Forward Controls Design – An ARBuildJunkie Q&A (2021)

We recently sat down with Roger Wang of Forward Controls Design to get an update on new products, the growth of his company, why bigger is not always better, and why function still wins versus form.

Q: Since the last time we’ve talked, you’ve gotten a lot more popular…can you talk about the growth of the company and the state of Forward Controls Design as it stands today?

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – The last time we spoke was in 2019, and we were just starting to be recognized as a company that was making quality parts that were desirable, and to some, fashionable. We don’t do any advertising, and we hardly do any marketing. People were finding out about Forward Controls Design almost solely through word of mouth.  

Our growth has been stead and solid. When you hear someone you know and trust talking about a product and speaking highly of it, it carries more weight than ads can.  

I will say that when COVID hit in 2020, it propelled everyone in the firearms industry. A rising tide lifts all boats.  The growth in 2020 has allowed us to move out of California to Texas ahead of schedule, the move has been one of the best things we’ve done. As you can imagine, being in California, most of times, we couldn’t buy guns to do development on. Staccato for example, couldn’t sell to California residents, we couldn’t very well develop for a product when we had no access to it.

From 2019 when we last spoke, to today, we have grown, to be sure. But the company itself has not changed. It’s still just my wife and me. We have competent help every now and again, but my wife and I still handle almost everything.

Q: For those that are new to Forward Controls Design, can you share your company philosophy?

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – We wanted to make a difference to the community and to the folks we serve. These are folks who carry guns every day and use them as tools, and who use their firearms for defense, especially law enforcement and the military.

We want to make a difference for them, and give them whatever advantages we can muster in the way of components that are more than just “good enough.” Nothing we do should be just average. Over time, our mission has not changed, but there is a more pronounced focus on LE and military.

Q: You’re known for putting function over form, but yet your parts have a somewhat unique, clean, and attractive aesthetic…

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – Form follows function, and function over form, it’s our design philosophy, function first. We spend a lot of time and resources on that. Aesthetics are something that we spend either very little or no time on. I equate a fighting gun to a race car or an airplane. Everything on them is for a purpose, none are decorations. I understand that some do not look at it that way. To us, and I believe those that carry or use a firearm on duty and for defense, share the same sentiment. A gun is a tool just like a hammer is a tool.  

Tools get used, and they get scratched, finishes get worn off. We design and produce tools that get used, they don’t belong in a glass case.

That said, just like a race car or an airplane, function-driven designs can look very good. If our designs look good to someone, it’s wholly coincidental. We do not go out of the way to design things for looks since their shapes are driven by their functions.  Combat and defense firearms gain nothing from aesthetics. 

Q: Can you explain the scarcity of things like your bolt carrier groups and ejection port door covers? Following forums, there seems to be some excitement over both, and both seem fairly hard to find.

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – The bolt carrier group is the heart of the gun. We like Microbest. Too ofen, we cannot source them. We get them from Sons of Liberty, and you can imagine a situation where if they cannot get enough for themselves, they cannot very well set them aside for us…

People may ask why not just get something else?  We put our name on them. If we do that, they have to be representative of everything that we do, we’d rather wait to get what we want.  With Microbest, we are assured of quality and tolerances.  This is not to say other brands don’t produce equally and in spec BCGS, but we’ve had success with Microbest and we’ll continue to base SBCGs on Microbest BCGs.

As far as the Forward Controls Design EPC (Ejection Port Cover), it’s a matter of logistics. Anodizing is very hard to get right. We’ve have had quite a few EPCs just on hold for anodizing.  We don’t rush product development or release, nor do we ask our shops to rush production or coating.  EPC in 2021 has had a rough going on coating, we will only release them when we’re completely satisfied with anodizing.

Q: The EPC seems to have become a ‘flex’ item, even spawning some cheap knockoffs. What’s your opinion on that?

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – (Laughs) I am both kind of amused and unhappy to see this turn of events. They have become collectible, and people are willing to pay double or triple on the secondary markets. It gives us an image that we have tried very hard not to have. That is that we are some sort of “lifestyle” company, which we certainly are not. 

