Written by: Michael C.
I’ve always been a function over style type person. When I first saw the Brigand Arms handguard I thought it was stylish, but not very functional. It looked like under heavy firing it would get hot because it was so wide open the heat from the barrel would radiate to the shooters hand.
When I took the Tactical Performance Center Multi-gun class we were told to bring a wrap or glove because the rifle forearm would probably get very hot due to the large amount of fast shooting we would we be conducting. During the three-day course, the forearm on my Armalite 3-gun rifle did get warm but not so much that it bothered me. After this experience I thought the Brigand Arms would really get too hot to handle.
The lack of a rails didn’t bother me as those are only needed on a “tactical” rifle to mount lights, lasers, grips and bottle openers. This is not a rail that one would choose for that application. It just looked cool.
After hearing a positive review of the Brigand Arms handguard on the We Like Shooting podcast and the AR-15 podcast on the Firearms Radio Network I thought I would give it a try. But first I had to see if Brownell’s carried the Brigand Arms handguard. I’ve been a Brownell’s customer long before I started reviewing gear. The customer service has always been excellent, and they have the best website in the business. Has a bonus Brownell’s has the Forever Guarantee - no questions asked return policy. So, if I don’t like it or decide I don’t want it, I can return it. And has an Edge member I don’t pay for shipping! Including returns!
When the package arrived, I thought the box was empty because it was so light. I opened the box and there was my new woven carbon fiber handguard! I ordered the fifteen inch “Blade” version. I think the Blade version really adds to the unique design of the handguard design. The Blade is angled at the front and because of the mounting system you can run the angle however you like: long on the bottom, short on the top; long on the top, short on the bottom; or anywhere along the 360 degree radius.
Unpackaging the forearm I was reminded of an issue with woven carbon fiber – loose fibers. I caught a loose fiber in my hand, like a wood splinter. I took a break to remove the foreign body from my finger and then put on my welding gloves. I ran the gloves over the handguard to remove any loose fibers I imagine you could do the same thing with a shop rag, just make sure to throw the shop rag away when you are done. This is not a negative against the Brigand Arms handguard, it’s common to all woven carbon fiber products, just part of the required pre-installation: wipe down the handguard. Please note I have taken the rifle out five times since I mounted the hand guard with no more splinter issues. There are three parts in the package: handguard, barrel nut and cinch nut. The barrel nut is aluminum and appears to be similar to the YHM barrel nut, and the cinch nut appears to be similar to the YHM jam nut. This is smart outsourcing by Brigand Arms, use off the shelf items to cut cost. This is a smart move by Brigand Arms to lower the price of the handguard. And since this is one of the pricier handguards on the market anything that can be used to lower costs while maintaining quality is a smart move. Like Scrooge McDuck said, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”
To start the installation I put a dap of release agent on the barrel extension on my custom order 18 inch, light profile, rifle gas system, 1-7 barrel I from Columbia River Arms and inserted it into a Vltor MUR upper receiver. I really like the Vltor because I have yet to find one out of spec. They look like billet, but they are forged and a little thicker than a mil-spec upper. Next, I put a dap of LocTite 242 (blue) onto the threads of the receiver and tightened the barrel nut to the recommended torque of 34 – 40 foot pounds. Next I installed the Brownell’s black nitride gas tube mounted to a JP Enterprise AR-15 2 piece detent adjustable low profile gas block. The gas tube runs through the barrel nut so it’s important to make sure the barrel nut is aligned properly. If the tube doesn’t fit through the nut keep tightening it a little bit at a time until it freely aligns with the gas key on the bolt carrier group.
Installing the handguard was very straight forward. Like installing a YHM handguard. In fact, Brigand Arms recommends on their FAQ web page to use the YHM handguard wrench to install the handguard. Alternative ways are to tighten the cinch nut is with a spanner wrench, strap wrench or give the cinch nut a tap with a flat head screw driver. I had a spanner wrench on hand and I wrapped the areas that might mare the finish with duct tape. I was unable to get adequate torque on the cinch nut to keep the handguard form turning. I made a quick trip to my local gun store Cobra Tactical (one of my sponsors) and asked Eric if he had the YHM handguard wrench. He was kind enough to loan me the tool, so I could finish the build.
With the upper assembled I headed out to the range. One of the first thing I noticed was how easy it was to access the adjustable gas block. All too often the handguard must be removed to access the adjustments to the gas block, then reinstalled and you hope you have it adjusted properly.
The test and evaluation for this upper was actually for five new parts: Brigand Arms handguard, Columbia Arms Barrel, UM Tactical RAGE muzzle brake, JP Enterprise low mass bolt carrier group and JP Enterprise silent captured spring recoil system, and Geisslle charging handle. After getting everything tuned up (I will cover these items in a later review) I laid the handguard on a sand bag to check the accuracy of the build. Awesome is all I can say regarding the accuracy of this build. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid the handguard was on the rest. No flexing or torquing while shooting off the sand bag. The sand bags at the range are the heavy plastic and I was surprised to see no melting or deformation from heat of the barrel to the bag. Inspecting the handguard, I could not see and deformation or wear marks on it.
Next test came the test for what I thought would be the problem, heat radiating from the barrel through the hand guard. I did a series of speed and transition drills without pause. I finished with two 30 round magazine dumps. Surprisingly the handguard never became too hot to handle or uncomfortable to hold. Another surprise was how quickly the barrel cooled. Just has the Brigand Arms stated in their interviews on the Firearms Radio Network because of the lack of surface area on the handguard the barrel cools quickly.
I’ve been able to take the rifle to the range five more times and even practiced dumping the rifle into a USPSA box and 3 Gun Nation barrel. No damage to the handguard. The handguard is a little larger in diameter than some other handguards but still fits well in the hand. The woven pattern of the hand guard makes for a good gripping surface. I practiced holding the handguard in different positions, all were secure, and it was easy to control the weapon.
Brigand Arms makes three models of the woven carbon fiber handguard: Blade, Edge and Atlas. The Edge is like the Blade but with a flat front. The Atlas is like the Edge but adds a four short picatinny rails at 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions at the front of the handguard. If you want to add rails Brigand Arms handguards, they are prepared for you. You can purchase rail sections and add them wherever you want on the handguard. Brigand Arms also sells M-Loc panels you can add anywhere to the handguard.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Brigand Arms handguard. It is performing better than I imagined it would. The handguards are expensive, $259.00 to $414.00, but they are worth it. Brigand Arms has added AR-10 DPMS-Hi style handguards to their shop. I will be buying one of these for a light weight AR-.308 build. I’m expecting the same outstanding performance from the .308 models.
Brigand Arms are innovators and I look forward to seeing other products they bring to market.
FIREARMS INSIDER REVIEW – 8 KEY POINTS
CLAIM TO FAME:
Lightest handguard available
Modern Sporting Rifle users who want a light weight unique handguard.
FNBS (FEATURES & BENEFITS OF THIS PRODUCT):
Adds in barrel cooling
Off the shelf mounting hardware
Ease of access to adjustable gas blocks
WHAT OTHER AESTHETIC OPTIONS OR FINISHES ARE AVAILABLE?
Three different styles
Four different lengths
Available for AR15 and AR10 (DPMS)
Bare carbon fiber
Handguard can be Cerakoted
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING?:
Coolest and most interesting product at SHOT Show
LINK TO OTHER REVIEWS:
MSRP: $269.00 - $414.00
I NEED IT NOW! AVAILABILTY:
Easy to install
Feels good in the grasp
Looks wicked cool
No continuous rail on top