Need advice, please: good low-cost AR15?


December 9, 2004, 10:08 PM
Hi, folks. A friend of mine wants an AR-15 for Christmas, and his wife has approached me and a few other friends to see whether we can't come up with enough money between us to get him one. However, we're going to battle to come up with more than $500-$600.

What worthwhile AR-15 clones are available in that price range (if any)? Are they worth buying? If not, what is the lowest-cost AR-15 clone that you would consider a "good buy", and what sort of price is it? (Please provide links to dealers, etc. if you can quote a good price.)

Many thanks.

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December 9, 2004, 10:27 PM
I hear you can build one for not too much money.

December 9, 2004, 10:31 PM
You can easily build it yourself and save a bunch of bucks.

Check SARCO for AR15 "kits" that have everything but the lower receiver for about $350. Check or E.A Arms for lower stripped receiver for under $100. A lower kit will cost about $60. So, that should do it. You can whip that baby together in about an hour and have a working AR15.


December 9, 2004, 10:36 PM
I recommend Olympic, you should be able to find something in that price range. The only one of their models I would stay away from is the "Plinker" it is their lowest price model, but it has a cast receiver and some other cheap parts that they don't use in their better models. They do carry a lifetime warranty and from all the reports I've heard their customer service is great. I had a PCR-2 that I paid $650 LNIB for, and taking a quick look around auction arms/gunbroker there are quite a few around for less than that.

December 9, 2004, 10:36 PM
Go here and get a Stag lower $85.
Must be shipped to a FFL. Figure about $15-35 for the transfer.

Then go to or

and order a AR-15 Kit of your choice . . .

$375-$500 depending on the options you choose.

The kit will have all the parts for the lower.

The insturctions for installing the lower parts are here:

If you're really lazy, you can buy the Stag lower already assembled for $139 without the stock which will come with the kit you choose. The whole thing is very easy, and cost effective. Depending on your choices, you'll spend between $500 and $600, right on budget.

I bought a Bushmaster for my first AR, but built my second after the ban fell. If I could do it all over again, I would have just built my first one and spent the extra $200-$300 on cool accesories.

December 9, 2004, 10:41 PM
How much "build" are we talking about for the lower? Just the fire control system? Maybe the mag release also? Thanks.

December 9, 2004, 10:49 PM
Trigger, Hammer, Safe fire selector, bolt catch, Mag Release, Pistol Grip, Screw the stock on and put the pins in to attach the upper. Its all a matter of a few punches. Very easy. Don't let people talk you out of it. The only tools needed are a good set of punches. Brownells sells a set for $30.

December 9, 2004, 10:50 PM
i'm just a broke college student w/ a wife and 2 kids, and a penchant for guns. i don't like the 223, and i don't like ar's. but... when the ban expired, i got 3 of 'em (principle of the matter, i guess).

here's how i did it... got 3 stag arms lowers from (they give a discount on orders of 3 or more, shipping was the same, and my ffl charges $10 per transfer, not per gun, so multiple lowers made sense). i believe the lowers were about $75 each.

then, i went to arfcom to get the instructions for assembling the lower parts kit, and tried to get a rra lpk, but surprise, nobody had rra's lpk's in stock (awb expiration and all), so i went w/ armalite kits from ... these were more expensive ($65), and shipping prices were ridiculous ($12), but everything arrived quickly. there was no discount for an order of 3 or less...

so, we're at $140 now...

then i went to and ordered the uppers (one at a time though, uppers are expensive) and got a 5.56 nato, chrome lined, flash hider, aluminum free float tube, 16" flat-top h-bar for $435. $575 so far...

next i procured a collapsible stock and 2 dozen 30-round mags. don't recall the price on this, but most of it was ate up by the mags, since stocks can be had for pretty cheap.

ways to cut costs... you can get full kits from a few sources that include everything except the stripped lower for about the same money as i paid for just my upper alone.

at any rate, i'm completely new to ar's, and since i'm really not that much of a fan of them, i don't care to get too involved w/ them, and even i was able to build a functioning version of my own. advise you consider it. it should be no problem whatsoever to get a brand new ar for $600 total, and i'd venture a guess and say that $500 is do-able, and if you don't mind used, my brother built his first one (interestingly enough, he shares my sentiments re: the 223 and ar's, but the principle of the matter, y'know??) for right at $400...

December 9, 2004, 10:59 PM
Do you guys feel that these built ones work as well as the factory produced?

December 9, 2004, 11:05 PM

Mine is a parts-build and it functions beautifully. I built the lower from parts. I ordered a bolt, bolt carrier & charging handle online and purchased a parts-built upper from a guy on Put it all together, had a gunsmith double-check and that's all it took.

