Keep It Short
A Closer Look at Faxon Firearms 16” Legal/14.5” Barrel
Faxon’s fixed-tip 14.5-inch barrels are a game changer for shooters who want the shortest possible setup without any extra hoops to jump through.
Which barrel length should you go with for your rifle? It’s a conundrum many AR-15 enthusiasts face. If you’re looking for the shortest available barrel without entering into National Firearms Act (NFA) stamp territory, the unfortunate news is that there aren’t many choices.
For those who aren’t aware, rifles with barrels that measure less than 16 inches in overall length are considered short-barreled rifles (SBR) and are regulated by the NFA. In order for one to legally own an SBR, one must apply for an NFA tax stamp, pay $200 for the pleasure of doing so, and wait anywhere between few months or even half a year or more for approval. On top of that, depending on where you live, some jurisdictions won’t even allow you to apply for short-barreled rifle (SBR) status even if you wanted to jump through those hoops.
For those and other reasons, many shooters choose to go with a 16-inch barrel for ease of acquiring it and cost. Sixteen inches is the shortest legal length for a barrel without having to apply for an NFA stamp on a rifle. In fact, as you may have already noticed, it’s probably the most common barrel length you’ll encounter while on your quest to build your AR-15.
As you’ll discover, when you add a two to 2.5-inch-long muzzle device onto the end of your barrel, those 16 inches can easily become an overall length of 18 inches or more very quickly. Again, if you’re looking to keep your rifle’s length as short as you can, this is not an ideal way to go. So how can you get your barrel’s overall length, with a muzzle device attached, to be shorter?
Perm Attach Limitations
We would argue that the next most common barrel choice is a 14.5-inch barrel with a permanently attached muzzle device on it. For a shorter barrel to stay legal, the muzzle device must be permanently attached to it to count towards its overall length measurement.
The ATF’S definition for permanent methods of attachment includes “full-fusion gas or electric steel-seam welding, high-temperature (1,100°F) silver soldering, or blind pinning with the pin head welded over.” So as long as the muzzle device you choose is long enough to get your 14.5-inch barrel to 16 inches overall, you are good to go.
You’re not limited to just 14.5-inch barrels, mind you; you can go with an even shorter barrel as long as the muzzle device you permanently attach is long enough to get it to 16 inches. Get it? Using this method to reach legal barrel length is common, but it can have its disadvantages.
When configuring a barrel to the minimum legal limit with a permanently attached muzzle device, you are locked into that particular barrel, gas block, and handguard configuration. The problem is that a non-removable muzzle device essentially blocks the handguard’s barrel nut or a gas block from being removed. It is possible to remove a fixed device, but it can be a hassle as well as costly, oftentimes destroying the muzzle device in the process.
For these reasons, many choose to go with 16-inch barrels. Not permanently attaching a flash hider or muzzle brake means that gas blocks and hand guards can be much more readily taken off and reinstalled without having to grind off the muzzle device. This also saves you a trip to the gunsmith.
“shooters are forever free to change their weapon’s configuration without having to go to a gunsmith.”
The Faxon Factor
Earlier this year at SHOT Show, we came across Faxon Firearms’ new line of 16” Legal barrels that solves many of the problems AR owners face when choosing a barrel with a permanently attached muzzle device. Their goal was to offer an option where “shooters are forever free to change their weapon’s configuration without having to go to a gunsmith.” No offense to gunsmiths, but we like the sound of that!
Faxon’s 16” Legal barrels are actually 14.5inch length barrels that come with muzzle devices permanently attached to them, bringing them up to the mandated 16-inch
overall legal length. So what makes these barrels different from other perm-attached barrels, you ask?
Let’s first take a look the barrels’ profiles. These 16” Legal Faxon barrels come in two flavors, Pencil and Gunner. Faxon claims that the Pencil profile barrels are the lightest in the industry, and after closer examination, we think you’ll be hard pressed to find any lighter. At its narrowest section in front of the gas block, the barrel measures a scant 0.50 inches in diameter. Its gas block journal is 0.625 inches in diameter requiring a one-inch-long, 0.625inch diameter gas block to match.
The Gunner profile barrel is similar to the Pencil profile in that it also has an equally thin 0.50-inch diameter forward of the gas block journal. What sets these two offerings apart are the lengths of their respective gas block journals and the profiles aft of the gas block. While the Pencil barrel accepts oneinch-length gas blocks, the Gunner profile barrel can accept longer 0.625-inch diameter gas blocks such as that of an A2 Front Sight Base. Also, the Gunner’s profile from the extension to the gas block mimics the taper found on traditional Government profile barrels. The Pencil barrel is also tapered, but with a thinner diameter to keep weight to a minimum. The barrels weigh in at 1.15 and 1.2 pounds, with the lighter weight belonging to the Pencil profile barrel.
