Sunday, December 6, 2015

The AR 15 Builder's List

For those do-it-yourselfers out there, this list is for you. These are parts I recommend from personal use and/or installation of the parts. If you are looking for ideas or just need to make a shopping list to build an AR, this should help. I will be providing hyperlinks so you can see the manufacturer's page for the item and identify it correctly, but I HIGHLY recommend you shop around for your components to get the best prices. My aim here is to provide you with a list of components that you can build a high quality AR 15 from, meaning it will function reliably, be sturdy, be lightweight, and shoot accurately.

Just for the record, I focus on Non-NFA barrel configurations for 2 reasons: velocity/muzzle energy from the length of the barrel and avoiding unnecessary legal/regulatory issues such as filling out a Form 1, paying a $200 tax, and setting up an NFA Trust. I also am not a slave to accuracy and I don't shoot in 3-gun competitions. I view AR 15s as battle rifles, not precision rifles. We're talking about a gun chambered in 5.56, not 6.5 Creedmoor or .338 Lapua, so its range is limited. (Generally, a maximum effective range of somewhere around 500 yards, give or take, depending on the specific rifle and load.) As such, barrels that are NOT built to withstand rapid fire, are meant to be disposed of after 2,000 rounds (or, similar low round count), or have very limited corrosion resistance will not be featured here. I would only build an AR 15 for myself that I could reasonably go to war (GTW) with, if I needed to. You might also note that I do not recommend Colt parts. It's not because they're no good - it's just that they are hard to get and way over-priced. I'd prefer a BCM part over a Colt in virtually all cases, anyway.

Speaking of BCM, it may come across as though I am a fanboy of theirs. The truth is, they make great guns at very reasonable prices and are among the leaders in innovations to the AR15 platform. Truthfully, if I ever buy another complete rifle, it will probably be one of theirs. I love Daniel Defense as a company, but they aren't "lighter, stronger, better" anymore - BCM is. Check out the BCM KMR Rails and the Gunfighter Stocks as examples of how DD is being beat in weight and ergos by BCM. Check out the BCM CHF Barrels and the weight-saving profile they use. Knight's Armament makes a great product too, but it's ridiculously over-priced and not as light-weight. The rest of the industry needs to react or BCM could absolutely rule the market. So, maybe I am a fanboy, but it's for good reason!


  1. Bravo Company: Upper and Lower
  2. Wilson Combat: Upper/Lower Combo
  3. V Seven: Upper and Lower
  4. Spike's Tactical: Upper and Lower
  5. Aero Precision: Upper and Lower
  6. Palmetto State Armory: Upper and Lower
  7. Rainier Arms: Upper and Lower
 Note: Bravo Company does NOT offer stripped lowers, but the tight fit on the barrel makes their uppers excellent and the furniture/parts on their lowers are top-notch. Highly recommend BCM's upper! Daniel Defense is not on this list only because they refuse to sell lowers, per their purchasing FAQ. Generally, I do not recommend mixing uppers and lowers from different companies, mostly for fit and visual appeal, but newer Spike's receivers and Aero Precision receivers match up nicely. In general, any company with a good reputation and Mil-Spec dimensions/tolerances can produce a receiver you can rely on. It's when you want to ensure high quality fit and finish that you need to consider high-end manufacturers, such as Wilson Combat.



  1. Daniel Defense 16" 5.56mm Mid-length, LW
  2. Spike's 16" Mid-length (by FN) 
  3. Bravo Company BFH 16" ELW
  4. Faxon Firearms 16" Gunner Profile Barrel

Note: The first 3 are Cold-Hammer Forged, Chrome-lined, and available in 16" with a Mid-length gas system set up. The only one with a .625" diameter gas block seat is the BCM. The others are .750" diameter gas block seats, which I prefer because I dimple my barrels to secure the Gas Block. Spike's barrels are built with the M249 call-outs for Chrome lining, which makes the barrels wider to accommodate the extra Chrome and, obviously, heavier. If you are planning to use a full auto lower and put the automatic setting to extensive use, I recommend the Spike's barrel. In general, I think the Daniel Defense barrel I linked is the perfect barrel and is my default for almost all builds.

Note #2: I've found that Odin Works, Ballistic Advantage, and Faxon Firearms make very good quality barrels at reasonable prices. Very accurate barrels, especially Odin Works. If you are looking for a good, pre-made barrel for accuracy, I suggest searching their wares. You'll find longer-lasting durability out of the QPQ or Nitrided barrels, but the most precise rifling is found in the bare stainless barrels.


