From Popular to the Modular- the AR15 Handguard of your choice.

Posted by Hunter Select on

You won't get burned when choosing your AR15 Handguard.

Fortunately, online resources are just waiting for you to do a search and read the relevant information when it comes to AR-type handguards for your rifle or pistol build.  If you use a search engine, or online-comparison, maybe even read blogs regarding handguards- you simply will not run-out of reliable and pertinent information out there to use and better decide on the best AR handguard of your choice.  Allow this blog to provide you with one additional source of information based on past experience with different types of handguards.

            As a general rule when it comes to replacing anything on a weapon with either an original equivalent model or aftermarket part; always confirm that your weapon is clear of ammunition by removing the magazine, and clearing the breech physically and visually.  Only when your weapon is confirmed safe can you begin the task of reviewing all of your available handguard choices- from experience, the process will literally require you to delve deep into what will be known as a tactical playground of sorts, involving machined aluminum, and anodized alloys filled with mounting options far as the mouse can click.

Reviewing the different types, and sizes of handguards for your AR.

The AR15 semi-automatic rifle was designed as a weapon which employs a multi-round capacity ammunition magazine in order to be able to continuously feed a .223 sized round into the weapon chamber as fast as the shooter can repeatedly pull the trigger.   This continuous ability to fire rounds downrange enables the shooter to engage a target multiple times- OR, engage multiple targets with muttiple rounds.   In order for the shooter to be able to accurately engage such targets, the shooter needs to be able to control the weapon with firm and solid points of grip.

Controlling a weapon that has the ability to send rounds through its barrel at a rapid rate not only renders the shooter having to control weapon recoil, but also the heat generated by multiple rounds travelling, spinning, basically exploding out of the end of the weapon muzzle.  This generated heat transfers itself from the barrel of the weapon, and radiates outward onto the surface of the AR15 barrel.  That heat is transferred onto the shooter in the form of a heated barrel shroud, or otherwise known as the handguard.  Originally, the AR15’s early version known as the M16 had a plastic handguard that was protected from the barrel’s generated heat by an internal heatshield, it was effective and relatively simple.  The modern civilian version known as the AR15 also is offered with the same type of handguard.  This current version of the handguard also wraps around the weapon’s barrel but now offers the shooter added options other than as a heat shield. 

The basic round MilSpec plastic handguard-  These are the smaller diameter round plastic handguards found on most stock AR type weapons.  Most come with the original silver heatshield located within its plastic two-piece shell. Typically molded with military specifications for a universal fit, each handguard is easily installed by hand in common carbine, mid-length, and rifle length offerings.

The “oversized” oval M4-type plastic handguard-  When the military designated M4 (Military version of the AR15) were released, they quickly were copied for the civilian market- for the most part aesthetically, the AR15 was adapted to look like the military M4 by the public buying these rifles up.  Most AR15 owners adopted the M4’s oval handguards with its oversized diameter in order to provide better heat dissipation and grip area.  Still a popular choice amongst AR owners, it provides a lightweight and durable choice, at an affordable cost.

The Railed Handguard- polymer or aluminum construction-  In 1980, the world of firearms owners were witness to the TV images of British Commandos conducting a rescue raid to free hundreds of hostages at the Iranian Embassy in Britain’s Kensington district.  Images of weapons with white lights and lasers mounted onto weapons were now public knowledge, and lights and lasers the public soon wanted.  Sure enough, the possibility of mounting such hardware and accessories was borne onto the AR type weapon in a form of the modern picatinny rail.  Long sections of rail soon found themselves at all axis points of the AR handguard- quad-rails with four long areas of mounting possibility provided the most options as far as weapon light, laser target designators, and forward grips.  The quad-railed handguard is still commonly found on AR type and other platformed weapons systems today.  This type of handguard is usually a drop-in style handguard, where the two-pieces that make up the single handguard are held in place by the AR delta ring and crown.

The KeyMod modular mounting system for the AR handguard-  In addition to the quad-railed picatinny mount handguards, there is the newer option in modular handguards called the KeyMod handguard; named so because of the mounting cutout’s close resemblance to a lock’s keyhole.  The KeyMod version of a handguard mount use screw-in sections of a picatinny section in order to have more choices of where on the handguard you can have picatinny mounted hardware and accessories.  One end of the KeyMod’s roughly 1” long cutout is larger than the other end, this allows the flared picatinny mounting screw to lock- or wedge- into place as it is slid from the larger end to the smaller end of the cutout.  KeyMod handguards not only offer modularity in having picatinny type mounts, but also mobility in being able to move those picatinny sections either around the whole-or-partly within the perimeter of the handguard’s surface; unlike the fixed picatinny sections on the older quad-rail design.  A specific handguard I've had installed on my personal AR is the VISM carbine length KeyMod handguard. Extremely well made, as well as decently price pointed by NcSTAR.  It mounts very simply on an original delta ring and cap- very secure and solid fit. I could not testify as to its weight this time around due to the heavier-than-normal SOCOM barrel that I run from BCM. I will re-mount on an M4 profile barrel and give a complete review in the near future.

