When it comes to gas tubes some people never give them a second thought. Then you find some that tend to over analyze and focus on every little detail about their gun including the gas tube. Well, having focus is a good thing, applying that focus to the proper area is important also. The unimposing little gas tube spends its entire life, allowing gas to flow from the gas block, back to the gas key residing atop the bolt carrier group. It's a rather mundane life, but one that is crucial to the operation of the weapon.
The Gas Tube Doesn't Work Alone
As before, the gas tube simply transports the gas from one end to another. However, lurking at either end are its partners in crime, Mr. Gas block, and Mrs. Gas key. Along the path, the gas tube must successfully pass the barrel nut in order to get inside the upper receiver. I know, this seems like AR 101, but it's important to pay attention to the simple stuff. Remember, the gas tube is made from steel, and steel really doesn't like to have to flex too much.
Therefore, it's absolutely vital there is a straight line of travel from one end to the other. From the front, your gas block has to be exactly in the center of the barrel. If your front sight base also serves as your gas block that one should be pretty easy. However, if your AR is outfitted with a free-floating rail, and you're using a low-profile gas block, then that is a little bit different.
Perhaps, the trickiest part is the ubiquitous barrel nut. Some barrel nuts have only four holes for which the gas tube to pass through where some barrel nuts have many more. Regardless of which you're working with they all have to be torqued properly. While reaching proper torque value if you wind up just a degree or two off, guess what? Well, depending upon the length of the gas tube and just how far off the nut is that could move the business end of the gas tube into harm's way. This variation would affect a rifle-length AR-15 gas tube more than it would a pistol-length AR-15 gas tube. The shorter the length of steel, the more rigidity it has, therefore, it is less likely to flex.
Finally, we get back to the gas key, this is the working end of the path. At first blush, one would think that stupid thing's screwed on top of the bolt carrier group, what can I possibly do about that? Well, you can't change where it's attached, but you must ensure that it doesn't move. Those two little screws holding the gas key in place absolutely, positively must be staked in place. I have had grown men brag that they have used Locktite on these screws and never had a problem. Okay, well I guess people have successfully outrun trains without a problem, yet. Take a minute and pull the bolt carrier group and make sure. Because, if those screws come loose, and that gas key shifts then guess what. That fancy stainless steel AR-15 gas tube is toast.
Should I Even Worry About A Gas Tube?
Say you have a good quality AR-15 that was set up great from the factory and has been well maintained. And additionally, only go out on occasion and fire off a few boxes of ammo at a nice slow rate. Honestly, chances are the gas tube that came on your gun will still be there when you either sell it or die.
Conversely, maybe you find yourself at the other end of the spectrum. There is an arsenal of tricked out firearms in your gun safe. And, you're lucky enough to go to the range and burn enough ammo on a Saturday to feed a family of four for a month. Perhaps, you're one of those fortunate people that can legally run full auto and go out to the range with a bag full of mags. Well, I bet you already know all about how important a quality gas tube is.
Wherever you may fall in the range of the shooting world you should always try to be the best that you can be. True competitive shooters do want to outshoot their competition, but with every round fired, they really want to outdo themselves.
I bet when you went to buy your kid that baseball glove you didn't get the cheapest one on the rack. Or, did the last scope you got for your rifle come from the bottom of the line airsoft series. Why the cheap ones may have served the purpose or maybe they would have been junk, we don't know. Without doing the research on which ones may have been a better choice, it really comes down to one thing.
Confidence, somehow you just feel better and believe that you can make it happen when you know that you're holding quality. So, is an upgrade a good thing, why absolutely when you can afford it. We all can't wear a Rolex, so we go to Wal Mart, buy a Timex and feel just fine because we know it's just not in the budget. However, upgrading your gas tube doesn't take long and can happen for less than $20. It will perform better, but what's more important happens subconsciously, you will shoot with more confidence.
Aftermarket AR-15 Gas Tubes
Unless your gun was custom built, it most likely has a low-end, standard steel gas tube installed. Do you need to put it on lockdown and rush out to replace it? Well, unless it has already caused a malfunction I would just put it high on my to-do list. It's probably going to take a minute to get that match-grade barrel or that perfect trigger. However, an upgraded gas tube is one of those things that can be done today.
So, where do I get one? There are a number of companies that are into aftermarketing AR-15 gas tubes, and likely a similar number into aftermarketing AR-15 stainless steel gas tubes. The one thing to remember is that when you choose to do business with any company it's almost like you marry them. Just like any marriage if you choose someone that you can get along with things go much smoother. If not, someone sleeps on the couch.
Wing Tactical is a strong, veteran-owned company that is into aftermarketing AR-15 gas tubes. We have a very strong belief in customer support as well as a good selection of aftermarket AR-15 stainless steel gas tubes.
In addition, the company aftermarketing AR-15 stainless steel gas tubes must only carry quality products from manufacturers you can trust to produce reliable parts. Of course, you could hop over to one of those huge clearinghouse interweb sites and buy a carbine-length AR-15 gas tube. You just might save a couple bucks and when the thing fails, guess what? That's right, you will come back to a reputable company. One that specializes in aftermarketing AR-15 stainless steel gas tubes and gets you a real carbine-length AR-15 gas tube. Just save yourself time and money by sticking with a quality company.
Gas Tube Materials and Coatings
- Raw Stainless Steel - Most of the time when you look at a stainless steel AR- 15 gas tube it is made from 304 stainless steel. This material is widely considered to be the industry standard. It appears nice and silver, which some see as appealing when you get a peek at it beneath the weapons slotted rail. Stainless Steel has good heat resistance and corrosion resistant properties.
