More on my $500 AR15

Posted on April 17, 2014
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Got my PTAC upper assembly last week. Haven't had a chance to thoroughly go over it yet but so far it looks OK. Finish isn't bad, no weird coloration on the inside of the receiver, bore looks shiny with no rough spots, rifling looks good, etc. None of the horrible things I've read that others have experienced. The only problem so far was the heat shield in the lower hand guard was installed incorrectly which prevented the hand guard from seating properly. No big deal, just popped it off, corrected the heat shield, and put it back together.

This is my first mid length AR and it kind of makes me wish I'd gone with a mid length barrel on my KISS rifle - not that I care about operational differences between the 2, but with the 16" barrel the mid length hand guard has a much more balanced look. Besides, I have long arms and the extra grip length is nice.

Even with the cheap cost of the upper it looks like it's gonna be hard to come in at under $500 though. I just ordered an Aero Precision blem lower for $65 and since I tacked it onto some other stuff I was ordering anyway I don't have to pay an extra FFL transfer fee. Also ordered about $30 worth of parts to complete the lower and an $80 stock kit so I'm currently sitting at $485 which means I only have $15 left over to buy a mag and rear sight. Looks like I probably won't make it - unless I find a much cheaper stock to put on it, and even then I'll be cutting it close...

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The Elusive $500 AR15, part 4

Posted on March 18, 2014
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40143_dd Well, the elusive $500 AR15 just got a little less elusive. Last time I checked, PSA wanted $299 for a PTAC upper sans BCG and charging handle, and $120 for a BCG/charging handle combo - $419 total. Today when I checked their site, they had the PTAC uppers WITH BCG and charging handle for only $309 - so against my better judgement I ordered one. I probably should have spent the money on a good (Spikes or BCM) BCG for my Punisher build that I still need to finish, but I really am obsessed with the idea of a $500 AR.

Of course an upper isn't a complete gun; I still need a lower, rear sight, and mag. PSA also has a complete lower for $149; going that route would leave me with $52 for a rear sight and a magazine. Another choice would be to buy an Anderson blem lower for $50 (assuming I can find one in stock) and PSA lower build kit for $80 - then total cost without sight and mag would only be $439 - easy to keep under $500 even with a pretty decent rear sight. The lower that really has my intrigued though is a poly lower by New Frontier Armory - only $110 shipped. That's a complete lower - receiver, stock, and FCG - ready to pin the upper and go shooting.

I know what some people think about poly lowers, but hey if you want to go cheap, lets go CHEAP. I still haven't decided for sure but it sure is tempting... I probably won't make up my mind for sure until after I have the upper. Whichever route I decide to go on the lower though, it definitely IS possible to put together a $500 AR15. Is it "just as good as" a Colt or BCM? Highly unlikely. Is it going to be a total piece of shit? Time will tell - I'm reserving judgement until I get it built and put at least 500 rounds down the tube. Until next time, cheers:)

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A real world “budget built” AR15

Posted on March 11, 2014
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My $500 AR15 project is still on my mind, but to keep things in perspective, here's what a real world build looks like. I used reasonably priced parts that anyone can buy - no special deals that are only available on the 5th Friday of the month, no free, borrowed, or "just happened to have on hand" parts, etc. Also, this is a complete rifle, meaning it has sights and a magazine. OTOH I didn't use any high end parts other than the trigger. In other words, just a good solid build. Here's what I used, along with cost:

Total cost, about $1,200 and yes I know I could have bought a Colt for the same price. I also could have saved around $50 on the receiver set, $25 on the charging handle, $60 or so on the BCG, and $160 by using an LPK that included a 'mil spec' trigger and built it for about $825. To me though, the premium trigger and BCG are worth the extra money. Even if I had gone with the cheaper parts though, it would still be a better rifle - quality, reliability, and accuracy potential - than a $500 gun built using the cheapest, bottom of the barrel parts I could find. Of course I could be wrong, and soon I hope to prove it one way or the other:)

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The Elusive $500 AR15, part 3

Posted on March 10, 2014
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I thought I was really on to something - I found a COMPLETE lower assembly for only $110 - brand new, unblemished - at Joe Bob Outfitters. I really though that would be a game changer in my quest for a $500 AR15. That's a complete lower too; receiver, buttstock, buffer assembly, LPK, and fire control group and it's already put together. Granted, it's a poly lower but the price sure is tempting...

