View Full Version : Advice on what to look for in an AR-15?

February 19, 2011, 10:08 AM
If I was looking for a bare bones AR-15 with an old school configuration (like the M-16) no frills, or anything... what would be a reasonable price to pay?

With tax refunds coming, a bonus at work and a raise I am thinking about getting my hands on one, but I don't want to break the bank.

Smith and Wesson seems to have a reasonably priced M&P version of the gun, where else should I be looking?

Basically I want one that's just bare bones that I could customize later as a hobby, but I don't want to break the bank. Any advice?

Well, I went and did it! See below!

February 19, 2011, 10:13 AM
The S & W is a very good quailty firearm, nice feed ramps,good finish, and if you get a flat top version you'll spend extra for the reddot sights, but as well in this price range so is the DPMS. In their favor the makers have refined many desires and concerns that have been flaws in the past.

February 19, 2011, 10:20 AM
I am not fully versed in the terminology of the AR models, but what is that classic looking piece on the very top that looks like a handle? I would want it to have that. Can you buy that after market and install one?

February 19, 2011, 11:32 AM
what is that classic looking piece on the very top that looks like a handle

It's called a "carry handle" and yes it can be purchased as an after market item and attaches to your top rail.

February 19, 2011, 11:38 AM
If you're looking to save a penny or two and are looking to get into the world of AR's I'd recommend you look into building your own. Parts are a bit cheaper, you can pick which one you want, you'll learn a bit, and it's pretty simple.

If not though, I've seen awesome prices on budsgunshop.com


February 19, 2011, 11:46 AM
Just get the components together and piece it together yourself. You'll be much more satisfied. Spike's and BCM are good places to start.

February 19, 2011, 12:10 PM
Hmmm, I am not much of a gunsmith, but I have done some work on my 1911 and it's kind of fun and I did learn a lot... what components would I need?

February 19, 2011, 03:06 PM
I'd look for an AR-15 with a really good trigger to start with. The RRA National Match 2-stage trigger is a fine one and is relatively affordable.

February 19, 2011, 04:26 PM
All you need is a stripped lower, and a lower parts kit, there some youtube videos on how easily assembled they are. You definitely don't need to be a gunsmith. Once your lower is slapped together, putting the upper on it isn't any harder than field stripping is. If you shop around you can put one tegether very inexpensively.

February 19, 2011, 04:38 PM
Do I need a bench? Workshop? Vice?

Also, why does even a stripped lower receiver require a FFL to get involved? How ridiculous.

February 19, 2011, 05:01 PM
Why not just buy an assembled lower and an assembled upper? You save some cash and some potential frustration.

I thought about piecing one together and it would have cost me about 600 bucks. I bought a complete Bushmaster XM15e2S, which is the 20" full stocked standard model, a very good choice for the average citizen. The kicker is the makers who know more than I assemble it properly and give me a warranty with it. It wound up costing me right at 800 for the factory rifle, and I feel the extra was money well spent.

February 19, 2011, 05:19 PM
What is the most common configuration used by the military in barrel length etc?

February 19, 2011, 09:15 PM
Military barrels are mainly 16" chrome lined 1 in 7" twist, and chambered for 5.56. 1 in 9" twist are more commonly available and will give you a broader choice of bullet weights to shoot through it.

If it were me, I'd purchase a completed rifle with a good factory warranty. I don't understand the rationale behind building a rifle if you've never owned one before and/or are not familiar on how they function internally (seems backwards to me). The Smith & Wesson line are nice. Very good fit and finish on them and a good overall value, imo, particularly when they have sale events.

There's dozens of brands out there building the AR and I'd say at least 95% of them produce quality firearms. Stick with well known manufacturers and you'll end up with a quality product.

February 19, 2011, 10:19 PM
If it were me, I'd purchase a completed rifle with a good factory warranty. I don't understand the rationale behind building a rifle if you've never owned one before and/or are not familiar on how they function internally (seems backwards to me).

Good point. I agree completely.

