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