Last summer my son John and I visited Rock River Arms just over the Mississippi River from us in western Illinois. We watched AR-15s being built and got to help test-fire rifles on the range. Having seen it done, we decided to try making our own. This summer we drove an hour the other way to Brownell’s, in Montezuma, Iowa, where, with a little adult supervision, we built an AR of our own.
Honestly, the savings aren’t great if you build your own, but like any do-it-yourself project, it’s rewarding. After putting a rifle together you understand exactly how an AR works and you gain a lot of respect for the clever design of this modular, versatile platform. You do save money in the sense that you get exactly what you want to start with, rather than buying a rifle, then replacing a lot of the parts with the pieces you really wanted in the first place.
You can build whatever you want, from a prairie dog rifle to a carbine set up to defend your home from zombie invasion. As Brownell’s Larry Weeks says, the only rule of thumb is, “Put good parts together to get a good rifle.” John and I chose to go the accurate route and built a target/varmint-type rifle with a heavy barrel, custom trigger and adjustable stock. These photos show how we built ours, starting with a pile of parts and ending with a working rifle.
Here is John, outside Brownell’s, in tiny Montezuma. Now 70 years old, Brownell’s has grown from a small gunsmith shop to the producer of a massive 592-page gunsmithing supply catalog.