Pistol Magazines

Magazines LineupThis article focuses on one of the pistol’s most overlooked functional components… pistol magazines. In this article, I will cover a brief history of the magazine followed by a detailed description of magazine components and conclude with tips for magazine maintenance.

So why dedicate an entire article to pistol magazines? Well, two decades of competition shooting and on deployments around the globe have convinced me that the magazine is the leading cause of mechanical malfunctions in semi-automatic pistols (and rifles). Sure, there are other components like the extractor and ejector that vie for the top prize, but most would agree that the detachable box magazine is the clear winner. Furthermore, as a recreational shooter and firearms instructor, I’ve observed many gun owners reveling in their ability to clean and maintain their firearms while neglecting the magazines. If you are not yet convinced, here are two more reasons: (1) magazine maintenance is simple; and (2) a little effort can prevent a $40.00 part from turning a $1,000 pistol into a frustrating single-shot nightmare.


Borchardt_C93_with_magazineThe maturation of smokeless gunpowder through the latter half of the 1800’s led designers such as Hiram Maxim to harness the recoil produced from firing self-contained cartridges to “auto load” the next round in his machine guns. Shortly thereafter, other firearm manufacturers sought to adopt this recoil-operated self-loading principle to pistols. In 1893, Hugo Borchardt designed the the C-93 (right inset) with an 8-round detachable box magazine, which became the first semi-auto pistol as we know it today.

Browning M-1900Although Borchardt’s design was reliable, it was too large and unbalanced for mass acceptance. It didn’t take long, however, for other manufacturers to tweak and improve on the C-93, which led to the Mauser C-96 “Broom Handle,” the German Luger Pistol, the Browning M-1900 (left inset), and… wait for it… the 1911.

Navy_109967iThere have been plenty of innovations in semi-automatic pistol design and manufacturing over the course of time. The same can not be said, however, regarding innovations in semi-automatic pistol magazine design, which have changed little over the years.

Let’s take a closer look at pistol magazines.


Although some of the materials have changed, most pistol magazines are comprised of the same components they have been for over 100 years.

Magazine-PartsBody/Tube – a metal or polymer shell in which the components reside and interact to both store and feed cartridges as part of the cycle of operations. The feed lips, located at the top of the magazine tube, hold the cartridges within the magazine and work with the follower to ensure proper alignment for feeding.

Spring – provides constant tension to the follower which holds the cartridges in position secure against the magazine feed lips and ready to be fed into the chamber.

Follower – metal or polymer fitting that: (1) captures the top end of the spring; (2) uses spring tension to hold the cartridges in position secure against the magazine feed lips; and (3) contacts the slide lock after the last round is fired. Metal followers are more rigid than polymer followers, but polymer followers contain a greater degree of inherent lubricity which enhances their ability to glide within the magazine tube.

Locking Plate and Floor Plate – function together to capture the spring from within the bottom of the magazine. Read More »

About Author

Howard has served for nearly 20 years in the Marine Corps. He has served as a Platoon Commander, Company Commander, Battalion Executive Officer, Regimental Operations Officer, and Battalion Commander. He has multiple combat tours to include serving as a military transition team member in Fallujah. He is an NRA Certified handgun instructor and holds numerous Marine Corps training credentials.

An active competitor in action pistol (United States Practical Shooting Association), long range rifle (NRA F-Class), and shotgun (Amateur Trapshooting Association, National Skeet Shooting Association), howard has earned numerous accolades and medaled during DoD competitions with the 1911 platform in bulls-eye shooting.


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