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AR 15 Rail Systems: How They've Changed

AR 15 Rail Systems: How They've Changed

April 15, 2017

For those of you keeping a close eye on the RailScales blogs, you’ve probably picked up a trend in our blogs: we really like to geek out about all the awesome components and modification options available for the AR 15. This week is no different! Instead of giving you the thrilling history of how the AR 15 came to be, or going over the differences between an AR 15 and an M16, we thought we’d enlighten all of you new AR 15 owners and enthusiasts about one of the most important modification components (we think) the AR has. That’s right, we’re talking handguards and rail systems this week.


As you probably imagined, handguards are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the name; these are modifications or additional components you can add to your AR 15 to provide your hands protection as the barrel heats up from continued firing. As an added bonus, most handguards come with a textured design to make a firm and steady grip just a bit easier. Or, for the combined handguard rail, they offer a place to attach some of the best AR accessories, things like hand stops, scopes, and our namesake product, the rail scale.

The idea of the rail system on a handguard started in the early 1900s with the Picatinny rail, an adaptation of the earlier Weaver rail mount. This rail system looks pretty reminiscent of railroad tracks, which probably played a major role in how this particular firearm feature got its name.



Handguard Rail Evolution

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until nearly a century later that the Picatinny got any sort of competition in terms of rail systems for the AR 15. VLTOR Weapon Systems created a handguard rail alternative that was thinner, lighter, and just as effective - if not more so - than the Picatinny rail. And, because the design was made open-source, it took off quickly as companies began producing custom AR parts that either incorporated or worked with the new KeyMod handguard rail.

Shortly after VLTOR’s creation of the KeyMod rail system, Magpul Industries threw their own option into the ring. Many AR owners appreciated the lightness and customization options afforded by the KeyMod handguard rail, but found that it didn’t work quite well enough with some AR accessories. In answer to this, they developed the M-LOK handguard rail, which provided the same lightness as the KeyMod handguard rail, but comes with long rectangular slots so accessories can be attached with t-slot nuts at the desired distance, rather than relying on the spacing of the key-shaped holes of the KeyMod handguard rail.

Today, even more of the best AR accessories designers and manufacturers are getting involved. Companies like Bootleg, Inc. have created hybrid handguard rail systems to allow even more customization options, so you don’t have to choose between that KeyMod hand stop and Picatinny scope.

For the best AR accessories, shop RailScales online. Our products are specially designed for heat protection and keeping the weight as low as possible; check out our M-LOK and KeyMod hand stop and rail scale options online today!