A friend asked me about helping them build an AR. As always, one of the first questions was, “How much will it cost?” Like most of us he’s on a limited budget. “’Bout $700,” I replied, but I’ll need to check.” It’s been a while since I’ve bought any AR parts. When I did start examining prices I was amazed; it’s a buyer’s market out there. If you’re wanting to build an AR - or ever thinking about putting one together in the future - now is the time to buy your parts.
The first thing to consider is what type AR you need. This is based on your intended application. A firearm for hunting or target shooting is different than an AR built for self-defense. Yes, there is such a thing as a “general purpose” AR, but one of the cool things about the platform is its modularity. For example, you can have one lower and swap out uppers to fit specific purposes. Once you’ve decided what you need, it’s time to buy parts and tools.
Since the AR is modular you have a lot of options on how to buy parts. Just make sure they are from a reputable company. The AR is popular, so a lot of people are making parts; not all are equal. Like I say, “Not all chicken is “white” meat.” Even with quality parts there’s differences such as coatings and evolution on design. Research and study on what you need, then determine what parts are going to best fit your application. Plus, there’s nothing worse than buying something, using it for a while and then deciding it’s not exactly what you need. And again, your AR dollars are going to go a lot farther in today’s market. When I started building ARs in the mid-90s you could build one with surplus military parts for about $500. Today you can put together the same configuration, only with better parts and cheaper.
You’ve got a box ‘o parts. Before assembly there’s a couple more items to check off the list. First, you need to know what you’re doing. Yes, the AR is simple, and easy to assemble – if you have the right knowledge and tools. Sure, you can “tinker toy” one together and it will probably fire. But, for reliable functioning over a long period of time you’ll need to know how it works, and actually make sure all the parts fit together and function properly. Read and study well. During this study you’ll discover the specialty tools you’ll need. There’s not a lot of them and they’re not very expensive. If you don’t want to invest then find a friend who has them. Maybe – like I’m doing with my buddy - “friend” will help with the build. Like anything else it takes a few times to figure out how to do it right; in the beginning it’s much easier to have someone help you.
And if you don’t want to build one, then buy one. Complete ARs, in a variety of configurations - are on the shelves at great prices. Every year I’m thinking this is the greatest time to be a gun owner. Only lately it’s getting better and better each year. There’s no reason not to have an AR. Just keep in mind it’s addictive. Once you get one, seek out training to learn how to use it safely and efficiently, and then add plenty of practice.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 and has regular columns in Gun Digest and American Handgunner.