Your choice of muzzle device can make a big difference in the performance of your rifle. Not that it will make it better or worse, necessarily—most muzzle devices won’t do anything to affect accuracy or reliability—but it can drastically change your shooting experience. The difference between firing a rifle with a big three-port brake and a suppressor is a big one.
Regardless of your choice, though, you’ll need to get your muzzle device timed properly. “Properly timed” in this instance means that the device is correctly oriented to the firearm and able to operate at maximum efficiency.
Understanding Muzzle Devices
“Muzzle devices” is a big category, comprised of any component added to the muzzle-end of a firearm to alter the way gas and unburnt powder are expelled. This includes not only muzzle brakes and flash hiders, which are the most common, but also compensators, flash cans, and suppressors. Some devices hybridize these categories, providing two or more functions at once.
With so many different options, it can be a bit dizzying trying to figure out which one is best for your applications.
A muzzle brake (not break, as it is so commonly misspelled) is any device that attempts to reduce or arrest the rearward motion of your rifle after a shot by redirecting the expelled gas to push the rifle forward.
Typically, this is accomplished with ports along the sides of the brake, which the gas pushes against as it escapes the barrel, counteracting the rifle’s rearward motion and reducing perceived recoil. This style is particularly common with an AR15 muzzle brake. However, other designs do exist, such as the slant brake seen on AKM rifles, or pepper pot brakes, which have angled holes along the entire circumference of the device.
Brakes are usually the most effective way to counteract recoil, particularly in rifles. However, they come at the cost of increased perceived noise and muzzle blast, especially for those at the sides of the user.
They can also increase firing signature—that is, the amount of noise and visible trace created by the gunshot. Brakes tend to push around any nearby foliage and can kick up dust when firing prone. Firing signature, of course, is not much of a concern for recreational users, but may be for police or military applications.
A compensator is another form of recoil-counteracting muzzle device. Unlike a brake, though, a compensator doesn’t seek to reduce the rearward motion of the rifle, but instead to ameliorate muzzle rise.
This is typically accomplished by adding ports to the top of the muzzle device, not unlike those found on the sides of a brake. By relocating the ports to the top, the gas escaping the barrel is redirected up, the force of which presses down on the muzzle, reducing rise.
Many devices include both top and side ports to take advantage of both effects for maximum recoil reduction. In handguns, compensators are particularly dominant, as muzzle rise is a much larger concern for most users than perceived recoil.
The trade-off with compensators is not unlike that of muzzle brakes. They tend to increase perceived noise and muzzle blast for the user and those near them. Additionally, firing a compensated handgun from a retention position can cause the gas from the shot to be vented directly up into the user’s face, which can be not only uncomfortable but also dangerous.
Flash Hiders diverge from the pack in that most do not attempt to address recoil in any way. Instead, they mitigate firing signature, most notably muzzle flash.
Flash hiders accomplish this in a number of ways, but the most common is by altering the flow of the gas to reduce external combustion. Common designs utilize 3 or 4 long prongs to direct the gas and reduce or in some cases nearly eliminate external combustion.
Like brakes and compensators, flash hiders are available in hybrid designs. The ubiquitous A2 AR-15 flash hider is sometimes considered to be a hybrid device since the does offer some small amount of compensation effect. SureFire’s ever-popular WarComp muzzle devices behave similarly, being both ported for muzzle rise reduction and pronged for flash suppression.
Flash hiders don’t have any particular drawbacks other than the fact that they are often larger than other muzzle devices and provide no recoil-reducing effects.
A relative newcomer in the field of muzzle devices, flash cans also seek to modulate firing signature, but not to reduce it. Instead, flash cans are designed to direct as much of the muzzle flash and blast as possible downrange, away from the shooter. As the name suggests, they are essentially just small open-ended cans attached to the muzzle of the rifle.
This does not in any way reduce firing signature, but it can reduce the user’s perception of it, meaning that the blast and flash would appear milder for them despite being unmitigated for any observer downrange. This makes them very convenient options for range use, where there should not be anyone downrange to be bothered.
Also commonly grouped with flash cans are linear compensators, which are a subtype of flash cans that provide the same effects, but forward ports rather than a fully open front. The presence of the ports, and more importantly the material between, gives the gas something to press against as it exits the can, providing a small compensating effect against recoil.
Last, but most certainly not least, are suppressors. Technically, the legal term is “silencer”, but the words are commonly used interchangeably at this point, since “suppressor” is considered to be more descriptively accurate.
Suppressors work by creating an enclosed space at the muzzle that allows the gas to expand and cool before exiting the system. This significantly decreases firing signature, reducing sound and nearly eliminating flash and blast. They also commonly have recoil-reducing effects as well, though usually not as pronounced as a brake or compensator.
Silencers are regulated by the National Firearms Act, meaning that purchasing one for your firearm is not quite as straightforward as ordering one to be shipped to your house, the way you can with other muzzle devices. For more information on purchasing a suppressor, check out our guide to buying suppressors.
While suppressors may seem like the best of all possible options, they are not without drawbacks. They are, obviously, the largest and heaviest option by a wide margin.
