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: size/weight of builds and avoiding unnecessary legal/regulatory issues such as filling out a Form 1 or Form 4, paying a $200 tax, and waiting for ATF approval. 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 really "lighter, stronger, better" anymore - BCM has taken that title. 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
  2. Wilson Combat: Upper/Lower Combo
  3. Aero Precision: Upper and Lower
  4. Palmetto State Armory: Lower
Damage Industries  Note: In general, I recommend staying away from Billet Receivers due to weight. I also recommend staying away from Skeletonized Receivers due to reliability issues. I prefer to purchase an assembled upper (Port door installed) to save that step. Any reputable brand's Milspec Receiver should do fine. BCM Uppers have a very tight fit on the barrel, which makes install a little tighter, but gives you less play in the barrel - which, allegedly, improves accuracy. Wilson Combat Receivers are always going to be premium fit and finish. If you want a shortcut and price discount, you can generally save money by purchasing "Completed Uppers" (uppers that have all parts pre-installed) seperately from from your lower because there is discount for purchasing all those parts together and a much higher tax on complete firearms. Parts, including Completed Uppers, have a lower tax rate. So, keep that in mind. For maximum customization and weight savings, I would still build the upper from parts, personally.



  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 ones with a .625" diameter gas block seat are the BCM and Faxon offerings. The others are .750" diameter gas block seats, which I prefer because I deeply dimple my barrels to secure the Gas Block. More metal there means better structural integrity around those dimples. 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 for most builds and is my default for almost all builds.

Note #2: I've found that Odin Works, Ballistic Advantage, and Faxon Firearms make highly accurate, good quality barrels at reasonable prices. I suggest searching their wares.


  1. BCM KMR Handguard
  2. BCM MCMR Handguard
  3. Geissele Super Modular Rail MK16 M-LOK
  4. ODIN Works M-LOK Forend 
  5. Griffin Armament RIGID M-LOK Rail
  6. MI Combat Rail 
Note: None of these are Quad Rails. They are made obsolete by M-LOK. The 20+ year old "Cheese-Graters" are like dinosaurs - historic and past their period of usefulness. Lightweight, modular designs are optimal - all these fit that bill and are relatively easy to install. If you choose to go with a BCM 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. ODINWorks LP Gas Block
  3. BCM Low Profile Gas Block
  4. Aero Precision LP 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 better. If you want ultimate reliability, I'd stick with the non-adjustable Gas Blocks.

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.

Bolt Carrier Groups:

  1. Bravo Company
  2. Wilson Combat
  3. Daniel Defense
  4. Spike's Tactical
  5. Palmetto State Armory
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, and Buffer is essential for function and reliability. I want a Full-auto BCG, an H2 Buffer, and a Mid-length gas system. The tried and true Carbine Buffer, Full-auto BCG, and Carbine length gas system works as well, but is "over gassed." 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. PSA generally has such good prices on good quality parts, you can't beat the value. For a budget build, go with their parts.

Charging Handles:

  1. BCM Gunfighter Mod 4x4
  2. Radian Raptor LT Ambi
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, non-Ambi model, which is intended for right-handed shooters.

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, Surefire, etc.

I see no significant benefit to any flash-hiding Muzzle Device over the A2 "birdcage." Feel free to spend $100+ on a high-end Muzzle Device if you want, but I would rather spend my money on a Griffin GP-NATO suppressor that attaches directly an A2 Flash Hider. Alternatively, many "Cans" are made to attach to a proprietary Muzzle Device, so I would purchase both my primary Muzzle Device and Supressor with that in mind.

 I am not an NFA-inclined person. I totally support getting the devices, but I despise paying $200 and waiting for who knows how long to use a gun part that is protected by the 2nd Amendment. (Nevermind having to carry paperwork with you to show you legally possess the item.) You have to make your own decision on that, but suppressors are great pieces of kit because they make you harder to locate - visually and audibly. Your opponent not knowing your location drastically reduces your chances of receiving return fire. 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 sitting next to you.) Some people swear by Comps, others swear at them. Keep that in mind if you decide on one.


  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 just won't be a smooth, crisp, or easy to pull. 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. 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 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. Daniel Defense H

Note: I have become a fan of H2 buffers over the years, but the H buffer has worked in my guns for years and years. H2 will help to ensure proper feeding in an overly hot gun or a gun that is over-gassed. (Suppressors will often approximate over-gassing issues, so keep that in mind when purchasing a buffer.) Either H or H2 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 selected with such a set up in mind. It is important to get a Buffer that you can rely on to do its job, so I do NOT recommend Carbine Buffers, as these have been known to cause cyclic issues in over-gassed guns, which I have witnessed. 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.


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
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. 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+, K2+, etc.

Basically, modern gun fighters should NOT be doing the old "chicken wing" with their trigger-hand's elbow. Modern gunfighting stances square you with your target, are more efficient for movement, and ensure your plate carrier faces your opponent when you do. (You know, as opposed to exposing your armpit and getting you hit in the heart and lungs.) A steeper angle is more ergonomic in this position, as opposed to the old A2 Pistol Grip angle. 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 K2. My personal favorite is the BCM Gunfighter Mod 3, but I flip-flop back forth between the Gunfighter Mod 3 and the K2.

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