The MAS-36 is a short, carbine-style rifle with a two-piece stock and slab-sided receiver. It is chambered for the modern, rimless 7.5x54 French cartridge, a shortened version of the 7.5 x 57 mm MAS mod. 1924 cartridge that had been introduced in 1924 (then modified in 1929), for France's FM-24/29 light machine gun.
The MAS-36 carries a spike bayonet, reversed, in a tube below the barrel. To use the bayonet, it is pulled out, turned around, and plugged back into its receptacle. The MAS-36 has a relatively short barrel and is fitted with large aperture (rear) and post (front) sights designed for typical combat ranges. It has a five-round, Mauser-style double-column magazine with a removable floorplate. The rifle is somewhat unusual in that the locking lugs are found at the rear of the bolt rather than the front, resulting a distinctive-looking forward cant of the bolt handle. Typical for French rifles of the period, the MAS-36 has no safety. It was normally carried with a loaded magazine and empty chamber until the soldier was engaged in combat, though the rifle's firing mechanism could be blocked by raising the bolt handle.
Though intended to replace the Lebel and Berthier rifles, budget constraints limited MAS-36 production, and it served along with the former rifles in many French army and colonial units. In World War II, the MAS-36 was often reserved to front-line infantry units, with other troops and reservists often receiving elderly Berthier and Lebel-type rifles.
The MAS-36 was extensively used by French Army and colonial defense forces during France's postwar counterinsurgency operations in the First Indochina War and the Algerian War of Independence, as well as in the Suez Crisis. During the Suez Crisis, French paratroop marksmen of the 2er RPC (Regiment Parachutiste Colonial), employed telescope-sighted MAS-36 rifles to eliminate enemy snipers. The MAS-36 remained in service into the early 1960s as an infantry rifle, often serving with indigenous colonial units. It was officially a substitute-standard rifle after France adopted the semi-automatic MAS-49 rifle series in 1949, though it lives on in a dedicated sniper version of the rifle, the Fusil Modèle F1 (now chambered in 7.62 x 51 mm NATO).
After the war, civilian hunting rifle versions were made by MAS and by the gunsmith Jean Fournier. These half-stocked rifles were chambered for the 7x54 MAS-Fournier, 8x60 "Magnum", and 10,75x68.
- MAS 36 CR39 - A MAS 36 equipped with a folding hollow aluminum stock designed for use by airborne forces.
- Fusil modèle F1 - A highly-modified MAS-36 rifle action equipped with a heavy barrel and telescopic sight for use by designated marksmen.