Cutaway FALs Galore!

Chuck at GunLab recently posted on a cutaway L1A1 British FAL; since I have been studying the FAL recently, I was naturally drawn to the post. Unfortunately, Chuck’s coverage is somewhat spartan, and the images fairly low resolution, so I went hunting for more. I found quite a few great images of cutaway FALs, which I have shared below:


A cutaway FAL of the same basic type shown in Chuck’s post. This one is displayed in an Australian museum, and is marked “L1A1”. Image source:




Early FAL prototypes had uncovered gas tubes, which got very hot during shooting. This was quickly rectified with a full-profile handguard, as seen here. Image source:




The recoil spring in the stock was a source of much consternation among American testers, and is one of the factors that led to the rejection of the FAL in favor of what would become the M14. Maintenance of this element of the rifle did not live up to American standards. Image source:




An L26A1 Instructional Rifle. Whether these were made from L1A1s and then re-roll-marked, or whether they were factory modifications is unknown to me. They are, however, qualitatively different in both form and markings to the “L1A1” marked cutaway shown above. Image source:




Much less relief is evident in the L26A1 cutaway. This model highlights only the essential operating groups. Image source:




A full cutaway factory print of the FN FAL rifle. The relative complexity of the FAL can be seen in this image. This drawing is present in the liner of The FAL Rifle, by Collector Grade Publications. Image source:




Due to the low resolution, it is very difficult to see detail, but this image appears to be of another L26A1 Instructional Rifle. The wider angle gives a better sense of the whole weapon. Note the early stripper clip guide equipped dust cover, as well as the very spartan section work done on the rifle. Image source:




Besides the fire control group, no sections are apparent on this side of the L26A1 Instructional Rifle. Image source:




This cutaway is reportedly a Fabrique Nationale factory specimen. The stripper clip guides indicate it is an L1A1; early L1A1s were produced by FN before production switched to British factories in 1957. Image source:




This cutaway shows the “rat tail” guide rod; despite the short bolt carrier of the FAL, the engineers at FN thought it best to move the recoil spring and guide to the stock, and this pivoting connector was used to transfer the rearward force of the bolt to that spring. Image source:




A closer shot of the FAL cutaway. A dummy round is placed in the chamber, and a few dummy rounds are present in the magazine, as well. Image source:



While the FAL proved to be a major success story, its rejection by the USA highlighted some of its limitations. It was a complex design, and required more than double the number of operations to produce than the US standard issue rifle of the time, the M1 Garand (this, however, didn’t necessarily translate into higher cost – the M14 and FAL were both about 10% more expensive than the M1). The rifle was heavy – about a pound heavier than the US T44E4, though the production M14 would close that gap somewhat. Finally, early iterations handled sand and cold poorly; these two drawbacks being alleviated through innovations like sand-cut bolts, a stronger extractor design, and refinements to the gun’s operating cycle.

EDIT: Chuck has posted some more pictures of a cutaway FAL over at GunLab. Check them out!

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • BattleshipGrey

    Nice finds, I love the bullet in the cutaway barrel. The FAL has always been just out of my budget range ever since I started gun collecting, but I still love to look at them.

  • Curmudgeon

    The L26A1 is a metric pattern rifle. Odd that it’s stamped L26A1.

    • Able_Dart

      The L26A1 was type classed by the British Army for instructional use. They were made from Herstal made trials rifles.

  • joe

    The sole limitation responsible for the US failing to adopt the FAL is that it wasn’t designed and produced by Springfield Armory, aka, the designer of the M14 and testing agency that approved its adoption.

    • In large part this is correct; the flaws uncovered by trials of the FAL served essentially as excuses for its rejection.

      The US government as a whole was not opposed to the FAL rifle, and it even came very close to adoption in 1954 (thousands of US FALs were made for troop trials – typically the final step before adoption and standardization). However, Colonel Studler, and his protege the civilian Dr. Carten seemingly would not accept any outcome but total victory for the American rifle program.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        This reminds me of the brilliant, talented, capable but authoritarian General Crozier, Chief Of The U.S. Army’s Ordnance Board, during the early 1900’s. Crozier was largely responsible for numerous highly important events that would serve this nation and its armed forces in good stead, eg., the adoption of the M1903 Springfield rifle, M1911 .45-caliber pistol, M1918 BAR and Browning M1917 .30-caliber MMG, At the same time, he apparently was also not beyond using his position to block sources he did not personally like, one Colonel Lewis ( yes, that officer and gentleman of Lewis Gun fame ) being one of them. On the other hand, it does not appear that Crozier was entirely closed to the idea of adopting suitable foreign-designed weapons, the Benet-Mercie M1909 machine rifle — a.k.a. the Hotchkiss Mle 1909 LMG — being one.