Then I went to the Palmetto State Armory and they have PTAC uppers in stock for only $300 and they even include a Bushnell 1x32 red dot sight. Unfortunately no BCG or charging handle, and the cheapest combo I could find is $110. So lets add it up: $110 (lower assembly), $300 (upper with sight), $110 (BCG, and $10 for a magazine comes to a grand total of $530 - close, but still no cigar.

Another thing to consider is the resulting rifle would be far from mil spec. To tell the truth, I don't even know if a poly lower is considered safe with high pressure military ammo (I'm going to get one and find out though). The PTAC upper is at the lower end of the quality spectrum of AR parts, with many people reporting issues with accuracy, etc. on the forums. So while it looks like it might be possible to build a $500 AR15 (or at least come close), the question is why would anyone want one? For just a little more money you could get much better quality. For example, using a blem lower (aluminum) and the cheapest LPK and stock kit I could find would bring the cost of the lower assembly up to $170 and substituting PSA's Premium M4 upper (comes with a Strikefire sight instead of the Bushnell) for the PTAC adds another $100. This brings the total cost to $690 and you'd have a much better quality rifle - and also a far cry from $500.

I'm almost getting to the point of calling it the $500 AR15 mythical instead of merely elusive. Which raises another question, if it's so diffult to find the parts to build a $500 gun - even with using bottom of the barrel parts - why do people keep claiming to be able to build a $500 gun? Heck, on some people even claim they can build a mil spec AR that's "just as good" as any Bushmaster, Windham, or entry level Colt. Of course they never post a complete parts list (with prices).

Does that mean I'm giving up my quest? Hell no, not by a long shot. Now it's a challenge and I simply HAVE to see if I can do it. First step is going to be ordering my poly lower if I have the money next week (and my FFL doesn't laugh me out the door when I try to order it). Not sure about the upper yet - PSA's deals really are almost too good to pass up, but I think I might be able to piece my own together for just a bit cheaper. We'll see. In the mean time, I've got a Vltor carbine project to finish up.

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The Elusive $500 AR15, part 2

Posted on March 6, 2014
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The $370 blem upper that was on sale yesterday at Palmetto State Armory (PSA) is now listed as "TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK" and the next least expensive IN STOCK upper is a PTAC unit that goes for $400. Add $100 for a lower build kit, $60 for a stripped upper (if you're lucky), $20 for a crappy rear sight, and you've got a $580 rifle which is definitely NOT mil spec. So the $500 AR15 remains elusive...

For comparison sake, PSA also sells a "premium" upper with 16" barrel (mid length gas system), A2 style hand guard, but without BCG or charging handle for $400. I recently put together a similar one for myself using a Windham barrel kit and Aero Precision flat top upper receiver for $345. Does that mean the PSA upper is over priced? Not really, and it doesn't meant it's over priced compared to their own less expensive offerings... but I'm getting off track...

My points are (1) it can be time consuming to track down all the parts you need to build a $500 rifle and (2) the rifle you end up with is probably NOT going to be "just as good" as one built with more expensive parts. The idea really is intriguing though, and I'd like to pursue it so I'm going to try and set aside $500 and see if I can put together a $500 rifle over the next few months. It will be fun to compare with my Windham-based carbine.

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The Elusive $500 AR15, part 1

Posted on March 5, 2014
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Every once in awhile someone on makes the claim you can build a mil spec AR15 for only $500, and anyone who doesn't go that route is wasting money, because the $500 rifle is just as good as any Colt, BCM, etc rifle. After all mil spec is mil spec, so any "mil spec" rifle is just as good as any other. I always figured the $500 claim was BS. I've built a couple of AR's trying to be as frugal as possible and getting away with spending only $500 would be really hard...

It turns out it's cheaper to buy a complete barreled upper than it is to build one from parts, and those claiming to build an AR15 for only $500 are using complete uppers from an outfit called Palmetto State Armory. It still sounds like a stretch to me so I checked it out and it's almost true... but not quite. PSA does sell incredibly priced complete uppers. Their cheapest "mil spec" upper is a blemished unit with 16" M4 chrome lined barrel, "mil spec" bolt carrier group, A2 front sight (F-marked), and standard M4 hand guards. When it's on sale they let it go for $370 (regular price is $520).

