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Thread: Review: Gibbz Arms Side-Charging AR15 Upper

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    Review: Gibbz Arms Side-Charging AR15 Upper

    At the December 2013 SAR gun show in Phoenix, I stumbled across the Gibbz Arms booth. This AZ-based company is run by a couple of aerospace engineers with a flare for developing creative upgrades for the AR15 platform. The item that really caught my eye was their new side-charging upper receiver. I was so impressed by the design that I ordered one to use for a new 3-Gun rifle build.

    For right-handled shooters (i.e. 90% of us) a left side mounted charging handle offers improved ergonomics versus a traditional AR15 charging handle because the bolt can be manually cycled while still keeping the rifle in the shoulder and the sights on the target. Depending on your application, this may or may not be useful; in 3-Gun competition we mostly start loaded/safe, but some stages do start unloaded or "cruiser ready" in which case a side-charger can shave some time off your run. For just about anyone, in adverse conditions a side-charger can help in the event that a malfunction needs to be cleared.

    There are a couple of different side-charging upper receiver designs on the market already. What I find appealing about the Gibbz design is that it will work with ANY bolt carrier - not just the proprietary carrier provided by the receiver manufacturer. In my application I wanted to use a JP low-mass carrier, which basically rules out all side-charging uppers except the JP and Gibbz. The fact that Gibbz is local to me, and that they are very receptive to new ideas, made my choice an easy one.

    The rifle I built is designed to comply with IMA Tactical Limited & USPSA Limited division equipment rules, which is a great entry level division for tactical gun owners as only iron sights and/or a non-magnified optic are allowed (I run a 2MOA Aimpoint). The barrel is an 18" BCM SS410 1:8 with a Syrac click-adjustable gas block and JP muzzle brake. The lower is built around a Sun Devil billet receiver (another great local company, and a generous sponsor of the 3-Gun sport). Here are some photos:







    The heart of the Gibbz design is a charging handle that slides over the gas tube and runs in the existing charging handle channel. The handle is a non-reciprocating design that is held in the closed position by an integral detent:





    One consideration for the home-builder is that the receiver with side-charging handle will not fit into many standard upper receiver jigs. This is not an insurmountable obstacle of course - some jigs can be easily modified, or the charging handle parts can be temporarily removed with an Allen wrench, or (as in my case) you can use the Gibbz free-float handguard which attaches via a hexagonal barrel nut without the need for a receiver jig at all... just their inexpensive installation tool and a couple of big crescent wrenches.

    The charging handle engages the bolt carrier via a proprietary cam pin that drops right in to any brand of carrier:







    Without a traditional charging handle there is no need for the gaping hole at the back of the upper receiver, so Gibbz have added a hinged cover that lifts up to install the bolt carrier then folds down securely to close, This design is a nice tight fit, keeping debris out of the receiver and (more importantly) keeping gas blowback to the shooter to an absolute minimum.





    Cycling the bolt is quick and easy, so long as your optic mount does not protrude too much from the left side of the gun (if it does, prepare for skinned knuckles). The charging handle on my upper is an early-generation variant; Gibbz tell me they will be offering different handles as bolt-on accessories for folks who want a different profile:









    Here is a photo with a larger scope mount - still works OK, no skinned knuckles:



    From an ergonomic perspective, this charging handle location makes it very easy to actuate the bolt hold-open catch with the left thumb while holding the bolt back. This makes unloading at the end of a stage or clearing a stubborn malfunction a lot easier and quicker than with a traditional charging handle.

    One consideration when designing your build is that the charging handle slot cover projects past the back of the receiver when the charging handle is retracted:





    While this was not a problem for the MagPul ACS stock I wanted to use, nor for most other common stock designs I tried (CAR, A2, UBR), I did find one stock - the Ergo F93 - that was too fat for proper clearance without modifying either the slot cover or the stock cheekpiece:



    One last comment on the rifle's configuration; I started out with a standard Gibbz free-float handguard, which feels good in the hand and is great off the bench, but is (IMHO) far too heavy for 3-Gun use. The Gibbz team was very responsive to my request to put it on a diet - they fired up the CNC machine and had an aggressively lightened handguard made for me within a few days:



    The weight reduction made a huge improvement in agility and target transitions. The Gibbz handguard is 15" long, but the unique end profile makes it really easy to access the Syrac gas block's adjustment screw.