February 20, 2011, 08:01 AM
I bought a PAIR of Smiths M&P's. The warranty wasn't worth a cent. When I had problems, I sent them in (after Smith argued for an hour about not wanting to) and they kept them for several months. They came back dirty (shop dust) and scratched/banged up, and still wouldn't function reliably. I figure the next time I get AR-itis i should just do like these major manufacturers- subcontract out all the "assemblies" and put the darned thing together. Its not hard to assemble an AR.

February 20, 2011, 08:32 AM
Do I need a bench? Workshop? Vice?

Also, why does even a stripped lower receiver require a FFL to get involved? How ridiculous.

A vise, a lower vise block, a few pin punches, a armors AR tool well do a basic assemble. Down load a copy of the Army training manual "ARMY NO. 9-1005-319-23&P" This well show you about everything you need to know about the AR15. If you can't find one, PM me and I'll send you a copy.

The lower has the serial number so that is the only part of the rifle that needs to go through a FFL, every thing else can ship direct to your home.

Is this the style rifle you want?


For your first AR I would go with a complete new rifle. You well have a manufacturers warranty and customer support. Don't get to hung up on "brand names", just about every manufacturer makes a good rifle. You could start with a 20" Hbar and add the retro style furniture.

February 20, 2011, 10:00 AM
Here's where I would start:


It is a very good learning tool and one can glean a lot of knowledge from the article.


February 20, 2011, 11:02 AM
Download the TM here: http://www.ar15.com/content/manuals/TM9-1005-319-10.pdf

Kits for building an M16A1 rifle are available, all issue parts except a new barrel. All you supply is your semi auto lower. The lower is the SN part, it's required to go through an FFL with instant background check, same as any other.

Another source is the CMMG Bargain Bin guns, about $599.

Building is about as hard as auto repairs, if you can install a water pump, you can build an AR. I will caution it's not cheaper - very few build $599 Bargain Bin level guns. It CAN be done, but temptation to upgrade just one part leads to another. My build is running about $850-900, but it's a 6.8SPC. I can't use $89 barrels from the Sportsmans Guide.

If you read the stickies in the build it yourself forum at ar15.com, you can decide. One thing the ardent tool collectors tell you is that the armorer's set is practically a requirement. On the other hand, some of us quietly chuckle at blowing nearly the cost of a decent optic for one time use tools. We use vicegrips and old drill bits to install roll pins, and tighten barrel nuts and uppers in a set of Bessey jaw inserts for the vice, and 12" channelock pliers. :eek:

I did that last night. No, you won't build a safe queen that way, but it will shoot, something some should remember when agonizing over a scratch in the finish. Even milspec tools will do that, pin punches slip, and barrel nut wrenches will, too. And a vise isn't even necessary, others simply deckscrewed a board to a solid object, jammed the mag well over it, and torqued away.

The most important part is choosing what you need the AR to do, and letting that guide your parts selection. It sorts out which brands are even useful. After that, decide how much accuracy you want, and then get the barrel, ammo, optic, trigger, and furniture - in that order. Don't jump ahead, or assume something is just as good. Doing that will get you a 12X scoped M4gery with bipod. Looks like a cross between a dachshund and German shepherd and can't do either job. Plenty of those pics posted with "I haven't taken it to the range yet." dated 2009. I guess Call to Duty7 or HALO XX!V came out.

You can surf a few threads on "milspec," here's the short story. It's not certifiably milspec unless you have documentation and the government's acceptance paperwork. And that doesn't guarantee it's even current with the gunmakers art. There are better ways to do things now, the M16 specs are based on '50s technology and changing them is a bureaucratic wrangle. It's easier to just write new ones for the Improved Carbine contract, even that is up in the air. Don't expect the same old same old, lots of M14 fans know better.

February 20, 2011, 12:49 PM
You really need to ask yourself. "What am I going to use this rifle for". If you know that it will make it easier to make a recommendation.

February 20, 2011, 01:45 PM
I plan to use it for fun. I want one that is fairly close to what a soldier might have in battle but that I could customize as a hobby.

