AR-15s have had immense popularity among rifle enthusiasts since it was first made available to civilians in the 1960s. The very reason that AR-15s are easily customizable explains why AR-15s are popular among rifle enthusiasts.
Though most see the ease of customization of an AR-15 as a blessing, it isn’t always the case. While you can customize your ARs easily, you need to keep in mind that improper customization can adversely affect the performance & reliability of your AR.
Now that you own an AR-15, you should know which part is the most sought after for customization. The lower receiver reaches you only through a dealer that is serialized and registered. But in the case of AR-15 upper receivers, there are compromises and it is market legal to sell them even online. Fewer regulations always mean more options.
Swapping any part of AR is child play these days. You should just have to be sure you are not messing with the chamber and caliber rounds. With that being said, let us dig deep into the basic question, which is your ideal upper?
While there is no straightforward answer, we can guide you to find it yourself.
What is an upper receiver?
Starting from the basics, your AR needs a group of bolt carriers and a charging handle which together constitutes an upper receiver. Upper receivers are generally made from aluminum because of being as strong and light as it possibly can, the barrel and forend are attached to it.
If you didn’t know, by changing the upper receiver you can transform your long-range precision rifle into a close-quarters combat carbine.
What are the different types of AR15 upper receivers?
When it comes to upper receivers, the material of manufacture is not the sole criteria for the strength; instead, the method of manufacture plays a greater role. This is why upper receivers are classified into three based on the manufacturing methods viz;
- Forged Upper Receiver
- Billet Uppers
- Cast Upper Receivers
They are both made from the same material and have the same machine finish. Choosing between a forged and billet upper is your personal choice.
Forged vs Billet vs Cast. Which is yours?
Look for expert opinions. You will get a mixed response ending yourself in a bitter dilemma:
Forged Upper Receiver
Consider buying a forged upper made from aluminum, it will be the stronger of the two. Hence, it is the trusted recommendation of metallurgists. What makes them strong is that when aluminum is heated and beaten into shape violently, the density of the material improves without any compromise on the composition.
Because they are forged, forged uppers are cheaper than billet uppers.
If you want compatibility, long-term strength, and reliability, get a forged upper receiver.
So, should you buy it?
Wait, we aren’t finished.
Billet Upper Receiver
If you are someone obsessed with the customization and the look & feel of the upper, we suggest you ditch the forged upper and go with a billet upper. Yes, you heard it right. They are more pleasing for the eyes but know that you will have to compromise on the engineering properties such as density.
Despite sharing similar mechanical properties, billet uppers are manufactured by milling a solid metal block. There are specialized instruments such as CNC used in the manufacture of billet uppers. Which explains why they tend to fall on the pricey side.
Let’s take forged & billet uppers for a one on one comparison.
Finish: Both are machine-made and they are equally refined.
Strength: Forged uppers are the stronger of the two.
Get a billet upper receiver, if you are looking for custom building options or aesthetic qualities.
Cast Upper Receivers
There is a third contender for your choice, the cast upper receivers. They are lightweight and are tagged “good enough”.
As the name suggests, Cast uppers are made by pouring molten metal into a die and finishing is done using a CNC. They are the weakest and are the least preferred by AR enthusiasts.
Well, these three are the different types of uppers you can choose from. While these three were classified depending on how they were manufactured, there is another category you need to look at.
Flat top uppers & Carry handle uppers are the next category you should look at. As always it is entirely a personal choice that has to be made depending upon your use.
Who should choose a Flat top upper?
A flat top and Picatinny rail on the top of the upper differentiates a flat top upper from a carry handle upper.
If customization is your key, a flat top upper has to be your pick. Let it be any mounts, aftermarket sights, or scopes, a flat top is the best.
Who should choose a carry handle upper?
As the name suggests, the fixed carry handle on the upper is what differentiates a carry handle upper from the flat top. Contrary to popular belief, the carry handle was not just designed to carry the rifle.
They were designed to elevate the rear sight and to keep the sights high in the AR.
Well, that’s not it, there is one more type you need to check out. They are the stripped & complete receivers.
What’s a stripped receiver and should you buy it?
Yeah, you guessed it right. The stripped receiver is just the main solid piece of metal and you get the most options for customization with the stripped receiver. You need to buy the other components that go into the upper separately and assemble them.
Complete uppers come with the ejection port door and the forward assist button installed. While having a forward assist button isn’t always a necessary pick, marksmen would know that nothing is a luxury when you are at the line.
Popular for military use, civilians don’t prefer having a forward assist button. But remember the advantage- a tap on the forward assist will assure that the bolt is fully seated.
For the sake of blind buy, we recommend a completely flat-top upper receiver with a forward assist button.
Now that we have discussed the different options you have with upper receivers; it is important to understand that choosing the one for your rifle is entirely a personal choice. Before you spend any money on an upper receiver for AR-15, have a clear understanding of your requirements and choose wisely.
Concluding to least words, it’s your choice and you choose wisely with us. Consider visiting us for more and placing an order.
When you are in doubt, don’t hesitate to get help from someone with experience. You can always reach out to us If you have any questions regarding AR-15s.