  1. BCM KMR Handguard
  2. BCM KMR Alpha Handguard
  3. Geissele Super Modular Rail MK14 M-LOK
  4. Troy M-LOK Rail
  5. SLR Solo Ultra Light Keymod
  6. SLR Solo Ultra Light M-LOK
  7. ODIN Works KMod Forend
  8. ODIN Works M-LOK Forend 
Note: ALG Defense provides products with or without continuous 12 o'clock rails. I listed my preference, but endorse their handguard product lines in general. None of these are Quad Rails - those are just too heavy. I also favor Keymod and M-LOK (in that order), but trust the good ole' Troy Alpha. Lightweight, modular designs are optimal - all these fit that bill and are relatively easy to install. If you choose to go with a BCM KMR Handguard, I recommend V Seven parts to lighten the gun - but, be warned, they are pricey.

Gas Blocks:
  1. Spike's Micro Gas Block
  2. Seekins Precision Adjustable
  3. ODINWorks LP Gas Block
  4. BCM Low Profile Gas Block
Note: I linked mostly Melonite Gas Blocks. The heat and corrosion resistance as a result of the Meloniting process ensures these gas blocks will last. If you want ultimate reliability, I'd stick with the non-adjustable Gas Blocks. If you want to cushion the impact of the BCG for lower recoil and faster follow-up shots, that's where the Adjustable Gas Blocks come in. This will help weaker shooters, but it may hinder the reliability of the gun, especially for those with very rapid rate of fire.

Gas Tubes:
  1. Spike's Tactical Melonite
  2. Aero Precision Melonite
  3. V Seven Extreme Evironment
Note:  If you're looking to save money, any reputable manufacturer will do. Getting the Gas Tube melonited makes a difference in corrosion resistance and it will ensure proper function in extreme use, such as rapid fire. It also allows you to maintain the black rifle finish without something shiny underneath. Either of these will work exceptionally well.

Bolt Carrier Groups:
  1. Bravo Company
  2. Wilson Combat
  3. Daniel Defense
  4. Spike's Tactical
  5. Palmetto State Armory
  6. Cryptic Coatings (Mystic Black)
  7. Noveske (Nitride)
Note: I have only recommended Full-auto (M16) BCGs - that is no accident. I do not want to save weight on my BCG. Getting the correct combination of BCG, Gas System, Buffer, and Buffer Spring is essential for function and reliability. I want a Full-auto BCG, an H1 Buffer, and a Mid-length gas system. (Standard spring) The tried and true Carbine Buffer, with standard Buffer Spring, Full-auto BCG, and Carbine length gas system works as well. I generally only recommend Carpenter 158 steel bolts, per Mil Specs. (But, 9310 steel has been proven reliable, so if you find a really nice coating for a great price on a 9310 Bolt, go for it.) BCGs absolutely MUST NOT fail during use or you can get seriously injured, so only buy from reputable companies. All of these companies produce quality BCGs and I trust their products. If you're not sure which is right for you, I recommend Bravo Company by default - they have great Quality Control and reasonable prices.

Charging Handles:

  1. BCM Gunfighter Mod 4
  2. Radian Raptor Ambi
  3. V Seven
  4. Tactical Junkie
Note: If you're looking to save money, buy a Mil Spec Charging Handle from any reputable manufacturer. The ones I've linked here are all really good. My personal favorite is the BCM Mod 4. V Seven is one of the best weight-saving manufacturers and their charging handle is light, as well. If you want lightweight, I strongly recommend their parts.

Upper Parts/Kits:
  1. Spike's Ejection Port Door
  2. Aero Precision Kit
  3. V Seven Ultra-Light Port Door
  4. V Seven Ultra-Light Forward assist
  5. Tactical Gear Junkie's huge selection of Ejection Port Doors
Note: Again, if you're looking to save money, any reputable manufacturer will do. You can save a little weight or customize your rig here - totally up to you in terms of what you want to do with these parts.

Muzzle Devices:
  1. Any A2 Flash Hider from a reputable company: BCM, Aero Precision, Spike's, Damage Industries, etc.
  2.  Any reputable Suppressors: Silencerco, Griffin, Gemtech, etc.
I am not an NFA-inclined person. I totally support getting the devices, legally of course. However, I despise paying $200 to use a gun part that is protected by the 2nd Amendment. You have to make your own decision. One thing I don't care for are Compensators. They're loud and rude to use at a public range. (Because gas flies at the person stilling ext to you.)


