6 Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces [2019 Hands-On]

How many rifles do you know that are also amazing pistols?

That is a short list.

It’s time to dive into the wonderful world of the AR-15 & AK pistol and the brace that turned a gimmick into a respectable tool for both the range and for home/self-defense.

Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces
Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces (yea…my Aimpoint is on backwards…)

We’ll cover a little bit on the current legalities…and then our favorite pistol braces for each weapons system.

We also have a totally awesome video that covers these awesome braces and more!

Table of Contents

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Law Background

Disclaimer…we are not lawyers so always double-check the current laws.

Typically, “short-barreled rifles” with a barrel of 16” or less were subjected to the restrictions of the 1934 National Firearms Act.

Yes, the same NFA that added extra regulations to fully automatic guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and suppressors.

But thanks to one minor detail, the AR-15 pistol isn’t legally recognized as a rifle.

It might look and function like a rifle, but thanks to the fact that AR-15 pistols don’t come built with a stock, they’re legally classified as pistols – giving them a full pardon from inconvenient NFA restrictions.

atf 16inch meme

However, the NFA isn’t the only set of laws you need to consider: in order for an AR-15 to be a pistol it needs to be marked as such on your DROS when you buy the lower receiver.

Generally, this isn’t an issue – except in some states such as California where there are other laws to consider.

Even if you buy a receiver that is marked as a pistol, you can still build it into a rifle if you so choose – but you cannot legally turn a rifle into a pistol.

So, as with all firearms related things: check your local laws!

While the concept of the AR-15 pistol was undoubtedly cool, it had one major flaw: the buffer tube.

As you can see, the buffer tube extends out well beyond the butt of the gun where it’s meant to be pressed against the shoulder of the shooter.

You can imagine how unnatural and uncomfortable this feels after squeezing off a few rounds.

AR Pistol with Phase 5 Buffer Tube
AR Pistol with Phase 5 Buffer Tube

Still, manufacturers and most hobbyists weren’t ready to shelf the AR-15 pistol just yet.  Instead, they came up with a solution to make the gun easier to handle – the AR pistol brace.

AR brace 'turn this into this'
AR-15 Pistol Brace

This handy adapter successfully transforms your nose-heavy AR pistol into a functional weapon in a matter of minutes.

A Little History Lesson

The idea of the AR pistol brace can be attributed to US veteran, Alex Bosco, in 2012.

When getting some range time with his friend, a disabled combat veteran, he had the idea to come up with a device that could help shooters with disabilities exercise better stability over their guns.

SB Tactical Patent Schematic
SB Tactical Patent Schematic

After coming up with a workable design and gaining approval from the ATF, Bosco then co-founded SB Tactical and developing pistol braces for the AK and AR platforms.

Older AR-15 Pistol Braces
Older AR-15 Pistol Braces

Since then, there was a little of uncertainty about the legality of pistol braces.  But in Spring of 2017, the ATF  released a statement saying pistol braces do not turn AR pistols into short-barreled rifles.

And now, everyone can enjoy their AR pistol and brace without worrying.  However…it’s still just a statement and you might still get in trouble with local law enforcement who aren’t up to date on everything.

Now let’s look at some braces!

Best AR-15 Pistol Braces

Best Braces Overview
All of the braces!

1. Shockwave Blade by KAK Industry

KAK Shockwave Brace
KAK Shockwave Brace

The Shockwave Blade is a very basic and functional pistol brace for your AR-15 platform.  It accommodates buffer tubes up to 1.25” in diameter and is designed to help increase aim and support when firing your AR-15 pistol.

It’s the most affordable AND the Shockwave Blade is incredibly effective at making your AR pistol easier to handle.

Installing the part is quick, easy, and can be completed in about one minute.  All you need to do is slip it on the buffer tube and tighten the screw in the center of the brace.

kak shockwave blade
Shockwave Blade on an AR-15 Pistol with Red Dot and Mounted Light

And if you’re someone who likes shooting with a gun sling, the stabilizer has three separate attachment points for slings (top, center, and bottom).

Overall, the Shockwave Blade is incredibly light and weighs a total of 5 oz, making it perfect for the shooter who’s trying to minimize unnecessary weight.

