THE BIGGER AND OLDER BROTHER OF THE AR-15
We all know and love some AR-10s, but if you really want to up your game — you’ll need a nice barrel. Let’s break down the whys and whats to get you started!
AR-10 Compatibility Concerns:
While barrels attach to upper receivers and don’t require assembly themselves, you still may encounter some issues of compatibility regarding certain AR-10 upper receivers and bolts. For example, LaRue Tactical’s 7.62 PredatOBR AR-10 barrels will only work with their PredatOBR rifles.
Proprietary specs and exceptions exist in the realm of AR-10s. It simply isn’t as easy as building an AR-15 where the overwhelming majority of parts and components are compatible.
There is no one standard for AR-10s, so one must take extra care to ensure they get compatible parts and components. The subject of general AR-10 compatibility is discussed in further detail in our piece on AR-10 lower receivers.
What Makes A Good AR-10 Barrel?
First, we must appreciate the fact that there isn’t one AR-10 barrel to rule them all. An objectively perfect and supreme barrel for any platform simply does not exist. If such a mythical barrel were to exist, surely everyone would use it and there wouldn’t be such a diverse range of barrel options on the market today. Factors and variables that make barrels “good” for certain types of builds and roles are more tangible.
While important, there is more to consider about a barrel’s length than its effect on velocity. For example, a barrel’s length can influence one’s choice in handguards. Do you want something that just goes past the gas block, or do you want something that runs all the way to the muzzle?
This can be important to you for aesthetic or practical reasons, such as ensuring that a suppressor has enough clearance between the end of the muzzle and the handguard. A longer handguard provides more real estate for accessories and places to grip the rifle but also tacks on weight. The length of a barrel also plays a major part in the overall weight of a rifle.
Obviously, the shorter the barrel, the lighter the barrel due to the reduced amount of material. A long barrel is a good fit for a stationary shooter while shorter barrels are more conducive to builds you plan on running around with.
An important aspect of barrels that is not often considered is the overall increase in length that comes with the addition of a suppressor. A long barrel will get even longer with something like a Surefire SOCOM762 RC2 suppressor hanging off the end of it, so using a short barrel is a good way to compensate for this.
A barrel’s profile will impact a rifle’s overall handling and weight, something that should be kept in mind when putting an AR-10 together. For example, a heavy barrel profile is best suited for a precision-oriented build that you don’t plan on lugging around in the field, while something like Ballistic Advantage’s Hanson barrel profile would be better suited for a rifle you may need to trek with.
The material a barrel is made of can impact things such as potential accuracy, resistance to heat, and weight.
The market offers barrels made from materials such as chrome-moly vanadium, stainless steel and carbon fiber. Other materials and manufacturing processes exist of course, but these options are the most popular. Chrome-moly vanadium (CMV) barrels are typically lower-cost options and are truly “shooter” barrels that can fill a variety of roles.
CMV barrels are a result of Colt’s initial mil-spec barrel offerings. Stainless steel barrels boast better heat and corrosion resistance, along with reduced throat erosion without resorting to treatments such as chrome lining. Due to their potential for higher accuracy, stainless steel barrels are a popular choice for precision builds.
Carbon fiber barrels excel in weight reduction and heat dissipation and have been a common sight on premium bolt-action and AR-style rifles alike. The downside, however, is that generally carbon fiber barrels are significantly more expensive than CMV or stainless steel options.
Muzzle Device Compatibility
A good barrel should also be threaded and ready to accept a medley of muzzle devices. While some dedicated target rifles and the like may not always have a need for one, having more options is usually better. Most AR-10 barrels will feature the common 5/8-24 RH thread pattern.
This familiar thread pitch will accommodate everything from garden-variety A2-style flash hiders, muzzle brakes and even specialty options such as Surefire 3-Prong Flash Hiders to accommodate suppressors. Those who do not wish to use a muzzle device can simply use a thread protector instead. Choosing a threaded barrel doesn’t obligate one to attach a muzzle device but does provide the option to do so.
It really comes down to figuring out what type of barrel best suits your build preferences. Paying attention to these aspects will make you a more informed buyer and give you better odds of putting together a build that will suit your needs.
Available AR-10 Calibers
Barrels for AR-10s can be found in a myriad of calibers., but the two most common chamberings are .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor. A less popular but still common chambering for AR-10s is the .243 Winchester cartridge.
