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

Build your own gun

building your own gunI’m filing this under How to be a Backyardsman. I love to shoot and hunt but I can’t do that in my backyard. You probably can’t either unless you’re really lucky. So what can you do if you like guns but you can’t go shooting as much as you’d like? Build your own gun. It’s pretty easy – if I can do it you probably can too.

Build your own gun vs. buying a factory gun

Sometimes you can save money by building your own gun, but usually it’s cheaper to just buy one. I don’t care. I build guns because I enjoy it and I get to make them exactly the way I want them. It’s also a great way to learn how they work. I figure if I built it I can probably fix it if it breaks. If you start with an 80% receiver it can save you from doing paperwork.

OTOH it’s easier to just buy one. To build your own, you’ll need some tools and skills. It’s usually cheaper to buy a factory gun, and it will come with a warranty. So why build your own? Because you’re a Backyardsman, right?

Ways to build your own gun

When you build your own gun, you have lots of options. The cheapest is to get a black powder rifle or pistol kit. You can get a Traditions Kentucky pistol kit for about $175 or their Kentucky rifle kit for about $260. I haven’t built either but they look pretty easy to put together and they get good reviews online. To build one, you’ll need to do a little wood inletting for the metal parts, some minor filing, finish the wood stock, blue the metal parts, and screw everything together. I’m hoping I can build one with my son later this year (after he passes his Hunter Safety course).

The easiest way to build your own gun is putting together an AR15. You can get every part you need online. The only hard part is finding an FFL to do the transfer on the lower receiver for you. You’ll need a few special tools and some good instructions, but putting together an AR is so easy it’s not even really building a gun, more like assembling one. If you want a little more challenge you can start with an 80% lower. My first (and so far only) home built gun was an AR-15. It cost just as much as a factory gun, but it’s put together exactly the way I want. I have over 1,000 rounds through it with zero malfunctions.

My next home built gun is going to be a Glock type pistol built on a Polymer80 frame. The ATF doesn’t consider this to be a firearm so you can order the frame kit without going through an FFL. I got my frame last week and even though it needs some milling, it looks even easier than putting together an AR15. The only problem is the cost – about $200 for the frame and lower kit and $400 for a complete slide. You can buy a brand new factory Glock cheaper than that.

If you’re really good and have tools you can build a custom bolt action rifle or even build your own semiautomatic pistol from scratch.

So get to it – start building

If you like guns, you should definitely build your own gun. At least once. It’s easy (at least it can be) and you’ll learn valuable skills. What are you waiting for? Figure out what you want, find the parts (either locally or online), and start building.

Peace out,

The best laid plans…

of mice and menMy AR-15 rebuild is temporarily SNAFU. I got my Daniel Defense MFR rail and I really like it (kind of wish I’d gotten the 13.5″ instead of the 10″ though). Like I’d hoped, the barrel nut is the same as the RIS-II. Good so far – no need to remove the gas block. Well, except… oops. When I thought I might have to take it off, I went to DD’s site to find out what kind of Loctite it uses for the screws. Major problem It won’t work with my gas block, which is also from Daniel Defense:

“* Does not fit within the MFR XS”

In my defense, I bought the gas block before the MFR rail was on the market. It’s pretty low profile so I had no reason to think it wouldn’t fit. No problem, I’ll just get a different gas block. I’m sure their Mk12 gas block will work, right? Wrong. OK, I’ll get a new rail. Geissele and LaRue both make quality stuff, they probably have a rail. Nope, at least not one as nice (or light) as the Daniel Defense MFR. So back to looking for a new gas block. Contacted Daniel Defense and they recommended one from SLR Rifleworks. It has two set screws and can also be pinned to the barrel. I’m not a big fan of set screw gas blocks. I don’t feel they’re as secure as the clamp-on style. Also, for this gun I don’t want to drill the barrel for a pinned block. So I guess I’ll order the gas block and dimpling tool and go from there. Not my first choice but it is what it is…

Maybe a new rail?

