Home Built AR-15 On a Budget

home built ar-15 budgetA couple days ago I talked about cheap guns and why they’re not as good as more expensive guns – at least if you’re betting your life on one. That doesn’t mean you need to spend $1500 on a Daniel Defense or $2500 on a KAC SR-15 to have a reliable weapon. I decided to try my hand at a home built AR-15 on a budget. Building your own has a few advantages. For one thing, you can get exactly the parts you want. For another, you can spread the cost out over time. The best reason for me is for learning how to do it. If you build your own AR-15, you’ll be able to maintain, repair, and upgrade it yourself. With that in mind, I decided to build a budget AR-15.

Budget, not cheap…

This is a budget gun, not a cheap gun. I did use some cheap parts, but the important ones are high quality. I used Aero Presision upper and lower receivers. The lower parts kit (lpk) is CMMG, and a friend gave me a Sionics enhanced mil spec trigger. The buffer tube assembly is BCM. Barrel is 16″ M4 profile with 1:7 twist, carbine gas, F marked FSB and chrome lined bore. Except for the barrel, all are solid choices based on past experience and mfg. reputation. Since the rest of the parts don’t affect reliability, I used the cheapest ones I could find: generic M4 butt stock, A2 grip, cheap no-name charging handle, and Magpul MOE trigger guard and fore end. I already had the buttstock and charging handle. All in, I’m at about $570 in parts. If I’d had to buy a trigger, butt stock , and charging handle it would be about $100 more.

Just cheap…

By comparison, I could have built my AR using Palmetto State Armory’s (PSA) rifle build kit. For only $399.95 (including shipping) it comes with everything you need to build an AR-15 except the lower receiver. Add $70 or so for a lower and you have a complete AR-15 for less than $500. Not bad for a range toy, but not as good as my $570 (or $670) build.

With the PSA kit, you don’t get a chrome lined barrel. The bolt isn’t 158 carpenter steel. I don’t know who makes their buffer tube, but I do know the BCM tube I used is duty grade – not likely to blow up in my face. The parts in the CMMG lpk (esp. pins and springs) are known quality parts. I don’t know what PSA puts in their lpks. For a plinker or range toy it probably doesn’t matter. For a gun that’s going to be used for self defense, it does – at least to me.

The gory details…

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but I wanted parts that would work good and last a long time. That can be a tricky with the AR-15 because there are so many choices for parts. AR parts companies seem to come and go on a daily basis. I decided to spend where I needed and go cheap everywhere else. The important parts are the receiver set, LPK, BCG, and barrel. Everything else is easy to replace or upgrade later.

My lower receiver is an Aero Precision A15 for $70. Fit, finish, and function is great and it’s only $20 more than a Poverty Pony lower. I used a CMMG lpk ($40). Again, this is a known good quality piece of kit. For the trigger I cheated – one of my friends let me have a Sionics Enhanced mil spec trigger. If I had to buy it, it would have added $55 to the cost of my rifle. It looks exactly like an ALG ACT I own, down to the casting (forging?) marks on the trigger and hammer. No creep and crisp break. The buffer tube assembly is BCM. For around $60 I like the peace of mind knowing it’s strong enough to not break on recoil and put my eye out.

The upper receiver is an Aero M4. It houses a Toolcraft bcg with an MPI’d and HPT’d Carpenter 158 steel bolt. I used a BCM Gunfighter charging handle because they work well and seem to be break-proof. Gas tube is a Spike’s Tactical melonite piece and my muzzle device is just a standard A2 flash hider. Barrel specs are mentioned above. I did cheap out on the furniture – the stock is a generic M4 and the hand guard is a used Magpul MOE. I still need to get the sight post, pin, and spring for the FSB and a rear sight.

A work in progress…

Even though I haven’t finished this rifle, I already have some upgrades in mind. I know for sure I’m going to replace the butt stock. The M4 I have on it now sucks. My second upgrade will probably be to free float the barrel. In the mean time I just want to finish it and run it hard. Let’s see what breaks and what doesn’t…

Peace out,

“As good as…”

I’m not a gun snob. I own my share of cheap guns. Heck, I even wrote a post extolling the virtues of cheap guns. But if you think your cheap gun (or whatever) is just as good as more expensive (dare I say better?) guns, you’re probably wrong. What really got me thinking about this was the Wuhan virus crap. Before, I always figured if my gun broke I could get it fixed under warranty or fix it myself. But what if the company went out of business? What if I can’t get parts? Then I started finding forum posts about bad ammo, poor metallurgy, and cheap parts breaking. So it is an issue to address…

As good as what?

Even though it should be obvious that higher quality guns are better than <ahem> cheaper guns, I see tons of people claiming their HiPoint is just as good as a Glock, or their PSA AR-15 is just as good as a BCM. Some even go so far as to say their cheap gun is BETTER than the more expensive one. So lets look at that… I do have some cheap guns, so I’m not just talking out my butt…

Is a HiPoint as good as a Glock?

