About a month ago, I went into Thunderbird Tactical, a gun store in Wichita, Kansas, to pick up a rifle. The staff at Thunderbird know their ARs. On the wall of guns was an MSR with an A*B Arms hand guard. It surprised me, as the hand guards hadn’t been on the market all that long, and I didn’t think they’d made it into any manufacturer’s stock configuration. So I asked about it. The answer didn’t surprise me at all. The hand guard that came on the rifle was barely passable. Everyone accepts a generic hand guard, but it is typically the first piece of the AR to be replaced. So Thunderbird went ahead and put on an A*B Arms Hand Guard. Problem solved. No need to buy a rifle and throw away junk parts.
Heat retention and poor ergonomics
The problem with the typical AR forend is that it is closed up. If it does provide ventilation, it is nominal, and only through the top. Otherwise it requires simple heat dispersion. Even the well made forends, those with two-part steel heat shields, trap heat between the barrel and the forend. In an attempt t protect the hands, hand guards trap heat precisely where you don’t want heat.
The first problem is the performance of a hot barrel. Hot barrels are more prone to barrel whip. Barrels that heat up fast and cool down slowly tend to anneal, a process which removes the hardness that makes steel resilient to wear. Over time, barrels that hold heat wear faster.
The more immediate problem is one of comfort. As the forend does begin to dissipate heat, it becomes harder to hold onto. This is one reason why many of us wear gloves. Add to that the questionable ergonomics, and you have something that is decidedly mediocre. That cone shape, with the wide end toward the shooter, gives very little to brace your hand against. You can pull against the fat part of the cone, and that works, but pulling with your support hand from that position is only one aspect of control.
Heat at dispersion and excellent ergonomics
A*B Arms has engineered the solution. The heat shield is still a two part design, but the shields themselves have room to breathe inside the guard. There is ample airflow through the guard. The shields heat up but the plastic on the outside only warms up. Even in full auto fire, the guard is supposed to remain cool enough to hold comfortably. I ran 3 mags through this with the Tac-Con 3MR trigger, 90 rounds in about 20 seconds, and the barrel was smoking hot. The forend was warm–but not smoking–and I could still hold onto it with a bare hand.
And the ergonomics are easy to see. The texture on the forend isn’t slick like most plastics. It has a bit of bite. And the swell is backed by a small convex dip that forms a positive hand stop. Your hand finds its position easily and repeatedly.
There are other benefits. The hand guard is designed to accommodate gas pistons or direct gas impingement systems. It only weighs 4 ounces. The A*B Pro hand guard is 7 1/8th inches long, and meant for carbine length ARs, and it is 2.69 inches tall, which allows for a substantial grip. The top of the rail is designed to be level with a flat top upper.
There are to main versions, the Mod1 (which has a section of polymer rail on top of the guard) and the Pro (which has a flat top). Each is available in a tan (color matched to Magpul’s tan), black, OD green, and now two camo patterns. The black versions sell for $40.99. The colors and camos sell for more.
There are so many forends and hand guards on the market, but the trend is to upgrade big. Truth is, key-mod isn’t for everyone. Some stubby carbine length forends are heavy, and aren’t comfortable. Some aluminum rails transfer heat right into the hand. The A*B Arms rail is well designed without being overkill. It is simple, and effective.
And it is built by people who know this industry, and have practical experience with the ARs in action. The need for this hand guard came from Jason Combs’ combat experience. He’s President of A*B Arms, and is working to redefine the way accessories are designed and produced. A*B Arms is a veteran owned company that produces purpose built components stateside. They are setting the bar for quality high while keeping the cost for the consumer reasonable. I expect to see big things from them.