One of the coolest aspects about the AR15 platform is how incredibly modular it is. It is, without a doubt, the most modular and up-gradable small arms platform on the face of the planet. Most everything can be modified, replaced, or upgraded; and there is a massive aftermarket to support these improvements. With the exception of the barrel, anyone with basic hand tools and access to Youtube can successfully perform these customization's themselves, from the comfort of their own home. We will start at the butt of the rifle, and work our way to the front, making sure to cover the parts most commonly swapped out.
There are numerous reasons to upgrade your stock; such as comfort, weight savings, or even aesthetics. And regardless of if you want a fixed, telescopic, or folding stock; you can do this modification yourself with ease. There are tons of reputable brands out there when it comes to rifle furniture like Magpul, B5, and Strike Industries so finding what fits your needs should be nothing more than a quick google search. Changing out collapsible stocks is as simple as sliding it on or off the buffer tube. While fixed and folding stocks have a little more complication to them, step by step instructions should be included with the new part, and installation is pretty straight forward and simple.
Pictured: The very popular Magpul CTR Stock
Buffer and Buffer Spring
This is a little bit more of an advanced shooter modification, as most rifles will come with a buffer and spring that are just fine for the average shooter or weekend warrior. But, there is still a huge aftermarket for these parts. Some of the top being Geissele, Spike Tactical, and JP Enterprises. Seasoned shooters will typically exchange these parts for different ejection pattern or recoil impulse. A lighter buffer will help the rifle cycle faster, throw the brass further, but it can increase recoil. On the other hand, a heavier buffer will slow down the possible cycle speed, decrease perceived recoil, but can have a negative effect on brass ejection. This mod can be done in literal seconds, as pulling out the old set up, and sliding the new one is is pretty easy.
Pictured: The Geissele Super 42 Braided Buffer System
Running a scope on an AR can sometimes be pretty annoying. Depending on the eye relief of your scope, it can sometimes be mounted over the charging handle. This causes the rifle to be difficult to charge, or even reach the handle in the first place. There are tons of options out there for wider handles or handle adapters to fix this problem. The consumer can even purchase side charging kits that bolt on to the current charging handle. While changing out a charging handle isn’t usually high on my list to do with a rifle, there are some instances where this modification is necessary. Again, done in seconds; just separate the upper and lower, take out the BCG and charging handle, then install the new handle.
Pictured: The Radian Raptor ambidextrous charging handle
Ah yes, the trigger. What everyone (including myself) likes to change first. Nothing livens up an old, beaten rifle like a new trigger pull. With possibly the largest aftermarket for this one part, choices are endless. My advice: go with a brand that is tried, true, and well respected. The gun community is notoriously harsh, so if a company or product has a good reputation; there’s a reason why. Changing the trigger is nothing more than punching out a few pins, and shouldn’t take the average person more than 10 minutes to do so.
Pictured: CMC Curved 3.5 pound Trigger. Probably the best single-stage trigger on the market.
This is 2nd in my book to the trigger. With 85% of your feel for the rifle coming from the grip and trigger, it makes sense to have these two items set up exactly for your liking. Grips come in all styles, materials, and textures, so head out to your local shop and figure out what you like. I prefer a slimmer grip that’s a little on the soft side, but it’ll be different for everyone. Grips are a fairly affordable upgrade, and with only one screw and a spring pin to account for, also one of the easiest to accomplish.
Pictured: A Magpul MOE Grip. The most popular aftermarket grip, it also offers you a storage option inside.
Hand Guard or Rail
The style these days is to run a very long, thin rail, almost to the muzzle device. But if you want to install a short, fat rail that barely covers the gas block you could do that too since rails are extremely customizable with sizing options, locking styles, mounting styles, and weight. I don’t find too much to complain about with stock rails, and since they can get pretty pricey, it’s usually one of my last upgrades. But with either a locking nut or a few bolts; changing the hand guard is something easily achieved from the comfort of your couch.
Pictured: LANTAC makes some of the best, and most lightweight, handgaurd options on the market.
Want a different magazine? Purchase a new magazine and put it in your gun, super fast and super easy!
Pictured: A California Compliant 10/30 Hexmag
The consumer can pick a flash hider, muzzle brake, or compensator (or any mix of the three) and install it on thier rifle in under an hour. This is one of the harder parts to swap, and its very important to be careful and take your time. If you cross thread the device, or fail to tighten it adequately, you'll be sorry. And on top, it's also imperative to know how to properly time the device to make sure it compensates the flash and recoil in the correct way. If you’re not super comfortable with doing this, maybe take it to a gun smith and watch as they do it; so you can know for next time.
Muzzle devices can be pretty expensive, and an average shooter probably won’t notice much if any difference with a swap, so consider moving this to the bottom of your upgrades list.
Pictured: Surefire Warcomp, part flash hider, part muzzle brake.
As you can see above, virtually anything on the AR15 can be changed to suit your preference with minimal tools, time, or skill. With the internet these days, instructional videos can be found for almost anything (I'm currently following a series on how to keep my wife happy), so order your new parts, pull up a how-to video, and get acquainted with your rifle! Keep an eye out for future blog posts, we will be writing a more in depth series on each one of these categories!