Unlike other muzzle devices, suppressors can alter the way your firearm functions and can reduce reliability if not appropriately accounted for. In rifles, they tend to increase back pressure, which then must be accounted for by tuning the gas system. In handguns, the extra weight can make the tilting action of the barrel fail, so a Neilsen device or booster is required for reliable function.
Lastly, suppressors tend to cause the buildup of fouling inside the firearm to occur at a much faster rate, necessitating more frequent cleaning.
It’s worth noting that many suppressors can be used in concert with a compatible flash hider or muzzle brake. Some even offer a QD function, allowing users to rapidly change between suppressed or unsuppressed fire, such as Dead Air‘s KeyMo system.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Muzzle Device
Your choice of muzzle device can have a big impact on how your firearm performs, especially if it’s not well-matched to your application. Opting for a compensator when you really need a muzzle brake won’t slow you down that much, but putting a three-port brake on a rifle you use with night vision can significantly harm your performance.
The same goes for a flash hider on a competition gun that could benefit from a compensator. It won’t hamstring you the way a brake on a night vision rifle would, but in choosing a flash hider, you’re giving up recoil reduction that could improve your stage times.
Matching your muzzle device appropriately to your firearm and intended use case allows you to make the most of your performance and maximize your capability.
What is Timing a Muzzle Brake?
“Timing” refers to both the rotational position of a muzzle device relative to the firearm it is installed on and the process of installing it into the correct rotational position.
As we just mentioned, many if not most muzzle devices come with ports or other features that are asymmetrical. Compensators, for instance, have ports on the top of the device but not the bottom or sides. That means that to perform properly, the compensator must be installed on the firearm with its ports facing up. If the compensator is in that position, it would be described as properly timed.
To understand timing instructions, imagine that at the end of your rifle, at the muzzle, is a tiny clock that is facing you while you are holding the firearm. The hours of the clock can then be used to describe the rotational position of the ports or prongs on your muzzle device.
So, for a muzzle brake with ports located on the sides, the proper timing would be those ports located at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
It’s worth noting that not all muzzle devices are timed. Pepper pot muzzle brakes frequently do not need timing because they are fully symmetrical. Some flash hiders fall into this category as well.
For most devices, though, proper timing is essential. A compensator or brake with the ports mistimed to the rifle will not only reduce its performance-enhancing effects but can actually be detrimental to performance.
How to Time a Muzzle Device
Timing is done as part of the installation process of the muzzle device. There are several different ways to time and install a muzzle device; which method is used for your device is determined by the manufacturer. Below, we’ll go through the installation and timing process for some of the most common methods.
Tools and Prep
Installing a muzzle device isn’t a difficult operation, but it does require some specialized tools. At a minimum, you’ll need the following:
–Upper Receiver Rod or Barrel Vice: This is essential to hold your barrel in place while you change the device and to protect the rest of your firearm. Do not use an upper receiver block for this, unless it includes a portion that engages and supports the chamber of the barrel. Upper receiver blocks that lock only to the receiver itself will allow the torque placed on the barrel to stress the receiver and can result in damage.
–Crescent Wrench, Screw Driver, or Muzzle Device Tool: You’ll need some sort of lever to twist the muzzle device into place. Many muzzle devices come with flats machined into them, allowing users to easily install them with an adjustable or crescent wrench. Others recommend a round-shafted screwdriver to be placed through the ports. Certain devices, such as some SureFire devices, come with a specific tool that attaches to a half-inch driver.
Depending on the type of muzzle device you choose, you may also need one or more of these:
–Torque Wrench: If your muzzle device requires a specific amount of torque for proper installation, you will need a torque wrench to make sure you do not apply too much or too little.
–Second Crescent Wrench: If your muzzle device installs using a jam nut, you will need a second crescent wrench to turn it.
–Threadlocker: Some, but not all, muzzle devices require or recommend threadlocker for secure installation. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying threadlocker.
–Screwdriver/Hex Keys/Allen Wrenches: For clamp-on or set screw muzzle devices, you’ll need some sort of tool to tighten the screws. Usually, this will be an Allen Wrench or Hex Key, but some clamp-on devices use Phillips-head screws.
With your tools assembled, mount your firearm with an upper receiver rod or barrel vice. For handguns, you will either need to clamp the chamber end of the barrel into a vice (protected by soft jaws, preferably) or secure the compensator in the vice, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you already have a muzzle device installed on your firearm, remove it now. For rifles, this will typically involve screwing the device off of the barrel with a wrench. If your previous device was installed with threadlocker, you may need to warm it with a heat gun or submerge it in water beforehand, depending on which type of threadlocker was used.
With the old muzzle device removed, clean and degrease the threads thoroughly.
Muzzle Device Installation
Installing a new muzzle device is largely just a matter of threading it on, but depending on your timing method, there are a few extra steps. Refer to the appropriate section below for timing instructions, but do note that the exact position of your muzzle device will depend on its design—not all devices require a 12 o’clock position.
SureFire’s WarComp, for example, has different timing options for right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous use. Before installing your muzzle device, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper timing position.
