I’ve pointed thius out before – I really enjoy building firearms. I don’t have the hardcore machinist skills to build one from scratch – I wish I could though – but I do enjoy assembling and tinkering plus I don’t mind some fitting / fabricating. With this in mind, I have a lot of fun building ARs from PSA kits because they are affordable, reliable and accurate. I’m not going to waste time with the whole manufacturing tiering or the rediculous “poor” labels – that’s all they are. Now, if you are in the military and you need special weapons, you aren’t reading this post – it’s that simple. If you are like most folks and want to build an AR that you can enjoy with friends and family, then read on.
Founded in 2008
For those of you who do not know Palmetto State Armory (PSA) – they have been around since 2008. It was founded by Josiah McCallum after his Iraq deployment and he started it in his garage. To put it mildly, he has been growing PSA ever since into the powerhouse it is today. Folks, PSA has a ton of offerings now – ARs, AKs, pistols, ammo, parts … the list goes on and on. One thing you will notice is that they are constantly learning and evolving.
I’ve Only Had One Problem
So, I bought and built my first PSA AR many years back – I looked at my order history and it looks like it was 2014. In all the years, I can only remember one problem – they forgot to include the disconnector. I contacted customer service and had one a few days later. That was probably a year or two after my first one and I’ve not had a problem since. You’ll notice now they bag their parts by grouping so this probably helps with quality control considerably.
Have I ever had a part fail? No – not that I recall. I normally will put a few hundred rounds through a build, eventually get bored of it and have my FFL, Michigan Gun Exchange, sell it to fund another project. So all I can tell you is that my experience with their AR kits has been very favorable and have no reservations telling someone to use them – especially if they want to start and learn.
What options do they have?
Whew – they have tons and tons of kits and parts you can choose from. Different barrel lengths, handguards, furniture, triggers, and so forth. You can buy a kit with everything except for a stripped lower receiver or you can buy assemblies such as a build kit for a stripped lower to then use with whatever upper receiver you want.
The point is that they have something for everyone and if you are patient and watch their Daily Deals (you can sign up for their emails) then you can get a great deal. For example, the kit I built this time is their “PSA 16″ 5.56 NATO 1:7 MIDLENGTH NITRIDE 13.5″ LIGHTWEIGHT M-LOK MOE EPT RIFLE KIT W/ MBUS SIGHT SET” – which means in has a 16″ barrel that is chambered for 5.56 NATO with a 1:7 twist and black nitried finish, has a 13.5″ M-LOK handguard, comes with Magpul MOE grip and buttstock, their enhanced polished trigger (EPT) fire control group and has a set of Magpul BackUp Iron Sights (BUIS). Yeah, they pack a lot into that description. The kit comes with everything you need except for a stripped lower receiver (I used an Anderson I already happened to have) and the best part was that it was only $479.99 vs. the list of $799.99.
Serves as a foundation
The AR parts are all Mil-Spec – what this means is that rifles that use parts built to the original military specification dimensions can use other parts. For example, I prefer the Magpul ACS stocks – they just feel better to me. Because the PSA buffer tube is Mil-Spec, that meant I coul easily replace the MOE buttstock that came with the kit with an ACS.
My point is that a PSA kit can serve as a foundation that you can very readily build on. Down, the road if you want to change out barrels, triggers, uppers, etc. you can easily do so. If something has a problem and you need to replace, again, there will not be a problem finding parts.
By the way, I would recommend a spare parts kit regardless of brand AR you are using – they are usually relatively inexpensive and include wear items, such as the firing pin, plus parts that get lost – for example, the takedown detents.
A quick comment on the EPT triggers
The PSA EPT triggers are a decent. I recently did a test on a number of triggers and a Mil-Spec Aero brand trigger had an average pull of 6 pounds 12.4oz. The PSA EPT had an average pull of 6 pounds 12.3oz and that was with both lubricated by oil. So, not a huge benefit but I do like them – just don’t expect a world of difference is my point.
If you really want a remarkable trigger, buy the PSA 2-stage trigger that has an average pull of 4 pounds 9.5 oz when lubed. It’s a must-have upgrade for only $64.99 and yes, you can always change to it later.
How do you assemble these kits?
Really, the only thing you need to assemble is the lower. PSA has already done the upper and headspaced it just to be safe. In theory, Mil-Spec barrels going into Mil-Spec uppers should not need headspacing but the reality is that you better check it just to be safe and PSA does.
I did a whole series of posts back in 2017 about building AR lowers – click here for a list that will open in a new browser tab.
The reference source I used to learn how to assemble AR lowers way back when is the guide on ar15.com. There are now tons of videos out there as well and you can learn a great deal by investing a little time to watch them. For example, here is one from PSA and here is one from Midway USA.
Over the years, I have bought and tried quite a few tools but there are just a few that have stood the test of time that I still use. I figured it might help you to have a list so you can consider whether you want to pick them up or not.
- Trigger Guard Jig – there are a ton of ways to do the trigger guard roll pin but a tool makes it really simple and reduces the odds of marring the finish or snapping an ear off the receiver.
- Magazine Catch Punches – folks, Wheeler and others make long roll pin punches that have a vinyl coating to help install the mag catch. They are totally worth it. No more tearing up your finish or having to apply duct tape – these tools help you get it right the first time.
- Front Pivot Pin Detent Jig – installing front pivot pin’s detent and spring is next to impossible without the right tools. Wheeler and others make a very simple pin set to help you save your sanity.
- Trigger slave pin – greatly simplifies installation of the assembled trigger, disconnector and spring assembly. We make one 🙂
- Magpul Castle Nut Wrench – I have used a wide variety of tools over the years ranging from the old GI tool to bizarre looking combination wrenches. If you want a solid tool that will hold up over time, the Magpul wrench is the way to go.
- Gunsmith Punch Set – there are tons of makers. Basically you want a wide range of punches and roll pin punches. I have a mix of punches from Tekton, Weaver and Wheeler plus ones that I have no idea where they came from.
- Non-Marring Hammer – You’ll need a small hammer from time to time that will not tear up your finish – I use Vaughan hammers.
- Automatic Punch – I have a tremor so my hands shake. To stake the rear castle nut, I just use a good General brand automatic punch. It’s not as deep/good of a stake as a hammer driven punch but I do the automatic punch repeatedly to deform the surface and lock the nut.
- Magpul BEV-Block – If you plan to install barrel nuts or muzzle devices, you will need a really secure means to hold the barrel and receiver securely. DO NOT use the blocks that just use the pivot and rear pin holes your you are apt to bend them. I did that once. Get a BEV block. It’s way, way easier and does a great job.
If you are looking for something fun to do and there are tons and tons of tutorials out there – build an AR. The PSA kits are reliable and very affordable with different options to suit your tastes.
Note, I have to buy all of my parts – nothing here was paid for by sponsors, etc. I do make a small amount if you click on an ad and buy something but that is it. You’re getting my real opinion on stuff.