Every semi-automatic gun I can think of has a magazine, as do some bolt-action rifles. That means a lot of my guns are reduced to very inefficient single-shot weapons without a magazine.
On that thought, we should probably look into ways to extend the service life of these critical components.
Notice, I said service life. Magazines are consumables. They are not consumable in the manner that ammunition is, but they are sort of like drill bits. They wear over time and when they become faulty, they must be repaired, replaced or destroyed.
As such, there are things to do to repair or rebuild them. But, at some point, there really isn’t anything left to do but render them inert and properly dispose of them in favor of a new one.
Why Do Magazines Fail?
Magazines are typically some type of box housing a spring and a follower. The box provides structure for the storage of the ammunition, an anchor point for the spring and a method of securing ready ammo in the gun.
The spring provides the energy to lift the next roundup, ready for chambering. The follower sits on top of the spring and provides a stable platform to lift the round for chambering. Sure, that is a very basic description as there are other things, like the mag catch.
However, as a general rule, when that part fails, it is time for magazine destruction.
Magazine Maintenance Don’ts
So, what are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to magazine maintenance? Let’s start with the “don’t” list:
- Don’t attempt to deep clean the magazines without disassembling—you won’t remove much dirt or grit and the cleaning tools might get stuck or damage the magazine.
- Don’t just drop it in an ultrasonic cleaner—metal mags may come outstripped of paint; plastic mags and followers may not withstand the chemical bath (depending on chemicals).
- Do not use Simply Green on aluminum mags or mags with non-steel metal components—corrosion, damage of the metal and destruction of the mag may occur.
- Do not lube polymer mags—it only attracts dust and grime, as they are self-lubricating.
Magazine Maintenance Do’s
Now for the “do” list:
- Wear eye protection—a spring or follower to the eye is no joke.
- Confirm chemical compatibility with magazine components—standard gun cleaning products are normally safe.
- Have plenty of clean paper towels or disposable fabric cloth—for cleaning and lubing duties.
- Carefully disassemble the magazine–watch a video if you don’t know how.
- Carefully clean and inspect all components—watch for dirt, carbon, rust, weak spots, wear issues and spring tension.
- Replace all overly worn components–Magpul and others make repair/upgrade kits.
- Be sure to remove cleaner—apply a light coat of oil to metal mags and apply non-evaporating/dry lube to spring components.
- Reassemble magazines–generally, the reverse order of disassembly.
- Function check by handloading and manually cycling a full load of ammo–it should find binding or feeding issues
Smile, your job is done and the magazine should last a lot longer based on a few minutes of work!
What About Loaded Mags?
One question we’ve been getting about magazine maintenance is how long you can leave a magazine loaded and be sure it will still function properly. Unfortunately, that question doesn’t really have a definitive answer.
An off-brand, seven-round mag for a 1911, for example, will be quite different from a Magpul 30-round AR mag. The difference will be both in the load applied to the spring and the quality of the spring material.
Having said that, I have factory GLOCK 17 mags that have been loaded with 15 rounds for eight years that work fine. Their springs are compressed and those springs will eventually fail.
Similarly, I have Magpul 30-rounders (loaded to 28) that are coming up on six years, loaded. Same thing with them.
Downloading them slightly decreases the spring pressure, which adds to its loaded lifespan. Also, be sure to buy enough mags so that you can swap out ready mags very six to 12 months.
Then, when you disassemble and notice spring compression, either replace the springs or relegate those mags to practice/range use only.
When to Maintain Your Mags
With the exception of my carry gun, I do batch work. Carry mags have a two-year lifespan for me. After two years, they work into the range only or 3-Gun rotation (if applicable). I work on each magazine type at a different time of year.
The AR mags get broken up (as there are so many of them). The 3-Gun mags and range mags get done together before the season starts. The SHTF mags and all other AR mags get done in mid-summer.
All the hunting mags get done preseason and again postseason if they were used. By doing things in batches, it only takes a short period of time and I don’t mix up parts or job descriptions.
Your method can vary greatly from mine. The point is not that my method is the best, but that you need to develop a method and maintain your mags to extend their useful life and to make sure your fancy bangomatic doesn’t become a single shot when you really need it.
Do you have any magazine maintenance do’s or don’ts you’d add to these lists? Let us know in the comments below.