If you’ve used an airsoft gun before, you’ve probably wondered if you can use metal BBs in place of the standard white plastic ammo. There are a lot of reasons that you may want to experiment with metal BBs, but you need first to confirm that using them is safe for you, your gun, and others.
It is not safe at any level to shoot metal BBs from an airsoft gun. The gun itself is not designed for this type of projectile, so using BBs will significantly damage the weapon’s internal workings. Furthermore, metal BBs shot from an airgun can break through the skin and even cause fatal injury.
This article will first cover the difference between metal and plastic BBs and expose why choosing to use metal BBs for airguns is damaging, then we will discuss the risks of using the wrong ammo for your gun, if you choose to.
The Difference Between Metal and Plastic BBs
Traditionally, metal BBs are used in BB guns, while plastic BBs are used in airsoft guns. At first glance, they can seem very similar, but there are vast differences between these two types of ammo.
Metal BBs Are Smaller Than Plastic BBs
The first difference that you’ll notice between the two pellets is the size of the BB. Plastic BBs are standard for airsoft guns and will be either 6mm (0.23 inch) or 8mm (0.31 inch) in diameter, depending on the model and barrel used. Traditional metal BBs come in at a 4.5mm (0.17 cm) diameter.
When the projectile is too small for the barrel, you run into two issues; accuracy and efficiency. Because of the size discrepancy, the BB is not a tight fit inside the barrel. The smaller size gives the BB a chance to bounce around in the barrel and alter its flight path, which negatively impacts your accuracy.
In addition to losing accuracy, the efficiency of your weapon’s cycling may be affected. The small BBs may not exit the barrel properly, setting up a potential weapon jam. This can be frustrating while you’re trying to shoot the weapon, and it may damage the gun’s firing mechanisms.
Metal BBs Are Heavier
If you’re naturally curious, you may be wondering, “Why can’t I just get larger diameter BBs?”. There are more issues besides just the diameter differences of the BBs. Metal BBs are heavier and denser than plastic BBs, affecting both your gun’s accuracy and efficiency.
Because metal is a more dense and heavier material than plastic, it’s common to think it would have more velocity and range. However, this belief isn’t true. The extra weight of the BB significantly decreases the range of the weapon and will send the BB on a downward trajectory rather than a straight line.
The extra density of these BBs will set up even more damage to the gun’s inner workings. The added force was not accounted for in the engineering of airsoft guns, so you will be accelerating the wear and tear of your weapon.
Potential Airgun Damage Caused by Using Metal BBs
Beyond potentially harming a person, shooting metal BBs out of an airgun can cause some serious damage to the gun as well.
Cylinder Head and Piston
As mentioned, the smaller diameter of metal BBs could cause jams in your airsoft gun. These jams happen when the BB goes a different route than it’s supposed to because of its small size. The jams could damage the components of your gun responsible for round cycling: the cylinder head and piston.
Using metal BBs could also damage the gun barrel due to the inefficiency created by the small size and weight of the BBs. At first, it would show up as noticeable scratches on the inside of the barrel, but it would develop into significant damage that would degrade accuracy and performance over time.
Think about it as a pinball machine. If the BB is too small, it will have room to be able to bounce around all over the place. This damage is amplified because of the extra density of the metal. If the BB was the right weight and size, it would fit perfectly in the barrel and not bounce around at all.
Hop up is the part of the gun that determines the amount of spin placed on the BB. This is used to increase accuracy over long ranges and to counteract windy conditions. The hop-up is a delicate mechanism that can’t take much abuse.
Using metal BBs will quickly damage your hop-up and ultimately render it unusable. Video below provides a great overview of how the hop up works and why you should think twice about using it with a metal BB.
Similar to the damage metal BBs cause to the barrel, the magazine is also damaged due to the metal BB’s inefficiencies. Because they are smaller, they won’t be a perfect fit in the magazine feeder. Over time this can lead to damage because of the grinding created on the surface and the extra density of metal BBs.
Are Metal BBs Safe To Shoot at an Airsoft Field?
Let’s say that you have all the money in the world and you don’t mind constantly replacing or repairing your airsoft gun. The next question to ask would be whether or not the BBs are safe to shoot at others in the field of play.
Metal BBs are not safe for use at an airsoft field. Virtually all airsoft fields have banned metal BBs due to how dangerous they are. Because they are made of metal, they will act a lot more like bullets than their plastic counterparts.
Being hit by a metal BB will undoubtedly penetrate the skin. At close enough ranges, being shot by a metal BB can be life-altering and even fatal.
