While my family was visiting over Thanksgiving Weekend, I showed my son-in-law how to build an AR-15. He served in the Army, but all he’d ever done was remove the bolt carrier group, take out the bolt and throw them into a solvent bath to clean them. He did not know how to do simple things like remove the buffer tube or swap out the pistol grip.
I had previously decided to build an AR pistol, hoping I can get it covered under the future amnesty program many are expecting the ATF to offer. I decided to involve him in the build because I know he likes guns and it gave us something to do over the long holiday weekend. My stockpile included a lower receiver, parts kit, bolt carrier group, and charging handle, so I bought an 11.5-inch 5.56 upper and a pistol butt stock kit, giving me everything I needed to build the gun.
Building the Gun
This was the first time I had built a gun with another person, and having a second set of hands made it easier. For example, when installing the bolt catch, I could hold the roll pin in place and position the roll pin punch on top of it while he hit the punch with my brass hammer. We completed the build in 90 minutes, and that included plenty of times when I ran into the other to get my set of Allen wrenches, looked for the Loctite, or grabbed three different brands of magazines to make sure the magazine catch worked with all three.
We built the lower in this order:
- Magazine catch installation
- Bolt catch/release
- Front take down pin
- Trigger group
- Pistol grip
- Rear takedown pin, buffer retention pin, and buffer tube
Note that no trigger guard assembly was needed because this lower had one machined into it.
After completing the above list, it was a simple manner to add the bolt carrier group and charging handle to the upper and clicking it into place. This saved us a good deal of time, but I find it cost effective to buy fully built uppers unless I want a specialized barrel.
I built my first AR in 2015 and I don’t recall when I did my last build, but I was happy I didn’t have to refer to YouTube at all. I followed printed instructions to make sure I didn’t mix up any of the springs, detents or other parts, and it went smoothly. We made no errors, and the gun functioned well in our preliminary test.
“Wow, I had no idea it was that easy,” my son-in-law said when we were done.
Of course, this is more of an assembly process than it is a building process. There was no machining involved. Plus, I have all the tools needed to make this job easy. Besides traditional gunsmith tools such as punches and screw drivers, I have AR-specific tools and jigs. If you decide to build your own, I recommend you have at least a good AR wrench and a Wheeler Delta Series Pivot Pin & Roll Pin Installation Kit. For less than $10, the latter will save you aggravation, prevent lost parts, and keep you from pulling out your hair. If you plan to build multiple guns or need to install your own barrel, one of the bigger Wheeler kits with vise blocks is a worthwhile investment.
Of course, building an upper can take some time, which we avoided. Depending on the handguard, how you install the barrel can be simple or tricky, and usually requires a torque wrench. Getting the gas block and gas tube just right can take a couple of tries your first time. Wheeler sells a tool for lining things up.
After completing your first AR build, you will have a much greater understanding of how the gun functions. You should also feel confident you can repair your gun, even if all you do is swap out some parts. I’d like to see every serious prepper build their own AR-15 style rifle for this reason alone. The saving money and getting your gun customized to your liking are also nice, of course.
Buy Now, Build Later
I pick up AR parts when I see a good deal. For example, the receiver was one I had on hand for several years. I bought it when Trump was president for $39. When a lower parts kit goes on sale for less than $40 or a bolt carrier group for $79, I’ll often pick one up, even if I don’t need it at that time. I know these parts will not lose their value, so I consider them inexpensive hard assets. I expect a new bolt carrier group or bolt might day be worth its weight in gold. Besides, won’t it be nice to build a new gun if someone steals or confiscates yours?
In this case, having the parts on hand gave me the flexibility to build an AR pistol by spending less than $300.
AR Pistols and Stabilizing Braces
At the time of this writing, no one knows what the ATF will do about with AR pistol that utilize stabilizing braces. We also don’t know if the courts will intervene. (I expect they might because this is an example of the ATF making law, which is not their job but the job of congress.) For the time being, I did not add a brace, but I have one on hand if I change my mind.
Maybe I’ll get a registered SBR without paying $200. That would allow me to use any stock I want or to shoulder my pistol brace without fearing I might be breaking the law. If nothing happens, I still I have an AR pistol in 5.56, which is a new addition to my armory. I can then drive with it in the car, knowing my concealed permit carry covers it. I can also give it to my wife, who doesn’t like big, heavy guns. This one should be compact and light enough for her.
Whether you choose to buy or build an AR pistol or a full-size rifle is up to you; I don’t have any secret insight into what the future holds, other than I think the day may come where having a weapon and the skills to use it effectively will come in handy.