The AR-15 is one of the most popular rifles in the world, and rightfully so. This versatile rifle is used for various purposes, from self-defense to target shooting. It’s also easy to disassemble to clean, and maintain. Some aspects of the takedown can get complicated, but those aspects don’t need to be done very often.
No matter what you use your AR-15 for, it’s important to keep it clean and well-maintained. To do this, you’ll need to know how to disassemble it. In this article, we’ll show you how to disassemble an AR-15 step-by-step.
How Do You Disassemble an AR-15? (quick answer)
To disassemble an AR-15 for cleaning, first clear the rifle and perform a safety check. Then, pop out the takedown pins and separate the upper and lower receiver. Remove the buffer and buffer spring, engage the trigger, and remove the charging handle and bolt carrier group (BCG) from the upper receiver.
If you want to do a more in-depth clean or have other maintenance you want to do, you can take things down further. To disassemble the BCG, pull out the cotter pin, and remove the firing pin, cam pin, bolt, and extractor pin. To remove the handguard, first remove the gas block and tension screws, loosen the locking ring, slide the handguard off the barrel, and then remove the barrel nut.
Disassembling an AR-15: A Step-By-Step Guide
Note: This Is Based on Mil-Spec, Yours Might Be Different
It’s important to note that not all AR-15s are built the same way. Some rifles may have different parts or operate differently. If you aren’t seeing what I’m describing, then you may want to check out the owner’s manual if you have it or see if there are videos on YouTube with instructions on your specific rifle.
For Basic Cleaning:
Step 1: Clear the Rifle, Safety Check
Before you disassemble your AR-15, ensure it is unloaded and clear of any ammunition. Perform a safety check to ensure that the rifle is not loaded. This safety check should entail pulling the charging handle back and visually inspecting the chamber to ensure a round is not present. Once that’s been verified, make sure the safety is on anyway.
Step 2: Pop Out Takedown Pins
Locate the takedown pins on the upper and lower receiver. These pins hold the two halves of the rifle together. The rear pin should be somewhere near the safety, usually behind and slightly above. The front pin should be as close to the chamber as it can get while still being on the lower receiver.
To pop out the pins, make sure the rifle is flipped so that the side facing you is the left side. One side of the pins will have a bigger plug than the other side. You want to push out the pin from the side with the smaller profile. Use your thumb or a tool to press in on the rear pin until it pops out. Repeat this for the front pin. The upper and lower receiver should now separate.
The pins don’t need to come all the way out, so don’t try to force them to do so.
Step 3: Remove Buffer & Buffer Spring
With the upper and lower receiver separated, you can now remove the buffer and buffer spring. If you’re unsure what these are, look for the metal circle inside the stock tube that is now visible. Inside there is a metal bolt (the buffer) and a long spring (the buffer spring).
There should be a small pin at the bottom that’s holding the buffer in. Simply push down on that pin until the buffer pops out. Pull the buffer and spring out of the buffer tube and set them aside. For cleaning, all you should need to do is oil the buffer spring occasionally.
Step 4: Engage Trigger
The trigger has two positions – fired and not fired. The trigger should be in the “not-fired” position, which means the hammer will be leaning back. If you pull the trigger, the hammer will jump forward, which gives you better access to clean the entirety of the trigger mechanism.
I would recommend holding the hammer with your thumb when you pull the trigger so it doesn’t jump forward and smack into the top of the trigger guard. After the trigger releases, you can ease the hammer back with your thumb to prevent damage.
Step 5: Remove the Charging Handle and BCG
Once the trigger is engaged, you can remove the charging handle and BCG. As you pull the charging handle out, the BCG will slide with it because the gas key sits inside the charging handle. Once it’s out far enough, you can grab the BCG and pull it out independently. Then you can get the charging handle the rest of the way out as well.
If you’ve done the above steps, you have field-stripped your rifle and are ready to give it a basic cleaning. If you want to get a more thorough cleaning (particularly of the bolt carrier group), read on for more instructions on how to get access to all the components you need to reach.
Disassembling Bolt Carrier Group
Step 1: Pull Out the Cotter Pin
The cotter pin holds the firing pin in place. It should be on the side of the BCG, and it will look like a little metal loop. To remove it, use pliers to gently pull it out or use something thin enough (like a pin or a nail) to stick into the hole and lever it out. Don’t lose this pin, the firearm will not function without it.
Step 2: Remove the Firing Pin
The cotter pin is the only thing holding the firing pin in place. In case you don’t already know, the firing pin is what strikes the primer of the cartridge to ignite the powder. With the cotter pin removed, you can now remove the firing pin. Simply turn the BCG upside-down and let the firing pin slide out. If it doesn’t, you can shake or lightly tap the BCG on the table, and the pin should drop.
Step 3: Remove Cam Pin
The cam pin is underneath the gas key, and the top of it is a square shape. The cam pin holds the bolt in place in the BCG. To remove it, first push the bolt as far into the carrier as it will go. Then, rotate the cam pin to one side, and it will come right out. It may simply fall out when you flip the BCG over, but you will probably have to pull it out.
Step 4: Remove Bolt
Now that the cam pin is removed, you can easily remove the bolt from the BCG. All you have to do is just pull the bolt out the back. It may look like the BCG is completely disassembled now, but there is actually one more step to complete if you want to give your rifle a thorough clean.
