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10 Best Roller-Delayed Subguns & Rifles [Guide]

Of all modern firearm actions, probably none is as mysterious as the roller-delayed blowback.

Yes, we’ve heard of it, and yes, it’s good, but…why?

PSA MP5
Palmetto State Armory’s MP5 clone sports a roller-delayed system.

I’m so glad you asked.

Today, we’re going to demystify the roller-delayed blowback action.

We’ll go over how exactly this action works and why it’s so desirable.

MP5 Die Hard
You’ll be spraying and praying by the end like McClaine…assuming you can afford one of these bad boys.

Then we’ll look at some of the more interesting roller-delayed guns currently available in case you want to pick up one for yourself.

Let’s get to it!

Table of Contents

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Direct Blowback vs. Roller-Delayed

First, to understand roller-delayed blowback guns, we need to talk about plain ole, normal direct blowback guns.

In a direct blowback firearm, you have a heavy bolt and usually an equally hefty spring that keeps the chamber sealed after firing.

The spring keeps the bolt forward and the chamber sealed when the gun is in battery and ready to fire, and for a short amount of time after firing.

After the round fires, the pressure in the chamber increases while the round moves down the barrel.

Eventually, that pressure is enough that the bolt moves back, and the chamber opens.

This ejects the spent cartridge as the bolt moves to the rear.

At which point the spring pushes the bolt back forward, where it scoops another round off the top of your magazine and chambers it, allowing the process to be repeated.

Benefits to Direct Blowback

This is one of the simplest self-loading actions we humans have devised, and it’s also one of the cheapest.

Budget

Direct blowback is easy to make work, and there are relatively few moving parts, making it fairly reliable as well, especially if you have a dirty gun.

It does have its downsides though.

Cons to Direct Blowback

For one, the heavy bolt presents an issue.

We don’t like reciprocating mass in our firearms because that moving mass causes things like recoil and muzzle flip.

Best AR-15 BCGs
Best AR-15 BCGs

Many people, particularly those focused on accuracy like competition shooters, prefer lighter buffers in their AR-15s, or lightened slides on their handguns for this reason.

Less mass moving back and forth means less recoil.

If you have a heavy bolt and an equivalently high-powered spring moving around, this can make recoil more difficult to manage.

Beyond that, the weight of that bolt and spring are very finely calibrated and modifying your gun can throw things out of whack.

AR15 Buffer Spring
AR-15 buffer spring.

It can do weird things like increase the cyclic rate of full-auto firearms and port pop — that loud pop you get from the ejection port with a suppressor. That sort of defeats the purpose of the suppressor, am I right?

This all happens because a longer barrel or an added suppressor increases that all-important chamber pressure and causes the bolt to unlock further along the pressure curve.

Thus, giving you that pop of escaping gas.

Roller-Delayed Blowback

Introducing a roller-delay to this system fixes many of these issues.

When you chamber a round in a roller-delayed blowback, the bolt head picks it up and chambers it like normal.

Then, the bolt carrier spring pushes on a special locking piece, which forces two round rollers on the bolt head into a special space in the receiver called the trunnion.

HK MP5 Roller Delayed Blowback System Patent Drawing
HK MP5 Roller Delayed Blowback System Patent Drawing submitted by Theodor Koch in 1964 to the U.S. Patent Office. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Now, our bolt is locked closed because of the bolt carrier spring holding the locking piece forward, which holds the two rollers in place.

The action will stay like this as long as the chamber pressure is low.

The actual recoil spring isn’t really doing a whole lot at this point.

Lazy
Recoil spring just hanging out like..

Once you fire off a round, a lot of things are going to happen very, very fast. Like, “faster than a speeding bullet” fast.

First, the round begins moving down the barrel, which causes pressure to begin building in the chamber.

Faster Than Speeding Bullet
When things start moving…they start moving real fast

Eventually, that mounting pressure reaches such a level that the bolt is going to want to move to the rear. This puts pressure on the rollers.

The rollers then squeeze together against the angled head of the locking piece and come out of their little pockets in the trunnion.

Because of the delay caused by the rollers, the chamber pressure begins to drop. It drops much more gradually compared to the sharp peak and drop you get with a standard blowback action.

Roller Delayed Blowback
Roller Delayed Blowback

Once the pressure is great enough to move the bolt, you still have a little bit of time while the rollers disengage.

At this point, the bolt head is unlocked from its position. Nothing holds it in place except the recoil spring.

A roller delayed spring is much less powerful than the one you’d need in an equivalent direct-blowback firearm.

The bolt then travels to the rear, ejects the cartridge, the bullet goes off to hit your target exactly where you were aiming. Then the recoil spring pushes the bolt carrier back forward to resume the process all over again.

Roller-Delayed Advantages

There are some serious advantages to doing things this way.

