Using the AR-15 forward assist

The forward assist on the AR-15 has always been controversial. Stoner did not want to add it but was made to by the military. Many say that if a round cannot be chambered, and especially if it cannot be pushed in using the bolt carrier thumb groove, it should be ejected and not jammed into the gun.

There is an interesting discussion at ARFCOM discussing the use of a forward assist if low temperatures freeze the gun’s lubricant.

I was upstate this weekend, temp was 0-6 in the am when I was shooting. My colt 6400 was lightly lubed and I used the fa about 4 times in the process of shooting 120 rounds. I was using federal 55gr ammo. The stops occured after shooting a mag going to check out the target. The lube was a little clumpy, kind of grainy. I know if I used rem oil this problem would of never happened but I didn’t and the fa helped. The lube froze up in the upper, combined with the possible metal contraction caused the bolt not to fully close.

For the record, I tried pushing the bolt forward using my thumb and it worked but the fa was so much easier.

Forward assist on Ruger SR-556. Photo © Gregory

( and on a side note: Alternative Small Arms Lubricants : Using Motor Oil in Extreme Temperature )

[ Many thanks to jdun1911 for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • JKEverett

    I completely agree with the “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” crowd.

    If you’re in a situation where you have more than ample time to clear your rifle and evaluate why a round hasn’t properly chambered then don’t use it.

    If you desperately need to get rounds off and the bolt doesn’t close then sure, slam it home with the FA.

    Chances are most of us aren’t going to be in the second situation, anyway…

  • Al T.

    Ho Hum. Wrong lube for the environment – another 10 degrees colder and he would have found the opposite – darn FA is a piece of junk! 20 degrees warmer and no issue what so ever. Sort of like me explaining how great my engine block warmer is – to a bunch of Texans in Texas. Been smarter to figure out which lube to use in a cold climate.

  • Lance

    I used a farward assit once and it worked fine.

  • Meh

    In the thread he mentions using Eezox which is meant to be a DRY lube. The “wipe off the excess and let air dry” sort of dry.

    It sounds like he tried running it wet which is not how Eezox is meant to work. And the part about it getting “clumpy and grainy” is odd considering Eezox has no solids in it. The cold shouldn’t have been a problem either since its rated for -95°F. What probably happened is carbon built up in the improperly applied lube.

    If the guy had used the product as directed he wouldn’t have needed that forward assist.

    At best, a forward assist allows an incorrectly maintained rifle to ‘function’.
    At worst, it encourages shooters to jam malformed cases into their guns and needlessly risk life and limb.

  • Stella

    If not in a fight for your life, why on Earth use the forward assist? Likely or no, it just seems like asking for a kB.

  • I think the forward assist is useful for those situations where the bolt just doesn’t quite go all the way forward. Then again I rarely use it but since you can’t just bump the bolt a bit (like on a Garand/ M1A or an AK) it is necessary.

  • Destroyer

    technically, all weapons do (and should) have some form of forward assist. the AR15 design’s internalized bolt design makes a outside forward assist necessary. Very rarely, in my experience, have i had to use a forward assist on a M16 or M4. The times i did use it was when the weapon was fouled from thousands of rounds of rapid fire or severe cold weather (such conditions found in Alaska). I remember seeing a bolt handle similar to the FN SCAR mounted on the left side of a AR15 with a specially designed upper receiver. Kind of a neat concept back in 2000-2001 (and i cant find the magazine for the life of me).

  • jdun1911

    Almost every auto rifles has a forward assist, it is called the charging handle.

    S.P.O.R.T.S. which is used by the US military that incorporate the forward assists to help clear most malfunctions that you will in counter on an AR15.

    S lap up on the magazine (to ensure its seated properly)

    P ull the charging handle back

    O bserve the chaber (to ensure the round has been ejected)

    R elease the charging handle

    T ap the forward assist

    S queeze the trigger

    Double feed of course will not be fix by using S.P.O.R.T.S. You have to take Remedial Action.

  • Martin

    People really need to know the difference between range and combat use. The FA was added because of issues that arise during combat use. If the bolt won’t go fully into battery, then you almost certainly have a lubrication problem, not a misfeed or extraction problem. Banging on the FA won’t fix either of the latter. Basically, it would suck to die because of a little foreign contamination. I’ve used the FA on the range as the lube was giving up before I did. No harm, no foul.