I did notice on DD’s web site that they have an XL version of the MFR rail that’s just a little fatter than the regular MFR. Maybe it is fat enough to work with the DD gas block? If so it will be tempting, but I already have too much money in this gun and I don’t want to drop another $279 for another rail. Besides, what would I do with my existing MFR? Sell it for a loss? I guess I could use it on an upcoming pistol build if the length is OK. Ah, the joys and frustrations of black rifle disease…

Peace out,

Reconfigure an AR 15

black hole weaponry barrel The Sept/Oct 2017 Backwoodsman Magazine had a good article on the AR 15. It’s nice to see them being open to the AR platform. I think the AR 15 is ideal for the Backwoodsman or Backyardsman. The article was positive, but the author left out the biggest point: How easy it is to build, repair, or reconfigure an AR 15. Just about anyone can do it, with no expensive tools (i.e. lathe) or specialized skills required. If you have average or better hand-eye coordination and you can follow simple instructions, it’s easy to work on an AR 15.

My AR 15

My AR 15 is one I built myself about 3 years ago. I put it together not really knowing what I wanted. The lower is configured as an A2 (fixed stock). I’m OK with that, but I flubbed the upper. Barrel is a Black Hole Weaponry carbine length HBAR. Heavy. Rail is a Daniel Defense RIS-II. Heavy. Flash hider is a BE Meyers 249. Heavy. The scope and mount are also on the heavy side.Because of all the heavy parts, the gun itself is heavy – not what I really want.  The problem is I bought my parts without thinking about what I really wanted.

How to reconfigure an AR 15

Luck for me, it’s really easy to reconfigure an AR 15. My main goal was to reduce weight but keep the Black Hole barrel. Adding up the weight of things I could reduce gave me a total weight of 40.5 oz. (RIS-II 14.1, BE Meyers 3.1, LT104 7.1, and Viper PST 16.2). I started looking for lighter replacements. A Daniel Defense MFR is 8.4 oz. A plain A2 flash hider is 1.1 oz. lighter than the BEM 249. Aero Precision’s ultra light AR 15 scope mount is 3.3 oz. I can’t afford a new scope just yet, but Nikon M223 scope is an ounce less than my Vortex and gives twice the magnification.

Changing out the scope mount and flash hider is easy. The only potential issue is replacing the rail. Most of the time you’ll have to pull the gas block and tube to get the barrel nut off. In my case I hope it’s not an issue because my new MFR rail uses a similar barrel nut as the RIS-II. This is kind of a big deal to me because I used red Locktite to put the gas block on, and I don’t really want to take a torch to it. We’ll see when the MFR gets here later this week…

So what will I gain? Replacing the rail, flash hider, and scope mount take 10.6 oz. off the gun. That might not sound like a lot, but it should really change the feel and balance of the rifle.

My AR-15

my ar-15I’ve been ordering back issues of Backwoodsman Magazine, and the latest batch got here today. In the Jan/Feb 2013 issue there is an article by Mickey Eckhoff titled My Ruger Mini-14. As the former owner of a Mini-14 I really enjoyed reading it. As the current owner of an AR-15, I found his comments on the AR-15 interesting. I figure it’s worth throwing in my 2 cents on the subject of Mini-14 vs AR-15, so let me tell you about my AR-15…

Ruger Mini-14

I used to own a Mini-14 and I loved it. Actually I owned 3 – a standard blued model, a stainless Ranch Rifle, and a Mini-30. All were reliable and accurate enough for me. The styling can’t be beat IMO. I love the classic M1 looks. The action is gas piston which some claim is more reliable than the direct impingement system used by the AR.

The downside to Ruger’s Mini series is they’re proprietary. If you want extra magazines you buy Ruger mags. If you want to change the stock there are maybe 2 or 3 choices. The stock barrel has a 1-9 twist which limits you to bullets weighing 69 grains or less. If you want to re-barrel a Mini-14, you’d better know a gunsmith that knows how to do it.