An upper isn't a complete rifle, so you'll also need a few other things - like a complete lower and a rear sight. They sell a few Lower Build Kits that have everything you need to build a lower except the stripped lower receiver, with the cheapest one selling for $100. They sometimes have stripped lowers on sale for $50 and unless you have a friend with an FFL you'll have to add $10 (minimum) for the transfer fee. The cheapest rear sight I've seen for an AR is a really cheap piece of crap carry handle sight for around $20. Add it all up and the $500 mil spec AR15 actually costs $550 plus whatever shipping charges. Not quite $500 but closer than I expected.

The question though is if it's just as good as a more expensive AR15? Right away the answer is 'no' because you're using a blemished upper. The blem is cosmetic and won't affect the operation of the weapon, but it's still not the same as a non-blemished rifle. I know rifles are tools, but I like my tools to look good as well as work correctly. Is it still a good value? Without inspecting one I can't tell for sure, and I hope to have one of these soon so I can find out for myself.

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Summer Projects

Posted on February 18, 2014
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my-buick-specialI just have a few things I want to do around the garage this summer. First, I need to get my Valiant running since it's blocking my garage door. Second, I need to get my Barracuda running since it's been sitting in the garage far too long. Third, I need to fix the locks, heater, and headlights on my Buick wagon so I don't have to leave it parked all winter next year like I had to do this winter. Finally, I need to pick up my dad's 61 Ford F100. In fact, that's the most important thing...

My dad wad never a "car guy" but for some reason he had a special attachment to the truck. Once, when it was still running, I was visiting and asked him if I could take it out for a drive. He said no, mom said he was worried about it getting broken. Huh? I'm a safe driver... Anyway the truck held lots of good memories for my dad and it holds a lot for me. He bought it shortly after we moved to a small town in 1969 or 1970. He drove it to work every day for the next 13 years. It was also our sporting truck, our adventure truck, and our work truck. Every year it would take us on our opening day fishing outing. It took us to countless League Games (dad was a coach) and transported his team to Foster Freeze after the games for a treat. When I was in 4H it got us and our pigs to the fair every year. When I was older, it took us on lots of dove hunting trips.

My dad taught me how to drive in that truck. Every Sunday we'd pack our garbage into the back and drive to the dump. About halfway there was a turnoff onto a dirt road - dad would turn onto the dirt, pull over, and ask me if I wanted to drive - of course I did:)

My parents bought a new truck in 1983 but dad kept the old truck, using it to transport his gardening tools and rototiller back and forth from their 1 acre garden down the street from our house. In later years, it started to get run down and my mom didn't like it sitting in the driveway, so dad kept it parked at the garden. As he got older and was no longer able to load and unload the rototiller, he stopped driving it all together and eventually the tires went flat, battery went dead, and it wasn't running. A few years ago they hired someone to come out to the lot, air up the tires, and get it running so they could move it to a different part of the lot. After moving it, it just sat again. The tires are once again flat, the battery is dead, and it's not running.

Three weeks ago, my dad passed away. I'm going down this summer to get the truck. I don't know what it will take to get it running, but I AM going to get it running. It might not be reliable enough for the 200 mile drive so I'll probably hire a transport company to get it from mom and dad's house to my house. I've been looking into it and it costs about $750 - money well spent - to get my dad'd old truck running, in honor and memory of my dad.

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Black Rifle Disease, part 2

Posted on February 10, 2014
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Since my last post on Black Rifle Disease, I've ordered my Recce rifle barrel - a Lilja 16" (listed as 17" on their web site) stainless steel, match grade barrel with carbine-length gas system. According to a lot of keyboard commandos of course, this barrel is worthless since the "only reason" 16 inch barrels were ever made was to get around NFA short barreled rifle rules, and "everyone knows" that carbine length gas systems are worse than worthless compared to mid length gas systems. I say tell that to the US Navy Recon teams who use 16" barrel, carbine gassed barrels in actual military duty...

