Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper ReceiverIn December of 2010, I posted a review of the best AR-15 side charging upper receiver I had ever seen. Since then I’ve built several rifles using that upper and am still very happy with them. However, back in 2012, The Freedom Group acquired the company making them and production promptly halted. Over the last few years I’ve received quite a few emails asking about where those uppers can be purchased and until now, my only response was to keep an eye out for a used one somewhere on the Interwebs. That changed the day I stumbled onto the Blackwood Arms Side charging AR-15 upper receiver. I immediately contacted the owner, Andrew BeGole, and  asked him if we could do a review and giveaway of one of his receivers. He agreed and shipped me 2 of them right away.

As it turns out, Blackwood Arms used to sell a lot of the LAR Grizzly OPS-4 uppers. When production stopped, Andrew picked up the ball and began developing his own design. The differences between the two are subtle but when comparing them side by side it’s obvious that Blackwood Arms is turning out a more refined product.

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper ReceiverThe Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver is precision machined from virgin 7075 T6 Billet, hard anodized and topped with a very nice Teflon Finish (as are the charging handles). The bolt carrier is machined from 8620 cold rolled steel. The included 5.56mm bolt is MPI tested and the entire BCG has a Nickel Boron finish. Those specs alone set it apart from the discontinued OPS-4. Blackwood Arms produces these uppers in fairly small batches allowing for better attention to detail which definitely shows in the finished product.

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

After posting the OPS-4 review, I received a lot of questions and some comments about the reciprocating side charging design. Some people were concerned about the handles backing out. Although this does happen if you hand tighten the handles, if you snug them up a little with an allen wrench, I haven’t had them break free. I really don’t see this as any sort of real concern. Other comments made mention of it not being a “battle proven” upgrade.  OK, I’ll give you that. This is not the gun I would be taking with me when the SHTF. However, lets look at it for what it really is. The Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver is a specialty item that is best used in speciality situations. In my honest opinion, this upper is a perfect match for a precision bench gun, a varmint gun (I think I’ll build one in a .204 Ruger), for people with a disability who have difficulties with a regular charging handle, or somebody who wants to build a unique rifle or AR pistol.

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver
Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver
Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver
Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver
Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

When I first started looking at reciprocating side charging systems, I was told that the charging handle was also the forward assist and case deflector. Truth be told, the deflector part doesn’t stand true. I now own 3 different side charging uppers and each of them is plagued by the same issue…The ejection port gets quickly dinged up once you start shooting. As you can see in the 3 photos below, there is minor wear in the same place on all 3 uppers. The first 2 are brand new builds that, at the time the photo was taken, had 90 & 60 rounds each fed through them. I’m no engineer but it seems to me that if this area were beveled back instead of a sharp edge, it would cut down on the wear and tear.

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

Blackwood Arms after 90 rounds

LAR Grizzly OPS-4 Side Charging Upper Receiver

LAR Grizzly after 60 rounds

Young Manufacturing Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

Young Manufacturing after +/-2k rds

The uppers that Andrew sent me are ambidextrous which give you the option of having a charging handle on the left, the right, or both sides at once. There are a few important things to consider here:

  • _MG_0002A modified bolt catch is required (and included) for the left side. This is because the left charging handle would conflict with the bolt release paddle.
  • A left handed person may prefer to only have a charging handle on the right. This upper doesn’t have a cutout that allows for the paddle on a standard bolt catch. If you install one anyway, the rifle will jamb and may become damaged. I forgot about this so when I first received this upper I put it on a standard lower and charged it. It got stuck and I had to pull the stock and buffer tube off to remove the BCG.
  • If you’re the kind of shooter who uses the magwell as a grip, you really need to pay attention to how the gun cycles. As a right handed shooter, I like the handle on the left side but there’s isn’t enough space there to grab the magwell without the handle slamming into me. I’ve been careful to ensure this has never happened but I imagine it would suck if it did.
  • Releasing the bolt is accomplished by simply pulling back the charging handle about 1/8 of an inch then letting go. Obviously this won’t work if you have an empty magazine in the well.
  • The side charging handle can get caught up on clothing or gear such as a plate carrier. The handle also sticks out enough that under the right circumstances, it can punch you in the chest or back depending on how you sling it. This is the primary reason I wouldn’t use this upper on my SHTF gun.

modify_pdq_animationSome people might consider the modified bolt catch an inconvenience. If this is an issue for you, keep in mind that at this point you’re building a custom gun. Because of this, it’s not a far stretch to implement another solution. One might consider purchasing a Teal Blue Bravo PDQ Ambi-Bolt Release and modifying the left side paddle to work with this upper. This would give you the ability to lock and release the bolt using your right index finger, similar to how the Magpul BAD Lever works but with a sturdier design.

