Building Your Own No-FFL AR From An 80% Complete Receiver, by JAG

I read the “Building Your Own No-FFL AR From an 80% Complete Receiver” article by NOMAD several months ago and decided to try building my own AR-15. I have re-written his article to update it with my research and experiences.

Why build instead of buy complete:

  1. Save a little money. The AR-15 platform is an inexpensive weapon overall, and owning one is on-par with buying a much less versatile bolt-action rifle. So for a similar price you get additional versatility. Bolt action rifles are great for reaching out beyond 200 yards, but if the pack of wolves or wild dogs is closer, the bolt action will be a little slow. However, a new AR-15 can still be pricey. A Del-Ton Sport (http://www.del-ton.com/carbine_rifles_s/2.htm) will run you $707 in spring 2014, plus local fees, FFL fees, and shipping. My experience is that by building out an 80% lower receiver you save about $100– money you will want to spend on optics, slings, a case, and so forth. Of course, you would actually spend that money in addition to the cost of a rifle regardless.
  2. We live in very uncertain times. Learning about firearms is always a good idea. Modern firearms are tools. More knowledge equals better preparation, if things go sideways. Being able to do so while staying off some of the official lists is never a bad option. My experience was great for learning things about the AR-15 that I did not know before. (I would not have guessed that the rear retaining pin spring was held in place by the stock.) Should the time come that I need to maintain or repair an AR-15, I will be ahead of the game.

Cautions:

First, before you start on the path I am going to recommend, please check your state and local laws!. I cannot begin to stress just how important it is that you do so! It will be very difficult to protect your family if you are behind bars. Research and informed decisions will save you a potential felonious headache. So act accordingly and responsibly, then proceed at your own risk. Especially right now in New York and Connecticut, you are better off buying locally so you can comply with local laws. www.governor.ny.gov and The New American.

California even has a law where you need a fixed magazine, so check this (if you needed another reason to live ANYWHERE else): gunlaw.com

Though I will recommend companies and products by name and link, I do so not because I am trying to receive free stuff from them, but because I bought from them and the links were easy to create. Prices change over time, and the links may break. YMMV. These parts worked for me, and they will likely work for you, but I make no guarantees that this is the best or perfect parts combination. Particularly, realizing that Amazon Corporation has a HORRIBLE history and attitude about privacy, buying a bunch of parts related to an AR-15 is the same to most Gub’mint folks as putting up a neon sign saying “I’m a gun owner”. At the same time, I am an Amazon prime member, and free shipping is good. I figure I am already on their list for some of the stuff I did in the Army, so I went there, but my wife still complains about all the firearms stuff that shows up when she shops on Amazon.

Next, this will not help you if you use the firearm in the commission of a felony. The bullets that come out of a rifle barrel are grooved. Those grooves are specific to a manufacturer. Manufacturers are required to register their grooves with the FBI that maintains a database. Manufacturers are required to maintain records of rifle barrel sales that will trace back to you. So, even though there may not be a serial number on your rifle, the feds can find you through the rifle barrel manufacturer. Breaking the law is a bad idea, and “building” your own weapon will not help you.

Another option is if you know someone with a high end 3D printer. They could probably print the lower receiver for you, assuming you want to trust the ruggedness. I did not try this, but I did see an article on it. I am sure the gub’mint will be outlawing this as soon as they can figure out how, but for now there is no law so it is legal, not that that will help you. The 3D printing guys are gun shy, and the author of the article could not find anyone willing to print a lower receiver for pay.

Lastly, though the BATFE does not require a serial number on personally manufactured firearms, some police officers are ignorant to this fact. Should such an officer demand to inspect your rifle, you can avoid a whole heap of inconvenience and awkward questions with the simple expedient of adding a serial number. Then if anything happens requiring you prove ownership (like after a theft at your house), you know the serial number. Your best protection is “There is nothing to see here, just move along.”

During my time in the Army, we had a saying, “There is only one kind of special, and that is Special Olympics.” So, when dealing with range owners, police, fire departments, and so forth you want to look just like the guy next to you, who spent more money and knows less about his firearm.

Note:

The Gub’mint is trying to be politically correct and crack down on polymer 80% receivers. This debate, going on right now, could go either way. The Gub’mint says polymer lowers that are sold as 80% complete are actually more than 80% complete. They have raided both Ares and EP Armory. In the next year or two, the polymer lower receivers will be hard to obtain and could put you on the radar. Looking around, I was not able to find any polymer lower receivers that are showing in stock as of March 2014. The essence of the Gub’mint argument is that the different color plastic that is sold as part of the 80% lower makes it too easy to complete the lower. I disagree, but I am not the judge or on the Supreme Court, so no one is going to listen to me.

