My First (and possibly last) AR-15 Build


Today’s post is brought to you by Patrick Shipp, Patrick has served his country down range in Iraq and on the front lines of the energy war in Washington, DC.

Roaming the aisles of The Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, VA, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of today’s small arms industry. Nearly every make and model of rifle, shotgun, and hand cannon in the world is there, and eager buyers are salivating at the thought of owning that which the liberal media has made taboo. Among the tables of Colt 1911s, Remington 700s, and Winchester Repeaters, there are a few vendors who are targeting a more discriminating customer; the AR-15 armorer.

Merriam-Webster defines an armorer as “one that repairs, assembles, and tests firearms.”

I wasn’t looking to build the best AR, but wanted to gain a better understanding of how the rifle operates. I began my build with some internet research. There are over 150 individual parts in an AR-15, and all of them must function together in order to effectively send 62 grains of lead towards the intended target. All of the parts can be purchased online and shipped directly to your home, with the exception of the stripped lower receiver. This is the serial number component, and must be transferred to the customer through a Federal Firearms Licensee. I bought my Smith and Wesson M&P stripped lower at the gun show for $130. At the show, I also purchased several Magpul components, including flip-up front and rear sites, a pistol grip, trigger guard, and adjustable buttstock. The remaining components I purchased online from Del-ton (flattop upper receiver), Midway USA (buffer tube, buffer spring, buffer, lower receiver parts kit, and bolt carrier group), and Ebay (replacement buffer tube for the one I over torqued). Where there was an option to, I bought mil-spec components. I switched out the 18” barrel on another AR platform for a 20”, and used the 18” barrel on this build. I found a handguard left over from deployment and got to work.

I went to my local range, Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA, and had the armorer there put the barrel on my upper receiver. There’s a lot that can go wrong, including miss alignment which could affect gas tube alignment, so I went to the pro. He switched out the short barrel, and installed the longer one for fifty bucks. That was money well spent. I did the rest of the assembly in my basement, using Cheaper Than Dirt’s YouTube videos on building a lower receiver and the Army’s TM9-1005-319-23. It’s important to know that all of the components fit together in a specific order. Anyone who has ever tried to repair their car knows what I’m talking about. Step-by-step instructions are essential to success. Watch the video and read the instructions a couple of times for real success. With the lower complete, I replaced the fixed front site post with a gas block with picatinny rails and attached the front and rear sites. I snapped top and bottom together, performed a functions check, and took it to the range. This was the most nerve wracking part. I knew everything had been done correctly, but in the back of my mind, I thought, “what if this damn thing blows up in my face. I’m going to look like an idiot.” One hundred rounds later, and I was satisfied with my work.

No after action review is complete without the obligatory what went wrong, and for me, those are the most important lessons learned. My buttstock has a little bit of wobble when fully extended. Though the buffer tube and buttstock are mil-spec, I can’t help but think that the replacement tube I bought after busting the one from Midway USA was not the correct diameter. The upper and lower aren’t as tight as the pros prefer, though you can purchase a small plastic block that will make the fit snug. I would recommend always buying a matched upper and lower to avoid any wiggle. The bolt carrier group from AR Stoner is snug, and did cause the rifle to fail to cycle completely. I have tried sanding, and will take the Dremel to it sometime soon. After the fact, I read some disparaging reviews on Midway USA, regarding the AR Stoner bolt carrier group. I’d say this is one of the components where you want to spend a little bit more, especially if you’ve incurred some savings elsewhere by catching Magpul and CMMG lower reciever components on sale.

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome. The final cost to complete, I’d estimate at about $900. You can purchase a complete stock AR-15 for this much, and add the Magpul components for another $150 or so. The bolt carrier group is an easily replaceable part if the Dremel doesn’t work, and the wobble reminds me that I need to look into getting another buffer tube. The feeling, though, of firing the weapon you built, well, that’s just priceless.

See you at the range.

The Case for a Full Gun Safe

Just how many guns do you need?!?!?

Has your wife ever asked you, “Just how many guns does one man need”? A couple of mine have, yes I said a couple. They weren’t at the same time, don’t judge me, I was a cop! Well I am going to make my case to you that every man should have a minimum of five guns, based on legality and needs, to protect his family and home.