December 9, 2004, 11:09 PM
Perhaps the cheapest way is to buy a stripped lower ($80), parts kit ($60), furniture (A1 buttstock, traingle handguards, A1 pistol grip- $50) and surplus M-16A1 upper ($300). This'll get you a lightweight, accurate rifle a chrome lined bore, chamber, and Colt quality for $500 or so. Plus, M-16A1s look so sweet!

(Photo courtesy of Oleg Volk)

December 9, 2004, 11:20 PM
intune- absolutely.

why do handloads perform better than factory junk? because the loader can tightly control all variables, and produce a superior product. and so it goes w/ ar-15's...

December 10, 2004, 12:40 AM
Aw, man, why do ya'll do this to me right before Christmas when the fam is asking me what I want from Santa! Is there a location where I can get most of the parts from or is it a scavenger hunt?

December 10, 2004, 12:47 AM
there's a lot of places to get the lowers from... some people are really turned off by the buck symbol on stag arms, but i don't mind it. mine was from - they also have other brands, too...

everything else can come from or ...

December 10, 2004, 12:55 AM
I got an Olympic Arms plinker for $599 at a gun show last weekend, which seems to be a good entry level AR. I'm pleased with the quality of mine. Some say the finish of the Olympic is not as good as that of a Bushmaster, but it shouldn't be an issue if the weapon is well maintained.

December 10, 2004, 08:14 AM
A few thoughts here.

I would recommend maybe getting him something else for Christmas. Not that an AR is a bad idea, just the opposite, I think they are great and but getting a quality AR for $500-$600 bucks in less than a month (and 3 months after the AWB expired) when you do not know much about them is risky at best.

People like to complain about AR's not being reliable but they go out and buy cheap kits\parts. A gun is only as good as it's weakest part. Model1 sales is well known for selling cheap kits. When I say cheap, I'm not talking about price. Before you guys who have built Model1 kits jump all over me, that doesn't mean you can't build a reliable AR using one of their kits. I'm just saying its a risky proposition. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with building your own, (I built both of my AR's) but "kits" generally take too many shortcuts in the quality dept IMHO.

I also want to comment on the Olympic plinker model mentioned above. One of the reasons it is inexpensive is because it uses a cast, as opposed to forged, lower receiver. For a safe queen it's probably not a big deal but if you plan on using this gun as a tool then I would avoid a cast lower. (personally I would avoid a cast lower regardless)

If you really want to get him an AR for Christmas, I suggest you find a way to get a Bushmaster. They have the best compromise between cost and quality and after Colt, have the best resale value. Expect to spend around ~$850 depending on model (assuming you can even find one right now).

Sorry I couldn't be more positive. Good luck.

PS - Avoid anything from Hesse\Vulcan Arms like the plague!!!

December 10, 2004, 08:28 AM
I built mine in about 1 hr. and had never seen one or held one. All of the tools I already had, hammer, drift pin, and a block of wood. Check out and all of the info you could ever want is there.

Bartholomew Roberts
December 10, 2004, 09:59 AM
Do you guys feel that these built ones work as well as the factory produced?

They can work as well as factory built models; but it doesn't always turn out that way. I guess what I am trying to say is you don't get something for nothing. Parts houses don't have the same volume of sales as outfits like Colt or Bushmaster. The reason they can still sell parts cheaper is because those aren't the same parts.

I used to work for an FFL building AR15s from Nesard (which has since splintered into several different AR parts houses) parts kits and Bushmaster, Olympic, and Pac-West lowers (depending on who was cheapest any given day).

The FFL was essentially a fellow college student and "kitchen-table" FFL. The first few rifles we built with nothing more than the square armorers wrench that goes over a socket wrench and a telestock wrench - no other specialized tools. Our only formal training was a copy of the military armorers manual. Neither one of us had even adjusted our own sights before this...

The great thing about ARs is even with the equivalent of trained monkeys with limited tools building them and parts that were of questionable quality and dimensional variations, you can still build ARs that will work pretty well and cheaply. However, the percentages that you get a lemon are higher.

To use an example, a bolt from Model 1 will run me $45. A bolt from Bushmaster will run me $52.95 and a bolt from Colt will set me back $125. The difference in cost also reflects some different approaches to QC. A Colt bolt will be proof-tested, magnafluxed, and will have to meet the mil-spec dimensions. The Bushmaster will have to be of the proper dimensions but won't get any additional testing. The Model 1 bolt (if my past experience with Nesard is any indications) may well be a reject from Colt or Bushmaster and deviations from dimensions will be more tolerated.

In effect, when you buy a cheap part, you are basically placing a bet that the money you save on that part will be more than you will have to spend if the part fails prematurely. The good news is that unlike most gambling, the odds are in your favor for this bet. The bad news is that the lower you go trying to save money, the higher the risk you lose that bet.

