This is a complete list of everything you need to build an AR-15 rifle. Underneath each component are suggestions of products the Cheaper Than Dirt! experts use or has used in the past on various AR-15 builds. Of course, our recommendations are not exhaustive. There are so many different ways to configure an AR-15 from mass-produced cheap polymer lowers to mom and pop shops machining custom competition, match-grade parts. Each AR-15 build is going to vary—depending on your reason for building the rifle. Be it a 9mm carbine, destroyer of pigs, long-range precision or simply just a fun toy, this guide will lead you in the right direction.
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1. Stripped lower receiver
The stripped lower receiver is the serial numbered part of the firearm. Buying the lower receiver works the exact same way as buying a completed firearm. AR-15 stripped lower receivers must ship to an FFL dealer. You will have to pass the federal background check before taking possession of a stripped lower.
- CMMG stripped lowers
- Anderson Manufacturing MIL-SPEC stripped lower
- Midwest Industries billet stripped lower
- Spike’s Tactical Zombie lower
- All stripped lowers
2. Lower Parts Kit
To assemble the AR-15 stripped lower, you will need 31 different parts, including the trigger, bolt catch, springs, pivot and takedown down pins, selector switch and hammer. The most convenient way to get all of these parts is by purchasing a full AR-15 lower parts kit. The kits include all 31 items, including a pistol grip and trigger. However, some items you will probably want to discard from the pre-packaged kit and purchase as separate upgrades.
3. Pistol grip
Located behind the trigger guard and at the back of the rifle is the pistol grip. You grasp this with one hand to aid in shooting the rifle. A basic pistol grip is usually included in the lower parts kit, but many find aftermarket grips fit their hand better..
4. Fire control group (trigger)
The fire control group consists of
- Hammer and hammer spring
- Trigger and trigger spring
- Disconnector and disconnector spring
- Two fire control pins
You may use a fully contained trigger unit or individual parts. Fire control group parts are included in the basic lower parts kits. Our experts like to replace the standard trigger group with a match-quality trigger.
The selector is the safety switch and is included in a basic lower parts kit. Left-handed and ambidextrous selectors are available.
6. Bolt catch
The bolt catch stops the bolt from traveling forward when the magazine is empty. The standard lower parts kit includes a basic bolt catch.
7. Magazine release
The magazine release drops the magazine out of the firearm. The standard lower parts kit includes a magazine release.
8. Bolt carrier group
The bolt carrier group holds and moves the bolt. It also resets the hammer. The bolt carrier group includes the bolt carrier, complete bolt, firing pin, carrier pin and gas key. The gas key feeds gas from the gas tube into the carrier and bolt. The bolt carrier group holds the majority of the gas pressure when the AR-15 is fired. It is what makes the AR-15 function and an essential, if overlooked piece. Read more about the bolt carrier group here.
The buffer slows down the bolt on the AR-15, absorbs recoil and reduces wear on the rifle. Buffers come in two different sizes, either rifle or carbine and in four different weights from lightest—the standard—to the heaviest, called an H3 buffer. For an AR-15 chambered in .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO, use the heaviest buffer that allows your rifle to function and consistently lock the rifle’s bolt back. The type of stock you chose for your AR will determine the size of buffer you buy. For an A1/A2 fixed stock, purchase a rifle buffer. For a collapsible or adjustable stock, buy a carbine buffer. If you are building your AR in 9mm, you will need to buy a 9mm-specific buffer assembly.
10. Buffer tube
The buffer tube holds the buffer spring and buffer. Buffer tubes come in three sizes—rifle, MIL-SPEC carbine and commercial carbine. Choose the right size for your stock.
- Technical Grinding and Machining aluminum buffer tube
- Primary Weapons Systems enhanced MIL-SPEC buffer tube
- Leapers UTG MIL-SPEC buffer tube
- DPMS 6 position carbine MIL-SPEC buffer tube
11. Buffer spring
The buffer spring brings the bolt of the rifle forward, allowing the gun to fire follow-up shots. Rifle stocks—A1 and A2—as well as carbine buffer springs are different sizes.
- TAPCO buffer spring
- Guntec buffer spring
13. Barrel nut
The barrel nut holds the barrel to the receiver.
14. Gas block
The gas block directs gases from the barrel to the gas tube and back into the AR-15’s receiver, allowing it to complete the cycling process so another round will fire.
