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How long can you keep magazine springs under tension?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by Hokkmike, Jun 5, 2006.

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  1. Hokkmike

    Hokkmike Member

    Feb 28, 2006
    Sullivan County PA
    I bought an additional magazine for my little .380 Bersa Thunder. I will keep one magazine loaded.

    How long can I keep the magazine full and keep the spring under pressure until the spring develops a "memory" and loses its ability to force a round into the chamber?

    Is there a strategy I can use, say - load one for a month, then empty it and load the other for a month, two months, three, etc., that would maximize the life of the magazine?
  2. doubleaes2

    doubleaes2 Member

    Jan 8, 2005
    Homosassa, FL
    A quality spring only accumulates wear when it is compressed and extended. If you still feel uncomfortable keeping the mags loaded for an extended period of time, download by one round.
  3. Walt Sherrill

    Walt Sherrill Member

    Jan 1, 2003
    Winston-Salem, NC
    According to the experts, folks like the engineers at Wolff springs, and a metallurgist or two who have participated here and elsewhere, it depends:

    Springs wear, over time, through use. Working the springs (flexing them, as in normal use) will cause wear, over time. But they wear FASTER and more dramatically as they are pushed (expanded or compressed) to their design limits.

    A well-designed, quality spring in a high-cap mag, left fully loaded and fully compressed will, generally, degrade faster than the same spring downloaded a round or two. But mag design and how the spring was made to work with the mag matters, too.

    A 1911 7-round mag left fully compressed for decades probably won't show significant performance degradation. But an 8-round mag for the 1911 won't hold up as well.

    I'm a CZ enthusiast, and know that the 10-round mags and the 15 or 16 round CZ mags use the same springs. Leaving a 10-rounder fully compressed is a lot easier on the springs than leaving a 16-rounder fully compressed. The shared springs in 10-round and 15+ round mags seems to be the case for many gun makers. The hi-cap mags work the springs harder than lower-cap mags.

    Several members here are into airguns, many of which use springs as the source of propelling force. They know a lot about springs -- and they'll tell you that leaving a spring FULLY COMPRESSED can be the kiss of death to a spring's life. Less than fully compressed, it can be a different story.

    I'd suggest that if you have high-caps, and must leave the gun loaded, download a round or two. Or simply plan on replacing the springs a little more often.
  4. Lou629

    Lou629 member

    Feb 7, 2006
    Just a thought or two...

    I had similar concerns when i got my first auto-loader years ago. I've done the 'once-a-month' switch with the 2 mags. that came with it for going on 16 years now. The gun is a BHP and the mags. were new from factory, so i knew i was starting with quality products. i don't know if this would be a good idea to apply in all cases, especially if you were to get a few cheaper after-market brand of magazines .
    Anyway, my magazines are well broken-in by now as far as ease of loading them is concerned, and they still continue to function flawlessly when i take the thing to the range.

    PS- i never loaded the mags to full (13) capacity during this time, i usually kept the count somewhere between 10/11/12 depending on my mood-of-the-moment over the years. ymmv.
  5. usp9

    usp9 Member

    Dec 17, 2005
    Bowling Green, Va
    Load 'em...

    ...and forget 'em. If you want to cycle through your mags, go shoot once a year, that'll do it. With modern mags this is simply not a worry.
  6. nero45acp

    nero45acp Member

    Nov 28, 2003
    Tampa Bay area
    Anyone have any idea how long a USGI M1 Carbine mag (bought several unissued ones a few years ago) will last if left loaded with 14rds, rather than a full 15? (The M1 Carbine is my HD/SHTF carbine.)

