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AR-15 Parts & Tools List: Building? [Start Here!]

So you’re building an AR-15, or an AR-10, or an AR-47, or an AR-whatever.  

Awesome!

Building a rifle is one of the best things you can do to improve your knowledge as a shooter, and it means you end up with a rifle that’s uniquely yours.

All AR-15 Lower Receiver Parts
All AR-15 Lower Receiver Parts

What’s the most important thing to have when you’re building your rifle?

Bingo, your parts list!

Today, we’re going to talk about all the little parts and pieces you need to build an AR-15, where you can buy them, how to choose them, and the tools you’ll need to assemble everything.  

In Case of zombies garden tools
Not these kinds of tools.

This should cover basically everything you need to build an AR of any caliber, except for the actual build process, which you can find here.

Table of Contents

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AR-15 Parts List

  • Stripped Lower
  • Lower Parts Kit
  • Trigger (If not using parts kit trigger)
  • Buffer Kit  (Buffer, buffer tube, buffer spring)
  • Stock
  • Pistol Grip
  • Stripped or Assembled Upper
  • Forward Assist (If using a Stripped Upper)
  • Dust Cover (If using Stripped Upper)
  • Barrel
  • Handguard
  • Gas Tube
  • Gas Block
  • Bolt Carrier Group
  • Charging Handle
  • Muzzle Device

Alright, if you just wanted to make sure you weren’t missing a part, you’re all done! Good luck with your build, and make sure to let us know how it went in the comments below!

If you want a little more info about each of these parts, keep reading.

AR-15 Lower Parts List

Stripped Lower

You can get a stripped lower from a lot of different places, and there’s not going to be a huge amount of difference between the best one and an average one.  

In general, buy from a brand you like, or buy one you like the roll mark on. This is going to be the heart of your build, so make sure you go with something you’ll like looking at a year from now.  

If you aren’t sure, check out our list of best AR-15 lowers.

Editor's Pick (Forged)
60
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Lower Parts Kit

This contains all the springs and pins and detents and other hardware that will go into holding your lower together. You can also get them with or without a trigger, depending on if you want a basic Mil-Spec-style trigger, or want something a little bit nicer.

Trigger

The quality of your trigger is going to have a huge effect on your accuracy, so it makes sense to spend a little money here, even if it means saving a little money elsewhere. Check out our list of Best AR-15 Triggers if that’s something you’re interested in.

199
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Buffer Kit

Your buffer system is what manages the recoil of your rifle and allows the rifle to cycle. There’s a lot to be said about choosing a buffer weight, so be sure to check out this article on how to choose the proper buffer for your system.

Take Buffer and Spring Out
AR-15 buffer system

Stock

There are about a million AR stock manufacturers out there, so just pick the one you like the look of, or choose one that fits your purpose for the rifle, so a nice light stock like the standard Magpul MOE stock for a run-and-gun rifle, or something like a PRS stock for a precision rifle.

11. Faxon Bantam LE Stock
There are so many choices for stocks depending on your setup.

Pistol Grip

Same deal as the stock, unless you’re doing a featureless build and need something to comply with your state’s gun laws (I’m looking at you California).

AR-15 Grip The Tactical Deluxe with palm shelf on a bench rest LR308. (image9)
Here’s a grip from ERGO.

That does it for your lower parts.

Be sure to follow our AR-15 lower build guide if you want to make sure you’ve got all your parts in the right place, or just want to take a look at how we build our rifles.

AR-15 Upper Parts List

Stripped or Assembled Upper

A “stripped” upper is just the upper. An “assembled” upper comes with your forward assist and dust/ejection port cover.  

A “complete” upper will include the barrel, handguard…well, everything. Hence “complete”.  

Uppers, uppers, everywhere.

The final option is good if you don’t want to buy the tools to build an upper, or if you don’t want to mess with an upper at all and just want to slap something on a complete lower that works.  

Also, people are going to tell you that building an upper is hard. Those people are wrong. 

It’s easy, it’s safe (ARs are self-headspacing for the most part) so you’re not going to accidentally build a hand grenade.

Plus, if you’re worried, you can get a No-Go or headspace gauge.  

It’s not quite this easy, but not super hard either!

So, I recommend getting a stripped or assembled upper, the latter of which just comes with your ejection port and forward assist installed, and is what I’d suggest if you don’t want a fancy dust cover.   

If you absolutely have to have your Punisher logo or whatever, get a stripped one. All our suggestions are here.

150
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Forward Assist

I have…never, in my life, needed a forward assist on a rifle. I know people with multiple tours of duty in very dry, sandy places who have never touched a forward assist outside of training.  

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard of people ever needing a forward assist. Ostensibly, it’s on there if you need a little extra help getting a round seated in a dirty gun.  

Cleaning AR15 Bolt
A little bit of cleaning goes a long way.

