The FN-Fal/L1A1 "The Free Worlds Right Arm”

October 18, 2007

   The history of the FN-Fal is widely known so I’ll skip directly to the operation, shooting as well as the types of this “Right Arm of the Free World”.
   The United States military came very close to adopting this fine weapon as our standard battle rifle. The M14 won out in the end but over 60 nations adopted this rifle in different variants with some still in use today. There are two general types. The metric or FN-Fal metric version and the British, Australian and New Zealand inch model. On one battlefield in 1982 both versions were used and fought each other. The Falklands war between Argentina and Great Britain. British versions were semi auto whereas Argentina used select fire metric versions made by FN. Some British troops shouldered the semi auto and picked up a full auto captured Argentine model.
   In the USA many shooters prize this weapon myself included. Metric versions outnumber inch versions by a wide margin. Not because the metrics are better but the inch version is just harder to come by. Mine is the inch version imported by Century International in 1994. My L1A1 is very tight and well fitted. Several metric versions made from parts by Imbel are rather loose in some areas. You’ll not find either with all matching part numbers. They are out there but command a very high price approaching $3000! Most of the Imbel part guns are in the price range of $500 to $800. Another choice you have is an Fn-Fal made by DSA Arms and start at $1500 and run to a little over $2000 for the collector models. If you can afford it this is the way to go. Many are made with Austrian parts and come in many variations from standard to Para models. This website is worth a look!
   If you aren’t aware of it any imported rifle is required to have six american made parts in order to comply with current import laws. If you add or change any parts make sure you don’t fall below the correct number of american made parts. If you should your gun will be illegal! If in doubt consult your gunsmith, DSA Arms or Century International.

   As you can see from the above picture this is not a small rifle. The balance more than makes up for the extra weight however. Without any additional optics the average weight is 12 pounds. Takedown is very simple and is very close to the method used to breakdown an AR15. Once a pin is pulled out at the rear of the reciever the front of the rifle hinges down just like the AR15. After that you simply remove the bolt by sliding it to the rear. That’s all you need to do for ordinary care. You clean the bolt as usual. There is a push pin on the bolt you press to the side and remove the firing pin. It is under pressure so it’s best to keep your hand at the rear of the bolt to prevent the firing pin from flying across the room. There is also a tool to remove the gas regulator plug so it may be cleaned as well. This is located just below the front sight. This tool comes with most guns but if you should need one they can be purchased for a small amount at Cheaper Than Dirt along with other useful cleaning items. After removing the gas plug remove the rod behind it and clean with solvent to prevent a buildup of carbon which over time will increase gas pressure in the system. The plug itself serves as the gas regulator for the system. They are marked numerically with 7 being an average setting for standard ball ammo. Most often once the gas system is regulated there is no need to change it for bullets in the 143grn range of weight. If you use something like Federal 308 match ammo you may have to adjust the setting for proper function since this bullet is 25 grains heavier. Another item that comes in handy is a book available from Cheaper Than Dirt and other sources a Google search will locate for you. This is an Australian military care manual for this rifle. Metric or inch doesn’t really matter since the parts are the same only the dimensions are changed. After cleaning the bore from the rear like you would an AR15 you reassemble in reverse order. Since this rifle doesn’t have lugs at the chamber it’s much easier to clean this area than with an AR15. The bolt slides right in and all that’s left is to close the reciever which latches into place. Very simple and straightforward all around.
   The sights on both metric and inch are your standard military peep sight rear and post front. Windage is at the rear sight with elevation at the front. A small screwdriver is needed for the rear sight and the front sight adjustments. The metric sight will not fit on an inch model although I wish it was otherwise. The inch version has a rather large peep rear sight which is not as precise as the metric but is faster to get on target. As far as optics DSA makes a scope mount which simply replaces the factory dust cover at the top of the reciever. It has a standard Picatinny rail which you can mount any aftermarket sight or optic on. It takes just a minute to replace the dust cover with the sight mount then mount your scope and zero. With most of these you can still use your iron sights. These rifles are capable of very good accuracy and a scope or holographic sight really brings out the best of this inherent accuracy. Of course any red dot sight will work but I prefer the EoTech brand 512 Holographic. This sight is fast on target and will work well at distances out to 300 to 400 meters when sighted in.
   There are many available magazines out there for the FN-Fal and L1A1. The metric mags from an FN-Fal will work in an inch model L1A1 but an inch magazine will not work in a metric rifle. Please refer to this link for the difference between metric and inch versions Century Int. Surplus mags are pretty cheap and can be had for as little as $5. New steel mags can run as high as $35 to $40 each. I’ve used both and honestly the cheaper mags work just fine. These mags hold 20 rounds. Thirty round mags are available from DSA but run as high as $70. These are not my cup of tea since they are so long it makes it impossible to go prone without the mag resting on the ground which leaves you off balance.