The multi-modular M-Lok handguard design- As modern and contemporary the KeyMod handguard may remain, there is also another choice for the discerning AR rifle owner- the similarly modeled after M-Lok handguard also offers serious modular placement of picatinny sections, as well as a solid mounting system using allen screws to secure sections in place.  The M-Lok handguard also offers lighter weight with a variety of machined patterns and designs that can be found on the surface of the handguard- this serves not only to lighten the handguard, but to allow air to circulate and dissipate built up heat from the barrel within.  Depending on which type the shooter chooses, some M-Lok handguards also offer a slim grip with the smaller circumference models.  The smaller overall size allows for a lower profile gas block to be used, making for the super-agile and added mobility when the user requires.

Each of the above types of handguards are in their own way, perfect for the weapon in which the shooter wishes to set-up or improve upon.   Two choices for how a handguard may be mounted includes the ability to mount it onto the weapon by hand- with virtually no specialized tools.  The other being more involved, offers an unhindered, without interference, a most solid mount onto the upper receiver free of the weapon’s barrel.

The Drop-in format Handguard- As mentioned above, the drop-in type handguard is usually a two-piece design, top and bottom- usually held in place by the AR Delta ring and crown.  Both pieces are held together by either tension or additional bolts that create a solid connected handguard for the shooter to control the weapon with.  Either in a textured or ridged surface for grip, or quad-railed with picatinny grooved mounting surface, the drop-in type handguard still provides the shooter with simplistic but effecting means of controlling the AR, while allowing the user to custom mount hardware and accessories to their preferred positions on the handguard.

The Free-Float Handguard- When it comes to ballistics, the less contacting or influencing the harmonics of a barrel the better.  Factors such as metal temperature, flex, and the expansion and contraction of a barrel affects the bullet trajectory of the round travelling through it.  Handguards can also play a role in diminishing or compromising a bullet’s arc-of-travel.  Full-Floating handguards are mounted only on one end of the barrel shroud rather than regular two-piece handguards that are typically held in place by both the barrel nut and end cap, etc. Not having restrictive contact with the barrel from the handguard makes it ideal in the sense that the handguard- while still being mounted solidly on the upper receiver- will not have contact with the barrel’s surface.  No influence on the barrel’s dynamics or characteristics from the handguard means accuracy through an unhindered barrel set-up.

And finally, the issue of cost when it comes to considering which handguard is best for you, your weapon, and your budget.  The typical drop-in style non-railed model handguard for your AR will fortunately come at a very reasonable price.  The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for drop-in handguards will find you at a pleasant $20 to $25 dollars; depending on where you find and order yours from.  Realistically, you may even be able to find these types of handguards even more inexpensive from surplus stores or online auctions.

Picatinny railed- weapon lights and laser sights mountable handguards are incredibly easy to find and commonly used.  Prices range anywhere from $20 to $120 also depending on the vendor or composite construction.  One such handguard is offered by FAB Defense of Israeli manufacture.  The FGR-3 handguard is one of the most stable and solid feeling drop-in type handguards, with a hybrid-of-sorts mounting feature including a classic ribbed hand grip area, and a picatinny section along the top dorsal area and two smaller rail sections on both sides lateral to each other.  This handguard is also one of the more difficult to mount onto the AR delta ring as tolerances are very tight (make sure you stretch first- seriously.), thus providing a rock-solid fit with absolutely zero freeplay.  The Fab Arm comes with a reasonable price tag of just below forty dollars.

The variety and choices found in general circulation of AR type handguards virtually assure the person searching, an endless list of types of, lengths, features, and quantity of handguards for one or all of AR’s that are owned.  Manufacturer’s such as Magpul, Noveske, BCM, YHM, Aero Precision, etc.. not only stock their handguards for mass quantity orders, but are constantly updating features as well as new model re-engineering, in order to stay ahead of the handguard demand for modularity and constantly strive to offer a better product than before.  They are by no means re-inventing the wheel at this point- the still basic purpose of the AR type handguard is to provide protection for the support hand from barrel heat while gripping the handguard.  While helping to dissipate that heat and prevent it from collecting underneath the handguard, (via ventilation cutouts), most current handguards also provide modularity in mounting weapons accessories and electronics to assist the shooter in continuing to engage the target.  Both semi-automatic and full- automatic modes of fire operation can fatigue the shooter from the AR’s unforgiving recoil and muzzle blast, to keep that recoil from rendering the shooter ineffective, proper and solid control of the weapon's muzzle must occur- so choosing the proper fit and grip for your AR is critical to keeping fatigue from setting in while engaging targets.

Hand it back when your AR hands you your..

If the handguard you choose can counter any of the previous mentioned, physically-draining effects associated with long hours of firing an AR on the range or on a mission, then you have chosen your handguard to its fullest effectiveness and fulfilled its purpose on your weapon.  Some shooters spend a lifetime picking, trying, discarding, and picking another weapon accessory trying to constantly find the perfect combination in a working weapon system, while others buy once, and stay with their choice for the life of that weapon.  Whichever you choose yourself to be, rest assured it is entirely a personal preference type undertaking and the only wrong decision is the one you let someone else- make for you.


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