Photo Credit: AR15.com
One of the handiest accessories you can get for your AR-15 pistol is the AR pistol brace.
The AR pistol brace opens up a new dimension of versatility that allows you to shoot an AR pistol with one arm, and you can rest your cheek on the brace for accuracy and control. The extra support means enhanced handling, flexibility, ease of use for home defense, easy shouldering, as well as more fun at the shooting ranges.
Whether you’re a die-hard fanatic of pistol-caliber carbines, you’re looking for an interesting home defense alternative, or you just need some competitive edge for your AR pistol, a good pistol brace is a simple device that makes a world of difference.
It’s a relatively new and rather controversial accessory piece that’s heavily regulated, so check your local laws for AR pistols and AR pistol braces. We’ll talk about this issue soon enough.
In this guide, I’ve rounded up some of the best AR pistol braces you can find on the market today: we’ll talk about their features, pros & cons, legal issues, explain how to pick the best one, and try to answer some frequently asked questions.
A Pistol Brace Is Not a Stock
Don’t be fooled; it’s not a stock. Invented in 2012 by a thoughtful U.S. Army veteran Alex Bosco, the pistol brace was first designed to help disabled soldiers use their AR-15s with one hand more easily.
The pistol brace attaches to the rear of an AR pistol, which in turn, attaches to your forearm. It’s held in place and stays put via friction. It can also slide over the buffer tube.
You’re probably wondering how the pistol brace’s design transposed its purpose from being an aid to becoming an effective AR-15 shoulder stock system replacement.
Very few people use them since it’s sometimes frowned upon when they’re not used by the physically disabled, but they are slowly becoming a stock replacement as they offer a new dimension of shooting.
The main purpose of a pistol brace is to make the platform more stable, more comfortable, and easier to use. With a proper pistol brace, you can try out different shooting stances at different ranges. It’s pretty fun once you get the hang of it.
If you’re looking for some high-quality AR-15 stocks, check out our buyer’s guide here.
The Legalities of Owning an AR Pistol Brace
Disclaimer: Note that this article segment is NOT legal advice nor are we lawyers. It’s purely informational, so I strongly advise you to check your state laws for this.
You’ve probably heard the fuss about AR pistols and the barrel length legal problems.
Typically, rifles with a barrel under 16 inches (short-barreled rifles) are subject to heavy regulations and restrictions of the 1934 National Firearms Act, or NFA—the same act that added layers of rigorous regulations to suppressors and fully automatic guns like the M4 or the Uzi.
However, there’s one tiny legal detail due to which AR-15 pistols aren’t recognized as rifles.
The AR-15 Pistol Stock Problem
You should know that AR-15 pistols are legally classified as pistols because they don’t come with stocks. We know that pistols aren’t subject to NFA restrictions. So, no stock, no restrictions.
Besides these NFA laws, there’s also the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS), is a web-based application used by firearms dealers to register the sale and transaction of handguns and other firearms. The firearm needs to be marked as a pistol by the DROS as well.
But then, there are the receiver and buffer tube issues.
You see, even if you do consider building a receiver that’s marked as a pistol into a full rifle, it’s illegal to turn a rifle into a pistol. The culprit is the buffer tube—that shiny metal extension of the lower receiver that serves as a part to mount the buttstock on.
Buffer tubes extend beyond the butt of the gun, which is supposed to lay against your shoulder. But the problem is how uncomfortable and awkward it feels on your shoulder. That’s why a dude from the army stepped up and invented the pistol brace.
Keep in mind that there’s no law that says you can’t use a specific receiver extension on any AR pistol, but the pistol brace is what makes it a political hot button.
What Does the ATF Say?
The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) allows using pistol braces against your shoulders at the time of writing, but it’s still wonky and they might change their minds now that the political winds are shifting, so to speak.
All we know is that using pistol braces on your AR pistol is fine as long as it’s shouldered. Just remember that AR-15 pistols exist because of the NFA, even though this act makes owning a rifle with a barrel that’s shorter than 16 inches a regulatory hassle.
To summarize, be careful when building your very own receiver. It’s illegal to turn a rifle into a pistol because of the 16-inch law. What that means is if you want to own a rifle with a barrel that’s shorter than 16 inches (which automatically makes it an SBR), you need to register it to the ATF, which includes a burdensome application process and a $200 fee.
