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Blue Collar Builds: Two-In-One with Primary Arms

Being strapped for time as well as cash, I decided that shopping around for components wasn’t going to be a big feature of this project, so I wanted to go to one website, click through the offerings on display and unpack a single box when everything arrived at the same time. There are a few big vendors where this is a possibility — Brownells and Midway are just two that usually spring to mind, but there’s a third company that’s been making strides in the black rifle marketplace recently. 

Primary Arms has a reputation for supplying quality, low-cost optics for builds such as these, but they’re also a good place to hit for everything else on a build sheet. I wheeled my virtual shopping cart down the electronic aisles on a freedom-driven supermarket sweep. 

Blue Collar Builds IH

While your CPA might not be aware of this, one of the benefits of building from scratch is a tax break. Every firearm that leaves the manufacturer is subject to an 11% Federal Excise Tax, which is earmarked for wildlife conservation. Although this is one of the few examples of the Fed funneling tax dollars to places where it gets used for the benefit of all Americans, I’m of the opinion that Washington helps itself to enough of my money, and the couple of grand I spend on hunting licenses and tags every year is sufficient to offset any funds they might get from this build. By purchasing a stripped receiver, you pay FET on that component alone, as that’s what the government deems is the actual firearm. You also save money by assembling the carbine yourself, rather than paying someone else to do it for you; more of your hard-earned dollars can go into parts, rather than shareholder dividends.

There’s an additional benefit of knowing exactly what went into your build, that the torque specs are correct, that staking has been done, and that fasteners have been Loctited. All of which should translate into greater confidence in your rifle, and the knowledge that should anything go wrong, you have the skills to diagnose and fix it.

Every build starts with a receiver, and this one was made for PA by Mega, who have built a sterling reputation for quality — so much so that they’re a manufacturer for several big gun companies. With confidence that it would be in spec, a lower parts kit was added, along with a SB Tactical SB3 brace. We wanted the maximum flexibility when it came to upper receiver configurations, so building a virgin lower into a pistol was the way to go. 

BLue Collar Builds

In a world of gritty GI triggers with astronomical pull weights, it’s hard being a trigger snob. Fortunately, Geisselle rode to the rescue with one of their excellent SSA triggers, which resulted in a crisp, two-stage, 4.5-pound break and short reset. It’s not a gamer trigger by any means, but offers a good balance between precision and speed — perfect for our intended use.

With the lower assembled, it was time to turn attention to the upper, or rather, uppers. With the goal of maximum flexibility in mind, and with the money saved from building from a virgin receiver burning a hole in my pocket, I figured that was enough justification for building a shorty to complement the 16-inch-barreled carbine we’d agreed on. Besides, I’m the boss, and rank has its privileges. 


Primary Arms MD25

Weight: 6.5 ounces
MSRP: $170
URL: www.primaryarms.com

primary arms md25

With a claimed 5,000-hour battery life, you can set your desired brightness and leave the MD25 on. Just remember to swap out the CR2032 every time you vote for a president. Its 2 MOA dot is crisp, with just a hint of blue in the lens coating and while there’s no ‘off’ position between brightness settings we had no problem picking up the reticle in the desert sun at noon. There’s two night-vision settings for those who want to team it up with NODs, but we didn’t try this feature out during our evaluation. It’s packaged with spacers of various heights, so you should be able to find a mounting solution that works for your application, and the mount itself is secured by two torx screws for a compact footprint.


The days of plastic handguards and triangular front sight towers are past, old man. Free-floating the ARs barrel pays dividends in terms of accuracy and consistency, especially when working off of barricades and using a sling, so it was a no-brainer to go with aluminum rail systems. Primary Arms supplied two of their own, a 10-inch and a 15-inch for the 10.3- and 16-inch barrels, respectively. Speaking of barrels, those, like the handguards, bore markings from Expo Arms, which is PA’s house brand. Whoever actually made them did a good job, as the specs were what we like to see in general purpose, 16-inch barrel; mid-length gas system with a 0.077 gas port, 1/7 twist, M4 feed ramps, and chrome lining for long life. The 10.3 barrel came with a carbine-length gas system and correctly sized 0.070 gas port diameter — it’s always a good sign when the manufacturer sizes the gas ports to match the pressure curve, rather than just using one (usually oversize) port diameter across the range. 


Leupold Freedom RDS

Weight: 7.2 ounces
MSRP: $390
URL: www.leupold.com

Leopold Freedom optic

At just 1 MOA, the dot in this sight is tiny. While this might sound like a disadvantage, it actually gives you more flexibility, as at longer distances less of the target is obscured and you’re able to place your shots more precisely, particularly if you adopt the old trick of dialing the brightness way down so that the dot’s transparent. It features typical Leupold build quality and is based around a 34mm tube, which means your mounting options aren’t limited to the included AR-height, three-bolt mount. Of all the red dots we tried, this one has the clearest glass, though you do pay a penalty in battery life.


Being able to pick and choose parts means getting exactly what you want in a build from the get-go, instead of replacing the ones picked for you by a corporation. Personal preferences play a big part in making a gun uniquely your own, and for me, the go-to charging handle is the Radian Weapons Raptor.  Being fully ambi, you can rack it with a bladed hand no matter which one’s on the pistol grip, and it does a decent job of sealing off the back of the upper receiver in the event you want to run it suppressed, reducing the amount of gas blowing back into your face.


Blue Collar Build Shorty Parts

  • Mega Arms Lower Receiver: $114
  • Primary Arms Lower Parts Kit
  • Expo Arms 10.3 Inch Barrel
  • Expo Arms 10 Inch Rail
  • Leupold Freedom RDS 1×34
  • Primary Weapons Systems Diablo Muzzle Break
  • Geissele 5.56 Super Charging Handle
  • SB Tactical SBA3 Brace


Blue Collar Builds Mid-Length Upper

  • Mega Arms Stripped Reciever
  • Primary Arms Parts Kit
  • Expo Arms 16 Inch Barrel
  • Expo Arms 15 Inch Rail
  • Radian Raptor Charging Handle
  • Primary Arms SLx MD-25 Microdot
  • Geissele Super Semi-Automatic (SSA) Trigger
  • Radian Raptor Charging Handle


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