AR-15: Build or Buy?

With rise in popularity of the AR-15, almost every major gun manufacturer now offers an AR-15 in their lineup. Some companies, like Smith & Wesson, Colt, and DPMS, offer both entry level and higher-end offerings. With so many options out on the market, it’s hard to believe anyone would have a hard time finding what they want. Nevertheless, there are some who want complete control over the way their rifle is setup. Here, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of both buying an “off the shelf” AR-15 and building one yourself. First, the buy option.

Buying an AR has many advantages, especially now in today’s market where affordable, high quality AR’s are widely available. Shooters looking for a hassle free experience, as well as those who aren’t as mechanically inclined, should definitely go this route. While it is true that the AR is one of the easier guns to build, it does require the proper tools and a bit of mechanical intuition to build successfully. If you have neither the time nor the patience for such activities, buying is definitely the ideal choice.Another major advantage of buying versus building is a warranty from a reputable manufacturer that promises to make things right if things go wrong. The short version: if you aren’t mechanically inclined, have the money, and don’t plan on changing much on the gun, buying is the way to go.

However, there are some disadvantages for sure. One of the main disadvantages comes with having to settle for what you got. As stated, there are a lot of AR’s out there built in a variety of ways to suite customer’s needs. However, most of the entry level guns are basic as can be in order to be at an attractive price point. This results in a gun that shoots, but may not be so appealing in terms of features (or lack thereof). You could upgrade the parts yourself to get what you want, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of buying a finished rifle in the first place. Plus, any parts you add on afterward will likely not be honored by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Another issue is that if one chooses to upgrade their rifle after the fact, they may run into issues of manufacturer’s using propriety components, reducing the modularity of the rifle. That super sweet hand guard you just bought may not fit on your particular rifle, same goes for other components like barrel nuts, butt stocks, and other components. Not to mention the added cost of buying components for an already complete rifle.

Building an AR can be a fun and rewarding experience for those who are mechanically inclined and are patient enough to do the work the right way. Those who want “everything they need and nothing they don’t” will truly benefit from building their own. Not only does it allow the shooter to get exactly what they need, it allows shooters to become very familiar with the intricacies of the AR-15. Another advantage is that it allows the shooter to buy components piece by piece which can be much easier on the wallet as opposed to dropping over $700 all at once. Shooters can mix and match components to suit their needs without spending more than they have to. There is, however, a flip side to all of this.

In order to build an AR properly, one has to invest in quality tools specific to the task. This will set someone back between $90-$130 for a quality armorer’s wrench, a vise-block with a barrel extension (like the Magpul BEV block) and appropriately sized roll-pin punches. For those only interested in building one AR, the costs of the tools may be enough to make them think twice about building versus buying. While shooters will certainly benefit from having these tools handy, the initial investment is something to consider.There is another disadvantage to building so important that it deserves its own paragraph; it’s not a toy. There are a lot of precise and exacting tolerances that must be met in order to build a safe and functional AR. Headspace must. be checked, gas tubes properly aligned, barrel nuts accurately torque, gas blocks properly installed, etc. (if any of these terms are unfamiliar to you, you definitely should go the ‘buy’ route). These are powerful guns and the proper precautions are needed to ensure a safe and reliable firearm.

There are a multitude of factors that can influence the decision to build or buy, namely time and money, which nowadays does not come easy for any of us. Given the options available for the AR, shooters will have no problem finding what they need, no matter what route you choose.

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