Whether it's right or wrong, the prices for AR-15s have gone through the roof in the last 2 years. They had already escalated far beyond expectations from even a few years ago. I won't get into the reasons for the rise of prices and the decline in availability, nor why you should own one of these firearms. If you are reading this, then you obviously have a desire to own one.
That being said, for many people, $1000 for a fairly basic off-the-shelf AR-15 isn't feasible. Especially when you consider that you will have to drop another couple of hundred dollars to outfit it the way you like. That's a particularly hard pill to swallow for people like me who were buying them for $550 for the same gun only 2 years ago. Additionally, these $1000 guns that you might buy in a gun shop are usually stripped down models that commonly don't have the features that you would like to see in a gun for that amount of money.
So, what are your options? To me, there really is only 1 option: Build your own.
Now is the perfect time to do that. Why? Because a year ago, people were buying every piece of AR hardware they could afford in order to make some quick money. For the most part, these people did turn a good profit on stripped lowers and high capacity magazines. There for awhile, stripped lowers were selling for asinine amounts of money. But, the market caught up and now the prices on most everything has stabilized, though it may still be higher than we really would like. In many cases, people are willing to wheel and deal on items in order to get out from under them. When it comes to saving money, keep in mind that you can build a VERY cheap, good quality, gun if you are willing to wait around and buy piecemeal.
I'm not going to tell you exactly what to buy and from where, mostly because I am a novice myself. Additionally, my expectations on performance and what I want to do with this gun may be drastically different than yours. But, I am fairly handy, I like building things, and I am cheap. But, I will tell you how I am building my own, how much it cost, how to put it together, and where I made mistakes.
So, what are my expectations? I admit they aren't very high. I want a terrific shooter up to 100 yards, though I don't want to be worried about shooting to 200. I want it to be reliable. I want it to run smoothly with any ammunition I put through it. The most important condition? I want it to stay under $1000 in TOTAL cost.
First things first. I bought a stripped lower receiver. You can buy them a multitude of places and spend just about as much as you want. However, you can get them as cheaply as $59 at several places, especially if you don't mind buying a "blemished" unit. I bought one such $59 unit.
Now, you will need to assemble that lower receiver. Like I said, there are a ton of ways to do this. You can buy the pieces individually from anywhere and spend as much as you like. Like I said earlier, you can really save money if you shop around, swap parts, or otherwise. For those that don't like buying piecemeal, you can buy lower parts kit, with or without the fire control group. Or, you can do like I did and buy a lower build kit. I bought mine from Palmetto State Armory. Under their special deals, I bought the classic lower build kit including the bolt and carrier group and charging handle for $249.
It took a little under a week to receiver the kit from PSA and I couldn't wait to assemble it. Now, like I said..I am a novice when it comes to assembling guns. I own a lot of guns and have even done some modifications and "build" like my Ruger 10/22 Build, that's not a real build where I have a bucket of parts to assemble. And though I do own another AR, I haven't done much more than separate the upper and lower assemblies for cleaning. But, I knew there was a TON of literature out there on the subject. So, when I got the package, I laid everything out and labeled all of the parts. Here is how the whole kit showed up.
After I figured out what parts where what, I cleaned them with Metalloid's Gun Green Oil and Metcor 57 to remove the packing oil and any debris.
I did some research and found a set of instructions I liked on AR15.com. Here is the link I used. Additionally, here is the picture I used to identify the parts.
So, the first thing that I read was the tool list that I would need. It specified 1/8th, 3/32nd. and 5/32nd punches. In typical fashion, I ignored that. I figured I had something around the house that I could use. So, spoiler, go out and get you a set of punches....I did. It cost $25 from Lowe's to get a good punch and chisel set. In the meantime, I tried to use what tools I had around the house to install the roll pins. In using a screwdriver, I managed to slip off a roll pin as I was driving it and put a burr in the side of the receiver. Awesome. And while the screwdriver did work, I figured out a few steps too late that I had forgotten to install a spring in in the magazine catch assembly. So, I had to drive the roll pin back out, which is impossible to do with said screw driver.
Once I bought the correct sized punches, assembly was very easy, aside from installing the take down springs and detents. Really, that was easy to do if you took your time. Here's a tip, make sure that you have your hand or some other object above you as you install these so that if they shoot out....which they will...they won't get launched across the room. Speaking of springs: there are several different size springs and many of them are very similar in size. Make sure that you know which one is which.
Total assembly for a first timer was right at an hour. I didn't have to do any fitting, filing, or machining to make anything fit. In order to ensure it was in working order, I installed my upper assembly from my other AR onto the lower. Everything snapped together and it worked perfectly. The only issue I had was that the take down pins were very stiff, which is common. Here is a picture of the lower assembly:
Where is our total cost? Well, we have $59 in the lower, $249 in the build kit, and $25 in punches for a Grand Total of approximately $335.