Learn Something New! Guide to Air-Smithing [It’s Easy]

Guide to Air-SmithingThe best learning experience I ever had in airsoft was when I disassembled (and eventually reassembled) my first rifle, and got hands-on in learning what each part does, where it goes, and how the whole system could be upgraded to perform better. Chances are if you’re a novice or intermediate level player like I was, you probably haven’t had the chance to open up your rifle and tinker with the internal parts. While there’s nothing wrong with that, learning the fundamentals of “air-smithing”, or how to maintain, upgrade, and repair your airsoft equipment, is one of the best ways to improve your playstyle and enhance your capabilities on the field. Understanding what’s going inside the rifle and using that to your advantage is a giant step towards being a high-level player on any field, and when your rifle jams or you smell smoke, knowing how to keep an airsoft gun running is the difference between fixing it on the spot and having to mail it to a specialist and waiting a month for the repair. Besides that, it’s really not too complicated! All you need is a little time and patience.

How Important is Airsoft Maintenance?

In a word? Fairly. Like I mentioned above, it’s a valuable skill. An upgraded primary can be the difference between a hit and miss, and given two players of equal skill, the one with the better weapon will usually win. Plus, being able to maintain a rifle reduces the odds of having to repair it, and being able to repair it yourself is much more convenient (and cost-effective) than sending it off to a professional. This doesn’t mean that if you can’t air-smith, you can’t enjoy the rest of the sport of airsoft. If you don’t get the chance to play very often, you’re not particularly good with your hands, you’re happy with your gun’s performance, or you know someone who’ll work on your guns for you for free or a reasonable price, you may not need to learn to smith. Otherwise, it’s an extremely useful skill and, in my experience, customizing your gear is half the fun of airsoft.

What Do You Need to Start?

Once you have an airsoft gun, you’ve got nearly everything you need to get started. What’s left can often be found just around the house and garage: things like screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, and containers for loose parts.

Maintenance and Upgrades for AEGs

AEGIt’s helpful to have an idea of what all the individual parts in an airsoft gun are named; not only does it make it easier to understand guides to airsoft guns, it also enables you to attach a name to parts if you’re ever asking another airsofter for advice or help. Below are a select few of the important ones on an AEG:

Anti-Reversal Latch

The ARL is a spring-loaded latch that ratchets against the bevel gear. It prevents a partially-tensioned main spring from unintentionally slamming forward into the cylinder head when the motor’s not in use.

AoE

Angle of Engagement; the angle between the first tooth of the sector gear and the first tooth of the piston rack when they first engage. Ideally 90 degrees. Can be corrected by lengthening or shortening the piston.

Bearings/Bushings

Bearings and bushings are circular components that act as reinforcements for the gearbox around the gear shafts, allowing the gears to spin with less friction. Bearings are composed of two metal circles with a channel between them, filled with ball bearings to reduce friction, while bushings are solid, often metal or ceramic.

Bevel Gear

The bevel gear is a gearbox component that takes the rotation from the motor’s pinion gear and transfers it to the spur gear.

Bucking

The bucking is the active component in a hop-up: a cylindrical tube of rubber with a small interior nub. It fits over the barrel but inside the hop-up; the back end forms a seal with the gearbox’s air nozzle, while the nub prevents the loaded BB from rolling out of the barrel. When the airsoft gun is fired, the nub grips the BB at the top of the barrel, causing backspin.

Cylinder

cylinderThe cylinder is a polished metal tube in AEG  guns, about 1.5” in diameter, that contains a piston. When the piston is drawn back and released, the resulting air pressure contained inside the cylinder is what forces the BB out of the barrel

Cylinder Head

The cylinder head is what seals off the front end of the cylinder. In an AEG, the nozzle slides freely on the cylinder head, controlled by the motion of the tappet plate.

Gearbox

The gearbox houses most of the moving components on an airsoft gun, including the gears, piston, cylinder, and trigger assembly.

Hop-Up

The hop-up is the system that both prevents BBs from rolling forward out of the barrel and gives them backspin, which provides aerodynamic lift and effectively lengthens their range.

Inner Barrel

The inner barrel is the barrel that BBs travel down; it interfaces with the hop-up and bucking. It’s contained inside the outer barrel.

Motor

The motor is the component that takes the energy from the battery and converts it to rotary motion, which drives the gearbox.

Nozzle

The nozzle is the component that reciprocates to push BBs into the hop-up chamber, and also that guides the flow of air from the cylinder.

Outer Barrel

The outer barrel is a cosmetic and structural component that resembles the barrel of an actual firearm and houses the inner barrel.