  1. ALG QMS Trigger
  2. Geissele Super Semi-Auto Enhanced
Note: Pretty much any trigger from those manufacturers will do the job and do it well. If you get a Mil-Spec trigger with a LPK (Lower Parts Kit) from a reputable company, you should be fine. It's important to note that virtually any great shooter will tell you the best upgrade you can make to an AR, outside of the barrel, is the trigger. It's not that a Mil-Spec trigger can't be accurate, it's that the effort required to pull the trigger matters when taking precision shots. For ultimate reliability with high round count and high rate of fire, I recommend you go with a Milspec trigger, like the ALG QMS. If you end up shooting less than 1,000 rounds a year out of the gun and you want to maximize your accuracy with the gun, you should look into Geissele or CMC.

Lower Parts and Part Kits:
  1. BCM LPK Enhanced
  2. ALG LPK
  5. V Seven Lower Parts
  6. Wilson Combat LPK (No Trigger)
 Note: Any reputable manufacturer will do here if you are trying to save money. The key thing to consider is if you plan to get a premium trigger. If so, I recommend ordering the Wilson Combat or ALG LPK w/ no trigger and get that Geissele or CMC trigger you want.

  1. Magpul ASAP QD Endplate
  2. BCM Gunfighter QD  Endplate
Note: If you're going to stake the endplate, I generally recommend the BCM endplate, but I have staked the melonited Magpul ASAP QD. I ONLY recommend steel endplates because I recommend staking them, rather than lock-tighting them.

  1. BCM H
  2. V Seven H
  3. Daniel Defense H
Note: I like all these and they will all work very well. The V Seven, as per their usual, comes in on the lighter-end, while the BCM and DD are a tiny bit heavier. All should function flawlessly in your gun with a 16" mid-length barrel, Full Auto BCG, and standard spring. To avoid issues, I recommend this set up and the Buffers I listed are all selected with such a set up in mind. It is important to get a Buffer that you can rely on to do its job. If it doesn't do the job, you're shooting the most awkward bolt-action gun, ever. (Assuming it doesn't jam.) On the plus side, I've never heard of a Buffer causing an injury - just cyclic problems. Test it at the range and see if you have any problems with rapid fire. If you can fire your rifle slowly and rapidly with no feeding issues, you're good to go. If you're not sure which to buy first, BCM is my default recommendation - it'll probably be the only one you need to buy.

Buffer Tubes:
  1. Spike's Buffer Tube
  2. Daniel Defense Buffer Tube
  3. BCM Buffer Tube
Note: There are two things that matter here: 1. getting a 7075 T6 tube and 2. getting it in Mil Spec diameter. Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with commercial spec Tubes, but don't try to use them on a Mil Spec rifle. Also, there are more options for Mil Spec than Commercial. Any tube from a high quality manufacturer that meets the 2 criteria above should work and you might consider other options if you're building a FDE or OD green gun, for instance.

  1. BCM Gunfighter Mod 0
  2. Magpul MOE CTR
  3. Magpul MOE SL 
  4. MFT BMS
Note: This is totally personal preference and these are the ones I will consider putting on my rifles. I can tell you with certainty that the BCM gunfighter stock is the best strength to weight option you'll find and it's very comfortable. This is also a place where a lot of guys add unneeded weight because some 3-gun shooter loves a certain stock or the Spec Ops guys use SOPMOD. So, people end up with heavier stocks that aren't giving them a performance increase, but they increase the weight of the gun. There are 3 key factors: 1. Does it feel good against your cheek/shoulder? 2. How light is it? 3. How durable is it? To me, the best choice is the BCM Gunfighter or MFT Minimalist - I go back and forth between the two in terms of preference.

Pistol Grips:
  1. Mapgul K2
  2. BCM Gunfighter Mod 3
Note: This is very much about personal preference. Many people like Egro grips or Hogue and there is nothing wrong with that. But, I do not like finger grooves, as in Ergo grips, and the rubber Hogues always catch on everything - which is always a pain when you've got the rifle slung. That is also why I dislike the Magpul MOE+. Basically, if you like a thinner grip for ergonomic reasons or because you just have a smaller hands and can't grab larger grips, I recommend the Magpul SL or the MOE, depending on which angle you prefer. My personal favorite is usually the Gunfighter Mod 3, but I flip-flop back forth between the Gunfighter Mod 3 and the K2. The SL and MOE are the lightest weight options (by 0.1 oz) and the BCMs are actually about 0.5 oz heavier than the others, but are meant for modern shooting styles, fill the hand, and provide excellent control. (You could always remove the plug at the end of the BCM Mod 3 to lighten the weight of the grip.)

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