Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Doctor Z. SHTF Zombie Apocalypse AR15 Build - Part 3

or, Pimpin' (and Uppers) Ain't Easy!

So - uppers.

AR15 uppers are hard, dude.

There's so many variations and levels of quality, it's almost mind-numbing.

There are two basic types of upper receivers - an A2 and an A3/A4. An A2 is the type most people are familiar with and that you see on most M16's. The have a carry handle on top of the receiver. The A3/A4 upper is a flattop upper -- which means it has no handle and is flat with a piece of rail on the top to attach optics and other accessories to. The A2 is a classic style, and the A3/A4 flattop is more common with tactical applications because it's modular and you can mount stuff to it.

Sort of.

You see, technically, the names are wrong and vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. TECHNICALLY - the A2 refers to the M16A2, which it has a handle and is the full military version (meaning it's full auto...or, has the giggle switch!)

The A3, TECHNICALLY, is supposed to be the civilian, handle topped A2, just not rock and roll full auto. The A4 is flattop, semi auto.

This is all semantics and gun weenies get into internet fist fights because of this. Suffice it to say -- in the civilian world:
-- A2 - Has a handle
-- A3/A4 - -Has a flat rail.

Another consideration is barrel length.

Again - the standard M16 configuration of an AR replicated the longer, more accurate 20 or 18 inch barrels. While this is great for longer range shooting, it's not so great in CQC (close quarters combat). The alternative to the longer barrels is to go either carbine length or SBR. Carbine length is a shortened 16 inch rifle that's great for tactical applications, and the SBR is a short barreled rifle as defined by the ATF. Anything under 16 inches is an SBR of it has a stock on it and requires paperwork, a signature of your local chief law enforcement officer, and a $200 tax stamb.

You'll notice I said that it has to have a stock on it. It is possible to get around this by not putting a stock on your 12, 10, or 8 inch barreled AR. It's called an AR pistol then, but it still has the dorky buffer tube sticking off of the back. And it's interesting to note that even having an AR15 stock in the house with an AR15 pistol, whether you intend to attach it or not, is a felony. Let me repeat that. It's a felony to try and circumvent the feds here.

Just saying...

Anyway - that brings us back to MY choices.

I decided early on that I wanted a 16inch carbine length flattop, and that never changed.

It was the perfect length, with the perfect setup for the optics I was looking to get. Mainly, I wanted to use a red dot scope I had laying around with BUIS (back up iron sights).

So that never changed.

But then the shopping started.

I had to decide whether I was just going to buy an assembled upper and snap it into the pins on the lower, or build an entire upper from scratch.

Cost-wise, building from scratch was probably going to be the best bet -- but with one big exception: Tools.

To build an upper, you need a few more specialized tools than with a lower. You need a barrel wrench, a torque wrench, headspace gauges, vice blocks, and a few other things. When I calculated in the cost of this, with the cost of parts -- it was readily apparent that it was cheaper to just buy one prebuilt.

So I began the search and found that I was looking at $500 or so for an assembled mid range upper. (Remember - I wasn't building a low quality rifle.. I wanted at least a marginal bump in quality.) That alone would have blown my budget of keeping my gun in the $600 range. So I began looking for used ones, and even seriously reconsidered building my own... but then I found DS Arms.

DS Arms is a company with a solid reputation as the premier builder of FAL rifles. This last October, they decided to expand their business into the AR realm, and began offering a complete upper for... wait for it... $275.

That's right. $275.

I couldn't pass it up as it was nearly half of what I was seeing anywhere else.

Their uppers included a flattop upper, round handguards, a Nitride coating (similar to the Tennifer coating Glock uses on all of their handguns), and was named the ZM4 upper. ZM was close enough to ZoMbie to make me tingle with geekish delight.

The problem was -- I didn't have the money. To make things worse, it was looking like the offer for the uppers was a limited time thing. They'd had a cheaper, not nitrided version available for $255, but they'd pulled it. It was only a matter of time before the offer was done.

So I began saving money here and there from the sale of my books, various odd jobs, and some embezzling of household funds. By embezzle, I mean I begged the wife for some money. In actuality, I somehow actually convinced Mrs. Zombie to allow me to get my own checking account and allow me to direct deposit like $20 a pay. She was actually happy to do so because she was getting tired of my using the household account for gun part purchases.

