Thursday, June 28, 2012

AR-15 Handguards


Troy 13" Alpa Rail

One of the most popular "upgrades" AR-15 owners make to their weapon is to install a different handguard than the basic two piece one that came on their rifle.  While the standard handguard is comfortable and functional, choosing a handguard that better serves the application in which you use the weapon can be of great benefit.  There are two main types of handguards for the AR-15: two piece, standard handguards and "free float" handguards.  In this post we will discuss these options and how they can help you enjoy using your rifle to its full potential.


Two Piece Handguards:                  
Magpul MOE Carbine
The standard, two piece, plastic handguards that come on the weapon may be just fine for many uses.  Even if you desire to attach various accessories to the weapon, a free float handguard with picatinny rails may not be necessary.  With the basic two piece handguards, a strip of picatinny rail can be placed underneath the bottom handguard for accessories like a vertical grip.  However, Magpul's MOE handguards offer slits at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock position as well; rail sections can then be mounted in these positions for accessories like lights, lasers, etc... The MOE handguard also has a "ledge" on the bottom of the handguard for use as a hand stop for those who prefer an extended support hand position.  Manufacturers like ERGO and Magpul offer strips of polymer or aluminum picatinny rail in various lengths to accomodate a set-up like this.  If more rail space is needed for the attachment of accessories, it would be wise to choose a 2 piece, 4 rail handguard.  These are not "free-floating", and attach the same as standard, 2 piece handguards, but provide unlimited space for whatever you need to mount on the rails and still have room for comfortable support hand positions.

Free Float Handguards:
Samson Star R
The main benefit of the free-float handguard is that it does not contact the barrel in any place; this can prevent inaccuracy caused by stress of parts put on the barrel and barrel harmonics.  Most free float handguards attach to the barrel and upper via a jam nut that replaces the barrel and delta ring assembly on a standard handguard system.  There are some manufacturers, like Daniel Defense, that still use the delta ring assembly on some models of free float handguards. Many free float handguards have 4 rails that run the full length of the handguard, while others have a smooth tube that has attachable rail sections near the front.  These can provide more comfort than handguards with four rails running the entire length, and still allow important accessories to be attached where they are most likely to be used.  For target shooting or hunting applications where lights and lasers are not beneficial, a completely smooth free float tube without rails may be the best choice.  For handguards that do have full length rails on all sides, rail covers can help mitigate any discomfort from the sharp edges of rail sections where accessories have not been mounted.

Installation of standard two piece handguards and some "drop-in" free float handguards is easy and requires no special tools.  By simply pulling the delta ring assembly to the rear, the two piece handguards can be seperated and removed.  Installation of the new ones is typically easier if the top handguard is intalled first, with the front being inserted under the endcap before placing the rear of the handguard under the delta ring.  Many free float handguards will require removal of the front sight base, existing barrel nut, and installation of the free float jam nut-this does require having some AR gunsmithing specific tools.

Having options to best meet your weapon's intended use is what makes the AR-15 such a popular weapon.  If you have any questions about handguards, options, or anything related to the AR-15 rifle please feel free visit our site via the highlighted links or contacts us.  We would love to assist you in choosing the best parts to outfit your rifle so that it provides you with service and enjoyment!

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