RedWolf has been supplying the best airsoft guns on all platforms around the world since 1998. Airsoft is a very fun sport, but to start it is good to first understand the tools that are involved in these activities and how airsoft guns work. In this blog post, we will be going through how airsoft guns work, the most popular platforms, and the pros and cons of each platform.
A common misconception about airsoft guns is people often see them as either a "friendly version of a real firearm", or "just a kid's toy". Although airsoft guns do look like a real firearm, it does fall under the toy category. The purpose of airsoft guns is to act as a tagging device; it is no different than a paintball gun, but without paint on the target and aesthetically more realistic.
Given the appearance, functionality, and certain features an airsoft gun can provide, some even use airsoft guns as a training tool for people like law enforcement officers or the military.
How Do Airsoft Guns Work?
To understand how do airsoft guns work, we must first identify which are the most popular platforms that are currently in the market. Given the varieties of airsoft guns, the 4 most popular platforms currently in the market are Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG), Gas Blowback (GBB), Spring Powered (Springer), High-Pressure Air (HPA). Though all 4 platforms are mechanically different, they do have some things in common; all airsoft guns should have a tube which we call an inner barrel that allows the user to shoot a ball bearing (BB) out of it like a blow dart, but the BB will be given a backspin prior accelerating in the inner barrel so it can travel further.
What the airsoft gun needs to do is somehow generate a small amount of pressurized air to create a force to pneumatically propel the BB out of the inner barrel. The methods of how the airsoft gun generates the pressurized air differ between platforms.
Features of an Airsoft Gun
Features on an airsoft gun vary depending on the grade, technology used, and how many extra upgrades were installed (of course naturally, the more tech and upgrades, the more expensive the end product will be). There are a lot of extra features that airsoft guns can have to increase the user experience and it is impossible to list them all. Just to name a few like the full-auto firing mode. Other than Springers, almost all airsoft guns will have the full-auto feature where the user just holds down the trigger when firing, and it will shoot until the magazine is empty. Airsoft guns that do not shoot full-auto either have this feature eliminated for the sake of realism or the mechanism do not allow it.
There are other unique features such as empty magazine detection. What this does is the airsoft gun will stop responding if the system detects the magazine is empty. This feature is uncommon for most AEGs, but higher-end ones do. It usually requires proprietary magazines for this feature to activate. However, this comes as a standard feature for GBBs. As the magazine runs out of BBs, it will cause a stoppage to the airsoft gun, forcing the user to reload.
The Working Mechanisms of Airsoft Guns
Almost all airsoft guns will be installed with parts called an inner barrel, hop-up chamber/ unit, and hop-up rubber. For an airsoft gun to shoot, a BB is pre-loaded into the hop-up chamber. When the user pulls the trigger, the airsoft gun will then release a small amount of pressurized air to force the BB through the chamber and exit out of the inner barrel. When the BB is being propelled by the pressurized gas, it will pass through the nub of the hop-up rubber and continue to accelerate inside the inner barrel. The nub inside the hop-up chamber will provide a backspin to the BB, causing a phenomenon called the Magnus effect once it exits the inner barrel, the Magnus effect will allow the BB to create a small opposing force to go against gravity so it can travel further.
Among the 4 most popular platforms, AEG and Springers fundamental mechanisms are quite similar. Both platforms involve a cylinder, piston, and a strong spring to apply a strong force to the piston and generate pressurized air from the cylinder to push a BB out of the chamber and exit through an inner barrel. However, both platforms use very different methods to pull the piston back.
First, let's look at Springers. The user will need to manually cock the piston back to compress the spring. When the user pulls the trigger, it will release the stopper that locks the piston in place and causing the airsoft gun to fire. This mechanism is best for simulating sniper rifles, hence it is widely used among airsoft sniper rifles. Springers are simple and robust, it will work no matter what kind of weather condition, but it is slow if the user would like to have a follow-up shot. It is a great system for sniper roles, but ineffective against a large squad of enemies.
As for the AEG platform, instead of needing to manually cocking the piston back, it utilizes a motor and a set of gears to pull the piston back. The AEG should have a battery stored within it; when the user pulls the trigger, it activates a switch that connects the current so the motor will drive the gears to pull the piston backward. This platform will allow users to have much faster follow up shots, and even allow users to shoot in full-auto. This was a revolutionary design back in 1991, but since then many companies mimicked and made aftermarket upgrade parts for this platform. As a result, this is one of the most popular platforms with plenty of upgrade potentials.
The next platform will be how GBB airsoft guns work. GBB is the most realistic platform currently in the airsoft market. For the airsoft gun to shoot properly, the user must manipulate it like a real firearm. Due to their realistic nature, some law enforcement and military agencies use them as training tools.
