Muzzle Brakes? How Do They Even Work?
They work really simply. They divert high pressure, high velocity gasses (which can thus be thought of as a fluid) from moving along the axis of the bullets travel to moving perpendicular to it. That change of direction causes force to be exerted on the brake itself as the gasses slam into it and flow along its surfaces to the exits. That exerted force can attenuate muzzle rise if it’s diverted in the proper direction or it can help reduce rearward recoil or both depending on the brake design and stock design. Probably the best brake you could get would be a suppressor. Those work really well normally as brakes and as flash hiders and they make shooting more comfortable in general. We’ll assume that you don’t have one. They’re legal in most states and not all that hard to obtain. If you can, do go that route. Note that suppressors are sized based on case capacity and barrel length. Just any can won’t necessarily do. Back to brakes though.
What makes a crap brake is simple, it doesn’t fit. That means that the hole in it that the bullet travels through is significantly larger than the bullet diameter or it lacks any sort of baffle face for the gasses to act on (that’s called a flash hider most times). You can bet if your brake has a .430″ diameter hole in it and you’re launching .308″ bullets through that that you’re not getting much benefit from having a brake because there’s too much gas still moving forward and not being deflected. What you’ve made then is an extremely loud rifle.
So what makes a *very effective* brake? Usually at least 1 baffle face, tight exit bore fit of .020″ – .030″ clearance to the bullet, solid concentricity. High quality machine work is the foundation of all of that. Machine work costs money. So if your brake has a snug fit to the bullet and more than 1 baffle face and it wasn’t super cheap to begin with (very effective brakes cost on average 80-200 bucks) and it threads on to the muzzle, that’s likely to be a pretty good brake. It sucks but you do get your money’s worth for the most part. There are inexpensive and highly effective brakes but they’re few and far between. Things like JP Recoil Eliminator, Holland quick discharge brakes, or Dean Maisey’s brakes (New Zealand, and worth the effort) are very effective brakes. Very Effective means that they have been proven to work as advertised and will often require some gunsmith services or skills to fit properly.
An *effective* brake may have only one baffle or have a larger than optimal exit hole or may be one of the Vais type or something like the barrel weights that come out of Witt Machine. They do reduce recoil but because of either design flaws, excessive slop in the tolerances and clearances or accommodations for people that are too cheap to have one properly installed they lose a large amount of their effectiveness. The Vais is notable the exception there and it is designed to work like it does which is pretty well but not nearly as well as it could with an uncompromised design. It’s not to say they don’t work at all but they won’t work as efficiently as something properly made from an uncompromising design and competently installed. They will usually be slightly cheaper or vastly easier to install. Expect pricing to be from 35-100 bucks or so and to not have to spend much effort getting them fitted, timed or otherwise professionally futzed with. If you’re on a budget they’re ok. They do actually work, just not as well as some others.
The last in the line are flash hiders or flash accentuators masquerading as muzzle brakes and the even more insidious Ebay special muzzle brakes which are none of the above. These are usually pretty inexpensive and are almost uniformly found on Ebay with free shipping and thousands of positive feedback accrued. The feedback is from people that don’t know what they’re talking about or only care that it was cheap and they got it fast so it should be ignored entirely. The only thing left to judge them by is the design, machine work quality and the fact that they’re on Ebay. One easily discernible signal to run away is if there’s no brand name. These designs are patentable in most countries and if nothing else the companies that design really effective brakes put their name on them. They’re necessarily proud of executing so well on the design. So if you don’t see a brand name, it’s probably a POS. The easiest way for me to tell for sure is if it costs 15-35 bucks on ebay and looks like 3 gills in a cylinder, it’s almost certainly a piece of shit that won’t do much. Flash hiders are by definition not brakes. They have a big open end and normally either fingers or slots running lengthwise. A brake is a brake. It doesn’t do other things.
Some things to watch out for: Excessive numbers of ports. Beyond 4, maybe 5 ports (for extremely large and powerful cartridges) you’re looking at machine work for the sake of machine work. 10 baffles won’t do any better than 5 so why spend the effort to cut the metal? Excessively long and heavy brakes also weigh down a muzzle and under rapid fire or with skinny barrels can cause it to droop. Witt Machine is a classic example of making something way too big and not realizing it. His brakes are 100 bucks too and look otherwise like good designs but their weight and the fact that the design is visually more pleasant than the effect of using it is make it a no-go for me.
So some of what I think are current performers which have proven time and again their ability to function as described and which are useful when properly installed:
Most any properly sized suppressor.
Dean Maisey Tresamax
JP Recoil Eliminator
JP Bennie Coolie
Dean Maisey Varimax
Holland Quick Discharge Radial
Badger Ordinance Micro
Barret M468 (limited applications BARGAIN ALERT!)
I’m sure there are other just insanely great muzzle brakes out there but I think those above do a good job telling you about designs that work and what a good brake costs.
The one that really surprised me was the Barret M468. I’ve been trying out all sorts of brakes for a while, even some of my own designs and I was not confident in the M468 brake. 2 ports to the side but only 1 real baffle made me skeptical as to how much recoil it could eliminate. I got a couple of them and tried them out on 10lb .308 Winchester and 14lb 7mm Remington Magnum rifles which have in the past made for some sore shoulders after long days of research shooting. The M468 brake turned them into pussy cats. Loud as fuck pussy cats but pussy cats all the same. The .308 required me to open the exit hole to .340 but the 7mm passes through with .020 clearance. My 7mm bullets were very long and the nose was outside the brake while the base was still inside the muzzle. We thought that might end up causing some heel upset but it didn’t. The rifle printed amazing groups and had very little recoil. I know I won’t make any friends at the range or in competitions but it’s my shoulder I’m here concerned with, not their nerves.