Monday, January 6, 2014

Building vs. Buying New? What Should I Do?

I can't tell you how many times I've either been asked or read on message boards for advice on building an AR-15 for the first time versus buying a complete rifle. People catch the Black Rifle Plague and just don't know what to do with themselves. Part of the appeal of this weapon system is how easy it is to plug and play parts. They're literally Legos for guys.

There's a catch, though. It's quite a complicated system for the unacquainted. I have to admit, as someone who has been around and used guns my entire life, the AR platform was completely foreign to me when I first started researching my first build. I had the same questions that I now get asked repeatedly. "How hard is it to build?" "What are the best parts?" "Where do I buy from?" "What tools do I need?"

Several years of experience with the platform has now led me to this conclusion: Buy your first AR-15 rifle as a complete rifle from a reputable tier-one manufacturer. There are several reasons I've gravitated toward this stance: (considering I built my first AR!)

Myth: You save a lot of money building an AR. I have found this to be unequivocally false. In fact, I would bet anything that you MIGHT save less than $100 if you're lucky. People tend to find more and more goodies that they want to bolt onto their AR build. The pennies continue to add up. Before you know it, that simple M4 clone that you started building is now more expensive than a Colt LE6920. AR manufacturers actually trim most of the assembly cost from the rifle, so when you buy a mil-spec quality and inspected AR-15 from someone like Colt or LMT,  every penny spent is justified. You get a simple, effective weapon to learn on, and THEN figure out what aftermarket goodies you need. Buying accessories in the reverse order is just dumb and expensive.

Myth: I can build a better AR that I can buy off the shelf. That might be true. But chances are, you don't have the right equipment and tools at home to correctly spec your weapon, make sure the barrel is installed and torqued correctly, stake the castle nut properly, insure the gas block is pinned or screwed into position and the gas port is aligned properly, not to mention the quality control on the parts themselves. Companies such as Colt have made their brand by supplying these rifles to our military. Their quality control is the standard. I trust them to build a rifle a lot more than I trust myself!

Myth: I can't find the exact rifle I want with the accessories I want, so I'll just build it. Are you really sure you NEED those accessories, or did you just read it on an internet website? I'm as guilty as anyone for seeing new products drop and feverishly throwing down my hard earned cash on something that eventually ended up on the Equipment Exchange. Take it from someone who's been there, done that: Save your money on all the crap; buy some ammo and a sling and go out and shoot the rifle. Forget bipods, grips, stocks, quad rails and all the other cool stuff. You bought it to shoot it, so spend your money on shooting it.

Myth: I'm good with tools, so this has to be really easy. Everyone's different, so this actually might be true. But my guess is that if you are good at building AR's and have all the right tools, you're probably not reading this blog. The first time I built an AR, looking back now I see mistake after mistake that I made. Poor choices in parts and little knowledge in the correct ways to install parts led to a build that I have since had to completely overhaul. And that cost me twice as much money. Looking back now, I should have bought that Colt and never looked back. It also takes time to collect parts and build the rifle. As popular as these rifles are, many websites are out of stock on many of the most sought after parts. So your build can end up taking months to complete. Buying a complete rifle avoids all that hassle.

Myth: I will feel like I accomplished something if I build it myself. I did too, and it lasted about 30 seconds. Then all I wanted to do was shoot it. I can promise you this: You will feel the same. All you ever want to do is shoot the thing. I feel no different about any of the rifles I have built versus the ones I have purchased assembled at the factory. Sure, I can build and troubleshoot a rifle, which are nice skills to have. But the ultimate goal here is a reliable, high-quality rifle. Like I said above, I recommend buying a complete tier-one manufactured rifle for your first AR.

Truth: Building your rifle gives you knowledge on how to field-strip and troubleshoot. This is an essential skill to anyone owning an AR. Should your life depend on this rifle, leave it to Mr. Murphy to show up just when you need the rifle. In an emergency, troubleshooting a malfunctioning rifle is vitally important. Building a rifle from the ground up does give you an intimate knowledge in how the rifle works and which parts are prone to breakage and failure. I believe this is a skill that comes with experience with the platform and a LOT of research and collaboration with other shooters. Therefore, I think building is good for a seasoned shooter who is already somewhat familiar with their rifles, and who already owns a quality mil-spec rifle.

This is the quality rifle we should be striving for. (

In conclusion, my thoughts on this issue have really took a 180 in the past few years. Looking back now, I realize building my first AR was a less than optimal decision and I've paid the price (literally) for that at least two-fold. Hopefully my experience will help guide you in your choice for your first AR. One thing is for sure, though: Once you get one, it won't be your last!

Be safe and see you next time.

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