In spite of the downsides, I liked my Ruger Minis, and they were only sold because of financial difficulties I was having at the time. I think they’re nice guns and I wish I still had them. Enough about that though, I want to talk about my AR-15…

If looks could kill…

I’ll be the first to admit that the AR-15 is ugly compared to more classically styled guns (like the Mini-14). I’m a traditionalist, and I like my guns with richly figured wood stocks and blued metal. The AR-15 is plastic and dull metal. The visuals are definitely an acquired taste. Because of it looks like a military M-16, the AR-15 can draw unwanted attention. I realize that’s not the fault of the gun, but still it’s a fact. The direct impingement gas system runs a little dirtier than a piston system, so you might have to clean it a little more often. All in all though I find the benefits of the AR system far outweigh the negatives.

AR-15 Versatility

OK, enough about looks. My AR-15 is a shooter’s gun, not a safe queen. One of the best things about the AR-15 is its versatility. Don’t like the stock? Get a different one – there are dozens of choices. Same thing with the trigger, fore end, whatever – the AR-15 is probably the easiest gun on the planet to customize. Need to shoot heavy bullets? For the AR you can get barrels with a fast enough twist to stabilize a 90 gr. VLD bullet. Try that with a Mini-14…

Even better than parts selection is workability. Most firearms require specialized tools and high skill levels for anything more than the most basic gunsmithing. My AR-15 on the other hand is a DIYer’s dream. Anyone with average mechanical skills and a small set of tools can fix any problem that might come up on an AR-15. Broken bolt? No problem, order a new one and replace it yourself. Worn out barrel? Same thing… The AR-15 is so easy to work on that you can fix just about anything that goes wrong yourself. You can even build one yourself from parts.

My AR-15

The lead picture is my AR-15. I built it myself, exactly the way I wanted it. This is my truck gun so I chose a fixed stock. It would have been just as easy to make it with a collapsible stock. The barrel is 16″ long with a 1:7 twist. It’s made from 4150 steel and it’s chrome lined. It will stabilize bullets up to 77 gr. and will probably last longer than the non-lined 4140 steel barrel on a Mini-14. Accuracy is at least as good as the Mini-14.

Since the upper receiver is machined with a Picatinny mount, I can choose whatever rear sight I want. I decided on an HK-style sight from Brownells. The front sight is also the gas block, and I chose a standard M4 Carbine fore end. It would have been just as easy to use a low profile gas block and free floating fore end. After the picture was taken, I added an Eotech red dot sight that works well with the irons.

I’ve since built another AR-15 for hunting. My hunting AR has a collapsible stock, free floating fore end, and a 3×9 scope. It’s chambered for 6.8 SPC, which I think is better for deer than 5.56. Like my truck gun, it was built using off the shelf parts, no custom work needed. Also like my truck gun, it worked perfectly from the start. That’s just how AR’s are…

AR-15 for the Backyardsman…

I really think an AR-15 comes close to being a perfect gun for the backwoodsman or backyardsman. You can build and maintain an AR-15 yourself without expensive tools like a lathe. It’s easy to pick your caliber (at least 11) based on intended use. Accuracy potential is at least as good as any other semiautomatic rifle.

So when you’re thinking about your next rifle, don’t look down on the AR-15. It has a lot going for it, and IMO is pretty close to perfect as a backwoodsman/backyardsman rifle.

Peace out,

Best Survival Rifle

What is the best survival rifle?

best survival rifleThat’s kind of a loaded question (no pun intended). The best survival gun depends on where you live, what kind of game is available, the threats you’re likely to face, personal skill level, and any other factors that are unique to your personal situation. That’s why articles claiming to tell you what “the best survival rifle” is are usually full of crap. I’ve made a list of long guns (I’ll talk about handguns next time) that have been claimed by various people, “experts,” keyboard commandos, armchair mountain men, and others to be the best survival gun. Let’s gore some sacred cows…

Black powder rifles

Some people think a black powder rifle is the best survival rifle. They like to point out that cartridge ammunition might not be available post-SHTF. Somehow though, black powder (or the components to make it) will miraculously be easy to get. Maybe. Personally, I don’t see how. Black powder is already harder to get than cartridge ammunition. How will it be EASIER to find post-SHTF? As for black powder ingredients, potassium nitrate, pure sulfur, and pure charcoal are also hard to find. I’m guessing they’ll be even harder to find in a post-apocalyptic world (PAW).

