When we think about having only one AR-15, your mind might freak out. It might say "Yo bro, why limit yourself, you live in Merica!". But the reality is you can only shoot one AR-15 at a time. So make it bombproof, make your AR-15 the best. Yes, there are cheap components out there that work. But do they work when put under stress? Will they work long term or will they just work a few times at the range? There is a reason some components cost a little more. Because they work day in and day out. If SkyNet was real and you had to fight Terminators, what AR-15 would you want? Granted it would probably be whichever was around you. But if you were heading to the battlefield with your AR-15, what would you want it to be?
So put your wallet away and save up, we are on a journey to build one rock solid AR-15!
This is the first thing I think about when I think about building an AR-15. There are so many choices out there. You could go from 10.5" up to 20" in length. You could get a 1 in 7" twist rate or a 1 in 12" twist rate. So much to think about here. But when trying to do many thing well, I believe you cannot go wrong with a 14.5" pinned to 16" with either a 1 in 7" or 1 in 8" twist rate and a mid length gas system. Make sure it is chambered in either 5.56 or .223 Wylde. That way you can pickup any .223 or 5.56 ammo and throw it in your AR-15. 5.56 cannot (I repeat cannot) be shot through a .223 barrel. But, you can shoot .223 through a 5.56 or .223 Wylde barrel.
I have chosen to go with a V Seven Weapon Systems 416R Stainless Match 5.56 Barrel with a 1 in 7" twist rate. Going with a 14.5" pinned to 16" barrel setup doesn't loose much on velocity, but gains you a little less weight and size. It is much more maneuverable and nimble. Now I did not go with a lightweight barrel contour, I went with a medium contour. Leaving a little mass on the barrel to give it decent strength to take a beating. The one thing I did opt for was fluting to shave off another, about, ounce off as well as making the barrel less susceptible to overheating. All V Seven barrels are sub MOA. I have used lower quality match ammo and gotten sub MOA.
Note: Use 33MS grease on the barrel nut threads and on the upper receiver threads to prevent seizing at a future date! I also put a very thin amount on the outside of the barrel part that slides into the upper receiver.
Bolt Carrier Group (BCG):
This is the brains of your AR-15. So do not skimp here! I have thousands of rounds through many great bolt carrier groups (BCG) over the years. From JP Enterprise's FMOS, Fathom Arms Enhanced Bolt Carrier Group, Young Manufacturing's National Match and others.
I recommend them all. Make sure to get a bolt carrier group with a M16 style carrier. This means that the end of the carrier is full length, as in this picture below. You want a strong carrier that will support your "One AR-15 to Rule Them All".
With this build I wanted to save weight and retain strength. So I went with V Seven Weapon Systems Titanium bolt carrier group. Saves weight and is made by a company I trust with my life. There are other companies out there making great parts as well, I just know and trust V Seven by default. Their Titanium bolt carrier group includes an improved AR-15 cam pin which improves the smoothness of operation. They gas key is also properly staked.
Gas Block and Tube:
While maybe overlooked by some, this is key. Without a properly made gas block you will have inconsistent performance and/or malfunctions. I have used V Seven Titanium gas blocks on multiple builds over the years and been pleased with their performance. Titanium thermal expansion coefficient is about half that of steel. Which means it has the advantage of providing a tighter seal as the temperature rises. These weigh about half that of regular low profile gas blocks. Slap this on with Loctite for a lifetime of performance.
When it comes to the gas tube, V Seven has a unique offering. Their Extreme Environments Gas Tube is made of Inconel, a family of austenitic nickel-chromium-based super-alloys. Inconel alloys are oxidation- and corrosion-resistant materials well suited for service in extreme environments subjected to high pressure & kinetic energy. While other tubes, usually made of 304 stainless steel (good for up to 10 years service normally), might be cheaper, just spend the extra $40 and get something that is 100% corrosion resistant. Think long term!
Some might over look this as simply something tiny, but in the grand scheme of things this is your shifter! If you want a consistent stroke when charging your AR-15, you cannot just buy any charging handle. I have used Radian Weapons (previously AXTS) Raptor charging handles for a few years now and have no found a better one. I recently got one of their LT models, which uses polymer charging nubs instead of metal ones.
I have seen the same rock solid performance with a little less weight. The great thing with the Raptor charging handle is there is no lean to the charging handle when charged either left or right handed. So when you charge it right handed it doesn't bow left and increase resistance. It is a smooth pull every time. They are made made in the USA from aircraft grade 7075 aluminum. Radian only sells ambidextrous charging handles. Which is the only way they should come. Do not get a non-ambidextrous charging handle! I have used BCM Gunfighter charging handles and they work well, I just do not like the nubs on theirs compared to the Radian Weapons.
This is where you can save some weight. A little over an ounce if you go with the V Seven 2055 Enlightened AR-15 Billet Upper Receiver. Made from advanced lithium/aluminum alloy, which is stronger, lighter, more rigid and has greater corrosion resistance than 7075 T6 aluminum. Most AR-15 upper receivers are made from 7075 T6 aluminum. The V Seven does not have a forward assist, which will drive some people crazy. But the reality is you do not need one. If you believe after researching and actually using your AR-15 in classes, etc. than just get one from a reputable company that has a forward assist. I have a M4 upper from V Seven that includes the forward assist on another build. It is 1 ounce heavier and I have never used the forward assist.
