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Muzzle Brakes vs. Flash Hiders vs. Compensators

Muzzle Brakes vs. Flash Hiders vs. Compensators

Posted by 80-Lower.com on Nov 10th 2021

Muzzle devices! There are lots of 'em. You've got muzzle brakes, and flash hiders, and compensators, and suppressor. What's the difference between all of these? What's a pinned and welded flash hider? Which device should I get? Let's answer all the questions and compare muzzle brakes vs. flash hiders vs. compensators.


Muzzle Device FAQs

Q: What is a muzzle device?

A: A muzzle device is a device that threads, clips, or otherwise connects to the muzzle of your firearm. The AR-15 is the one firearm that uses muzzle devices more than any other long gun or handgun. 

Q: What's the purpose of a muzzle device?

A: Muzzle devices provide different advantages. Some reduce felt recoil to make shooting your gun easier. Others reduce muzzle rise to improve accuracy. Some can reduce muzzle flash (the fireball that comes out of your muzzle) or deflect harmful noise and gas away from the shooter.

Q: What it mean to "pin and weld" a muzzle device?

A: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) does not count a removable muzzle device as part of your firearm's barrel length. Some gun owners permanently attach their muzzle device by paying a gunsmith to pin and spot weld the device so it can't be removed.

Q: What's the point of a permanently attached device?

A: A permanently attached muzzle device is considered part of the barrel length. Welding a muzzle device allows a gun owner to increase a barrel's length to 16" or more. This is helpful for those who want to legally own a short-barreled rifle without the paperwork.

Q: What are the differences between muzzle devices?

A: Let's compare!


Muzzle Brakes

Muzzle devices divert the hot gasses produced at the muzzle back toward the shooter, generally to the left and right sides. Redirecting this energy backwards and to the sides of the shooter helps to cancel out felt recoil. Of course, this doesn't reduce any energy produced. That means all that gas, heat, sound, and pressure must still go somewhere -- typically toward those who may be shooting next to you.

The muzzle brake's recoil-reducing ability makes it the most popular muzzle device for shooters who chamber large calibers. Think of big rounds like .308 Winchester, .300 Win Mag, .50 BMG or .50 Beowulf.

Pros

  • Muzzle brakes reduce felt recoil significantly
  • Helps to keep muzzle on target during rapid fire
  • Reduced recoil improves accuracy and confidence

Cons

  • Brakes may significantly increase perceived loudness
  • May cause discomfort to nearby shooters at a shooting range
  • Gasses expelled toward to the shooter create a concussive effect

Compensators

Think of compensators as fancy muzzle brakes: They, too, divert the foward-moving gasses expelled at the muzzle in other directions, in order to cancel out the forces that work against the shooter. Except where muzzle brakes divert gas backwards, compensators divert gasses up and outward.

This up-and-outward redirecting of gasses helps cancel out muzzle rise. Reducing muzzle rise means your point of aim stays on-target between shoots, and your sight picture isn't disturbed as greatly. Long, heavy rifle barrels naturally reduce muzzle rise. Compensators tend to be more effective on short-barreled rifles (SBRs) and handguns. Full automatic fire can cause muzzle rise to become uncontrollable, so compensators are also used on automatic weapons and rifles equipped with binary triggers.

Pros

  • Significantly reduces muzzle rise after each trigger pull
  • Allows for an uninterrupted sight picture between shots
  • Improves full-auto accuracy by keeping muzzle on-target

Cons

  • May still divert hot gasses toward the shooter
  • May also still create concussive blasts to those nearby
  • Does not reduce felt recoil as much as a muzzle brake

Flash Hiders / Flash Suppressors

The flash hider (or flash suppressor) is the most common muzzle device you'll find on AR-15s, especially on entry-level or store-bought guns. The classic A2-type flash hider like that exampled above doesn't significantly reduce felt recoil or muzzle rise.

Instead, a flash hider's job is to eliminate the fiery blast that accompanies a bullet when it exits the barrel. An an "open" muzzle, the gasses exiting the barrel form a bubble of super-heated gas. This bubble produces visible light in a vacuum, just like an incandescent lightbulb. To eliminate this vacuum and flash, a flash hider creates turbulence. This turbulence prevents this bubble vacuum from forming.

The A2 flash hider directs gas upwards, like a compensator. This is done to reduce the dust signature produced by those gasses when firing in the prone position. This design also helps reduce muzzle rise to a lesser degree, though many flash hiders expel gas in all directions.

Pros

  • Reduces bright muzzle report, effective for night shooting
  • Reduce shooter's signature in a tactical situation or fire fight
  • May help to slightly reduce felt recoil and muzzle rise

Cons

  • Designed primarily for military scenarios and infantry
  • Not the most effective muzzle device for average civilian shooter
  • Doesn't reduce recoil or muzzle rise like a compensator or brake

Suppressors & Quick-Attach Muzzle Devices

Take a close look at the three-pronged flash hider pictured just above and you'll notice that it has threads on the outside. That's because once installed on the muzzle, the flash hider also acts as a quick-attach mount for a suppressor.

Suppressors perform better with Quick Attach.

You've probably watched some Bond film and watched the famous 007 quietly thread his suppressor onto his Walther PPK's threaded barrel. That's not how the real world works for most suppressors nowadays. Instead, most suppressors are designed to attach and detach quickly to an existing muzzle device, and most suppressed firearms (tactical rifles, especially) are fitted with quick-attach muzzle devices. This provides a few advantages compared to a direct-thread setup:

1. Quick-attach suppressors can be quieter.

The main chamber in a suppressor - the area that first contains the gas leaving the muzzle - is called the blast chamber. The blast chamber absorbs the most heat and pressure, and is responsible for reducing loudness just like the rest of the suppressor's baffles.

A quick-attach muzzle device can improve how well the blast chamber absorbs all that heat and pressure. A muzzle device inside the blast chamber helps create turbulence, slowing down the gas's escape even more effectively. The muzzle device also absorbs some of that heat and pressure, reducing wear on your can's internals.

2. Shooting with a muzzle device is almost always better.

Unless you're shooting at incredibly long distances with an un-threaded target crown from a bench, a rifle equipped with a compensator, flash hider, or muzzle brake will always perform better. But if you enjoy shooting occassionally with a suppressor, going the direct-thread route means shooting with a naked threaded barrel whenever you remove that bullet muffler.

3. Quick Attach suppressors are way faster.

Most quick-attach suppressors can be fitted and removed from a muzzle device in one to two seconds. Compare this to grabbing a torque wrench, removing your muzzle device to expose the threads, then torquing your suppressor, and it quickly becomes apparent why a Quick-Attach setup is more convenient.


Recap

Now you know the differences between all three types of firearm muzzle devices: Flash hiders, muzzle brakes, and compensators. And you're on the up-and-up when it comes to suppressors and Quick Attach setups for shooting suppressed. 

Here are the most important points to remember:

  • Muzzle brakes are made to reduce recoil.
  • Compensators are made to reduce muzzle rise.
  • Flash hiders are made to eliminate muzzle blast.
  • A muzzle device can be permanently welded to increase barrel length.
  • Suppressors and suppressed rifles work best with quick-attach muzzle devices.

DISCLAIMER: If you are new to the world of DIY gun building, you likely have a lot of questions and rightfully so. It’s an area that has a lot of questions that, without the correct answers, could have some serious implications. At 80-lower.com, we are by no means providing this content on our website to serve as legal advice or legal counsel. We encourage each and every builder to perform their own research around their respective State laws as well as educating themselves on the Federal laws. When performing your own research, please be sure that you are getting your information from a reliable source.


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