Realistically, especially if you’re cleaning your AR the way you should be, you’ll never need one.

I’d be fine running an upper that doesn’t have a slot for one. You may feel differently, and that’s fine.

I totally understand the “better to have it and not need it” mindset as well.

That’s the great thing about building your AR, you can get exactly what you want, not what some asshole on the internet (me) tells you to get.

Dust Cover

Your dust cover — also called an ejection port cover — goes over your ejection port to keep out dust.

You can get ones with cool designs, so if you want to do a custom build around a theme, like this Storm Trooper build from IACoatings.com, you have that option.

stormtrooper Iacoating
Not every rifle has to be a scurry black gun. It’s okay to have fun with it.

Barrel

Other than the trigger, your barrel is going to be the biggest factor impacting your accuracy and the overall performance of the rifle.

There are a lot of factors to think about when choosing a barrel…rifling twist, length, steel or fancy-shmancy carbon fiber, lining options, and more.  

Faxon Ion Pencil Barrel
Faxon Ion Pencil Barrel

Be sure to check out our list of the best AR-15 barrels if you want to learn more about solid options, or how to choose a barrel for your build.

Handguard

Your handguard should reflect what you’re using the rifle for, and there are literally hundreds of options out there.

Midwest SLH Handguard Grip

Pick one that suits your needs, and you’ll be all good.

This is an area of intense personal preference, so pick something you’ll like. Personally, I like my rifles nice and light. So, I usually go for minimalist options without all the rails and such.

If you want to hang four flashlights and a coffee grinder on your gun, you’ll want the rails. So again, pick something that fits your purpose. 

Here are our picks of the best AR-15 Handguards.

Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards
Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards

Gas Tube

It’s a tube that transports gas. Really, there’s not much to say here other than to match the gas tube to your barrel’s system length (carbine, rifle, mid-length) and pick from a brand you trust.  

Worst case, they’re like $20 unless you’re building a piston-based upper, so don’t stress too much over it.

Gas Block

This is another area where you have to pick your poison yourself. You might be fine with a plain old gas block, you might be running a suppressor sometimes and need an adjustable gas block.  

PSA Valkyrie Adjustable Gas Block
PSA Valkyrie Adjustable Gas Block

Get something that matches your purpose. I’d recommend an adjustable gas block for all rifles if you have the money though, as it’ll let you fine-tune your gas system to minimize recoil.  

More functionality is almost always a good thing because it lets you get a rifle that’s more suited to your specific needs and style.

58
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bolt Carrier Group

The BCG is the part that handles the actual firing and extraction of your rounds. In general, what you want to think is “light and smooth.”

BCGs

The lighter your BCG is, the less recoil you’ll have, the less muzzle movement, the more accurate you can be, especially during rapid fire.

And the smoother the BCG is, the more reliable and the more consistent your AR will be, and the smoother it will shoot.

Sustained, rapid-fire will test your skills!

There are a number of coating options that’ll make your gun a little smoother, and there are a number of lightweight BCGS out there.  

The BCG is one of the easiest parts to swap out, and indeed you’ll be pulling it out every time you clean your gun anyway, so it’s okay to cheap out at first.

Check out our BCG guide for more info.

Brownells Lightweight Bolt Carrier Group finished in Titanium Nitride.

Charging Handle

This is what you will use to chamber a round in your AR. If you’re going with a basic build, go with a basic charging handle.  

All The Charging Handles
All The Charging Handles

If not, go with something nicer. I will say, if you’re a leftie, or building a rifle for someone who is, or you just want a slightly more useable rifle, get yourself an ambidextrous handle.  

If you just want a quick, high-quality recommendation, BCM’s Gunfighter handle is on all my rifles, and I love it.

For more info, check out our guide to the Best Charging Handles.

Muzzle Device

Compensators, flash hiders, suppressors, brakes, there are all kinds of things you can slap on the end of your rifle, and they all have their benefits.

Check out our muzzle device guide to figure out what you need for your build.

VG6 Gamma 556
VG6 Gamma 556

That does it for our upper parts, so check out our AR-15 upper build guide if you want to make sure you got all your parts in the right way.

AR-15 Build Tools Parts List

Vise

Necessary for keeping everything stable while you’re hammering and punching and such. I use a basic bench vise, but you can use whatever works for the space you’re in.

AR in Vice
AR in Vise

You can also get by without one if you’re very, very, very careful, and creative. I’ve seen people building rifles in caves using nothing but a box cutter, a screwdriver, and an old brick, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Upper Vise Block

This lets you safely and effectively hold your upper in place, which is especially important while you’re installing your barrel. I use this DPMS block

40
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Lower Vise Block

Less important than the upper block, still highly recommended if you want to make your life easier while building your rifle.  

Pin Punches

Brass is recommended so you don’t mar your finish. I like these.