    In this case, the lube failure and subsequent chunkiness may be contributed to condensation forming and freezing as the bolt warmed and cooled in the cold temps. Using the FA in this situation was totally appropriate.

    Long live the FA!

  • Ken

    Exact reason why you need a sloppy loose AK to avoid this? Couldn’t resist…

  • HK_USP_45

    I think Jdun1911 made a great point. And I’m going to further that idea. The forward assist is not just when using SPORTS, or as others are saying, “in life or death situations,” or in “combat,” etc, etc. In the Marines, from day 1, we were taught that when you load your rifle, you put the mag in, slap it, charge the weapon, then tap the forward assist. NOT just if there was a problem, but EVERY time you load it. We do it in training, we do it when on the firing range, we do it whenever. Pg 200 of the Guidebook for Marines that I was issued in bootcamp instructs you to tap the forward assist when given the command “make ready.” The M16A2 operator’s manual (TM 05538C-10/1A), page 66 tells you that after you “depress upper portion of bolt catch” and the bolt goes forward, to “TAP forward assists to ensure bolt is fully forward and locked.” I cannot speak as to whether this is still taught today.

    My point in all of this is for all the “experts” who argue against using the forward assist or to those who say you should only use it in combat or life or death situations, our entire military is — or at least was — taught that you use the FA as part of SOP for loading the weapon. To this day I still tap mine every time I load it, just to make sure the first round always goes boom. I can say that there have been 3 occasions in my life in which the bolt actually wasn’t in battery and the FA put it in battery.

    One thing that should be pointed out, and maybe some FA critics are forgetting this, when the FA is used — during loading — it is assumed that there are no function issues and you are just assisting the bolt home, because for whatever reason the bolt just didn’t go into battery. Because, if you are loading your first magazine into the weapon, you were supposed to visually inspect the barrel and chamber for blockages, and if you are loading a follow on magazine, then if you know that previous magazines fired with no problems. So in these instances, using the FA wouldn’t result in “jamming” a round into chamber. Further, in the instances where there is a function issue and the weapon needs to be put back into service, as Jdun1911 points out in SPORTS, tapping your FA is NOT the first course of action. So you aren’t “jamming” anything into the chamber. Before using the FA, you are to pull the charging handle back and observe/inspect the chamber (a.k.a. clearing your weapon). Only after you have observed there are no physical obstructions do you release the charging handle and Tap the forward assist.

  • Shootin’ Buddy

    Why he is using that type of lube like that at that temp?

    Using his thumb?

    The kid isn’t trained properly.

    Let that stuff dry and don’t use the stupid forward assist or your thumb (breaking the firing grip). Use your driving finger of your support hand to close it. Most of all, clean and properly lube your weapon.

  • The FN SCAR has a bolt with an accessible handle.

  • HK_USP_45

    I’m going to also add, the FA comes in handy when you can’t allow the noise of letting your bolt slam home to chamber a round. Sometimes absolute silence is necessary, so you have to ease the charging handle home slowly, to chamber a round. In doing this, there is a good chance the bolt isn’t going to go all the way into battery, so it’s nice to tap the forward assist a couple of times to make sure it is. A good example of this is Deer season, when it’s 4 am, and you’ve just gotten out of your truck, loaded your rifle, and are about to enter the woods. Slingshotting the charging handle is loud enough that every deer in the woods would run. So you have to ease it forward.

  • Lance

    Yeah but what ive seen theoterryman the FN has such a small ejection port that it could possiblye jam is a case dosnt exit right. And with some of its guts plastic prone to break.

  • Ken R

    Since when does the bolt carrier have a “thumb groove”? The groove in the bolt carrier opens the ejection port cover when the weapon is cycled. I would not recommend using your thumb on the bolt carrier to seat the bolt fully into battery.

  • HK_USP_45


    I’ve always heard a lot of people say something-something is “plastic and PRONE to break,” but I don’t recall someone saying, something-something is plastic and it BROKE.

    I HIGHLY doubt a company like FNH or Beretta would make a plastic part that would be prone to break, especially in a service rifle. Can you imagine the liability and financial repercussion to sending half a million people into combat armed with weapons with parts prone to break?

    I’m sure if something is plastic, it has been proven to not break through tens of thousands of rounds. People complain about the op rod in a 92FS being made of plastic now, but I’ve never heard of one breaking. Actually, I recall people saying that about the Glock when it came out. Pretty ridiculous looking back. Plastic now a days is not the same plastic of 20 years ago.

