Sunday, September 18, 2016

Notes on maintaining firearm magazines

I'm beginning my annual checkup of all my pistol and rifle magazines, making sure they're in good working order and organized according to firearm, cartridge, etc.  As usual, I'm finding problems here and there, and I thought a few notes might help others in the same situation.

1.  Glock generations.  I have exclusively 3rd-generation Glock pistols.  That's by choice;  I've never forgotten the early recoil spring problems with 4th-generation Glocks, which made me decide not to buy them.  I know they're supposed to have fixed that by now, but still . . .  The problem arises in that 4th-generation Glocks (and all Glock magazines manufactured since then) have magazine catch indentations on both sides of the front of the magazine.  1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-generation Glock magazines had the indentation on only one side of the magazine.  This means that earlier-generation magazines may not work properly in a 4th-generation pistol, whereas 4th-generation magazines will work correctly in all generations of Glock pistols.

If you have a mix of 3rd- and 4th-generation Glock pistols, as many do, it might be worth visually distinguishing their magazines in some way (a different color floorplate, or marking them with different colors in some way).  That way, you're less likely to absent-mindedly reach for a 3rd-generation magazine and insert it into a 4th-generation pistol.  If you should really need that pistol, the last thing you want are feeding malfunctions when you're trying to save your life!  A better alternative (if you can afford it - I can't) is to sell your older magazines, or trade them in, to buy more 4th-generation models, so that all your magazines will function in all your pistols.

2.  Magazine wear.  This can show up in unexpected places.  A few minutes ago I was checking a Glock 17 magazine when I noticed the back plate was bulged outward for the bottom third of its length, almost as if it had a crease running down its center.  Puzzled, I unloaded it, removed the baseplate and spring, and visually inspected the inside.  Sure enough, the metal plate at the rear had bulged outward.  When I tried to insert it into a pistol to test it for function, it didn't want to go all the way in, because the bulge pressed against the rear of the magazine well;  and once in, it was difficult to extract.  Needless to say, that magazine went straight into the trash can!

I've never seen that particular weakness before, but there's always a first time.  There are others.  Plastic followers can wear until they protrude through the magazine's lips;  the lips themselves can pull apart under the pressure of a full load of ammunition with a strong spring behind the rounds;  plastic baseplates can weaken so that the grooves holding them onto the magazine body stretch, allowing them to come apart under tension.  (I've had that happen to me more than once during a shooting course, when magazines are repeatedly loaded and emptied, and often dropped onto hard ground.)

It's not worth trying to repair something like that.  If a weak point shows itself, it'll almost certainly reoccur, no matter what you do.  Get rid of that magazine, and replace it with a new one.

3.  Product improvements.  Frequently, during the life of a firearm, the manufacturer will introduce improved parts or components.  Magazines are no exception.  For example, Glock has three generations of magazines, plus several generations of followers.  The latter can cause confusion - see, for example, this forum thread discussing them.  It's probably a good idea to check the current version of follower in your magazines (i.e. the one sold in new magazines for your pistol in the appropriate cartridge/caliber).  If your followers are an older generation, there's usually a reason why they were changed to the new one - possibly feeding malfunctions, wear patterns, etc.  I make it a habit, every five years or so, to check on the current versions.  Last year I upgraded a large number of older Glock magazines to the latest follower versions, and installed new springs.  YMMV, of course.

4.  Visual differentiation.  If you have different pistols from the same manufacturer, their magazines may look very similar, varying only in their length.  For example, the Glock 17's magazine holds 17 rounds, while the Glock 19's holds 15 rounds;  but the G17 magazine will fit and function in the G19, whereas the G19 magazine will not fit and function in the G17.  If you own examples of both models, and pick up (say) a G17 pistol plus (by accident) a G19 spare magazine, that spare won't work in your carry gun.  That might be disastrous under the wrong circumstances.  Also, 9mm. Glock magazines look very similar to that company's .40 S&W magazines.  Without careful inspection, it's easy to confuse them.  The same applies to the Ruger SR, Smith & Wesson M&P and Springfield XD pistol families, among others.  Magazines for one cartridge may not feed another cartridge reliably.  You don't want to find that out the hard way at the wrong time.

I recommend visually distinguishing between such similar magazines by color-coding them.  This can be as simple as using a marker that will write on hard plastic or metal (I use this one to label mine).  A more visually obvious solution, IMHO, is to use different-colored baseplates.  They're available from various sources (for example, the Vickers Tactical baseplates from Tango Down - there are other vendors also).  If you really want to go to town, you can paint them, or buy a light-colored plastic baseplate and color it using something like Rit Dyemore.  How about Peacock Green or Racing Red or Royal Purple?  Unleash the artist in you!

5.  Don't try to save money by buying second-rate magazines.  A couple of years ago, I wrote:
Sometimes aftermarket products offer significant improvements over original equipment.  Unfortunately, their quality varies from excellent to execrable.  I suggest you read the firearms forums to see who's buying (or not buying, or complaining about) which manufacturer or brand.  In my own collection, for example, I have nothing at all from ProMag or Triple K, but lots of magazines, accessories and related parts from (among others) Magpul, Mec-Gar, TangoDown, Troy Industries and Wolff Gunsprings.  (No, the companies I've named aren't paying or sponsoring me to mention their names.)
Since then, I've added a few magazines from Elite Tactical Systems (for the AR-15 and Glock) and Lancer (for the AR-15) to my collection.  They've worked well for me so far.  However, I'm wary of magazines from any other manufacturer unless and until I've thoroughly tested them, and until I've seen the results of other people testing them just as thoroughly.  Magazines are critical components of your firearm.  Cheap is no substitute for reliable!