There was a time when Wilson Combat offered complete rifles chambered in .243, a testament to the validity of the round. While large-frame ARs have been chambered in exotic calibers such as .300 Winchester Magnum and 500 Auto Max, .308 and 6.5 Creedmoor simply dominate the market.
.308 Winchester has a long-standing reputation as an excellent general-purpose round. The cartridge has been utilized in everything from bolt-action rifles to belt-fed machine guns. It’s a versatile round that has paid its dues in combat, hunting, and target-shooting applications alike since its inception in the mid-20th century.
Firearms chambered in .308 will accept 7.62 NATO ammo, allowing one to take advantage of the vast array of surplus ammunition from countries that used the round. You can shoot everything from Cold War era battle rifle ammunition to purpose-built target or hunting ammunition through something chambered in .308 Winchester.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a relatively new (compared to the .308 Winchester) cartridge that was purpose-built for long-range precision. While the .308 Winchester is no slouch when it comes to long-range shooting, the 6.5 Creedmoor simply outperforms the older round.
Generally, the 6.5 Creedmoor retains it supersonic velocity and accuracy potential out to further distances than the .308 Winchester is capable of. The 6.5 Creedmoor also lends itself well to hunting applications and has become a common chambering for many bolt-action rifles seen on shelves today.
Ultimately, you should choose a caliber that is optimized for your rifle’s intended use. If you are wanting to build a bench gun and are focused on maximum long-range performance, the 6.5 Creedmoor would be a good choice. If you want a good jack of all trades battle rifle with an abundance of ammunition options, the .308 Winchester would suit you well.
These are just some archetypical examples found in these calibers. There can certainly be overlap. Both rounds lend themselves well to common uses such as plinking and hunting. The important thing is to know what you are going for with your build and choosing the best components accordingly.
Best AR-10 Barrels
KAK Industry .243 19-Inch Rifle Melonite Barrel
While .243 Winchester is not nearly as popular as .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor when it comes to AR-10 calibers, it is still a valid choice.
The .243 is one of the most popular hunting cartridges in the United States, meaning that ammunition is easy to find, and with heavy, OTM bullets actually outperforms the 6.5 Creedmoor at long range. KAK utilizes barrel blanks from Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co. Inc., a company with a reputation for producing quality barrels for rimfire, centerfire, and muzzleloading firearms alike.
This barrel would be a great fit if you have an existing stock of .243 ammunition and want to build an AR-10 in the caliber as a hunting rifle.
MSRP: $205 // kakindustry.com
Wilson Combat 24-Inch Super Sniper 6.5 Creedmoor Stainless
They’ve been making amazing 1911s for decades, and Wilson Combat brings that level of refinement and care to their AR line as well. This is one of my favorite barrels for my AR-10. Available in multiple calibers, lengths, and profiles, the Super Sniper series from Wilson Combat is built for reliability and incredible accuracy.
I like this barrel, especially because 24″ is a lot of barrel for a lot of extra muzzle velocity, perfect for really reaching out. Combined with being 6.5 Creedmoor, you can punch steel or anything else from a long, long way off.
While I generally don’t trust flutes on a barrel, Wilson Combat is one of the few manufacturers I know who do a great job and properly stress-relief the barrel to prevent it from shifting POI when hot. Those flutes also cut down a huge amount of weight, even at 24″ this barrel only comes in at 3.9lbs (63oz) and keeps the rifle balanced.
For a long range plinker or a semi-auto hunting rifle, this is a barrel that won’t quit.
MSRP: $335 // wilsoncombat.com
Aero Precision 16-Inch .308 CMV Barrel, Mid-Length
This 16-inch barrel can be utilized for a variety of builds. AR-10s can get heavy very quick once accessories and optics are added to them.
A 16-inch barrel helps keep the rifle’s overall weight down, making the rifle more handy and less punishing to carry in the field. While not necessarily compact, a 16-inch barrel will help keep the rifle’s profile much tighter, especially after the addition of a suppressor.
All in all, this 16-inch barrel is a versatile option for a variety of builds from battle rifle analogs to “compact” long-range rigs for when you want to stretch out further than a 5.56 will take you.
