When we talked about the AR-15/M-16 family of firearms, the first thing we thought is their unusual design. In recent times, this nonconventional concept has pioneered the development of modern military rifles, semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles based on the original AR-15 construction. It’s the design that’s come to be known as a “Modern Sporting Rifle.”
However, they all share one characteristic construction detail: two separate parts that in most guns are one. The lower receiver and the upper receiver give unlimited options for choosing components and customizing the firearm.
Quick Take: Best AR-15 Stripped Upper Receivers
- Aero Precision - AR-15/M16 Stripped Upper Receiver
- Vltor Weapon Systems - AR-15/M16 Modular Upper Receiver
- Sabre Defence Industries, Llc. - AR-15 Forged Stripped Upper Receiver Black
Find out more about stripped upper receivers and get reviews of these and a couple more below.
Components of a Stripped Upper Receiver
The modular design of the AR-15 means any owner can choose between a complete upper receiver parts kit or select a stripped upper receiver if he wants to do more work and build a more personalized rifle.
The pre-assembled or complete upper receiver comes with at least the ejection port and dust cover in place. It may include up to the full complement of parts: barrel, bolt carrier group, gas block, charging handle, ejection port cover and forward assist. While many people may choose to purchase a complete upper receiver, it is simple to customize even more.
Unlike this complete package, the economical stripped receiver comes without a shell deflector or forward assist. None of the other above-mentioned parts are included either. However, building a rifle from a stripped upper receiver allows you the chance to select all the components down to the smallest detail. You can build the rifle that best suits your style of shooting and needs.
Factors to Look for
The AR-15 has evolved through different styles and four basic types. Most recent versions are the A3 and A4 uppers with a detachable carrying handle or a flat top configuration. However, some gun enthusiasts prefer a "retro" build. They may opt for the original A1 or A2 style upper receivers. These models precisely mirror the contours of the original, early AR-15 with an integrated carrying handle on the top. They also have a much more robust rear sight assembly.
As for the materials in use, AR receivers can be produced from anything from polymers to lithium and magnesium. But the most commonly used material in constructing the upper receiver is 7075-T6 aluminum. Generally this is preferred over 6061-T6 aluminum due to its a higher tensile strength.
The quality of cast receivers is questionable at times. At the same time, the polymer upper receiver is not recommended unless you expect to be shooting .22LR. That leaves the best bets as either billet or forged receivers. The billet receivers typically cost more because of the extra machining time and a unique look, but the forged upper receiver is stronger but lighter than comparable billet receivers.
Just keep in mind before you begin to build your custom upper from scratch that you have to assure that all the components you buy are compatible with standard, mil-spec AR lowers and other components.
Quick Comparison Chart of the Best AR-15 Stripped Upper Receivers
VLTOR Modular Upper Receiver
Sabre Defence Industries, Llc. - AR-15 Forged Stripped Upper Receiver Black
Yankee Hill 110 Flat Top Stripped Upper Receiver
Brownells AR-15 Stripped Upper Receiver Black
Reviews of the Best AR-15 Stripped Upper Receivers
The next part will be dedicated to the stripped upper receivers, so the barrel, sights, and all other accessories must be purchased separately. Since many different companies have caught the bandwagon in the business of making and selling AR-15 uppers, we suggest a few brands that have developed a reputation for delivering a great amount of value without a lot of frills.
Aero Precision offers flat-top uppers forged from sturdy anodized 7075 T-6 aluminum and machined to be compatible with all mil-spec AR-15/M16 components. Featuring M4 feed ramps, these Aero Precision stripped upper receivers are really popular.
When selecting an AP upper receiver, you can choose a more minimalistic build approach without the forward assist and ejection port cover. They call this their "slick" upper. For a small additional cost, you can get an assembled upper receiver with forward assist and dust cover already installed.
As far as functionality, Aero Precision uppers are machined to tight tolerances and these receivers lock up tight. Our only complaint is aesthetic. Sometimes the finish does not match-up with their own lower receiver, which can be a noticeably different shade.
Another upper receiver with a great reputation comes from VLTOR Weapon Systems Company. This Modular Upper Receiver is crafted from fully heat-treated aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum. It’s precision machined to be 100% compatible both with mil-spec commercial semi-auto lowers and select-fire AR-15/M16/M4 lower receivers.
This is a flattop upper featuring thicker walls than a standard upper. That helps make it a more rigid shooting platform providing greater stability and better accuracy.
The MUR comes with T-marks on a Mil-Std 1913 scope-mounting rail with 13 cross-slots and includes M4-type feed cuts. The VLTOR model MUR-1A is available with an ejection port door and forward assist, or without them in model MUR-1S.
For sure, that VLTOR looks different and cool enough to get some envious looks. However it is heavier than most competitors and has a rather hefty price tag, too.
Sabre Defence Industries is American company known for manufacturing of firearms and weapon systems such as M4 Carbines and M16A4s to the United States military and local law enforcement. Being a government contractor is probably one reason they have such excellent quality control and excellent craftsmanship.
SDI’s stripped fully-forged upper receivers are CNC-milled to precise final specifications using solid 7075 T-6 aluminum forgings.
Sabre Defence upper receivers include an integrated Picatinny rail. They have a military-style, hard black-anodized finish. This stripped AR-15 upper comes with forward assist housing but without the forward assist and dust cover door.
The SDI stripped receiver does not feature M4 feed ramps although it can fit all mil-spec standard lowers. The SDI/made uppers may or may not have the Sabre Defense Logo on them but all feature T-marks.
Our only issue is again cosmetic: the Sabre Defence machining is a little better than average, but there can be seen a slight blemish in the finish.
Yankee Hill Machine has long been a manufacturer of first-class AR-15 components. Their 110 Flat Top Stripped Upper Receiver for .223 Remington/5.56 NATO is a quality supplement to their lineup.
The Yankee Hill is constructed from forged 7075 aluminum that has been T6 heat-treated and hard-coat anodized. The YHM upper receiver comes wholly stripped, and you will need to purchase a dust cover assembly and forward assist to complete it.
This upper receiver has extended M4 Style feed ramps and features "T" Markings between the rails for precise optic positioning.
The Yankee Hill Stripped Upper is intended for building A3-style flat-top upper receivers. It has an optic-ready feature via an integral Picatinny-style rail.
While the YHM stripped upper will accept standard upper receiver parts and fits in standard mil-spec lower receivers, be sure to check if it fits with parts from other manufacturers. There are occasional compatibility issues and issues with tolerances. Another flaw is, again, cosmetic - there tend to be some forging marks on the surface and an inconsistent finish.
The Brownells flat-top stripped upper receiver is designed for 5.56 NATO and related cartridges. It has no forward assist or shell deflector.
This stripped upper features a standard A3 13-slot aluminum flat-top receiver that provides six inches of rail space.
The upper receiver is machined from 7075-T6 aluminum forging and comes in a hard-coated anodized finish with a Teflon coating. The standard black finish without machine marks inside or out matches most modern lower receivers found on the market today.
However, this affordable striped upper receiver comes with some issues, as it does not provide T-marks. Also, the M4 feed ramps are small and off-center. There also some complaints about them not having tight tolerances, with the deviations causing problems in alignment with lower receivers.
A stripped upper receiver is a great choice to help you customize your AR-15. A good one will accept standard parts as well as fit and function with your mil-spec AR-15 and M16 lower receiver.
All of those we reviewed here are forged aluminum and protected with military-style, hard-anodized finish that will stand up to rough use. With the correct choice of upper, you will provide a quality base for further customization of your AR-15.