  7. Crosshair

    Crosshair Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    Grand Forks, North Dakota
    I load my 30 round AK mags to 20 rounds (Cause Wolf comes 20 to a box.:rolleyes: ) and I have left them loaded for over a year with no problems. All you have to do is tap the mag to make sure that all the rounds are against the back of the mag before you put it in the rifle. (That's why in war movies they tap the mag against their helmet.) This prevents feeding malfunctions.
  8. gazpacho

    gazpacho Member

    May 28, 2004
    The only way to answer your specific question is to test an OEM Bersa mag. Buy another magazine and mark it in a way where the mark won't come off. Load it up fully and stash it. Only bring it out when you go to the range. Use the mag at the range as you would normally do. If you want, keep track of how many times you reload the mag. At the end of your range session reload the mag and stash it away again. Report your results whenever the question comes up again on this forum (about every three months or so).

    I have 1911 mags that have been continuously loaded for almost five years now, and are showing no evidence of wearing out.
  9. Cuda

    Cuda Member

    Feb 3, 2006
    I have range use mags and SD mags. The SD are always full and ready for use if needed. The range mags are unloaded unless being used. At this point I've not seen any degradation of the springs.

  10. wrangler5

    wrangler5 Member

    Sep 11, 2005
    I've seen a report of a 1911 magazine that was stored fully loaded for 70+ years and functioned perfectly when tried.

    This subject comes up fairly regularly, and in one thread (somewhere, don't know where) a metallurgist reported rather authoritatively that the "wear" on a magazine spring comes from cycling it full to empty and back again, not from compressing the spring and leaving it compressed. So you'll "wear out" a magazine faster if you cycle ammo through it than if you just load it up and leave it.

    There was an exception to this general rule, and that is if the spring is compressed beyond some elastic limit (I think he called it). If you compress a spring TOO far it may not come back fully to its uncompressed length and strength, even if you onlly compress it once. The concern arises particularly in high capacity magazines where the last round puts a real scrunch on the spring (design problem) or where you try to squeeze one extra round in (operator error.)

    The conclusion was, load 'em up and leave 'em. If you're concerned about potential damage, download by one round as others have suggested, but do not load and unload a mag thinking you're extending the life of the spring.
  11. Newton

    Newton Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    Since LEOs keep their magazines fully loaded for months on end, I doubt it's much of a problem.

    The only people who seem to suffer from spring burn out in their magazines are the military guys who constantly compress and release springs due to the number of rounds they typically put through service weapons.

    Fully loaded 1911 magazines have been found 60 years after they were loaded, and they still worked perfectly.
  12. Walt Sherrill

    Walt Sherrill Member

    Jan 1, 2003
    Winston-Salem, NC
    Not really. They typical LEO shoots his gun very little, and then primarily when he's qualifying, which may be as infrequently as once or twice a year.

    LEO, with exceptions, are NOT gun USERS or SHOOTERS, but gun CARRIERS. A surprisingly small number of them are truly gun enthusiasts. They could have a mag problem and not know it until its time to use the gun. Then, too, they have armorers who look for things like springs that need replacement...

    Compressing and releasing springs do cause long-term wear, but so does compressing them fully when loading them to the max.

    True. But, keep in mind that those are all seven rounders. The same is not true 8 rounders, which have long been the source of problems for 1911 shooters.

    Ten-round mags in other guns will work well after long-term storage, but hi-caps can be a problem.

    I download everything I have, when not carrying. In most cases, most of my mags are empty. A gun in a bedside safe it fully loaded, as is my carry gun. The rest are left empty after last use. The only springs I've ever had problems with are in my hi-cap mags -- and they tend to loosen up and cause premature lock-back (by allowing the top round to slide around). That's my sign to get new mag springs.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2006
  13. Hal8000

    Hal8000 Member

    Mar 27, 2006
    As a comparison:

    My Sig P226 is 14 years old and has had 15,000 rounds cycled through it using the same factory high cap mag that came with it... I keep the mag stored fully loaded. I have used the one mag for all of my shooting, only because I'm lazy and only want to clean one mag when I'm through shooting. (this is not my carry mag anymore)

    While the spring is noticeably weaker, and easier to load, I've yet to have any kind of failure from this mag... (or pistol!)