The cheekweld isn’t great but it wasn’t really designed for that in the first place.  Comparable to a regular Magpul MOE.

Shockwave Cheekweld
Shockwave Cheekweld

If you’re interested in adding the Shockwave Blade on a gun, that’s not yet set up for a pistol brace, you can by the Shockwave Package.  This set comes with your pistol stabilizer, buffer tube, spring, and components needed for installation.

95
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The best thing about the Shockwave Blade package is that it comes with a dimpled tube.  This means that you can screw the bolt from your stabilizer into one of those dimples, securely fastening it to your gun.

The reason why that’s important is that braces that aren’t physically attached to the buffer tube tend to rotate and loosen as the gun is being repeatedly fired.

Blade on pistol
Blade Brace on Johnny’s PCC

Pro-tip: don’t modify your pistol brace – it’s against the law.

Go-To AR-15 Pistol Brace
50
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

2. SBM4 by SB Tactical

SB Tactical is the industry leader when it comes to pistol braces, so going with one of their stabilizers is never a bad idea.

SBM4
SBM4 Mounted on an AR Pistol

The SBM4 is designed to be lighter and more comfortable to operate than some of its predecessors.

It also comes with a built-in adjustable nylon strap, 1” in width, which can be strapped to the forearm for increased stability.

The only downside about the SBM4 is that it doesn’t fasten to dimpled buffer tubes…so you’re stuck with the length and some wobbling when you’re shooting at the range.

But you can’t win everything, right?

For what the SBM4 lacks in the fastening department, it makes up for in looks and function…and decent affordability

SBm4 with brace
SBM4 Mounted on an AR-15 Pistol

While some of the other braces on the market are made with a hard polymer, the SBM4 is a soft rubber that increases comfort when shooting.

This may not seem like a big deal for the average AR-15 pistol, but if you’re planning on shooting a harder-hitting AR-15 pistol chambered for .308 or 6.8 SPC, you’re going to be thankful that SB made this brace as soft as they did.

120
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. SBA3 by SB Tactical

My current favorite is the SBA3 pistol brace since it updates the SBM4 with a slicker look and adjustability.

SBA3 Pistol Brace
SBA3 Pistol Brace

First off, it’s an awesome looking piece that makes your AR pistol look like it has an authentic stock.

Also, it’s been designed specifically to maximize comfort and ergonomics for cheek-welding, meaning you don’t have to worry about shooting unnaturally or slipping and jabbing yourself in the collarbone.

SBA3 Cheekweld
SBA3 Cheekweld

And lastly…you’re not stuck with the single length-of-pull of the old brace versions.

It’s a little bump in price from the SBM4…but totally worth it in my opinion.

135
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on the SBA3?

Readers' Ratings

4.91/5 (287)

Your Rating?

4. SBPDW by SB Tactical

If you’re wanting the coolest look and going ultra-compact…check out the SBPDW.

SB PDW
SBPDW…and a peach.

Another awesome creation from SB Tactical…the SBPDW (personal defense weapon) has three positions of length.

The longest gives your cheek unfettered access to the buffer tube.

SBPDW Brace, Extended
SBPDW Brace, Extended

And the shortest (it can actually go a little shorter than this…I have an extended takedown pin that was blocking the rods a little).

SBPDW Brace, Shortened
SBPDW Brace, Shortened

You don’t need a castle nut for installation since everything is built in…and overall installation was no harder than switching out a buffer tube.

Even though it looks super cool…one thing you’ll want to think about is the cheekweld.

SBPDW Brace Cheekweld
SBPDW Brace Cheekweld

In the middle setting (that I like) you’re going to be touching three different heights of metal.  However…if you’re PDW-ing…you’re probably going to be holding your head relatively high with an adequate sight.

It’s much more expensive…but worth it for the looks and adjustability.

239
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Maxim Defense CQB Pistol PDW Brace

As you can tell, the Maxim Defense PDW pistol brace is probably one of the most expensive pistol braces out on there…

Maxim CQB
Maxim CQB

Understandably, a lot of people cannot justify spending nearly 400 bones on something to make their AR pistol function more like a rifle.

