Precision/Varmint Rifle Build part 3: Handguard
The original AR-15 handguard was designed in a way to facilitate acceptable accuracy, protect the shooters hand from components that produce high levels of heat like the barrel and gas tube, and to protect those vital components from damage. Being manufactured from polymer, connecting to a delta ring around the barrel but, and securing to the front sight/gas block, the handguard did an acceptable job of performing the functions listed above. The triangular design gave a flat bottom portion which aided in stable shooting off of barriers or other objects, and the vents allowed heat to escape while protecting the shooters hand. For all of its benefits, there were also shortcomings, mainly of which is the fact that it is not a free floated design. Since the handguard attaches to the barrel nut via a delta ring, and connects directly to the front sight block in contact with the barrel, pressure on different areas of the handguard can have a negative effect on accuracy. Another shortcoming is the absence of a system to attach accessories.
Since this build is all about precision, a free floated handguard is a must, but with so many choices on the market, how does one decide what will work best for their purposes? For this build I know I want the option for attaching a bipod, so there will need to be a bottom picatinny rail, or have an option for adding one. Since accuracy is key, it needs to be very rigid with little to no flex. Some handguards, even though they are a free float design, have quite a bit of flex which can hurt consistent accuracy. For this build I made a fairly easy choice, and went with a Seekins Precision BAR. The Seekins BAR is a free float quad rail style handguard. It is designed to have a fairly large inside diameter to clear for a suppressor. The choice was easy because it offered plenty of rail space for a bipod, it is a very rigid design, its a good looking design, and most importantly because I already had it. To be honest, if I were in the market to purchase a handguard for a precision AR-15, a quadrail would not be my first choice.
The quadrail is a bit antiquated by today’s standards. Rail space is a good thing for mounting various accessories like a foregrip, bipod, light, laser, sights, nightvision, etc… The problem is that for all of the rail space being used, there is a ton that is not being used. Its not like there is an advantage to a picatinny rail that is not in use, it is uncomfortable to hold on to, and is just added weight to the front of the rifle. A far better system would incorporate a lighter weight, smoother profile handguard that is easier to grip, with the option of a keymod or similar system so the shooter could add rail sections where needed. Many manufacturers have been moving to this type of handguard with great success. So why on earth would I choose to run a quadrail for this build? Again, the main reason is that I had it sitting in a drawer, not being used, so I wouldn’t have to purchase a new one. Couple that with that fact that I know it is very rigid, has more than enough rail space, and that I happen to have access to a full machine shop to customize it, it was certainly an easy choice.
I had one of our talented machine operators mill off the side rails, and half of the bottom rail. With those rail sections out of the way, the handguard is much lighter, much slimmer profile, will be more comfortable to carry, and will still provide the rail space needed while retaining rigidity. I plan on Cerakoting the rifle, including the handguard, so exposing bare aluminum is not an issue at the moment. The resulting handguard will not only perform for the duties needed, but it will also be a nice custom piece to set it apart from other rifles.
Read about the Northtech Defense upper receiver in Part 2 Here.