    So, how has this rifle performed for me? I have been running this rifle hard in a demanding competitive environment for close to 6 months now, including in two of the most prestigious 3-Gun majors - the Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun and the USPSA MultiGun Nationals. Several thousand rapid-fire rounds have been put downrange in dirty, dusty, hot conditions with minimal cleaning and without a single malfunction. The improved ergonomics of the side-charger have been a treat, and the reduction of gas-to-the-face has been noticeable.

    Overall, I have to say that I could not be happier with a rifle that has exceeded my expectations in terms of accuracy, handling and reliability. In the world of 3-Gun, you can't ask for more than that.

    Questions? Post 'em here.
    Last edited by StealthyBlagga; 05-05-14 at 16:10.

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    I got one of these just a week or two ago, but it's from New Frontier Armory in Las Vegas. No markings, but sold as their brand. I really do like it, I built it with a BCM 11.5" barrel and a SLR rifleworks solo lite 10" keymod handguard. Ran about 350 rounds, 300 of them suppressed with an SDN-6. The charging handle moved a bit when running suppressed but I've been advised that I can tighten the screw on the charging handle to get it to grab the detent tighter. I'll post pics asap, but it looks 100% identical.

    Link: http://newfrontierarmory.com/catalog...ducts_id=58566

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    I didn't realize this was the OP's first post, but I'll continue the thread for a bit.

    Here are pics





    bought another one yesterday.

    same cam pin and door on the back.

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    I have uploaded a video of me rocking this rifle at the USPSA Multigun Nationals in Las Vegas last month... even the Mojave Desert dust and wind didn't slow it down


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    You mentioned they are receptive to input, do you know if they have any plans to make one with a dust cover?

    Also, I may have missed this but 6061 or 7075?

    Mike

    Sent from my cell phone with a tiny keyboard and large thumbs...

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    Well I finally got around to building out my gibbz side charger upper. It hasn't been the most pleasant experience.

    First getting it held securely in the vice is a PIA. I almost couldn't get the barrel nut torqued tight enough to align my gas tube.

    Second the 556 tactical evolution handguard which is made by and identical to the Samson evolution Handguard I bought for it would flush up to the receiver because the billet receiver is bigger along the pic rail. So the tabs on the rail that keep it aligned to the receiver wouldn't slide over and the upper receiver. I guess I'll be dremeling tonight since I don't feel like trying to remove my barrel but because of PIA #1 above.

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    That's a great video. Thanks for sharing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jesse Tischauser View Post
    Well I finally got around to building out my gibbz side charger upper. It hasn't been the most pleasant experience.

    First getting it held securely in the vice is a PIA. I almost couldn't get the barrel nut torqued tight enough to align my gas tube.

    Second the 556 tactical evolution handguard which is made by and identical to the Samson evolution Handguard I bought for it would flush up to the receiver because the billet receiver is bigger along the pic rail. So the tabs on the rail that keep it aligned to the receiver wouldn't slide over and the upper receiver. I guess I'll be dremeling tonight since I don't feel like trying to remove my barrel but because of PIA #1 above.
    Would something like a Geissele reaction rod have made assemble easier?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jesse Tischauser View Post
    Well I finally got around to building out my gibbz side charger upper. It hasn't been the most pleasant experience.

    First getting it held securely in the vice is a PIA. I almost couldn't get the barrel nut torqued tight enough to align my gas tube.
    ...
    Yeah, the side-charger does protrude into the inside-front of the upper receiver. I assume you clamped it in a padded vice between the Pic rail and the bottom of the receiver? This can work, but I agree is not ideal.

    I recently changed to an even lighter carbon fiber handguard. I used my DPMS upper receiver action block (LINK) and simply removed a small amount of material around the gas tube recess for clearance... works fine now.
    Last edited by StealthyBlagga; 02-11-16 at 15:08.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tx_Aggie View Post
    Would something like a Geissele reaction rod have made assemble easier?

    I don't follow anything Giesselle so I don't know what that is. But I'll google it.

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