Learning to Build Your Own AR-15 – A Survival Staple

Building an AR-15 Survival Rifle

A survival AR-15 is a fantastic rifle. The only caveat is this: You must build it the right way. What constitutes a good survival rifle? Find out below. We’ll show you the formula you need to build a survival AR-15. Worry not, it’s affordable, reliable, and easy to do.

Step 1: Pick The Right Cartridge for Your Survival AR-15!

The AR-15 market has exploded, and you can even find black rifles chambered in 7.62×39 (Very taboo). Don’t be swayed by the cool-guy rounds, though. Stick with the simple stuff if you want a good survival rifle. The 5.56 NATO cartridge was designed as a light hunting round, but it works well against most American game (and people, if S really HTF). This little cartridge can hit up to 500 yards. The 5.56 NATO chamber and bore can also safely handle .223 Remington, so it should be your choice when you build your survival AR-15.

Sticking with this gold standard will ensure you have the right foundation for a good survival rifle. The 5.56 and .223 cartridges are cheap, universal, and plentiful. They’ll be easy to scrounge up in a pinch. You can carry a lot of them without tipping the scales and they run just fine in a compact and lightweight rifle, too.

Step 2: Piece Together (Or Buy) Your Upper

Your AR-15’s lower receiver is technically the “firearm” of the whole thing, but your AR-15’s upper is where all the magic happens. You’ll need the following components:

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1. Stripped upper receiver
2. Forward assist (if applicable)
3. Dust cover (if applicable)
4. Bolt carrier group
5. Charging handle
6. Gas tube
7. Gas block
8. Chambered Barrel
9. Muzzle device (if applicable)

Together, these components form the piece of your black rifle that can take a 5.56 or .223 cartridge, chamber it, let you aim it and shoot it, and cycle another round. Here’s the nice part: You can buy the perfect, pre-built AR-15 upper receiver and have it shipped to your front door – no paperwork or FFL stuff required. Even a ready-to-fire upper isn’t considered a firearm.

The Right Upper Configuration

Building an AR-15 upper is easy, like putting together adult Legos or K’Nex. Putting together a reliable, accurate, survival-ready upper requires the right formula. Since we’re building a rifle based on 5.56 and .223, we’re going to want the following specifications:

1. 16” barrel with 1:7” or 1:8” twist rate
2. Free-float Picatinny rail
3. Chrome-lined bore and chamber
4. Mid-length gas system
5. M16 bolt carrier group
6. Forged 7075 T6 upper receiver

So, why this exact setup for a survival rifle? For starters, the 16” barrel is the minimum legal barrel length for a rifle but it maximizes velocity and accuracy without feeling too heavy, long, and cumbersome. The 1:7” and 1:8” twist rates effectively handle heavy and light ammo with good accuracy, while the chrome lining extends barrel life, resists rust and corrosion, and allows for rapid fire without excessive rifling wear.

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The mid-length gas system ensures reliable cycling and feeding while offering less felt recoil and reducing wear-and-tear on your upper’s parts. It also reduces carbon fouling, which, when built up, is the #1 cause of AR-15 failures and jams. That free-float Picatinny rail provides some meat and strength for your rifle as it gets banged around, without affecting accuracy. The heavier M16 bolt carrier group stands up to more abuse (compared to the standard AR-15 BCG), as does the forged 7075 upper (compared to a billet or 6061 upper).

Step 3: Machine or Buy Your Stripped Lower

Did you know you can build your AR-15’s lower at home, and it’s 100% legal to do so? You don’t need any licenses, paperwork, FFL stuff, background checks, or government red tape. Seriously, it’s completely legal.

You can buy an 80% lower, which is not considered a firearm, have it shipped to your front door, and finish machining that 20% needed with a router, to make it functional in the safety of your garage or living room. You don’t even have to serialize your stripped lower or register it with any government agency (though you should double check your local and state laws).

If that doesn’t sound fun (Which it is!) then can buy a stripped or pre-built lower. We always recommend the former – after all, piecing your lower together is easy and it saves you some cash. If you just want a once-and-done solution, you can pick up a pre-built lower online or from your local gun store.

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The Right Lower Configuration

Again, we’re building a survival rifle version of an AR-15, so your lower should be robust, rugged, simple, and reliable. We’re not looking at crazy competition drop-in triggers and carbon fiber lowers. Here’s what we’d buy for our survival black rifle:

1. Standard Lower Parts Kit
2. 7075 T6 Forged Lower
3. Adjustable Buttstock & Tube

A Standard Lower Parts Kit will prove to be easy to clean and maintain. It also guarantees reliability because almost all Standard Lower Parts Kits use the same design found in the military-issued M16 and M4, sans the auto sear. A forged 7075 T6 lower will be a tad more rugged and withstand hard bumps and knocks, while an adjustable buttstock and tube allow you to ensure you’re getting the perfect length of pull for a good sight picture, while still affording a compact rifle.

Final Thoughts

This was a relatively brief overview of buying “the right stuff” for a good survival AR-15. Piecing together your upper and lower (if you go that route) requires some more detail, which we’ll get into soon. Keep this in mind: Whatever components you buy, do your own research. See what buyers are saying, and see if they give it a stamp of approval on reliability and accuracy. Once you’ve put together your rifle, test-fire it and get used to it. Find any faults and fix ‘em. Good luck.


The author

Tyler Capobres has years of experience torture testing guns, knives and gear to their limit. If he's not writing about gun projects, reviewing products or mocking anti-gun zealots on Twitter, you'll find him at the range. Owner of thegoodgun.com, a website dedicated to all gun and knife enthusiasts. Author of "Punching Holes", a book showing how anyone can save 15-40% on guns, ammo, knives and more, by purchasing them at wholesale prices.

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