My last column, prior to SHOT show, discussed how affordable AR parts are. (It’s also a great time to buy a completed weapon off the counter.) My “brother” Hal asked me about building an AR – and of course price. Research quickly revealed AR parts are plentiful and affordable. Hal decided to build an AR pistol; since he knows nothing about this it’s up to me to walk him through, lending experience and tools.
Palmetto State Armory supplied the parts kit for the pistol build. PSA’s kits come in all flavors; let your imagination run wild. This one came with an assembled upper - flat-top, 10.5” barrel and a 5.56 chamber with 1 in 7 twist rate, carbine length gas system and head-spaced bolt group. Magpul handguards and grip and a SB A3 pistol brace are supplied for furniture, plus all parts necessary to assemble the lower receiver. In other words, almost everything needed to assemble a quality AR pistol, and at an unbelievable price. To complete the PSA kit, he added an Anderson lower, Daniel Defense A 1.5 rear sight and an Agile sling. (I also convinced him to put a Colt “Gold” extractor spring and an original style solid firing pin retaining pin in the bolt.)
Assembling an AR isn’t that difficult. Putting one together properly is a little more complicated. In addition to knowing what you’re doing it’s also necessary to have the proper tools. Yes, you can slap one together using a “hammer and chisel,” but it’s probably not going to look good or run reliably. Even with quality parts you should test each part for fit and function during assembly. Your one stop shop for the knowledge and equipment is Brownells. Or, do like Hal and locate a friend who has the experience and tools necessary to help you with the build.
If you’re new to building ARs, one word of advice: On your first attempt don’t try to build your “dream” AR. Buy the parts, pieces and gear necessary to assemble a “basic” platform. Have fun with it, and don’t worry about trying to get it perfect, especially if you’re tackling it alone. Remember, mistakes are a part of learning. With a basic build it’s no big deal if you scratch the receiver while installing the bolt catch. Touch it up, and roll on. Later, after you’ve got a few builds under your belt you can start thinking “fancy.”
After a couple of hours on the bench – it takes longer when you’re demonstrating and explaining as you go – we have a complete pistol, lubed up and ready to test fire and zero. A trip to the range and a three hundred rounds later – using a wide variety of ammo, including some “questionable” surplus ammo from Desert Storm – and the pistol is tested and zeroed. All without a malfunction.
I’ve been experimenting with AR pistols for a long time – I built my first one around 2009. This was before there were pistol parts – there were no such thing as arm braces. The AR pistol concept had been around for a while. Colt started experimenting in the 1960s with compact “pistol” for pilots. In 1971 they added an arm brace that “attached” to the shooter’s arm. Bushmaster began producing an “AR” pistol – without buffer tube – in 1972, and in the early 90’s Olympic Arms released the OA-93. But the pistol concept never really caught on. It was still “new,” and to get a reliable package meant building your own using modified parts. It took a while to work out all the bugs. Initially I wasn’t really sold on them. We’re past those days; now you can buy complete AR pistols, or a kit.
I trust my AR pistol completely, and it’s great for defensive purposes. It’s a compact package, the manipulations are consistent with my carbine or rifle, and the .223/5.56 is a proven round. These days my AR pistol it’s either in my truck, or sitting by the bed at night, waiting and ready. If you don’t have an AR pistol it might be time to start heading in that direction. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 and has regular columns in Gun Digest and American Handgunner.