Pistol Magazine Maintenance

Pistol Magazine Maintenance

Prevent the most common cause of handgun malfunctions by taking care of your magazines 

The magazine is an integral part of any pistol. It is also one of the most neglected parts. And, when it comes to reliability, the magazine is quite often the most frequent cause of stoppages. I believe one of the reasons magazines are so often neglected is because they are so reasonably priced, at least when compared to the price of the pistol and ammunition. If pistol magazines cost $250 each, shooters would probably take better care of them.

Shooters mistreat pistol magazines. Would you throw your pistol on the ground? No. But every time you eject a magazine that’s where it goes. Not only do we throw them on the ground, but we also often step on them, especially when taking a handgun training course. Still, we expect our magazines to just keep on working, even though they get filled with dust and debris and become dented and bent, sometimes after bouncing off concrete. Does it not seem a bit ridiculous to expect one of the least expensive parts of our handgun to deal with such abuse and never fail to perform? Of course, it does and that’s why magazine maintenance is so important.

Pistol Magazine Anatomy

Pistol magazines are made up of a housing that contains a spring, a base plate, and a follower. The housing contains all these pieces and the ammunition you load into it. The base plate holds everything in place and the spring keeps proper tension on the follower, which pushes the ammunition up and into the pistol. The feed lips of the magazine hold the top round in the magazine at the proper angle so that it can be flawlessly fed into the pistol’s chamber. After the last round has been fired the follower is what engages the pistol’s slide stop to lock the slide to the rear, signifying to you that your pistol is out of ammo. If a magazine gets damaged or becomes dirty enough it will not work properly, and you will quite possibly end up with a stoppage somewhere between your first and last round.

Number Your Magazines

The key to preventing this is to take care of your magazines, and the first step of proper magazine maintenance is to number your magazines. This allows you to differentiate between them and to maintain a history of their performance. You should keep a logbook with your pistol to record any stoppages you have and with which magazine the stoppage occurred. If a certain stoppage becomes frequent with a certain magazine, you can repair or trash that magazine. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of when each magazine was purchased as well as if and when you replace the magazine spring. When you get a new magazine, take it apart and measure the length of the spring for future reference.

Disassemble and Clean

Magazine maintenance should be performed after every range session or at any time you notice a magazine might have become dirty. To disassemble a magazine, remove the base plate and extract the magazine spring and follower. Inspect the spring to make sure it is not overly compressed and inspect the follower for nicks or wear. Also check the magazine feed lips to make sure they have not been bent or broken. The best way I’ve found to clean the magazine body and parts is with an air compressor; use it to blow away any debris or dirt.

Remove Carbon Buildup

You’ll also want to wipe down the magazine to remove any carbon fouling. You can use a solvent or gun oil for this, but make sure you wipe the magazine dry once you have it clean. Pistol magazines are designed to work dry because if they are oily, they will attract dirt and debris when they land on the ground. Not only can this dirt and debris lead to magazine failure, this same dirt and debris can be transferred to the internals of your handgun and cause even more expensive problems.

The better you maintain your magazines the longer they will last and the more reliable your handgun will be. In some cases, well cared for magazines might last as long as your pistol. Most often however, if that’s the case you’re just not shooting your pistol very much.


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