    It's my opine that a stronger spring will over come a dirtier mag. I think if the mag is kept clean, then a weaker spring will continue to function...
    Dirt will cause an older/weaker springed mag to fail quicker than a newer/stronger springed mag...
  14. Ala Dan

    Ala Dan Member in memoriam

    Dec 24, 2002
    Home Of The First Capitol Of The Confederate State
    As a former LEO, I use to inspect and rotate my magazines every 30
    days; mainly as a precaution.:uhoh: I know, that action probably was
    not necessary; but it definitely made me feel better as here down
    south the humidity can rake havoc on men, and there equipment.

    Of course, I'm an exception too the rule; as I shoot a lot more ammo
    than most officers, so I NEVER had a problem with stale ammo~!:D
  15. saltydog452

    saltydog452 Member

    Aug 1, 2004
    Rotate the mags AND the ammunition.
    Whether they 'need it' or not...you'll never know for sure.
    Key it in to other routine maintence obligations such as oil change.
    Or quartely statements..whatever works for you.
    Do it at the range.

    Several good reasons for doing so.
    You know what they are.
    This would also be a good time to change out the batteries in your flashlight(s).
    And batteries for the smoke detectors.

    Consider it another timely 'routine maintence' obligation.

  16. Magnumite

    Magnumite Member

    Jan 9, 2004
    Belcamp, Maryland
    AAbout the carbine mags. I inherited one in '92, along with mags and ammo. Most the mags were already loaded, from the military, with the rubber protective tops on them. 1960's headstamps on the ammo. No problems of any type were experienced.
  17. tegemu

    tegemu Member

    Nov 2, 2005
    Orange Park, Fla.
  18. CZguy

    CZguy Member

    Mar 25, 2004
    This is a really good post. You have taken all of the emotion out of it and are just dealing with the facts of physics. The info on Wolff springs site backs this up also.
    I wish "myth busters" would do a segment on this, and put it to rest once and for all.

    Now, on to something that's never been covered like, can a bronze cleaning brush wear out a .22 LR barrel.
    (I wouldn't dare mention this over at rimfire.com
  19. Walt Sherrill

    Walt Sherrill Member

    Jan 1, 2003
    Winston-Salem, NC
    Realize, too, that rotating mags doesn't do a thing to increase spring life. Mags don't heal or refresh themselves when they're unloaded and left unused.

    All ROTATING mags does is spread the "wear" over several mags, rather than putting it all on one mag -- delaying the time when the springs must be replaced -- but increasing the number of springs that must be replaced when that time finally arrives.

    Nothing wrong with rotating them, but its not really doing anything. Sort of like rotating shoes...
  20. Mannlicher

    Mannlicher Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    North Central Florida and Miami Florida
    after a mag was kept loaded for say 50 years, I might be concerned.
  21. brainwealth

    brainwealth Member

    Feb 14, 2015
    Extracted from Wolf Spring Co.

    1. What is the difference between conventional and variable recoil springs?
    The difference is both physical and operational. With a conventional spring, all the coils are spaced equally apart, except for the closed ends. In a variable recoil spring the space varies between coils with less space between coils at one end and more space between coils at the other end.

    The way the two springs store energy is also different. For example if a conventional recoil spring is compressed 1/2", it might store 1 pound of energy. For every additional 1/2" this spring is compressed it would then store 1 additional pound of energy. When a variable recoil spring is compressed 1/2", it might store 1/4 pound of energy. The next half inch of compression might store 1/2 pound, the next half inch might store 3/4 pound and so on. In other words, a conventional spring stores energy on a straight line and a variable spring stores energy on a curve. If both springs are rated at 16 pounds, they will both store 16 pounds when compressed to the same working length, but the way they get to 16 pounds is different.

    2. Should I use a conventional or variable spring when both are available?
    The choice is often very subjective. Conventional recoil springs are particularly beneficial when shooting heavier loads where keeping the slide closed as long as possible is desired. Variable recoil springs reduce the battery load values with increasingly greater recoil load values. This results in easier unlocking, improved recoil energy storage, dampening, feeding, breaching and lockup. Variable recoil springs are particularly beneficial with compensated pistols and when using light target loads where less recoil energy is available. The "correct type" of recoil spring is best determined through experimentation and your own personal preference.