   My L1A1 and a good day to shoot

   Lets cover ammunition. These days 308 ammo is, like all other ammo, going up in price. Bargains are still out there but you have to look pretty hard to find that good buy. I mentioned Cheaper than Dirt for tools and cleaning supplies. At times they also have ammo specials in 308 for the Fn-Fal/L1A1. One brand of ammo is a BIG no no and that’s ammo from India! It is pure junk and I have heard of over pressure loads that have severly damaged an FN-Fal. The case walls are very thin on this Indian ammo also. Whatever you do stay away from this stuff or any ammo made in the middle east with the exception of Israeli ammo. Wolf is about the least expensive you will find. I know many people have said stay away from the stuff but I have found it to work well even if it is dirty. If you purchase a rifle from DSA don’t use Wolf ammo because it will void your warranty. Personally I’ve never had any problems with it at all and it has not damaged my gun in any way. A short word about slings. With a rifle of this size it’s much easier to carry with a good sling. I use and advise shooters to check Specter Gear’s website for a very nice sling that runs about $35. That’s the sling on mine in the first picture at the top of the page. The SOP is about the best around. SpecterGear

   Shooting an FN-Fal is a real joy. Recoil is very light with followup shots easily made. You can expect to shoot 3 inch groups at 100 yards with the standard sights with smaller groups using a holographic sight or scope. With a Leatherwood ART scope I have shot 1 1/2 inch groups at 150 yards! The flash suppressor that comes with most of these rifles works very well and is a great improvment over the original suppressor on the military version. This is also one of those compliance parts that can’t be changed anyway. The most comfortable way to hold an Fn-Fal is to hold your left hand just above the front of the magazine. This provides the best balance. I would advise using a nomex flight glove or something similar for that rare instance when you get some blow by gases around the front of the magazine. It doesn’t happen often but you can get burned without that glove on! There is no defect involved that’s just the way they work. It is more likely using a metric magazine in an inch model. The fit is not as tight but it is safe except for this one thing. These rifles are also very reliable with about any ammo you care to shoot. I’ve shot well over 1500 rounds in the last two years with only one failure to feed. I attributed this to a defective surplus round that was dented at the shoulder of the round. It happens sometimes even with premium ammo. Just a side note, the bolt does not hold open after the last round is fired. The controls are also very close to the AR15. The charging handle is on the left side as is the safety. The safety operates identically to the AR15 and is very easy to manipulate.
   To sum things up these are very fine rifles and once you shoot one you’ll realize why so many countries adopted it for military service. Sturdy, reliable, easily maintained and just plain fun. The supply is getting low right now so if you find one grab it because who knows when any more will be imported. Of course DSA will always have them unless a certain female is elected president then Heaven help us all !!!!!!!

Note 10/28/07

I’ve had a couple of fellow shooters email and ask if they can shoot 308 ammo in an FN-Fal/L1A1. Yes, you can by all means. The 308 is just the commercial name for 7.62×51 the military uses. The ammo in 7.62×51 is usually cheaper than 308 designated ammo and usually is made for military use. A standard is 143 grain bullets in both. Of course match ammo from Federal is a heavier bullet. For more information click this link to Sniper Central.
More Ammo info on Sniper Central

  

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UPDATE 04/25/2010

Since writing this review in October 2007 prices have increased significantly. The rifles themselves have increased but not a great deal if you shop around. What has increased are magazine prices which now seem to average in the $20 range for quality mags. They are also more difficult to find than when the review was first written.

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27 Responses to “The FN-Fal/L1A1 "The Free Worlds Right Arm””


  1. [...] And some history: The Free World’s Right Arm. [...]

  2. John Says:

    You’ve got it backwards, Inch mags will fit metric, metric mags won’t fit Inch. Metric mags have the press-formed lug, Inch-pattern has the welded lug.
    Go Inch or don’t go at all.

  3. Gunner Says:

    hello John,

    I do use metric mags in my inch model. Just to make sure I am giving out the correct information upon receiving your email I called Century International and DSA. At Century Arms I spoke with the gentleman who is their expert on this rifle and he confirms what I posted that you can use metric mags in an inch model but not inch mags in a metric rifle. He stated the lug will not clear or latch when trying to use an inch mag in a metric rifle. DSA gave me the same answer.
    I hope this information has been helpful.

    Thanks,
    Phil

  4. Gunner Says:

    Please refer to this link for the differences in inch and metric versions

    http://www.centuryarms.com/receivers.htm

  5. ZedRickel Says:

    You need to join the FAL files forum. It appears you are not a member.

