Origins of the Multi-Lug Rotating Bolt

The multi-lug rotating bolt as used in a number of semi-automatic firearms today has a significant number of advantages over numerous other designs, to include tilt locking or blowback operated mechanisms. Ability to unlock becomes easier than a standard two lug design, the forces on the lugs are much more evenly distributed, even if one lug does shear off, this might not affect the others during a course of fire. But what are the origins of this design feature that is seen in almost every modern day semi-automatic weapon? Stoner is rightly credited with bringing the concept to fruition, but where did he get it from? Many say Stoner was inspired by Melvin Johnson, but this episode will show that there is actually an 1800s design that features almost identical aspects of the current Stoner piece.

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Transcript ….

[coming soon]



Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at


  • PK

    Interesting! I’d never heard of that shotgun before. What an out of time weapon that was.

  • Get over it Fanbois

    Stoner never had an original idea that he didn’t steal from someone else.

    • ExMachina1

      All innovations are ultimately derivative.

      • Major Tom

        Not entirely. All things have to have a first.

        • ExMachina1

          Nothing is ever perfect on the first go. Columbus didn’t discover America but he did it “right. Same with Stoner–he realized the potential of a concept that other’s had mostly forgotten about.

          • Major Tom

            Columbus didn’t “discover” America “right”, he landed on Hispaniola. (And promptly earned the scorn of the Spanish Crown for enslaving the Arawak on the next go.)

            But back on topic, some firearms and firearm systems were perfect or nearly perfect on the first go. The Mauser action in bolt action rifles was perfected pretty much right as it was invented. (Same with the Mosin-Nagant action and the Lee-Enfield action.) Likewise some weapons are “perfect enough” that further innovations take a long time if ever. For example the M2HB Browning .50 cal. Until the M2A1 came around it was the same perfected design John Moses Browning designed before World War Two. The M2A1 really only modified the one truly problematic area the Deuce had: changing barrels.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Even the Mauser had a pretty long gestation. From the 1871 model, where they first developed the bolt, to the 1889, that had a stripper clip fed single column magazine added, till finally the Spanish 1893, where they settled on the double-stack internal mag. Even after that there were several iterations with incremental improvements that lead up to the M98. That’s 28 years of work.

          • LilWolfy

            Yes. Same with the Mosins when you look at Finnish Mosins, which went through several evolutions. The Russian Mosin Nagant M91/30 PE was a better sniper system than the later M91/30 PU because it had better optics that couldn’t be mass-produced to the numbers the Soviet Union intended to field, so there is a case where things devolved a bit for war effort pull demand.

          • ExMachina1

            I’m willing to concede that JMB might be the exception

          • int19h

            This seems to be a tautology – if I’m reading it right, you’re claiming that M2A1 is “a perfect M2 design”, Mosin is a “perfect Mosin design” etc. But, of course, the real question is whether M2 is a perfect .50 caliber machine gun design (it isn’t, Kord is better), or whether Mosin is a perfect .30 caliber bolt action rifle (it isn’t, Mauser is better).

            The reason why guns stick in service for so long with so few changes to the basic design is not because they’re perfect. It’s because they’re “good enough”, and a complete redesign – even if it would be closer to perfection – is just too costly to justify. M2 is good enough. 5.56mm is good enough. That’s how it has always been, and how it shall always be for anything mass-produced.

    • Kivaari

      He just came up with a total package that was new and innovative. Good enough that it is still with us 60 years later. Where are all those other designs, outside of museums?

      • Eric Frey

        on the internet.

    • Kelly Jackson

      The AK47’s safety is clearly from a Remington Model 8 and the under folding stock is pure MP40.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Who did he steal the internal piston from?

      • iksnilol

        From whomever used pistons first. He just had to hide it due to stealing it

        • uisconfruzed

          Maybe he took it from the railroad.

      • LilWolfy

        He patented it as the Stoner internal expansion system. That’s really the most innovative thing about his design, eliminating the off-axis reciprocating mass and combining the piston with the bolt tail, reducing weight, and keeping all the moving parts within the receivers.

        • ostiariusalpha

          I know, I was just ribbing GoiF a bit.

    • Charles

      Another John Browning (general) idea I’d suspect…..

    • LilWolfy

      “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

  • Ryfyle

    If only that shotgun had a gas port.

  • Asdf

    The Johnson battle rifle and light machineguns both had multilug rotating bolts back in the 30s. Stoner borrowed the design.

    • But where did Johnson get it from…

      • ostiariusalpha

        From Manuel Mondragón, who got it from the Virgin of Guadalupe. Obviously.

        • roguetechie

          Don’t forget some pistol designs as well as the Farquhar Hill and Beardmore Farquhar guns!

    • roguetechie

      Eugene Stoner was actually building his early prototype guns (before armalite) on progressively more and more heavily modified Johnson actions and components…

      When the Armalite division was initially created post war with the intent of designing and production engineering firearms that utilize aluminum and production technology developed for the production of combat aircraft etc one of the very first employees/engineering guys they brought in to help them make it happen was Melvin Johnson!

      Exactly how much of the earlier prototypes is attributable to Gene and how much was Johnson is something that is up for debate, but that they were both involved and worked together is not up for debate. It does however make the stealing and copying claim even more laughable and irrelevant than it usually is with famous gun designs!

      People are not obligated to reinvent the wheel every time they design a new gun, nor is it even advisable!

  • jonathan speegle

    And I would have thought it originated with the French breach loading artillery…or did it…duhn duhn duhn duhn.

    • roguetechie

      Considering that it’s a pretty obvious next step after interrupted thread rotating locking and unlocking mechanisms we can probably take it WAY BACK to early fixed cartridge mountain howitzer etc designs!

      • noob

        If expense was no object, would an interrupted thread precision semi auto DMR bolt head provide better sealing (higher chamber pressure ammo) and better more repeatable lock up, as well as better primary extraction?

        It might be an interesting custom weapon for the operator who has everything.

        • Giolli Joker

          Only single shot, but look at the Concari Revolution for something artillery inspired in rifle form.

          • noob

            now **that** is a fine looking hunting rifle.

  • uisconfruzed

    That’s why I’m more comfortable with a Benelli (Franci, Stoeger) or a Winchester shotgun- rotating locking bolt.

  • noob


    It would be interesting to see what various takes on a “no compromises, clean sheet, price no object” semi auto military DMR would look like.