Author: John McCoy
Building ARs is great. It is Legos for grown-ups. It allows you to take what is arguably one of the top weapon systems in the world and make it anything you want. Do you want a clone of the classic A2 you carried in the Army? No problem. Want a long-range dedicated varmint rifle? ARs are a tremendously accurate base to start from. How about a PDW? Again, no problem. Of, course, you can also carry a few uppers around and swap them out. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Since you can buy all the components separately, or buy a pre-built upper receiver without a background check, these have become a no-hassle way to completely change your rifle’s operating parameters instantly. There are a ton of great options for buying a complete upper, but some of us can’t kill our DIY roots; we have to build it all ourselves. If that describes you, then this article is all about you. The barrel is the heart and soul of your build. There are some good ones, a few great ones, and a lot of okay ones.
I give you some of the best barrel brands for the AR-15.
What Makes a Brand a ‘Best Brand’?
Before we start looking at the brands themselves, we have to ask ourselves what constitutes a great brand?
A lot of shooters like to keep a high-performance rifle in their possession. This might be a standard-length M4 clone, but made with high-end parts. Or it can be a precision shooter made for long-range shots that ping shot after shot.
The barrel is the money maker here. Not the stripped upper receiver, and not the handguard. The barrel is where you want to make your investment in this rifle, along with the trigger of course. A standard forged lower and a good upper receiver are more than adequate for most types of shooting.
Then there are those of us that are delicately defined as ‘cheapskates.’ We want something functional for the absolute bottom dollar. And here’s the thing: we cheapskates understand that most shooters are not capable of fully utilizing the accuracy potential of even average modern firearms. Sometimes there’s not enough hours in the week to practice as much as we’d like!
Alternatively, we plan on keeping these rifles behind the seat of our trucks, or we keep them stashed away in our shops and barns, just in case. In these cases, a $400 rifle suits us just fine. There are plenty of good barrel options in lower price points that suit a budget build.
Performance AND Value
The optimal situation is a marriage of performance and value. As manufacturing processes improve every year, barrels keep getting better in quality without dramatic increases in price.
You can get into solid barrel brands for reasonable prices, giving the ability to make a great rifle without big-name brand price points. Plus, if you really want a totally premium one-off build that is in the four-figures price point, you can cash flow the build over time.
Now, let’s move on to the barrels.
First and foremost, check out our article on Ballistic Advantage barrels.
Ballistic Advantage has worked hard over the past decade or so to go from a garage side hustle to a household name.
So what makes Ballistic Advantage barrels so BA?
Ballistic Advantage produces a wide range of product choices, like most other manufacturers. What most other manufacturers do not have is a proprietary barrel profile tailored to reduce weight while maintaining competition-level accuracy.
The Hanson barrel profile is built with some serious high-dollar innovations that make your investment savvy. All Hanson-profile barrels are machined from 4150 CMV and are coated with QPQ corrosion-resistant finish to ensure your finish is as good on the 10,000th round as it was with the first. The barrels all employ a shoulderless design and include a pinned lo-pro gas block. They also have a nickel-boron coated M4 extension to promote positive feeding shot after shot.
The biggest advantage of Hanson-profile barrels is the slim lightweight design, similar to a pencil profile, but without the accuracy limitations.
Aside from the Hanson profile barrel line, BA also offers a full suite of standard barrel chamberings and lengths. Whether you are building a pistol, and SBR, a standard carbine, or a long-range precision shooter, BA has what you are looking for. Oh, and don’t forget their AR-10 barrel products for your medium-game hunting build.
The company formerly known as Central Missouri Machine Gun is now simply CMMG. The CMMG brand is recognized as a prominent leader in the AR industry. Now, they are known for their lines of unique, premium shop-built AR-pattern weapons, but they are not limited to these.
Before I deep dive on their line of barrels, I want to touch on their product lines.
First, their .22lr conversion kit is one of the few, if not the only .22 conversion kits, that actually works. That’s right folks, most of them are sub-optimal.
CMMG is one of the most innovative companies in the AR sphere, continually pushing out awesome product after awesome product. They are one of the first to produce an AR-pattern system in 7.62x39mm that uses the common and reliable AK magazines instead of the expensive and hard to find mags used in most 7.62x39mm builds.
You can expect the same level of quality and innovation when you buy individual components for your custom build, which is great because we have lots of them.
CMMG produces barrels for hard to find caliber builds, which include the popular 6mm ARC, 5.7x28mm, .350 Legend, and of course the more common 5.56x45mm, .300 Blackout, and 9x19mm builds.