For this reason, I only recommend serious fans of the AR pistols to invest their money in the CQB – it’s not for the casual shooters with their range toy.

Now that I’ve gotten my negativity out of the way…I want to be completely honest.  The PDW pistol brace is, hands down, the Rolls-Royce Wraith of pistol braces.

Rolls Wrath
It’s like this, but for your gun.

Born with a partnership with SB Tactical (that’s why it looks like the SBPDW)…

The PDW is made mostly from a durable aluminum alloy designed to handle whatever in-the-field roughhousing you through at it.

If you’re wondering where the PDW’s metal design makes shooting with this pistol brace uncomfortable, the answer is no.

The actual brace part of the attachment is made from a soft and flexible rubber that’s gentler than some of the polymer-only stabilizing braces you might have seen.

But what really makes this brace stand out from the rest is its additional adjustability.

Simply pressing on a lever on the side of the brace allows you to adjust the positioning of the “buttstock,” and with four available positions in total, you’ll have no problem finding the right setup specifically for you.

Maxim Defense CQB with sling
Maxim Defense CQB With Sling Mount

Attaching the PDW brace is pretty much as painless like the SBPDW.

And you get additional QD mounts on the side and a proprietary buffer tube and spring system with the JP Silent Capture Spring System.  Which ROCKS in my regular AR-15.

375
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best AK Pistol Braces

SOB47 by SB Tactical

There are not too many AK braces out there…and the SOB47 is the best I’ve tried.

SB SOB47 and Old SB47
SB SOB47 and Old SB47

Like its AR brother…it’s a no frills but highly effective pistol brace.

On AKs…you attach it under the pistol grip with the “U” prong which has stayed surprisingly in place for me.

Cheekweld is just ok…maybe a little narrower than the Magpul MOE.  But the height is perfect for both irons or a low red dot.

SOB47 Cheekweld
SOB47 Cheekweld

My solid pick for the best AK pistol brace.

129
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Setting the Record Straight

If you come across older videos, reviews, and publications about AR-15 pistol braces, you’ll notice how people talk about how you shouldn’t shoulder your AR-15 pistol or they never mention shouldering it themselves.

That’s because prior to April 2017, pistol braces existed in legal uncertainty and people in the industry were unsure whether shouldering their AR/AK pistol made them culpable for illegally operating a short-barreled rifle.

Luckily, the ATF cleared up that misunderstanding when they released a statement regarding pistol braces.  Long story short, you can shoulder your AR-15 pistol without any issues, so shoulder away!

But still…there’s still uninformed people and law enforcement out there…so still, user beware.

However, what you should never do is modify your pistol brace in any way that makes it work better as a stock.  This is a big no-no.

Dont do it

Even if the stabilizer on your pistol brace is uncomfortable because of a slight angle, you don’t want to take the sandpaper to it.  Leave it be or find a new brace that works.

Last Thing on the AR-15 Pistol

The AR-15 pistol is one of those guns that you love or hate.  Initially, I viewed it as one of those quirky, different-than-usual guns that were fun to shoot at the range but didn’t have much to offer in a practical setting.

Three AR-Pistols
Three AR-Pistols

But after playing around with a couple of AR-15 pistols fitted with braces, along with the freedom to shamelessly shoulder and fire my weapon, I’ve come to love the AR pistol.

It’s not the kind of gun you’d want to take on a hunt or run through a 3-gun competition with, but it’s fun to shoot and it will probably be able to stand out in a tactical situation in close range, like a home-defense scenario.

Check out our picks of the Best AR-15 Pistols that are already assembled.

And There You Have It

That’s my list of AR-15 pistol braces for people looking to go cheap, mid-range, or spend the big bucks.

Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces
Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces

My overall favorite for the AR is the SB Tactical SBA3 for its adjustability and cheekweld.

135
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And the SOB47 for AK pistol builds.

129
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you’re currently shooting an AR (or AK) pistol…is it just a range toy or do you get some serious action out of it?  Then check out our AR-15 Ultimate Resource for all the best upgrades and articles.

Group Picture of AR Braces

43 Leave a Reply

  • Peter

    Brandon can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about hunting and recreational shooting with only 10 years of experience? WOW!

