Sunday, June 29, 2008

Guns: Let's Build An AR! - Part 2

I'm building an AR to commemorate the Heller decision, and today's installment will cover my thoughts on stocks, uppers, and other miscellaneous gear:


Every AR needs a stock, and since it's a part of the gun that your cheek'll be in constant contact with, you should probably splurge here. The first question to decide is, "Fixed or collapsible?" Though the standard A2-length buttstock is still the default option, more exotic fixed stocks like the ACE skeleton stock (pictured above) or the Sully stock are also pretty easy to find.

I prefer collapsible or telescoping stocks, since the adjustable length of pull and shorter overall length make the AR carbine a lot handier, at least for me. The ne plus ultra of collapsible stocks was (and perhaps still is) the Magpul M93 series, but that stock has been discontinued (it also weighed a ton and wasn't cheap).

I picked up the next best thing - a Magpul CTR. It has an additional friction lock at the front to almost completely freeze the stock relative to the receiver extension. It's solid, comfortable, and well worth the premium over the traditional M4 stock. There isn't any space for gadgets, cleaning kits, or batteries - it's just a solid, no-frills affair:


After assembling the stock and grip into the lower receiver, you'll need to either buy or build the upper half of the AR (the "complete uppers" you see advertised around the Web include the upper receiver, the barrel, and the bolt carrier group). I elected to buy mine complete, because building one from scratch, while not unduly complicated, won't save you money if you just want a configuration that's in common use. There are various barrel lengths (24", 20", 16", 14.5" M4gery, 11.5"), any number of gas systems (rifle length, mid length, carbine length, several types of piston-driven systems), as well as several upper receiver choices (A1, A2, A3 flattop) to consider.

And then there's the matter of brand. Some of the hottest holy wars in the AR world occur here, at this step. If you thought video game console fanboys were bad, wait'll you bring up whether X AR maker parkerizes under the front sight base or shot-peens the bolt. There are different tiers of manufacturers, with the best stuff coming out of places like LMT and Noveske (Noveske's barrels in particular are supposed to be incredibly accurate).

You'll pay a premium, but the luxury-brand AR makers do all sorts of fancy tests and have higher QC standards all around (read: you'll never have to stake your own gas key again). Since I didn't have the cash, I elected to grab a Stag upper - still good, but definitely a lower grade AR. The barriers to entry for the AR construction market aren't high, and there are many ways to cut corners when you make the gun. Stag (owned, I believe, by CMT) certainly cuts some corners, but they get good reviews and they seem like a stand-up outfit.


Not covered in most AR parts overviews are the detachable parts of the gun - the magazines and sling. AR magazines have gotten fairly cheap thanks to the AWB sunsetting in 2004, with good 30-rounders readily available for under $15 each. While there are a lot of good mags out there, I like the P-Mags from Magpul, mostly because of the fun torture tests they have on YouTube:

They even got these things to work in an M249, which is really an amazing feat if you're at all familiar with how bad the M16 mag functionality is on an M249:

Slings range from high-speed/low-drag single point slings (I call 'em rat tails) to the more staid 2-pointers to the interesting 3 point slings. If you buy the latest sling o' the week, you might need some kind of adapter, depending on how your stock and handguards are set up.

In my experience, if you anticipate carrying the rifle around for any length of time, a single-point can get inconvenient. On the other hand, the single-points are relatively simple and you can shoulder the gun rapidly. I had a Wilderness single-point on my last carbine, so I think I'll try something different this time - just a simple, boring bottom-mounted sling setup. If I ever actually needed to use this sucker for serious purposes, I doubt I'd have time to loop up the sling anyway.

Next week - Assembling the Lower Receiver


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