Taking it a step further, Faxon developed a line of ultra-slim muzzle devices, called, well, um, Slim. As of now, the company has released two different designs, a threeport muzzle brake and a three-prong flash hider. Both are sized for 5.56mm caliber rounds, measure 2.125 inches in length and are finished in QPQ salt bath nitride. At their widest diameter, they measure only 0.620 inches, which allows a 0.625-inch gas block to pass through. When permanently attached to a 14.5-inch barrel, the overall length of the barrel becomes 16.1 inches.
Here’s where it all pays off. As we pointed out before, the limitations of having a perm-attached muzzle device on a barrel makes it much more difficult and sometimes expensive to switch out gas blocks and handguards due to the gas blocks and barrel nuts being unable to clear the fixed muzzle device. Even if you removed the device, the process of doing so can often cause it to be damaged or even destroyed.
Knowing this, Faxon designed the Slim muzzle devices and 14.5-inch barrels to be permanently attached to one another but still be thin enough to allow handguard barrel nuts and gas blocks to pass though with ease. The days where shooters are confined to their rifle’s configuration are officially numbered. We expect this simple yet effective solution will become quite popular with shooters and will spread through the industry.
Completely manufactured in-house, Faxon’s
barrels are fully stress-relieved, air-gauge tested, and feature an 11-degree target crown for accuracy. They are made from 4150 CMV steel, and like the Slim muzzle devices, are finished in QPQ nitride for durability.
The barrel is button rifled with a 1:8 twist, features a mid-length gas system, and is finished with an M4 barrel extension. To ensure the barrel’s quality, each goes through a battery of tests as well as a magnetic particle inspection and is checked for headspace by precision custom hardened gauges.
We got the chance to take Faxon’s 16” Legal Pencil profile barrel configured with the Slim 3 Port Muzzle Brake to the range for some run-and-gun action to see how it performed. Pencil barrels are lightweight by definition and are suited for medium to close-range shooting, so the course of fire we set up reflected that type of usage.
With paper and steel targets to either side of us, we were forced to shoot in alternating directions on the move for much of the string of fire. The barrel easily made our rifle more than a pound lighter compared to how it was configured before, and with very little weight forward of the gas block, the rifle was noticeably quick to point from target to target. Using 5.56mm 55-grain FMJS, we were able to shoot 100yard groups ranging from 1.5 to 2 inches. Mind you, we are not precision shooters so your results may vary for the better. The small stature of the muzzle brake had us doubting just how effective it would be at mitigating recoil. It actually did a surprisingly adequate job at keeping the rifle’s nose down, but the barrel itself probably negated some of its effectiveness due to the lack of overall weight. That’s the tradeoff for having a super-light rifle, however. We noticed that the barrel did heat up quickly and spread our shots out some at longer distances, but not enough that it wouldn’t be ineffective in defensive scenarios. It would still hit minute-of-man without batting an eye.
Thanks to Faxon’s 16” Legal series of barrels, you are no longer locked into a single configuration when opting for a 16inch overall barrel length for your AR-15. The barrel and muzzle brake combination we tested carries a retail price of $259, which isn’t bad for both a quality barrel and pinned muzzle device.
Allowing for upper receiver configuration changes without a special trip to the gunsmith is a big deal for AR owners that like to reconfigure their rifles from time to time. Faxon has added a viable option for those seeking the shortest legal length barrels without forking out for an NFA stamp.
A barrel with a permanently attached muzzle device locks you into that particular barrel, gas block, and handguard configuration. Removing a fixed device is possible but costly and can cause damage in the process.
Faxon’s permanently attached Slim muzzle devices on its 16” Legal barrels allow handguard barrel nuts and gas blocks to pass though with ease.
Right: A Faxon
16” Legal Pencil barrel compared side by side to a regular Faxon 16-inch Gunner barrel. Notice how the permanently attached muzzle brake allows the 16” Legal barrel to be much shorter than the 16-inch barrel if it had a muzzle device attached to it. The barrel is button rifled with a 1:8 twist, features a mid-length gas system, and is finished with an M4 barrel extension. Each goes through a battery of tests to ensure its quality.