Pinion Gear

pistonThe pinion gear is attached to the shaft of the motor and transfers the motor’s motion to the bevel gear.

Piston

The piston is the component that incorporates the piston head and rack and is used to create pressure in the cylinder.

Piston Head

The piston head is the component that creates a seal, generally by using an O-ring, between the piston and the cylinder walls.

Rack

The rack is a linear set of gear teeth that takes the rotary motion of the sector gear and translates it into the linear movement of the piston.

Sector Gear

The sector gear is the component of the gearbox that takes the rotation of the spur gear and translates it to the linear motion of the piston’s rack.

Spring Guide

The spring guide is a gearbox component that serves as a reinforcement for the rear of the gearbox and prevents the main spring from slipping out of alignment.

Spur Gear

The spur gear takes the movement of the bevel gear and translates it into a lower speed and higher torque for the sector gear to use.

Tamiya Connector

The Tamiya connector, more properly called the small-type Tamiya connector, is a relatively standard connection between an airsoft gun and its batteries. It’s relatively fragile and inefficient, and most experienced airsofters use other connectors, such as Deans connectors or XT-60s.

Tappet Plate

The tappet plate is a spring-loaded polymer unit that holds the nozzle and is actuated by the motion of the sector gear. It reciprocates once per shot to load a BB into the hop-up chamber.

trigger-assemblyT-Connector or Deans Connector

The Deans connector is a compact, high-efficiency electrical plug with a gold-coated exterior surface for high conductivity. It’s generally the plug of choice for experienced airsofters.

Trigger Assembly

The trigger assembly consists of the trigger and a switch of some sort; usually, this is a sliding-harness style switch, but some advanced models use a microswitch.

Disassembly

Given the fact that the vast majority of airsoft guns out there are electric, taking down an AEG is probably the most important airsmithing skill. However, with the enormous number of different body styles for airsoft rifles, this is also the part of the process that varies the most from gun to gun. There’s no one-size-fits-all procedure that’ll work every time, and so it’s often a wise idea to look up videos or walkthroughs for your particular rifle. If you can’t find any specific details online, use your common sense and try not to apply too much force to any one part. One last quick tip: take photos after every step! It helps to have an idea of what parts and which screws go where when you’re reassembling, especially if you aren’t following a detailed video or walkthrough.

What’s The Best Way to Disassemble The Gearbox?

How Do You Maintain an AEG?

AEGs don’t take much maintenance to keep them running. There are four basic areas of concern that you gearboxshould keep in mind when maintaining your rifle: barrel, bucking, piston/cylinder, and gears. The barrel is the easiest part to keep taken care of; just run a couple of alcohol-soaked patches through it with a plastic cleaning rod to remove any BB residue; for difficult cases, a microabrasive compound such as Brasso should do the trick.

Buckings, on the other hand, don’t like alcohol and should be cleaned gently in a detergent and warm water solution. Over time, buckings may eventually tear, especially if they’re made of soft rubber. This is normal, and not too heartbreaking since they are fairly inexpensive (I particularly like Lonex buckings).

Lubricate the cylinder and piston head with silicone oil on a regular basis to ensure it keeps compression. Keep an eye on the piston itself; it handles a lot of abuse. If you see any cracks or signs of fatigue, toss it; it’s much cheaper to replace a piston than to replace any components that might be damaged than by the piston’s failure. Be especially careful around polycarbonate pistons; they tend to be brittle.

The gears need to be lubricated too but with white lithium grease this time. Pipe a thin line on top of every set of teeth so that, when they mesh, the grease spreads out across their entire surface. Put some on their shafts too to reduce friction between the shafts and the bushings. So long as you haven’t fully filled the gearbox with grease, more is often better. Just keep the grease away from the cylinder and trigger assembly.

One final thing to do is to watch for any discoloration on the trigger contacts; this might indicate arcing between the contacts, which can be solved by the installation of a MOSFET

How Do You Upgrade An AEG?

That’s quite a question! There are an absurd number of upgrade parts available for an AEG and picking the right ones for you is mostly a matter of deciding what you want in a rifle. Strong candidates for upgrades tend to be the barrel and hop-up bucking, as well as piston heads and motors.

AEG barrelThe best barrels tend to be stainless steel; ZCI is a great budget brand while Prometheus is generally the gold standard.  I like Lonex buckings for the hop-up and I’m also a fan of ported piston heads, personally; they tend to give very good compression. As for motors, I tend to use high-torque models. Make sure they have neodymium magnets; you can get the JG Blue or the ZCI high-torque. There are also high-speed motors available for high-RPS builds. Most of the time, the gears included with a rifle will be more than good enough until they wear out, but for specialty builds, you may want to focus on torque or speed, and higher or lower ratios of gears are a good way to achieve that.

