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Building an AR-15 with Anderson Manufacturing

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Building an AR-15 is something of a rite of passage for gun owners. It’s the step that takes you from a casual enthusiast to an aficionado and provides a deeper understanding of the system that you just can’t get from shooting a rifle. 

Thankfully, while high-dollar custom builds may be all the rage, you don’t have to break the bank to build an AR-15. With Anderson Manufacturing, you can piece together your own custom rifle from tough, reliable components with a very reasonable price point. 

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Why Build an AR-15?

There are a whole myriad of reasons to build your rifle rather than buying one off the shelf. 

The first, and arguably the most significant, is the potential for customization. It’s no different than buying a bespoke suit compared to one off the rack—the one designed specifically for you is always going to fit your needs better than one designed to appeal to a broad base of customers. 

Building your rifle allows you to pick and choose every component that goes into it, creating a firearm perfectly tailored to your needs. If what you need is a rifle with a 16″ barrel with a full-length M-LOK handguard and basic controls, then sure, a perfect pre-built rifle should be easy to find. If, on the other hand, you want a less common length such as 12.5″ or 13.7″, you might find considerably fewer options. 

Similarly, you’ll struggle to find complete rifles that feature things like adjustable gas blocks or ambidextrous controls, unless you’re willing to pay a premium for a top-of-the-line rifle. With a custom build, you can pick and choose where to spend your money. 

But beyond the value of being able to customize your rifle, building it yourself provides an in-depth education into the inner workings of your firearm. Assembling the rifle from its bare components helps facilitate an understanding of how each part interacts with the whole system. 

Moreover, building the rifle yourself teaches you the steps involved in properly installing each and every part—which could be invaluable if you ever have to replace a damaged or worn-out part down the line. Being able to fully service your rifle will both save you money and time over the long run, particularly if you shoot a high volume of rounds. 

Lastly, while it’s not a universal benefit of building your own AR-15, we find it to be just plain fun. The AR-15 is a wonderfully engineered rifle, which makes assembling it a breeze. It can be done by professional and novice armorers alike with proper guidance and provides a sense of ownership and personal satisfaction that buying a complete rifle simply can’t. 

If you’re the type to enjoy tinkering with your car, fixing your own plumbing, or carpentry on the weekends, you’ll love building your rifle. 

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Understanding Anderson Manufacturing 

Anderson Manufacturing is one of the older names in AR-15 manufacturing and one of the most widely recognized. They’ve built their reputation on affordable, no-nonsense components that deliver consistent performance time and time again. 

Anderson AR-15 lower receivers, easily recognized by their distinctive pony logo, are among some of the most popular lowers for builders, beloved for their consistent quality and unbeatable value. The same goes for many of their other components, from handguards, to barrels, to triggers. 

Beyond offering rock-solid components, Anderson also offers complete rifles, as well as fully assembled upper and lower receivers for builders who want to dip their toes but aren’t quite ready to build from scratch. 

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Essential AR-15 Parts 

When it comes time to build your rifle, there are a few key components that have an outsized impact on the overall result of your rifle. Chief among these are the barrel, receivers, and handguard. 

It’s hard to argue that any one component has a greater effect on the performance of a rifle than the barrel. The length and profile will have a significant impact on the rifle’s weight and balance, while the design and overall quality will be one of the primary determinants of accuracy. Anderson Manufacturing offers barrels in popular lengths such as 14.5” and 16” with a variety of profiles and finishes. 

The handguard, while less impactful than a barrel, certainly, has a similar defining effect on the overall feel of the rifle. A free-floated, full-length Picatinny rail will be significantly heavier than a traditional clamshell, but offers a reduction in felt recoil as a result of that weight and the ability to more easily mount accessories. 

An M-LOK handguard, on the other hand, can offer a balance between the two, providing a lighter solution than a Picatinny rail while still allowing for easy mounting of accessories. Altering the length can help trim a few ounces, too.  

Anderson also offers a variety of options when it comes to receivers, both upper and lower. Your receivers serve as the foundation of your rifle build, the bedrock upon which everything is built. Unlike other components, they’re also exceptionally difficult to change after the rifle is built, since that would require stripping off every single part and essentially rebuilding the rifle, so it’s important to choose a good set from the start. 

A good receiver can be as simple or complex as you like, but basic, mil-spec lower receivers are perfectly serviceable for the vast majority of rifles. 

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Building an AR-15 

Building an AR-15 can be as simple or as complex as you like. Technically, you can order a complete upper from your company of choice and an Anderson, fit them together, snap in the takedown pins, and call yourself a builder, and you aren’t wrong. But, that won’t afford you the same experience as building from scratch. 

Some new AR-15 builders will choose to purchase a stripped upper, like these Anderson uppers, and assemble the rifle from scratch. However many first-time builders opt to assemble their lower receiver themselves and purchase a pre-built upper, often from an entirely different company, to install onto it. This lets them ease into the process and start with a less tool-intensive assembly to build confidence before moving on to a full build. 

If you’re ready to get your hands dirty with a build, we recommend starting with our guides on How to Assemble an AR-15 Lower Receiver and How to Assemble an AR-15 Upper. These guides will walk you through every step of the process, from planning your build and acquiring the best AR-15 tools to building and troubleshooting. 

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Attaching Accessories 

Just because your rifle is built doesn’t mean it’s finished. To really complete a build, you need to outfit it with not only the essential parts but also the accessories required to allow it to perform its planned role. This often means iron sights or optics and a sling, as well as sometimes a weaponlight, IR unit, foregrip, bipod, or any number of other things. 

Chief among these is some manner of optic or iron sights. Your rifle might be built, but you can’t call it range-ready without some way to aim it. 

We, of course, will recommend Primary Arms Optics. Whether you want a red dot, scope, or something in between like the SLx 1x MicroPrism, Primary Arms Optics has got you covered with a variety of options and some of the most capable and effective reticles available. All PAO products are backed by an incredible lifetime warranty, so you can have confidence it will last every bit as long as your Anderson rifle. 

After an optic, slings are the next most common quick and easy upgrades for AR-15s. For a firearm that is only ever used at the range, a sling might not be strictly necessary, but if you use for rifle in the field, in home defense, or even just for training at a dynamic range rather than a static one, a sling is a must-have. 

Slings are largely a matter of personal preference and can be as cheap or expensive as you prefer. 

If you plan to use for firearm for home or personal defense, or if you even just think there may be a possibility that you may one day use your rifle defensively, we wholeheartedly recommend installing a weapon light. You cannot shoot what you cannot see, and since we essentially never get any say on the time of day or scenario in which we will need to defend ourselves, equipping your rifle for use in the dark is essential for all defensive applications. 

Other accessories like foregrips and bipods are largely a matter of use case and user preference. For a benchrest rifle or a precision gun, a bipod is often a very good investment. Likewise, if you prefer a foregrip or handstop to help establish a more secure grip, by all means, install one. 

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Building an AR-15 offers a lot of benefits. You can save money, customize your rifle to fit your needs, and create combinations of features not often seen on the pre-built market. Beyond that, though, building your rifle with your own two hands allows you to understand it on a level that simple shooting just can’t deliver. 

If you’ve never built an AR-15, it may be well worth your while to try it. The skills and experience gained will pay dividends in the long run as you learn to do your own maintenance, change out your own parts, and ultimately better work with your rifle.