MSRP: $240 // aeroprecisionusa.com
Ballistic Advantage 18-Inch .308 Win Hanson Profile
The Hanson barrel profile is marketed as a lightweight barrel solution without the typical downsides of most lightweight barrels.
Essentially, the barrel is substantial where it needs to be and lightened where it’s not. The barrel is constructed from 416R stainless steel, a material that can facilitate exceptional accuracy. While stainless steel is resistant to rust and corrosion on its own, Ballistic Advantage adds further protection by applying a durable QPQ finish to the barrel.
An 11-degree target crown lends itself well to increased accuracy potential while protecting the bore as the rifling is recessed. The inclusion of a pinned low-profile gas block provides one of the most secure methods of mounting a gas block to a barrel. The gas block also features set screws to further secure the gas block to the barrel.
The obvious benefit of the included gas block is that a prospective buyer will not have to source one down the line when building their rifle. An 18-inch barrel such as this one would be right at home on a build emulating a DMR or SPR.
MSRP: $300 // ballisticadvantage.com
Criterion Barrels DPMS Pattern 6.5 Creedmoor 22-Inch Hvy. Hybrid Barrel, Stainless
Criterion Barrels has an excellent and well-deserved reputation as they produce a variety of high-quality products for multiple firearms.
They are particularly well-known for their production of barrels for M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, M1903s, and other rifles commonly used in Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) matches. This 22-inch 6.5 Creedmoor barrel would be an excellent choice for a build with an emphasis on extreme accuracy. Stainless steel barrels are regarded for their accuracy and are a common sight on precision rifles of all types.
The barrel is hand-lapped and features a polished chamber. The barrel extension was produced by JP Enterprises and facilitates smooth and reliable feeding. The gas port was also tuned by Criterion to ensure reliable function with and without a suppressor. Using this barrel in a build will certainly yield an accurate gun capable of long-range precision.
MSRP: $390 // criterionbarrels.com
Rainier Arms UltraMatch Mod 2 .308 Barrel–20-Inch
This premium offering from Rainier Arms is intended to be a lightweight and high-performance AR-10 barrel. The barrel features fluting, a feature that works to help dissipate heat and shave off weight.
The stainless steel material is also exceptionally resistant to heat and is more conducive to producing accurate groups. The hand-cut chamber and crown plus the TiN (titanium nitride) barrel extension are a testament to Rainier Arms’ commitment to quality.
Weighing in at 3 pounds 1.8 ounces, this 20-inch barrel would be a great choice for someone who wants a long-range build that feels more like a rifle and less like a boat anchor.
MSRP: $450 // rainierarms.com
Faxon Firearms Match Series 18″ Big Gunner
What I love about the Faxon Big Gunner series of barrels is how light they are. Faxon offers AR-10 barrels in a lot of flavors and styles in .308 Win, 8.6 BLK, and 6.5 Creedmoor. All in either heavy profile with fluting, Big Gunner, and some other profiles.
My top pick is their Match Series Big Gunners. The Match Series barrels are more accurate and include some upgrades like 5R rifling, Nichel Teflon barrel extension, and are made from 416-R Stainless steel.
The magic is in the profile. Faxon has long been known for their Gunner barrels for the AR-15 because they are stiff, strong, but fairly lightweight barrels. Doing away with the Government profile bulge that is useless at the best of times, the Gunner profiles have enough meat on the bone to support the weight of a can and to handle heat well, but nothing extra that just adds weight for no reason.
As you might assume, the Big Gunner profile is the same idea but up-sized to fit the AR-10 barrels. An 18″ 6.5 Creedmoor Big Gunner barrel comes in at just under 2.5 lbs.
MSRP: $290 // FaxonFirearms.com
Proof Research PR10 20-Inch 6.5 Creedmoor Carbon Fiber Barrel
If price is no issue and you wish to maximize performance and cut down on weight, Proof Research is an excellent option. This premium barrel utilizes carbon fiber material in its construction, weighing in at 2 pounds 14 ounces and features a gas system which is 2 inches longer than usual, reducing gas port pressures and decreasing dwell time.
This barrel combines handiness with long-range performance and will be well-suited for many applications. If you plan on trekking around with a rifle for extended periods of time, any weight savings are appreciated. The lightweight nature of the barrel combined with its length of 20 inches will yield both performance and maneuverability to your build.
MSRP: $999 // proofresearch.com
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