- Melonited - This is a term used by manufacturers to refer to a Melonite coating. Melonite is a trademarked term for the salt bath ferritic nitrocarburizing process. To avoid getting into a lengthy lesson in chemistry suffice it to say this process changes the composition of the steel at and below its surface. The surface hardness of a melonited AR-15 gas tube increases, as does its wear resistance and corrosion resistance. The Melonite process creates a slick, black gas tube.
- Nitromet Finish - This is another manufacturer specific term to refer to the Melonite process which is, of course, a trademarked term. It creates a black gas tube as well. The appearance of a black gas tube may be chosen strictly for aesthetic reasons to enhance the shooters free-floating rail of choice. Others may desire the presence of a black gas tube to aid in camouflage when hunting.
Over time you will find that among shooters the choice of material or finish is as argumentative as you will find in the car world about which model is best. In the case of a stainless steel AR-15 gas tube or a melonited AR-15 gas tube, the cost is only a few dollars. Basically, it comes down to one's personal preference, and belief in the manufacturer's claims. Regardless of which is installed routine maintenance should be maintained. Whenever you clean your weapon just remove the bolt carrier group and spray some non-chlorine brake cleaner through the gas tube with the barrel slanted down. Follow this with a blast of low-pressure air, and your gas tube should easily outlast your barrel.
Gas Tube Lengths
- Rifle-Length - A rifle-length AR-15 gas tube is about 15.125" long. It is used in a rifle length barrel, which ranges from 18" to over 20", kind of a no-brainer. With a rifle-length AR-15 gas tube being the longest of the bunch, alignment with the bore is critical. If you measure the distance from the rear of the barrel to the gas port hole it will be @ 12-inch, so, you would need a rifle length gas tube.
- Mid-Length - A mid-length AR-15 gas tube is 11.75" long. A mid-length gas tube would be mated with a mid-length barrel that is 14" to 18" long. The distance from the rear of the barrel to the gas port here is @ 9". If so, a mid-length AR-15 gas tube is needed.
- 3-Carbine-Length - A carbine length gas tube is 9.75" long. A carbine gas tube would go with a carbine barrel falling between 10" to 16" long. A carbine barrel is indicated when the distance from the rear of the barrel to the gas port is @7". A carbine length gas tube is then in order.
- Pistol-length - A pistol-length AR-15 gas tube is 6.75" long. The pistol length gas tube is used with a pistol length barrel that is 10" or less. A pistol length barrel is indicated when the distance from the back of the barrel to the gas port is @ 4". You would then choose a pistol length gas tube.
Expected Lifetime of The Gas Tube and Determining Factors
In a perfect world, every carbine gas tube would last the lifetime of the gun. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. There are factors within your control and some that are not.
The longevity of any gas tube begins when it's manufactured. Say you decide to get your new rifle length gas tube from a company that happens to miss the quality check that day, and the end isn't turned down quite perfectly. Well, when that gas key slams into it enough, sooner or later it will fail.
Perhaps you pay more for a fancy, black, Melonite mid-length gas tube, and the manufacturer wasn't paying attention during the coating process. Then the nice coating wears off and problems ensue.
Next up is the installation. When that brand-new stainless steel AR-15 gas tube is put on it has to be straight. If not, the old gas key is going to rip it a new one. The gun is going to jam or the gas tube will bend. Many people find it easier to line up the gas tube with the bore before the gas block is installed. On your workbench slip the gas tube into the gas block and get the roll pin installed. Then slide the gas block over the barrel and the gas tube through the barrel nut. Then you can sight down the top of the barrel, and it's easier to make sure everything is centered.
Last but not least, is routine maintenance. Direct impingement gas systems run dirty. Regardless if the tube is raw stainless or coated, carbon fouling is going to build up. Do yourself a favor, take a minute and just clean it. You know, that old " an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" clause. Well, you have quite a bit invested in your gun, you might as well take care of it.
Lastly, the more and the harder you run your weapon, the sooner parts are going to wear out. Not just the gas tube, but pretty much everything.
That gas tube is hiding under your handguard taking a pounding with every shot you fire. Aside from the bolt carrier group no other component takes as much abuse. Compare the cost of a quality gas tube to the number of rounds you're going get out of it. The difference is minute. Your AR gets to run longer for almost no extra cost when you move up to a great gas tube.
So, buy quality parts and keep them clean. Because, in the end, there is no chart that is going to spell out just how long any part is going to last, it's up to you.
Other Gas Tube Upgrades to Make
There are some "trick" gas tubes on the market. There is one referred to as a pigtail which coils around the barrel. Remember, you still have to maintain a straight shot into the gas key or suffer the consequences. If you have some aberration of the normal gas tube length your best course of action is to have a gas tube custom made for the length you require.
If your full-auto, suppressed fire is your future plan, there are gas tubes made from a metal called Inconel. It is the same metal found in a lot of suppressors and can withstand extreme heat. However, it is very hard to machine and quite expensive.
The best bet for 99.9% of the shooters out there is to stay within the normal parameters in place when it comes to barrel versus gas tube length. You don't need an expensive paperweight, you need a gun that will reliably run.
Keep Forging Ahead
The gas tube on the AR-15 is a crucial part of not only the gas system but the weapon as a whole. However, the same could be said about most of the parts of the gun. There are many components that will cause the gun to fail if they do. Unfortunately, the gas tube is the most often overlooked mainly because during routine maintenance it's hidden. Whether you are OCD and have to clean everything or lean in the direction of don't fix it if it ain't broke, the gas tube is still there waiting to fail.
Before it fails, do yourself a favor and visit us here at Wing Tactical. If for some reason you're not quite sure just send us an email, it's our job to make sure you get what you need. If for any reason you're not satisfied we have a complete 30 day no hassle return policy if you never used the product. We look forward to doing business with you soon.