Crush Washer Method
If your muzzle device is timed using a crush washer, such as an A2 flash hider on the end of an AR-15 barrel, start by placing the crush washer on the barrel. Then, thread the muzzle device onto the barrel until hand-tight against the crush washer.
Most devices that install using a crush washer do not require a specific torque rating, so you can simply turn the device using your crescent wrench or tool until it is properly timed.
Shims tend to be the most complex method of installing a muzzle device, but also concentrically consistent, which is important if your muzzle device will double as a mount for a suppressor.
Start by simply threading your muzzle device on until it stops against the shoulder of the barrel. Take a look at the timing of the device when it is fully threaded on, as this will indicate how many shims you will need. If the device is slightly past the desired position, only a few shims are needed. If it’s slightly short of the correct position, you’ll need to add enough to pad out almost a full rotation.
The desired position, in this case, is not actually the correct timing for the muzzle device. Rather, it should be roughly 1/4-turn before the correct timing position. This is to allow for additional room to torque down the device into its final position. Note that some muzzle devices may require more or less torque than average. If in doubt, defer to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Next, remove the muzzle device, add your best estimate of the correct amount of shims, then screw the device back on until it is hand-tight. If it is now in the proper position to begin torquing (1/4 turn before proper timing, or whatever the manufacturer specifics), then you can proceed to the next step. If you’ve added too many or too few shims, repeat this process until you’ve found the perfect amount.
Some muzzle devices that use this mounting method may recommend or require the use of a threadlocker like Loctite or Rocksett, particularly if the device will be used as a suppressor mount.
If using a threadlocker, remove your muzzle device and apply it to the threads now. A couple drops will do; soaking down the threads only results in a mess later when the excess is squeezed out during torquing. Thread the muzzle device back on when you are done.
Now, you can begin torquing the muzzle device to its final position. Set your torque wrench to the maximum spec of the torque range, e.g., for a 20-30 lb.-ft torque range you would set your wrench to 30 lb.-ft. Now torque the device on until it reaches its properly timed position.
Last, to confirm that your device meets the minimum torque spec, reduce your torque wrench setting to the minimum and attempt to turn the device further. Your wrench should click immediately, without moving the device at all.
If you use a threadlocker during your installation, wait at least 24 hours before using your rifle to allow the threadlocker to fully cure.
Jam Nut Method
Jam Nuts are one of the easiest ways to install a muzzle device. Start by threading on the jam nut until it is snug against the shoulder of the barrel, then thread on your muzzle device. With the device snug against the jam nut, unthread it until it reaches the proper timing.
Next, use a crescent wrench or other tool appropriate for your muzzle device to hold it in place, and thread the jam nut back towards the device until hand-tight. Then, using a crescent wrench or torque wrench, tighten the jam nut or torque it to the appropriate spec while holding your muzzle device to prevent it from turning.
Clamp-On/Set Screw Method
Clamp-on and set screw devices are indeed the easiest to install but also tend to be the easiest to come loose. To install, thread your device onto your barrel. If installing on a rifle, turn until the device is snug against the shoulder. If installing on a handgun, turn until the device touches the slide.
Then, back the device off until it reaches the proper timing. Then, using a screwdriver, Allen key, or hex wrench, tighten the clamp or set screws.
Many AK-pattern firearms have a unique method of installing muzzle devices, owing to their self-timing system built into the front sight block. Not all AK-muzzle devices are compatible with this system—some will use one of the traditional mounting methods above—but for compatible devices, installation is simple.
At the 12 o’clock position above the muzzle device, there will be a spring-loaded retention pin. Depress it and thread off your old muzzle device. Clean and degrease your threads, if desired. Then, depress the pin again and thread the device on again until the slot in the device lines up with the retaining pin, which will click into place.
Common Questions about Muzzle Brake Timing
Muzzle device timing isn’t terribly complicated, but it’s still not uncommon for new individuals to the process to come away with a couple of questions. Here are a few of the most frequent, and their answers:
Do All Muzzle Brakes Need to be Timed?
No, not all muzzle devices need to be timed. Fully symmetrical devices such as some pepper pot brakes and flash cans do not require any special timing.
Does Muzzle Brake Timing Affect Accuracy?
Timing your muzzle brake will not usually affect mechanical accuracy (the accuracy of your rifle with all the human variables of the operator removed) because it primarily alters recoil impulse, which is irrelevant to mechanical accuracy.
However, it can and often will affect practical accuracy (how accurate a normal user can be with a rifle) which is more subjective. An improperly timed muzzle device can create an increased or abnormal recoil impulse, making it more difficult for you to recover your sight picture and fire a subsequent shot.
Do All Muzzle Brakes Need a Crush Washer?
No. As seen above, there are a variety of mounting methods available for muzzle devices, and a crush washer is only one of them.
Timing a muzzle device isn’t a difficult process, but it is an important one. Armed with the right tools and knowledge, even a novice gunsmith is capable of installing and timing a new brake or flash hider.
Still not sure which muzzle device is best for your applications? Check out our in-depth guide on the merits of different devices or reach out to our team of experts at 713-344-9600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.