Maintenance and Upgrades for GBBs

GBBs, on the whole, have fewer components than a comparable AEG, which makes it doubly important to understand what each of them is!

Blowback Unit

The blowback unit is a plastic or lightweight metal assembly in a GBB pistol that balances the amount of gas being used to propel the BB and the amount used to cycle the slide or bolt carrier.

Bolt

The bolt is the component on a gas blowback rifle that cycles back with each shot to load the next BB.

Bucking

The bucking is the active component in a hop-up: a cylindrical tube of rubber with a small interior nub. It fits over the barrel but inside the hop-up; the back end forms a seal with the gearbox’s air nozzle, while the nub prevents the loaded BB from rolling out of the barrel. When the airsoft gun is fired, the nub grips the BB at the top of the barrel, causing backspin.

Gasket

The gasket is a rubber piece on gas magazines that forms a seal with the blowback unit, preventing gas waste. If you experience inefficiency with your gas gun, the gasket should be the first thing you investigate.

inner barrelHop-Up

The hop-up is the system that both prevents BBs from rolling forward out of the barrel and gives them backspin, which provides aerodynamic lift and effectively lengthens their range.

Inner Barrel

The inner barrel is the barrel that BBs travel down; it interfaces with the hop-up and bucking. It’s contained inside the outer barrel.

Nozzle

The nozzle is the component of the GBB system that loads BBs into the chamber and guides gas to launch the BBs down the barrel.

Outer Barrel

The outer barrel is a cosmetic and structural component that resembles the barrel of an actual firearm and houses the inner barrel.

Piston

The piston is the component that interacts with the nozzle to force the blowback unit or bolt backward.

Sear

The sear is a load-bearing component in gas or spring-powered airsoft guns. It is manipulated by use of the trigger to, in spring guns, release the piston, or in gas guns, to release the valve knocker.

searSlide

The slide is the upper half of most modern semi-automatic pistols; it serves a similar function as a bolt does in a rifle.

Trigger Assembly

The trigger assembly controls the sear, and by extension, the hammer and valve knocker.

Valve

The valve is a component on gas gun magazines that, when pressed, releases high-pressure gas for use in propelling the BB and actuating the slide or bolt.

Valve Knocker

The valve knocker is generally connected to the hammer in a gas blowback gun, and when the trigger is pulled, it slams against the valve to release a measured amount of high-pressure gas.

Disassembly

One of the best features of GBBs is that their operating mechanism is surprisingly similar to how a real firearm works. As a consequence, to disassemble a GBB, you can usually find an online guide, or if not, you can try to adapt the real-steel disassembly process.

How Do I Maintain a GBB?

lubricant oilGBBs can be somewhat finicky, and the most important preventative measure you can take is to be sure to use quality green gas, or if you’re using a propane adaptor, to introduce plenty of silicone oil to the mixture. Additionally, it’s a good idea to regularly disassemble the gun and use a rag to remove any residual oil from the components, then to re-oil it. This reduces the buildup of metal powder (an abrasive) generated by the friction of metal components on one another.

Clean the barrel and bucking the same way you would with an AEG (as detailed above) and replace the bucking immediately if it develops tears.

How Do I Upgrade a GBB?

There are three places to focus on upgrading a GBB rifle or pistol: accuracy, power, and efficiency. Accuracy can be best handled by an upgrade of the barrel and bucking system, similarly to how it’s handled in an AEG. Improving power can be done by replacing the gas valves on magazines with high-flow valves, or by using a stronger spring for the hammer/valve knocker. Efficiency is harder to chase, but using lighter blowback units or replacing movement components with lighter versions will generally improve things, as will shimming gaskets or keeping the piston properly lubricated.

Maintenance and Upgrades for Sniper Rifles

Sniper rifles are the simplest of the three mechanisms I’ve covered in this article, but they still have a fair few components you ought to be familiar with.

Barrel Spacers

Unlike in an AEG or GBB, the outer barrel on a sniper rifle is often far wider than the inner barrel and there’s a substantial gap between the two. Barrel spacers are what hold the inner barrel firmly to the outer.

boltBolt

The bolt is the component on an airsoft sniper rifle that is drawn back to cock the spring and pushed forward to chamber a BB.

Bucking

The bucking is the active component in a hop-up: a cylindrical tube of rubber with a small interior nub. It fits over the barrel but inside the hop-up; the back end forms a seal with the gearbox’s air nozzle, while the nub prevents the loaded BB from rolling out of the barrel. When the airsoft gun is fired, the nub grips the BB at the top of the barrel, causing backspin.