    1 second ago
  • NM

    He says right below it that that only applies to California.

    2 weeks ago
  • Scott

    Really liking the design of the SBPDW’. Especially the Maxim variant.... thinkin a .300 Blackout.

    3 months ago
  • Vic

    Love the sp3

    3 months ago
  • Rusty

    Still no love for the Tailhook Mod 1 and Mod 2?

    3 months ago
  • Mike Slisher

    DROS... this is a California thing, correct? I don't know about Cali! But in the rest of America, a stripped lower will be transferred as an "other". You MUST build it as a pistol first... no stock when completed, if you intend to make it in a pistol form. A finished lower will be a pistol or a rifle when purchased. If a pistol you can convert it go a rifle (16" barrel or longer with a stock) but you CANNOT convert a rifle to a pistol (< 16" barrel) without going the Form 1 / SBR route.

    3 months ago
  • Ben

    No SBA4?

    3 months ago
    • SOF Arms

      Exactly! The SBA4 was announced 5 months ago and has been widely available well before this review was published.

      3 months ago
  • EchoWhiskey

    I used to think AR Pistols and AK Pistols were useless as well. Until a buddy of mine who belonged to 75th Ranger Regiment disagreed with me. He took me out to his land and ran me through some things. I was shocked at how usable an AR Pistol or AK Pistol was for close to medium range. It's on my list to build now. I'll build mine in .300 black.

    3 months ago
  • Robert Peruzzini

    I'm building an pistol with an ARAK 21 upper in 7.62x39 with a CMMG mutant lower and I want to put a folding stock (brace) on it, is that legal? And if so, how would I go about doing it?

    4 months ago
  • Vernon Weiss

    Good Review! Of course after this article came out Strike industries has also come out with their pistol brace. I have their collapsible Viper Stock on an AR rifle. I love it! Hoping to get to try out their pistol stock somewhere before I finish my 300 BLK pistol build.

    7 months ago
  • Chris

    Is that Aimpoint on the bottom gun mounted backwards? lol

    7 months ago
  • Razorjacket

    From the ATF site about shouldering pistol with brace. Any person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA. If you have any questions about the issues addressed in this letter, you may contact the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division at [email protected] or by phone at (304) 616-4300. Max M. Kingery Acting Chief Firearms Technology Criminal Branch Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division. I could not find it’s ok on the ATF site can you post a link saying it’s ok to shoulder a pistol with a brace without it being NFA.

    1 year ago
    • Kriss

      Key word: Acting chief of firearms (meaning he probably will be replaced) 2nd ATF does NOT make or right laws, period. And this topic has been beaten to death, bro its not a big deal if you occasionally "shoulder" it.

      9 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      The change in the ruling was issued in a letter from the ATF to SB Tactical and as far as I know does not appear on their website. However, here is a copy of that letter. The important part is at the start of page 3.

      1 year ago
  • Kevin Mundy

    Good review, I'm suggesting that you at least make sure the optics are properly placed on the AR, the Aimpoint Pro is on backwards, if you want people to respect your knowledge you have to display proper set ups.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Lol yup, got some fun grief from IG already. Working on a reshoot!

      1 year ago
  • T Yeh

    Excellent article. I've shared this with all of my friends.

    1 year ago
  • Nathan Currier-Groh

    Still no Thordsen? A couple of posts like this and it's still left out... Anything with velcro to "go around my arm" moves to the bottom of my list. Thordsen achieves comfort without trying to look like a medical device.

    1 year ago
    • David L

      Thordsen is a great stock, but it isn't a brace. Can't name it one of the best braces if it isn't a brace :D

      1 year ago
      • Nathan Currier-Groh

        Valid for pistol builds, which is the point right? Not many two armed people are using the brace function.

        1 year ago
        • Jorge Rodriguez

          I have a question so can you shoulder the maxim defense (stock or brace) whatever it is I'm sure stock but can you shoulder it with out a atf form 1?

