I had shot many an AR before I finally purchased one. I had shot different brands and configurations but never spared much of a thought as to if one was noticeably better than another. Once I started looking at buying I started to get an idea about how many choices were out there. What began as me simply wanting to buy a solid rifle at a fair price has since grown into literally thousands of hours of research, test and evaluation.
The short answer to the build Vs buy question is it is generally better to build one. However that makes several important assumptions: First and foremost, that if you are reading this website you are interested enough in rifles to want to build your own, or interested enough in parts that you want to customize your own.
Quite simply, WHEN MAKING A CUSTOM RIFLE, building it yourself is usually faster, usually cheaper and offers more options than having someone else build one.
However if you just want the peace of mind that you have a great, accurate rifle that is reliable and had every part put in by someone who knows what they are doing, then select a good or great brand and buy one. There is nothing faster than walking into a store, buying a rifle and shooting it that day. You can shoot that baby for years while you slowly customize it or build your own or learn about parts etc. Personally, while I knew I wanted to build my own, I wanted something in my hands first. And there are still times I just can’t say no to a full rifle that is begging me to take it off the shelf and home where it belongs.
If you select to build, there are 2 major reasons it is cheaper – tax and labor. A federal excise tax of 11% is applied to all rifles. Excise taxes are more hidden than some other taxes. You may have (like me) stared at Noveske’s website for hours and wondered how come an upper is about a $1000 less than a full rifle. Even allowing for the BUIS and accessories there is still a large seemingly unexplained gap of maybe $250 or so. The explanation is the tax. Buying parts unattached to the lower or serialized firearm part allows you to only pay tax on 1 cheap part instead of all parts.
There is really not a great deal of labor that goes into a custom build, but things we as shooters may not consider work (like test firing) still require an hourly rate from a manufacturer and it all adds up.
One thing to note is that it is not always cheaper to build your own. If your budget is less than a $1000 (not including sights, or optics) it can be hard to build a rifle cheaper. Some set a budget cutoff in build versus buy. Usually between $1000 and $1500. If they want a rifle above that price, they build, below and they buy.
I have have met and talked to perhaps hundreds of people that have built their own rifle. None of them stopped at just one. Years ago I just wanted the best rifle I could get. I am still searching and spending and accumulating guns. Sometimes I try and use up old extra parts I have to make a cheap rifle, but I always have some part left, or I upgrade a part that then leaves a spare part out and lonely, making the cycle continue. Once you start? You may never stop.