My first of several AR build articles focuses building a complete, functioning AR-15 for less than $500. Yes, it is possible and I am going to show you how.
Let me start off by saying this is not difficult. It’s not rocket science and you do not need an engineering degree or have to have worked at NASA for a couple decades. In fact, no tools are necessary for this project. You will also NOT have a Colt LE6920 at the end. What you will have is a lightweight, functional AR-variant for under $500.
Let’s get this party started…..
Looking at putting together a complete AR lower as inexpensively as possible lead quickly to the realization of two things –
1. Polymer versus aluminum can save more than a few dollars(in addition to weight).
2. Buying factory complete can save a few dollars versus individual parts and obviously makes the build much simpler.
It did not take much research to find the logical choice for a polymer, complete lower – the New Frontier Armory LW-15 Gen II. Available for $109.00 with free shipping the New Frontier offers a complete lower receiver that is ready to pin to any upper. I – in fact – have had the New Frontier for several months collecting dust so this put me one step closer to getting Part 1 in front of you as quickly as possible.
From my previous testing of the New Frontier it has worked perfectly on multiple borrowed uppers. So for this project I have no issues with using it.
Similar to the lower – this must be purchased complete in order to save as much money as possible. Since this is a budget build and getting a complete, functional AR for as little money as possible is the goal – well, “complete” it is.
A few details on the upper:
- M4 contoured 16″ barrel, 1:9″ twist, non-chrome lined – made from 4140 cold rolled steel
- flat-top upper
- .223 Wylde chamber – fine for .223 or 5.56
- A2 flash hider
- forward assist
- charging handle
- 8620 heat treated/tempered bolt carrier group
- M4 feed ramps
- ejection port cover
- carbine length handguards
- Price: $309.99
After receiving the AR Complete Upper I inspected it for build quality. I saw no issues with it at all. Everything was smooth and tight. The action was very slick. Of note the BCG(bolt carrier group) came wet – meaning well lubed. I like that. Quality looked great and really no different than my much more expensive Stag.
I placed the AR Complete Upper on the New Frontier Armory LW-15 Gen II. This is incredibly easy as it involves just a couple of pins that are pushed into place once they are mated together. Everything fit perfectly. No wiggle, nothing loose – perfect.
Chrome lining: Some people scoff at the idea of non-chrome lined barrels. I had always heard they were slightly more accurate so I researched the subject. What I found suggested that chrome lining was originally introduced to provide protection against corrosive ammunition. I also found many references to the improved accuracy however I consider this to be a negligible factor. I do not shoot corrosive ammunition thus the lack of chrome lining is a non-factor.
The AR Complete Upper came with a flat top and no rear sight. I tried several inexpensive folding rear sights ordered off Amazon and eBay with no success. They were cheap – and were cheaply made. I finally forked out the funds for a Magpul MBUS rear sight – running under $50. Excellent sight.
I have a ton of different AR magazines and used this build as an excuse to try something new – the Hexmag. Relatively new on the market the Hexmag is gaining popularity in quick fashion. Why? For a few reasons including gun nuts like me love something new, its incredible reliability, and the unique HexID system. The HexID system allows the user to color-code the follower as well as the base plate retention button. Numerous colors are available. Great for someone who is shooting different loads of ammunition as well as different calibers such as 5.56 / .300 Blackout. Price: $11.99
Ammunition for testing was provided by AmmoToGo.com. Supplied rounds were American Eagle 5.56 XM193 Lake City. Check them out – excellent prices and selection.
The Completed Project
Everything assembled and ready to test. Made a trip to Georgia, loaded up a bunch of magazines – including several Hexmags. Then I started pulling the trigger……
Fit & Finish. I placed the AR Complete Upper on the New Frontier Armory LW-15 Gen II. This is incredibly easy as it involves just a couple of pins that are pushed into place once they are mated together. Everything fit perfectly. No wiggle, nothing loose – perfect.
The finish of the New Frontier lower is very good. There are a few minor molding marks which is basically a little excess material left from the molding process. Again – very minor and hardly noticeable. The polymer lower is matte black in color.
The Bear Creek Arsenal Upper finish is excellent. No tooling marks can be found and overall it is right on par with my Stag. The hard coat anodized finish of the upper is not a matte finish but rather a “satin” finish. The contrast with the lower is nice.
Reliability was – flawless. Approx 300 rounds were fired without a single hiccup during this initial testing. Nothing – no failures to eject or failures to go into battery. Just as it should be. Only ammunition fired was the AmmoToGo.com supplied brass XM193. Future testing will certainly try different loads – including steel-cased.
The Hexmag magazines were used and no issues were experienced. They just flat out worked.
Accuracy was just fine. No benchrest testing was performed to see how tight groups could be. I flipped up the Magpul MBUS rear sight, selected the larger aperture, and fired down range 60 yards and punched paper. Off hand firing at 60 yards I was able to consistently hit pie plate sized groups. Hey – I consider this excellent for me and my 45 year old eyes. Mounting a red dot would improve my shooting. Is a pie plate smaller than an upper torso? I think so.
Overall Performance was excellent – especially for a sub-$500 AR. Everything worked. The magazine released worked as expected. The bolt released functioned just as designed. I do want to mention something about the trigger. New Frontier Arms advertises that the trigger breaks at 4.5 pounds. Feels a little more than that to me however it is extremely crisp with virtually no overtravel, and an incredibly short reset. The only issue I have with the trigger group is the usage of polymer. Even the hammer is polymer. Again though I had no problems whatsoever.
Let’s review the cost:
Bear Creek Armory Complete Upper($309.99)
New Frontier Polymer LW-15 Gen II Lower($109.99)
Magpul MBUS Rear Sight ($45.00)
Hexmag 30-rd. Magazine($11.99)
Total: $476.97 ***cost does not include transfer fees or any shipping fees
This build could not have simpler. For someone on a budget building an AR in this manner may mean the difference between having a reliable, functional defensive firearm versus not having one at all.
All components/accessories involved I highly recommend.
Part 2 coming soon……