Charging handles for AR-15s are one of those parts that come in all shapes and sizes. Located at the rear, charging handles perform the critical function of moving the bolt into the ready position so the rifle can be fired.
Unless the AR has been significantly redesigned, charging handles are a universal fit for any other handle on the market. A side charging upper assembly eliminates the need for a charging handle. Rather than placement in the back, the charging handle is moved to the side. Side-charging AR-15s are similar in action to the FN SCAR and AK47.
Best Side Charging AR-15 Uppers
- New Frontier Armory C-4
- GIBBX Arms G4 Side Charging Upper
- JP Enterprises PSC-12
- LANTAC USC Billet Side Charging Upper
- Faxon Arms ARAK-21 Upper
A standard bolt carrier group on your AR-15 will not work if you want to modify the upper for a side charging handle. The cost of labor and parts to accept the change would be prohibitive. If you want the benefits, buy a new upper receiver with a standard side charging upper.
New Frontier Armory C-4
This side charging upper is a well-recommended component to the overall AR-15. The piece will accept any lower and is non-reciprocating, and the C-4 accepts any mil-spec magazine.
There are lots of excellent features on the C-4. The part is machined from a solid block of 6061 billet aluminum and comes with a matte black hard anodized finish. The finish meets the Mil 8625 Type 3 Class 2 standard.
The New Frontier Armory C-4 is compatible with most other AR-15 parts and most OEM components. The handle features a machined pocket to accept a MAGPUL lever. This feature is the only non-reciprocating receiver to accept any standard MILSPEC BCG.
The ejection port on the C-4 is huge and accepts calibers up to the .458 SOCOM. It should be noted this component works only with flush mounting rails and standard handguards. Make sure to check out the compatible New Frontier lower assemblies.
Bottom Line: The New Frontier Handle comes well recommended, with several shooting experts throwing their recommendation behind the part. It is reliable, rugged, and works well with large calibers.
GIBBX Arms G4 Side Charging Upper
Every best list on side charging upper receivers contains the GIBBZ G4. The Gibbens Brothers began the company on the premise of innovation and a distinctive product mix. They have gotten off to a good start.
The GIBBZ Arms G4 comes with tons of features, and shooters can customize the product to their needs. The ejection port on the G4 works with 22LR calibers up to the 50 Beowulf. G4 is a non-reciprocating receiver that keeps the handle all the way forward during the firing process.
Out of the box, the G4 comes with the detent, and shooters have the option of a Gen3 latching handle. Here is an excellent article from the manufacture on the differences between the Gen2 and Gen3 handles. The G4 is a mil-spec receiver, and the BCG works without modification. G4 features a full 15 slot Picatinny Rail giving the shooter a world of optic choices.
Finish options on the G4 are exceptional. Out of the box, the G4 features a very nice hard-anodized finish, or choose from either a melonite or Cerakote. Adding the Cerakote adds a two-week lead time to the order and is installed over the hard anodizing.
Another option from GIBBZ Arms is a competition handle added to the already impressive receiver. Other available options include a gas piston bushing and an additional cam pin.
Bottom Line: AR-15 enthusiasts will not find a better side charging handle than the GIBBZ G4. Plenty of options and all the standard equipment you would expect from an outstanding AR-15 builder.
JP Enterprises PSC-12
Like most other good, small sporting enterprises, they started out finding a need and filling it. At the head of JP Enterprises are a group of avid sports enthusiasts.
JP Enterprises PSC-12 fits any mil-spec lower assembly and is compatible with the AR platform and M16 rifles. Everything you need to install the component is in the box, including an ejection port cover and the hardware. The box also includes all the pins needed, which are the cam and firing pin.
The kit features a full bolt mass carrier assembly for competition shooters, which must be used with the low-mass recoil buffer. The full mass carrier is made from stainless steel and features a QPQ finish for added durability.