Gun Wall
Gun Wall (Photo credit: Mike Saechang)

Guns are tools of the trade just as a mechanic has a tool chest or any other tradesman has what he needs to accomplish a myriad of jobs that may come his way. I’ll start off with a great analogy I once heard from a good friend. If you were going to plant flowers you wouldn’t go out and buy a back hoe, or if you were going to dig a drainage ditch you wouldn’t attempt to do so with a garden spade. Why in the world would anyone feel completely protected with only one gun in all situations?  

So how many guns does one man need? I say at least one for every need you have, depending on your location and budget. For me that would consist of two handguns (one full sized and one compact), a shotgun, a carbine, and a long range rifle, not all at the same time though. Each weapon has a specific job that it is created for and does best. So I will discuss those jobs and how I have come to this conclusion and stellar argument for buying more guns.

English: modern revolver Ruger SP101 cal .38 S...
English: Ruger SP101 cal .38 Special (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always need a very small compact gun for those times when deep cover is needed. The .357 J frame S&W is my all-time favorite. Why a revolver? My answer is simple, and it’s because this gun’s primary use will be as a backup to my primary weapon. If I have gone to my back up, then something very bad has happened. Either I have run dry with my primary weapon or it has had a catastrophic failure of some sort. A revolver is as close to fail proof as a gun can be. From 0 to 25 yards a 2inch revolver is very accurate and extremely effective. The ultra compact 9mm handgun has come into great popularity lately, as well as the .380 ACP models as well. It’s hard to beat a Kel-Tec PF9 or a P3AT for the money and concealability. We generally don’t recommend going below a .380 ACP but if your needs can only be met by a .32 or smaller round, there are some other excellent options in these calibers as well.

Beretta 92FS
Beretta 92FS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to my primary weapon I prefer a quality gun with plentiful parts availability. If the need should arise I want to have the ability to rebuild this gun at a moment’s notice without any issues. Hence my personal choice of a 92 series Beretta or Glock chambered in 9mm. Both guns are reasonably priced and there is huge parts markets to repair of improve them. Semi-auto handguns are extremely complicated and have many parts. One spring or small part can cause a failure. It only makes good sense to be prepared. Not to mention both of these guns are easy for novice owners to repair even if they have no prior gun smith training (please note I don’t advocate disassembly of your gun if you aren’t trained). Any duty sized handgun is made to be accurate out to 25 yards and beyond, so it is a must have in your personal arsenal of weapons. In fact, this category is probably the most important one. A full sized handgun can be concealed and with their accuracy at range will fill most defensive needs.

Mossberg M500SP
Mossberg 500 (Photo credit: mr.smashy)

One of my favorite short to medium range weapons is the 12 gauge shotgun. You just don’t get any more all American than a Remington 870 or Mossberg 590. Pump guns are definitely my preference as they will feed almost any ammunition you throw in them and the sound when you rack one into the chamber is unmistakable. That sound alone gives you an advantage over your opponent because of the psychological effect it will have on them. Shot guns can also be used as door breaching tools or even crowd control. Properly outfitted a shotgun can be the best choice all the way out to 100 yards. They really are a do it all gun. Another firearm to put in the back of your mind in this category of short to medium range is the pistol caliber carbine. There are a few well reviewed and durable carbines in most common pistol calibers, some have the capability of using the same magazines as your chosen duty style handgun, which makes things much more simple when it comes time to purchase ammo and magazines.

AR15 (Photo credit: Section_Eight)

A short, quick handling centerfire rifle or carbine is a must have for everyone.  From hunting small game to being used as a defensive weapon they are good for everything. For those of you that have been around firearms for the last decade or so it’s become very apparent that an AR-15, Kel-Tec SU-16C or Ruger Mini 14 are super great choices. All three are extremely accurate and affordable. Equipped properly they can even be used to clear a house or short range sniper work. Again, they are great all around weapons that have a ton of uses. The AR platform has endless possibilities and can be converted for many uses and calibers can even be changed relatively easily. An AK variant  falls into this category beautifully as well and would provide a lot of power to quickly end the fight. For that matter an AR platform can be used all the way up to a .458 SOCOM round. That’s the reason everyone love an AR-15, they are so customizable based on your needs. All the way out to 200 yards any centerfire carbine will get the job done, so it is a great medium to long range option for protecting your family. This category isn’t limited to the “black rifles” though. The venerable lever action carbine from almost any maker has proven itself over it’s very long history to be a perfectly adequate defensive tool as well as a hunting arm and is certainly worth your consideration.

