This is my Blaster. There are many like it…

…but this one is mine.

The Blaster: A TacSol AR-22T upper with 15" AP Customs Tactical handguard

The Blaster: A TacSol AR-22T upper with 15″ AP Custom Tactical handguard

Well, there may not be any like it.  Looking at it completed assembled, my first thought was, “That looks like something out of Star Wars.”  But now you know why I asked if 15 inches is too long: It’s installed on a Tactical Solutions AR-22T dedicated .22 rimfire upper. Ordinarily a 15″ handguard on a 16.5″ barrel is not a problem (although they are most often used on 3-gun type rifles with 18″+ barrels).  However, because the rimfire barrel is recessed into the receiver by over an inch, I knew the barrel wouldn’t be too much longer than the handguard.

The yellow line indicates where the barrel begins.

The yellow line indicates where the barrel begins.

What I didn’t account for is the gap between the receiver and the back of the tube.  That left all of 1/16 of an inch of barrel to extend past the end of the handguard.

Technically the barrel extends past the handguard

Technically the barrel is longer

Obviously, there won’t be any trouble finding a place to mount iron sights on top of that which was the reason for adding the rail to begin with.  The plan is also to add a bipod stud as well and the handguard does have a row of vents along the bottom for adding accessories.  One of the two included APC add-on rail sections could be used for that purpose. They are rock solid when mounted and offer impressive flexibility of mounting locations [@1:30, 3, 6, 9 or 10:30 o’clock any where along the length].

Two 2 inch add-on rail sections are included with AP Customs Tactical Handguard

Two 2 inch add-on rail sections are included with AP Custom Tactical Handguard

However, the idea of adding a rail only to have to add a bipod stud adapter to then attach a bipod just irks me.  AP Custom will be introducing a simple, low profile bipod stud accessory but it hasn’t been released for sale at this time.  [BTW, they recently released a lo-pro QD socket that I want to try too.]  I did try IWC’s excellent V-2 Mount-n-Slot for MagPul MOE forends but while serviceable, it’s not an exact fit; MagPul vents are narrower and the surfaces around them are flat rather than curved like those of a free float tube.  This leaves a very slight amount of play when MOE accessories are mounted to an APC tube (unless you really want to wrench them down; I didn’t).

Vent size comparison: AP Customs carbon fiber handguard (top) to MagPul MOE (bottom); IWC V2 Mount-N-Slot on MOE

Vent size comparison: AP Customs carbon fiber handguard (above) to MagPul MOE (below); IWC V2 Mount-N-Slot on MOE

That didn’t keep me from doing a mock up of what it would be like with a bipod mounted though.

Shooting from within the rough.

In the jungle, the quiet jungle…

So now all it needs are the iron sights that led to this whole undertaking.  Well, they’re backordered.  But I’m sure that they’ll be along shortly; this panic buying stuff is tapering off, right? *sigh*

Until then, I’ll still be having a great time with the ‘Blaster’.  The TacSol upper is not only accurate and fun but it’s also an excellent training tool (inexpensive to shoot and great for introducing new shooters to the AR platform). Adding the AP Custom handguard and (eventually) aperture sights only makes it better.

Just one more pic.

And just one more pic.

Is 15 Inches Too Long?

Perhaps. More on that later.

After talking with the guys at AP Industries about their carbon fiber handguards, I ordered one for a ‘special project’.  The 15 inch ‘Tactical’ model to be exact, because I want the full length top rail for mounting iron sights.  The Tactical models also come with a couple of 2″ picatinny rails that can be mounted to any of the vents in the handguard.  Those will be put to use later.

New 15" Tactical Handguard from AP Custom USA.   [Note: strap wrench and action figure not required for installation; Darth Maul shown for scale]

New 15″ Tactical Handguard from AP Custom USA.
[Note: strap wrench and action figure NOT required for installation]

I had not attempted this type of project before [I’m not a gunsmith] and because I wanted to learn how to change out handguards / build AR upper receivers, I set about collecting the necessary tools.  The project upper was sporting a Hogue free float tube so I needed a strap wrench to remove it.  The upper receiver vise block I chose is by Wheeler Engineering and includes a very clever gas port alignment tool.  To install the new AP Customs handguard I needed a barrel nut wrench and a barrel nut.  Also required, but thankfully already owned, are a T15 Torx driver, a 1/2″ socket wrench handle, Blue Loctite, and a big honking vise.

Disclaimer: I am not a gunsmith.  This article does not constitute instruction. I’m not responsible for damage to you or your gun if you don’t seek out qualified instruction elsewhere.  I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how to remove muzzle devices, gas blocks, gas tubes, etc.

So, to the part where I remove the Hogue handguard (except that I didn’t get a picture of it in the vise)

Imagine this clamped in a vise...  [Gas port alignment rod removed for illustrative purposes]

Imagine this clamped in a vise… [Gas port alignment rod removed for illustrative purposes]

There. Done.

A couple of neat features of the AP Customs handguards are how light they are and how brilliant the attachment system is. APC designed a cup and a flange that ‘sandwich’ the barrel nut and ensure that when the gas tube port is aligned, the handguard (and therefore the top rail) is too.  Here’s how the parts are ordered: [click images to enlarge]

Parts of the AP Custom handguard attachment system shown aligned in 'exploded' view.  Milspec barrel nut is NOT included with handguard.

Parts of the AP Custom handguard attachment system shown aligned in ‘exploded’ view. Milspec barrel nut is NOT included with handguard.

These forum posts have more pictures if you are curious.  I cinched everything up using the highly technical method of turning the barrel nut to ‘hand tight’ and then using the barrel nut wrench to tighten it just enough until the nearest barrel nut notch aligned with the gas tube port.  No torque wrench needed.

As for weight savings, the Hogue midlength tube, with its integral barrel nut, weighs 9.9 ounces on my postal scale. The APC handguard parts and barrel nut combine to weigh 10.5 ounces.  That’s 6 inches more real estate to hold onto, plus a rail to attach sights to for only 0.6 ounces added.  Of course, adding additional rails for lights, VFG’s, etc will cause the weigh to stack up, as will adding those devices but that’s for each to decide on their own.

So how did it turn out?  Tune in Monday for the reveal!