As long as you understand this and don't mind accepting that risk, you will be happy buying from part houses. However, if you think you are buying something equivalent to a factory built rifle from one of the larger manufacturers, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you are cutting corners on an AR but still want to boost your odds, you can opt to replace some more critical parts (like the bolt) with better quality parts as you can afford them. When I am helping someone get into ARs on a budget. We usually price out the cheapest options we can get and then take any leftover budget and use it to upgrade the bolt, bolt carrier group, buffer, barrel, and upper receiver (in that order - though usually the extra budget is burnt out long before you can upgrade a barrel or upper). There are other parts that fail more commonly than these (particularly springs); but they can generally be replaced cheaply and easily and don't often lead to failures that cripple the rifle.

Master Blaster
December 10, 2004, 10:02 AM
Find a local dealer who sells Bushmaster lowers they should be 295-325
depending on the stock.

Order a RRA upper from ADCO A-4 20" No ban for $375.

Now you have a great AR-15 from two top companies that stand behind their product for $675-700 and all you have to do is push the take down pins in.

Master Blaster
December 10, 2004, 10:05 AM
Perhaps the cheapest way is to buy a stripped lower ($80), parts kit ($60), furniture (A1 buttstock, traingle handguards, A1 pistol grip- $50) and surplus M-16A1 upper ($300). This'll get you a lightweight, accurate rifle a chrome lined bore, chamber, and Colt quality for $500 or so. Plus, M-16A1s look so sweet!

Nate dog where are you getting the M-16 A1 for $300??? CDNN has them but you then have to buy a Bolt and Bolt carrier for another 100-175.

December 10, 2004, 11:00 AM
You guys got me all pumped to build my own AR now!! I just hope I can wait till after Christmas!!

December 10, 2004, 11:51 AM
I occasionally take part in "carbine" shoots, where, hands down, the most popular rifle is an AR15 clone.

I see A LOT of malfunctions of one sort or another. Nine out of ten malfunctions occur with "home built" frankenrifles.

I've concluded that it IS possible to assemble a good AR15 yourself, but if you're inexperienced or got a "bargain" on some parts, the odds of getting a jammamatic are pretty high.

Your $500 - $600 gift rifle may end up in this category.

December 10, 2004, 12:40 PM
There's so many different configurations, why not get him a stripped lower and fire control kit and a gift certificate for the other $550 so HE can decide whether he wants a 20" HBAR or an M4gery or whatever?

December 10, 2004, 05:05 PM
I recently got the bug to shoot 3 gun matches. After exploring the cheap options of Century Arms reject; G3’s, FNFAL, & CETME then the Romanian AK’s and SAR’s I determined that there is a reason why most people shoot AR’s in 3 gun; ammo is cheap, they can be fairly reliable and are very easy to get to group well out to 200yards. What I couldn’t understand is whey they would pay $800~$1000 on a new AR to shoot at a match once a month. Spend $800 to $1K on my carry gun definitely on a gun I’m going to shoot competitions with 8 days a year? NO!
So I’m looking to build an AR for under $700 and I am looking at an RRA lower with the NM trigger and a Bushmaster A3 Dissapator upper. I’ll hopefully save myself $200 which I will probably spend on a red-dot optic. This is a trade off, the gun does not have to be 110% reliable and its not my primary home defense gun so if it chokes occasionally and doesn’t cause me $200 worth of heartburn it’s a good deal.
Just my $.02

December 10, 2004, 05:16 PM
the newest cdnn catalog shows they have found some colt uppers, brand new, 20" chrome, flash hider, bayonet lug, sp1 sights, triangular handguards, $400.

December 10, 2004, 09:26 PM
I disagree with the ideas that you should just up and buy a bushmaster. I did just that and don't get me wrong, its a great rifle, but it was no more reliable than the one I built myself. No gun is trustworthy until taken to the range and tested under different conditions (full mag, half full mag, dirty, clean . . .). Most AR jams occur because people don't clean their rifles or because of bad mags.

These ARs are a good starting place. Its the same reason I bought a lee aniversary set to start reloading. The same reason I bought a Rock Island as my first 1911. They are good places to start. If everything cost as much as a Bushmaster, a Kimber, or a Dylon Press, very few people would be shooters and reloaders. Start out with a model 1 upper, enjoy it, shoot the hell out of it and save up for a different upper or different gun. Or with the 200-300 dollars you saved put a fancy scope or red dot on it.

April 1, 2005, 04:52 PM
What are the prices doing since Sept?
Preacherman: What did your friend get for Christmass? An ar15 lower + cash + 3 kinds of ammo?

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