English: The US-made Remington 700 .308 Winche...
Remington 700 .308 Winchester. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For long distance work, a Remington 700 in 308 or 300 Win Mag is my weapon of choice.  There is no smoother action on the market for the price in my opinion.  There are endless choices that this gun can be outfitted with from the factory and the aftermarket is flooded with anything you could ever want. Are there other options? Of course there are, the Savage model 10 and Winchester 70 are both fantastic choices for a long range precision rifle. Honestly just about any quality hunting rifle will do the job neatly. When it comes to this type of rifle, you can spend as little or as much as your heart desires, but remember, you get what you pay for. No amount of geegaws that you attach will turn a crap rifle into a long range beast. You don’t become a sniper overnight, and a ton of training is needed if you intend to pursue any type of long range shooting. Depending on the gun this type of weapon can be a show stopper into quadruple digit distances. If the truth is really told, you can go to Wal Mart and purchase a $300 Ruger American or Savage Axis in .308 and it will exceed your abilities for a very long time to come and serve as a great way to learn the art of long range precision shooting.

So there you have it, my weapons of choice and why I NEED them in my gun safe. The best part is you can double the number of guns just by explaining to your wife how she needs to be out fitted in case something were to happen to you. What mother doesn’t want to protect her children, right? As for now stay safe, train and have a good un’



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The Modern Mosin-Nagant

The Mosin Nagant series of rifles. List goes t...

The Mosin Nagant series of rifles.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So why in the world am I writing about a rifle designed in the 1890’s and why is it interesting to you? Because it’s cool!!, and after all these years it’s still a relevant and useful firearm in today’s world. I just saw an amazing report earlier this week that the Mosin-Nagant is in current use in the fighting in Syria. Who would have thought that after all this time the rifle that defended Stalingrad against the Nazis would still be in use in 2013 as a “military” arm?

When someone mentions a Mosin-Nagant, they could be talking about any one of the many variations that have existed since it was adopted by The Imperial Russian Army in 1891 as the Model 1891 interestingly enough. Most commonly encountered in the United States however, are three models: the 91/30, M44 and, The Chinese Type 53. The Type 53 and the M44 are both almost identical to each other with the major difference being the country of origin. The most common of these three models is the 91/30. The M44 and Type 53 are both carbine models which have a much shorter barrel than the 91/30 and an attached side folding bayonet. All variations are bolt-action and have a 5 round integral magazine that can either be loaded one round at a time or by stripper clip. There are so many different incarnations of Mosin-Nagant that were produced, it’s not worth me going into great detail here as there are so many great resources out there. When I refer to the rifle here, I’m talking about the three models listed above. If you’re curious about the history of this rifle your best bet is to head over to There you can find the entire documented history of the rifle and all the different models produced.

Enough with the history lesson. How is this old Russian rifle relevant to me? Well, frankly there are a few good reasons but in my opinion the most important of all is that it is a dirt cheap and accessible firearm. This rifle can be had for sub $200 all day for a 91/30, even in today’s strange gun climate. The other two models come in at a little under $300 usually. What that gives you is a completely usable and reasonably accurate rifle out of the box with decent iron sights. What’s almost as good as the rifle itself being cheap is that the ammo is also cheap. A tin of 440 rounds of surplus ammo can be had for under $100. New manufacture commercially made ammo is decently priced as well. These old rifles have proven themselves to be adequate hunting arms for quite some time now and have put literally tons of meat on the tables of families all over the world. Hunting is by far the most common use for this rifle other than being a range plinker since it can be fed so inexpensively and the cartridge is powerful enough to take down nearly anything on 4 legs in North America.

I wanted to breathe a new life into this rifle though. Now if you’re some kind of purist and you feel that the Mosin-Nagant is deserving of being a collectable firearm to be kept in it’s original form, turn back now. I do not consider myself a purist at all. This rifle is immensely common and it lends itself very well to modifying or sporterizing. The Russians took rifles that would be considered fairly valuable today and re-arsenaled them, modified them and covered them in cosmoline and stuck them in a warehouse in Siberia somewhere and they have turned into the rifles that we see being imported today. There are rare models and I feel as though they shouldn’t be touched, if you’re not sure whether or not you’ve got a rare model please head over to and double check.