    3. What weight recoil spring should I use with a particular load?
    This is a very common but hard question to answer in exact terms and in most cases an exact answer is not possible. There are many factors which influence the correct weight recoil spring to use. These factors include the particular ammunition brand and load, individual pistol characteristics, individual shooting styles and your individual, subjective feeling of how the gun shoots and should feel.

    The factory spring weight is designed to operate the pistol with what would be considered average loads, plus or minus a little. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to specify what they consider a factory ammunition load.
    In general terms, the heaviest recoil spring that will allow the pistol to function reliably is the best choice - tempered by the above factors. As a rule of thumb, if your spent casings are first hitting the ground in the 3 to 6 foot range, then the recoil spring is approximately correct. If you are ejecting beyond the 6-8 foot range, then a heavier recoil spring is generally required. If your casings are ejecting less than 3 feet, a lighter recoil spring may be needed to assure reliable functioning.

    Taking these factors into consideration, it then comes down to how the gun feels and performs when shooting - in your judgment. However, using too light a recoil spring can result in damage to the pistol and possible injury to you.

    4. How often should I change my springs?
    The performance of your gun is the best indicator of when a spring needs to be replaced. Factors such as increased ejection distance, improper ejection and/or breeching, lighter hammer indents on primers, misfires, poor cartridge feeding from magazines, frequent jams, stove pipes and other malfunctions are all possible indications of fatigued springs or improper springs.

    Springs such as magazine springs, striker springs and recoil springs are subjected to higher stress levels and will require more frequent replacement than other lower stressed springs such as firing pin springs and hammer springs.

    Wolff springs are made with the highest grade materials and workmanship. Most Wolff [recoil] springs will remain stable for many thousands of rounds. Some recoil springs in compact pistols, especially where dual springs are used or are replaced by a single spring may require changing after 500 - 1500 rounds. Springs that become rusty, bent or otherwise damaged should always be replaced. Again, changes you observe in your firearm's performance are the best indicators that a change is needed.

    5. How often should I change magazine spring? Should I unload my magazines, rotate magazines, load with fewer than the maximum rounds?
    Magazine springs in semi-auto pistols are one of the most critical springs and are the subject of much debate and concern. Magazines which are kept fully loaded for long periods of time, such as in law enforcement and personal/home defense applications, will generally be subject to more fatigue than the weekend shooter's magazine springs in which the magazines are loaded up only when shooting.

    Magazine design and capacity also affect the longevity of the spring. In many older pistol designs, maximum capacity was not the always the goal such as with the 7 round 1911 Colt magazines will last for years fully loaded. There was room for more spring material in these guns which reduces overall stress and increases the usable life of the spring.

    More recently higher capacity magazine have become popular. These are designed to hold more rounds with less spring material often in the same space. This puts more stress on the spring and will cause it to fatigue at a faster rate. Unloading these magazines a round or two will help the life of the spring. Rotating fully loaded magazines will also help the problem somewhat but it is not always practical.

    In applications where the magazine must be kept loaded at all times, a high quality magazine spring such as Wolff extra power magazine springs, will provide maximum life. Regular replacement of magazine springs will provide the best defense against failure from weak magazine springs. Regular shooting of the pistol is the best way to be sure the springs are still functioning reliably.

    6. My spring got shorter after I used it for a short time. Is it bad?
    Most new springs will take a set when they are first compressed. That means they will shorten up. This is a normal event and you should not be immediately alarmed. The greater the stress on the spring, generally the more set that will occur. All Wolff springs take this set into consideration. The ratings of the springs you receive are the ratings after the set has occurred. After set has taken place, the spring should remain essentially stable for the life of the spring.

