Why Do You Need a Handguard For Your AR-15?

Why Do You Need a Handguard For Your AR-15?

Posted by STNGR USA on Oct 11th 2022

What is an AR-15 handguard really good for? Let's find out.

Hello and welcome to the STNGR Workshop. My name is Rick Barrett and I am your host for these series of videos where we talk about everything in the gun community, from gun accessories to gun maintenance.

In this video, we're gonna be talking about the handguards of the AR-15. We're gonna talk about the history of the AR-15 handguard and introduce you to the three types that you'll find on the market today.

(For reference, the handguard goes by many different names: forend, forearm, rail, handguard. All of them refer to the same thing!)

Origin of the AR-15 Handguard

Now, the handguards were originally designed by Armalite for their AR10s, and then they were rolled into the early AR-15 prototypes.

I'll let George C. Sullivan, who patented his handguards for the AR-10, explain, "It has been found that during extended endurance firing tests a gun barrel can exceed 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, if equipped with the usual wood forearm, there is a danger that it could burst into flames. If equipped with a metal forearm, it would get too hot to handle when the temperature of the forearm becomes excessive. Either the rifleman cannot hold it or the heat rays given off by the forearm rise and interfere with the sighting of the weapon."

Evolving Handguard Designs

Sullivan's patented handguard comprised of a fiberglass shell with reflective foil. The shell was perforated by a series of holes at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock which were designed to allow air to enter into the cooling chamber.

In March 1958 the US Army evaluations made a series of suggestions for changes to the X AR-15. One of those was to improve the single-piece fiberglass handguard used on early X AR-15 prototypes. Eugene Stoner, the AR-10's designer, replaced this one-piece forend with a two-piece removable type which was secured with a spring-loaded ring. This is a precursor to the slip ring/delta ring design.

Stoner explains in his 1963 patent that the object of this design was to provide a handguard for guns of the aforementioned character, which is characterized by the fact that it is of extreme light weight, has a minimum number of component parts, and achieves the desired ends of both providing adequate cooling for the barrel of the gun and eliminating the possibility of burning the hand of the soldier firing the same.

Stoner's 1963 patent handguard would remain in the civilian AR-15 and military M16 standard forend into the 1980s.

Why do you need a handguard?

So now you have a little bit of history on the AR-15 handguard. So what does it really do? There are two main purposes to the AR-15 handguard.

And before we get any further, we'll answer this question. Do you need a handguard on an AR 15? Yes, you do need a handguard on your AR 15. Here's why:

Protect the barrel and gas line

First of all, simply put a handguard is the cover for a portion of or all of your gun's barrel. Without your handguard, your rifle's barrel and gas line would be completely exposed. Now the gas line, which ultimately serves to utilize the firing of ammunition's gas pressure to push that charging handle back, would be subject to dust and debris. If that gas line gets compromised, your AR-15 is no longer going to function. This is because it will not be able to chamber a new round.

That gas line is pretty fragile, so the handguard on the AR-15 will assure that that gas line will remain protected.

Protect your hands from being burned by the barrel

The second main purpose for the handguard on an AR-15 barrel is to protect your hand from the heat that's emitting from the barrel while you're firing it. If you grab a barrel while firing, you can suffer a serious injury due to that heat coming off the barrel (you should definitely take my word on this one and not try it).

In order to adequately fire a rifle in most scenarios you're gonna have to have a proper grip on the firearm. Now this tends to be somewhere on the barrel. Even if you use a bipod or a mount, you will likely at some point need to grab the barrel of that gun, whether you're transporting it or adjusting it. Without a handguard, you are risking permanent injury to your hands.

What else should you know about the AR-15 handguard?

Tactical Add-Ons

Many AR-15 handguards can be utilized to attach tactical add-ons. This can include red dots, scopes, lights, lasers, grips, and so on. What you choose to put on your AR-15 will be the driving factor in which rail you decide to go with. Other things you need to consider when selecting an AR-15 handguard, is ease of use, and how easy is it to install. Now, this may seem pretty obvious, but a lot of people pick parts or add-ons based on how cool they look or where they see them in other videos and then they have a tough time installing them. Now if you have a tough time installing it, odds are you're gonna abandon the part and you've wasted your money.

(Very brief) Intro to Handguard Mounting Systems

To a new AR-15 owner, much like every other part of the AR-15, the aftermarket can be quite overwhelming. This is because there's a huge variety of styles, lengths, systems, attachments, and so on. The mounting systems on the AR-15 handguards that we will be discussing in future videos is the M-Lok, keymod, and picatinny rail system. Now, just to give a brief summary of these, most free-floating handguards use the picatinny rail system, which has traditionally been the preferred system of military and law enforcement. However, the picatinny rail system can be bulkier and heavier than the keymod or the M-Lok.

M-Lok Mounting System (top two handguards)

Keymod Mounting System (bottom handguard)

Picatinny Mounting System.

MI#18 (GEN 2) Mid Length 2 Piece Tactical Handguards BLACK. Image from Bravo Company.

Final Thoughts

And that's it for this video. Coming to you from the STNGR Workshop. My name is Rick Barrett. I hope you enjoyed this video and I'll talk to you again soon.