The following Youtube video shows how dangerous shooting with metal BBs can be:
As you can see in the video, they shoot at a whole chicken, and you can see many of the BBs penetrate through the tissue and become lodged on the other side. On a human, shots at this range would be fatal or cause severe infection due to the BBs being lodged inside the human body.
In addition to direct impact, metal BBs can also create damage in other ways. If the metal BB hits a concrete barrier or wall, it could shatter and send smaller projectiles in different directions.
While you can’t use these BBs at an airsoft field, they still may have merit for target practice or pest control. If you want to use them for either of these reasons, you should look into getting the proper equipment for use. So what type of weapon do you need to shoot metal BBs?
BB Guns vs Airsoft Guns vs Air Guns: The Differences Explained
Airsoft guns and BB guns can be easily confused because they both shoot BBs, but they are very different types of weapons.
A critical difference between the two is the ammunition used and the potential damage each can inflict. Both weapons can be spring powered or pneumatic (air/gas) powered. Airsoft guns are typically made to resemble actual firearms as closely as possible while BB guns are not. These differences are related to the uses for each weapon type.
BB guns were created in the late 1800s and quickly rose to popularity. They have classically been made as spring-powered, single-shot weapons. You may also see pump-action or pneumatic mechanisms, but virtually all BB guns are still single shot.
BB guns shoot metal pellets between 4.3 (0.16 cm) to 4.5mm (0.17 cm) in diameter with a weight of 0.33-0.35 g (330 – 350 mg). The guns can shoot these metal BBs at an average feet per second (FPS) of 550. This velocity makes them potentially fatal to humans at close ranges, but it’s also why BB guns are commonly used for pest control.
The superior muzzle velocity and the weight of the BB combine to create extreme accuracy in a BB gun when compared to an airsoft gun. For this reason, BB guns are typically only used for target practice or pest control. The plastic BBs can be significantly affected by environmental conditions like wind, but a metal BB will fly straight without regard to environmental conditions.
This Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun is the classic BB gun that you would see in any cinematic depiction of this weapon class. It shoots at 350 fps and shoots 4.5mm metal BBs. This is great for target practice in your backyard and rodent control for things like rats or mice. It does not have the stopping power to take down a larger animal like a coyote or racoon.
Japan didn’t create airsoft guns until the 1970s. They were originally created for target practice, but they quickly discovered that it was safe to shoot other people with them, so the game of airsoft was born.
Airsoft guns shoot larger pellets with less weight. The BBs can range between 6-8mm (0.21-0.31 cm) in diameter with a weight of 0.12-0.46g (120-460 mg). These guns will typically shoot with velocities of under 500 FPS, but some high-powered weapons can reach 550.
Overall, airsoft guns are built with safety in mind. The sport’s popularity has forced weapon manufacturers to put an added focus on maintaining the safety of the weapons being used. This is why plastic BBs are used instead of metal ones.
Airsoft guns also have a large emphasis placed on realism in their engineering and design. Because of this realism, military and law enforcement may use airsoft guns in training.
Most airsoft guns are designed to replicate actual weapons in existence. For example, you could get this Lancer Tactical M4 Air Rifle meant to resemble a military-issued M4A1. You could also get a H&K P30 Airsoft Pistol designed to mimic the mechanisms of a P30.
The combination of the gas blowback and the reload mechanisms give airsoft guns the feel of an actual firearm without the same amount of danger.
There is a third type of weapon that can be seen as a combination between the realism of an airsoft gun and the power of a BB gun. Air guns have been around for longer than BB guns and airsoft guns combined, being in existence for over 500 years.
Airguns are capable of much more power than BB guns or airsoft guns. They are able to shoot at velocities of 1,400 fps, which is about 955 mph. As far as the ammunition, airguns typically shoot using lead pellets or metal BBs, similar to that of a BB gun.
Because of this incredible velocity and heavier ammunition, airguns are not safe for use at an airsoft field. While you can’t use these at an airsoft field, they are still relatively safer than actual firearms so it could be a good way to experience realism without the same level of danger.
This Gamo.177 Air Rifle can shoot at 1,250 fps and shoots pellets made up of platinum. This Sig Sauer MCX Air Rifle can shoot pellets up to 700 fps and probably has more of the realism that you’re looking for.
There are no circumstances in which you should ever use metal BBs in your airsoft gun. The risk to your gun is big enough, but when you consider the additional risks of injury or even death to others, it is never worth it to use the wrong ammo for your gun.
If you want to use metal BBs, go out to your local hunting store and purchase a BB gun or an airgun. This will give you the authentic, unfiltered experience and give you more performance than you would get from trying to make it work with an airsoft gun.
Shooting metal BBs does have its place, but you must be sure to use the proper equipment and take the appropriate precautions.