    7. My lighter [recoil] spring is longer than the heavier spring for the same gun. Is this a problem?
    Wolff offers many springs in different weights for the same use. Factors such as the size of the wire, the number of coils, the outside diameter of the spring as well as the free length determine the strength of a particular spring. Often, lighter springs are longer than heavier springs because lighter wires and/or a different number of coils are used. Free length is then adjusted to achieve the exact strength desired.

    8. The spring I purchased is longer than the original spring so I don't think it will fit.
    The free length of a spring is not the most important factor in determining whether it will fit. Many Wolff springs are longer than factory springs. This is normal and the spring will fit.

    The more important factor in determining whether a spring will fit is the number of coils in the spring times the diameter of the wire. For example, take 2 springs - one is 7 inches long and the other is 4 inches long. If both springs contain the same number of coils and use the same size wire, both springs will compress to the same solid lengths. The strengths will however be quite different but both springs will fit in the same application.

    9. What is the difference between a firing pin spring and a striker spring?
    A firing pin spring is actually a return spring as it returns and keeps the firing pin retracted. The firing pin spring works in front of the firing pin pushing the firing pin away from the primer usually keeping it retracted in the slide. When the firing pin is struck by the hammer the impact force of the hammer overcomes the retraction force of firing pin spring and drives the firing pin into the primer.
    A striker spring is actually the spring that causes the firing pin to striker the primer. The striker spring works behind the firing pin. When the gun is in the cocked position, the striker spring is compressed behind the firing pin. When the trigger is pulled the firing pin is released and the striker spring pushes the firing pin into the primer. While technically incorrect, a striker spring is often referred to as a firing pin spring.
  22. moxie

    moxie Member

    Dec 30, 2002
    Erath Co., TX
    Never had a problem. I keep mags for both pistols and rifles loaded to the max. Never download. They always feed properly. To be sure, test fire each one occasionally. If there's a problem, throw it out. Otherwise good to go. I've never had to toss one, but I check most anyway. Some mags I've overlooked have been loaded for more than 5 years and they worked just fine. Also make sure to clean the mag after firing, especially under the feed lips and around the follower. Crud is a far greater threat than spring compression.
  23. GLOOB

    GLOOB Member

    Sep 16, 2007
    How long? I dont' know but I'm trying to find out. I've kept all my handgun mags full for at least 4 years. Once they stop working, I will know when to change them in the future. :)
  24. Schwing

    Schwing Member

    Jun 3, 2013
    Layton Utah
    This was a question I had about 20 years ago. At the time, my only handgun was a 92fs so I loaded one magazine up fully and left it that way. I take that magazine out 3 or 4 times a year and run a few loads of ammo through it and then store it full again.

    Here we are 20 years later. It has yet to have a failure. I suspect I won't see one in my lifetime (at least that is caused by the magazine.)
  25. Drail

    Drail Member

    Jan 17, 2008
    I am always amazed at the number of people who are willing to actually believe that magazine springs never weaken, wear out or fail to feed reliably - only because they have never seen one do it. They wear out. You need to replace them before that happens or your pistol will stop running. Pay attention to how well the last round feeds. Once you see that - the spring is shot. The magazine spring is the most important spring in the gun IMO. If you work on guns for a few years you will find that 90% of reliability problems in most semi auto guns is - a weak magazine spring. Ask any good smith. I have seen plenty of guns that wouldn't run and suddenly ran perfectly with a new extra power magazine spring installed. The gun manufacturers think about "how many rounds can we cram in here?" and "how cheap can we buy these springs" in order to compete with the market today (which seems to be "capacity trumps everything else"). The end user should be much more concerned with feed reliability and place max capacity lower on their list of priorities. Section 5 of the Wolff printout pretty much says it all. I used to have to keep 6 pistols running under heavy use for a pistol team and guns used in NRA classes. We went through a lot of magazine springs. Wolff or ISMI are the best I have found and have kept all of my race guns running perfectly for many summers of match use. But eventually even they will wear out. Keep spares on hand.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2015
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