Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/8/2012. Some additional observations at the end.
OK, we’re all adults here. I think that the time has come to talk about something a little filthy, something that has plagued shooters for decades and something we need to put a stop to, for the good of all of us gun owners. The time has come to clean up our act and get rid of all of our dirty magazines.
No, not *that* kind of dirty magazine (jeez – get your mind out of the gutter!). I’m talking about the kind of magazine that goes into your firearm. Sheesh.
Now, be honest: when was the last time you inspected and cleaned out your magazines? I mean took them apart and cleaned them thoroughly inside and out? Examined the parts for unusual wear? And then lubed ‘em properly with gun lube before putting them back together?
Seriously, this is one of those details that a lot of people just never think about: that to function properly, a semi-auto firearm (or a select-fire one, for that matter) needs a working magazine and while the magazine is usually a pretty simple component of a pistol, it too needs to be cleaned and maintained regularly (just like any other mechanical component of your gun). Otherwise it can impede smooth functioning of your firearm, and that can lead to very bad things called “weapons malfunctions” and “failures to feed”. Which can lead to the dreaded “oops, I’m dead” problem in a self-defense situation.
Happily, almost all modern handguns magazines have been designed so that the average person can disassemble and then easily reassemble them, though over the years I have known plenty of people who either didn’t know this or didn’t care (or really just forget to check/clean their magazines regularly).
Some terminology before we go any further. Your typical magazine has four main parts:
- Body – this is the overall housing.
- Spring – the internal part that pushes cartridges up into the pistol.
- Follower – a small metal or plastic plate on top of the spring which guides cartridges.
- Floor plate – the bit at the bottom of the body that holds the spring and follower in place.
One other part I want to mention, though it is not a ‘component’ is the (feed) lips. This is the upper part of the magazine body that helps to position cartridges properly within the pistol so that they can be transferred from the magazine into the chamber of the gun. Sometimes these can become pinched, which could lead to failure to feed.
Taking apart Your Magazine
The good news is you should be able to disassemble most if not all pistol magazine designs out there. The bad news is that methods for this vary according to the style of magazine (i.e. Glock versus Colt 1911 magazines), so you should definitely consult your manufacturer’s instructions before attempting to take one of your handgun magazines apart. In general though, here’s how you do it:
- Remove all the cartridges from your magazine.
- Examine the magazine, looking for obvious wearing or breakage (rare, but it happens).
- Look at the floor plate. There should be some variety of clip or clasp that keeps it in place and it might need a small part to be moved, or a little spring latch tripped (usually with a small rod or nail).
- Slide off the bottom of the body once you remove the floor plate. Be careful when doing this, since the spring inside the magazine will be under some pressure and may want to shoot out (finding this smaller piece once its been lost can be a challenge too).
- Take out the spring and follower from the bottom of the magazine. The follower may be mounted to the top of the spring, or it may be free and just held in place by spring tension. Try to pay attention to this as you remove the spring.
Now that your magazine is completely disassembled, you should be able to look up inside the body and see out the top where the lips are located. The interior sides of the body are where dirt can accumulate. This can interfere with the smooth movement of the follower. It can also retain moisture, and that can cause rusting. Here’s how you should proceed:
- Clean the inside of the body thoroughly, using your usual gun cleaners and tools.
- Look at the top of the body, where the lips are. Make sure that these are cleaned inside and out as well.
- Examine the spring, checking for built-up dirt or rust. Wipe down with a rag & some cleaner, then lubricate lightly.
- Do the same for the follower and floor plate.
- Lightly lubricate all surfaces.
Now you’re ready to reassemble the magazine. Just reverse the steps for taking it apart, being careful that the follower and spring go in correctly (this matters on many, but not all, magazines). Hold the spring in place and snap the floor plate back into position.
Check the magazine to make sure that the follower moves freely when under pressure, and that the empty magazine fits back into the gun properly, and locks into place. Now you’re ready to use it again.
Words of Wisdom
There are two additional items I want to mention. One, and this is a discussion that comes up frequently in firearms forums, is whether you will hurt the springs in a magazine by leaving the magazine full of ammunition. Everything I know about springs, and every engineer I’ve ever talked with about this, both say “no.” It should be perfectly safe to load a magazine fully, put it into proper storage, and then leave it for years without causing a problem.
And two, I no longer “top off” my magazines. “Topping off” is where you fill a magazine, place it into a pistol, then chamber a round, and then remove the magazine and place another cartridge into the magazine before replacing it. You’ll see a lot of people refer to a given gun as “10 + 1″ or “14 + 1″. This is what they mean, and it is tempting to do in order to have an extra cartridge.
I used to do this regularly and usually I didn’t have any problems with my various pistols when I did. But every once in a while I’d get a failure of a gun to cycle properly after the first shot. I discussed it with friends, and one buddy who is an armorer for a SWAT team said that he’d stopped “topping off” for his department, and that it eliminated these rare but occasional problems. His theory was that the additional pressure of a completely full magazine on the underside of the bolt/slide operating mechanism slowed it down just enough to mess up the timing of the gun when it was fired, and so presented a problem.
Since I’ve adopted the practice of regularly cleaning my gun and filling my magazine only to capacity, I haven’t had any feeding problems and, if only for my own peace of mind, I’ve just made it my routine. Personally, I’d much rather have a gun which will reliably shoot the second round than have ‘one extra’ round in the mag. Your preference, like your mileage, may vary.
About eighteen months after I wrote the above, I ran into some unexpected problems with mags for my Glock 21, which I had upgraded to handle the .460 Rowland cartridge. The whole thing is discussed here, but basically what was happening was that the additional power/speed of the .460 Rowland was causing damage to the front of the body of the magazines I was using. To the best of my memory, this is the first time I had actually had this kind of problem with a firearm. Had I not had this article still kicking ar0und in my head, it might have taken me even longer to sort out what was going on. (Now that I have shifted over to using .45 Super instead of .460 Rowland, I haven’t had any subsequent problems with this.)
I don’t take apart and clean my magazines after every trip to the range. But I try to remember to do it after a couple of trips, and that seems sufficient.
I have also learned the wisdom of cleaning *new* mags when I first get them (or when I buy a new firearm) — they’re often surprisingly dirty, and on a couple of occasions I have found mild corrosion on either the spring or inside the body of the magazine, because they had been stored in improper conditions or there was a minor problem with their manufacturing process. So, it doesn’t hurt to check.
This content originally appeared at text and was written by admin