We might be a boutique company, but that’s largely due to our size. To us, the EPC is just one product, and it’s just as important as a six-dollar buffer retainer. So, I’m amused, but I wish it weren’t that way. We didn’t create the scarcity artificially. Logistics is the reason, but it’s just one product out of many that we have.

Q: People may want to know why you don’t simply expand to meet demand. Can you address that?

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – In terms of size, Forward Controls has done more volume and has more products since 2019, but the size of the company hasn’t changed.  Like everything we do, there is a purpose and a reason to our size.

Why don’t we expand? Why are some products so hard to find? The answer to both is we want to control our growth to a manageable level, it means being able to provide the same level of quality service and products to our customers and our dealers. The controlled growth isn’t without cost. We don’t have a huge building or twenty or thirty employees, but having these things is not our mission.  

Our mission has nothing to do with growing to a specific size, but to provide innovative and quality gear for people that matter to us. As long as we can do that, we’re content.

Some things are going to be hard to find. We don’t have the workforce or buying power to get into the game that more prominent companies can get into…but again, that is not our purpose and reason for being.  We don’t aim to flood the market, or make everything under the sun for the AR15/M16.  We aim to do the best that we can for our users. If we have to choose between quality and quantity, it’s quality over quantity.

Q: Since we spoke last, you’ve had a few new products. I’d like to briefly discuss a few, starting with the sling you now offer.

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – In 2020, when everything was hard to find, including slings that we carried, we decided to do make our own. All slings are functional, but we never really found a sling without its idiosyncrasies We always ask why does it do that?, or why does it not do that?  We have the design knowhow to make a sling to suit the way we train and use our rifles and carbines, so we decided to make our own.

We are aware that when folks think of Forward Controls Design, slings may not be something that comes to mind.  My wife has an old German Bernina sewing machine, and we made some prototype slings in the kitchen of our California home. She was producing 30-40 a month, every other month. Every time we would put them on the website, they would sell out in minutes. CSF, (Carbine Sling, Forward Controls) is very well thought out. From the looks of it, it’s just an adjustable two-point sling, but there is a lot more than meets the eye.

For instance, the location of the quick release, the overall length that is not too long or too short, the choice of the quick-adjust pull tab being fabric and not molded plastic, and plastic hardware versus metal hardware.

Since moving to Texas, my good friend Ed Gardner at Midway Firearm Refinishing took over CSF production, as we have neither the time, nor capacity to make them as fast as we need them.  CSF looks deceivingly simple, but it’s quite complicated to put together, we spent a good amount of time hashing out the length of every piece of webbing, the kind of stitching appropriate for each section, and how all the pieces come together.

Ed has industrial sewing machines and cutters that can do stitching and cutting with far better accuracy and consistency than we could by hand in our kitchen. CSFs are 90 percent handmade and assembled in Texas, with US sourced material.

Q: Forward Controls Design is also doing cable management panels now. How did those come about?

Roger Wang, Forward Controls Design – PCM (Panel, Cable Management) is a product we co-developed with TVNC (Tactical Night Vision Company). Augee at TNVC contacted us to see if we wanted to co-develop a means of securing and managing WML, aiming laser/target designator cables, and we certainly did. We both had ideas, but Augee’s was the better one, so we went with it and had prototypes made in 30 days.

The Forward Controls Design PCM is billet machined from 6061 aluminum and Type III hard coat anodized. It’s a product that has done well for us because it fills a vacuum. My friend Dave Carter at Arson Machines makes PCM for us, he happens to have similar idea, and his (Wireguides) came to market first, and just like that, I think the vacuum has been filled with competent designs and products. (laughs.)

We now have a longer version of the PCM. The current version occupies one M-Lok slot. The longer version occupies two. I suspect some people just want to use them as MLOK handguard rail covers, and so we had tested them at a local PD range for that purpose. The results convinced us this dual use is feasible and practical, and one can use them as M-Lok handguard covers.  

Q: Another collaboration you did was with Hodge Defense with the low snag forward assist, correct?

The Low Snag Forward Assist was a project that Jim Hodge and I worked on in 2019. It was something that Jordan Bowles had helped Jim design. Jim then gave it to me because at the time, we were going to come out with LDFA-A1, a “tear drop” shaped LDFA version of the original rimless LDFA we’ve had since 2015.