You can dress out your build with CMMG muzzle brakes, lower build kits, and a whole lot more. The RipStock is a personal favorite of mine, coupled with a 9mm carbine upper using a 16.1” barrel and Radial Delayed blowback BCG for a nice, tight, compact bump-in-night carbine.
Geissele is a leading defense contractor and longtime producer of some of the finest triggers in the world. Established in 2004, Bill Geissele set out to produce the best triggers for competition shooting and his work has been dead on ever since.
Over the years, their product line has continued to expand to include everything up to and including whole rifles.
When you want the best rifle, you had better buy the best components. A rifle is really the sum of its parts. Go cheap on the barrel and trigger, and the rest will follow.
Geissele makes cold hammer forged barrels that are manufactured with you, the shooter, in mind. Their barrels are chrome lined to reduce corrosion. As you well know, corrosion is a slow, creeping death to your guns, and it is also death to your accuracy. Chrome lining is the first line of defense to keep your zero zero’d and a long, productive life for your weapon.
Check out our entire Geissele collection here.
Odin Works is another high-end manufacturer of AR-pattern pistols and rifles, along with accessories and parts.
The overwhelming focus with Odin Works products is top quality, which is evident by looking at the attention to detail and craftsmanship in all of their products.
Odin’s barrels are beautiful. There is no other adjective worthy of an Odin barrel, except for maybe exquisite. Their barrels are also purpose-built. If you shoot 3-Gun competitions, why wouldn’t you buy the barrel made specifically for 3-Gun?
Of course, you don’t have to shoot 3-Gun or any other competition to appreciate their high level of attention to detail. They make a wide range of barrels in common and even some less common chamberings.
My personal favorite? The 9mm Luger 16” Super Lite. Just look at this absolute unit of a barrel. Beautiful external twist, several anodized color options (black, blue, orange, and red to name some), and integral muzzle brake make this the illest pistol caliber carbine barrel in the game.
We can’t have a “Best of” article without mentioning Wilson Combat, can we? No, probably not.
Wilson Combat is the aging Southern Gentleman of this article, having been in the fine firearms business for 45 years now. Originally known for their 1911 pistols that were/are superior to everything else, Wilson Combat has long since carved a niche out of the long guns market.
When nothing less than the best will do for your custom build, look no further than Wilson Combat. Whatever direction you want to take your build (or builds), Wilson has got you covered. They manufacture barrels in calibers ranging from .204 Ruger all the way up to the punishing .450 Bushmaster and .458 SOCOM.
Other unique offerings include:
- .22 Nosler
- .224 Valkyrie
- 6mm ARC
- .260 Remington
- 6.5 Grendel
- .338 Federal
- .358 Winchester
- And .375 SOCOM
It’s hard to find this much variety under one roof, especially under the flag of one of the most widely respected and trusted names in the industry.
We can’t have a conversation about the best value for barrels in the industry without Faxon Firearms.
Faxon’s roots are in aerospace engineering, where striking the right balance of light weight and high performance is critical to success. And with their line of Gunner and Pencil profile barrels, it’s hard to argue they haven’t achieved just that for the AR-15 platform. Faxon’s lightest 5.56 barrels are easy to handle, optimized for a wide variety of ammunition, and go a process of stress relief and air gauge testing to ensure that heat buildup won’t cause point-of-impact shift.
Even Faxon’s precision-geared barrels, the Match series, are lighter than most of their competition. These 416R stainless barrels have options for fluting, which preserves the barrel’s rigid profile, while increasing surface area for faster cooling. This results in barrels that can handle a higher volume of fire, with much more consistent accuracy over time.
Plus, Faxon has a wide variety of caliber options for most of their profiles. Whether you’re going with traditional 5.56, or stepping up to, 7.62×39 Russian or 6.5 Grendel, or going for a 9mm PCC build, Faxon has you covered. For the battle rifle crowd, they also carry lightweight and precision options for .308, 6.5 Creedmoor, and the new 8.6 Blackout. That one’s coming soon!
So there you are folks. These are our best barrel brands, and although the list could go on for pages, we felt that these are some of the best brands out there for your build. Whichever direction you plan to take your build, from pistol caliber PDW, to M4 clone, to hard-hitting big game hunting, these brands bring the heat. And of course, we bring these and everything else you need to build your rifle from scratch or to build an entire upper for one of your receivers, or one of ours.
One Last Tip
If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.