I like to do all sorts of gun reviews. Honestly I do. Sure I like some more than others, and there’s no question others are just plain more reliable than others and less ugly than others, but I really do love all guns. I ALSO love it when gun companies refuse to sit comfortably where they are, and dream up an innovative twist on an old design then make it readily available to average Joe shooters like you and me. I may have expressed these feelings multiple times with my Remington R-15 review.

Enter in American Spirit Arms. ASA has taken your standard and now almost traditional AR-15 platform and made a standard offering out of their side charging upper receiver in their AR-15 models. Sure, ASA isn’t necessarily the first to do it, but by my radar, they appear to be the most affordable to have done it out of a factory made AR-15 platform rifle.

Overall operation of the side charging AR upper is the same as any other AR in principle, engaging rifle into battery just runs a little different.

The general idea with a side charging upper on an AR-15 style rifle is rather than the charger handle being located on the rear side of the receiver. This requires (in most cases) the shooter to take one hand out of battery in order to re-engage the charging handle. The side-charger has two tabs located on either side of the upper receiver allowing the shooter, with a quick slap of the hand, to release the charge and chamber a round much faster than normal. The fact that the upper charges from the side isn’t the only difference of this piece. Secondarily, the side charger requires a modified bolt carrier as well.

Check out the video below to hear (and see) it directly from the Horse’s mouth:

Lastly, while ASA is one of the most available AR-15 side chargers out there, you can expect to pay for the subtle difference to the tune of a few hundred dollars. Having shot a side charger before, I can say that it’s addicting enough that the few hundred dollars doesn’t feel much like, especially if you’re trying to (though I would argue you back) make the transition from AK-47 to AR-15 and prefer the side charging format.

Enough said. American Spirit Arms appears to be a viable option if looking to go the side charger route on your AR-15 route and are trying to keep the cost down.

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9 Responses to American Spirit Arms AR-15 Side Charger Review

  1. RWW says:

    A few problems with this side charging upper:
    1: Will not fit in a standard vice block, and they do not make a custom vice block for it.
    2: The grease they ship it with may be fine in Arizona, but it solidifies at lower temps (low 40’s). (easily removed and replaced though)
    3. Maybe I got a bad one, but would not fit on any of my lowers. Pivot pin in, but would not close far enough to get the takedown pin in. Had to file a tiny amount of metal from the rear of the upper to get it to fit.

    • Eric Ebbinghaus says:

      Russ, thanks for the detailed though on the ASA Side Charger. Obviously since we haven’t had one in our hands our review is based on their own facts and speculation. Sounds like a shame that it wouldn’t fit on your lowers. While I reviewed the gun as a whole, it’s interesting to think how it may or may not function well on any number of AR lowers someone may have. Again, thanks for the detailed and hands-on comment.

      For what it’s worth, I appreciate intelligent responses devoid of negativity and aggressive criticism.

  2. Don says:

    Thank you for the review. I have been thinking of buying on of these because of the convenience of the charging handle and the look of it would make my AR15 stand out more. I love ASA and their customer support is amazing. I bought a barrel from them in the summer and had to call and email them a few times and they were always nice and willing to help in anyway. They have a customer for life with me. I was thinking of buying the complete upper with barrel, but I don’t want a bull barrel. I’m sure if i give them a call they can hook me up with a 20 inch threaded barrel on the receiver.

  3. AESW says:

    I have had nothing but issues with my American Spirit Arms AR. Non stop jams. Even after they took it back cleaned it and told me to only use select amo, I still have jams about every 40 rounds. Once I get one jam every round after than jams until I take it back in to be worked on. Me personaly I would stay far way from American Spirit Arms.

    • Ebbs says:

      Thanks for the follow up insight. Have they given any insight as to why it continues to jam so it can be corrected rather than limping along every 40 rounds? This is disappointing news to say the least.

  4. Don says:

    I finally was able to go out and fire mine. I bought the side charger with 20 inch barrel. I put about 200 rounds through it and the only two jams I had were because of cheap Lake City rebrass.

  5. RWW says:

    Was finally able to fire mine also (recently got the form 4 back for the SBR lower I had built this upper for). Put 120 rounds through it, a mix of .223 and 5.56 surplus, and had no problems with jamming.
    AESW – The only thing in the side charger mechanism that I can see possibly causing a jam problem is that the groove above the bolt carrier that the gas key moves in has more room now (without the rear charger sharing the space), allowing the bolt carrier to rotate or rise up slightly. A possible fix for this would be to cut the handle part from a normal rear charger and affix the rest into the channel in the receiver.
    Otherwise I think your problem would be the bolt or chamber, both of which can be replaced with non-ARA parts without effecting the side-charger.

    As for the problem with it not fitting any of my lowers, the small amount of metal I had to file off was not on the receiver itself, but the hinged plug that fills the hole where the rear charging handle would normally be. (In case anyone else has this same problem)

  6. SoCal Side Charger says:

    As an ASA side charger upper owner and frequent user, I can attest to the “minor fitting issues” that one may expect from using a billetmilled side charger upper vs a forged upper rear charger. One thing that hasn’t been said in this thread is: Forged unit(s) are not held to the exacting standards that most billet units are. Typically one can find up to .006 variance in forgings, and billets usually are held to the .003 “much referred to as match grade” standard. When mixing forged lowers and billet uppers, one should expect to have some minor issues. I personally have seen forged lowers with inconsistencies that have caused fitting issues.

    With all that said….. I truly do appreciate the ASA hardware I own, and I have ordered 4 more uppers & modified carriers…. Which leads me to my other piece of objective advice for people considering ASA purchases….. Don’t expect anything other than very vague and or completely unresponsive support from the sales side…. In my first purchase, before Obummer even took office, I had to wait an excrutiating 8 weeks for them to fit a JP muzzle brake to a 16″ bull barrel and put a Sampson Elite handguard on it.

    I now find myself waiting past the 7th week just for bare upper receivers and modified bcg’s….. Wholly unacceptable performance by ASA…..

  7. SoCal Side Charger says:

    RWW, here’s a handy trick for “vice blocking” an ASA…
    I use a barrel retention tool from Brownell’s to work on my ASA…. Just as inexpensive as a vice block, and works for any AR-15 & AR-10 if you get the “multi-cal” version for about $29.95.

    If you choose to use a standard vise, please use EXTREME care to not warp, twist, or even crack your ASA rcvr. there have been several cases where inexperienced personnel have utterly ruined their hardware.

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