First, you have less reciprocating mass inside the gun, and it’s moving at a much lower velocity.

As we discussed before, this means you have less felt recoil and muzzle flip — never a bad thing.

Good thing

Next, you’ll have a much easier time suppressing a gun with this style of action.

The MP5 is probably the poster child of the roller-delayed blowback action.

It’s hard to find a gun that suppresses better than that, particularly in terms of performance on the shooter’s end.

HK MP5
Read our historical look into the MP5 here!

Because you’re opening the chamber at much lower pressure levels, you get no port pop. That means no pain in your delicate little ears, and less chance of a living target being able to triangulate what exactly is going on.

This is great for both tactical shooters and hunters alike.

Tacticool
We said tactical not tactiCOOL.

Finally, since there’s no gas system, there’s also no gas to be blown back into your face.

Anyone who has ever fired a poorly-tuned suppressed gun will tell you it’s precisely zero fun at all.

Hot carbon and expanding super-heated ignition gases are really not great for your eyeballs, let me tell you.

Roller-Delayed Issues

So why isn’t every gun a roller-delayed blowback these days? Excellent question.

The simple answer is a direct blowback gas system tends to work better for rifle cartridges.

Assorted 7.62x51mm (MEN 147gr, PPU 165gr, PPU 180gr, Gold Medal 168gr
Assorted 7.62x51mm (MEN 147gr, PPU 165gr, PPU 180gr, Gold Medal 168gr

With roller-delayed blowback, you ditch any adjustability.

Since there is no gas system, you can’t fiddle with things as much as you can in a direct blowback gas system.

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs Mid-Length Gas System
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs Mid-Length Gas System

In other words, any changes in ammo, barrel length, or the addition or removal of a suppressor changes the cyclic rate and lock time of your gun. Adversely, this leads to some major reliability issues you can’t really compensate for.

So, rollies are pickier on ammo.

You can change out the locking piece for one with a differently angled head. But that’s something you need a workbench to do.

KT Sub-2000 On the Gun Bench
Clear the KT Sub-2000 and use the gun bench for a rollie!

Ideally, you want an experienced armorer to handle that process.

Yes, it can be done by a determined person armed with the right tools and access to YouTube. But do you want to risk messing something up?

Mistakes were made

The other issue you have is that the roller and the locking piece can and will wear down, which will require replacement much sooner. At least sooner than you’re likely to replace anything on an AR-15.

Once those pieces start to wear, you’ll need more chamber pressure to actually disengage the locking piece.

That said, roller-delayed guns are pretty cool, not to mention iconic in pop culture.

MP5 Maglite Thatcher
I mean, Thatcher’s cool with them so…

Roller Locked vs. Roller-Delayed

Before we unleash some of the best roller-delayed models upon you, it’s worth mentioning that “roller locked” is sometimes mistakenly used in place of roller-delayed.

In reality, these are two different systems.

Not the Same

Again, roller-delayed systems simply delay the opening of the bolt.

On the other hand, roller locked systems lock the bolt to the barrel/extension. As such these systems rely on recoil or a gas piston to unlock and cycle the action.

MG42 National Interest
The MG42 is an example of a roller locked gun. (Photo: National Interest)

A good example of a roller locked model is the MG42 and Czech vz.52 pistol.

Best Roller-Delayed Blowback Guns

Now that we’ve talked a little about how these guns work, as well as some pros and cons, let’s look at the guns themselves.

So, there aren’t a ton of rollies out there. But some iconic roller-delayed blowback options do exist on the market.

1. StG45

Okay, so this one isn’t exactly in production anymore, but we’d be remiss to not mention it…especially since this is the model the roller-delayed blowback action was originally developed for.

StG45
Sturmgewehr 45 with a 30-round magazine inserted. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

As U.S. and Allied forces began to forcefully wind down the German Wehrmacht’s ability to continue the war effort towards the end of WWII, several German engineers — many of them forced to work against their will — worked on new firearm designs.

One of the last of these was the StG45, developed by Mauser.

This rifle, firing the 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge, included the roller-delayed blowback design for the first time. The original patent by Mauser’s Wilhelm Stähle and Ludwig Vorgrimler specifically reference it.

It’s very much out of production these days, so if you happen to find one of the 50 or so rifles that were ever produced, hang on to it.

It’s worth something.

2. CETME Model 58 Rifle and CETME Sporter

After the war, Ludwig Vorgrimler went on to develop several other firearms, including the now-famous Spanish CETME Model 58 — also called the CETME Rifle.

CETME is short for Centro de Estudios Tecnicos de Materiales Especiales, a Spanish arms manufacturer.

Spanish Soldier CETME
Spanish soldier holding sailor with CETME 58 Model C.(Photo: PH2 Milton R. Savage)

This design is, perhaps unsurprisingly, based heavily on the StG45 that Vorgrimler worked on previously.