While much can be made about so many of these other parts, the lower is really the place where you can save some money in my opinion. Unless you want to save weight or have a space age material. If you go forged, by a respectable company, you will save a little weight. Billet is going to cost more and weigh more. But with a billet lower you get something made out of a block of metal. I would recommend V Seven Weapons, BCM, Anderson, LMT, Aero Precision and Spikes. Funny thing is some of these manufactures make lowers for other companies. So these are a good group to start with looking into.
You need to grab onto something! This will be one of the parts you will interact with most. So make sure you like it! I have used rails from Parallax Tactical, ERA3, 2A Armament, V Seven Weapons, Aero Precision and others. The thing I look for in a rail is simplicity. The more complex, the more to get caught up on things in my opinion. I would go MLOK as it is industry accepted and much lighter than Picatinny rail (I like the 80's but I am not a fan of a full Picatinny rail).
Just remember if you are going to run a suppressor/silencer to pay attention to the rails inner diameter if you are looking to sleeve it. That means if you are going to run say a 15" rail with a 14.5" barrel. The suppressor/silencer has to sleeve inside the rail in this case. Otherwise, if you are not then you can do whatever you want. I like the rail to cover the entire barrel up to the muzzle device. It protects the barrel. Also going from a 11" to a 13.5" or a 13.5" to a 15" rail is super minimal in terms of additional weight. So do not be worried about that.
All you need on a rail is MLOK attachments and sling QD mounts built into it. Simple. If you do not have the QD's built into the rail you will need to add sling mounts which add to bulk and weight. One thing to think of is if you are not looking to run all that super ninja, NODs, etc., then you can look into something like what ERA3 offers, which is no Picatinny rail on the middle portion of the upper picatinny rail.
Saving weight and getting more sleek. One thing to keep in mind is that the rail you are looking at has MLOK on all sides. That means that the 1, 5, 7 and 11 o'clock areas have MLOK capable mounting. Make sure you have options.
Flash hider or brake? That is the question. I believe there is one device on the market that solves both these items. The OSS Bannar Alpha 1 provides great lowering of muzzle flash while giving you fantastic muzzle stability. The other fabulous thing about this muzzle device is it angles the gases out at a 45 degree angle. So team members or say family members can stand beside the muzzle and not be interfered with.
If you are low on cash, there is nothing wrong with the A2 flash hider. Cheap and does the trick. It is at least a good starting point. Do not worry about spending tons of money here, it does not improve anything you are already failing at as a shooter. Improve yourself before looking at muzzle devices!
This is going to be one of the items you use the most. Every time you engage and disengage this bad boy is actuated. You better buy quality. While I have used ones from V Seven Weapons, KE Arms, MILSPEC and Noveske, the Radian Weapons Talon really is the 80's kid's Saturday morning cartoons of the safety selector game. It is always there for you, makes you feel good, and always works.
Best part is it can be 45 degree mounted, for faster selection or someone with ergonomic restrictions. You can also quickly change out the selector switches for smaller or larger ones. You cannot go wrong with the Talon by Radian Weapons.
This is the short coming of many weapon systems. Having an ergonomic and ambidextrous magazine release. This is where training both primary and secondary shooting is important. I run a mixture on my magazine releases. I like a little bigger button, so I run the Magpul Enhanced Magazine Release along with a Badger Ordnance Titanium Magazine Catch. This has worked well for me. A bigger button to assist on secondary use. This is just a slightly bigger area to push, nothing huge. I see trends for bigger is better, and a huge button is bad with inadvertent magazine release. The Magpul Enhanced Magazine Release has proven to be perfect for me.
Buffer Tube System:
Buying a buffer tube might seems simple. But some companies make truly correctly spec'd buffer tubes, and others forget the toy in your happy meal. I have used and trust ALG Defense's True Mil-Spec Buffer Tube. It is made from 7075-T6 aluminum, not 6061-T6 aluminum used by other companies. This means a stronger buffer tube with negligible weight difference (< 3%). If you want to go super light weight, swing back to V Seven Weapons and get their 2055 Lithium/Aluminum buffer tube. It is around $50 more than the ALG Defense True Mil-Spec Buffer Tube.
I have come to love the B5 Systems Bravo stock. This is simlar in size for the Magpul CTR stock, but more robust. I have used Magpul CTR and STR stocks in the past. Along with some other companies. The B5 Bravo just works and keeps on going. If you want storage, then opt for the Enhanced SOPMOD by B5.
You absolutely will not go wrong with a ALG Defense ACT trigger. ACT stands for Advanced Combat Trigger. Slap this in and call it a day. It is relatively smooth, good contact surface and reliable. I have found it to have fabulous pull and consistent trigger return. If you want to go high speed check out CMC Triggers single stage drop in triggers. You can customize it to what you want with bow and weight. Their triggers are almost 100% smooth. As they say "As compared to the competition, the techniques used to establish a 1-2 RMS surface finish as opposed to EDMing which leaves a pitty 32 RMS, compared to a mirror which is 0 RMS." These are bombproof top end triggers.