6.  Have enough magazines.  Primary firearms should have enough magazines that if one breaks, you won't feel the lack during everyday use until you can replace it.  Secondary firearms, less critical and/or less frequently used, may be able to get by with less;  but many well-known instructors recommend at least 5 magazines per pistol, and I agree.  If you have multiple copies of the same pistol, you might prefer to reduce that;  but I'm not sure that it isn't a good idea to stick to the 5-per-gun rule.  If magazine capacities are again legally restricted, you may not be able to get any more standard-capacity examples for your pistols.  Better to have enough in your stash now to see you through.  As Tamara has pithily observed:
Q: "How many magazines should you have?"

A: "More."



Punzdeleon said...

Yesterday I tossed out a Ruger 10-22 mag that I bought used with the firearm 41 years ago. It malfunctioned and might have been the reason it was sold to me. My roommate disassembled and repaired it. Worked nicely till now. This is still my most accurate 22LR outshooting my bolt actions. Time to add a couple of new mags. While this is not a critical firearm for me, I will only buy Ruger made mags for it.
I impulsively bought Thermold mags for my AR-15. Oops. I gave lots of ammo to friends and asked them to try and make the mags fail. So far, so good. Mags with better reputations might have required a lot less ammo for testing. I didn't save any money.
If in doubt, throw it out.


one_of_many said...

AFAIK the 3rd/4th gen Glock magazine compatibility issue only arises if you have swapped the mag release to the right side (for left handers) on a 4th Gen Glock.

RHT447 said...

As regards to Magpul AR/M4 magazines, specifically their dust covers,

there is one benefit seldom mentioned. When they are snapped in place, they depress the cartridge column slightly, thereby taking the spring pressure off the feed lips during storage.

Apologies if I am repeating myself. There is a ton of useful info available here---

It is free and downloadable as PDF. Admittedly some of it is a bit dated and the site is centered around NRA Highpower Rifle, but it is the voice of experience speaking.

clark myers said...

I tend to pour my discards full of lead and paint them red to practice juggling and reloads and for dropping on the ground. Makes me feel easier about retiring the magazine from one role when I move it into another role.

Anonymous said...

While inspecting magazines and purchasing more, don't neglect the rest of the gun - extractors, pins, springs, screws, etc. - regardless of the brand or model. There's lively internet discussion on how frequently critical parts, such as recoil springs, should be replaced, but the key point is have the parts on hand with which to replace worn ones.

Devoting a set amount - say, $30 - each month toward procuring critical spare parts is a worthwile insurance policy. Small prescription medicine bottles make good containers and keep stuff organized and "findable."

Even if you don't have the tools, or expertise, to replace small fiddly bits like extractor pins and springs, if you have several sets on hand someone with the skill can replace them for you.

And, having extra spares can mean the difference between having to move half the contents of the garage at midnight to find one errant spring or simply grabbing another one from your parts storage.

Pro tips: a large (2 1/2 gallon) clear food storage bag makes a handy "glove box" for dissassembly/reassembly of spring-loaded small stuff. So does the bathtub after one tapes over the drain and securely closes the shower curtain.

JohninMd.(HELP?!??) said...

A friend of mine has a early .40S&W Walther PPQ that he picked up some spares for it from a dealer in Delaware. (We live in Md. - 10 rnd. Limit, damn Democraps..) $90. bucks for two. Got home, they won't lock in. Newer model, reveresable mag latch, and latch notches are 3/4" higher on mag body than his one-sided original. Pain in the ass to return in another state, for three extra rounds capacity....

Anonymous said...

I remember in the depths The Dark Years paying over 200 bucks each for pre-ban Glock G21 mags. Maybe it's a result of that but I deem 12 spares a bare minimum and 24 to be even better. Mags for AK and ARs I stockpile as many as I can. I buy a bunch when I buy a case of ammo. Only time I got burned was with those Israeli orlite mags. I bought a dozen and none of them worked. Most had the distressing habit of catastrophically unloading themselves. Pull the thing out of the pouch and it shoots a fountain of rounds out the top of the mag. The couple that would stay loaded wouldn't feed. I think I broke them up and tried to keep the springs as parts but I think they all ended up in the trash.

Anonymous said...

One more: If you have the same gun in two different calibers- say, an AR platform with both .223 and .300 Blackout uppers (or two AR's, for that matter), or both a Glock 22 and a 17 - make bloody sure you can distinguish the magazines, and that this particular magazine right here contains ONLY the cartridges it's supposed to. If you (God forbid) get into a situation where you actually NEED your spare mag, that is not the time to find out that on your last range trip you got careless and stuffed a magazine full of 9mm into the mag holder you normally use for your G22 mags. The AR thing can actually cause a kaboom.

Joseph Mcdermott said...

Peter, I just bought some Brownell brand aluminum ar15 mags. Do you know if they are ok? Thanks

Peter said...

@Joseph: I haven't used those magazines myself, so I can't comment from personal experience. However, others have used them with success; and I've used Brownells components (magazine springs and baseplates) to rebuild older AR-15 magazines. I have no reason to suppose their magazines would be of lesser quality.

Anonymous said...

I don't always throw troublesome mags, if they have a tendency to cause misfeeds, or double feeds they are awesome for training. MARK them so they never get used for anything but training, but surprise misfeeds when you are training is good training.


Jim said...

The Brownell's AR15 mags work great in my experience. I understand they have a contract with the US military. I've used them for some time with no issues. Their 1911 magazines work well too.