People like to bash Glocks for some reason. It seems like HiPoint owners especially like to talk smack about Glocks. So let’s look at that. I own a HiPoint JHP 45 and a Glock 30. Comparing the two… well, they both have polymer frames, they’re both black, and they both shoot 45 ACP. Beyond that, they really aren’t comparable. The HiPoint weighs 35 oz. empty. The Glock weighs 24 oz. empty and 34 oz. fully loaded. That’s correct, the Glock weighs less fully loaded than the HiPoint weighs empty. The G30 is also narrower and shorter than the JHP 45, making it a lot easier to CCW.

The G30 holds 11 rounds, vs 10 for the JHP 45. The sights are easier to see on the Glock, and easy to change if you don’t like the factory sights. The front sight on the JHP is molded into the slide, so you couldn’t change it even if you wanted to. The trigger on the Glock is also better, and again if you don’t like the factory trigger it’s easy to change. The HiPoint has a heavier, grittier trigger pull and there is no aftermarket alternative – you’re stuck with what came from the factory.

There are many other issues as well, enough that I could do a whole post on just the difference between the Glock and the HiPoint. In fact I think I will. But is the HiPoint “just as good as” the Glock? I would have to say… no.

Is a PSA AR-15 as good as a (S&W, Ruger, Windham Weaponry) BCM, etc?

The AR-15 is a little more complicated. PSA themselves offers the AR in several grades, and their “Premium” line is actually pretty good. For this discussion I’m talking about their base and “Freedom” lines. For cheap guns they’re OK, but not as good as more expensive guns. What makes one AR-15 better than another AR-15? Well, lots of things…

What materials are used to make the parts? How were they made (machined from billet, forged, cast, MIM)? How were the parts finished? For hardened parts, were they surface hardened or through hardened? How accurate are the parts’ dimensions? What about hole sizes and location? What testing does the manufacturer use on the individual parts and the gun as a whole? How is their reputation for customer service?

What drives me crazy is people claiming expensive guns are the result of some conspiracy by certain manufactures to “jack up prices.” Here’s a reality check. Better materials cost more money. Better finishes cost more money. Highly accurate parts production costs more than less accurate parts production. THAT is what you’re paying for with a more expensive gun – not “just a fancy roll mark.” At least it usually works that way if you buy from a reputable manufacturer with a good reputation. The idea that a cheaper gun is just as good as a gun made with better materials, to tighter tolerances, and with a better finish???

So what about cheap guns?

I like cheap guns. If my life depends on a gun though, a cheap gun isn’t going to be my first choice. I want quality and especially reliability. That usually means a more expensive gun. Is your cheap gun as good as my expensive gun? Heck, are my cheap guns “as good as”? Most likely not. Until next time…

Peace out,

Related links:

Palmetto State Armory vs. Everyone
Junk, Budget Builds, and Gear Reviews

Great Blue Heron

great blue heronEver since this Wuhan virus crap started I haven’t been getting out enough. I went for a walk the other day though and came across a Great Blue Heron. He was standing next to a pond at a golf course close to my house. When I first saw him, he was so still I thought it was fake. As I watched him I could see him moving very slightly. I moved up very slowly, taking pics as I approached. Finally he’d had enough so he took off and flew away. What an awesome surprise on what I thought was going to be just a boring walk…

Getting out ain’t easy…

great blue heron taking off

It’s been tough. I’m working at home, which sounds good – except my boss expects me to basically stay glued to my computer and phone. Since I’m home, my wife also expects me to be able to drop whatever I’m doing and help when she needs something. Then there’s getting my kid to do his school work online. My elderly mom couldn’t get out for awhile due to our state’s lock down, so guess who’s expected to take phone calls 2 or 3 times a day when she’s bored and wants to talk to someone? On top of that, my allergies have been killing me this year.

Speaking of allergies, did you know that you can’t just get a kenalog shot any more? I went to the doctor and she said “NO.” Apparently there’s a slight risk of the shot weakening (“ruining” in her words) your thigh bones if you get too many. Never mind that I haven’t had one in over 15 years and I have excellent bone density (had it checked last year).  So instead of a single shot with low risk of a single side effect, she put me on the FDA recommended medical regime for allergies: THREE medicines with a whole laundry list of side effects. Such as severe (as in life threatening) asthma attack, depression and suicidal thoughts, extreme irritability, fatigue… personally, I’d rather take my chances with the bone density thing. But I guess “our” government “health experts” know what’s best right? OK, I’m getting off track here…

Early is better

One thing I’ve found is that “the earlier the better.” When I get up early enough, I can get out for awhile before my boss expects me available for “instant access.” If it’s going to be windy, it’s usually less windy in the morning. There are less people out and about. My side effects (irritability and fatigue) haven’t kicked in yet. The Great Blue Heron and other birds are still out.

The hard part about getting an early start is going to bed early the night before. I’m a night person so it’s hard to get to bed before 11:30 – 12:00. That makes it kind of hard to get up at 5:00 am ready to go (as an old fart, I need at least 7 hours of sleep). I guess that’s one good thing about the medicine side effects – I’ve been sleeping around 10:30.

