The charging handle on your AR-15 should pull back easily, and if it doesn’t, there are a few problems that could be happening. When the handle doesn’t go back, the firearm will not function, and there could be structural issues inside the rifle. So why won’t the charging handle on my AR-15 pull back?
The most common reason an AR-15 has trouble pulling back is because the charging handle is warped. Other common reasons include the weapon being dirty, charging handle coating, and after market parts.
When there are significant issues with your gun, it can be like a punch in the gut. AR-15s are dependable, and if there is a charging handle problem, it is significant. Don’t sweat it! Read on and learn about why your charging handle won’t pull back and how to fix it.
The charging handle is what cocks back the bolt mechanism in the rifle. Some handles have snazzy grip attachments to give you more leverage; others are smooth as silk when you pull back the hammer and let it rip.
For more info about charging handles check out: What Is an AR-15 Charging Handle?
A few reasons why your AR-15 charging handle won’t pull back are:
- Handle Coating – There’s a trend going around of coating rifle parts in high-tech coatings and polymers in hopes of improving the looks of the gun but also how it performs. Unfortunately, the chemicals they use can often slow down the speed of the charging handle and prevent it from fully closing the bolt into battery.
- After Market Parts – Another big reason your charging handle might not pull back is that it is the wrong size. When you buy after-market parts for your rifles, there’s a chance that the handle could be millimeters from the correct size, which is just enough to keep the gun from being charged or charged slowly.
- Warping – While it is very uncommon, there have been issues with the track of the charging handle. The handle could twist, and when you pull it back, the charger doesn’t budge. Check the charging handle for defects if your gun has been impacted or dropped.
The reasons that the charging handle doesn’t go back are easy to diagnose and sometimes easier to fix. But, first, remember that when the handle on the rifle does not pull back, you should remove the magazine and any ammunition that might be stuck in the chamber.
The handle is right on the surface of the rifle and easily removed once the upper is opened. If there are massive problems with the rifle’s frame, it could need more help. Using pliers or a rubber mallet is your best option if there has been severe damage, do what you need to but be careful not to damage any other pieces.
The first steps are always to use a process of elimination:
- Try using the charging handle with BCG removed
- Try sliding the BCG in the upper without the charging handle
- Try using the charging handle with the upper detached from the lower
Doing those types of steps can help you pinpoint the problem part or parts.
When the handle doesn’t pull back because of too much coating, there could be less work than you think. By removing some of the coatings or paint, you can free up space for the charging handle to move freely in its track.
The steps to remove the coating from a charging handle are:
- Remove the Handle – The charging handle will be seated in the upper part of the rifle. It is a long t-shaped handle that rides above the bolt carrier group. It will move around freely unless there has been heavy damage to the upper body of the rifle.
- Grind the Surface – Once you know where the coating is causing the failure, you should get out your grinder. Place the handle in a vice, or it could fly off from the power tool’s pressure. Grind tiny bits of the coating away until you have removed the appropriate amount.
- Test the Handle – Measuring is your best bet to determine how much the coating was removed. It is best to start small and work your way out. Removing too much could be a disaster, forcing the handle to break. Pull the handle all the way back and let it go. If the bolt closes, it is back in proper working order.
If there’s too much paint on the charging handle, you will know by the fact it is hard to charge, and if it does, it won’t return the bolt to battery. Remove the excess coating with a grinder, and be sure to remove only the amount needed to make the handle function properly.
You wouldn’t be the first person if you bought the wrong size charging handle for your new AR build. There are many options; some folks could have misread the measurements or misunderstood their rifle type.
Some ways to protect against buying the wrong charging handle are:
- Measure Twice – When shopping for a handle, make sure that you only search for the size you need by measuring twice before buying. Then, if you know what size you need, you can do advanced searches that only populate the appropriate parts.
- Recycle Parts – Buy the same handle you had before. It might not sound like a flashy option but buying the exact handle you had before is not a bad idea. If the parts are uniform, you know it will work with your rifle without worrying about breaking down.
After-market parts are a big reason people buy the AR-15 platform. It has many uses and can be tricked out with many after-market pieces that resemble something from a science fiction film.
Warping is the most severe problem you can have with a charging handle. When the handle is warped, it will grind against the other metal pieces of the rifle and create friction.
This friction could be the cause of your pulling issues. The fix is quite simple: buy a new charging handle. These can’t be repaired, and there are many tasty choices on the charging handle market.
The charging handle not pulling back on your rifle could signify significant problems on the inside. Take time to inspect the charging handle and the bolt carrier group to look for scuff marks or indentions where the handle might be scrubbing.
There are easy fixes for your charging handle issues, as long as you know what you are dealing with. Be aware that it isn’t currently charging doesn’t mean it is broken or you have ruined the rifle. There are parts out there, and all it will take to get them is a little more time and effort.