    Another good example is Ruger 10/22s. People complain about the trigger guard being plastic now. I saw a Ruger rep on on G&A TV take one out in below freezing temps and drive over it with his truck — perfect condition. Then he did the same with the old metal one — bent.

    As for ejection ports — the 1911 has a tiny ejection port compared to the 92FS, yet everyone still has a hard-on for the 1911, yes? You say the Scar is “prone” to this or “possibly” going to do that. My question is, Does it jam? Through all the testing, I haven’t heard that about it.

    I could POSSIBLY fart, have the gas catch on an errant turd and be PRONE to giving myself a brain aneurism, couldn’t I?

  • Carl

    What’s the idea behind the unorthodox charging handle design in the first place? Why didn’t Stoner just put a handle on the bolt?

  • jdun1911

    Reciprocal charging handle (AK, SCAR, etc) does have some major drawbacks. Most reciprocal charging handle aren’t ambidextrous. Reciprocal charging handle can cause problem when you’re using barricade as support while shooting. Shooting through window (car, home, etc) can be a problem. You have to be aware of your rifle. The reciprocal charging handle can get in the way of third party optic mounts. This is an issue with the SCAR. Side charging handle can get snag in gears.

    The AR15 no reciprocal charging handle is good especially when it comes to mounting optics.

  • Lance

    USP I was lnly asking about its ejection port. But theres been alot of complants about some FN product lie the FN57N pistol and the buttstock on the SCAR. They break too easly and after heavy use. Not all FN is bad M-249 and M-240 are good weapns so is the Hi Power.

  • Carl

    But there seems to be no technical reason why you couldn’t make a ambidextrous reciprocating handle. You just need to mill a slot on both sides of the bolt. It’s just that nobody does it.
    Barricade and out-the window shooting: Don’t you usually support your weapon on the front part rather than where the bolt is?
    Optics usually sit on top of the rifle. Why would they interfere with handles on the side of the receiver?

  • HK_USP_45

    Carl, not that this is entirely the same beast, but the Beretta Cx Storm carbine has an ambidextrous charging reciprocating charging handle. Actually, the charging handle and the side the rounds can be ejected from are both ambidextrous. I’m sure if it can be done on that carbine, it can be done on anything.

  • Carl

    USP45, interesting… I’d like to see a rifle that is completely ambidextrous from the factory though, ejection and all levers and buttons, so a lefty could pick up any rifle and use it immediately without rebuilding or changing anything. This requires downwards or forwards ejection though…

    Anyway, returning to the forward assist, is it really possible to hit it with such force that you would make an out-of-shape cartridge get permanently stuck? Assuming you just use your hand and not a hammer of course.

  • HK_USP_45

    Carl, the Cx Storm has open ejection ports on both sides of the upper. Extracted cases actually go through the bolt carrier, then the upper, and the bolt carrier has ejection ports on both sides. So a little plastic piece closes off one of the ejection ports on the bolt carrier. It snaps right in and out. The bolt carrier also has holes for the charging handle on both sides, so I just switch it to whichever side I want. So changing left hand to right hand just requires that I pull out the bolt, and takes literally 10 seconds. And no tools. I tried to describe it the best I could, let me know if interested and I can make a video and post it on my youtube channel (762x51n8o)

    As for the FA getting an out-of-shape cartridge get stuck — if someone puts themselves in that situation, then they aren’t following simple weapons clearing guidelines. The magazine should be loaded with fresh rounds, so if you use the FA during routine loading as you are supposed to, you know there are no miss-shaped rounds. Any weapons malfunctions during the loading process or at any point after that, as was stated before, the first thing you do isn’t to jam the FA home. In combat or training, use SPORTS (tapping the forward assist is actually the last thing you do before squeezing the trigger), if you are at the shooting range, put the weapon on safe, pull out the magazine, pull the charging handle to the rear, inspect the chamber and inspect the rounds.

    I think a lot of people have been misinformed about WHEN the FA is to be used. If you have a weapons malfunction, and your first course of action is to jam the FA, you’ve been very poorly trained, and you’re in for a world of hurt.

  • lagerhead

    I dont know about anyone else but I always have to use my FA when I silently slow charge my grendel hunting. Never hard just a bump. Thats how I know when it’s time to change my gas rings. When I dont have to FA it in the tree stand it’s time for new rings.

  • Chris B

    A temporary fix in the 60’s for a temporary carbine for drivers, cooks and fobbits. Stoner was right. I still have my throat erosion gauge.