A gas blowback airsoft gun utilities a gas reservoir storing pressurized gas (similar to propane gas) known as top gas/ green gas. Whenever the user pulls the trigger, a knocker will hit the valve on the gas reservoir, causing it to release a small amount of pressurized gas into the GBB platform. The gas will first push the BB out of the chamber, causing it to fire; the remaining amount of gas will cause either the pistol's slide/ the rifle's bolt to move back so the airsoft gun can load the second round for a follow-up shot. However, gas-powered airsoft guns are quite prone to cold weather; when shot too fast, a cool-down effect might occur resulting in a significant fps drop.
Last but not least is how HPA airsoft guns work. The benefit of using high-pressure gas is that the temperature will not drastically drop when fired quickly. The trade-off will be it usually requires a fairly large gas reservoir to store them (like a gas tank). Since HPA doesn't cool down, it is one of the most consistent and stable platforms in the market when pressure is regulated; however, this is also one of the platforms with a higher price tag.
HPA tanks usually store air that is very high in pressure (about 3000 psi or more); if directly release into an airsoft gun, it can easily destroy the actual product. Therefore this platform requires a device known as a regulator, which lowers the psi to an acceptable and constant pressure for the airsoft gun to use.
Can Airsoft Guns be Deadly?
There are a lot of myths about airsoft guns that they can cause harm and can even be lethal, but that cannot be any further from the truth. Although airsoft gun does propel projectiles at a relatively high speed, the design does have its limitations.
First of all, the BBs that are used are made of plastic. For it to shoot accurately, the BB must accelerate and exit the inner barrel at a specific speed. At too high a speed, the projectile (BB) becomes unstable and won't be accurate. If the burst of air pressure is too high, it could even shatter the BB before it exits the inner barrel; rendering a malfunction.
Secondly, when plastic comes in contact with human skin; although could still bruise and might even cause bleeding to the skin, the design nature of an airsoft gun is not strong enough for it to be lethal. If anyone were to attempt and customize an existing airsoft gun to a lethal power, the gun will very likely break before firing. As for the BB, given the material it is made of, it simply will shatter upon impact once it reaches a certain speed; hence it is almost impossible for it to be lethal.
Do Airsoft Bullets Hurt?
Although airsoft guns and plastic BBs aren't lethal, they could still cause damage to delicate body parts such as eyes; so when handling any airsoft guns, please be sure to wear proper protection like safety glasses before handling them.
Since everyone's pain tolerance is different, it is quite hard to pinpoint if getting shot by an airsoft gun hurts or not; but when getting shot by a BB will most definitely cause a slight stinging sensation. That is why a lot of airsofters gear up for this sport, not only to look the part but also to provide a decent amount of protection.
A small tip to alleviate the sting/ pain when getting shot is to wear relatively loose clothes over your bare skin. The cloth will aid in decelerating the BB upon impact and hence slightly lowering the pain. Be sure to read our blog Do Airsoft Guns Hurt if you'd like to learn more.
How Accurate are Airsoft Guns?
Given now that you know how airsoft guns work, let's talk about accuracy. Unlike a real gun, BBs exit the inner barrel with backspin instead of rifling. Since the shape of a BB is round, its accuracy will never be as precise as a bullet. However, given the right inner barrel length, consistent air pressure, and consistent BB weight, the airsoft gun can be quite accurate at 40 to 50 meters from the target. Simply put, a good airsoft rifle should be able to hit an A3 size paper at 50 meters, but that also depends on the country's fps/ joule limit as well.
Is it Illegal to Walk Around with an Airsoft Gun?
Laws between countries vary but for good practice, it is best to always treat it as if you are carrying a real firearm around. Although airsoft guns are classified as toys, the appearance of an airsoft gun is quite deceiving. To untrained eyes, people often mistake airsoft guns for real firearms; which is why in some states in the US like California, all airsoft guns are required to have orange tips so others can identify them as an airsoft gun at first glance.
Though it may not be illegal in some countries, it is best to keep an airsoft gun in a gun case or gun bag whenever you bring it out to the public. Even during special occasions like Halloween, never bring an airsoft gun to the public even though it is part of your costume.
Though the projectile design of all airsoft guns is more or less the same, but the difference in how they generate compressed air will make the airsoft gun cater to different types of users.
For users that prefer to have a simplistic mechanic design and play as a sniper, the springer platform will work best for them. AEG will cater to users that want to play more of an assault role during skirmishes and prefers to have a plug-and-play platform. GBB will be for users that seek ultimate realism and would like to challenge themselves during gameplay, or just even use it as a training tool. Last but not least, HPA will be for users that do not care about aesthetics nor realism but seek the ultimate performance in the airsoft field.