  6. Gunner Says:

    Zed,

    I hate to admit it but I wasn’t aware of the forum:-) I’ll cetainly take you up on that!

    Thanks,
    Phil

  7. dijkstra Says:

    I am a new FAL owner with an Imbel Inch-Cut receiver and was given Metric Magazines with the purchase. These WILL have feed problems, and is likely why the previous owner gave up the gun. The nose of the metric mags does not catch on the inch cut receiver, and it slides down. The bolt will push the bullet straight into the receiver and jam.

  8. Gunner Says:

    Hi Craig,

    You sure got the best receiver from everything I’ve heard. Imbel still makes the LW frames for Springfield Armory 1911 pistols.
    I agree on the mags. While they will go in the lockup isn’t tight at all which is always going to cause problems.
    Congrats on the rifle especially since they are getting harder to come by unless you buy the very expensive ones made in the US.

    Phil

  9. KB Says:

    Gunner, I have had a L1A1 CAI for nearly 12 years now that I have never fired. Recently I tried to load some 308 and it simply will not feed into the breech. The tip of the bullit moves straight forward and hits the feed ramp at the lower lip. I have tried both inch and metric mags. The metric mags are worse. If I keep racking it the gun will eventually feed the 308 with the inch mags. But it is scary. It will not even come close to feeding with the metric mag installed. I tried filing away some of the ramp as it has a bump on the lower right side. Not sure if I should remove the whole bump or not. What do you think? Any helpful suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks

  10. Gunner Says:

    Some of the early imported guns from Century Arms had problems. This didn’t last long but it did happen around that time period. I would not remove any material from the ramp at all. This could damage the frame to the point of having to be replaced. One question—have you tried using different types of ammo? The reason I ask is that ammo from India is know to be very bad and cause problems as well as be out of spec.
    If it was mine before I did anything else or tried to force it to load by slamming it pretty good I would contact Century Arms International that imported and assembled your rifle and inquire about having them repair it free of charge. They can be reached at this link. I would call rather than email and not take no for an answer just because you have had it so long you haven’t shot it which will be very evident once they see it. It is possible they will say no since the warranty is one year but if they want to do the right thing they will repair it for you.
    Please let me know what they say and we can go from there. I can give you names of folks who can fix it as well as calling Century myself on your behalf if you would want me to. I’m always glad to help and I’ll stick with you on this until it’s fixed!

    Take care,
    Phil

    PS Just use this email address to reply

  11. KB Says:

    Thanks for your quick response Phil,
    I have tried a couple different 308 rounds. A soft point 150 grain Remington a long time ago and recently American Eagle 150 grain FMJ boat tail. I did polish up the ramp some and it seemed to help a bit. Still has a raised area in the center of the ramp that I guess is normal. Almost seems like a combination of friction from the mag grabbing it and the bullit not being high enough to enter the breech properly. I cleaned up the edges of the mag as well. Maybe I should try a lighter round? I noticed that when the metric mag was used if I push up on the bottom-front of the mag it helped. Appreciate any help you can get.
    Thanks again.
    KB

  12. Gunner Says:

    Email sent Kerry

  13. KB Says:

    Didn’t get your email. Please try again.
    Thanks

  14. Gunner Says:

    Kerry,

    Email resent

    Phil

  15. CHAS MCDANIEL Says:

    When I fire the weapon, it will rack one in the chamber but it does not recock the weapon. Any ideas?

  16. Gunner Says:

    Yes sir I do have an idea what it is. The gas plug needs adjustment most likely. The link above shows a picture of the gas plug just in front of the front sight and the adjustment ring behind the front sight. The gas pressure is turned down or increased by turning this adjustment. This was employed for the use of different power ammo and firing rifle grenades, blanks etc.
    The adjustment shows as a numbered system going from 1-10 on most of them. A setting of 7 is about normal for most ammo but sometimes it needs to be increased. Some metric models are just marked with hash marks indicating that the more hash marks the more pressure introduced into the system.
    Start out by making sure the regulator is set at 7 and try it. If that doesn’t do it go up one number or notch and keep doing that until the operation of feeding and ejection is normal. You won’t blow anything up:-) The only thing is increased wear on the parts if more gas is used than needed to function but in no way is it dangerous.
    Don’t try to make a very fine adjustment. You want it to be reliable.

    Just let me know if this cures it–it should. Thanks for posting!

    Phil

  17. Matt D. Says:

    What markings reveal metric and inch on the L1A1? In other words how do you know which is which?