The bottom line is: check your state laws and know the lay of the land before you make any decisions.
Best Pistol Braces
Our Top Pick – SB Tactical SBA3 Pistol Stabilizing Brace
- One of the most popular pistol braces on the market
- Easily adjustable
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Integrated QD sling sockets on both sides
- L-shape design allows multiple shooting positions
- Great price
- Fits mil-spec receiver extensions
- Arm wrap might not be supportive for some
This is the pistol brace that started it all.
Unfortunately, one of the most popular AR pistol braces that greatly influenced the pistol brace market, the SB Tactical SB15, has been discontinued. The same goes for the SB Tactical Mini.
However, the leading manufacturer of pistol braces, SB Tactical, has designed the SBA3 brace, one of the most prominent and well-received pistol braces. It’s a definitive pistol brace standard for multiple reasons.
Many pistol braces may have evolved and changed their appearance, but this one is an absolute classic, which stays true to the original straightforward design and simplicity.
It’s made of a very lightweight, soft, and thick polymer rubber. You can tell that the main purpose of the design is the ease of use and comfort. It weighs only 6.75 oz and it’s easy to adjust, not to mention the excellent price.
Don’t confuse it with the SBM4, which is cheaper, but it isn’t as adjustable as the SB Tactical SBA3 brace.
The SB Tactical brace is designed for the best cheek weld and has a built-in adjustable nylon strap with a 5-position adjustable overall length of pull. This means that it works with 5-position receiver extensions, which offers so many opportunities.
So, if you’re going for a custom AR pistol build, you’re in luck. If you want to use your own extension, this brace also fits mil-spec receiver extensions.
It also has integrated QD sling sockets on both sides, which are great for those of you who prefer shooting with a sling.
The only downside is that the brace’s arm wrap isn’t very supportive, so it might feel wonky for some.
Here’s a quick tip for you: use a hand sanitizer when you’re installing the pistol brace because it smoothes out the friction and makes the already easy installation even easier.
- One of the cheapest options
- Comes in different colors
- Sturdy stabilizer
- Lightweight (5 ounces), glass-reinforced polymer construction
- Three sling attachment points
- Very stable
- Not many adjustability options on the fly
- Adjusting the telescope needs an Allen wrench to tighten or loosen the screws
- No QD sling socket included
- Really annoying adjusting button because it’s too small
Here’s a budget option for you. The KAK Shockwave Blade is made of a hard, glass-reinforced polymer, uniquely designed to rest beside your arm. It doesn’t exactly strap onto your arm, and there’s no velcro strap included, but it’s made for one either way.
It fits pistols with a carbine-style pistol buffer tube which is super easy to install. For a few bucks more, you can get yourself a dimpled Shockwave AR Pistol Tube that fits the pistol brace, and there’s also an entire package for you if you’re the DIY type.
You can adjust the length of the pistol brace and it’s perfect if you have larger arms. Although I wouldn’t advise using the brace against your shoulder because of the recoil, it’s still viable for some. It’s still pretty lightweight with its 5 ounces, so don’t worry about any shooting imbalance.
The downside is that the small adjusting button is difficult to press, which is kinda infuriating. It’s definitely not for cold weather hunting, that’s for sure (frozen thumb victims, raise your hands). The three attachment sling points allow for smoother action, but there are no QD sling sockets which is odd.
Overall, it’s pretty affordable, easy to install, and effective. The buffer tubes have a diameter of 1.25 inches. Just install the buffer and tighten the screw, and you’re all done.
- Highly durable
- Easy to adjust
- Assembled and easy to install
- Leverless extension makes it easy to pull
- Carbine buffer and spring compatible along with mil-spec BCGs
- Velcro strap included
- Heaviest on this list
- Doesn’t come with buffer and buffer spring
- No flat space to rest your cheek
- Velcro strap loop might be small for some
The SP Tactical PDW is a high-end pistol brace, designed in partnership with Maxim Defense to create a heavy-duty attachment that really counters recoil and makes sure it’s comfy enough for the shoulders.
The aesthetically pleasing PDW has an immoderate price, but you can expect unmatched durability. It’s a really heavy pistol brace with a whopping 18-ounce weight which is almost three times the size of an SBA3.
