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.
We’ll cover a little bit on the current legalities…and then our favorite pistol braces for each weapons system.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pro-tip: don’t modify your pistol brace – it’s against the law.
SB Tactical is the industry leader when it comes to pistol braces, so going with one of their stabilizers is never a bad idea.
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
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.
My current favorite is the SBA3 pistol brace since it updates the SBM4 with a slicker look and adjustability.
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.
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.
What’s your take on the SBA3?
If you’re wanting the coolest look and going ultra-compact…check out the SBPDW.
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.
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).
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.
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.
As you can tell, the Maxim Defense PDW pistol brace is probably one of the most expensive pistol braces out on there…
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.
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.
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.
Best AK Pistol Braces
There’s not too many AK braces out there…and the SOB47 is the best I’ve tried.
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.
My solid pick for the best AK pistol brace.
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.
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.
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.
My overall favorite for the AR is the SB Tactical SBA3 for its adjustability and cheekweld.
And the SOB47 for AK pistol builds.
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.