80% receiver FAQ

Last modified: January 16 2007.

I AM NOT A LAWYER! This document is not legal advice, should not be considered as legal advice, and in fact, could be wholly wrong! Heck, it's not even ATF approved! If you have any updates, suggestions, additions, or changes, please let me know and I'll try and incorporate them. In the mean time, though, don't even think that I know a darn thing about any of this. This document is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered definitive, correct, appropriate, or even authentic. Thanks.

1. What is an 80% receiver/frame/gun?
2. What is the legality of completing an 80% receiver?
2.1 What are the legal ramifications? Do I need an FFL to get one?
2.2 Can I sell my completed firearm?
2.3 How many can I build per year?
2.4 Can I build a Pre-Ban configured AR15/AK/etc?
2.5 What about filling out the Form 1?
3. How difficult is it?
4. What kinds of receivers are available?
5. Is it safe?
6. Local Information
7. Anyone done one of these that I can look at? Any place to go for tips?
8. Updates, corrections, and thank you's

1. What is an 80% receiver/frame/gun?

An 80% receiver (or frame, or gun) is an uncompleted receiver of a firearm. A 100% receiver would be a transferrable firearm that you'd get from an FFL. Basically, it's a hunk of metal that looks alot like a receiver for a firearm, but not quite. They make nice paper weights, or fun projects for someone who wants to build there own gun from (nearly) scratch.

2. What is the legality of completing an 80% receiver?

Folks are always concerned about this. A lot of misinformation is floating around out there about building your own guns. Many FFL's aren't even sure about the legality of such a thing. The question of their legality was posed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms about this. Here's a link to what they had to say:


The short answer is, if you can legally own a pistol, you can legally complete an 80% pistol frame. Ie, 21 years old, and could pass a 4473 plus background check. (John M. points out that an 18 year old can own a pistol but can't buy one, so it may be possible for an 18 year old to make an 80% pistol, depending on state & local laws.) Rifle 80% frames must meet the rifle requirements (18+, 4473 or local equivalent, etc) There's no Federal requirement to register it, your state may vary on their interpretation, however. Also note that you have to comply with federal and state laws concerning the type of firearm you eventually build, ie, you can't put preban features onto an 80% frame, since none of them were preban models. Pistols have certain legal requirements depending on the state you live in.
A few people also have the misconception there is a limit to how many firearms you can construct a year. Federally speaking, there's no limit. Many times folks will relate that "an ATF agent" or other law enforcment told them that they can only make one gun per year. The 1919a4.com FAQ says this, for example. The ATF might frown upon you making 100+ frames a year for personal use, though.
Here's a link to the question in the ATF's FAQ.

2.1 What are the legal ramifications? Do I need an FFL to get one?

No FFL is necessary to purchase or receive an 80% frame. Since an 80% receiver is not considered a gun by law, there is no requirement that you get it from anyone in particular. Until the receiver is completed, it doesn't fall under firearms law. The big sticking point about an 80% receiver is that you, the eventual owner/builder of the firearm, has to complete all of the remaining 20% of the work by yourself. This means your brother Bob, wife, sister, machinist buddy, etc, can't do any of it for you. You, yourself, need to finish it(Note...this may not be wholly correct, but until further info is available, err on the side of caution). This doesn't mean that they can't provide insight, tips, and equipment to you, though. Just make sure that you run the equipment, you use the tips, and you finish it all by yourself. After completing it, you should put a serial number and your name, or some name on it so as to make it identifiable should the need ever arise. However, see the ATF letter above for specific information.

2.2 Can I sell my completed receiver?

It is possible. However, many FFL's won't do transfers on them for a variety of reasons, but, if you follow the laws of your state on selling a firearm, there are no restrictions on doing so. There is one caveat, however, and that is you can't build an 80% receiver for resale purposes. This would put you into the manufacturing business (and without a License, this is illegal, so don't do it). See the section above on marking your completed firearm. Although it was stated here earlier, there is no way for a non-licensee to pay the excise tax on a manufactured firearm (10% on handguns and 11% on long arms).

2.3 How many can I build per year?

Invariably someone upon hearing about your building adventure will popup and exclaim that you can only make one per year. They of course heard this from a reliable source, etc. There is NO law or ATF ruling that limits the number of firearms you can build per year. There may be some local laws that apply however.

2.4 Can I build a Pre-Ban configured AR/AK/etc.?

Unless the 1994 law is repealed you cannot add two or more of the "banned" features to a rifle. I am aware of no receivers of the 80% variety that are pre-ban. You would have to prove that you made your reciever prior to the ban, and also had it configured in a pre-ban manner the whole time.

2.5 What about filing out the Form 1?

The ATF form 1 is a subject of much confusion in the home built arena. The quick answer is that Form 1 is for NFA guns. Reference the ATF letter above to see they don't even mention it in regards to a non-NFA firearm (ATF is fond of saying "...is a firearm and a machinegun" to describe NFA items).

3. How difficult is it?

That depends on a couple of things. First, your experience with tools and working with metal. Second, the model that you are trying to complete. Third, if you are a creative bastard, then it could be really easy. Some examples are in the AR15.com forums under "build it yourself". The ar-15 lower receivers need to have some holes drilled, and the buffer tube hole also has to be tapped straight inline with the bolt carrier's path of travel. This can be difficult to do easily for inexperienced folks like me. A 1911 80% frame just needs to have the slide rails cut. That sounds easy, and it can be, but cutting them parallel, and to the right depth, width, etc., can be a little tricky.
Even after completing the receiver, you still have to build a gun around it. This can range from fairly easy (ar15) to somewhat more interesting and time consuming (match grade custom 1911, SIG 226).

4. What receivers are available?

The list is short but getting longer all the time. As of this writing, ar15 lower receivers, 10/22 receivers, 1911 frames, Sig 22x frames, FAL receivers, AR-10 receivers are all available. BAR's, 1919A6's, and some other exotic stuff are available if you search on the net you'll find them. There are a number of different types of materials available in the AR-15 and 1911 frames (Aluminum, stainless, CMM, bronze?)
I no longer have any idea about Tanneryshop's availability and selection.

5. Is it safe?

This question entirely depends on you. If you feel comfortable machining, building, headspacing, and finishing a gun, then it shouldn't be difficult to build a safe firearm. If you don't have any experience in headspacing or machining, then it would be prudent to consult someone more experienced before attempting this kind of project.

6. Local Information

(Note...if you have any information on your state's local laws concerning completing your own firearm, please email me!)
Montana: It's been related that there are no laws covering the manufacture of firearms in Montana. If any lawyers familiar with that state's laws care to comment, please let me know.
California: A letter from the DOJ concerning whether or not completing an 80% frame is legal or not can be found here.

7. Anyone done one of these that I can look at? Any place to go for tips?

Sure. Check out 1911forums.com, AR15.com, pistolsmith.com, and a wide variety of places on the net for information on finishing or building a firearm. The best place for 80% info is probably Roderus Custom site, though. (see the links page)
If you need some help building up an AR15 frame, check savvysurvivor.com for a drilling jig.

8. To update, correct, etc, and thank you's

E-Mail me (see the contact page at Acme Arms home page with anything that should be updated, fixed, or any errors. I will try and keep this as current and correct as I can. This will of course, require some help on the part of other knowledgeable folks to help keep me on the straight and narrow path.
Thanks go to Derek P., John Mc., Rich S., StimpsonJCat, the Tannery Shop (for helping start this mess), and all the folks on the AR15 Build it yourself forum for putting up with my inane questions and replies.

Last modified: January 16 2007. Copyright 2001-2009 Acme Arms. All rights reserved.