However, the CETME incorporates several key upgrades and changes, including a fluted chamber design that helped prevent cases from becoming stuck.

This 7.62x51mm NATO battle rifle was originally chambered for the 7.92x41mm CETME cartridge.

Some 7.62x51mm Rounds
Some 7.62x51mm rounds

Today, you can most commonly find the CETME in the U.S. through Century Arms International in the form of the CETME Sporter.

CETME Sporter
CETME Sporter

This model is a civilian version made in the U.S. and retailing for around $750.

It’s is a decent option for a vintage battle rifle in the iconic H&K G3 format.

1312
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Heckler & Koch G3

Speaking of, the H&K G3 and all its many clones, copies, and homages is essentially an upgraded version of the CETME rifle.

HK G3
Original G3 variant with older style flip up sights and wooden furniture. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

The H&K G3’s locking piece has been tweaked a little for extra reliability, and there’s some differences in furniture.

Really, that’s all the difference, but sometimes that’s all it takes.

G3 Schematic
G3 Schematic

It comes chambered in 7.62x51mm.

Today, the rifle is still in production. It’s spawned a huge number of derivatives, some of which are civilian-legal here in the U.S.

For instance, the SR9 is the sporty U.S. version of the G3.

HK SR9T
HK SR9T

Meanwhile the HK91 boasts a semi-auto design made to be U.S. compliant.

Prepare for some sticker shock, though. The SR9 retails for around $6,000.

6025
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. Century C308

The Century C308 is the cheapest way, short of committing theft, to get your hands on an H&K G3 clone. (Also, stealing is bad so, yeah, don’t do that.)

Technically it’s a clone of the CETME Model C manufactured by Century.

C308
Century C308

Chambered in 7.62x51mm, the C308 uses an 18-inch barrel. And it accepts both G3 and CETME mags.

Bonus, you get two 20-rounders with the rifle, so that’s nice.

TTAG Century Arms C308
(Photo: The Truth About Guns)

Using both new U.S.-made parts as well as older CETME original bits and pieces, you can find the C308 in the States.   

It’s a solid rifle, and a great budget choice at around $840.

840
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Heckler & Koch 91

The H&K 91 is a semi-automatic version of the iconic H&K G3 still in use today.

All internal parts that allow full-automatic fire are removed. It also has a flange welded in place to prevent an automatic trigger pack.

This addition rendered the paddle-style magazine release non-functional. So, the magazine release was moved to the right side of the mag well.

HK 91
HK 91 (Photo: Rock Island Auction)

Other than that, it’s absolutely identical to the HK G3A3 — the most iconic G3 variant that began production in 1963.

The one problem: import of this rifle stopped in 1989.

So, there’s a little less than 50,000 of them in the US. That’s all!

This makes them…pricey to say the least.

Bridesmaids Poor

Still, if you’ve got the cash, this is a truly excellent rifle that won’t let you down.

And it’s the best way to get a true G3 here in the U.S.

6. PTR 91

If you want to spend slightly less cash and get something that’s nearly as good, check out the PTR 91.

This rifle is a semi-automatic copy of the original G3 design. It uses some original G3 tooling from the FMP arms factory in Portugal.

PTR 91 Wood Chassis
PTR 91 Wood Chassis (Photo: Guns America)

It measures 40.5-inches in overall length and weighs in at 9.5-pounds. With this model, you get either a 10-round or 20-round mag.

The PTR 91 is much higher quality than the Century C308. Hands down, it’s definitely the best clone of the G3 line out there.

So, this is the route we recommend if you aren’t quite prepared to shell out a few thousand for an original HK91.

2000
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And yes, we realize the CETME, C308, SR9, and PTR 91 are basically kinda the same but cut us some slack here. A list with only a few guns would just be boring.

True

7. Heckler & Koch MP5

Next, the most recognizable roller-delayed blowback gun of them all…the H&K MP5.

The MP5 has seen use all over the world, particularly in the West. It’s also been used by everyone from James Bond to the U.S. Secret Service.

HK MP5A3 Retractable Stock
HK MP5A3 Retractable Stock (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Sporting a 9mm SMG design, it accepts double-stack magazines and makes an ideal suppressor host.

This alone spawned the almost-as-iconic MP5SD, an integrally suppressed version.

HK MP5 SD Ad

The MP5 also yielded the UMP. But as anyone who has ever handled this variant — or played Escape from Tarkov, Call of Duty Warzone, or any of the Rainbow Six games — can tell you, the UMP doesn’t quite measure up to the original.

Oh, and if you want one, good luck.

London Police HK MP5
A police officer guards the entrance to Downing Street, London, home of the UK Prime Minister. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Transferable MP5s cost new car money and are rarer than hen’s teeth these days.