You see, PayPal is aggressively anti-gun and anything even remotely gun related results in an account ban. So every time I needed a part, I was transferring money from my PayPal account to our checking account... and it was only a matter of time before I managed to forget to tell her I'd transferred money and she spent it on something frivolous -- like the electric bill, property taxes, or mortgage.

So I managed to save the money and DSA still had them for the ultra-low price of $275! A quick call to their customer service number let me know that they were basically making them as they got the orders. If I ordered then, it would be a 3 to 4week wait on the upper as they assembled it.

I figured that was a good thing. It'd give me a little time to save up for my Bolt Carrier Group, charging handle, and rear BUIS (back up iron sight).

Soooo... I ordered it on 7/2. Surprisingly, they charged my credit card (meaning they'd made my upper! on 7/13.

Unfortunately, at this point I received nothing further, so I called on 7/16. I know - I was a little impatient. Jason in DSA Customer Service printed a shipping label while I was on the phone and assured me it would go out that day. (So my impatience paid off. Just saying.... )

Shipped 7/16
Received 7/21

I came home on the 21st to this on the front porch....

What's in the box? WHAT'S in the BOX?!?

I opened it up and, lo and behold, I've got a mostly complete AR15.

The fit and finish are nice and I'm as giddy as a school girl!

Almost ready to kill the ravenous, moaning zombie hordes!

Total Build Cost To Date

FFL Transfer Fee for Lower $25
Spikes Tactical Stripped Lower $89
CMMG Lower Parts Kit $65
GMG 6-position Tactical Stock $38
- Includes buffer, spring, and tube
C-Product 30 Round Polymer Mag $10
DS Arms Upper Assembly (shipped) $283

Total $510

It should be noted that, at this point, I have an idea of my total build cost. My goal was to build a gun in the $600 range and, with the purchase of my BCG, charging handle, and BUIS -- I'll be in the range of $650 to $675. So, for less than $700 or so dollars, I've built a mid-level AR15 to the point of completion. Now I know I'll spend more money on things like a quad rail or Magpul MOE forearm, a light mount, extra mags, and other bells and whistles that this basic AR doesn't have -- but the point is I built a useable, shootable AR for under $700. Not bad...

And one more, artsy shot...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Old is New...

... and I find that this pleases me.

Seriously. I always thought that the humor and brilliance of this show was never truly understood my the marketing juggernaut that ensued during its heyday.

Mike Judge made a funny, witty, cartoon with really cool characters. Coupled with the recent return of Futurama, this is just fucking awesome!

The 90's were fun, mainly because that was the beinning of my adulthood (end of college, and then several blissful halcyonic years of singledom. Wing nights with my brothers Phil and Rich, 22 oz. beers, no real responsibility to speak of... ahhh, those were the days.) And there was some awesome TV.

And those two slackers with the funny laughs were a big part of it.

Anyway, never mind my melancholy and nostalgia...

OF course... if we could just talk someone into bringing back Firefly...

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Doctor Z. SHTF Zombie Apocalypse AR15 Build - Part 2

Part Two - Or Shit! I didn't see that coming!

When we left off -- I had a shiny new Spike's Tactical Lower Receiver and had ordered my LPK (lower parts kit).

I was off and staggering down the road towards an evil, black, zombie slaying assault rifle; and it felt damned good.

So, I received the CMMG parts kit in a snazzy little tube and was all jazzed to start building. But then I went to and saw that, as part of the lower build, I needed to install the buffer tube - which wasn't part of the lower parts kit.


So, back to the internet I went. Because I was getting antsy, I posted an old motorcycle jack I had on Craigslist and scored $60. That means I had $60 bucks to spend on the build.

A little research showed that some of the commercially available buttstocks out there carried the buffer tube, spring, and buffer with them. Score! So I began searching and settled on the Tapco 6 position stock. It came with all the rear parts and even - according to Tapco's video on Youtube - the requisite buffer tube wrench. The only problem was, they were all OVER $60. I had $60 bucks to spend and knew that there was no way the little missus was going to tolerate my going over. You see, she hates guns and, truthfully, was not thrilled about my building an EBR (Evil Black Rifle). The thought of an assault rifle scares the hell out of her. So... in order to get my toys and not upset her too much... I needed to tread lightly.

