Why build your own gun?

This question has both practical and psychological dimensions. And it doesn’t just apply to guns! Why build anything you could buy professionally-assembled? Most people are perfectly content with store-bought guns, and ARs in particular are available in a broad range of configurations, qualities and price points — there’s something for just about anybody. By building your own — even assembling something as modular an an AR-15 — you’re joining a minority group, and you ought to have a clear idea of why you do it.

You can build just about anything. After all, someone else built everything you see.

You can build just about anything. After all, someone else built everything you see. This is another ERA customer’s car, not our friend’s. They can be individualized, like ARs.

People do build their own, of course, which can be as easy as buying upper and lower assemblies and snapping in push pins, or as hard as machining your own metal parts and carving or molding your own stock. And there are parallels to the gun builders: a friend of ours built (with a great deal of professional help from ERA Replica Automobiles) a stunning replica of a 1965 Cobra. Many friends and acquaintances have built and even designed their own aircraft. They do it for the same reasons that people build guns.

For Education and Recreation

That’s actually what the FAA’s rule about building your own plane says. They want to discourage small, low-rate-production shops that can’t comply with literally tons of expensive and arbitrary certification rules (kind of like Lockheed, Douglas, Ryan, Martin and Boeing were in California (the first three), Baltimore and Seattle back in in 1930). But if you want to design, and build, and fly something radically new, knock yourself out.

Many of the innovations and trends in the AR market come from people being creative with the platform for their own purposes. Sometimes, when you follow the Education and Recreation path and you’re in the grips of the Dunning-Kruger effect, you create a monster, and not in a good way. But sometimes you create The Next Big Thing.

And always you learn and have fun. Education and Recreation, right? And the Education part is not to be underestimated. If you have never detail-stripped your AR, assembling one from a pile of loose parts will leave you with a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the design. And Recreation? It’s fun, and it’s hard to beat the satisfaction you have when you unrack a rifle and show a friend, “Yeah, this is my favorite. I built it.”

There can also be a social recreation aspect. Build parties are a blast! And just building with another person has both recreational and educational advantages. For one thing, it makes the time pass faster. For another, two sets of eyes make for a better, smoother assembly process.

To get something the market doesn’t offer

Here's one kind of AR your corner gunshop probably doesn't have.

Here’s one kind of AR your corner gunshop probably doesn’t have: based on a Valkyrie beltfed upper.

Some economists might call this market failure, but when you want something odd, the chances are the market does not provide it. If you want an AR-15 prototype, your options are trying to pry one loose from Reed Knights (not. gonna. happen.) or another elite collector (same. deal.) or to build your own clone. Hell, if you want an AR configured like your old Army M16A1, you’re screwed if you have to depend on today’s AR vendors. They’re all tacticool; you can hunt up an old Colt SP1 or roll your own.

That exact project was our threshold drug to Retro Black Rifle Disease. (But we’re not really addicts. We can quit at any time).

Of course, you can take customization too far.

Of course, you can take customization too far.

Another common build that isn’t well-served by the market is a very light AR. People in ban states also have bizarre state compliance parts, and for some of them the only way to get an AR is to build your own.

You can get the parts for almost anything. Want a pintle-mounted, belt-fed AR? It can be done. In our case, we’re doing a tribute to the carbines carried on the Son Tay Raid, one of the greatest special operations missions in history.

Same gun, well accessorized.

Same gun, well accessorized.

We think the Son Tay Colt 630 is beautiful, but it’s a free country, and if a Californistan-compliant Hello Kitty AR is your preference we’re all for that. It’s a free country, and we think the Hello Kitty AR looks good, too: if you accessorize it properly.

The picture on the left should give you some ideas. However, that sort of accessory is beyond the (admittedly flexible) scope of the blog, so you’re on your own.

100000-dollar-billTo save money

This is probably the worst or weakest of the reasons, but it still operates. If you want a Son Tay carbine, you can look for a Colt Model 630 on the NFA registry and for sale. There are very few, and they come up very seldom. And when they do change hands, it’s for collector money: $30,000 or so.

You can build a clone for $1,200 or less.

You can also build a very-cheapest-possible scrounged-parts AR for short money, perhaps $700, and a very-cheapest-possible AK for $300. This requires patience, scrounging, and a little luck, and assumes parts and parts-kit prices will revert over time to the status quo ante. This has been delayed and disrupted by the Panic of 2013, as well as by various government attacks on gun rights, such as the ATF’s reclassifying of barrels as non-importable “weapons,” and ATF and State Department hostility to reimportation of AR parts and even such ancient and obsolete weapons as M1 rifles and carbines and their foreign equivalents.

To Sum Up

There are several reasons to build your own firearm, and all of them are good reasons, although they might not apply to you personally or to the particular situation. For every single builder, some reasons will be more important than others.

The best reason of all is this: you want to, and it’s a free country. (In most States, anyway).

We look forward to walking you through a build in the next couple of weeks. While it’s possible to build several ARs in a day, it isn’t if you’re writing about it!

This entry was posted in Rifles and Carbines on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

4 thoughts on “Let’s build Retro: Should have been Part 1: Why?


I’ve been resisting the urge to ask, but my curiosity finally got the better of me. Did you skip the obvious libertarian reason for building your own because it’s so obvious that it goes without saying, or because you’re concerned that the NSA will start asking uncomfortable questions about why you’d encourage such an activity?

Hognose Post author

Good question, Andy. I don’t think it’s that big a reason. The NSA already knows that we’re in the gun culture. Certain military specialty courses’ graduates have always been recorded by the FBI, in case some criminal’s modus operandi matches specific military training. If the GPS in your cell phone ever showed you as having taken it to a gun shop, they got ya. If you ever bought a gun (or, for some span of years, ammunition) from a shop that later went paws up, they got ya. Again. If your credit card was ever used to buy guns or ammo, or was ever used for anything at a gun dealer, they got ya.

You see, they don’t have to know what guns everyone has, but they have ways to ID everyone who has some kind of gun.

If they can register the owners, what need is there to register the guns? It comes down to a search and confiscation either way.


The model holding the Hello Kitty AR is very hot,have a thing for Asian women,married to one.Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

Hognose Post author

This site could probably use more beautiful women from time to time. Man does not live by firepower alone.