Monday, February 15, 2016

Short Stroke or Buffer? Trouble Shooting An AR

A couple weeks ago, I purchased a complete upper with barrel from Aero Precision. It was an 18 inch barrel with a rifle length gas system, which I attached to a lower (also an Aero Precision) with an adjustable stock on a carbine length buffer tube. I finally was able to take it out to try this weekend and was very disappointed with the performance: the weapon consistently failed to pick up a new round (until close to nearly a hundred rounds through it, when it started to improve slightly), and would not lock back on an empty magazine. (I was only loading one to three rounds at a time into the magazines, since I was breaking in the barrel and testing functioning). Occasionally, it would jam with the bolt striking midway along the length of the next cartridge. A few times, on an empty magazine, the bolt would ride over the magazine slightly before jamming with the bolt about 3/4 open.

The ammunition I was using was 55 grain .223. I was using two types of magazines: a steel magazine from Black Hawk, and a Magpul polymer magazine.

In addition to the foregoing, I had the following clues:

Bolt Carrier Group--Left Side

Bolt Carrier Group -- Right Side

My first thought was that the system was short-stroking: "Short-stroking occurs when the bolt and carrier do not travel fully rearward upon firing. When this insufficient travel prevents the bolt from picking up the rim of the top cartridge in the magazine on its forward stroke, feeding issues result. Short-stroking can also prevent the fired case from being thrown fully out of the gun." Another symptom of short stroking is the failure of the bolt to lock open on an empty magazine. As the foregoing article explains, short-stroking can result from various issues, including "a failure to stagger the slots in the gas rings on the bolt [ed: this is actually a myth], a broken, bent or plugged gas tube, or carbon or dirt in the carrier or upper receiver." Other sources indicated that a gas block that is misaligned to the gas port, or leaking around the gas key on the bolt carrier group (BCG) could also lead to short stroking, as could using low power or poor quality ammo. (See also, "Troubleshooting Your AR Build" from Major Pandemic and this thread on short stroking from

Further researching the issue, however, I found an article from Guns Magazine on cycling issues in ARs that noted that an action that is cycling too fast can mimic short stroking. An article at Defense Review indicated that this can result from using too light of a buffer.

There are various weights of buffers used in AR systems. The M16 rifle uses a 5.2 ounce buffer (and also a longer buffer spring--please note, though, that neither the rifle buffer nor rifle length buffer spring can be used in a carbine tube because they are too long). The standard buffer in the carbine is only 3.0 ounces. Colt also offers heavier buffers for the carbine: the H (3.8 ounces), H2 (4.7 ounces), and H3 (5.6 ounces). The weighting is because the standard carbine buffer contains three steel weights. In an H buffer, one of these weights is replaced with a heavier tungsten weight; the H2 has two tungsten weights and one steel weight; and the H3 uses three tungsten weights. I also came across information indicating that Canada's AR military rifle uses a 20 inch barrel but a carbine buffer-tube/stock, and they use an H2 buffer.

In analyzing my problem, I considered the possibility of a problem with the gas system. I saw no evidence of a gas leak around the gas key. I thought that a misaligned gas block was unlikely since the assembly was by a reputable manufacturer. A magazine issue also seemed unlikely since I had used two different magazines from two quality manufacturers, and was having the same problems with both magazines. Also, I was intrigued by the dings on the buffer from it striking the retaining pin at the mouth of the buffer tube, which suggested that the buffer was moving with too high of velocity. Finally, my buffer was a standard 3.0 ounces carbine buffer (confirmed by weighing on a scale) and, therefore, over 2 ounces lighter than what a rifle length system was designed to use. However, because I had not taken out a variety of ammunition, I could not rule out an ammunition issue.

Using a thoroughly cleaned and lubricated weapon, I headed out to the range again. I purchased a heavier buffer (4.4 ounces according to my scale, so roughly the weight of an H2 buffer). I also took out more 55 grain ammunition (Black Hills), 62 grain "green-tip" manufactured by IMI, and some 70 grain "match" ammunition. Prior to replacing the buffer, I tested all three different types of ammunition, with the same problems. I replaced the buffer and, although I had occasional issues with the 55 grain ammunition, the performance was overall much better. By the end of another 100 rounds or so, it seemed to be feeding reliably with all three types of ammunition.

In short, I believe the issue was a combination of breaking in a new upper and bolt carrier group, and using the heavier buffer, with the latter being the more important point. Although it seems counter intuitive, since the rifle gas system has a much lower operating pressure than the carbine system, the rifle gas system apparently accelerated the BCG to a higher velocity than a carbine length system would have done. Using a heavier buffer, I was able to mitigate this to some extent. Since I am still well below the weight of the standard rifle buffer, it is possible I might have achieved better performance with a slightly heavier buffer. So, something to consider if you are moving to using a longer rifle-length gas system on a lower set up for a carbine.


  1. Great Job!! This article gives a lot of information regarding buffer. This information is very useful for us. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Glad it was helpful.

  2. I am having the exact same problem with an 18 inch aero upper that I just bought. I am using a rifle length gas system and it seems to only work with federal lake city 556. Every other ammo I tried (mostly 223 but also 62 grain 556) has resulted in all kinds of short-stroking type failures. I am using a new BCM bcg (better extractor?) and heavier, higher pressure ammo next time to see if it helps.

    1. In Greg Ellifritz's 9/18/2020 Weekend Knowledge Dump, he links to an article about problems with the M16 in Vietnam that reported extraction problems due to bolt jump, the solution being buffer weight and using powder with a different pressure curve.

  3. New ar pistol build 7.5 inch barrel is fires 2 rounds and always the third had the round jamming with indent marks on the unspent round.
    Removed gas block to see powder imprint around gas port , which was not perfect but very good. Tried to achieve a more precise positioning of gas block. Still first 2 go off fine and third jams.Should I try a whole different buffer and spring of same type? All parts are new. I am presuming the packaging says for carbine use is correct.
    Comments please

    1. It sounds like you have a similar problem to mine, with the bolt travelling faster than the magazine can push the next round into place, which can be corrected with a heavier buffer or buffer spring to slow the bolt, but it would help if you could provide more information as to the following: (1) what do you mean by indents? Indent on the primer like a light primer strike, indents or dings to the base or rim of the cartridge, or indents on the side of the case (and, if so, where)? (2) Is this from a fully loaded magazine, or a partially loaded magazine? (3) Are you using a standard weight carbine buffer or something heavier? (4) Is this shooting 5.56/.223 or a different caliber? (5) Have you tested this with different magazines?


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