How Do Airsoft Rifles Work

Airsoft guns have vastly improved over the years, and there are many different varieties to choose from for the various game formats. To become skilled in the sport, you must understand how your equipment works. Field repairs are common practice, and battling to repair your rifle while the enemy is hunting you down can be deadly. So how do Airsoft rifles work?

An Airsoft rifle uses compressed air or gas to propel a 6mm plastic ball bearing (BB) down a long thin barrel. There are four different methods for Airsoft guns to produce compressed air or gas, Airsoft Electric, Spring Powered, Gas Blowback, and high-pressure air.

If you are getting into the Airsoft sport and would like to learn more about how an Airsoft rifle works, this article is for you. Read on to find out how these guns work and more.

How Do Airsoft Rifles Work

There are four types of Airsoft rifles in the market today. These are; the Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG), Spring Powered (Springer), Gas Blowback (GBB), and high-pressure air gun (HPA). Each of these types is mechanically different but has a lot of other similarities, as they all propel a plastic ball bearing (BB) down an inner barrel at high speed with air.

Airsoft guns must generate their own pressurized air or have a supplementary air supply in the form of a pressure vessel. These differences are what categorize the different guns.

Most Airsoft guns will have an inner barrel, hop-up chamber, and hop-up rubber. A BB is pre-loaded into the hop-up chamber from the magazine; when the trigger is depressed, the pressurized air is forced through the hop-up chamber. The air then moves the BB from the chamber and through the barrel.

The Spring Powered Airsoft Gun (Springer)

For a Springer to work, the user manually charges/cocks the rifle. To do this, the user will pull back on the slide on a pistol or pull back on a charging handle on a rifle. Pulling back on the slide compresses a spring with a piston connected to it inside the housing.

When the trigger is depressed on the gun, the spring is released and forces the piston down a cylinder forcing the air into the narrow barrel. An easy way to perceive this is to think of a medical syringe.

When the slide is pulled back, a guide in front of the nozzle moves back slightly to allow a BB to enter the chamber from the magazine; the guide then closes and seals the chamber. Once the gun has shot the BB out, the slide or charge handle must be pulled back again.

Springer guns are usually used in sniper roles where accuracy is more important than speed. The Springer is the most cost-effective out of the four types of airsoft guns, and they work well in all weather conditions.

The Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG)

The AEG platform is the most common Airsoft gun used today.  It uses a battery-operated motor to spin a gearbox to charge the gun instead of manually cocking it.  The advantage of an AEG is the ability to shoot semi-auto or full auto at a fast rate.

An AEG has more moving parts than the Springer, but the spring assembly, piston, and cylinder function the same.  The significant difference lies in the way the AEG charges the spring; this is done with the aid of a gearbox. The following components are used to charge and shoot the gun:

Battery- The battery is housed inside the gun’s body, connected to the motor, and uses the trigger as a switch.

Motor with a pinion gear- The motor spins when the trigger is depressed; a pinion gear is connected to the motor’s shaft and is attached to the bevel gear and rotates it.

A Bevel Gear- The bevel gear will turn slower than the motor, thus creating more torque (power).  It connects to the spur gear and rotates it.

A Spur gear- the spur gear transfers the torque from the bevel gear to the selector gear by changing the gear ratio (RPM)

Selector gear- The selector gear serves many functions.  It moves the tappet plate to allow a BB to enter the hop-up chamber from the magazine.  It moves the piston back, compressing the spring (charging/cocking the gun).  When the selector gear has rotated roughly halfway, it releases the piston allowing the spring to force the piston forward into the cylinder, pushing the air down the barrel.  The selector gear also controls the semi-auto/ full auto function.

Selector clip- The user moves the selector clip, which is located on the side of the gun; depending on the selection, it will either connect a pin to the selector gear for semi-auto (stops after one-shot) or let it run free for full auto (continuous shot).

The gearbox and motor are typically mounted in the gun’s handgrip, but this will depend on the gun model as certain guns have it in the main housing.  The battery can be internally or externally mounted on the AEG.

The AEG is favored amongst Airsoft players as many different modifications and upgrades can be done to the internal components.

Airsoft Gas Blowback Guns (GBB)

An Airsoft GBB gun is the most realistic type of gun used in Airsoft. Police and the Military are known for using these GBB guns for training as they operate similar to real firearms. A refillable gas reservoir is situated in the handgrip or stock of the gun. It is filled with a gas known as top gas/green gas and can be filled using a canister (spray can).

The GBB must be cocked manually before the first shot to push a BB into the barrel from the magazine; this is done by pulling back the slide of a pistol or charge handle of a rifle (similar to a real firearm).

When the trigger is depressed, a knocker pushes on the gas reservoir valve and releases a small amount of gas into the gun’s barrel. The gas then forces the BB down the barrel while the excess gas pushes back on the gun’s slide or charge handle and cocks the gun, making it ready to fire again.

