POTD: Copper-Plated AR-15 Built From Scratch

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

Well known YouTuber usmcdoc14 sent us this photo of his beautiful one-of-a-kind AR-15. He wrote …

The rifle shown is a combination of my love for the old brass and hardwood rifles of the past, my love for military rifles and also to cause annoyance with those who keep classifying our weapons as “assault” this or “evil black” that by using an AR variant weapon and bringing the poster child of rifle banning to another level. It is not “steampunk”, it is a fully functional weapon with no useless non-functioning trinkets on it. I wanted something that was nothing like anything else I built, something completely wrong.

This started life as a Billet80.com lower that was machined in my garage to finished status, combined with a DPMS “Lo-Pro” upper that was slotted and keywayed to accept a side charging bolt carrier group. The DPMS was use due to its lack of extras and its increase in wall thickness, allowing it to remain as structurally sound as possible. A flip away plug was made and adapted to blend and delete the rear charging handle slot along with a plug for the charging handle slot. Midwest Industries was chosen for the handguard as it complemented the overall end product and is a proven design. These parts were then machined slightly undersized to accommodate for plating, fully polished and then professionally copper plated heavily. This was after multiple humorous and failed attempts at copper plating aluminum at home. The upper and lower were then reamed and fitted back to spec. I chose copper to allow it to age naturally and become like an old penny, after the photoshoot it has not and will not be polished again.

The wood: The wood is what catches peoples attention after they get past the copper plating. The stock is one piece of English Walnut done in A1 style but with a 1/2 longer LOP. For those out there thinking about making your own; you may just want to suck it up and buy a pre-made set, it’s a lot of work. The handguard is English Walnut veneer laminated over carbon fiber. Inserted into the Magpul grip is also matching walnut inserts. All of the wood is hand sanded and with a hand rubbed oiled finish, or pretty much hours of rubbing wood while watching TV. (Few times you can say that in public) The buttplate is milled from solid copper and is not uncomfortable to shoot.

The bolt carrier is a common semi-auto version drilled and a knurled handle welded for left side charging, this was done over threading due to the difficulty and limited thread depth. Although many do thread them I found it to be an unneeded step due to my full length slotting to allow removal. Colt MPI bolt, standard firing pin and a DMPS “old style” cotter pin round out the digesting part of the weapon.

Barrel is a 20″ heavy profile, chrome lined, 5.56 chambered, steel cased ammo eating, zero care given, no blingity name brand but still puts rounds more accurate than I can hunk of chromoly steel, 11* crowned and capped with a modified vortex style flash hider. Working pressure redirected by a MI gas block that has been modified a little to match. Trigger shown is a single stage mil-spec but has been swapped out to a drop in FCG.
Optic is a Millet DMS-1 in a ADM Recon mount with brass inserts to make it look a little less modern. Eventually I would like to replace the optic with a higher power unit but finding modern glass that complements the look of the rifle is difficult.

The Bipod is a M-60 bipod with A.R.M.S. attachments welded to the barrel ring.

There is most likely tons of details I am forgetting, but who cares, it is a wonderful soft shooting rifle that makes people smile when I bring it to the range. Most people say they would never take it out and use it, but I own no “safe queens”. I added a small patch of Xpel protective film to the side to keep the cases from chewing up the side, but otherwise it is a using rifle. It does need more optic to be able to find a “role” other than looking sexy and making holes in paper. It does require more attention when cleaning as it is copper and a lot of solvents will chew it up.

It was one of my most fun and tedious rifles to build. Please check out my videos to educate yourself on milling your own “80%” lower or any of my threads on building your own toys that go bang.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

More by Steve Johnson

Join the conversation
2 of 79 comments
  • Christopher Switzer Christopher Switzer on Sep 12, 2014

    Now THAT'S an AR for ya!!! Fine craftsmanship, great work all-around. Very impressive piece you have there. Anyone would be honored to call that their firearm, no doubt about it.

    Now the real question; how does she shoot??!

    I'd love to hear about how she fires!


  • Carlb. Carlb. on Sep 26, 2014

    9-26..10:05pm..a truly beautiful piece of work..all your time and effort have come to conclusion..you should be a proud creator/maker..no doubt you could find yourself in business making these for custom order..carl b..