As I stated before, you could leave the rifle alone in it’s completely stock form and have a completely serviceable and useful rifle with only a few tweaks and adjustments to the iron sights but I’m incapable of leaving good enough alone. I suppose I’ll start by addressing the things about the Mosin-Nagant that I personally don’t like so much. The total length of the 91/30 is about 48.5″, that’s just over four feet long and the bayonet isn’t even a part of that. That’s a ludicrous length for a rifle to be useful in the woods but that can be remedied. You could either hold out and get a M44 or Type 53 which is totally a rational work around or you could have a gunsmith shorten the barrel. The Mosin-Nagant is also a heavy rifle, not ungodly so but at a little over 8lbs it’s hefty enough to be a little difficult to chuck around in a hurry, particularly at full length. To put weight into perspective though, it’s not entirely uncommon for AR-15‘s with rails and optics and various other toys to tip the scales at over the weight of a loaded Mosin-Nagant. I’m also not a huge wood stock person. Thats not to say that I can’t appreciate them, I just tend to be hard on gear and a synthetic stock just makes more sense for me. I guess that’s about it for the “dislikes”.

Each of the above listed “problems” is easily changed to more suit personal need. Since the Mosin-Nagant has established itself as a sturdy, reliable and reasonably accurate rifle, I’ve found that it lends itself well to becoming a scout rifle. Scouts are essentially lightweight rifles around 36″ in length and under 7.7lbs with a forward mounted low powered scope in .308 or equivalent. Col. Cooper specified a specific sling to be used, the ability to use iron sights, detachable magazine feeding or reloading with stripper clips. I chose to transform the Mosin-Nagant into a scout rifle because of the all around utility of the concept. It makes a handy and capable hunting rifle, a great brush and recreation tool as well as a defensive tool if necessary. To accomplish the task of turning this ancient battle rifle into a modern scout rifle isn’t a very difficult one. There are quite a few readily available aftermarket parts that allow for an easy transformation.

So here we go, the Mosin-Nagant is going to become a scout rifle. We will need a new stock, optic mount, optic, a little gunsmith work to cut down and re-crown the barrel, and a way to reattach the front sight. What follows is a list of parts that I think further suit this useful rifle to modern use.

  1. ATI Mosin-Nagant Stock.
  2. Brass Stacker Scout Scope Mount
  3. Brass Stacker Front Sight Adapter Ring
  4. Stripper Clips
  5. Ching Sling
  6. Sling Swivel Studs

This certainly isn’t an all encompassing list of what you may need for the conversion, or you may choose to use different parts to suit the rifle to your individual purpose and needs. There are a lot of nice products from Rock Solid for Mosin-Nagants that are outstanding and very high quality and trigger modifications to tame the beast so to speak as well however, if you follow the guidelines you will end up with something similar to the rifle pictured below. It is now a handy and lighter rifle with a hard hitting and fairly accurate and cheap round that is well suited for hunting and any other purpose a handy rifle like this can fill.

Credit: "Pirate" from

Credit: “Pirate” from

So if you’ve got an old Mosin-Nagant sitting in the gun safe or you don’t have one yet but are in the market for an inexpensive but versatile rifle,I hope I’ve offered you some inspiration. As for now train, stay safe and have a good un’.

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The Kel-Tec SU-16C


AR-15 (Photo credit: robscomputer)

Ok folks, today I’m going to get us started off with perhaps one of the most widely adopted weapons platforms in the U.S., the 5.56mm/.223rem semi-automatic sporting rifle/defensive carbine.  When most think of this platform, they immediately jump to the AR-15 series of rifles.  These are a battle proven design that I carried for many years in the U.S. Army and placed my life on the line with on more occasions than I would have liked.  The AR-15 today is one of the most reliable and adaptable platforms known to man.  There are pistol variations and sniper variations and everything in between.  Perhaps the most widely used is the 16″ barrel model which is the shortest legal barrel length for a rifle under the National Firearms Act, that is without paying for a $200 tax stamp and registering it as an SBR (short barreled rifle) but we will get to that another day.

This is a common work around for the “dirty” gas impingement system.

