Fad or the Future? The KeyMod Rail System

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Gun Gear

A new rail system for your rifle is slowly catching on. Officially announced to the public in July 2012, the KeyMod mounting system uses old principles to lock down rails and accessories. In collaboration between then General Manager of VLTOR Weapons Systems, Eric Kincel and Noveske Rifleworks, Noveske developed the KeyMod handguard. Noveske’s NSR handguard was first to adopt the new system. The lightweight and thin handguard uses a series of keyholes to mount accessories and rails. Kincel mentioned it was not originally intended to replace the 1913 rail, but some speculate it will.

Picture shows a close up of a KeyMod rail system on an AR-15 rifle.

The KeyMod system is sleeker and more slim-lined than traditional mounting systems. Photo by TheGunShowPodcast.com

It works the same way as a lot of shelving and scaffolding. One end of the “keyhole” is bigger, while the other end is smaller. You put your accessory or rail into the larger part of the keyhole and slide it down to the smaller end. With a few quick turns of a screwdriver, secure the rail or accessory down and you are good to go. Installation is quick and easy. You never have to adjust anything on the underside of the handguard. The complete system is sleeker and more slim-lined than traditional mounting systems.

Kincel’s goal in “developing” the system was to have it become an industry standard. Therefore, he made the schematics an open source, so any manufacturer could create its own mounts, rails and accessories that work with the KeyMod handguard.

The KeyMod handguard has a 1913 rail along the top of it already, however, you can purchase additional KeyMod rails to add to the side or bottom of the KeyMod handguard. The strong attachment of the KeyMod accessories to the KeyMod handguard are unaffected by recoil and optics have an excellent return to zero capability when detached and reattached.

Rifles with this handguard and rail system are being produced by CMMG, Knight’s Armament, Primary Weapons Systems, Bravo Company, Spikes Tactical and of course Noveske—to name a few. Strike Industries have made them for the AK-47 and Mark Krebs of Krebs Custom Guns has made a KeyMod system for Saiga rifles, with more rifles expected soon.

Picture shows a guy shooting an AR015 with a KeyMod rail system.

The KeyMod handguard has a 1913 rail along the top. Photo by TheGunShowPodcast.com

New rail systems don’t just spring out every year and start a new industry standard. Weaver rails were all we had until 1994 when the Picatinny Arsenal—a military research and manufacturing facility— developed the Picatinny system. The Picatinny rail is now an industry standard on all semi-automatic, tactical-style, military rifles and some handguns.

Both Picatinny and Weaver rails incorporate a system of raised ridges with spacing slots in between. To mount an accessory to either, you slide the optic, grip, bipod or other gear onto the rail and then secure it using tools.

The 1913 rail has strict dimensions. The locking slot on the Picatinny rail is 0.206-inches wide and the spacing of slot centers measures 0.394 inches. In contrast, the Weaver rail’s locking slots measure 0.180-inches and have no consistent measurement in the slot center spacing. Therefore, Weaver mounted accessories will fit Picatinny rails, but Picatinny mount accessories will not fit always fit Weaver rails.

Needless to say, it took a very long time for the industry to switch from Weaver to Picatinny. We will have to wait and see if the KeyMod mounting system catches on. Currently, there are not many accessory offerings that fit the KeyMod system. Perhaps on the rifle we purchase to celebrate our retirement. Only time will tell.

Do you have a KeyMod rail system? What do you think—fad or the future? Tell us in the comment section.

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Comments (31)

  • NCBengal


    New to AR and bought onw with Keymod rail without knowing the difference. It’s okay, but trying to find a hand grip for the rail presents a challenge. I think I must get a short piece of Pic rail for the Keymod, then get a hand grip. Is that right?


  • phil


    Like it.
    But you cant buy
    Anything for it.
    In canada anyways
    I’m trying to get a couple rails ordered threw
    Vltor witch they don’t ship to canada dealers only. But they are trying to help me out and get some rails sent over.
    Your left with putting a picitinny rail on anyway.
    The only good thing is you can take them off if you want witch makes the gun lighter witch makes them easier to sell.


  • Doc


    I just installed a YHM keymod hand guard on my last M-4 build. I Love the versatility of this system. I have no clue why anyone knock this. It gives me the chance to put an attachment point where ever I need it, but doesn’t flood the guard with a bunch of rails that I’ll never need. I doubt that I’ll ever use a quad-rail again.


  • steve


    fad for sure. hopefully one that’s going away soon.


    • Don


      How do you figure it’s a fad? All of your high-end AR manufacturers are using the system and all of the other mass produced AR companies are starting to offer the system on some of their rifles as well. It is used by a large percentage in the competitive shooting community. It’s lightweight and not cumbersome like the other systems… I hate to tell you Steve, but the system is in it for the long haul…


  • Don


    It’s interesting that most of the comments that were posted here are over a year old now. I wonder how many of the Keymod haters/doubters that posted here have had a chance to get their hands on a rifle with the Keymod hand guard on it and really gave it a try? It’s an incredible and very innovative system that is backwards compatible just as the Picatinny system is. In an age where there are so many AR type of competitions out there, its all about shooters making rifles that shoot fast and accurate. The shooters are also looking to make their rifles as light and strong as possible, which explains all the titanium/magnesium/carbon fiber parts that are hitting the market. The Keymod system is light, its strong and it keeps all the accessories closer to the hand guard making it easier to handle and maneuver the rifle. I’m sure if most of the people who knocked the Keymod system would really try one with an open mind they will see how much more advantageous the system really is.


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