Magazine Maintenance

Five AR-15 magazines with a gold-toned one on the left and four others in shades of gray on a white background.

In times of shortage, it isn’t only ammunition that is difficult to find. Parts and accessories become difficult and expensive as well—when found. A magazine isn’t an accessory; it is a necessity and so are spare magazines. However, magazines are a renewable resource. While we should know when to discard a magazine, with a little common sense we can keep a magazine going for a long time. As an example, I recently worked with a pistol magazine that was giving the owner fits. The magazine would not fully seat.

Plastic pourches with spare springs and other maintenance items on a dark gray background.
This Luger magazine has been around for quite a few years and with new springs and maintenance will be around for many more.

The owner was a bit ill over this problem. After all, the pistol was from a maker with a good name and these handguns are usually models of reliability. The problem, as it turned out, was pretty simple. The magazine floorplate had slipped forward and was preventing the close-fitting magazine from seating. The magazine is critical to the proper performance of a self-loading pistol. It is a good bet that poor quality magazines are right at the top of common complaints including poor lubrication.

Let’s Look at Some of the Common Problems

  • Five AR-15 magazines with a gold-toned one on the left and four others in shades of gray on a white background.
    AR-15 magazines are a diverse lot. With proper maintenance they will last for many months, but do not bet your life and a well-worn magazine.

    When using extended magazines, such as the Glock 33-round magazine, we have a heavier column of cartridges. This creates more pressure on the magazine spring. It is asking a lot for a magazine to feed from full compression to almost no compression when feeding such a tall column and heavy weight of ammunition.

  • What occurs is the nose dives particularly on the first round-up. The bullet nosedives into the feed ramp. With the ramped barrel, often the bullet nose will feed properly after a rough start. Even the straight-line feed of the Beretta suffers with extended magazines. Be certain the magazines are high quality and address the springs with replacements every few thousand rounds.
  • The slide stop is more important for feed and proper function of magazines than most suspect. The slide stop must be of the correct specifications or it will bump into the bullet nose on feeding. If the aftermarket magazine isn’t correctly dimensioned, and the slide stop isn’t either, a feedway jam is a guaranteed.
  • A damaged magazine is an invitation to malfunctions. If the slide stop is off spec, working the slide stop to stop the lobe of the slide stop from protruding into the magazine may well help, but this is cut and dry and you may have a short lobe that allows feeding but which doesn’t catch the follower on standard magazines. Take a hard look at your magazines. Are the feed lips belled out to the rear? If the magazines doesn’t fall free when the magazine catch is depressed, more trouble may be coming.
  • The most commonly replaced magazines are 1911 pistol magazines and various AR-15 magazines. They are expendable! Do not attempt to make the magazine last the life of the gun—it isn’t in the cards. It is akin to the tires and springs on the truck. Replace when needed.

Things to Inspect

A gold punch is used to secure a silver follower and cmopress the magazine spring, on a mottled gray background.
The author is using a punch to secure the follower and compress the magazine spring while the feed lips are addressed.

The AR-15 magazine is heaver and hits the ground harder, but all of these watch signs apply to the pistol as well. If there are dents in the magazine, tube feed reliability will be a problem. Check for loose floorplates and magazine dents first. Check the magazine lips for cracks. Check to be certain the magazine doesn’t enter the frame or receiver too far. The magazines are not always properly heat-treated and this defect shows up with time. A failure to lock open on the last shot is indicative of a badly-worn magazine follower. If the last round doesn’t feed consistently, the problem is a weakened magazine spring. Magazines should be cleaned often, but not lubricated.

The same rules apply to box magazines in bolt-action rifles. The spring will sometimes need replacement, but this is rare considering the round count these rifles are likely to rack up. The barrel will burn out before the magazine spring and the bolt gun has plenty of leverage to feed from the magazine. Probably the most common problems are dents in .22 rifle tubes and also in shotgun tubes. If they are dropped, a dent is sure to occur, and the shells won’t feed.

Proper position of a silver magazine latch and black magazine locking cut on a 1911.
This is the proper relationship of the magazine latch and magazine locking cut on a 1911. This is a high wear spot.

Here is the fix.

  1. Take a carriage bolt, ¼-inch, a two-inch long nut and a long threaded rod—all hardware store items. The carriage bolt will have to be filed to fit the interior of the individual tube, usually not too much for the 12 gauge tube. A much smaller bolt is used for the .22. Screw the nut halfway onto the carriage bolt and heavily lubricate the assembly.
  2. Insert the tightly fitting carriage bolt into the magazine. The magazine tube should be stabilized on soft wood.
  3. Tap the assembly through the tube and the dent will pop out. The same principle will apply to .22 tubes and also to the .410 and 20 gauge tubes; simply measure it for a proper bolt size.

Magazine maintenance isn’t that difficult with a few watchwords. The AR-15 rifle, in particular, demands some care for longevity.

  • Be on the lookout for dents in the magazine body.
  • Look for high wear spots on the body and near the magazine latch.
  • Check the magazine feed lips for cracks. You cannot repair a crack so ditch this magazine.
Hand using a gold punch to depress the retaining pin on a dark gray magazine with base plate removed.
The author is using a punch to depress the retaining pin of this HK magazine. The base plate is removed for cleaning.

