October 20, 2021

Project 80…As easy as it SHOULD be.

Building a Bare-Bones AR-15 from a hand milled and finished 80% Lower.

There is something incredibly liberating about building your own firearm. It’s an intangible emotion that wells up from inside you the moment you look down at your bench and see before you the product of your own labor and imagination.  However, for those of us that have spent a lifetime living in states where the heavy hand of law and regulation are always looming over you like the sword of Damocles, there is also a feeling of impending doom.

Freedom can take a little getting used to.

It started out a few months ago speaking with a friend about building a rifle for 3-Gun competition.  Something we could construct from the grip up, evaluate, and improve on.  The idea was simple.  Build the simplest form of AR-15 that we could.  Put the least amount of time and money into the project and evaluate its performance.  Then, with every opportunity, install upgraded, aftermarket parts one by one, and review whether or not there was in an improvement from the base line.  We would do this with every installation, constantly reevaluating the rifle to see if the gains we achieved were worth the time and money spent on them.

Our Long Term Goal…

Eventually, we wanted to find out exactly what you could throw into a rifle before it became unnecessary.  COULD we build a $1,200 rifle that could match the performance of a $3,600 rifle?  No?  Well, how much more would we have to do to get to that level?  Would a $2,400 Home-Made package rival that of an elite machine?  No?  Yes?  What could Joe-Gun-Guy do, and how much would he have to spend to achieve the level of performance that you would expect from a one-and-done, drop a big check, and get perfection firearm?

We knew this was not going to be easy, and we knew this was not going to be inexpensive.  With every component we install, we know that it will soon be replaced by the next step up the quality ladder.  Whether it’s the trigger, bolt carrier group, barrel, every part is sacrificial….so much so that by the time this long term project is done, we fully expect to be able to build at least 6 or 7 more rifles.

The reason for this journey awaits us…not only at the finish line, but along the way.

When is enough REALLY enough….or is it ever?

So here is what we started with, and where we are today.

We reached out to our friends at Armed and Safe for a little information on milling our own “80% Lower”.  After a long conversations we decided that we would opt for the Aluminum Lower instead of  polymer option.  Then we were off to the races.  Starting with a very nice Jig, we drilled and milled our 80% until it matched that of a completed unit.  With the base-line budget always in mind, we started with the installation of an Anderson Lower Parts Kit. We then  installed a buffer tube and spring that was donated from an unfinished project.  After getting the lower finished, we gave it a test run.  Installing the upper from another file, we just wanted to check for functionality.  As luck would have it…it worked just fine.

We had to wait a while to get working on the upper, but once we had all our parts in one place, assembly took us no time at all.

We started with a Stripped Upper from AERO Precision, Anderson Bolt Carrier Group and LUTH-AR Upper Parts Kit. We installed a Bear Creek Arsenal Barrel, CMMG Gas Tube and Block. The only few items that we “splurged” on were the charging handle, stock and hand guard.  We couldn’t pass up the Gadsden Logo on the Bastion Charging Handle,or the variable adjustability of the Magpul Stock.





We also decided to take advantage of the flexibility provided by the Timber Creek M-Loc Black Anodized Hand Guard.  While these items were well above our Basic-Budget-Build Parameter, we also took into consideration that these parts in and of themselves will not effect the overall performance by significant enough margins, so using them throughout the course of the future builds, the playing field would be even.  After all of the milling, installing and building completed, today, we get to the range to see how well we did.  If we can get through the first few rounds without a catastrophic failure, we’ll know we’re on the right track.


Here is the video of our very first shots with our newly built Upper.

The intention was just to prove functionality and maybe zero the rifle in at 75 feet.  The next step will be putting some rounds out at distance, maybe 100-150 yards.  Then, we are going to turn up the pressure and see what a Basic-Built AR-15 is capable of in the hands of a skilled 3-Gun Competitor.  Now, even though we started to do this as a budget conscious build, we still wound up spending a little bit more than what we had originally budgeted.  If we kept a few of our options such as the stock hand guard, sights, and charging handle mil-spec, we would have saved $250.  We could have also shaved off a few bucks on the upper, but none of these parts will greatly effect our results.  As it stands, what we have before us is a rifle that comes in right around $950…$600 if we skimped.

Here is the video of us milling our Aluminum 80% Lower, and original test firing.

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Here is a great article from our friend…the 20 Interesting Handguns for 2019  The FireArmGuy,

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