  18. Gunner Says:

    Matt,

    The easiest way is to check the reciever and see if it says Imbel anywhere. Imbel are made in South America and are metric. They also have the slim front handguards sometimes made of metal. They also have a non folding charging handle while the inch has a folding one that folds down next to the reciever. The FN made guns are also metric. Any other maker would be from the UK ,Australia or New Zealand and are inch rifles. They have the heavy plastic gurads on the front. The gas adjustment at the top front of the handguards are labeled in numbers rather than just single lines also indicating an inch rifle. Mine in the photo is an inch model imported from Century Arms. Century has imported both but recently the imports have been metric. To me a metric doesn’t feel as tight or well fitted. In fact I had a chance to buy one at a local store but it was a metric and just wasn’t very well assembled. I have seen metrics that were very good. They do tend to come in as kits and assembled here with US compliance parts added for both metric and inch. I put the original flash suppresor back on mine. Honestly the american works better but it looks more like an original.

    Some pics for comparison http://world.guns.ru/assault/as24f-e.htm

    I hope this helps you,
    Phil

  19. GS Says:

    I was somewhat relieved to read the comment of KB and your response dated Oct 17, 2008. 2 months ago I got a Century R1A1 and am only now trying to shoot it (no good chance to get to a range before now). Just as KB’s gun, mine will not chamber a round. It too hits the feed ramp. The Wolf 150 grain rounds are a little longer than some Remingtons that I have, but even the Remingtons are not going into the chamber. I guess I have to go see my dealer now and learn if this weapon came from Century or was traded by someone else. Sure would be nice if it worked.

  20. Gunner Says:

    Well sir the more I thought about it the more I think it’s a problem with Century assembling them. I’m beginning to think it’s a headspace problem caused when Century put the barrel on. Century should take care of that problem without charge. A decent gunsmith can check the headspace fairly easy and also remedy that problem with little effort if indeed that is the problem.

    Thanks for posting,
    Phil

  21. Dave Says:

    On my DS arms FN,the bolt does stay open after the last shot…
    It is a wonderful piece indeed!

  22. Trevor Says:

    Gunner,

    I made my L1A1 took it for a test fire, the rifle will not grab a round, the bolt just scrapes the top of the round. No matter what round I have or mag I use, I still have the same problem. Could you please give me some idea as to what is wrong here.

    Trevor

  23. Gunner Says:

    Hi Trevor,

    Sorry it took me a day to get back to you. You say that this is one you assembled from parts you purchased? Well let me start with the basics. One thing that happens sometimes is the mags will cause a problem if they have a weak spring as well as the fact that an inch model which is the L1A1 will accept an inch mag or a metric but the metric rifle will only take metric mags. They may fit but they won’t function. Another problem is the gas adjustment. If it’s set to weak the bolt will not be in sync with the rifles mechanism and fail to feed.
    If you did assemble this one are you 100% sure you have the critical parts in the proper inch or metric size? I know I’m asking a lot of questions but these items are crucial to reliable function. One last thing can you send pictures to this email address. The left side, right side and the front of the magazine you are using. This will help me a lot to help you figure out what’s going on

    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Phil

  24. Hank Goodman Says:

    I am in the process of selling my Springfield M1-A and replacing it with an AR format .308. Rock River advertises their rifles accept both metric and inch FN magazines. While I appreciate your comment that FNFAL magazines are “readily available and as low as $5″, I have not found this to be the case. The cheapest FN magazines I have found in a Websearch were $13.50 (grade 2-functional but lacking cosmetically) with the vast majority priced at $20 or more. Can you direct me to sources for FNFAL 20-round magazines and what condition can I expect from these companies?

  25. Gunner Says:

    http://www.keepshooting.com/firearmaccessories/magazines/FN_FAL20rdmag.htm

    Hank,

    It’s been almost two and a half years since I wrote that review and things have sure changed in that time not only for L1A1/FnFal mags but about everything to do with shooting. I did find the above link with a picture of a representative magazine. They have them in stock now at $13.50.
    At the time I wrote the review mags were indeed very inexpensive and plentiful. I’ll update the information to reflect the change in availability and prices.

    Take care,
    Phil

  26. Franz Says:

    Hey Phil, Always glad to speak with you! I have a DSA STG 58. Great rifle. Everyone seems to be concerned about “Accuracy” With iron sights I shoot about a 2-3 inch group not taking too much time for follow up shots. If I took lots of time, with match ammo, let the barrel cool down, control my breathing…..It is probably possible to shoot around a 1 inch group. DSA puts out the best FN FAL in my opinion.

    Who can afford to shoot match ammo all of the time? lol

    Anyway a GREAT rifle for sure.

  27. Gunner Says:

    Hi Franz,

    Man I wish I coud afford a DSA! A local store had two and they were over priced at $2800 used! Oh well I keep looking for a used one that’s not priced so darn high. Hope all is well with you guys!

    Phil


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