There’s little doubt that standard AR-15 furniture sucks. Thankfully, the AR-15 platform design is modular and allows the user to VERY quickly change out that standard furniture. That easy interchangeability has led to an explosion of aftermarket parts to dress up your rifle, and one of the most popular manufacturers of aftermarket AR-15 parts is TAPCO. But how good are they really? . . .
There’s a belief in some parts of the firearms community that TAPCO equipment is cheap, both in price and quality. That the only people who would buy TAPCO products are people who are new to firearms and don’t really know what they’re doing. Or those who spent too much time playing Call of Duty. But there aren’t many in the population of TAPCO haters that have actually tried their stuff. So, how well does TAPCO rate compared to the standard “as-issued” parts? Let’s find out.
Starting at the rear of the gun, the stock is more or less identical to the standard mil-spec AR-15 stock. There’s a hair more cant to the butt and the sling attachment loop has its innards exposed rather than being encased in plastic, but overall, the stock is as good as its “standard” counterpart. So it’s a “push” in this category then.
The grip is where the TAPCO equipment really starts to shine.
The standard A2 AR-15 grip is absolutely terrible. For a guy with big hands like mine, trying to use such a tiny grip is infuriating. Plus, the groove for the middle finger never seems to line up properly with my hand. Add on top of that, the fact that it’s just about as “grippy” as a glass bottle under a waterfall and you’ve got a grip that is almost universally awful.
TAPCO’s version, on the other hand, is not so terrible. The grip is slightly larger than the standard A2 grip, meaning that it fits my bigger meathooks much better. And for those among us with daintier hands, it still isn’t terribly uncomfortable. The latitudinal serrations on the grip add some much-needed “grippyness” that helps keep the gun in hand when your hands are wet. And the material itself adds a little bit more with its slightly rough texture.
In addition to getting a better grip on your gun, you also get a little compartment to store various tiny gubbins in, which is more or less standard on replacement grips nowadays. Except that most other grips do it…well…better. The TAPCO grip uses a wire loop to hold the door closed and it looks and feels very cheap. The loop is completely exposed and separate from the door itself, which leaves it to flap about. Its a viable solution, just not a very sexy one.
Moving on up, the next stop is arguably the most important: the handguards.
As a reminder, this is what the “standard” carbine handguards look like. I know, they’re terrible. They don’t really offer anywhere to attach any of your toys, and they’re rather uncomfortable to boot.
TAPCO’s offerings are, on paper, better in every way. They have a full length top and bottom rail, and come from the factory with a detachable cover for the bottom rail to protect your hands from the plastic rails. It also has two sections of rail near the front on the side of the handguards that can either be covered up with an included piece that blends in seamlessly with the rest of the unit, Or you can quickly detached it to mount yet more stuff to your gun. In short, they give you tons of options and plenty of mounting space.
That’s not to say that the handguards are perfect. In order to get the handguards to fit around (but not directly touching) the barrel and still have enough room for the rails, they needed to make the exterior dimensions of the handguards a little large. This makes the gun seem a lot bigger than it really is, which sucks when you’re trying to do a lightweight, slick carbine setup. You can still get your thumb up and around the handguards for that “Chris Costa Grip,” though, so they aren’t so big that they keep you from holding the gun the way you want.
The other concern with the handguards is that they’re plastic. Normally that wouldn’t be such a big issue, and even with the absence of a metal heat shield, I still don’t really see an problem with overheating or melting. But when you start adding rails in plastic things, it can get ugly. The force of an AR-15 rifle’s recoil isn’t that much, but when you have large metal objects attached to a relatively thin piece of plastic that’s jostled around repeatedly — hundreds or even thousands of times — the tendency is for the plastic to break under the strain.
I’ve asked TAPCO HQ for permission to test their handguards to the breaking point, but as I haven’t heard back yet, I didn’t want to press my luck. Stay tuned for the verdict on that front, and I’ll be sure to update this with the results when they come in.
The final issue is the one that most people jump to first: these handguards just aren’t sexy. In fact, they look downright box-like. I think a little more rounding on the edges would help with this image problem, but as they stand they look very… 1980s. And not the col 1980s, the ugly, boxy, crappy 1980s.
If you can get past those things, the benefit you get is the price. These handguards have an MSRP of about $45, which is $15 more than its Magpul counterpart. But for that $15 you get all the rails you can eat, something that would normally cost you a couple hundred dollars for the metal version.
Magpul offers rail sections for their handguards that can be installed at a position of your choosing for about $6, but a full length rail on the top doesn’t seem to line up with the rail on your AR-15′s receiver as well as the TAPCO version.
The last piece of kit is the magazine. We’ve had two of these in stock for the magazine destruction test (which I HAVE NOT forgotten, by the way) and so far they have stood up to everything we’ve thrown at them. They have all the features you’d expect in an AR-15 mag, including the grooves in the back to let you use stripper clips. AND they have a little bit more aggressive design than the Magpul magazines in terms of being able to get a good grip on them.
The downside to all that gripitude is that they don’t exactly fit in the double magazine pouches in a chest rig or those MOLLE versions. But for competition shooters who don’t use those magazine holsters that shouldn’t be a problem.
There is, however, a small issue with the mags.
The magazines are cheap, in all senses of the word. The tolerances in the manufacturing process seem to have been opened up a little, and the primary indicator of that is the fact that they rattle. Tapping a Magpul magazine on its side produces very little noise, but tapping a TAPCO mag results in a veritable shake, rattle and roll within the plastic case.
Like I said, we’re still testing the magazines. And rest assured, we’ll get you an update when the test is complete (you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get someone to let you burn down their house around here). But preliminary results show them being functional, rugged and reliable enough for the average shooter.
And that pretty much sums up my opinion of Tapco’s AR-15 furniture — functional, rugged and reliable enough for the average shooter. If your AR-15 is only going to see action once or twice a month and you’re not putting thousands of rounds downrange, this stuff is definitely good enough and will get the job done. It’s as good, if not better, than the standard AR-15 components and it won’t break the bank.
And yet, there’s the elephant in the room. Sure TAPCO’s stuff works, but to me it just looks . . . ugly. Clunky. Uncool. Cheap. Its like the Pontiac Aztec of the firearms world — functional on paper, but too ugly to actually drive in public. All of the parts are MUCH less expensive than the competition and just as functional, but they’re still not something I would show up to a competition with on my gun. Then again, I’m a bit of an AR-15 snob.
If you want some rails on your handguards for cheap, this is the way to go. But if you just need some handguards that are better than the originals and don’t mind the lack of rails, there are better options.
TAPCO Intrafuse AR-15 Furniture
Includes: Stock, grip, handguards, magazine
Price (individually): $35, $10, $45, $14
Ratings (out of five stars):
Design: * *
They’re functional, but they just look so…meh.
Functionality: * * * *
Everything works the way it should and as advertised. I’m holding back the last star as I wait for confirmation of their durability from stress testing.
Overall Rating: * * * 1/2
TAPCO’s Intrafuse furniture for the AR-15 platform is functional, affordable and easy to install, but they leave something to be desired aesthetically.