An additional argument the Gub’mint is using is that the polymer lowers have extrusion nubs at the point you might want to drill the pin and selector lever holes. I will admit this is easier and simpler than buying a jig and marking the hole location, but in terms of completing the lower, this is a minor point. All the work is involved in clearing out the firing chamber. It is easier to drill polymer than it is to drill aluminum, but that is like saying it is easier to fly a jet than a propeller airplane. The effort percentage remains the same; it’s just that the overall work drops. Then, again, I am not the decider.

In the meantime, you can buy an 80% aluminum lower for $90.00, as opposed to $50.00 for a polymer lower. With the aluminum lower I also recommend buying the sticker jig so you can mark where to clean out. So tack on another $10.

BLUF:

Completing an 80% lower receiver is educational, and I recommend it. It will take you 4-6 hours to look at all the YouTube.com videos and complete the entire rifle. You need the following equipment:

Recommended:

Parts:

Background:

The Gun Control Act of 1968 classified the frame, receiver, or lower receiver of any gun– be it handgun, rifle, or shotgun– to be the actual “firearm”. It is that portion of any store-bought gun that requires a serial number for registration. One obscure way to comply with that law, and the BATFE (see question 4) offers clear language on their web site to prove my claim, has been to manufacture your own frames and lower receivers for personal use.

Traditionally, these lower receivers were 80% complete aluminum castings or forgings that required jigs, a milling machine, a drill press, sometimes a lathe, and perhaps anodizing or painting to complete. If you did not have the aforementioned equipment on hand already, the entire process would have you paying more for a finished entry-level rifle than you would otherwise pay by going through any FFL dealer. The only real benefits were the pride you took in seeing your own creation putting bullets on paper or into game animals, plus the anonymity that goes along with not having to register your manufactured firearm.

Lower Receiver Decision:

A traditional Aluminum 80% lower receiver still works. You will spend two hours drilling out, smoothing, and polishing the lower to complete it. You will need to go slow and use tape and jigs to make sure you get a usable lower receiver. Expect the aluminum to take an extra hour to work with and to bump the price by $50, between extra 80% lower cost and jigs. So you will save about $100, instead of $150.

These days, however, technology has given us the option to go with a jig-less design 80% lower receiver made of polymer over the traditional aluminum and a set of hand tools that, if you do not have them on hand already, will run you about $75 . Honestly speaking, I’m a skeptic by nature, so I have to admit that I balked at polymer lower receivers at first. With a new jig and an 80% aluminum lower averaging out to what I considered to be a very reasonable $117, why would I even consider switching from a time-tested method? What made my thoughts about them radically change was after watching a torture test video featuring a polymer lower receiver versus aluminum. I gotta tell you, I was impressed! Not only did the polymer variant match its aluminum counterpart in tensile strength and rugged durability, it actually outperformed it. Additionally, with the cost of that jig-less polymer lower being the $65 I just spoke of, out the door and delivered to your door, not to mention the light-weight design and extreme ease of the machining process, the decision was an easy one for me to make. All this brings us to the available options of jig-less polymer lower receivers– the one that I used– costing $50 before shipping. It was the EP80, available at EPArmory.com. I have personally completed the EPArmory design. The finish is excellent, and it functioned flawlessly. It is a superior option to any aluminum design AR receiver on the market. However, until the Gub’mint gets a clue, good luck on finding one.

One of the things to know about is that there are actually two weak spots in the AR-15 lower receiver that gunsmiths worry about. The first is the ring at the back where the stock screws in. It’s no surprise that if you are banging around the stock, the first place it will break is not the actual stock but the connection point between the stock and the rest of the weapon. The next place they worry about is the takedown pins. Apparently it is a weak point that gets repeatedly tweaked as you assemble/disassemble. See the Torture test link above.

Completion:

Completing one of these lower receivers is about two hours worth of work. If you get a polymer lower, it is easy, in about an hour, to drill out the softer, different colored plastic, smooth the ridges with the dremel to blend with the walls, drill a 5/32” hole for the trigger and hammer pins; and drill a 3/8” hole for the safety selector switch. Lastly, you widen the trigger slot by 1/4” toward the front and a 1/4” to the rear of the lower receiver to match the trigger base. That’s all that is needed to have a stripped lower receiver, ready for assembly. Use the actual trigger parts to make sure it all fits the way you like. This is tedious, slow work, but I was really proud once it was complete.