Springs and followers may be replaced. The body, once cracked, is done with. Magazine cracks are easy to spot. If the magazine becomes difficult to eject, it is worn out and the feed lips are spreading. If the follower isn’t contacting the slide stop or bolt lock, the follower is worn and needs to be replaced. If the last round doesn’t feed correctly, it is an even bet the magazine spring is weakened.

Finally, keep the magazines clean and dry. Buy quality; buy once, and maintain your gear.

Notes on Repair

Some magazines are very difficult to find and replace. To work the feed lips in most pistols, you may use a punch to work through the witness holes and to hold the follower down with the spring compressed while you work the feed lips.

The rule states:

  • If the cartridge is being released too soon, close the lips.
  • If the cartridge is being released too slowly or not at all, open the lips.

This is cut and dry work and takes some finesse. Learn how to remove the floorplate, clean the magazine and replace the springs.

With a punch compressing the follower and magazine the author is working the feed lips of a pistol magazine.
With a punch compressing the follower and magazine the author is working the feed lips of a pistol magazine.

Proper Loading of a Double Column Magazine

  1. To ensure feed reliability, load two or three rounds.
  2. Tap the back of the magazine to fully seat the bullets to the rear.
  3. Continue until the magazine is fully loaded. It is best to lock the slide to the rear and drop the slide to load the magazine rather than racking the slide to aid in reliable function.

Do you have any magazine cleaning tips? Share them with us in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. Generally speaking, if you want to get the most life out of the mag don’t load it all the way when using it as a stand by mag. If its a 30 rd mag load it to 25-27. If you cant take care of the problem with 25 rds your in deep doo doo. I keep 3 ready for every one of my personal protection devices.
    And buy extra mag springs. They are cheaper than entire mags and easy to change.

  2. Robin, Like any other mag long term compression of the spring might be the only thing to worry about. If you’re worried about anything else get a steel mag or a PMag. Stainless Steel, in my opinion, is the best. Personally I’m still waiting to see how polymer mags hold up long term to age and exposure to sun.

  3. Great article about the importance of magazines. Several people raised the issue of how long to keep a magazine loaded. I keep one or two magazines for each firearm loaded at all times. I have enough magazines for each firearm to enable me to rotate out the loaded magazine every month. On the first of each month, I unload the magazine and reload the next in sequence. All my magazines are numbered so I can keep the rotation going without reloading the magazine that was emptied the previous month. This way each magazine gets a workout for one month and then a 4-11 month rest depending on the firearm. Since I frequently unload and reload magazines, I purchased a maglula loader for each magazine type. Everyone who has a magazine-fed firearm should invest in a maglula loader. I have been doing this for a few years now, and whenever I go the range, I never have magazine feed problems.

  4. Great article. The magazine is the weakest link to the firearm, and usually the first part to wear out. When your firearm has any feeding failures, chances are it’s a magazine related issue. Don’t be cheap and buy plenty of mags. I would rather have 1 dependable firearm with plenty of mags than plenty of firearms with only a couple mags each. Number your magazines to tell them apart. When disassembling mags, keep the parts with each respective mag. Keep a notepad to keep track of any mag failures (failure to feed/failure to extract, etc.) Don’t be afraid to throw away mags if they give you problems. $20 is simply not worth your life. If possible, switch out loaded magazines often to relieve pressure on feed lips. Or, if using PMags, have 2 sets of loaded mags- 1 set ready to go for your go bag; the other set loaded with the feed lip covers on. Thanks again to the author for a great article.

  5. I am pretty much a newbie about handguns. I have a Witness .40 with 3 magazines and have only used it for sporadic practice. I have it for the enjoyment of shooting and for the off-chance I might need it for home defense.
    Two questions:
    1. Should I leave the magazines filled during the long intervals when I’m not target shooting? I can definitely see the sense of leaving one mag filled for home defense, but all three?
    2. The only ammo I have is for target shooting. Should I get some hollow-point cartridges?

  6. I have a question that I didn’t see covered in your article: Is it damaging to the magazine to keep it loaded between trips to the range? My husband and I go to the range, come home, clean our guns, load our magazines, put the guns in the safe until the next time. I’ve been criticized for keeping my magazines loaded, but my theory is that my home defense and my personal carry gun (kept loaded in my purse), and police firearms are ALWAYS loaded and the magazines were designed to withstand it.

    Am I right or wrong?? By the way, I ONLY purchase original equipment magazines, never aftermarket…


  7. I agree with the last paragraph about having the slide locked open, then dropping the slide on a newly inserted mag.
    But this is the opposite of what was taught in a local self-defense class whee the lesson was to rack the slide over the newly inserted mag.
    Any opinions out there on this issue?

  8. If you have an AR, buy only Steel or a quality polymore mags like PMag. Army found out years ago that the aluminum mags distort to such and extent after on one use that they cant be used in an M-249, The feed lips spread and the mag gets a slight twist that causes double feeds in 249’s. Bad mags have always been the #1 cause of failures in the AR’s.

  9. Great artical ! One last tip at the range mark one magazine fire a few full fill up a few times with that magazine to make sure it functions properly DO NOT LET IT FALL , than after it has proven itself that is the magazine you will use in your carry and home defence gun ……

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.