Step 5: Remove Extractor Pin
On the bolt, there is a pin that is holding the extractor pin in place. To get this out, you’ll want to first squeeze the sides of the extractor to remove any spring tension that will make it harder to get the pin out. Then just push the pin out from one side with something narrow and preferably not too sharp. I’ve heard it’s bad, but I’ve had a lot of success using the firing pin to do this.
Removing the Handguard
There are two types of handguards for AR-15s: drop-in handguards and free-float handguards. Drop-in handguards are much quicker and easier, but they’re also much flimsier. You do not really ever need to remove the handguard for cleaning, but would definitely need to do so if you wanted to upgrade. Here’s how to remove both types:
These types of handguards are the most common type for cheaper factory AR-15s. To remove a drop-in handguard:
- Simply pull down on the delta ring (the ring at the base of the barrel by the chamber)
- Pull the bottom half off, then the top half. There should be a ring on the barrel at the top where the handguard ended as well.
Voila, the drop-in handguard is removed. If you’re replacing it with a different drop-in, not much else will likely be required. If you are replacing it with a free-float, there’s a lot more you need to do that is out-of-scope for this article.
Free-float handguards are more secure and provide better control and durability, but they’re also more difficult to remove. They are called “free-float” because they don’t actually ever touch the barrel. They mount via a barrel nut by the chamber, and that’s it. Here’s how to remove a free-float handguard:
Step 1: Remove the Gas Block
The gas block is located near the front of the barrel and holds the gas tube in place. To remove it, use a wrench to loosen the set screws and then slide the gas block off the barrel. I know that sounds simple, and sometimes it is, but sometimes the gas block just won’t slide off. In this case, you may need to very carefully apply some heat to get it to loosen enough to come off.
Don’t twist or force it. The gas tube is connected to the gas key, and if you try to twist the key, you may end up bending the gas tube.
Step 2: Remove the Tension Screws on Side of the Handguard
The tension screws on the side of the handguard clamp onto the barrel nut to prevent the handguard from spinning as it’s being used. If you want to take the handguard off, you’ll need to get rid of these bad boys. There should be one on either side of the handguard. To remove them, use a wrench to loosen the screws and then pull them out.
Step 3: Loosen the Locking Ring
Ah, but there’s more to be done before the handguard will come off. The locking ring also holds the handguard in place. To loosen it, turn it counter-clockwise, which should take it further away from the handguard. Once the locking ring is out of the way, you should be able to unscrew the handguard off of the barrel nut.
Step 4: Slide the Handguard Off the Barrel
Now that that’s done, you should be able to slide the handguard off the barrel. It isn’t in two halves like a drop-in handguard, so it needs to be pulled all the way up and off the barrel, which is why the gas block needed to be removed first.
Step 5: Loose Barrel Nut, then Remove
If you’re swapping out for a new handguard, you may be able to leave the existing barrel nut and locking ring in place, but you may also need to replace it with one compatible with the new handguard. To remove it, use a wrench to loosen the barrel nut and then slide it off the end of the barrel.
Things To Remember Before Disassembling your AR-15
Field-Stripping vs. Full Takedown
It’s important to know the difference between field-stripping and full takedown. Field-stripping is a basic cleaning process that involves separating the upper and lower receiver and removing the BCG, buffer, and buffer spring. Full takedown, on the other hand, usually refers to disassembling the BCG in addition to everything done in field-stripping.
For the most part, the handguard stays where it’s at.
Don’t Mess with BCG or Handguard Unless You Have To
The inside of the BCG does need to be cleaned, but in my experience it doesn’t need to be cleaned every time you use the rifle. It’s not a bad thing to clean it that often, it’s just more than you have to do. I know the die-hards will go after me on this, but there’s a reason field-stripping doesn’t include the BCG.
The handguard, on the other hand, almost never needs to be disassembled. The only reason I can think of to clean underneath the handguard is for aesthetic reasons. That said, if you want to paint your rifle or swap out for a new handguard, you may need to remove it.
Don’t Operate Based on Guesses
Some pins or other components on the rifle can be forced out of position with no issue, but many cannot. If you’re not sure whether you’re using too much torque or about to damage something, just stop and either look up some instructional videos or take your gun to a gunsmith.
Guesses or assumptions can damage your rifle, and if you make the wrong guess at the wrong time, it could damage a part that costs a lot of money to replace.
FBI agents typically only carry handguns, but I have read somewhere that FBI tac teams have adopted the Heckler & Koch HK416. The HK416 improves reliability through its proprietary “gas piston system” that prevents gases from shooting back into the receiver and fouling it up.
It can be. The biggest issue with the AR-15 as a self-defense weapon is the caliber: .223/5.56. That round is an incredibly fast but tiny projectile, which introduces risks of both over-penetration and insufficient stopping power. On the other hand, AR-15s are incredibly easy to use and have very little recoil.
No, the AR-15 is not fully automatic. The fully automatic version of the AR-15, known as the M16, is only available to military and law enforcement personnel. All civilian versions of the AR-15 are semi-automatic, meaning that they fire one round per trigger pull.
Disassembling an AR-15 is not a difficult task, but it’s important to approach it with care and caution. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can disassemble your AR-15 for cleaning or maintenance purposes. Regularly cleaning and maintaining your AR-15 is important to ensure that its lifespan is extended and that it functions properly.A
Taking the time to properly maintain and clean your AR-15 is important to ensure its longevity and reliability. With a little bit of knowledge and some basic tools, you can keep your AR-15 in top working condition for many years to come. And that, truly, is bliss.