The PDW’s construction is aluminum and has a 3-position adjustment system that goes from 6 to 9 inches. Switching positions with the lever that’s located on the back is easy, while the installation is child’s play due to the already assembled package. Sadly, the buffer and buffer spring cost extra, and that may be a major downside.
You don’t have to mount a lower receiver end plate sling mount, all thanks to the QD sling attachment point, which is at the 6 o’clock position on the housing. It’s compatible with mil-spec bolt carriers and carbine buffers and it comes in two colors: flat dark earth and black.
The downside is that there’s no flat space to rest your cheeks upon, so keep that in mind. Additionally, when shouldering the AR, the velcro strap might get in the way, and the loop seems pretty small.
If you’re looking for left-handed AR-15 rifles, check out our guide here.
- One of the most durable on this list
- Aluminum alloy construction
- QD sling mounts, buffer tube, and JP springs included
- Compatible with AK and AR pistols
- Collapsible and locks in place
- 4-point adjustability
- Very expensive
Maxim Defense is an excellent manufacturer of pistol braces, and since we’re still at costly braces, here’s the Maxim Defense CQB PDW pistol brace.
The Maxim Defense CQB PDW brace is a well-made brace that’s easy to use. It’s collapsible and can lock into place perfectly. As for adjustability, well, the brace has four lengths that can be changed on the fly.
Its odd design will make your AR pistol look like a space marine’s rifle, and—depending on your taste—that’s probably not a bad thing.
You can strap it onto your forearm and it feels comfortable. Simply pull the brace back and it locks into place. The QD sling mounts along with the JP springs and buffer tube are included and are compatible with AR and AK pistols.
Judging by the overall design of the brace, the Maxim CQB isn’t exactly your standard pistol brace. It’s a high-quality item that’s more of a luxury than a necessity, and it works great on pistol-caliber carbines, too.
The reason why the price is so jacked is that it’s a pistol brace with a very intricate construction and unmatched durability. It allows smooth shooting without trading off comfort, all thanks to the metal design, as opposed to the cheaper-yet-less-durable polymer constructions on other braces.
It’s an aluminum alloy construction that can withstand all kinds of shock and weather, so if you’re going for a pistol brace that can last a lifetime, this is it.
- Lightweight (4.8 ounces)
- Durable, corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy
- Very comfortable
- Great value
- Easy to install
- Excellent for one-handed shooting
- Not very comfortable for your shoulder
- California’s Proposition 65
- The 1.24-inch buffer tube version is the best, making all the other models impractical
Here’s the Double Star Strongarm Pistol brace: a durable piece that’s machined from billet aluminum for an excellent price. It seems very simple, but it’s entirely focused on function and handling. It’s also ambidextrous, so lefties, rejoice!
It can fit almost any standard pistol tube and the installation is really easy. Just slip it on and tighten the tube with the two clamp screws; you might need an Allen wrench, though.
The construction is anodized 6061 aluminum, which makes this pistol brace one of the sturdiest, most durable, corrosion-resistant pistol braces on this list, not to mention that it’s super lightweight.
The Strongarm might not have preset positions like the other AR pistol brace models on this list, but it offers sturdy control, and the wide nylon hook-and-loop straps make sure that the pistol stays put to your forearm.
It’s a solid pistol brace and the velcro straps improve control, so expect stable and accurate one-handed shooting. But what’s best about this pistol brace is that it’s ambidextrous and it comes with three QD sling pockets on each side.
This forearm brace can be pretty comfortable for any gun owner, but if you want something that can cover shooting from the shoulder, look for another pistol brace. Double Star offers 3 different models of this pistol brace, but I suggest you go for the one that comes with a buffer, buffer tube, springs, and an end plate. It’s heavier, but it’s complete.
When choosing a pistol brace for you, always make sure you check your laws first. The ATF might change their minds any second now during these times of strange and ever-shifting politics.
That said, you can still find a wide array of pistol braces on the market, and while some excellent ones have been discontinued, many models see massive improvements and there’s no sign of stopping with new and convenient designs.
Reputable manufacturers like SB Tactical or KAK Industries are the top dogs as of late, but you can find others that do their job just fine and at half the price.
The following are some factors to keep in mind when looking for a good pistol brace for you.
You can find braces that are available in a massive combination of configurations that could fit any arm, big or small.
