If a kid asks you that question, it’s easy enough to answer. Just tell them to aim the gun at the target, and then pull the trigger.
Of course, that’s too simplistic for the rest of us. It’s better for us to understand the exact mechanism of how an airsoft gun works, so that we can have reasonable expectations of the results we get.
So, for adults, how does an airsoft gun work?
The more accurate answer to this question is that it depends largely on the specific design of the airsoft gun. The most crucial factor is its power source, which then determines how the airsoft gun launches its BBs or pellets.
3 Types of Airsoft Weapons
Airsoft guns mainly come in 3 different types.
Knowing how each type works can help you pick the proper type for your specific airsoft needs. You should know the advantages of each type, as well as its drawbacks.
How a Spring-Powered Airsoft Gun Works
With a spring-powered airsoft gun, here are the steps that occur when you use and fire it:
- Inside the airsoft gun, there’s a spring that provides the power.
- When you cock the airsoft gun, a lever compresses the spring. You have to cock the gun manually.
- When you pull the trigger, this releases the spring.
- The released spring then drives a plunger in a forward direction.
- The plunger doesn’t directly push the BB or pellet out of the barrel.
- Instead, the plunger pushes air through the barrel.
- This powerful burst of air then launches the projectile out of the barrel and towards your target.
Once you’ve fired your weapon, you may have to cock the gun again to get it ready to fire the next projectile.
There’s no fully automatic mode to a spring-powered airsoft weapon. That means you can’t just cock it once, and then press the trigger continuously so that it fires the projectiles continuously as well.
You also can’t work in semi-automatic mode. Semi-automatic means you can cock the gun once, but you need to press the trigger each time to fire each shot.
With a spring-powered gun, you have to cock the gun each time to get it ready to fire.
In many cases, spring-powered airsoft guns are comparatively more affordable than the other types. You won’t have to keep buying gas cartridges or recharging your batteries.
You can simply fire your spring-powered airsoft gun again and again, until the spring wears down after a lot of use.
On the other hand, specially-designed spring-powered guns can be made to fire rounds at high velocity (high fps, or feet per second). These more expensive guns work very well as sniper rifles, as they’re able to give you the greater range you need.
How a Gas-Powered Airsoft Gun Works
A gas-powered airsoft gun uses a gas source in a cartridge. These gas source options include compressed CO2 and “green gas”, which is a type of compressed propane gas.
Here’s how it works:
- When you cock the airsoft gun, it loads the next pellet for firing and sets the firing hammer.
- When you press the trigger, the gas cylinder releases a powerful burst of the compressed air.
- The gun’s pressure nozzle directs this compressed into the barrel to launch the B BB or pellet out of the barrel.
- In some cases, the airsoft gun has a “blowback” feature. That means some of the released compressed produces a recoil.
- The gas build-up in the airsoft weapon can also push back the slide, reload another pellet, and reset the firing hammer. You’re then ready to fire another shot right away, without having to cock the weapon again.
Many airsoft enthusiasts like the blowback feature that’s only available with gas-powered airsoft weapons. It offers a more realistic feel, which helps if you’re using the airsoft weapon to familiarize yourself with the real firearm.
You can also go with a full-automatic or semi-automatic mode with a gas-powered airsoft weapon.
Just keep in mind that if you run out of gas, you’ll have to replace the spent gas cartridge with a new one. You only have a limited number of shots for each gas cartridge.
Gas-powered weapons also generally cost more than spring-powered airsoft guns. That’s especially true when you factor in the constant buying of gas cartridge replacements.
How Does an AEG Work?
This “AEG” term stands for automatic electric guns. These are airsoft guns that require a battery, which you normally recharge once you run out of battery juice.
There’s also a spring in an AEG, but this time you don’t have to manually cock the gun to compress the spring. The battery power does the work.
Here’s what happens inside the AEG when you use it:
- The battery inside the weapon connects to the motor inside the gun.
- When you cock the weapon, plastic gears sprockets in the motor compress the bolt to push against the spring. This compresses the spring.
- Pulling the trigger sends a signal to the gears, which causes the spring to release.
- This spring action causes the bolt to move forward quickly. The bolt pushes the air towards the pellet or BB, launching it out of the barrel.
There are several types of batteries, each with their own sets of pros and cons.
The mAh rating of the battery generally determines how many shots you can fire with the weapon until you run out of battery power. On average, the mAh rating of the battery is approximately the number of shots you get until you need to recharge the battery.
The power source of the airsoft gun isn’t the only component that affects how the airsoft guns work. Here are some factors you may want to consider that can affect the working mechanisms of your airsoft weapon.
This is the component that causes the BB or pellet to launch with a backspin. As a result, the projectile can go faster and farther.
It works the same way with a baseball pitch.
When you throw fastball pitch, you normally put a huge backspin on the baseball to get it to travel faster. That’s also how you can throw from the outfield right to your catcher.
But when you throw a knuckleball pitch, you don’t have a backspin. That gives you a slower pitch, even if you exert the same amount of force that you spent on the fastball pitch.
The same principle applies to BBs and pellets, since these are also round projectiles.
The quality of the hop-up is one of the more important factors that determines the quality of the weapon itself. Even with a low fps rating, airsoft weapons can be more accurate with a superior hop-up component.
Fully Automatic and Semi-Automatic
These are features you can’t get with spring-powered airsoft weapons. These are only available with gas-powered and electric guns.
When you’re on full-automatic or semi-automatic, you only need to cock the weapon once. After that, it’s always ready to fire.
On fully automatic mode, you can keep your finger pressing on the trigger and it will keep on firing. That gives you a faster rate of fire.
On semi-automatic mode, you have to press the trigger each time you fire. While the rate of fire is slower, you’re able to save your ammo as you can aim and fire more deliberately.
Blowback or No Blowback
This is only available with gas-powered weapons.
The advantage of blowback, when you also get recoil, is that it’s more realistic. For training purposes, this makes sense.
It also makes airsoft battles more exciting, as the blowback feature also makes a distinctive sound.
But there are disadvantages:
- The blowback feature adds to the price of the airsoft gun.
- The blowback components can be complicated, and that means you have more gun parts that can go wrong.
- The recoil can be powerful enough to punish your hand.
- The air you use for the blowback feature could have been used to help launch the projectile, giving you a greater fps rating.
- The blowback feature makes noise that reveals your position to the enemy.
Single Action or Double Action
When you’re in single action mode, you have to cock the hammer each time to get the gun ready to shoot.
With double action, you only need to cock the hammer once. When you fire, the process automatically cocks the hammer again.
That makes double-action mode more efficient. While you do have a longer trigger pull to re-cock the hammer, you have a shorter time in between your shots.
Knowing all these can help you decide which type of power source you may want for your airsoft weapon. You can then also pick and choose the features you want.
“How do airsoft guns work?” may seem like a simple question, but the answer isn’t so simple. But at least now, it’s not as complicated as you may have thought!