Fad or the Future? The KeyMod Rail System

By CTD Suzanne 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 (20)

  • cliff


    Hi! Does any one know the make and model of the handguard that is pictured???


  • Brian


    This system is a definite improvement over a quad-rail. Modularity allows flexibility and a better balance of form and function. The negative opinions, I’ve noticed, including some idiot who bashes capitalism for producing choices and competition for him and is welcome to get the @#$% out of my country, are being written by people who haven’t used the system and don’t understand it. You add only what you need or want and don’t have to lug around anything you don’t. Want a side mounted light? – add a rail and mount your light. Don’t want a light? – don’t add the darn rail and don’t mount frikken the light.
    This system is durable, flexible, simple and effective. It’s much more comfortable than quad-rail; you can operate just fine without wearing gloves and there are no superfluous surfaces which require rail covers either, which keeps weight down. For all the Army bum-shots who take five mags to score a hit, it provides ample air flow for cooling. For my Marine Corps brethren, it looks as good as we do while we’re doing our thing.


  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas


    If that’s an AR type rifle in the photos, how would it apply to other type weapons? There are a lot of guns out there, besides that style of weapon, which now use the 1913 type rail, or possibly could. I have a Reminton 510 and 511 that I wish I could scope. I’m not sure about this new system according to the photos, but I think I’ll try to keep an open mind, at least until I get to see it in person, or see more applications of it.


  • Spacegunner


    I agree that too much Picatinny IS TOO MUCH! I used to have a quad rail on my “M4″, but replaced it with a smooth tube, but added short sections of Picatinny in strategic locations for a light and/or laser. The sections are made of composite plastic, and are more than strong enough to hold what I attach.

    The quad-rail forearm needed ladder & panel covers to prevent catching, grabbing, cutting of things that came in contact. It was also very FAT.

    Still KISS.


  • Mike Lanfranchi


    I’m not sure what the detractors of this system don’t like. As I understand it one can mount a rail section only where one needs to mount an attachment if there isn’t a direct keymod mount. Seems pretty smart to me. Why have a quad rail all the way if one is only using a small portion of it? Am I missing something?


  • Popawoody


    I recently picked up a Noveske upper for a build. I was immediately struck by how thin and light the thing is, despite the full length Picatinny rail on top. As I was putting the rifle together, the first thing I did, out of habit I think, was start bolting Picatinny sections to it “for future use” and, whoa, what a mistake! Soon my project rifle started to get very heavy. So I regrouped, stripped off the Picatinny rails I wasn’t using, and replaced them with Noveske polymer covers. I found a KeyMod flashlight mount and I was (almost) in business. I say almost, because I had to add a Picatinny section back on the bottom to support a vertical foregrip, since I’ve not found anyone making a KeyMod version yet.

    The result is an AR15 with a free-floating barrel which is surprisingly light and far less bulky than quadrails, or even Magpul. The rifle is a dream to carry and use. I’ve not had it long, but it feels like it’s going to hold up well to every day abuse in the field. The Noveske NSR handguard is far thicker and more durable than it looks in pictures.

    The downside, at this point, is the lack of maturity of the system and the ecosystem around it. As I mentioned, adding a vertical foregrip, or a Magpul angled grip, requires the addition of a Picatinny section, as do a number of lights (Streamlight TLR, etc.) and other accessories designed for 1913 rails. The good news is that Picatinny rail sections can be added in a few seconds and they’re rock solid once they’re mounted.

    The youth of the system can also be seen in the currently spotty availability of the few accessories at ARE being produced for it. The only polymer handguard panels being offered are from Noveske, and the company has had a hard time keeping inventory available. Short Picatinny rail sections are also hard to come by. I realize that the economics of trying to set a new standard can be challenging, and Noveske has had a particularly trying year with the tragic death of their founder. Still, if they want KeyMod to catch on as a standard, they’re going to have to keep parts in stock.

    It has been encouraging to see other manufacturers beginning to offer KeyMod accessories. If the trend continues, KeyMod is likely to see wide adoption pretty quickly. Rifles that use it can be made lighter and easier to handle and customizing them is, literally, a snap. It’s important to note that KeyMod isn’t likely to replace the Picatinny 1913 rail. I don’t think that was the intent. But I believe it will replace heavy, bulky quadrail systems that have been the rage of late.

    If you’ve not seen the KeyMod system, I encourage you to take a look at it.


  • George Hilbert


    @RPK, I don’t think people necessarily fear change, but they shy away from change just for the sake of change, or just for profit. We have a very fine, robust and workable system in the Pic rails. They are backward compatible and very solid. For the Keyhole slots to take over, it is not sufficient just to be different. They have to show a compelling reason that they are better than the current system. Note that I said COMPELLING, not just a slight advantage. People have a lot invested in the current system. I might be willing to change, but they will have to show me a REAL reason to do so.


  • RPK


    Inherently, people fear change. The current system has become the industry standard. The majority of after market parts are manufactured for this system. I know having spent cash to modify my weapons with a rail system will probably deter me from upgrading to anything different, at least in the near future. But, as with everything else, only time will tell. If I see it, it appeals to me and I have the money on hand, I’ll take it for a test drive.


  • Jared


    I like the new keymod system, I like it because the noveske pictured is a free float tube and lightweight. It dislike full quad railed hand guards. They are big and heavy, most have sharp sharp corners so gloves are needed, then you need rail covers which adds even more weight. Since there aren’t a ton of accessories for the new system yet, you can just add rail sections as needed, just like 90% of the other free float hand guards on the market right now, and the key mod will be less weight if you don’t add rails and use key mod accessory mounts (when/if they are available), and you will also be able to have accessories mounted closer to the weapon without rails adding width to the rifle. Key mod is also way easier to machine than quad rail hand guards also I would imagine.

    I do feel that the key mod system won’t work as/ or ever replace the top mounted picatinny rails on most/all modern rifles.


  • intangible


    This is merely a system used to generate more revenue from already money hungry people. It doesn’t solve or fix anything as far as I can tell. They are making you buy more mounts to put pict attachments on it. Seriously, its just making a middle man between you and the accessories. Try a durability test and I bet pict based rifles will last longer which is what the military needs if know the whole idea of something being made for grunts (grunt proof??). This is no different in how Howard leight will charge me $35 for a pair of non electronic headphones but I can go to home depot and get the same decibel rating for my ear pro for less $$$. This is why I hate capitalism and creation. They can be of the devil at times and great at others.


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