Take note of the construction, kit design, whether or not they’re fixed or telescoping, and casing because what they’re made of is one of the most important things to consider when choosing.
A good pistol brace offers durability, anti-corrosion features, and can withstand harsh weather conditions.
We saw that most of the models are polyurethane or polymer, glass-reinforced or improved polymer, and you can find some with rubber combos that add to comfort. The aluminum ones are really expensive, but you can bet they’ll last as long as the AR pistol lasts.
I recommend you go for the polymer ones if you’re on a budget, but if you’re going for durability, an aluminum arm brace like the SB Tactical PDW Adjustable AR Pistol Brace will last you until the final out.
Size and Weight
Everyone has different preferences when weight and size are in question, and pistol braces really make a difference because handling and control are the main points of it all.
You definitely don’t want any annoying imbalance when shooting your AR pistol, and though heavier pistol braces add to recoil control, they can still be a hassle for some. Besides pistol braces, going for a fluted, lightweight barrel profile really helps in control and shooting, so be mindful of this.
An AR pistol brace has many benefits, but the main purpose here is to render your shooting smooth and light as a breeze. The weight reduction can be crucial for you, and your platform will feel just right.
I recommend you stick to 5-ounce to 10-ounce pistol braces, but if you feel that you can take some more weight, you can go for heavier builds. Just make sure you try it before you buy it.
Comfort and Ease of Use
Comfort should be a no-brainer, and I’m sure you can’t go wrong with rubber padding on your pistol grip. Nobody wants bruised shoulders from those long hours at the shooting ranges.
Then, you need to make sure there are some velcro straps that help with stability, but if you’re looking for both one-handed and shoulder shooting, then the rubberized padding is a must because obviously, you don’t want to hurt yourself.
The telescoping variety of a braced pistol like the SBA3 offers ease of use, so you can also greatly benefit from buying a telescoping pistol bracelet if you don’t want to struggle with installation.
Additionally, having a rubber padding and a flat top combo to rest your cheeks on is always a good idea.
Adjustability and Sling Sockets
Some pistol bracelets come in kits, and these kits include buffers, buffer tubes, buffer springs, and some other parts that greatly add to utility and ease of use.
Picking pistol braces with QD sling sockets is always a good idea because you’ll never know when you’ll need that extra stability and ease of use. You can attach your AR-15 pistol inside your arm with straps, and a good snug fit is all you need, so look for pistol braces with QD sling sockets.
A good pistol brace should be easily adjustable, and try to look for 3 to 5-position locking systems that make sure you choose the best position for you and your shooting stance.
You can still try out different lengths and settings, and this window of opportunity offers you lots of shooting methods you can easily get used to.
The pistol brace has been becoming increasingly popular since people realized that it’s a handy and customizable workaround for those $200 legal fees and registration fees. It’s not a rifle stock, thank Heavens.
If you’re a DIY guy, you’ll have a field day with pistol braces, as they add a whole new dimension of shooting AR pistols, and I’m sure you’ll gladly welcome the comfort.
Sure, the lack of a stock is what makes them different from AR-15 rifles or AK-47s, and the ATF doesn’t take too kindly to whatever firearm you put your stock to. Without stocks, they’re just pistols. It’s a weird legal loophole, but the law is still the law.
So, when picking a stabilizing brace, make sure you try it before you buy it. A good stabilizing pistol brace should feel just right and will allow you absolute control and handling. They may look the same, but those tiny features definitely make a world of difference, whether you’d like one with QD sling sockets, one with excellent durability and high-quality construction, or one that has 4-position adjusting modes.
Keep in mind that an AR pistol as a home defense option can greatly benefit from a stabilizing brace. Besides, it’s so much fun at the shooting ranges.
Whatever the case may be, always make sure to double-check your local laws before purchasing this overlooked firearm accessory for your AR pistol.
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tom regan5/8/2022 1:07:41 AM Reply
I am a novice. I have a Mossberg Shockwave (MS) and looking for a brace (or is it a stock?). I searched for one specific to MS and found one. So, is the AR platform braces compatible? What about grips? What do I look for to make them compatible to MS? It’s a mishmash of jargon that is next to impossible to understand. If it the AR platform is compatible why is it so hard to find reliable info on braces and compatible grips to go with them. Really confused.