Whatever. I also ordered another 16" carbine barrel from a company called Special Ops Tactical for my SOPMOD project. This one is carbon steel instead of stainless, 1:7 twist, and has a Melonite treatment which supposedly is more corrosion resistant than parkerizing, and since the bore is treated as well supposedly makes it longer wearing than a stainless barrel. The nice folks at Special Ops Tactical claim this barrel will shoot sub-MOA "all day long" with "good" ammo, which I assume would include my Black Hills ammo loaded with Sierra 77 grain Matchkings.

All told now, I have 5 carbine barrel projects: my original RRA M4, a Windham barrel for my Bushmaster clone, my recce and SOPMOD barrels, and a second Melonite (1:9 twist) barrel from JSE Surplus for my Punisher rifle project. I just ordered the final pieces for my Bushy clone so that will be the first one done, hopefully by the end of this month. After that I'll be out of money for awhile, but when I get more cash I plan on finishing the Punisher first, then my SOPMOD carbine, and finally the recce. I lacking most of the parts for the later 3 so it may be awhile until I get around to it, but it should keep me at home for awhile so my wife knows where to find me...

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Black Rifle Disease

Posted on January 30, 2014
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It's confirmed, I have BRD - Black Rifle Disease. I dream about configurations I'd like to build. I spend hours looking and way too much money buying parts.  I have 7 barrels and I'm ordering another one on Monday - not just any barrel either, but a $500 semi custom, stainless steel carbine barrel. I can't really afford it, but it's an exact replica of the Recon rifle used by Navy Seals. How cool is that? Way cooler than all the "tacticool" mall ninja crap that most people with this disease like to put on their black rifles... oh, did I mention I'm ordering the $400 rail system and $200 butt stock to go with it? My only regret is I can't afford to buy an Acog for my Punisher project rifle. Maybe next month. Until then I've got about 6 or 7 more AR15 project ideas to think about...

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Finished my AR-22

Posted on January 2, 2014
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CMMG A4 upper for AR 15 rifles

AR-22 - I guess that's what you'd call it any way, well, at least what I call it. I love the AR-15 platform and I love shooting 22 LR, so what could be better than an AR-15 chambered for 22 LR? Several companies make a drop-in conversion kit that lets you shoot 22 LR ammo through your full size AR, but I don't like them for a couple reasons...

First, that whole issue of the bullet having to jump through 2 or 3 inches of free bore before it hits the rifling - can't be good for accuracy. Speaking of accuracy, 22 LR is best with a barrel twist of about 1 in 16, but most .223 AR-15 barrels have 1 in 9 twist or even faster. Not enough to convince you? Well, even though 22 LR and .223 (aka 5.56 x 45) are "22 caliber," the smaller round is designed to be fired through a .221" bore while the larger round get a .224" bore. Again, not optimal for accuracy...

Second, 22 LR shoots dirty. Lead bullets with wax (or "whatever") lubricant, sand-based priming compounds... do you really want to be pushing that kind of junk through your expensive AR barrel and gas system? I sure don't...

So I decided to build a dedicated 22 LR rifle. Choice for the upper was easy... CMMG has a complete 22 LR upper assembly with A2 style barrel and hand guards. I love the A2, so this was the obvious choice. It has a flat top receiver, but I topped it with a DPMS removable carry handle with an A2 sight so it ALMOST looks like a real A2. For my lower, I used a Spike's Tactical Spider that a friend color filled for me. The only thing I don't like about it is there's a "full auto" position for the safety roll-marked in, which is completely STUPID since, oh, 99.999% of the people using these are NOT going to be running full auto, but what the hell... I got it at a good price, and other than the stupid nod to mall ninjas, it's a good quality lower. The only hard thing to decide on was the trigger. I wanted to use an RRA 2 stage because I have one on my 6.8 SPC and I love it. Only problem is, since 22 LR uses blow back instead of gas, it's really hard on AR-15 hammers. More than a few people report problems with broken hammers when using the RRA trigger assembly with 22 LR, and RRA specifically states their trigger is NOT warranted if used in a 22 LR application...  what to do? I ended up buying a Geiselle SSA trigger - over-kill and too expensive for a "cheap" gun, but they do warranty even when used in a 22 LR application. And after spending the money, I have to admit it sure has one sweet trigger pull...

Anyway, got it done today. Looks great, feels just like a real AR-15 (funny how a full sized rifle makes my 10/22 feel like a toy...), and I can't wait to shoot it.

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