The AR style rifles have been a go-to for shooting enthusiasts for decades now. One of the main components needed in an AR-15 is a charging handle. There are a lot questions surrounding the charging handle that I am going to answer here.
A charging handle on an AR-15 charges or loads the weapon. It pulls the bolt carrier to the rear which opens the breech, ejects spent rounds, and cocks the hammer in one fluid motion. When the charging handle is released the bolt strips a round from the magazine and loads it into the chamber.
Without a charging handle, the user couldn’t load a round into the chamber to ready the weapon for firing. Now let’s cover how they work, the best charging handles for the money, and how to install or swap out charging handles.
How Does An AR-15 Charging Handle Work?
First, lets look at what makes up a charging handle. You have the charging handle itself, a ‘T’ shaped handle and a long channel with a hole at one end that hooks over the gas key on the bolt carrier. Then you have the latch and spring on the handle portion.
The latch and spring simply keep the charging handle locked to the upper receiver while the weapon is being used. The charging handle is only operated manually.
Charging Handle Gets Pulled Back
The charging handle is located inside the upper receiver and gets pulled back above the buffer tube and stock of the rifle.
When you pull back on the charging handle, it hooks over the gas key on the bolt carrier, a little staked down piece on top of the bolt carrier that the gas tube settles into.
Bolt Carrier Does a Lot of Work
As the charging handle is pulled to the rear, so is the bolt carrier. The bolt carrier is pulled into the buffer tube compressing a spring, it pushes down on the hammer latching it to the trigger and charging the weapon.
As the bolt carrier is pulled back, it also pulls the bolt located inside the carrier with it, which extracts any spent casings in the chamber of the barrel.
Charging Handle Is Released
When the charging handle is pulled completely to the rear, it is under spring tension of the buffer spring pushing against the bolt carrier. The bolt carrier is pushing against the charging handle.
There’s three things that can happen when the charging handle is released.
- With A Loaded Magazine: The bolt carrier will be pushed forward by the buffer spring and load a new round into the chamber. The weapon would be cocked and loaded at this point.
- If There Is No Magazine: The bolt carrier will be pushed forward by the buffer spring and return to it’s chambered state. The weapon would be cocked but not loaded.
- With An Empty Magazine: The bolt carrier will remain locked to the rear by the bolt catch. The charging handle will need to be manually return to it’s original position inside the upper receiver since the buffer spring will remain under tension by the bolt carrier.
It is always best to simply release the charging handle and let the buffer spring do the work of returning the bolt carrier. If the user tries to slide the charging handle forward themselves they may actually slow down the intended operation which can cause a failure to load a round.
The name charging handles comes from the fact that it’s the handle used to charge or load the rifle. Without a charging handle the user can’t load a round into the chamber to fire the weapon.
Best AR-15 Charging Handles
There are plenty of great charging handles available now a days but there’s a couple that stand out to me that deserve a mention here.
|Best Standard AR-15 Charging Handle||Strike AR-15 Charging Handle|
|Best Budget AR-15 Charging Handle||Strike Extended Latch Charging Handle|
|Best Overall AR-15 Charging Handle||Geissele Super Charging Handle|
|Best Ambidextrous AR-15 Charging Handle||Aero AR-15 Ambidextrous Charging Handle|
Best Standard AR-15 Charging Handle
The standard mil-spec charging handle can be easily found in most gun stores and online. If that’s what you’re looking for then I suggest the Strike AR-15 Charging Handle Here because it’s better quality than most standard mil-spec charging handles but still at a budget price.
Best Budget AR-15 Charging Handle
To get an upgrade over the standard charging handle I suggest the Strike Extended Latch Charging Handle Found Here because it only costs a little more than a standard charging handle but adds the convenience of an extended latch.
Any other extended latch charging handle will also be an upgrade, but I chose that one because it’s at the best price point for what you get.
Best Overall AR-15 Charging Handle
The best overall charging handle that I’ve had the pleasure of using is the Geissele Super Charging Handle Found Here because of it’s ease of use and quality of build. Just be prepared to pay for the luxury.