The Great Blue Heron

So one day when I dragged my lazy self out of bed early, I managed to go for a walk. It was a route I’d never taken before. I was following a trail that ended abruptly at the edge of a golf course. I almost turned around and backtracked. Then I said “screw it, I’m cutting across their damn golf course.” I’m glad I did. The Great Blue Heron made my day.

Polymer80 P940Cv1 first impressions

Polymer80 P940Cv1 kitI’ve had my Polymer 80 P940Cv1 frame quit for quite awhile – a couple years in fact. I’ve had it so long I forgot where I got some of the parts. Anyway, some friends have been wanting to go shooting yesterday and I had some spare time. Last week I bought a cordless Dremel so I could finally finish this thing. This won’t be a complete review of the P940Cv1, just my initial impressions. After I have a chance to shoot it more and gather my notes I’ll do a complete review and shooting report.

The instructions suck…

The  P940Cv1 doesn’t come with instructions, which is kind of weird considering it’s not obvious how it goes together. Polymer80 has instructions in PDF format on their web site, but these instructions are much better IMO. Polymer80 recommends using a slide vise and drill press for the milling operations on the frame. My drill press wasn’t deep enough to fit the slide vise, so I tried holding the block by hand. BIG mistake – the bit grabbed the frame and marred it pretty good before I got it away from the bit. My bad…

Looking for solutions, I found a video from Marine Gun Builder that shows how to finish a Polymer80 frame without a drill press. I couldn’t afford the fancy fret snips he recommends so I got the closest snips I could find at Home Depot. They worked OK, but my frame didn’t turn out nearly as pretty as Marine Gun Builder’s. No worries – I’d already marred it anyway. The important thing was – would it shoot? More on that later…

Other parts you’ll need

The Polymer80 kits only come with the parts needed for the frame itself.  Besides the frame kit, you’ll need a Frame Parts Kit (not sold by Polymer80) and a complete slide assembly. The Polymer 80 frames need Glock Gen 3 compatible parts. If you use Gen 4 or later parts you might damage the frame and will definitely void your warranty. Polymer80 specifically mentions that Lone Wolf Distributors uses some Gen 4 parts in their kits, in spite of labeling them as “Gen 3 compatible.” Simple – don’t use a Lone Wolf Distributor kit in your P80 frame kit. I prefer OEM Glock parts that I get from Glockmeister. For my slide, I bought a no-name Gen 3 compatible G19 slide assembly on eBay.

One thing to watch for is to make sure you put the right parts in the right hole. The 2 pins that come with the frame kit are for the front and back holes in the frame. The middle (small) hole is for the locking block pin that will come with your Frame Parts Kit. You’ll need to install this pin before installing the slide release assembly but after putting the trigger assembly in place. This part was a little confusing to me so I had to call Polymer80 for guidance. I can let you know they DO answer the phone and were able to help me. GREAT customer service.

P940Cv1 - 2 types of pins
The top pin with the bulged ends is the rear pin for the slide locking block

Problems? What problems?

The only problem I had putting together the P940Cv1 kit was the slide block spring. For some reason I can’t get it to seat correctly. It’s in the front groove far enough to not fall out, but barely. This might be due to the fact that I started way back when with a Lone Wolf Distributors kit, and the spring might have come from them – which could mean it’s a Gen 4 part (for some reason, Glock changed this spring from Gen 3 to Gen 4). I have known Gen 3 springs on the way from Glockmeister, so we’ll see. The one I put in held well enough for test firing.

Other than that, no problems that weren’t self induced. The pins were really tight, but that might actually be a good thing. For those familiar with Glocks, this won’t come apart easily with the Glock tool. Hammer and punch will definitely be needed. Once I got it put together, it function checked fine so off to the range…

Complete P940Cv1 ready to go shooting


But does it shoot?

I didn’t have any Gen 3 G19 magazines, so I borrowed one from my Gen 4. Fit was fine. I had some reservations about shooting it because of the slide lock spring issue, but life is short so… I loaded 2 rounds into the mag and inserted. Seated fine, so far so good. Time to pull the trigger. Took aim, pulled the trigger, and… it went bang just like it’s supposed to. Second round fed OK, pulled the trigger again, went bang again, and the slide locked back on the empty magazine just like it’s supposed to.

Inserted a full magazine. Bang… bang… and ftf. Drop magazine, clear round, insert magazine, rack slide, and… ftf. Lather, rinse, repeat and… another ftf. On the 3rd try I used the slide release instead of racking the slide and the round fed. (I SWEAR I wasn’t “riding the slide”…) I shot the remaining rounds in the magazine with no issues. Shot through two more full mags with no issues and called it a day. A successful day.

I didn’t do any formal accuracy testing, but it seemed as accurate as my Glock 22 that I brought for comparison. So far, I’m happy. In fact, happy enough that I ordered a P940Cv1 second frame kit, along with their subcompact (P940SC). Hopefully the next one will turn out as nice as the ones Marine Gun Builder turns out. Until next time…

Peace out,