It’s been a long year in firearms media, so as an early holiday gift to myself I decided it was time to pull the trigger and buy or build an AR-15. After a little research, I made out like a bandit with a sale at the appropriately named 80-Lowers and scored a complete AR build kit with a couple of 80% lowers along with the jigs and tools necessary to complete it.
Shipping took about four days—I won’t lie, it felt like Christmas when this thing got here. The kit I had ordered was chambered in .300 Blackout in order to satisfy another curiosity of mine. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I got, however. I had mentally prepared myself for no-name parts or a mixed bag of brands. Instead 80-Lowers sent a Palmetto State Armory upper (which means an FN barrel) and internal parts kit. A well-made, well staked bolt. Magpul stock and pistol grip. Far, far higher quality than I was expecting.
What have I gotten myself into?
We all know what an AR looks like, but I’ll admit that I had never considered doing an 80% lower build before. Thus I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the finishing jig I had bought. I still probably don’t know, but I can tell you that on first impression this thing is solidly built: beautifully machined and finished pieces of steel and aluminum with drill holes and measuring gauges very clearly labeled within the design. When assembled for use, this is a heavy piece of equipment—do not risk dropping it on your foot.
While the written instructions included were crystal clear and easy to follow, I do recommend jumping on YouTube and checking out a few videos of the build process. There are steps that are easier to follow visually and how-to videos also tend to contain additional tips for a smooth build.
80-Lowers claims that you can complete the build in a few hours, and that the only tools needed are a vise, a hand drill, and a router. I can attest that this is all true, and that finishing a lower that way is quick and relatively easy. That having been said, I’m new to this kind of thing and suffering from a touch of early-onset arthritis, so I elected to use a drill press for a few of the steps in completing my first lower. A press makes it easier and gives you much finer control, but the overall process takes a bit longer. However, both the folks at 80 Lowers and myself would like to stress that a drill press is the preferred method if you want quality results.
After a fun afternoon of making aluminum chips fly with only the bare minimum of swearing, I had a couple of fully finished lowers. After a pleasant and relaxing morning in my workshop, I had a complete AR15. All the remained was the acquisition of enough ammo and some time and the range for a test run . . .