Monday, January 2, 2012

Putting Together An AR-15 Rifle, Part 1

The Eugene Stoner Rifle, known as the M-16 in its military configuration, and the AR-15 in its civilian configuration, has been with us since the 1950s. It's been in service longer than any other rifle in the U.S. inventory.

Here's Stoner, on the right, and Kalishnikov, holding each other's trademark rifles.

It has its advocates and detractors. I was a long-time detractor of the rifle. I hated cleaning the thing when I was in the service, and it was a dirty beast by design.
Here's an excerpt from a Vietnam-era M-16 Manual, drawn by none other than Will Eisner. Even in the steaming jungles full of mud and rain, the rifle had to be kept meticulously clean. No small feat in SE Asia.

The propellent of the fired round, carrying all sorts of hot and scouring detritus (carbon), is jetted back into the action of the rifle. No fun to clean, especially out in the field. Pipe cleaners, q-tips, and scrapers are all small bits you carry to keep the thing clean and functioning.

For years, I didn't like the thing. It was, in my opinion at the time, underpowered, high-maintenance, and prone to stoppages.

While the Corps made me shoulder an M-16A2 Service Rifle while I was in Uncle Sugar's service, I chose to spend my own bucks on FN FAL clones. It hit harder, was more reliable, and wasn't prissy when it came to being dirty.

Unfortunately, parts and ammo became a lot more expensive over time. A case of 7.62 NATO cost about $150, delivered, when I was building FALs for $400 bucks each and shooting every weekend in 2001.

Here's a couple FAL clone rifles I built in my garage during the heady days of FAL building. I put together over a half-dozen of the things. Gorgeous rifles. However...

In late 2008/early 2009, during the post-election buying frenzy, a case of 7.62 NATO ammo went for about $500 or more. A complete FAL clone went for about $1000 or more. Parts kits and receivers to make your own dried up. The glory days of FAL building were over.

I decided to take another look at the Stoner Rifle. I knew I could build one for $700 or so, and they were cheaper to feed. Parts were plentiful, and US-sourced, so I didn't have to fear my parts supply being cut off by silly ATF regulations-by-fiat. Plus, I was trained on it, and knew its controls and ergos like the back of my hand.

So, I swallowed my pride, and bought a stripped AR-15 lower reciever. The lower receiver, here in the States, is the part of the weapon that the government cares about. It has the serial number on it, and is legally what makes the firearm a firearm.

Being the lawful citizen I am, I filled out the 4473 ATF form, passed my NICS check, and walked out with a small box that held a finely-machined aluminum part about the size of a paperback novel.

And there it sat, in my garage. Just another project I meant to get to. I sold it to a buddy at work when I needed to free up some cash. Later, he sold it back to me. And again, it sat.

Finally, last year, I bought the innards to make the lower receiver able to function. Hammer, trigger, magazine catch, buttstock, and pistol grip.

I had some time on my hands, over the New Year's Day weekend, so I decided, what the hell, I'll build that stripped lower receiver up into a functional rifle lower. Around tax time, I'll be able to afford an upper receiver, and then this build will be complete. At least until I want a new optic. And more ammo. And change out the handguards. And a big-bore upper receiver assembly. AR-15s are like barbie dolls for grown men. You can dress them up, and change outfits as you like.

More on the building process over the next couple days. Here's Part 2.

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