The upper receiver is the essential part of any AR-style rifle that connects the barrel, bolt carrier group, and charging handle to your lower receiver and accessories. A stripped upper receiver is simply that part, or the foundation if you will, that the other components in the upper portion of a rifle connect to – for instance, the barrel.
While there are plenty of complete upper receivers on the market that make building an AR-style rifle fast, easy, and convenient, many prefer to build their AR from the ground up by using a stripped upper receiver.
Why choose a stripped upper receiver over a complete one?
The simple answer is customization. Like I said above, using a complete upper is convenient, but unless it’s built with the exact parts and specifications you’re looking for, you have to just go with what you got. By using a stripped upper, you can handpick what parts go into your build.
Want a certain barrel or style of handguard? What if you had a charging handle that you liked and wanted the same brand? What if you had some rifle parts laying around and wanted to use them in your next build? With a stripped upper receiver, you’re going to get exactly what you wanted (or you’ll be able to use what you already have).
Often, by sourcing the parts on your own rather than going with a complete upper, you can save a little bit of money, too. And you know what that means, more money for ammo!
What should you look for in a stripped upper receiver?
You’ll want your stripped upper receiver to be made from a good-quality material. The current preference is for it to be machine-forged from 7075 T6 aluminum or similar. Your upper receiver houses the barrel, so you’re going to need it to be durable in order to perform at a high level. Catastrophic failure could occur with any sub-par material, so be sure to buy the best you can afford from a well-known upper manufacturer.
You’ll also want it to be lightweight, which is why 7075 aluminum is an excellent choice. Whether you’re spending hours on the range or using it in the field as a hunting rifle, making your build as lightweight as possible will help cut down on your fatigue, making for a more comfortable rifle to shoot over a longer period of time.
Ideally, it should be mil-spec – i.e., built to at least military specifications. Having a mil-spec upper means it’s being held to very specific standards as outlined by the U.S. military. It will have to meet specific tolerances, be made of specific materials, and pass specific inspections and testing. Having mil-spec components also helps ensure they will be compatible with each other. You won’t go wrong with a stripped upper receiver if it’s considered mil-spec.
The stripped upper receiver is a fairly simple component in and of itself. By building your rifle using a stripped upper receiver, you’ll ensure you have a quality rifle made with parts you handpicked. As a bonus, you’ll have a better understanding of how your new rifle works because you did assemble it piece by piece.