I like the idea of having a really long free-float tube on my AR-15. I was introduced to slick-side forearms with the Vltor CASV-M and soon graduated to the Daniel Defense MFR 12.0 that I put onto my 16-inch precision barrel. I liked it, but would rather have something a bit longer, for several reasons.
First, I was surprised to see that even with the front sight on the end of a 12 inch tube, the sight radius was still about the same as the Spike’s 5.45 mid-length with a regular front sight base. Second, I wanted to really be able to extend my hand and wrap it around the tube in a rope style grip in order to pull the carbine into my shoulder. In order to do this, it was important that the forearm be thin, as I have small bear paws for hands.
Somehow, I found my way over to Midwest Industries’ website, and simply sat drooling over an image of their Gen2 SS Free Float tubes, specifically their 15 inch model. I’m usually very hesitant to buy new gun gear, as my gun budget is rather tight. The Gen 2 handguard was surprisingly easy on the wallet. It only cost me $190, and that’s with free shipping.
After a little research and thumb-twiddling, I ordered one from Marshall over at Primary Arms. By the way, the people at Primary Arms are absolutely phenomenal. Their customer service is second to none and their shipping redefines the word “prompt.”
Slim and Sexy
When the Gen2 tube arrived at my house, I immediately pulled it out to inspect it. The first thing that struck me was how light and thin it is. It’s light, insanely light. It’s just less than 11 ounces, without the rail. And talk about thin… we’re talking seriously anorexic here. No, that’s not quite right. The MI Gen 2 Free-Float is greyhound slim.
Like the Noveske NSR, this slimness comes with a price. Both the Midwest Industries and the Noveske lack the ability to mount rails at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. This means that I was unable to mount my cheap Chinese flashlight at a 45 degree angle, as I’d done on my DD MFR. While annoying, this is easily remedied by the proliferation of offset light mounts.
My greedy little paws wrapped around the tube with delightful ease. In fact, it was so slim, that I worried about heat dissipation. Would the handguard become so hot that I dared not grip it? I’d had only a bit of discomfort when using the Daniel Defense MFR during rapid fire.
The only way to tell was to test the thing out, so I spent entirely too much time disassembling my Spike’s Tactical upper receiver and installing the MI tube. A word about installation: easy. That’s the word. That’s it. The provided barrel nut is remarkably simple to line up, much more so than the standard barrel nut. Included by Midwest Industries is their proprietary barrel wrench, which wraps around their nut with ease.
The forearm itself has little notches that slide into the indentations on the barrel nut, indexing the tube almost automatically. Just to make sure it was lined up, I did my standard practice of clamping an American Defense Recon mount onto the carbine. Of the two locking levers, I had one on the upper receiver and one on the top rail of the handguard, ensuring that the two would be lined up perfectly. Finally, I tightened the two bolts on the bottom rear of the tube to 35 foot-pounds, as per the directions.
Slim and Hot
The next day, I took my new toy to the range. After a bout of rapid-fire at the range, I found that my fears about heat dissipation were well grounded. When using a MI low profile gas block, I had to be very careful not to grip the handguard at the spot where the gas block was. The Gen 2 free-float tube is so thin that with a tight grip, the flesh of the hand can squeeze through the slot in the handguard and come into contact with the underside of the gas block. The result is unpleasant to say the least.
A possible solution to this dilemma is the use of a hand stop. Properly placed, a hand stop will prevent the supporting hand from entering the “Zone of Pain” and will result in a more consistent stance. Midwest Industries will be coming out with a hand stop specifically designed to attach directly to their handguard. I look forward to testing this piece of equipment.
Unfortunately, the gas block lies almost exactly at the spot where I naturally wish to place my support hand. Perhaps MI will come out with a polymer panel set to alleviate this problem. That would, however, increase both the weight and diameter of the handguard. The addition of a Magpul AFG could be the solution.
One of the things that drew me to the Gen2 FF forearm was the included bipod stud, which attaches directly to the handguard. This allows the direct attachment of a Harris bipod (thus saving a little less than an ounce on a 1913 rail and 2.6 ounces of weight for a bipod adapter). Of course, this means the bipod won’t be quick-detach, but I’m willing to play around with it to see what I like. And saving three ounces is always something I appreciate.
Unfortunately, while the bipod stud is a fine concept, it was rather poorly executed. I could not, for the life of me, get it to screw into the provided hole in a way that allowed it to line up with the studs on either side. Without the ability to line the bipod stud up, the entire endeavor becomes an exercise in futility. Out of frustration, I finally dug a small washer out of a jar of spare parts and used it to properly space the bipod stud. Even with this modification, I had to grip it with a pair of old clines to tighten it down, marring the finish on the stud.
Once I completed my impromptu modification, the feature worked like a charm. I don’t mind having to unscrew the bipod when I wish to remove it. A quick-detach adapter is great, but not really necessary for my uses.
The tube comes with three rail sections, which total 2.5 ounces in weight. One of the rails has a QD socket built in, which I find to be a very useful feature. It’s something lacking in a lot of the competing handguards, such as the Daniel Defense MFR 12.0, the Noveske NSR and the VTAC.
The Midwest Industries 15-inch Gen2 SS Series free-float handguard is a strong entry into the market. It has several features that competitors lack. The length and small diameter place it in a category with much more expensive products. There are a few improvements that Midwest Industries could make to further increase the competitiveness of their handguard, and I look forward to these developments. As it stands now, the few imperfections are vastly outweighed by the overall quality of the rail and its attractive price.
By Allen Cosby
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