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Why Is My Charging Handle So Stiff?

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Charging handles or cocking handles allow the handler to pull the bolt to the rear and cock the hammer of the firearm. However, new firearm owners often wonder, “why is my charging handle so stiff?”

There could be a couple of different reasons for this, and we’ve covered the fixes for all of them below.

Why Is My Charging Handle So Stiff?

New charging handles are typically stiff for a combination of two reasons: a) the finish on the barrel or bolt surfaces hasn’t been broken in yet, and b) parts of the firearm need to be used and/or cleaned and polished. Cleaning the weapon, oiling it, and firing a few hundred rounds typically clears these issues up.

New firearms of all kinds tend to have stiff charging handles and are generally heavily greased to prevent rust. Cleaning and breaking the firearm in are necessities, and it doesn’t take long for the inner surfaces of the firearm to wear on each other and smoothen things out.

Modern AR15 rifle with a sight aim and charging handler

Do All New Weapons Have Stiff Charging Handles?

All new weapons tend to have stiff charging handles before being cleaned and broken in. However, the degree of “stiffness” is different in different weapons. Some weapons require more pressure to charge than others.

It is possible to have a smooth charge that requires more pressure. It is also possible for a weapon to have a light charge that is extremely gritty. There are firearm owners out there that have fired 500-600 rounds through their ARs but find that the charging handle is still relatively stiff.

Any firearm owner that knows what they’re talking about will tell you that a good coating of oil on the carrier, on the insides of the upper, and on the charging handle will end your charging handle troubles.

What Is “Riding” the Charging Handle? How Does It Make the Charging Handle Stiff?

To “ride” a charging handle forward means to drive the charging handle forward manually after pulling it back for seating a round into the chamber. This is what sometimes gives new weapon owners the experience of “charging handle stiffness.”

Riding the charging handle is bad because not only are weapons built to take a beating but also because riding the handle typically results in the bolt not fully going into the battery.

This can be fixed by pulling the charging handle back and letting go of it to snap the bolt in place (which is the right way to use the charging handle in the first place). Alternatively, the weapon handler can also push the forward assist to make the bolt snap into the battery.

Conclusion

The solution to stiff charging handles is quite straightforward. Field strip your weapon, clean it up, lubricate it properly, and visit the gun range. After firing a few hundred rounds, you will not only find yourself satisfied but will also find that your charging handle has gotten less stiff and become easier to manipulate.

James Forrester is a lifelong gun and firearms owner, and an even bigger advocate for gun safety. He created KeepGunsSafe.com with the purpose of sharing helpful tips and educating others on how to keep guns and weapons safe and secure.