There seems to be a large number of threads from patriots that are seeking to purchase/build an AR type rifle in some configuration. This post will provide most of the answers to those frequently asked questions.
No doubt this post will be somewhat controversial as I will invariably step on toes in this process and for that I apologize up front but also note that I will not compromise my personal integrity by holding back on the truth.
Obviously this post will be focused on tools that one could trust ones life too this post will not cover ARs that could be used as toys (fun guns for plinking/hunting/target shooting/etc.)
We will start with the characteristics of what it is we are looking for in an AR tool then we will discuss the manufacturers that are making what we want followed by those that are making close to what we want. If the manufacturer is not listed in this post I will not trust my life to it PERIOD. ALL other manufacturers make toys.
The three MOST important parts of the AR are the barrel, bolt and bolt carrier. Consider this the chamber pressure in an AR when it fires is 50,000 PSI that is a force of TWENTY FIVE TONS per square inch - and this is near your face! We only want the highest quality parts to contain those high pressure explosions that occur every time we touch off a round.
OK the barrel assy. We want:
1. Barrel made from 4150 steel
2. Chrome lined chamber and bore
3. 5.56mm chamber
4. Manganese Phosphate coating under the front sight base
5. Forged front sight assy
6. MagParticle inspected
7. 1x7 twist
1. Buy the bolt from one of the Tier Three or above manufacturers listed below.
The Bolt Carrier:
1. MagParticle inspected
2. Covered Firing Pin
3. Solid rear
4. Properly staked gas key
5. Chrome lined cylinder (where the gas rings on the bolt interface with the bolt carrier)
1. Forged 7075 T6 construction (not cast)
2. Mil-Spec true M1913 rails (if flat top)
3. Mil-Spec anodizing AFTER M4 ramps are cut
4. Mil-Spec small parts (forward assist, ejection port cover, etc.)
1. Forged 7075 T6 construction
2. Mil-Spec internals (no target or match grade parts)
Now lets look at manufacturers. There are only TWO manufacturers that are independently checked/tested to ensure they build mil-spec M series longarms (M16A2 and M4). These two manufacturers are Colt and FN. The US government inspectors ensure they build rifles to the spec.
There are other manufacturers that build to the mil-spec but they do so willfully and are not independently inspected to the spec. Some manufacturers build to the exact spec some build to portions of the spec some dont build to the spec at all.
The first category is what we will call TIER ONE manufacturers and are the ONLY two that build to the spec and are independently verified. They are:
1. COLT (only the military/LE rifles the civy Target models are not built to the spec)
Then next category is Tier Two - those manufactures that build to the exact spec but arent verified by US gov inspectors:
1. LMT (Lewis Machine and Tool)
2. BMC (Bravo Machine Company)
Tier Three are companies that build to the spec but dont shoot a proof round through each barrel before it is MagParticle inspected they MagPart inspect a percentage of barrels from each lot.
2. Sabre Defense (this information is confirmed for their "government contour" barrels only)
Tier Four are companies that have 1x7" chrome lined, 5.56 chambers, Proof and Mag Particle every barrel, but do not Parkerized under the Front Sight Base.
1. LMT (Lewis Machine and Tool)
Tier Five companies build close to the spec but dont have 1x7 barrel twist dont shoot a proof load through each barrel (they like CMMG above inspect a percentage of barrels from each lot) and dont Manganese Phosphate coat the barrel under the front sight base:
This company USED to be in the next Tier down - but is has broken from the pack below and now uses 4150 steel barrels - chrome lined. To my knowledge they don't "proof" their barrels, batch or individually - so they aren't quite up with BM - but - they are better than they were!
Tier SevenThese other manufacturers use sub-standard barrel material (4140) chambers that may or may not be 5.56 in short they are rifles that are build under the standard. Having said that these Tier Six companies do build some quality rifles just understand that according the Spec which is how we must judge ARs these are further sub-par than any of the Tier Four and up. The following companies are not listed in any particular order:
1. Stag Arms
2. Smith and Wesson (Stag)
3. CMT (which makes Stag and S&W)
4. Rock River Arms (RRA)
Then there is the Tier Eight companies which I wouldnt recommend to anyone. The Tier Six companies are any AR manufacturer that is not listed above. Note that many parts houses use AR parts made by one of the above manufacturers but they also buy parts made from who knows?? and is not something I would willingly put my life on the line with
So armed with the above information I would suggest the following. Buy the assembled upper from any of the Tier Three and up manufacturers.
Buy ANY stripped lower receiver made by any Tier 6 and above manufacturers.
Get all lower receiver parts (actually all small parts) from any Tier 5 and above manufacturer.
Buy bolts/bolt carriers/barrels from any Tier Three and above manufacturer.
If you prefer to go down to your local gun store and just buy a rifle the only real choice to buy a rifle closest to the Spec is our only Tier Four manufacturer which is Bushmaster.
RRA, Armalite, Stag, et al all build quality rifles but they arent built even close to the same standard that the Tier Three (and arguably Tier Four) and above companies do.
Hope this helps,
edited on Jany 16 2007 in blue
edited on March 14, 2007 in green
edited on April 12, 2007 in orange