- VLTOR Weapons Systems low profile gas block
- Yankee Hill Machine low profile gas block
- Bravo Company gas block
15. Upper receiver
The upper receiver holds the forward assist, spring and pin, the ejection port cover, the charging handle, barrel, and bolt carrier group. There are many choices when it comes to putting together your upper receiver. You can purchase a complete upper receiver assembly that includes the barrel, an upper receiver that has no barrel, but includes the ejection port cover and forward assist, or you can buy a stripped upper receiver that is just the metal housing for all the parts.
- Texas Black Rifle Company fully assembled upper receiver
- Anderson Manufacturing stripped A3 upper with M4 feed ramps
- CMMG Mk4 upper assembly
- Vltor Weapon Systems MIL-SPEC upper with forward assist
- Rock River Arms complete upper assemblies
16. Upper receiver parts kit
The upper receiver parts kit includes the ejection port door, spring, forward assist parts and sometimes the charging handle. It typically does not include the bolt or carrier.
17. Charging handle
The charging handle moves the bolt carrier that is inside the upper receiver. Its primary function is to pull the bolt carrier back or to aid in clearing a malfunction.
- Del-Ton standard charging handle
- Bravo Company Gunfighter charging handle
- Bravo Company Gunfighter ambidextrous charging handle
18. Gas tube
Gases are directed from the gas block to the bolt carrier via the gas tube. Gas tubes vary in length, coming in rifle, mid-length, carbine and pistol lengths.
Stocks are either adjustable or fixed. Depending on where you live, an adjustable or collapsible stock is illegal. The AR-15 stock goes on the back of the rifle and allowing you to shoulder it.
- Magpul MOE carbine stock
- Mako survival buttstock
- Safariland Super-Stoc collapsible stock
- Mission First Tactical Battlelink Minimalist MIL-SPEC stock
The handguards go around the barrel of the AR-15. It is where you can place your to add accessories, and grip your rifle. Handguards are also referred to as the forend, foregrip or forearm. They protect your hands from burning on a hot barrel. Handguards come in different sizes according to the gas system you choose for your AR-15—rifle, mid-length, and carbine and pistol length handguards. When picking out the parts for your rifle, the gas tube will also come in rifle, mid-length, carbine or pistol lengths. Whichever your gas tube is, buy that size handguard. There are free float and standard handguards. Standard handguards will touch the rifle’s barrel, while free-floating handguards will not. Free-floating handguards are more difficult to install than standard, but you will get slightly better accuracy at longer distances using free float handguards. They also are either smooth or have rails on them. Handguards serve a valid function, however, many people buy them purely on their aesthetic value.
21. Delta ring assembly
The delta ring assembly includes the delta ring, weld spring and snap ring. If you choose free float handguards, you will not need a delta ring assembly.
AR-15 upper receivers come in two different types, either an A2 or A3 (flat top). Its fixed carry handle with integrated iron sights characterizes the A2 upper receiver. The A3 flat top upper has no carry handle, but does have a Picatinny rail installed. The A3 flat top upper allows you to add sights and optics, while the A2 (carry handle upper) does not.
23. Handguard cap
The handguard cap secures the front of standard handguards. It is not needed on free-float handguards.
24. Muzzle device
There are two types of muzzle devices. You may put either a muzzle brake—sometimes called a compensator—or flash suppressor/flash hider on your rifle. The muzzle brake helps reduce recoil and muzzle rise while the flash hider suppresses the visible flash from the barrel when the rifle is fired. Some states restrict flash suppressors, but may allow muzzle brakes. Check your local laws before ordering.
- DPMS compensator
- Primary Weapons Systems compensator
- Bravo Company BCMGUNFIGHTER compensator MOD 1
- Troy Industries Medieval muzzle brake
AR-15 magazine capacity ranges from five to 100 rounds. Some states restrict magazine capacity. Check your state laws before ordering.
Optics for the AR-15 include traditional riflescopes with magnification or electronic red dot and non-electronic illuminated sights that offer no magnification.
- Bushnell Trophy 32mm red dot sight red and green 3 MOA T-Dot reticle
- EOTech XPS2-2 holographic weapon sight
- SureFire weapon-mounted lights
- Magpul MSA sling attachment
- Magpul ASAP sling attachment
- Magpul MOE MVG vertical grip
- Kleen Bore Accu-Wedge receiver buffer
- Wheeler AR-15 combo tool with torque wrench
For instructions on how to install these parts, watch these videos from “Building Your AR Lower Receiver.”
Have you built your own AR-15 rifle? Tell us what your favorite parts are and why in the comment section.
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