“Spicing-up” a stock model into a custom AR-15 can be a lot of fun.
Upgrades to the muzzle break, trigger, and sights can be made to modify your weapon to better fit your application.
You can even transform the whole rifle platform into an AR pistol by modifying the barrel and buttstock--or by finding a complete AR pistol kit to simplify the process.
Modifications and personalization make it possible to create both a unique and superior-performing firearm. The only question is how much time, research, and assembly you want to devote to building your dream gun.
AR-15 Base Features
The upgrade possibilities available for you to essentially construct your own custom AR-15 are almost endless. Some of the reasons people opt for this platform as a modification base a include:
Semi-Auto Operation with Full Auto Options
The typical store-purchased AR-15 does not come with the option to select burst or fully-automatic fire. As a semi-automatic rifle by default, it will fire one round per trigger pull.
If you want the fully-automatic action, you’ll have to go through some legal hoops to get approval and or get a hold of a “pre-ban” AR-15 that was made before 1986.
Unfortunately, the rarity of these makes them high-demand (and significantly higher-priced), and still entail legal steps to obtain a fully automatic or burst rifle.
For your average budget and average thrill-seeker, however, semi-automatic firearms can shoot a more-than-satisfactory number of rounds in just a few seconds.
An average stock-model AR-15 magazine carries 30 rounds and is primarily constructed of either metal or polymer. While “trigger-happy” individuals may find the experience far too short-lived, this capacity provides for considerable firing time before you’d need to swap mag’s or reload.
When it comes to shopping for a base to build your custom AR-15 with or outfit using an AR pistol kit, the old adage "you get what you pay for" certainly applies.
Though there are some outstanding “budget” buys and builds, any weapons system is going to need maintenance and repair from time to time. Afterall, operating your base-model or custom AR-15 means you are literally exploding things inside of something else!
Luckily, the AR platform has been around for a long time, and many of the more glaring issues of reliability have been addressed over the years.
On average, you can expect to pay around $600 for a low-end AR-15 model.
While you can find these rifles listed for cheaper, models selling for less than $600 should be purchased with research and extreme caution. Often, unusually low prices signal that the manufacturer made compromises to the quality of the rifle.
This could result in malfunctions that range from the annoying to fatal.
On the other end of the spectrum, top-quality base models can get up into the $3000 range.
If you’re already prepared to pour thousands (yes, plural) into your rifle, however, it may be worth looking into a less-pricey base model and building your custom AR-15 from it.
Custom AR-15: Function
Fortunately for AR-15 owners, the popularity of this platform means there are countless upgrades, modifications, and aftermarket parts available for every square inch of the rifle.
Changing out the trigger, trigger guard, and grip texture are some of the most common custom AR-15 upgrades new owners make.
Grip affects how the gun feels in-hand, which can impact user comfort and control. Grips come in a variety of forms: paddle, ridged, smooth, squishy, hard, more angle, less angle and others. Try out several to find what works best for you.
Triggers come in what’s called “single-stage” or “double-stage” form. This simply describes whether the trigger “gives” before it clicks or “breaks,” releasing the firing pin and shooting the round.
Triggers also have different amounts of pressure needed to “break,” referred to as “trigger weight.” The lighter the weight, the less pulling pressure needed to shoot the gun.
Upgrading the trigger can smooth out your shot for better control, accuracy, and speed. And a trigger guard swap can make for an improved handling experience for larger fingers or when gloves are involved.
Magazine and Safety Operation
Standard stock magazine releases have a reputation for being sub-optimal. If you find you’re having a hard time pressing or finding the one on your AR-15, an extended magazine release can significantly help your ability to reload, or troubleshoot a weapon jam.
Many gun owners think about improving rate of fire, but not necessarily accessibility to secure your AR-15.
Ability to reach the safety with ease can always use a boost, and an ambidextrous safety selector allows you to engage the function on either side of the firearm. This is especially good if you’re a left-handed shooter, but even right-handed shooters can benefit from this upgrade.
Hold And Carry Upgrades
If you’re not in the market for a full AR pistol kit (see below), changing out the rifle buttstock can make a significant difference in how you’re able to stabilize against recoil.
Additionally, upgraded handguards and rail systems can provide better grip for a more stable shot, cut down on the weight of the weapon, and improve ventilation to prevent overheating.
Even when you’re not actively firing, you’ll want to be able to have the gun securely and comfortably held to your body. A high-quality sling can help you keep your hard-earned custom AR-15 safe and snug while you’re in motion.
The AR Pistol Kit Option
One of the unique modification options with the AR-15 platform is the option to turn it into a pistol.
Yes, you read that right.
The good news is that this platform is one of the easiest for sourcing parts to assemble your own custom AR-15 pistol.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of ordering each individual piece required, you can find everything you’re looking for in a complete AR pistol kit. These often include the necessary pistol brace and other accessories to help your firearm comply with ATF “pistol” category requirements.
But please note that your AR-15 Lower must be registered as a pistol--not a rifle--for you to do this legally. You can do this at the time of purchase of the AR lower receiver, or you can go through some paperwork later on.
(For those of you thinking “What about short barrel rifles (SBRs)??” We hear you--stay tuned for a future post specifically on that topic!)
Custom AR-15: Form
Let’s face it, no matter how “bare-bones-” or practicality-minded a person is, we all know gun owners want their weapons to both look and feel the best in their own hands.
One final reason why someone may find the idea of a custom AR-15 so alluring: personalization.
While the basic black or tan rifle might look tactical and sensible, some prefer the “flare-factor” of a customized grip or picatinny rail.
You can add your own personal touch to almost any aspect of a custom AR-15 with skin decals, hydro dipping, anodized or engraved metal and more!
Once you’ve had your fun outfitting your own custom AR-15, we’ll be here to help fill it with bullets--so you’re ready for anything.