I liked Jim’s LSFA design and had just a few changes that I wanted to make. We made them so that your fingernail has less chance of hitting the rim. It’s basically like an A1 forward assist, but the teardrop has been rotated by 90 degrees clockwise, the teardrop is facing inwards instead of downward. It is the first collaboration that Jim Hodge and I have done, but it will certainly not be the last.

Q: Anything that you can talk about yet?

(Laughs). Nothing that I can talk about just yet. What I can say is that it’s something that he likes that also happens to be something that we can help him with, given our capability/capacity to produce them and design them. We are now in the final stages of design.

Q: Fair enough. Moving on, you have a new muzzle brake, correct?

We do. The Forward Controls Design 1215KM brake was inspired by and modeled after the Mk12 brake. Folks have always asked us to make a brake but we have consistently declined because brakes are loud and obnoxious, and mostly unnecessary for a 223 AR but, as suppressor mounts, they do have a function as sacrificial first baffle. For that reason – because they do have a purpose – we designed one.  

It does not take very much to make a brake that works. Our focus was on making a brake that was as inoffensive to the shooter and bystanders as possible. 1215KM has a .30 caliber bore size (Dead Air specification), and its ports aren’t angled backward. Together, the results were better than we expected.  

We used the Mk12 brake as the model because it was one of the least obnoxious brakes I had used. Still, we found that ours performed better in that regard due to the larger bore size and flat vs. angled ports. But it’s a brake, brakes are louder and concussive compared to a flash suppressor. I won’t say that you can shoot with this on indoors or inside a vehicle because you can’t (laughs). But it’s less offensive than many contemporary brakes and, for a suppressor, the 1215KM brake has its uses.

Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about?

I’d love to tell them about our OPF line, or Optics Plates for Glocks, SIGs, and soon for Staccato and Walther as well.  It began when a combat Marine and former USMC Shooting Team head coach, Tom Shields, called me and asked me if I would make it. At the time, I didn’t know what he was asking for, because I was living in California and couldn’t get those guns.  

He sent some parts to me to look at, and it took me a minute to see why he didn’t like certain aspects of them.  We reconvened, and discussed and outlined objectives. The Glock OEM plates are just not very good, to put it kindly. It is only a matter of time before they loosen and shear the screws.

The result of our work was OPF-G-RMR, or Optics Platform, Forward Controls for Glocks/RMRs. The plate is machined from steel and black nitride, it’s a simple one piece design. We now have 8-9 nine different plates, and many of them are in collaboration with our friends at TangoDown.

We began to branch out of AR/M16 components couple of years ago.  When it comes to the AR platform, there are only so many things you can improve, and I think a lot of them have already been done. At some point, we may run out of products to improve on.

Frankly, we might be pretty close to that point. As such, products like the OPF are rewarding for us, as it symbolizes Forward Controls Design branching out into areas we have never been in before, and proves we are as good out of our lane as we are in it.

Another area we have branched out into is dedicated tools. We’d done a Forward Controls Design castle nut wrench. We have a muzzle device wrench specifically designed for suppressor mounts, which often have very short wrench slats, plus these muzzle devices are often very close to the handguard. A lot of times, you can’t get a ¾” wrench in between.

We also have a Forward Controls Design Gas Tube Pin Tool, and we’re about to come out with another gas block tool. We’re also now looking into making our own torque wrench. It will be pretty specific to our needs, as we have our OPF line that requires fairly precise use of the torque wrench. We want it to be precise, repeatable, and certified.

Of course, the AR stuff is still fun and exciting, and we have new things coming by the end of 2021. However in 2022, we might be doing more product development that’s not for the AR.  The AR has a lot of life left in it, there’s just not a lot left that has not either been done or improved, either by us or any number of competent companies.

Regardless of what we make and for what platform, our mission remains unchanged – provide quality components that impart advantages to folks who use their firearms as tools. Since moving to Texas, opportunities have opened that were impossible to realize and act on in California.  

Our values have also remained the same, pro conservative values, pro law enforcement, and pro military.  As always, we are grateful for our friends, customers, dealers and partners that have made it possible for us to accomplish our mission.  Thank you guys for being on the journey with us, and for being a part of the duck family.

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Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Nate Schulz (NSZ85) for allowing us to use many of his photos throughout this article.

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