I went back to EP Armory and purchased an aluminum receiver just to see how hard it was to complete. It ended up costing $117 out the door. I also purchased the paper jig (I did not need the heavier duty jig for $75, one use was fine) for $10, and I paid $17 for shipping. The aluminum was harder to complete than the polymer but not by a lot. I ended up staying with the polymer just because I liked the fit and finish, but the aluminum drilled out easily, and with a permanent marker I easily put markings on the aluminum like the polymer. Finishing it required safety glasses, because of the little metal shards flying towards my eyes as I was looking down into the firing chamber. Still, it finished easily, and there really was little difference between the metal and the polymer in terms of work required. Now I have a spare receiver in case the polymer somehow breaks, and I have now assembled the trigger assembly three times.

Should you have questions or doubts, many YouTube videos are available that will give the layperson key visual completion instructions and tips to seeing the project successfully through. So, if you are inexperienced, watching a few of them will certainly help ensure that your finished lower looks professional and performs flawlessly. If you just remember to take your time, you will not only likely enjoy the project, you will also take pride in seeing its completion through to actual service.

I would be remiss if I failed to add that a drill press will aid in drilling the hammer, trigger, and safety selector holes straight, but by using an inexpensive level, which almost every hand drill of today already has embedded above the trigger grip, you save a couple of bucks. A hand drill will more than suffice if you are steady and patient. The dremel will greatly aid in widening the trigger slot little by little until the trigger fits just the way you like it.

(As a side note, I strongly recommend getting a set of number and letter stamps, which can also be purchased from Harbor Freight Tools for an additional $10, to stamp your own serial number on the completed lower.) Set them on a clothes iron until they are really hot then use tongs and a hammer. For those that like Jenny, my serial number will always be 8675301…

Now that you have completed the lower, the only thing left to do is to select a carbine or rifle kit. Palmetto State Armory (PSA), DPMS, CMMG, J&T Distributing, Del-Ton, and a whole host of other companies have good quality entry-level parts kits available. Naturally, some are more expensive and of marginally better design. I strongly recommend going with Del-Ton. I own Del-Tons, and not only would I stack them up against any rifle kit on the market, I would and have stacked them up against much more expensive rigs and handily outperformed a number of them. Since Del-Ton is one of the least expensive and best designed kits of the list of quality options, it is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned.

The fit and finish of Del-Ton’s kits are outstanding, and the form and function is no-nonsense and flawless. The upper receivers are already fully assembled and head-spaced. The lower parts kits include quality components. The butt stock and buffer tube are mil-spec and snug-fitting. The only warning I have is that the Del-Ton uppers are test fired and shipped filthy. Expect to spend an hour or so cleaning it before you use it. (Another side note: Del-Ton currently has a 4-6 week lead time on their rifle and carbine kits, with some of them being currently out of stock, but trust me when I say that their price and quality are definitely worth the wait. Mine shipped two weeks into the six week wait.)

(Note: If you are unsure about assembling your rifle, YouTube is again your friend, with a countless array of instructional and how-to videos. It really is a very straightforward process, and valuable knowledge can be gained by watching them if you lack AR-15 experience. I watched several of them, and it made the process very straight forward.) If you can have an extra set of hands, it is a good idea as the springs can get flighty. I chased one spring under the table twice. Still, a couple of hours later you will know a lot more about the AR-15.)

Additional Items:

Some things do not come with the completion kits. The most obvious are a case, a sling, and sights.

  • As far as the rear sight goes, E-Bay and Amazon have many flip-up and carry handle options for under $20 every day of the week. Just be warned that some of the rear sight solutions on eBay are very cheap, flimsy, and will not take a whole lot of abuse. If you want to buy new, check out Brownells and look at optics/scopes/rifles OR Amazon From $12-$600
  • I purchased the UTG Red dot sight, which was only $50, and I like a red dot.
  • An AR-15 trigger/magazine lock is worth thinking about. Without going into the pro and cons:
  • Lastly, a case is never bad.
    • Amazon $14-$100
    • The case locks also made my wife happy.

Summary:

At the end of the day I spent about $770. Ammo is additional. I know that almost $770 is a heck of a stretch for folks struggling to just put food on the table in these uncertain economic times. Believe me, I do know, but if you value your lives and the way you and your family live, it is something that everyone should try to fit into their survival budget. You have to ask yourself not if you can afford to take the plunge, but whether or not you can really afford not to.

Now, I am going to see about painting the rifle to look innocuous. There’s nothing wrong with making it look as common and normal as possible. That may be a separate article. Good luck and keep your powder dry. – JAG

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