Patience, a tax stamp, and $40K will get you one…eventually.

Ouch

Or you can buy a civvie version for much, much less.

The SP5 is H&K’s newest entry in the MP5 world. It’s mostly sold in the U.S.

HK SP5
HK SP5

At almost $3,000, the SP5 comes in a high price tag but still cheaper than the OG.

H&K’s SP5 uses a semi-auto design, so no tax stamp unless you go with the SBR variant.

4540
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

8. PTR 9CT

Finally, PTR Industries swoops in to save the day with the PTR 9CT MP5.

This little guy is produced under license from H&K. It’s made in the States using primarily U.S. parts.

PTR 9CT
PTR 9CT

Chambered in 9mm, it’s a fun little gun, weighing in at just over 5-pounds.  

It accepts MP5 mags and can throw 30-rounds downrange at a semi-auto rate.

PTR 9CT
PTR 9CT (Photo: Gun Auction.com)

Quality comes down to effort and the effort is here. Plus, the PTR 9CT MP5 offers a nice platform for us Americans made by the home team.

At around $1,900, it’s a lot cheaper than the true H&K version. That definitely doesn’t suck.

1900
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

9. Dakota Tactical D54

Dakota Tactical is almost synonymous with MP5 style clones. Seriously, these guys know their stuff.

Offering numerous models dedicated to the roller-delayed action, you’re bound to find a variant that speaks to you.

Dakota Tactical MP5 Main
Dakota Tactical MP5

The D54 series brings a swath of sizes ranging from compact subguns up to full-size rifles. There’s something for the whole family here.

Assuming you have a chunk of change to burn, that is. What I’m trying to say is these MP5 clones aren’t what we’d call cheap.

Not that we’re surprised. Dakota Tactical makes some of the best clones out there. So, you get what you pay for.

(Photo: Dakota Tactical)
(Photo: Dakota Tactical)

Prices start at $2,699 and top out around $4,400.

Dakota is known for its excellent roller-delayed guns, so you can expect to get a quality gun. And that peace of mind alone is worth the money.  

2699
at Dakota Tactical

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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10. Angstadt Arms MP-9

We felt like mentioning the Angstadt Arms MP-9 but you should know it’s not quite available yet.

Announced in January 2020, the MP-9 is a lightweight, compact roller-delayed option.

Angstadt Arms MP9
Angstadt Arms MP9

It measures 14-inches in overall length and weighs just 3.6-pounds.

Even better, the MP-9 runs on Glock 9mm double-stack mags. We love that feature because it keeps overall costs down and gives you plenty of spare mags.

No word yet on when the full model will come down the pipeline for all, but we’re keeping a close for when it does.

In the meantime, if you can deal without the full rifle, you can snag the MP-9 upper right now and build your own subgun.

Angstadt Arms MP9
Tell me this doesn’t look like fun!

Conclusion

Roller-delayed blowback firearms are a super neat part of gun history, with some noticeable benefits.

While they’re not as common as piston or DI gas guns, they hold a place in gun owners’ hearts for their reliable action and fun design.

PSA MP5
John holding a PSA MP5 clone.

What is your fave roller-delayed gun? Let us hear from you in the comments! Want to delve into the history of the MP5 a bit more? Check out our historical look at the iconic HK MP5 or see a compilation of the Best MP5 Clones.

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5 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Doug Darby

    I was lucky to get one of the last two Z5rs in the country last year It came with an A2 stock The nice folks at Zenith really took care of me, doing a trigger job and painting the weapon for me (it was a SHOT show demo gun) It arrived in virtually new condition I run a Dead Air Wolfman on it and its a joy Zenith also sold me an A3 stock they had, even though it was listed out of stock on their site Could not be happier Only downside? Its registered as an sbr so I may have to worry about the goons knocking on my door some day

    May 3, 2021 10:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Meat Eater

    CMMG? They have one of the best.

    May 3, 2021 8:58 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Meeester Paul

    CMMG?

    May 3, 2021 5:37 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    DD

    Does the Grandpower Stribog A3 roller delayed action count?

    May 2, 2021 9:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael

    Hey guys i love each and every gun you mentioned with a notable mention for a couple! The Century C308 and the Heckler & Koch G3 as well as the Century CETME sporter. I recently purchased a pretty much all Odin works 9mm Carbine built locally by a gunsmith. I decided this time id like a .45ACP Carbine and went with the CMMG radial delayed blowback barrle/BCG combo from Primary Arms. I did also get a dedicated lower from a local gun shop that is just starting out making their own products like lowers and other parts. The upper is from a company your mentioned at Angstadt Arms.What im trying to figure out is since theres no gas system what do i plug the gas port with on the upper?lol Once i feel i have 100% of the parts im going to have my local guy build this one for me.hehe

    May 2, 2021 4:54 pm