Trigger Hammer Pin with Punch
Trigger Hammer Pin with Punch

C-Clamp

Buy a cheap 3-pack off Amazon and use them as needed to install your roll pins.

Roll-Pin Pusher/Drift Tool

Not strictly necessary, still highly recommended if you’re going to be building multiple rifles. Makes roll-pin installation much easier

Armorer’s Wrench

Needed for tightening your barrel nut, delta ring, castle nut, etc. They’re relatively cheap and are also one of the only purpose-built tools you’ll need. 

We recommend this guy.

AR-15 Armorer's Wrench
AR-15 Armorer’s Wrench

Utility Knife

A box cutter is the best way to install some of your detents, trust me.

Hex Key Set

Needed for installing some handguards, as well as things like your gas block, and often your trigger guard.

That about does it for the tools you’ll need. I’m sure there are a million and one other things out there that you can use, so let me know in the comments below if I’m missing anything that helps you out.

How To Build One

We’ve got you covered here too!

And for more recommendations down to individual parts…check out our AR-15 Definitive Resource.

Conclusion

That about does it for our parts list.

Lots of AR-15 Uppers
Lots of AR-15 Uppers

From gas blocks to handguards, hopefully, this guide gives you a good starting part on your AR-15 journey.

What did you think of our parts list? Did this help you with your build? Let me know in the comments! Want to buy an AR? We got you covered with a list of the Best AR-15s.

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18 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Km

    If anyone is looking for the buffer recommendations here is their link:

    pewpewtacticalcom/tuning-ar15-gas-system/

    Just add a 3 was and a period before pew and a period after tactical. It wouldn't let me post this otherwise.

    November 20, 2021 8:34 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    dsutton

    Vise, not vice.

    October 18, 2021 3:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    JODY TUCKER

    Where can i find parts for my beam like my screw broke that tighten beam to gun

    April 25, 2021 5:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Zookie

    Hey, where is the pistol grip screw listed??!! Half way thru this and all of a sudden I am finding out it is not in the lower parts kit nor with the Hogue AR pistol grip.

    February 13, 2021 6:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Nate

    Sorry Mr. Collins, I meant to say great write up and both my brother-in-laws will be directed here to start their first builds/answer questions if they can’t reach me at work.

    January 5, 2021 10:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Nate

    Forward assist necessary? Recently completed 21 year in the service. 14 shitty yet amazing years in the infantry. You mention associates of yours completing multiple tours in the box and never (or rarely) using the forward assist to keep in the fight. I would be surprised if those men n’ women carried their rifles daily and depended on them consistently to stay alive/ready to fight. The forward assist is there for the 118 degree days when you just finished a 10 hour LPC (boots) patrol through a monsoon of sand and dust. Is this Important for range day in the shade? Maybe not so much. Important for the day your life might depend on it, you will be the judge then. Sorry, my soap box was just set up,,,

    January 5, 2021 10:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Oly

    Nice write up Mathew!

    November 15, 2020 5:06 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Brandon Lee

    Great info thanks!!!!!

    November 4, 2020 8:43 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aj F

    Great article! Ive found myself back here a few times. This time I have a question.
    I am building a left handed and wondering what parts must be made to be left-handed or ambidextrous? This is my first build and I want to buy pieces individually if possible. Currently I have completed a lower with a stock. The fire select is on the left and the meg release is on the right, but I think that is fine, right? I am currently looking at stripped uppers and bolts for lefties, but feel like I am missing something...

    April 14, 2020 4:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tom Dworzak

      Ditto! I want the same exact information.

      May 11, 2020 10:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Harrison Z

    Looks like the link for the wrench isnt working well. Which wrench should I look into?

    January 13, 2020 7:12 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      We have a dedicated article for armorer's wrenches! Personally, I like the one from Real Avid the best.

      January 13, 2020 9:04 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    James R Payne II

    Why not provide a printable checklist with key info at appropriate areas, example, Gas Blocks; things to consider, diameter, attachment method, a additional tools required for installation etc...

    December 21, 2019 7:17 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greg L

    Awesome article. Curious though. There is a reference to an article on how to choose the proper buffer for your system but I can't seem to find it.

    July 2, 2019 7:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Wybjorn S

    Not a typo. A decent trigger can decrease inaccuracies. Unless I’m misunderstanding you Brett. Although, to your point, the barrel is much more important where accuracy is concerned. I’d take a shit trigger with a good barrel any day.

    August 2, 2018 6:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Brett G

    Typo on the trigger section:

    "Trigger: The quality of your =barrel= is going to have a huge effect on your accuracy,"

    March 14, 2018 9:06 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Thanks for catching that Brett!

      March 14, 2018 9:25 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joe L

    The only time I have ever needed to use the forward assist was on a brand new and very stiff(even after I cleaned and lubed it) PSA BCG. After the first shot was fired, it cycled just fine.

    March 9, 2018 7:34 am
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