Back to the internet and Google Shopping I went.

After much searching, I found a great site called Besides the cool name, they have some of the best internet prices on ar15 parts. After much searching and reading... I settled on the Mako GMG 6 Position Buttstock. It didn't have the bad reviews that the DPMS Pardus or UTG had. It came with the buffer, buffer tube and spring as well... and all for a price that was unbelievable at $38. That left me enough money to order the stock, a wrench ($5.95 - an investment in future builds!) and even a C-product 30 round polymer mag.

And I was still under $60.

I rock.

The C-product mags, by the way, are the best deal on AR Mags you can get. I wanted to pick a mag up to test my mag release when I assembled the lower, and I did quite a bit of research. The mags actually run for $10, $5 - $10 cheaper than most other mags. They're well respected on gun forums and at Zombie Squad. They're even cheaper than the dependable government issue mags. The mag is black, metal, and even has a orange Magpul type follower for clean feeding. When I get the rifle fully built, I anticipate I'll spend $50 or so on more of these awesome mags.

So, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the parts from Area 51... so I could actually get to the building.

A week or so later they showed up, but then they sat for a couple weeks because of my apprehension. I'm handy, but wasn't sure if I was up to the task.

I was agonizing over putting it together because I wasn't sure I still wasn't going to fuck it up. That and I felt I needed to get some more tools. The builds I saw on Youtube and online all said you needed roll pin punches, and brass hammers, and all kinds of other snazzy tools that I didn't have.

My delay - as I've already said - was largely due to my apprehension about actually starting the build. The tools were something I figured I'd pick up from Harbor Freight -- but money was again tight.

So, one night, after Mrs. Zombie, Wolf Girl, and Zombie Boy had gone to bed, I was surfing Zombie Squad. A day or so earlier, I'd posted the awesome CMMG Lower Parts kit deal I'd found in the online deals section when I got a PM from a ZS member who shall remain nameless. Turns out, this guy works for CMMG and said that they'd had some quality control issues with some of their parts kits and, if I had the black safety detent, takedown detent, and pivot pin... it was probably crap.

I darted upstairs and grabbed my lower parts kit and, don't you know it, I had the black ones.


The funny thing is, as I was playing with the kit, one thing lead to another... and 50 minutes later I had an assembled AR15 lower.

Tools I used:
A printout of photos of a complete LPK from
A small hammer
A screwdriver
A single size craftsman nail punch
A block of wood
Some gorilla tape.

That's it. Some basic common tools and about an hour of my time was all it took. It wasn't as bad as I feared and was really easy. I found an online tutorial that was solely responsible for making it happen. Check it out here. .

This is even considering the fact that I screwed up and forgot to put the bolt catch spring in when assembling the bolt catch assembly. I carefully tapped out the roll pin with a broken hardened drill bit, installed the spring, and re-installed the roll pin. I only put a tiny scratch on the receiver, which made me happy!

And, thanks to my buddy on Zombie Squad, I found that my safety detent was - in fact - crap. A call the next morning to CMMG confirmed that they had some quality control issues with the safety detent, the takedown detent, and the pivot detent. My takedown and pivot work fine -- but the safety's crap. Don't know about you, but the safety's kind of important to me...

To CMMG's credit, they were totally cool, admitted there were some QC problems, and immediately offered to ship me a new one - no questions asked. I received the replacement two days later, and it dropped in with no problem and works flawlessly.

So... still a good deal and a great customer service response. This hiccup will in no way dissuade me from doing business with or using CMMG parts. In fact, they were cool enough about it that it makes me want to buy more bits for my AR build. Also - way cool of my fellow Zombie Squadder to give me the heads up. He's good people.

So now the search for an upper begins...

Total Build Cost To Date

FFL Transfer Fee for Lower $25
Spikes Tactical Stripped Lower $89
CMMG Lower Parts Kit $65
GMG 6-position Tactical Stock $38
- Includes buffer, spring, and tube
C-Product 30 Round Polymer Mag $10

Total $227