June 13, 2018
For most of their existence, AR-15 pistols were a niche item, which is a polite way of saying they weren't popular. Those bare buffer tubes sticking out the backend like ugly and awkward vestigial tails didn't look good, and when you tried to shoulder them while shooting, things didn't work out so well. In fact, AR pistols were so looked down upon by serious people that when Hollywood stuck an AR-15 pistol (with no sights) into the hands of veteran CIA operative John Clark (Willem Dafoe) in 1994's "Clear and Present Danger," it probably took 10 years off author Tom "King of the Technically Accurate" Clancy's life.
Things have changed. In 2013, SIG Sauer brought to market the SB15 PSB (pistol stabilizing brace). Since then, an ever-increasing number of companies have been introducing braces, and companies as conservative as FN and LWRCI are offering pistols equipped with arm braces from the factory.
Despite the doom-and-gloomers predicting the demise of the AR pistol brace, the opposite has happened: more and more braces of increasingly interesting design have entered the marketplace.
Let's take a look at some of the pistol braces currently on the market, separated by manufacturer.
SIG Sauer didn't make or design the original brace, they just sold it. SB Tactical continues to license/sell their braces to SIG and other companies as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and they have the largest selection of products. Each one gets approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) before being offered for sale.
The SB15 is the first brace, and it is also the biggest and bulkiest. For strapping to your forearm as a shooting brace, it works better than any other design. If you have the use of only one arm, this brace will allow you to shoot a "long-gun handgun" much safer and with greater accuracy. The rubber wings that go around the shooter's forearm are curved for comfort, but the brace is one of the widest ones as a result.
Once the basic design was established, SB Tactical began introducing smaller, lighter and more stylish arm braces. First came the SBX, originally intended for use on the SIG Sauer MPX pistol-caliber pseudo-AR. While it has a reduced, streamlined profile, the SBX still slips over the buffer tube, is made of rubber and has a strap to tighten the brace over the shooter's forearm. The SOB (Son of Brace, meant to mimic the lines of an AK stock) and the SBM4 (meant to mimic the style of an M4 stock) are two more.
SB Tactical makes braces to fit all sorts of non-AR-pattern guns including the CZ Scorpion EVO and MP5 clones, but as this is Guns & Ammo AR-15, let's limit our roundup to those designs. However, several braces meant for other guns work and have been found to look great on ARs, such as the SBV brace, designed for the KRISS Vector.
After making a number of single-piece static braces, the big news about two years ago was the PSB for the SIG Sauer MPX. This had SB Tactical's traditional rubber cuff with the strap at the end of a three-position collapsible arm, and this brace also fits the SIG MCX. It was the first adjustable-length brace offered by a manufacturer.
Last year, SB Tactical introduced a new brace, the SBPDW. It is a two-position collapsible brace made of aluminum, steel and rubber, designed to mimic the looks of personal defense weapon (PDW) stocks. It is manufactured in conjunction with Maxim Defense and is the priciest of the SB Tactical offerings at $300.
At the 2018 SHOT Show, SB Tactical introduced a new brace that got a lot of attention. The SBA3 is polymer with a rubber cuff and nylon strap, but what surprised many people was that the SBA3 comes mounted on a standard Mil-Spec five-position carbine receiver extension. It is also one of their most affordable braces at $170.
Many people (myself included) thought putting a carbine receiver extension on a pistol was illegal, but the ATF ruled in 2004 that it is legal. You just need to make sure you're not demonstrating "constructive intent" to illegally manufacture a short-barreled rifle (such as only owning one AR, a pistol equipped with a carbine receiver extension and having an AR stock lying nearby).
PDW stocks feature shorter than usual buffer tubes and collapsible buttstocks; they take the AR-15 envelope and make it even more compact. Maxim Defense is well-known for their CQB stock. This is a nicely made PDW-style stock with a short buffer tube and multiple sling swivel attachment points. They are now offering two pistol brace versions of this stock.
The first has been made in partnership with SB Tactical, the CQB Pistol PDW Brace. After testing this brace for several weeks, I'm convinced it is the best pistol brace on the market — and with a starting price of $395, it is definitely the most expensive.