I like a straighter grip angle. It just feels more natural than the old school angled grip. B5 Systems makes a great, lightweight and simple grip. Magpul always has tons of grips to pick from. But the one I have been running the last two years on my AR-15's is from BCM and it is their Gunfighter grip Mod 3. It works for me, simple design and under $20 for a USA made grip.
This will be a very in depth discussion. Many ways to go, but the one rifle to rule them all means picking one optic in theory. But you could use Kinetic Development Groups quick disconnect optic mounts and use a red dot and scope setup. Switching them out as needed. I will not mention using a magnifier on a red dot as it is clunky and old technology in my opinion. Yes, people use it and it works, but with variable optics now there is no reason for them in my opinion.
I am in the middle of this battle myself. I love my Aimpoint T1 and T2 (I'll be back!). I can keep them on the medium setting for years. If needed, pickup my rifle and I am immediately ready to go. With a variable optic I have yet to find one that can stay on for any considerable amount of time with illumination. That is a huge sticking point for me. Although if your optic has an etched reticle, you will still see it through a weapon light at night. It is just the illumination is such a positive thing that not using it is almost insulting given the investment.
So at the moment, my one rifle to rule them all has a Aimpoint T1 and a SWFA SS 3-9x HD scope. Both are on KDG QD optic mounts. I can do anything with these two optics. But I would really like to just have one that does it all. So I am currently in the middle of testing a US Optics TS-8X 1-8x variable power optic.
We shall see how it holds up in regards to battery life, reliability, consistency, etc. But for this article, I am recommending the dual optic on QD mount's setup. You can always get the red dot, which will satisfy a home defense needs, and then save up for the scope setup at a later date for the SHTF when SkyNet takes over. Stay tuned for the US Optics TS-8X review, if it works out I will be recommending that for the overall one rifle to rule them all.
One of the commandments of gun safety is identifying your target. So have a light on your rifle! With that being said, I believe there are two awesome options out there. I have used both the last few years and have found them dependable. One is a budget option, the other is the best option. For a budget option, look no further than the Streamlight Protac Rail Mount line. For around $100, you get a tape switch weapon light. They have size and lumen options from 300ish lumens, out to 1,000! I recommend more lumens. #AllTheLumens people!
The best option is the venerable SureFire Scout Light. I recommend the M60 Ultra Scout Light. It has 1,000 lumens, super thin body and that rock solid SureFire reliability. Mate it up to a UE07 SureFire tape switch assembly and you are in business. The last weapon light you will need. At least for the next decade probably.
I recommend mounting it with an Arisaka Defense mount. I like their 45 degree mount. It sucks the light close to the rifle rails and can be used anywhere MLOK is mountable. Super light, made in USA and cheap!
To finish this whole thing off is using a Cloud Defense tape switch cable management mount. This will manage your weapon light tape switch cable and lock your tape switch into place. No more zip ties to break and move on you.
This will make this rifle the one to rule them all! Throw it around, bang it about, this tape switch will protect your weapon light investment. Best of all they made models for the Streamlight Protac Rail Mount line and SureFire Scout line.
Since I recommend running an optic, this mean backups sights. Now, there are horrible ones that break a lot and good ones that don't. DO NOT get the cheap ones. So how can you tell the difference? It is simple, is it made of metal or plastic? Get ones made of metal. I like the sleek Magpul MBUS's. They are made from metal, low pro and simple. Zero them to whatever your optic is zeroed too, fold them down, train with them when you hit the range, and save them for whenever you might need them. I also have a set from Noveske that are the same thing as Troy's. They work awesome, but are a little bulkier. Again, they are made from metal. 😉
Duh. 😂. In all seriousness, you need to drive the gun. A rail grip is the way to go. Some people opt for the broom handle stick types, or the many Gripstop knockoffs out there. But the best one, the original one is the Gripstop. Awesome for control of the rifle, or as a barrier stop. Without one you are just going to end up rubbing one out on your AR-15 pole.
There are so many option out there for magazines. Don't go cheap here. This is your livelihood, without this, you have no gas for the engine to run down the track! I have used Lancer, Hexmag, Mission First Tactical, USGI, Magpul, Tango Down and a few others through the years. While they all worked for me, the PMAG Gen 3 is the best. I have had zero concerns with the Gen 3 PMAG. I recommend windowed Gen 3 PMAG's. At around $17 per magazine you can load yourself out for under $100 bucks with magazines that will last you the test of time. The windowed ones allow for you to see what is up with your ammo situation. During a stressful time, remembering round counts can be missed. The window helps you with the ability to quickly look and see where you are and if a magazine swap would be to your benefit.
A great demonstration of the Gen 3 PMAG's dominance is the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center's 2015 Final Report for the M855A1 Conformance Testing on Commercial Magazines which shows the PMAG Gen M3 performed better than the nine other commercial magazines, as well as the service's Enhanced Performance Magazine and its previously issued magazine. (Reference: Military.com).