Guns & Ammo,  Man Cave Blog

Types of Muzzle Devices Explained

How do Muzzle Devices Work?

The muzzle device of a firearm makes a gun look unique and cool. Call of Duty players, you know all about this. Not only does it make your gun look different, the specific muzzle device changes the performance of the firearm. The design influences how the gun handles when managing the recoil from each shot. Adding a specific muzzle device to your set up is often a finishing touch when build a custom gun like this one.

Image credit: STNGR Industries

Be aware that some states in the U.S. have laws against flash hiders and minimum barrel lengths. Do your research.

For the most part, it is easy to install or replace muzzle devices with a wrench. The shape and features of a muzzle device are meant to manage the gases from a bullet being fired from a gun. As you know, bullets are loud because an explosion propels the bullet through the barrel and out the front towards a target. After the bullet leaves the barrel it is followed by gas and a fireball from the combustion.

A ton of effort and research has gone into designing the best muzzle devices to improve firearms in different ways. Each type of muzzle device has a purpose that appeals to shooters for different reasons. Here is a breakdown of what each muzzle device is designed for. Sorry, no bayonets.

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Types of Muzzle Devices

The terminology of muzzle devices gets mixed up sometimes. In general, they are categorized as muzzle brakes, flash hiders, flash cans, and compensators. Each are similar but by looking closer you can identify what a part is designed for. The most common of these is the A2 birdcage which tries to combine the benefits of a flash hider and a compensator into one.

Suppressors or silencers are also muzzle devices. They are in another category as they are distinctly different from any other gun accessory.

Almost all muzzle devices screw on to the barrel. So you need to have a threaded barrel with the thread pitch to match the accessory. Each caliber has a unique thread pitch, usually labeled on the barrel or the user’s manual.

Based on the design of each muzzle device it also needs to be “timed” correctly on the barrel – meaning it is tightened properly so it ends up facing the right way. This is done by using crush washers or rings of different widths to ensure the peice finishes at the proper direction.

It’s not a good idea to slap on a muzzle brake facing down because it will kick up dirt. Usually the ports should face up or to the sides.

9mm and 5.56 calibers usually come threaded for 1/2×36, and 30 calibers are 5/8×24.

Flash Hiders

As the name implies, this part is designed to hide the flash from a gun shot, but not totally. And a lot depends on lighting of where the shooter is and what caliber is used. At dusk the fireball from a gun is much more noticeable than at high noon on a sunny day. The 5.56 caliber is notorious for creating big fire and loud boom.

The intent of a flash hider is to minimize the signature of your gun from an enemy. They might hear the sounds of shots firing but not be able to see the flashes to locate you.

When a gun is fired it is pushing the gas and fireball forward towards the target. But a flash hider is built to redirect most of the explosion sideways as it leaves the muzzle. Most flash hiders have slits that force the gas into thin vents. This eliminates most of the visible fireball from the front view, aka the enemy. From the side view its still possible to see the flash.

Clearly this is meant more for combat situations, but it also seems to be a default piece for general use rifles and carbines.

Muzzle Brakes

Like car brakes decelerate a car, these brakes dampen the recoil of the gun. Recoil is the combined force of the bullet and gas pushing the gun backward. The use of muzzle brakes makes it more manageable to shoot larger calibers comfortably and shoot smaller calibers with more precision.

The brakes have angled walls on each side that redirect most of the gas to the side and back. This uses the escaping gas to push the gun forward as a way to counter the backward recoil. Most if not all 50 caliber rifles have a large muzzle brake.

Because some of that boom is pushed backwards, it makes the gun sound louder to the shooter. Definitely want to be wearing eye and ear protection with this one. If you want to shoot large bullets, then you might consider this type of muzzle device for your setup.


Compensators are similar to muzzle brakes because the are meant to reduce recoil, but in another way. Rather than reducing the backward recoil, compensators try to minimize the vertical flip. The vertical movement after firing a shot is unavoidable and can be a nuisance to get back on target for quick follow up shots.

Compensators have ports that push gas out the top or sides of the muzzle to stabilize the gun and make it easier to re-acquire the target in your sight picture.

The downside is that it creates a flash directly in front of the gun sights and the shooter’s eyes. The reason this could be negative is because the flash kills a person’s natural night vision after one shot. Think about getting your picture taken with a flash and then trying to see clearly in the dark.

Flash Cans

Probably the newer type of muzzle device to gain popularity in recent years. These “cans” become extensions of the barrel as a shroud. For a few inches after the end of the barrel, they contain the flash and gases while they push forward. The end result is the boom being more effectively directed forward.

This appeals to shooters that might need to shoot without ear protection, such as a home defense situation. This type of muzzle device pushes all at the boom towards the target, which creates the maximum psychological effect. An attacker is less likely to want to fight against the biggest sound and fireball in front of them.


The coolest and most expensive type of muzzle attachment are suppressors, or silencers. The thing is in real life they don’t totally sound as quiet as in the movies. Hearing protection is definitely recommended still. And depending on the caliber the effect of the suppressed sound will vary. For example, subsonic 300 Blackout in a 10 inch barrel with a suppressor is about as quiet as you can get at about 120 decibels.

A suppressor is made with internal baffles or walls in the tube only allow the bullet to leave with minimal gases and sound. It takes some intricate machining to manufacture suppressors which is why they cost about the same as a new gun.

On top of that there is additional NFA paperwork and a background check to get a tax stamp from the government to own a suppressor. Which means there is a waiting period before you can take it home. It’s recommended to go through this process with an NFA trust. Suppressors are totally legal to citizens but less common because of the extra hoops required to buy one. A handful of states have outlawed them, so definitely get informed if you plan to buy suppressor legally.

Handgun Muzzle Parts

Muzzle devices for handguns are less common and more specialized, meaning they are much less interchangeable. Usually the aftermarket manufacturers make specific parts for specific gun models. And you’ll find that most of these parts are for the more popular models from the bigger names like Glock, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson.

Because there is less weight and hardware on a pistol its possible that they can come loose with just threads. The higher quality pieces can come with small screws to help tighten the device to the barrel.

The compromise with adding this type of attachment is that it adds weight and size. So concealed carry becomes less convenient. This makes compensators more inclined for competition guns or “Gucci Glocks”.

Typically a base model of a handgun does’t come with a threaded barrel. So often you will need to buy a threaded barrel just to be able to attach a compensator or suppressor.


Hopefully that clears up what device is for what purpose. Know you know what kind of device to shop for. It’s generally a good idea to avoid buying from Amazon for this type of part. Go to your local gun store or get it from a reputable online retailer like Palmetto State Armory and Optics Planet.

On the other hand, you’re a straight up gun fanatic and want to buy all kinds of muzzle devices to play around with. No shame in that, many are guilty of it. So get yourself an armourer’s wrench to make for easy swapping of parts.

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