Quality of construction is a prominent feature of the PSC-12, with excellent billeted aluminum used in the build. The bolt carrier group is expected to last 60,000 rounds.
The enhanced bolt is precision machined 9310 nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. Even the locking lugs are radiused on all 90-degree corners. JP Enterprises offers a dual charging unit, which retains the top handle if shooters want that feature.
Bottom Line: JP features this upper an excellent piece in their overall availability of complete receivers. Action on the PSC-12 is slick and exceptionally smooth.
LANTAC USC Billet Side Charging Upper
Get in line if you want this upper for your AR-15; the company is building these components as fast as possible and are still selling out.
A SmoothCam system is patent-pending, which features a domed head, low friction cam pin, and upper receiver that offers the ultimate smooth operation. LANTAC machined the upper from a solid block of 7075-T6 certified aluminum and mil-spec.
The finish on the LANTAC USC is a deep hard coat anodized. USC features a proprietary machined bore with a roughness average in micro inches. A standard bored upper has an average of 32 to 63 or higher. Friction from the bolt carrier is reduced, resulting in smoother action.
Another essential feature is the USC barrel nut threads, bore, and barrel extension surfaces are all machined in one operation. This precision machining means the surfaces are concentric and perpendicular to the barrel.
USC upper sidewalls are strengthened for maximum rigidity. Combine the USC with other LANTAC receiver parts, and the shooter has an ultra-smooth, low friction system.
Bottom Line: LANTAC has created one of the more precise components in all the AR-15’s ecosystems. Precision machined parts mean extended durability and low friction resulting in a smoother operation.
Faxon Arms ARAK-21 Upper
Faxon has a lot to offer the serious shooter, with complete rifles and custom parts in several different calibers. Their components are always easy to install, with the uppers coming out of the box fully assembled. Dropping the unit into the rifle with no permanent alterations is a big plus for the ARAK.
The Faxon ARAK-21 Upper is fully compatible with a wide range of AR-15 standard and third-party parts. The full-length rail system supports the BCG and 15 slot Picatinny rails. Quality of the build, strength, and reliability are exceptional and couple these features with the fact, the unit is ambidextrous.
Extras on the ARAK include the gas piston, adjustor, gas block, and muzzle brake. A lot of value for the money.
Most shooters reviewing the Saxon ARAK report, there is good comfort and exceptionally smooth action. Choose a caliber to attach to your AR platform and easily swap as your system grows. The component features outstanding reliability over 1000 rounds.
The ARAK is made in the USA and only weighs 13.0 ounces.
Bottom Line: The ARAK is an exceptionally well-built side charging upper, and the shooter will have years of excellent service.
Benefits of A Side Charging Upper
Competitive shooting has been the primary beneficiary of a side charging upper. Removing the need for a charging handle altogether, shooters can now take full advantage of the change.
Shooters do not have to make an awkward change in shooting stance or firing grip to check the chamber for jams.
Standard charging handles put a limit on the buttstock top line because the charging handle must be free to retract fully. With no restriction, a better and more competitive cheek-piece can be installed. In the right location, a raised cheek-piece can be installed, making for a better fit.
Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver Buyer’s Guide
Reciprocating or Non-Reciprocating?
Shooters have complete control over bolt movement with a reciprocating side charging upper. The control allows the shooter to force engagement of a shell or eject a damaged round. With a non-reciprocating upper, the charging handle stays in place while you fire.
The best receivers will have a combination of 7075 aluminum and steel alloys. Depending on your shooting or hunting, the receiver needs rust and corrosion-resistant finish. Consider a finish of hard anodized, melonite, or QPQ.
Racking the side charging handle to the rear should have a smooth operation through the entire action process. If it does not, you miss out on one of the significant advantages of installing the handle.
You want to make sure the charging handle you purchase is fully compatible with the rest of your AR-15 component mix. For example, there are times when a shooter purchases a handguard then the side handle; it is frustrating to find the handguard is not compatible with the new side charging handle.