AR pistols have been around for a long time. They have been great range toys and a fun way to turn money into noise, if you didn’t mind the spray and pray method of shooting. Let’s face it, not all of us have or can use both hands well. Some of us use a cane, have had a stroke or tangled with an IED to the detriment of our hands.
SB Tactical’s Alex Bosco invented a new AR brace and, with the help of SIG Sauer’s marketing power, brought the idea to market. This brace was the start point for current AR braces and launched a new era. Despite Mr. Bosco’s claim that he invented pistol braces, there is a patent for a pistol (non-AR) brace dated 1909. There are several others over the intervening decades including more than one specifically for an AR-15. His company and SIG Sauer tangled with the ATF in a swirling set of legal claims, contradictory approval, and rescinding of approval letters. Long story short, the ATF painted itself into a corner. Fearing what might actually get unraveled in a court case, they issued a letter in 2017, essentially giving up on regulation or enforcement of pistol braces used as an improvised “stock.”
SIG Sauer Press Release – ATF Stabilizing Braces
NRA-ILA – Obama Era Policy on Stabilizing Braces
Since that letter, there has been a lot of development in the pistol brace arena.
|Model||MSRP||Shipped Street Price||Ambi|
|Gear Head Works Mod 1||$119||$110-135||yes|
|SB Tactical – SBA3||$170||$135-155||yes|
|Gear Head Works Mod 2||$200||$165-195||no|
|SB Tactical – SBPDW||$300||$240-$265||yes|
|Maxim CQB Pistol PDW||$395-500||$360-500||yes|
There is also a Troy unit, the Troy AR-15 PDW; but they list and sell it as a stock. This would only be usable with a SBR tax stamp, if mated to an upper with less than a 16” barrel.
To start with, there is a huge difference between the lower price point units and the others. Both the Kak Shockwave and the SIG Brace are not anywhere close to the cutting edge of where the market is. If you want to try the concept on the cheap, they are viable testing options. Once you have used any of the other braces, their shortcomings will not be easily ignored. As such, they are out of the running.
Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 1
The brace requires an AR buffer tube with a rearmost diameter of 1.17 to 1.20 to work. Most of the AR lower parts kits come with a random, cheap buffer tube that is likely larger than this diameter. You can have one turned down; but, there are several companies; Gear Head Works, Phase 5, Kak industries, and Leapers that all make a purpose-built buffer tube with the correct tail diameter.
The Mod 1 is minimalist in size and weight. Cut from billet aluminum, it has one QD attachment point, weighs 4.5 ounces, is less than an inch thick, and comes in any color you want—so long as you want black.
The real trick is that it works great in its stated role of one-handed stabilization. The author has used it on a short-barreled M249 without difficulty maintaining aim. It is ambidextrous, although you do have to remove and flip the brace. A two-minute process, if you have the proper tools.
This brace, like most, is adaptable to any platform that takes an AR buffer tube or AR buffer adaptor. Several other companies make adaptors for use on other platforms: CZ scorpion, Kriss Vector, SIG MPX to name three.
The SBA3 brace is the first in a series that uses a softer polymer / rubber attachment along with Velcro to retain the brace on your forearm. When used as a brace, the Velcro makes it difficult to quickly utilize, or worse, drop the firearm if needed. Although much better than the dated SIG Brace, this design style of molded polymer is also not so forgiving for beefy forearms. I do not have that problem, but many of you will.
Unlike the Tailhook Mod 1, this brace is adjustable to five lengths between 6.1 and 9.5 inches. This allows for much greater versatility when used by different-sized shooters. It is also ambidextrous without having to adjust any parts other than the Velcro strap.
The brace itself is a softer polymer and weights 6.75 ounces. The package comes with a mil-spec carbine extension (buffer tube), brace, and 1-inch wide Velcro securing strap. SB offers this in Black or FDE.
This is a significant step up from the SIG Brace with the adjustable option and superior ergonomics.
Gear Head Works Mod 2
The Mod 2 is the adjustable length-of-pull option from Gear Head Works. The design for stabilization is quite similar to its Mod 1. The brace arm drops down at a 90° angle. The forearm rests on the lower extension; your wrist is cocked slightly forward and down to load the weight of the gun onto the forearm. In this manner, the weight is transferred to bone and very steady.
This brace is offered in three colors: Black, FDE, and ODG. It is not ambidextrous or offered in a left-hand configuration, so you lefties are out of luck. It comes with a proprietary buffer tube, castle nut, back plate and hard polymer brace. The brace itself weights 6.7 ounces. It is adjustable to five lengths of pull with a maximum length of 12.75 inches. This works great for a variety of different-sized people or when wearing bulky winter gear or armor. It is also very quick and simple to use as a brace while retaining the quick ability to remove the gun from the hand.
SB Tactical – SBPDW
The SBPDW is designed in conjunction with Maxim Defense. If you look at the PDW twin rail component, it is obviously very similar to the Maxim design.
This is a 3-position PDW design. The purpose of the PDW design is to allow for a more compact pistol for easier transport, and in that regard, this brace works quite well. The twin support rods make for a solid brace from lateral movement and are simple to adjust the length of pull from 6.1 to 9.375 inches.
This brace uses pretty much the same polymer rear as the SBA3, which has the same pros and cons as listed above. One additional thing that may be a con for some, at the longest length-of-pull there is a significant dip in the middle. This dip is exactly where most people would want their cheek weld. Having three different terrain heights for cheek weld might be tough. If that isn’t an issue for you, it is a solid piece of kit.
Per SB Tactical, take care when securing the PDW brace, as the castle nut is aluminum, not the usual steel. For people in a rush or not paying attention, they run the possibility of cross threading or in some other manner damaging the threads. With a little attention, it should be not be a problem and it isn’t like you will be removing the castle nut with any regularity.
Maxim CQB Pistol PDW
The Maxim is also a collaborative effort of Maxim and SB Tactical. This model has all the upgrade bells and whistles and can be configured in a number of manners. As such, it is difficult to truly review, as there are so many options.
The length-of-pull is the shortest in the closed position at 5.375 inches, has four total positions with a maximum extension at 9.24 inches. The option of a JP silent capture spring is a great, if expensive upgrade.
The brace will install with any mil-spec buffer tube and is dead stable. It uses the same polymer brace as the SBA3 with the Velcro retention system. That was a letdown for me on an otherwise wonderfully executed design.
In closing, I think it is rather obvious that my bias rides directly against the Velcro retention system. Aside from the slow process of removing the pistol from your hand, the ATF has specifically stated modifying the strap is forbidden. Velcro is a limited use item. Does that mean when the Velcro wears out you have to buy a new brace? Is the manufacturer allowed to send you a replacement strap? These questions make me shy away from this style.
I really like the Gear Head Works Mod 2 and for non-lefties, that would be my first choice. If you are a lefty or don’t need the adjustable option, the Gear Head Works Mod 1 is my second choice. The third option, based mainly on the very high price of the Maxim and the SBPDW, is the SBA3.
There are several other things to consider when purchasing a brace. Does the manufacturer have an approval letter for the specific brace you are buying? Legally they must. If they attempt to state they have a blanket approval, you are the one who will take the fall if challenged by the ATF. Not all law enforcement knows about the 2017 ATF letter nor do all gun ranges. Be aware that some people will give you a hard time if you shoulder the firearm. If they happen to wear a badge, that could make for an interesting day. You have the law on your side, but having a copy of the letter in your range bag, is always a good idea and cheap insurance.
Check out all of K-VAR’s pistol braces here.
Was you favorite AR pistol brace mentioned here? Which model is your favorite and why? Share your answers in the comment section.
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