If this was an AA (AR-addict Anonymous) meeting, I would have to get up and loudly announce: my name is ILya Koshkin and I am addicted to building ARs. They are kinda like Legos for gun nuts.
I am really picky about my ARs, but it took me a lot of experimentation to finally figure out what works best for me. I recently had a conversation with a friend of my brother’s who is starting out with ARs and the conversation was on whether you buy one or build one. Personally, I am firmly in the “build”camp, since that is half the fun.
With that in mind, if I were building my first AR, knowing what I know now, here is how I would go about it in terms of component selection:
-Start with a simple forged mil-spec stripped lower. That is the one part that has to be purchased through an FFL. Everything else can be bought on-line. One’s first build is not the time to mess with exotic materials and the like. Something simple like Aeroprecision will do. There is a bunch of these out there under many different brand names.
-AR triggers can get expensive, but inexpensive GI triggers stink. Hiperfire EDT trigger is a meaningful improvement over the GI trigger without being outrageously expensive.
-Lower parts kit are more or less the same from any reputable maker, so get one without GI grip or trigger. Something like this will work fine.
-Personally, I tend to use Ace UL stock, but I know that it fits me. For a first build, I would do a collapsible stock that can be adjusted to different lengths of pull. That is also a good idea if other family members all of different stature might be shooting the gun occasionally. There are many excellent makers and the choice is sorta personal. I am partial to MFT Battlelink. I think it is often overlooked for flashier designs, but it has a lot going for it for not a lot of money. Ditto for pistol grips. There are many options out there, but I tend to lean toward MFT, since they fit me well. However, that is a personal choice.
-Finally, you need a buffer tube, buffer and spring. Once again, no need to get exotic. A mil-spec kit is all you need.
For the upper half:
-Start out with a stripped upper receiver or one with a trapdoor and forward assist already installed.
-Barrel is the heart of the rifle and it should be purchased together with a matching bolt if possible. For all my new builds, I tend to use melonited barrels and bolts from AR15 Performance. I think this is easily the best bang for the buck going right now: Barrel with gas tube; bolt and carrier. One nice thing you get with these guys is that if you buy bolt and barrel together, they will check the headspace for you. In general, even if you decide to swap components out later, I recommend keeping the bolt and the barrel together for the life of the bolt.
-Charging handles can get pretty exotic, but there is nothing wrong with getting a simple GI one at first. However, the NiB coated version is a little smoother and easier to clean.
-Handguards are kinda individual, but a 12″ or 13″ long free floating handguard is a good start. There is a huge number of these around from different makers, and they are often on sale. A brief look on Brownells website yielded a MI M-Lok 12.65″ handguard for less than $150. That is a good deal. In general, MI, Samson and many others make a very decent handguard. Look for sales and do not spend more than $200 on a handguard for the first build.
-Gas block: adjustable gas blocks are all the rage, but totally unnecessary until you get a little more experience under your belt. Personally, I prefer clamp-on designs, like this Daniel Defense, but there is nothing really wrong with a more common and less expensive set-screw design.