As a firearms instructor, it drives me crazy when people who should know better use the term ‘clip’ when they mean ‘magazine’ and ‘magazine’ when they mean ‘clip.’ Even more when people believe that they are the same thing and use the words interchangeably. They are oblivious to the fact that clips and magazines are two completely different things.
Why is it so difficult? To add insult to injury, I think I know where the confusion stems from. During WWII, G.I.’s used the clip loading system of the M1 Garand and called the En Bloc Clip a clip. Because that weapon was the dominant one used in the U.S. Military, everyone started using the term to refer to any device that held ammunition and was placed in a firearm. Clip quickly became the generic term for anything holding ammunition.
For some reason, that practice has become so prevalent that people who should know better incorrectly refer to a detachable magazine as a clip — even though they know they are very different devices. So, let’s straighten out this confusion once and for all. First, what is the difference between a clip and a magazine?
A magazine is a device that is used to hold cartridges for feeding directly into a firearm’s chamber, to be fired, during the operation of said firearm. It may be a fixed internal type or a detachable type, and they both come in a variety of shapes (box, tube, drum etc.) and sizes. A magazine also contains some type of feeding mechanism that is usually powered by a spring. That type of mechanism is not present in a clip.
A clip, on the other hand, is used to conveniently hold a few cartridges, before inserting them into a magazine. Clips are generally used for loading magazines quickly. Depending on the type of clip, it may or may not remain inside the magazine during the operation of the firearm. In that regard, let’s look at a few types of clips and then magazines in more detail. Remember, they are different devices.
I will first start with the stripper clip (also referred to as a charger clip in commonwealth countries). These were originally invented by Mauser in 1888 and used by many military rifle models since. It consists of a long strip of metal into which cartridges may be slid.
At both ends of the clip there are little tabs that are bent to retain the inserted cartridges, preventing them from falling free. With a stripper clip, the user opens the bolt and inserts the clip into the slots milled into the rear receiver bridge at the rear of the magazine opening. Then, using the thumb, the cartridges are pushed off the clip and into the magazine (‘stripping’ them as it were off the clip into the magazine. This is why it is called a “stripper clip”). After the magazine is loaded, the stripper clip is removed and saved for reuse.
There is another type of clip called the en bloc that was used by Mannlicher in 1885 and more famously by the U.S. M1 Garand. In this type of clip, the cartridges and the clip are inserted together into the internal magazine of a rifle. When the last cartridge is fired, the clip is then ejected.
Another type of clip is the moon clip, the one shown is usually used to quickly reload a revolver. This type of clip was devised to make it possible to shoot rimless .45 ACP ammunition from a revolver.
Basically, there are two types of box magazine, the internal (or fixed) magazine and the detachable magazine. Internal magazines are generally seen on bolt-action rifles and usually hold about 5 cartridges. They can be filled by hand, or more quickly by using stripper clips to load multiple cartridges at a time. Box magazines store their cartridges in columns, either one above the other (single column aka single stack magazine) or in a zig zag manner (double column aka double stack magazine or even quadruple column aka casket magazine).
In the included photo, we see a C96 ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser that has a box magazine forward of the trigger guard. You will notice the stripper clip is in position to reload the magazine. The striper clip is placed in the groves that are milled into top of the receive. The thumb is then used to push the cartridges into the magazine as shown. Pretty cool stuff for 1896.
Detachable magazines are designed to be attached/removed from the firearm and are loaded separately from the firearm. Detachable magazines allow the user to carry multiple magazines that have been loaded in advance allowing replacement of expended magazines quickly when needed. Detachable magazines are generally inserted through the bottom of the firearm (e.g., most modern pistols, submachine guns, semi- and fully-automatic rifles etc.), but there are some famous exceptions.
Those exceptions include the Sten and Sterling submachine guns that have their magazine wells on the side of the firearm. The Bren gun and Madsen machine gun have magazine wells on the top. Detachable magazines may be straight or curved, depending on the type and number of cartridges they hold. Shown in the included photos are two detachable box magazines. On the left is a 20-round magazine made for the Colt AR-type rifle. On the right is a 30-round magazine for an AK-47-type rifle.
In the illustrated examples of single and double-stack types of magazines, notice that each magazine has a spring and a follower piece at the bottom of each magazine. The spring and follower keep the cartridges pushed toward the top of the magazine, where they may be picked up by the firearm’s action.
Box magazines can be made of either metal or plastic. In some firearms, the plastic magazines are made of a transparent material. This allows the user to easily see how many cartridges remain in the magazine.
Box magazines are traditionally loaded by hand, but new devices use a mechanical advantage to speed the process and make it easier on the fingers. Some of those devices are called bench loaders, strip loaders, or “thumb savers” for people who use pistols. Basically, a box magazine is usually pretty easy to load by hand until the magazine is almost full. The last couple of cartridges are usually hard to push in manually, and thumb savers reduce the effort required and prevent sore fingers and thumbs.
Box magazines have certain advantages over other types of magazines. They can safely hold cartridges that have pointed bullets something tubular magazines cannot do. They can also hold a larger number of cartridges, compared to other types of magazines. 30-round magazines are very common for rifles for instance and there exists those that can hold a 100 or more.
The user can preload any number of magazines in advance and can quickly switch between them. It is also much easier and faster to load or unload a box magazine than any other type. Obviously, because of these advantages, removable box magazines are the most common type of magazine used in modern pistols, submachine guns, and automatic rifles today.
Although we did not intend to discuss the type of clips used for revolvers. I feel I need to at least mention those that are called clips or resemble clips. We have the Moon Clips, Speed Strips, and the Speed Loader as seen in the included photos. I feel that the moon clip and speedloader are self-explanatory but felt it necessary to include a photo of the Speed Strip showing how two rounds are loaded at a time.
I hope this helps clear up the confusion between what is a magazine is and what a clip is — especially for those of you struggling to understand the difference. The correct use of terms when learning things that are new to us and seem strange cannot be over emphasized. Learn it correctly the first time, and things get so much easier and become more fun.