February 20, 2011, 01:52 PM
So no home defense or heavy use? In that case almost any brand would work. A del-ton or DPMS would work just fine.

That'll Do
February 20, 2011, 02:47 PM
I'd read over these threads at M4carbine.net before you make a decision, they contain a wealth of knowledge.

Main thread (contains links to other threads): http://www.m4carbine.net/showthread.php?t=7355

Additionally, check out "The Chart" (it's basically a comparison of what rifles have certain desirable features, what ones don't): http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pwswheghNQsEuEhjFwPrgTA&single=true&gid=5&output=html

What it all boils down to is what your intended use is for the gun. Buy the best gun that you can afford, in the long run it will pay off. I recently purchased my first AR, a Colt LE6920, and I'm very pleased with the purchase. Heck, I'm already looking for another AR.

February 20, 2011, 03:12 PM
Put a heavier buffer on the S&W but its an awesome rifle.

February 20, 2011, 03:29 PM
What is the most common configuration used by the military in barrel length etc?

The M16 uses a 20" barrel.

The M4 uses a 14.5" barrel.

Both are chrome lined, 1-7 twist (M16A2 and forward, the M16A1 was 1-12).

There are other set ups in service here and there (i.e. SPR uses 18" barrel), but the above two encompass about 99% of USGI weapons.

February 20, 2011, 08:09 PM
I would personally go with a Spikes Tactical M4 LE or Midlength. Very good quality. They run about $800. I bought the M4 LE in August and have put over 2500 rounds thru it with no problems at all. It also comes with the detacheable carry handle that you want.

February 20, 2011, 08:29 PM
Okay, I bought one today with the money I made selling my Glock 17 and my AK-47 (with some left over of course.)

It's a DPMS 16'' Patrol which I got for $759.99.


I thought I would want one that was more like the original M16, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted something a little more modern. It's still a little shiny because I RTFM, took it apart, and lubed it up. Still need to wipe it down a little more I suppose.

Can't wait until next weekend when I take it out shooting and once I get more experience with it I plan to add some customizations. What do you think?

February 21, 2011, 08:50 PM
I like it, nice looking carbine :) Congratulations.

Father Time
February 21, 2011, 09:05 PM
JCsturgeon: Welcome to the world of AR's.

Unfortunatly my experiance with Smith and Wesson M&P's is a lot like Zombieslayer's.

Mine came with canted sights and had the worst trigger I've ever felt on a rifle.

I emailed S&W and they said they would fix the problems. They told me they would mail me postage and a warrenty form to mail them the rifle.

It never came. Next I called them and they and again they said they would mail me the stuff to send it in. Again it never came.

Smith and Wesson's customer service LIED to me TWICE. They have lost a customer.

What bugs me is people go on about how good S&W's customer service is. :confused:

February 22, 2011, 07:34 AM
Hopefully I have better luck with DPMS. They are kind of a "name brand" with AR's and the price was right. The M&P was a good $400 more than what I paid.

I can't believe how easy it is to take down an AR and clean it (I took it apart and lubed it right out of the box.) It's practically easier to clean than one of my pistols. (And the 1911, Beretta 92, and Glock are all very easy too.) Two pins come out and boom, you're able to access just about everything and run a snake through the barrel. It's very user friendly, no wonder the military likes the design. I can't wait to shoot this thing.

Anyway, as for S&W I have only ever owned one gun from them, a Sigma 40 caliber. It never jammed, but I didn't really like it and sold it for cash and bought the Beretta 92. People rave about their revolvers but it seems like Smith and Wesson just makes knockoff copies of other people's guns (Glock for the Sigma, they are licensed but they make knockoff Walthers, AR's, etc.) They are almost like Taurus on steroids. I am not that interested in getting anything Smith and Wesson unless it's an old school model 10. :D

February 22, 2011, 11:10 AM
Don't forget the Q-tips.

February 22, 2011, 02:44 PM
FatherTime- sorry to hear that you had a bad experience too. Although I have to say- it does feel better to know that I'm not the only one!:o