October 01, 2013
By Gus Norcross
One of the easiest ways to enhance the accuracy of an AR-style rifle is free-floating the barrel. The original two-piece plastic handguards were designed to protect a soldier's hand from a hot barrel and they worked well for that purpose, but competitive shooters realized any pressure on the barrel will change point of impact, and the commercial market has exploded over the past decade with a bewildering variety of free-float fore-ends.
Apex Machining Company in White City, Ore., is a manufacturer of aluminum fore-ends with a distinctive gripping surface that resembles a World War II hand grenade they market as Gator Grip. The checkering is coarse but not sharp, and certainly makes Apex products instantly recognizable at the range.
I have been looking at fore-end options for my AR-10, and the Apex design kept catching my eye, so I bought a rifle length tube to replace the LaRue quad rail the big Armalite has worn for many years. The LaRue product is stout and extremely high quality, but I really have no need for full length side and bottom rails, and I wanted to reduce the overall weight of my rifle.
Installation of Apex fore-ends is relatively simple. They attach to the factory barrel nut with a pair of clamshell adaptor plates. The delta ring assembly must be removed, and if your rifle has a conventional fixed front sight, it must also be removed to install the tube.
The adaptor plates are tightened on the barrel nut and the tube slides over the adaptor and is secured with button head cap screws. All parts are nicely machined and anodized. The tube is only 2 inches in diameter compared to the original 2 1/4-inch factory fore-end originally supplied with my rifle, and is 6 ounces lighter than the LaRue quad rail. The .308 AR-10, which seems large when compared to a 5.56mm AR, feels handier and quicker on target with the Apex installed.
Overall, I like the Apex fore-end and I would most likely buy one again, but I have two complaints. The first is the top rail. Top rails are sold separately and attached with screws. I would like to see the top rail integral to the fore-end to enhance rigidity and to eliminate the possibility of loose screws.
The second issue I have is the price. The tube is $233. The top rail is sold separately for $69.75 and the whole kit shipped to my door totaled $320.76. Compare this price to a Midwest Industries SS Series Gen 2 with integral top rail selling for more than $100 less. You see my point.
The Apex Kit
The Apex fore-end kit consists of the tube, adaptor plates and screws. Norcross liked its slim profile and hand grenade-style checkering pattern.
The beautifully machined adaptor plates clamp over the factory barrel nut. The original delta ring is set aside when you are using the Apex fore-end.
Securing the Plates
The adaptor plates are secured to the barrel nut with four socket head cap screws for a very secure installation. The threaded holes at the front are for securing the fore-end.
The distinctive Gator Grip checkering pattern covers the bottom two thirds of the tube. The separate top rail is attached to the tube with four flat head machine screws.