Once you’ve amassed your Nerf arsenal and participated in a war or two, it’s natural to start thinking of ways to maximize the performance of your blasters. Thanks to the internet hive mind and the growing numbers of adult enthusiasts, Nerf modification is an immeasurably vast world with countless guides and resources available to assist you.
This article is meant to provide a springboard for beginners interested in modding their Nerf guns with some basic knowledge and places to start learning what to do, and how to do it properly. It will be restricted to power/range modifications only, as there is currently no way to reliably and consistently improve accuracy of the blasters themselves due to the inherent flaws of foam darts (see Dart Shenanigans).
Part 1: Springers vs. Flywheels
With a few exceptions, the vast majority of Nerf brand dart blasters use one of two methods of propulsion: air pressure, powered by springs, and motorized spinning wheels, known as flywheels. Most anyone can intuitively understand how “springers” work: Your dart fits into a tube, and when you pull back the cocking mechanism a plunger retracts and a spring tenses. Pull the trigger to release the spring tension and the plunger provides a blast of pressurized air to propel the dart from the chamber. The first Nerf guns ever released used this method and it’s still the most common – and what most of us think of when we think of traditional Nerf guns.
More recently, Nerf began introducing electric, motorized blasters that allowed for semi-automatic and automatic fire. Again, with few exceptions, almost all of these use a flywheel system to propel darts. Think of flywheels like the pitching machine in a batting cage: two wheels with a small amount of space between their edges spin in opposing directions. Pulling the trigger pushes a dart in between the spinning wheels and the combined friction flings the dart. This image might make it a little clearer:
Part 2: Modifying Springers
There is one hard and fast rule when it comes to increasing the power of air-powered blasters that always rings true: Replace the spring. You will see a lot of talk of “air restrictors” online, and the act of removing them to maximize available air pressure. It’s true that nearly every Nerf blaster includes various mechanisms built in that slightly dampen or restrict the amount of air delivered to the dart. These include things like plastic “webs” in between the punger tube and the dart chamber, as well as safety valves and dart pegs inside the chambers. You can cut, grind, or otherwise remove these air restrictors for a nominal increase in power (very nominal. As in, barely detectable), but at a risk. Some air restrictors are vital to the basic functioning of the blaster. Some contribute to improving air seal, and removing them can actually decrease your range considerably. Also, certain air restrictors allow for a necessary air cushion in the plunger tube that prevents damage from dry firing. Long story short, for such a small potential range increase, I do not consider air restrictor removal to be worth the effort and risk. This is one man’s opinion but the debate rages online.
There are also numerous ways to minimize dead air and improve air seals. Again, these methods may provide a nominal range increase, but the bottom line is that the only surefire way to drastically improve your power in springer blasters is to swap out the spring itself. Essentially, all you are doing is taking apart the gun, removing the stock spring, and replacing it with one of similar length and dimensions but higher strength. All you need is a Phillips head screwdriver.
Stronger springs can be purchased from various online sources specifically dedicated to Nerf applications, the most famous of which is Orange Mod Works. They sell spring-based modification kits for various Nerf guns that include the spring itself, as well as replacement internal parts that are likely to break due to the increased tension. Their products are sound but beware long shipping times when ordering from their website. A small number of their products can be purchased through Amazon for faster shipping.
A cheaper and much faster spring source is your local hardware store. Ace Hardware carries a large assortment of springs, and you can take your stock spring into the store and compare it to their selection. This method introduces a lot of guesswork so pick up a few that look like they might fit and experiment.
Here are some good help guides for spring replacements (I recommend ignoring the actual mods in these guides, but they have good pictures to assist with disassembly/reassembly):
Part 3: Modifying Flywheels
Modification of electric blasters is inherently more complex and precise than replacing springs, but also yeilds dramatic results. Often, you can drastically improve both your power/range AND your rate of fire with one modification.
Generally, it’s a two step process: removal of the mechanical and electronic safety locks, and increasing the voltage. Tools required are, at minimum, a soldering iron and solder, wire strippers/cutters, Phillips head screwdriver (#1 or #0 recommended size), and electrical tape.
The Stryfe is the best blaster to introduce yourself to electrical modification. It has the simplest version of the flywheel wiring system you can find, and is the most inexpensive electric blaster currently sold in stores. Because of this there are numerous tutorials online for doing a rewire and voltage increase. Doing a Stryfe modification will provide you with the essential knowledge for modifying pretty much any other flywheel gun.
As far as supplying that extra voltage, we’re talking battery replacement. Store bought alkalines don’t cut it. Best practice is to rewire your gun to accept rechargeable battery packs – which often means you also need to work out where the pack will fit in your gun. A more convenient (and more expensive) battery option is 14500 size (AA cell dimensions) button top IMR Lithium-ion batteries, which will simply fit into the stock battery compartment on the Stryfe. These can be found online for around $5 per battery. The Stryfe and the Rayven both take 4 AA’s, but two or three IMR cells will give you all the voltage you need (the empty slots will require dummy cells to complete the circuit).
If the above paragraph made your head spin, fear not. Once you get inside the blaster and see how it all works, following the tutorials step by step will be a cinch. The toughest part of these voltage mods is choosing the proper battery and charger for the job. These are the best guides I’ve found online:
Stryfe: https://foamdartgoodness.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/mod-shop-nerf-stryfe-voltage-upgrade-and-safety-removal/ (Note: The Trustfire high-voltage AA’s used in this mod are not recommended for safety reasons. Use IMR’s.)