re going to assemble from different sources. When, and If, you buy quality components — the parts will fit together perfectly. AR’s have been made by dozens of companies and the parts are generally made to fit together because they generally follow the Military Specifications.
Overall Cost— Lower Receiver — $119 + 25 for FFL Transfer — Upper Receiver — $59 — Upper Kit — $28 — Bolt — $139 — Barrel — $118 — Carbine Gas Tube — $12 — Handguards — $19 — Forward handle — $9 — Flash hider — $19 — Gas Block — $129 — Magazine — $10 — Charging Handle — $15 — Carrying Handle — $28 Sub Total — $729
OK, at $729, It is not cheap… You don’t really save too much money over buying because AR’s are so cheap now-a-days for manufacturers because bulk buys can save big bucks. But lets note, I could’ve saved some money here and there. As an example, there are Bolt Carrier Groups for less than $60 (whereas I spent $140). I didn’t need a Nickel Boron Coated bolt but it sounded cool. I also could’ve also ordered one of the many “Barrel Assemblies” that already have the standard Gas Block pinned to them. As an example if one of these assemblies were purchased, there would’ve been a net savings of $80 alone. I could’ve cut off $170 in total, but I wouldn’t have gotten exactly what I wanted. These two changes could’ve brought this project in at $569. A quick trip to Cheaper Than Dirt shows that they have some Cheap AR’s for as low as $481 if you are so inclined. That is the competition… but I wouldn’t have gotten a rifle as good as I have now and I wouldn’t have made it with my own two hands.
Another benefit to building your own rifle is, you can build this rifle over the course of a few months or even a year or more if you want, as you get money to save/spend/burn/waste/invest on a AR. This disperses the cost of the rifle over a period of time and helps you avoid the loss of any significant chunks or change at any given moment.
Thoughts On Shooting It?
OK, so I took it to the range and braved myself through the first couple of rounds. I didn’t put my face close to it for fear it would blow 40,000 psi into my face and neck… But, that didn’t happen. Yes, it even surprised me! I put one round in the magazine and fired it. The bolt locked to the rear as it is supposed to with an empty magazine. I put 2 rounds in a magazine. Fired them and the rifle didn’t runaway (fire automatic), I put 10 rounds in a magazine. Fired them all with no problems and the rifle is functioning as it is supposed to. In total I fired 40 rounds this first day to ensure the rifle was safe. THERE WERE NO/ZERO malfunctions.
What surprised me most was that I didn’t even sight it in. I just kinda blasted rounds downrange, but you know what? Out of the 40 rounds I fired, 38 found their way onto the paper. Even with my old-ish, computer damaged, eyes that haven’t used Open/Iron sights for over a decade. I didn’t even go down range to see if my rounds were hitting (Yes, I’m making excuses for my suckin), but I wasn’t disappointed. Once I get it sighted, I believe it will be good-to-go in the accuracy department. And when I get a optical sight on it – I’ll start adding some accuracy.
One of my main worries was proven to be unwarranted. I was concerned that the trigger wouldn’t feel the same as a standard ‘AR because even the trigger fire control group is mostly made out of Polymer. I thought it might feel “squishy” and not crisp as I expect. Well, my worries were unfounded and it feels like a basic military rifle. The good thing is, is that if you want to, you can replace it with a standard metal trigger group later.
Regarding my “lightweight” goal, it proved to be kinda unnecessary. AR’s are already pretty damned light to start with. With Polymer, at best, you’re only saving a few ounces when compared to the standard military issue rifle. A goal of making a light rifle is probably a waste of time for most people considering an AR-15 buy.
So… Owning An ‘AR
But how does it feel to shoot and own another AR-15? Hmmm. I can see why it has become the most popular rifle in the country now. As with other former military types, it brought me back to military range days. AR’s always have the same smell whether you’re firing in the Middle East or at some random range in Nevada or Alaska. Memories just kinda flowed back to me. I remembered the first time I hit the ranges at Lackland Air Force Base, the pop-up reactive target ranges at Camp Bullis Army Base, and my Army Instructors/Cadre yelling at me on the ranges in Fort Dix while I try to concentrate on tight little groups. I recalled the first time I hit a target at 500m (which we used to have to do with open sights) or how cool it was firing a rifle on automatic, and later, 3-round burst. My skills are beginning to develop again. My second outing with the rifle resulted in a slightly more predictable group of 50 rounds roughly within a more reasonable 3.5-inch by 3-inch space at 50 yards (with open sights). By shooting this rifle, memories do kinda flow back to me, and knowing that I built this one at home, is the icing. And now, I’m kinda digg’in it! It’s not just a black rifle, but it is nostalgia for me.
This concludes Yet Another AR build. The lesson. If you build one cheap… It’ll be just like the cheap ones you can buy. The parts will be the same, and the completed product will be about the same quality.