Cylinder

The cylinder is a polished metal tube, about 1.5” in diameter, that contains a piston. When the piston is drawn back and released, the resulting air pressure contained inside the cylinder and released through the nozzle is what forces the BB out of the barrel

Cylinder Head

The cylinder head is what seals off the front end of the cylinder. In a sniper rifle, the cylinder head also incorporates a nozzle that loads the BB into the hop-up. In an AEG, the nozzle slides freely on the cylinder head, controlled by the motion of the tappet plate.

Hop-Up

The hop-up is the system that both prevents BBs from rolling forward out of the barrel and gives them backspin, providing aerodynamic lift and effectively lengthens their range.

Inner Barrel

The inner barrel is the barrel that BBs travel down; it interfaces with the hop-up and bucking. It’s contained inside the outer barrel.

Nozzle

The nozzle is the component that reciprocates to push BBs into the hop-up chamber, and also that guides the flow of air from the cylinder.

Outer Barrel

The outer barrel is a cosmetic and structural component that resembles the barrel of an actual firearm piston headand houses the inner barrel.

Piston

The piston is the component that incorporates the piston head and rack and is used to create pressure in the cylinder.

Piston Head

The piston head is the component that creates a seal, generally by using an O-ring, between the piston and the cylinder walls.

Sear

The sear is a load-bearing component in spring-powered airsoft guns. It is the part that holds the piston back until the trigger is pulled.

Trigger Assembly

The trigger assembly is a mechanism enclosed by a metal or plastic clamshell and containing the trigger, sears, and other firing components.

Disassembly

The most popular airsoft sniper rifles are all fairly similar and all fairly easy to disassemble. (More exotic sorts, such as ASW338-styles, require a more complicated procedure.) As usual, try to follow a relevant video walkthrough. 

How Do I Maintain a Sniper Rifle?

Sniper rifles go through a lot fewer rounds than semi-automatic or automatic rifles, so they don’t need as much care as either of the others. About every 2-300 rounds I’ll run an alcohol swab down the barrel to remove any buildup, and at 1000 rounds I’ll disassemble and clean the full rifle, then re-lubricate the cylinder and trigger box.

How Do I Upgrade a Sniper Rifle?

sniperThere have been whole articles about this particular subject! Truth is, most of the best modifications for a sniper rifle are complicated DIY mods, which are difficult and require a lot of time to plan and test. That said, you can still improve your rifle’s capability in three main areas without too much effort.

The most important upgrade is accuracy, which should surprise approximately no one. Replacing the stock 6.08mm brass barrel with a high-quality 6.01 or 6.02mm steel one is an excellent choice, or if you don’t have the money, even polishing the stock barrel is good. The bucking usually should be replaced as well. Since your round count will be fairly low, you can sometimes even use softer buckings depending on your FPS. Keep in mind, most airsoft sniper rifles use their own proprietary barrel styles and buckings.

The next piece of the puzzle is upgrading for power. Slapping a heavier spring in is good, and so is changing out a stock plastic piston and piston guide for metal ones. The heavy spring helps immediately boost FPS, while the heavier piston is an easy way to ensure that consistently high pressure is maintained all the way until the BB leaves the barrel. Unfortunately, sometimes heavy springs take a toll on the trigger unit, wearing the sears down and eventually leading to misfires, which leads us to our next upgrade.

That’s right, it’s the trigger assembly. Stock sears aren’t often great at handling upgrade springs, so at the very least, those need to be replaced with hardened steel. It’s also wise if you’re using a VSR-10 or other rifle with 45-degree sear sets, to replace them with 90-degree sear sets, such as the Laylax Zero Trigger, which has generally nicer trigger pull and handle heavy springs much better.

Guide to Air-Smithing Final Thoughts

Hopefully, reading this article has prepared and inspired you to keep your guns at peak performance!  While you may not currently have a sniper rifle, a gas blowback, or maybe even an AEG in your inventory yet, understanding the various parts and mechanisms of each goes a long way towards making you a more knowledgeable and skillful player, able to use the shortcomings and advantages of each to boost your play on the field or spending spare time tuning your personal armaments to be the best they can. Thank you for visiting IAmAirsoft.com. Please take a look at our Airsoft Buyers Guides or the Airsoft U on our website.

Noah Mains is a writer, an airsofter, and most importantly, he’s stuck in the 80s. From Colt SMGs to David Bowie to brick phones, he has an acute appreciation for the greatest decade, and is more than happy to share his enthusiasm for the ALICE gear system (the superior loadout, of course) with anyone who’ll listen.