          8 months ago
        • David L

          The Thordsen is a stock and would legally make any AR-15 it attached to a rifle, so it is not viable for a pistol build. Attaching one to a pistol length barrel would make it an unregistered SBR and that is very illegal. Even if you don't use a brace as a brace, it is still legally a brace and can be used to make an AR or AK pistol. Stocks and braces can't be used interchangeably due to their legal ramifications.

          1 year ago
          • Josh

            Thordsen make a stock as well as the cheek rest/buffer tube cover. It’s Basically the same concept in a sense as the Phase 5 buffer tube, which allows the shooter to utilize the buffer tube as an aid with shooting.

            9 months ago
          • Nathan Currier-Groh

            The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Technology Branch has affirmed that the Thordsen Customs Buffer Tube Cover/CAA Saddle combination is a CHEEK REST and IS NOT a "rifle stock. It DOES NOT reclassify an AR/AK type "Pistol" as a "short barreled rifle" under definitions established by the National Firearms Act of 1934 or the Gun Control Act of 1968. However, BATFE does specifically warn that any misuse of, or modification to, this configuration that may cause a firearm to be used outside of its design parameters, such as being shoulder fired, may change its classification and may make a firearm subject to NFA and GCA regulations and/or illegal to possess. Click on the links below to read the letters to and from ATF.

            1 year ago
            • Nathan Currier-Groh

              TLDR It's a brace.

              1 year ago
  • Frogger

    I wish you could have evaluated the SB Tactical SBA3 Mil-Spec Pistol Stabilizing Collapsable Brace for AR. Easy to place, Comes with pistol buffer tube.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Article is updated...with the SBA3!

      1 year ago
  • Connor H

    No love for the Tailhook brace?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Trying to get my hands on one, Connor!

      1 year ago
  • M Crank

    Boy, I just wish Brandon were as much a fan of spelling and grammar as he is shooting sports. At least have someone read your article before posting it...

    1 year ago
    • Duh

      "Brandon has spent the majority of his life hunting in the woods in Georgia and Alabama." lol

      1 year ago
    • David

      Feel free to let us know if there is something we missed. Our editorial staff goes through every article several times before it is posted but mistakes do happen.

      1 year ago
  • Joe

    I love my 7.5” AR pistol with Shockwave blade. It would look so cool with that Gucci Maxim brace. Rings torso sized steel at 500 yards. MOA, tumbling, keyholing? Who knows, who cares, it breathes fire! Short range only is complete myth. BTW - Only built because ATF clarification allowed shouldering. Happy pew pew!

    1 year ago
    • Connor H

      Keep in mind that ATF opinions may be subject to change on a whim. It’s happened before with the back and forth over shouldering.

      1 year ago
  • Geoff

    WOW! $375 for the CQB brace. I spent less than that building my 300BLK pistol.. $360 including shipping for everything.

    1 year ago
  • BusDriver

    "Luckily, the ATF cleared up that misunderstanding when they released a statement regarding pistol braces. Long story short, you can shoulder your AR-15 pistol without any issues, so shoulder away!' Can you provide a reference to support this statement. I enjoy the information from PewPew, and you guys seem to take care with the accuracy of your education, so I'd like to see a hyperlink in your article which supports this statement to arm your readers with, as there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Thanks! Keep up the good work.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good point...attaching it into the article now! Here too.

      1 year ago
  • Dennis Thurber

    I have the shockwave blade. I bought it to try and it fits well on the designated tube and doesn't move. I like the idea for more stability. In my state I can carry it in my truck in the back seat as needed without issues. It is handy to have a short barrel and not need to register a sbr. It gives the stability to shoot it more controllably.

    1 year ago
  • Tim

    What are your thoughts on the Gear Head Works Tailhook?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      I'll have to try it soon...but great concept.

      1 year ago
  • dreadog

    How do you omit the best example of the pistol brace ...the Sig Sauer MCX. With there unique "no gas tube" design you get the best of both worlds. You get a great short barrel pistol brace AR and you have the option to fold the brace off to the side for use or storage....daaah!

    1 year ago
    • andrew

      Unique? There is nothing new or unique about piston ARs.

      1 year ago
      • M Crank

        Andrew, The MCX utilizes a unique internal recoil system that does not have a buffer tube so, yes, it's unique.

        1 year ago
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