GBB guns come in semi-auto or full-auto, and the reservoirs can hold enough gas for 80 and 200 rounds before re-filling is required. The GBB guns do suffer from a cool-down effect from the cold gas caused by rapid shooting, which could cause the gun to lock up. For a more comprehensive comparison check out our post on gas vs electric airsoft guns.

How Accurate Are Airsoft Rifles

The accuracy of an Airsoft gun/rifle is between 120-150 feet, but this is only possible if the gun has the correct inner barrel length, constant air pressure, and a constant BB weight. Accuracy will depend on calibrating the gun, the hop-up rubber setting, and sights.

Airsoft Rifle Hop-Up Adjustment

When the BB is being pushed into the barrel, it brushes against the hop-up rubber; this causes the BB to incur a backspin as it travels down the barrel. The backspin causes the BB into a Magnus effect as it exits the barrel. The Magnus effect creates an opposing force to fight against gravity. It assists the BB in traveling a further distance before dipping downwards.

The hop-up dial is situated under an Airsoft rifle's charge/cocking handle. Turning the dial clockwise will increase the hop, and anti-clockwise will decrease the hop effect.

A hop-up setting that is too high will make the BB climb as it leaves the barrel, and a too low setting will make the BB dip into the ground. A perfect setting will get the BB to travel relatively straight for at least 75 feet before it dips.

Airsoft Rifle Barrel Length

A longer inner barrel does not necessarily mean better accuracy or a higher Foot-Per-Second (FPS) rating. Most barrels between 280mm – 300mm are perfect for achieving the max 350FPS Limit. A longer barrel might decrease the stability of the BB as it leaves the barrel.

Most manufacturers will have a barrel length best suited to the type of rifle they produce. An airsoft rifle that has been vigorously upgraded to deliver more power will require a lot of testing to get the correct barrel length before utilizing the added power.

What Do The Airsoft Rifle Specifications Mean?

If you consider purchasing an Airsoft rifle, then a few specifications will allow you to compare the different rifles. The Specs will assist you in understanding the performance of the gun. The following are a few basic terms that you will find on the rifle; these are:

The Weight of the Rifle

The rifle’s weight is essential, as it will need to be carried throughout the game. A lighter rifle will be more maneuverable than a heavier one, but this will depend on how the gun is being used. The durability and strength of a gun will depend on the material it is constructed from; an all-metal housing is more durable but will weigh more than a plastic housing.

The Rifle Magazine Capacity

A higher capacity magazine will hold more BBs, resulting in less time reloading. Most Airsoft gun magazines are swappable so that most players will have two or three full magazines on them instead of re-filling.

The Airsoft Rifles Caliber

The caliber will be the size of the BB that the rifle can use. Most Airsoft rifles will use a 6mm BB and are available in different weights to suit specific rifles with higher joule ratings.

The Rifle’s Rate Of Fire

The rate of fire (ROF) is the amount of BBs that the rifle can shoot in a specific time frame. A typical measurement will be rounds shot per minute in a full-auto gun.

The Power Of An Airsoft Rifle

The speed that the BB leaves the barrel relates to the power of the Airsoft rifle. The speed is measured in feet per second (fps), and the energy at the end of the barrel is measured in joule. (1 joule is equivalent to 328fps)

Airsoft Rifle Accessories

Many accessories are available for airsoft rifles, including lasers, torches, and scopes. Below is a brief explanation of the common accessories.

Torches And Laser Sights For Airsoft Rifles

Most assault-style rifles will have attachment rails on them; most commonly will be the under-barrel rail. An under-barrel rail is perfect for attaching a torch to illuminate a target in the dark areas and making it easier to aim.

Laser sights will display a small dot to show where the BB will go; if the laser is sighted correctly, it will significantly improve your aim.

Airsoft Scopes And Red Dot Sights

Most sniper rifles will have a rail on top of the gun for a scope. A scope will improve your accuracy over a long distance but is not helpful in a close combat situation.

A red dot is similar to a scope but does not have the zoom ability. A red dot sight creates a larger aiming window than the standard sights. Many pistols can accept this accessory, speeding up aiming and improving accuracy.


An airsoft rifle propels a plastic ball bearing down a barrel towards a target by using pressurized air or gas. There a four common Airsoft gun types that use different methods to launch the BB down the barrel, they are: Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG), Spring Powered (Springer), Gas Blowback (GBB), and high-pressure air gun (HPA)

Airsoft players can do numerous settings to their Airsoft rifles, such as improving accuracy and gaining more distance. With many accessories that can be added to your rifle, personalizing it to your specification is easy. It will improve your shot, so get out and enjoy the skirmish!

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