Once upon a time, Eugene Stoner and the Armalite crew set out to create the AR-10, a rifle that could handle anything, even without a handy gunsmith nearby. They had a genius idea: make it fully modular! That meant you could mix and match parts in AR-10s and AR-15s… well, most of the time. Buckle up, because there’s a twist to this story!
Table of contents
What is an AR-10?
The AR-10 began life as a 7.62 x 51 Nato. This was the round that the M-14 fired, and the Army liked the fat .30 caliber bullet and it’s stopping power at longer distances. But those cartridges are heavy and the AR-10 (though lighter than most M-14 variants) isn’t exactly as light as its plastic furniture looks.
With a few modifications, the AR-10 could be sized down for the 5.56 cartridge based on the popular .223 Remington cartridge. This became the AR-15, a rifle that was lighter and smaller, even though it shared some of the AR-10’s parts.
The AR-10 never took off. It didn’t enter into widespread military contract production. The design built a loyal following, but manufacturers have felt more liberty in making substantial changes to the platform that make these designs proprietary.
There are two dominant design variants for the AR-10, though, that have stuck around. Some companies stick pretty close to the old Armalite design. Other companies have followed the lead of DPMS (also known as the LR-308).
The AR-10 has a very angular slope to the buffer extension. The DPMS has a radiused curve that mirrors the curve on the typical AR-15 lower.
These two dominant types are easy enough to tell apart, once you know what you’re looking for. Just check that corner on either the upper or the lower. Knowing which parts will work with each lower, though–that’s a different issue.
Are All AR Parts Compatible? – AR15 vs AR10
For the most part, these guns have stayed true to this original specification. Parts are easily swapped out of AR platform rifles and pistols. The aim here is to talk about a different kind of modularity. We know it is easy enough to swap out parts between AR-15s, but what about between the AR-10 and the AR-15?
So are all AR parts compatible and interchangeable? Heck no! That would be too easy. Typically if you want a true-to-form Lego feeling the AR15 platform has your back. But there is some blur between the lines which is exactly what we go onto cover if you follow along below!
Which AR Parts Aren’t Compatible?
Let’s start with the big ones. Because these guns fire different rounds, the barrels, and magazines aren’t compatible.
The lower receivers aren’t compatible, either. The 5.56 is shorter. While the .308 is considered one of the short-action calibers, it isn’t a super short round and the AR-15 lower’s mag well is sized for the 5.56 and not for all short-action calibers (even when they are stamped as multi-caliber).
AR-10s have a longer lower, which requires a longer upper to match. The bolt is also longer and has a wider bolt face. This longer bolt results in the buffer being typically shorter.
At the very least, these elements will stay dedicated to their respective platforms. Since some of these pieces are larger, other parts are affected.
Reliably Compatible Parts Between The AR-10 and AR-15.
The vast majority of AR-15s can accept parts from other manufacturers, the AR-10 is different. There is one basic set of measurements for the AR-15, and manufacturers may make many cosmetic changes, but they’ll reliably leave the important dimensions alone.
Think about an AR in its basic shape. Cartridges are fed in, chambered, fired, and extracted. Almost all of the parts that come in contact with that cartridge are size specific. From the magazine to the bolt-face to the muzzle device, they all have to be equipped for the cartridge of one given platform.
Now think about the parts of the gun that don’t touch the round. This includes furniture, sights, some controls, and some internal parts…. It would be most efficient to design these to work on either rifle. That’s mostly the case.
Since there is no accepted standard and the two often copied designs are chocked full of proprietary “this is the better thing” parts that means the parts listed below may not work out. We’re talking about a compatibility circus, folks! So, to minimize the madness, we highly recommend sticking with the same brand for the majority of your parts as whatever your AR10 upper and lower are.
You may notice that the greater part of the …parts below are accessory or non-integral parts or at the very least they do not have to touch any ammunition.
- Buttstock assemblies
- Pistol grips
- Buffer detent
- Buffer Tubes
- Bolt catch roll pin
- Safety selector
- Hammer and hammer springs
- Disconnector and disconnector spring
- Trigger and trigger springs
- Magazine release buttons and springs
When it comes to these parts, you can typically count on them working. Typically. There’s always an exception to the rule. There will never be full compatibility. The AR10 world is just too muddy for that.
Why Bother With AR-10 and AR-15 Compatibility?
If you’re made of money, odds are you won’t have to bother. But maybe you’ve got that DIY itch. You want to build the perfect rifle, and you need to know.
Or, if you’re like a lot of AT3 devotees, you already have some spare parts kicking around. These parts tend to build up quickly for some of us. We’re always tinkering, moving things around, swapping parts out, and there’s no good reason why any of those shouldn’t have a home. Knowing what will fit on one platform or the other can help you put together a brand-new rifle–and maybe one in a different caliber.
Winding Down with Wildcats
The real dilemma will come when you want to get into the oddballs and the wildcats. The .308 is, in most bolt-action rifles, considered a short action. Step up your AR game to the .30-06, or anything larger and you’ll run into a select group of rifle manufacturers (like Noreen) that build even more boutique shapes and sizes.
If you’re new to building, start with an AR-15. You’ll graduate to the AR-10 in good time. And then you’ll need to fill in the gaps. 300 BLK. .22 LR. .450 Bushmaster…. The safe will likely get a bit crowded, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
The AR15 is the little brother to the AR10. At its most basic the AR10 uses larger cartridges such as 308 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Win, etc. The AR15 however uses smaller cartridges like 5.56 Nato, 6.5 Grendel, 300 BLK, etc.
Typically most of it, yes. The buffer assembly parts, the pivot/takedown pin, and the bolt catch/bolt catch pin are not interchangeable.
No, they are not the same at all. AR10 uppers and lowers are not compatible with AR15 uppers and lowers.
They are extremely similar but are not the same. The .308 Win cartridge is an American hunting cartridge. The 7.62×51 Nato cartridge was used in the M14, FAL, HKG3, AR10, etc. Though they are dimensionally close and basically interchangeable, the .308 Win cartridge is loaded hotter and typically has a thicker casing. Guns chambered for 7.62×51 are not rated for .308 Win.
Yes! Almost always. Manufacturers like DPMS with their G2 have attempted to produce a lighter more AR15-looking rifle.
One Last Tip
If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.