The Maxim Defense CQB Pistol PDW Brace features a shorter-than-Mil-Spec fluted buffer tube that extends 5.375 inches from the receiver and has quick-detach (QD) sling sockets on either side. Because the buffer tube is shorter than standard, it comes with a special shorter/lighter buffer and stronger buffer spring but works with a standard bolt carrier. If you want to upgrade this brace, Maxim Defense offers it in FDE for an additional $40 or with a silent-captured spring system with variable weights, but the MSRP can rise as high as $550.
People love the functionality of pistol arm braces, but many balk at either the size, weight or price. Shockwave Technologies' Blade attempts to address all of those complaints.
From the side, the glass-reinforced-polymer Blade has a profile similar to an AR stock — in fact, it resembles the Magpul SL. Viewed from the rear, it is clear where the name Blade originated.
Below the buffer tube, this brace is a flat, quarter-inch-thick piece of polymer that extends 33/4 inches from the bottom of the tube and weighs 5 ounces. This flat piece of polymer is referred to as a vertical fin. It is designed to press against the inside of the shooter's forearm during operation, providing more stability. The top of the unit can also be pressed against the shooter's cheek.
The Blade has several slots for mounting slings. It is designed to fit standard buffer tubes up to 1¼ inches in diameter and is offered in numerous colors — black, FDE, OD green and gray. The Blade has a setscrew to keep it from sliding on the buffer tube. It is often sold with the KAK Industry Shockwave buffer tube, which features multiple dimples for the setscrew. The dimples allow the user to adjust the distance between the Blade and the receiver.
One reason for the Shockwave Blade's popularity is price — $43. I've seen them mounted on AR-15s, MP5 clones and everything in between.
Gear Head Works
Gear Head Works (GHW) is one of those small companies that has been chugging along making great firearm accessories in relative obscurity until they introduced the one product that gets them all sorts of attention. For GHW, that product was the Tailhook.
Anyone who has ever tried to shoot a long-gun-based handgun with one hand knows that they can get very heavy, especially at the muzzle. The Tailhook was designed to address that problem.
There are two versions of the Tailhook, the original Mod 1 and the new Mod 2. Both have a similar appearance — a simple oval — but on the Mod 1, that oval is machined from billet aluminum and can be mounted on standard pistol buffer tubes. The Mod 2 is an injection-molded polymer unit adjustable for length and sold with its own proprietary five-position receiver extension.
Pushing the button at the top of the oval allows one arm of the oval to swing down. That arm supports the shooter's firing arm to counterbalance the weight of the pistol.
I like that the different versions of the Tailhook give you different options. The Mod 1 Tailhook is reversible, so the arm can swing down either to the right or the left. It also features a limited rotation QD socket for mounting a sling. The Mod 2 doesn't have a sling socket and is not reversible, but it is five-position adjustable for length and available in black, FDE or OD green.
As a brace, the Mod 1 Tailhook is an even more streamlined design than the Shockwave Blade and, at 4½ ounces, weighs less. Suggested retail is $119, but that does not include a buffer tube. The Mod 2 package, including the proprietary receiver extension, sells for $199.
The newest company to enter the pistol arm brace market is DoubleStar. DoubleStar has been making AR-15 parts for a long time, and they've also started producing complete firearms in the past few years. The Strongarm is their entry into the pistol brace lineup.
The Strongarm is machined from billet aluminum and was designed to slip over pistol buffer tubes. Two hex screws tighten it down. At first glance, the DoubleStar Strongarm looks a bit like the Mod 1 Tailhook from Gear Head Works, but it functions differently.
Unlike the Tailhook, the Strongarm has an integral nylon strap with Velcro on it. Both sides of the Strongarm are scalloped and designed to fit against a shooter's forearm for more stability when shooting one-handed. If you want the pistol locked to your arm even tighter, the strap allows you to lash the Strongarm to your forearm.
The Strongarm weighs 4.8 ounces and is designed to fit buffer tubes with a diameter between 1.11 and 1.2 inches. It has QD sling swivel sockets on what would be the toe of the unit if it was a stock. There are sockets on all four sides, and the Strongarm comes with a QD sling swivel. The unit itself has a suggested retail of $100, not including a buffer tube.
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