_MG_0012As you may have noticed by now, the top rear portion of The Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver has a small screw where the typical side charging handle would exist. This keeps the BCG from sliding out when the gun is separated and allows the gas key to pass in and out of the upper when the screw is removed.

I’m all about building custom AR’s. In fact, I haven’t bought an “of the shelf” AR for over 23 years. For me, there’s a sense of pride in building my own guns and in making them unique. Side charging uppers are definitely different and while they may not be for everybody, I personally love them. The Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver is the best one I’ve gotten my hands on yet. There’s no question that I will be recommending this upper to my friends as well as building more guns for myself using it.

Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

The rifle I built and used to test the Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

PART

MANUFACTURER

PART NAME/NUMBER

MSRP

Upper Receiver Blackwood Arms Side Charging

$475.00

Lower Receiver Vulcan Arms V15 Aluminum

$90.00

Barrel Black Hole Weaponry 16” Double Honeycomb

$509.95

Handguard Troy Industries 13” Alpha Rail

$199.00

Compensator BattleComp 2.0

$165.00

Sights Troy Industries HK Style Tritium Front & Rear

$308.00

Gas Block Odin Works Low Profile Adjustable

$89.00

Gas Tube DPMS BL-04C

$15.95

Trigger Wild West Guns Custom Trigger Job

$165.00

Safety Selector Battle Arms Development B.A.D.A.S.S.

$66.00

Barrel Nut DPMS BL-16

$8.95

Foregrip Magpul AFG 2

$34.95

Handguard Grips Troy Industries Squid Grips

$24.99

Buffer Tube Primary Weapons Systems EBT Mil-Spec

$149.95

Buffer JP Enterprises JPSCS-15

$139.95

Pistol Grip Magpul MOE+

$23.95

Stock Magpul CTR Mil-Spec

$59.95

Trigger Guard Magpul Enhanced

$19.95

Magazine Magpul PMAG30 Gen2

$12.95

Magazine Base Plate MagPod 3-Pack

$24.95

MISC. LPK DPMS Pins, Springs, Catches, Detents

$34.45

Cerkote Tom’s Custom Coatings Custom Two-Tone

$415.00

MSRP Total

$3032.89

Tom's Custom Coating

The Cerakote work on this rifle was done by Tom’s Custom Coatings. I’ve personally known Tom and Tracy for over 15 years. In fact, I introduced them to Cerakote in 2013 and suggested they look into the business opportunities for certified applicators in their area. Shortly after, Tom’s Custom Coatings was born. :)

Although Tom is fairly new to the Cerakote business, he has over 10 years experience in the automotive paint industry. He took to spraying Cerakote like a duck to water during his certification class at NIC Industries. Since then, he and his wife Tracy have built their business and within the first year, they grew it enough to justify buying their own building in Blanchester, OH.

BlackwoodBuildCerakote4When I called Tom and told him I had a Black Hole Weaponry Double Honeycomb barrel that I wanted a two-tone coating on, he said Tracy was going to hate me. When you coat a single component in multiple colors you typically have to mask off one of the areas. In this case, that meant making dozens of honeycomb shaped vinyl masks, in two different sizes and placing them in all the honeycomb flutes. However, doing just that means only the bottom part of the fluting would be coated with the base color and that’s not what I wanted. :) We discussed a couple of different ways to accomplish coating both the bottom and sides of the honeycombs, without the nearly impossible task of cutting tiny vinyl strips to mask the sides, and they got to work. The first try didn’t look too good so they had to strip the barrel down and perfect the technique on the second attempt. As you can see, it turned out sexy as hell!

Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings
Tom's Custom Coatings

The custom two-tone barrel added about $200 to the price of the Cerakote job but IMHO, it’s well worth it. The colors used were Desert Sand (H-199Q) & Magpul Foliage Green (H-231Q).

If you need some Cerakote work done, please consider sending your work to Tom’s Custom Coatings. BTW, their shop can handle small to medium size batch jobs from manufacturers as well as one off custom coatings like this one.

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11 Responses to Blackwood Arms Side Charging AR-15 Upper Receiver

  1. mike June 19, 2015 at 4:52 am #

    Seems like you could make a charging handle that folds out of the way like on an H&K.

  2. Shawn June 19, 2015 at 8:57 am #

    awesome and very affordable!

  3. John Guse June 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    Nice upper and thanks for letting me enter your giveaway

  4. Gerald Bargaineer July 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Thank you for the opportunity.

  5. billy sulicki July 2, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    would love to have dont have much to be able to buy

  6. billy sulicki July 3, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    would love to have

  7. Gerald Bargaineer July 9, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Thank you for the chance!!!

  8. Ken ABrahamson July 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    I see it as a double edged sword. Saves time on locking up but it is outside the silhouette of the rifle as you are rolling and running.

  9. Gerald Bargaineer August 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Nice!

  10. Paul Albarado August 26, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    It would be great to win

  11. Nick C September 3, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    Wow! Looks awesome

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