Best Ambidextrous AR-15 Charging Handle
This was runner up for best overall but it’s really a great ambidextrous option. The Aero AR-15 Ambidextrous Charging Handle Found Here is a quality piece at a decent price. You’ll pay more than most standard charging handles but the ease of use is worth it.
AR-15 Charging Handle Remove and Install
Swapping out charging handles is one of the easier upgrade you can make to your AR-15. However, it can be a bit tricky if you aren’t aware of the l process. Many new AR owners are able to get the bolt carrier and charging handle removed, but then get stuck trying to reassemble.
Here’s a quick video showing the process, with written steps below:
How To Remove an AR-15 Charging Handle
To remove an AR-15 charging handle the upper must be removed from the lower receiver or at least separated by removing the rear takedown pin.
- Pull back on the charging handle
- The bolt carrier and charging handle will slide to the rear of the upper receiver
- Pull the bolt carrier out of the back of the upper receiver
- Slide the charging handle back and forth near the rear of the upper receiver
- The wings on the charging handle must find the opening in the upper receiver to fit through
- Pull the charging handle out the back of the upper receiver
How To Install an AR-15 Charging Handle
The biggest trick to installing the charging handle is that the bolt must be pulled forward on the bolt carrier group (BCG) in order for them to slide freely into the upper. These steps might be easier for some if the upper receiver is upside down.
- Slide the charging handle part way into the upper receiver
- Move the charging handle back and forth so the wings on the charging handle can find their opening in the upper receiver
- The charging handle will fit into it’s own channel on the top of the upper receiver
- Once in it’s channel, slide the charging handle about half way into the upper receiver
- Pull the bolt forward in the bolt carrier
- Slide the gas key on the bolt carrier into the channel on the charging handle
- Slide the charging handle and BCG forward into the upper receiver
- If the BCG doesn’t want to go, make sure the bolt is pulled forward in the BCG
- Latch the charging handle by pushing it into the upper receiver until the charging handle latch clicks into place
How Important Is A Charging Handle?
An upgraded charging handle may be more important to some than it is to others but I like to think it’s more important for some applications that it is for others.
A charging handle is important for making a firearm easier to use, adding better grip, and making a rifle ambidextrous. But it can also make the user more efficient when loading, unloading, or charging the firearm.
Many AR owners like to upgrade their firearms and the charging handle is one of the simplest and most cost effective upgrades you can make.
A quality charging handle can help increase the aesthetic of your firearm, allow you to grip and operate the weapon easier, and also increase the users proficiency.
Some rifles absolutely need an upgraded charging handle because the mounted optic is getting in the way. The easiest solution is an extended latch type of charging handle.
For personal defense weapons, an upgraded charging handle may be considered a peace of mind upgrade.
Imagine a scenario where you’re butt naked trying to clear a malfunction in the middle of the night in the pitch dark to save your loved ones. The extra few bucks for an upgraded charging handle will seem like a no brainer in that moment.
What Is an AR-15 Side Charging Handle?
An AR-15 side changing handle is a variation of a traditional AR-15 upper receiver where the charging handle is on the side of the upper receiver instead of at the top rear. The side charging handle can charge a weapon and eject spent casings the same way a traditional charging handle can.
Some benefits of a side charging handle include, a better look to some shooters, a more ergonomic feel, easier to use, and they don’t interfere with some optics like the rear charging handles sometimes do.
However, side charging upper receivers, bolt carriers, and charging handles aren’t as common making them generally harder to find a more expensive than traditional charging handles.
Can You Use an AR-15 Charging Handle In an AR-10?
You can not use an AR-15 charging handle in an AR-10 upper receiver because the AR-10 has a larger bolt carrier and upper receiver assembly. The charging handles for AR-10 rifles are longer and are sold separately from AR-15 charging handles.
Can You Use an AR-15 Charging Handle In an AR-9?
Most AR-15 charging handles will fit an AR-9 and are generally considered interchangeable. The top of the AR-9 bolt carrier is built to mimic a standard AR-15 with a mounted gas key for the charging handle to grab onto. It will operate the same way in an AR-15 or an AR-9.