The AR platform is of course not without it’s drawbacks.  First and foremost is that they are generally expensive.  It’s not uncommon to see rifles on the rack at your local dealer with a base price of over $1,000.  Now I don’t know about you but  I don’t really have a grand sitting around that’s really all that disposable for a firearm purchase.  The other problem with the cost is that generally that $1,000 will only get you a base rifle with no bells and whistles that are so popular today. They also work off of a direct impingement gas system which is a fairly dirty way of doing things.  This system uses a tube from the gas block to vent hot gasses and carbon from the barrel back into the upper receiver to push the bolt carrier group back against the buffer and recoil spring.  This causes a buildup of carbon and fouling inside your upper receiver and in your trigger group in the lower receiver as well.  There are short stroke gas piston models that utilize a piston to drive the bolt carrier group instead of the hot gas along which certainly run cleaner.  I myself have zero experience with this particular system as it was not adopted by the U.S. Military and they are cost prohibitive for me to own (take that $1,000 price tag for a base model and jack it way up).  There are also conversion kits to a gas piston system for the AR-15 which seem to be well received.

English: Kel-Tec SU-16C with stock in folded p...

Kel-Tec SU-16C with stock in folded position. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enter the Kel-Tec SU-16C.  At $575(Price paid, MSRP is listed at $770) this 4.7lb firearm is a long stroke gas piston operated carbine with a 16″ threaded barrel.  It accepts the same reliable magazines that feed the AR-15 platform which range in capacity from 5rds on up to 100rds and any muzzle device that the AR platform accepts.  This firearm is constructed of a glass reinforced polymer known as Zytel where possible and steel where necessary to save weight and reduce cost.  It sports a parkerized finish on the steel and the barrel is chrome lined (earlier versions were unlined and newer versions I’m told, will be salt bath nitride treated).  It has an integral picatinny rail on the upper receiver for optics mounting and the fore end converts to a bipod to stabilize longer shots.  The “star” bolt will look familiar to those of you who know the AR platform.  This model also has the underfolder stock that permits the carbine to be fired while folded, and stored very compactly.  The front sight was borrowed from the AR platform as well.  The operating system for this rifle however, is pure AK-47.

Just last week I took my SU-16C to the local range to put it through it’s paces.  Prior to my range time I took the time to fit the carbine with an A2 flash hider.  Ammunition used was 55gr American Eagle Tactical 5.56mm.  The owners manual very clearly states that the carbine requires at least a 200 round break in and that you may experience a few malfunctions during this process.  I experienced none, although in full disclosure my buddy that went to the range with me experienced a double feed during his string of fire.  The double feed was cleared and no other malfunctions were experienced.  Being as my local range is an indoor facility, the range only goes out to 25yds, so that is the distance to which this carbine was zeroed.  Sight adjustment is simple and straight forward.  If you shoot high adjust the front sight post up.  If you’re shooting right, adjust the rear sight to the right.  I was able to get a good zero in 9 rounds.  Kel-Tec includes a tool to adjust the windage, they do not include a tool to adjust the front sight elevation, so I was left to make adjustments with a pick from my OTIS cleaning kit and a Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool.  You can buy a tool to adjust both windage and elevation from Kel-Tec for around $15.  This kinda bothered me though.  If they are going to include a tool to adjust one sight, why not include the ability to adjust all of them?  One issue I experienced was heat.  This carbine does get hot, although so does an AR when you put 200 rounds through it in fairly rapid succession.  If you intend to do a fair amount of shooting I highly suggest a good pair of shooting gloves and judicious hand placement.

My final impressions of this little lightweight carbine are quite favorable.  Accuracy is on par with any AR type rifle I have fired.  This carbine is well suited for outdoor use when you’ve got miles to cover and weight is a concern.  It also makes a pretty outstanding truck/ranch gun.  The durability remains to be truly seen as I’ve only done the initial break-in on this rifle but it’s looking promising.  Just prior to writing this review I did notice upon a teardown and cleaning that just in front of the hammer, it appears as though the hammer had impacted an area of plastic in front of the trigger housing group and has caused some stress to the plastic.  A phone call to Kel-Tec support left me with the answer that this is a common wear point on the SU-16 series of rifles and will not impact the performance of the rifle in any way.  I will however be keeping a keen eye on this and make any updates necessary.  All in all I’m satisfied with this carbine and look forward to using it for years to come.  As for now stay safe, train and, have a good ‘un.

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