  • Vitsaus

    I find this turn toward explicit pornography disgusting! These pictures make me… feel things that shame me. Please, lets stick to G rated material. Think of the children!

  • Jon

    This is the weapon which was based in the STG 44, not the AK.

    • It’s mostly based on the FN-49, a design from 1936. There’s a little MP-44 in it, though, you’re right.

  • Patrick R.

    I would love to see an article on the Fal from Nathaniel!

    • I will absolutely do one; but there is a lot of work in other areas for me to do, first. I am basically reading as much as I can as quickly as possible to complete some of the posts already in my docket.

      • Patrick R.

        I really am looking forward to it, your posts always teach me something.

  • John Yossarian

    Since I read Nathaniel F’s “Hindsight is 30/06” article about the Garand, I’ve had this question regarding the FAL:

    1. Do pistons count as the primary mass? After all, it is the only mass directly affected by gas pressure.

    2. Or do pistons instead just translate the gas pressure to the primary mass, which is still the bolt carrier?

    Either way, pistons seem to serve as just a more complex (aka, prone to failure) energy transfer middleman. The FAL is exceptionally finicky about gas leaks from the tube, while the AK has been shown to run without a tube in place(!) I believe the same might be possible even with other op-rod designs.

    Also – again, in either case – the lighter primary mass that results from a piston versus an op-rod gives these rifles like the FAL a much lower moving parts mass ratio. And even when comparing the FAL to an M16, there is a much worse ratio in weight between the carrier and bolt.

    The only reading I’ve done on the moving parts mass ratio was from Nathaniel’s previous article, but I think I understand how it works:

    It seems that with a lighter primary mass, there is more reliance on an exact gas pressure imparting a specific speed to that relatively light mass. With a heavier primary mass, its initial inertia tends to lessen over-gas problems and its eventual momentum lessens problems of under-gas. So gas variation becomes less important as the heavier primary mass’s speed variation becomes less possible.

    Anyways, I’d love to hear from some of you – like the author of this article – who know vastly more than me about firearm design. Thank you!

    • Great comment, John!

      1. Short-stroke pistons are a bit strange regarding primary and secondary masses. Depending on the length of the stroke, they may count only for unlocking, or they may not count at all. Tappets, for example, typically do not count. In general, I ignore the weight of a short-stroke piston when calculating primary and secondary mass.

      2. Fixed pistons, such as the AK, definitely do count as part of the primary mass, as they ride with the carrier throughout the entire stroke. Anything that is rigidly attached to the carrier through the entire stroke counts as primary mass.

      Pistons are really just another way to actuate a firearm. The AK piston is a sound design, but a bit front heavy.

      As you say, the FAL has a much worse mass ratio than more modern rifles, though I don’t recall exactly what the number is. Anyone with an FAL and a scale could tell us, though, as the FAL’s bolt and carrier neatly represent its secondary and primary masses.

      Your second to last paragraph is true, but there’s more to it than that. During unlocking and locking, the secondary mass leeches momentum away from the primary mass. The primary mass needs this momentum to complete its stroke, so if you have a poorer mass ratio, your primary mass needs to move much faster, which creates a whole host of problems in turn, including less time for the cartridge stack to raise into position for feeding, increased wear, more recoil, less forgiving extraction, and less time for the spent case to clear the action during ejection.

  • Iggy

    Just as a quick shout out the ‘Australian museum’ is the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum, which I highly recommend to any firearms enthusiast who finds themselves in Lithgow, NSW. Has an absolutely amazing collection, including an EM-2, and a Pederson Toggle-Lock and a handgun collections that ranges from the S&W .500 to the Kolibri 2.7mm (yes 2.7mm) and pretty much everything in between, including a Lancaster and Luger’s from over 9 different contracts/ manufacturers.
    Basically if you’re a fan of ‘Forgotten Weapons’ you’ll keep finding your self trying to stop squealing in delight as you keep recognizing various guns.

    Also it’s privately and volunteer run, so I try to draw attention to it when I can.

  • noguncontrol

    I would have thought the FAL would be lighter compared to a competing system, its bolt is short, which would mean a shorter receiver. it uses a short stroke piston, which should allow for a shorter gas tube and piston and shorter receiver overall. That rat tail and recoil spring in the buttstock was what probably make it heavier. They could have put that recoil spring behind/inside the bolt carrier like other systems. That said, if someone can make a FAL lower from aluminum or polymer, you could have a lighter FAL.