Add to that the complications of keeping your powder dry and the fact that if you’re really good you can maybe get off 2 shots per minute… I hope you can see where I’m going with this. Being able to run a black powder rifle is a good, useful skill. Does that mean a black powder rifle is the best survival gun? Not by a long shot.

Single shot rifle

Some think a single shot rifle makes the best survival rifle. The reasoning is unclear to me; maybe it’s because a single shot rifle is cheaper than other options, or maybe they think it’s simpler to operate. There is no doubt that some single shot rifles are cheap, and no doubt that some people can run them very well indeed. There is also a reason that military, law enforcement, and those who hunt dangerous game don’t usually pick a single shot rifle as their primary weapon.

22 Long Rifle

People who claim the 22 LR is the best survival rifle like to site meaningless statistics “More people are killed every year by 22 LR than any other caliber” (which I find questionable). “James Brady was felled by a single round of 22 LR.” So what? Their mantra is “shot placement is everything.” Left unexplained is how well they can place a shot into a charging mountain lion, wild pig, or determined human predator.


Those who claim a shotgun is the best survival gun actually have some pretty good points. A shotgun works great on everything from the smallest bird to the largest North American game animal to the most determined human predator as long as you’re using the right ammunition. There are still some issues with the shotgun though. First, ammunition is bulky and heavy. Second, the kick of a 12 gauge (the most recommended shotgun for “survival” use) is too much for many people to handle well, at least without training and lots of practice. Finally, there are the stupid myths that are perpetuated by many fans of the shotgun as survival gun.

Traditional hunting rifles

Many people (mainly hunters) seem to feel that not only is a traditional bolt action hunting rifle is the best survival rifle you can have, it is also the only survival gun you need. They may have a point. IF you’re careful with cartridge selection and IF you’re never going to be in a situation where you need to get off a lot of shots in a hurry, a bolt action rifle might be a good survival gun. I’ll concede that some bolt action rifles can sustain a respectable rate of fire if the operator is highly trained. If you’re planning on using one as your only survival gun, don’t forget to plan on lots of training if you’ll be operating in an area with large numbers of human predators.

Semiautomatic Rifles

Modern Sporting Rifles – AK-47’s, AR-15’s, AR-10’s and other semiautomatic rifles are very popular as survival guns. I could probably do a whole post on each model, but here I’ll just touch on the highlights. I think they can make for an awesome survival gun. The key word is “can.” Once a mall ninja or tactard gets a hold of one, all bets are off. The biggest problems I see with these guns are:

  • People try to go too cheap. Sometimes cheap is good, but spending money on something that your life might depend on is not one of those times.
  • People spend too much money on bling. It’s a tool, not a cheezy piece of “art.”
  • People hang to much crap on them. Trust me, you don’t need an optic, 2 sets of backup sights, bayonet, light, dildo grip, muzzle brake, extra “tactical” accessory crap, etc.

They’re all pretty similar. The AK-47 is purported to be the most reliable, but its accuracy isn’t all that great and it’s hard to put a scope on one. It shoots 7.62×39, which is about as powerful as a 30-30 Winchester. The problem is most ammo is FMJ, which is NOT suited for hunting.

The AR-15 is the most versatile. It’s also the most popular since it’s a semiautomatic version of the US military’s M-4/M-16. That means parts are cheap and readily available. They used to have a rep of being unreliable, but that is no longer true. If you can’t keep an AR-15 running good, it’s because you went cheap and bought a POS, you aren’t paying attention, or you’re a moron. The 5.56 round isn’t exactly a power house, but with the right bullet it’s OK for game up to deer. If that’s not enough, there are lots more cartridges you can buy or build for. The design of the AR-15 makes it inherently accurate unless the person putting it together was incompetent or just not paying attention.

The AR-10 is basically an AR-15 on steroids. It shoots 308-class cartridges. It’s bigger and heavier than the AR-15, but a good choice if you like the AR platform but need something with a lot more punch than the 5.56 has. I’ve never shot an AR-10, so that’s about all I can say about them. Hopefully that will change by next year.