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Are kalashnikov magazines as robust as their reputation? He tormented a selection of AR magazines last year, now he takes on the AK. The results you may find surprising.

When it comes to robust and reliable detachable box magazines, there is one standard by which all others are judged. This is the 30-round steel double-column dual-feed position magazine developed by the Russians for the 7.62x39mm AK47/ AKM.

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Built like a dreadnought, they have proven to be extremely reliable under the most abusive conditions. In comparison, the designs for the FN FAL, M14, M16 and HK G3 seem flimsy. Even when used as gardening implements by 3rd World farmers, they still function when called upon. While not perfect, the magazine designed for the Kalashnikov is one reason why this series of rifles have proven so incredibly reliable.

It must be understood that the feed device is the weak point of any self-loading firearm. An otherwise reliable design can have fits of failure if fed from a poorly designed or improperly manufactured magazine. More importantly, if a magazine design is produced using thin or low quality materials it can fail when subjected to hard use or abuse. Bent feed lips, a weak spring or dented magazine body are all recipes for disaster.

While some designs are more robust than others, none are perfect. Over long term use in harsh environmental conditions filled with mistreatment, even the most reliable system can fail. However, the standard steel 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov magazines handle abuse surprisingly well.

The all important feed lips are heavily reinforced and the body is tough. Plus this design is easily field stripped for cleaning. Even so, AK47/AKM magazines do fail, rust, wear out and can have issues. They just don't have them as frequently as other designs.

Why can AK magazines be so heavily constructed and overbuilt compared to M16 magazines? There's a fairly simple reason for this, the AK was designed with substantially more room in the magazine well. The primary issue with designing a very robust M16/AR-15 magazine is simply the size of the existing magazine well.

There just isn't enough space available to design an overbuilt AR magazine without redesigning the lower receiver. In addition, the depth of the AR's mag. well dictates how much of the magazine must be straight before it can begin to curve. This latter issue can be especially troublesome when trying to chamber an AR in certain calibers, especially 7.62x39mm. The AK has neither of these problems.

Since it was first fielded decades ago, magazines for the Kalashnikov have been produced using a variety of materials. These include steel, aluminum, bakelite and modern synthetics. Magazines for the 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm models have been produced by an array of countries for military and export sales.

Magazines for 5.56x45mm variants have also been produced by a number of countries. The Kalashikov's incredible popularity here in the United States means domestic production has even begun, so American shooters and collectors no longer have to rely on military surplus magazines. Today you can purchase brand-new production magazines from a number of sources.

The question I had was how well do these different designs perform, especially compared to a standard old fashioned Corn Bloc pattern steel magazine? To find out I gathered seven different types together. Included were five for 7.62x39mm and two for 5.45x39mm. These were run through a battery of tests.

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This was neither an exhaustive test nor was it conducted over a long time period of time. I didn't have an infinite quantity of test ammunition, either. However, despite these obvious limitations I strove to provide some useful insight into these different designs.

THE CONTENDERS

Com Bloc pattern steel 30-round 7.62x39mm magazine

The standard Com Bloc pattern steel 7.62x39mm magazine is the standard by which all other magazines are judged. It is an excellent design which has proven extremely robust in actual use. I utilized surplus European pattern magazines with a 30-round capacity from my collection for this test. Markings varied from mag to mag and consisted of: L, 5 and 22.

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The magazine itself is made from stamped sheet-metal spot-welded together. It features stamped ribs to add structural integrity and extra reinforcements added to the feed lips and two locking points. A witness hole in the rear of the magazine allows, a rifleman to verily the magazine is fully loaded.

Fitted inside is a sheet-metal anti-tilt follower and 20-inch long spring. The baseplate and retainer are sheet-metal. The baseplate is easily removed for disassembly and cleaning. Dimensions are 8.75 inches long, 2.62 inches wide and the body is .99" thick. Average weight is 12.1 ounces and finish is a matte blue.

Magazines of this type are most commonly encountered in 30-- and 40-round capacities. They can also be found in 5 and 20-round capacities. The chief drawbacks to this design are weight and rust. Readily available from a wide number of sources, they remain very popular.

TAPCO 30-round AK47 magazine

TAPCO's 30-round magazine is a robust looking piece molded from reinforced composite materials. The body features pronounced ribs to add strength and provide a secure grip. There are no metal reinforcements in the feed lips or either engagement point.

Inside I found a synthetic anti-tilt follower and base-plate retainer along with a 14.5-inch long spring. A sheet-metal baseplate retains everything and allows easy stripping. Dimensions are 9 inches long, 2.62 inches wide and the body is 1.16 inches thick. Average weight is 7.4 ounces. This model is available not only in black but also olive drab and dark earth. Being U.S. made it counts as three 922r compliant parts. The TAPCO 30-round magazine retails for $10. Also offered are 7.62x39mm magazines with 5, 10 and 20 round capacities.

I.O. Inc. Waffle Pattern 30-round 7.62x39mm

I.O. Inc. is another U.S. company now offering 7.62x39mm AK magazines. Their 7.62x39mm "Waffle Pattern" design has a 30-round capacity. On their website they describe it as being manufactured from space age material and being of Bulgarian pattern. It appears to be manufactured from composite materials, but features no metal reinforcements in the feed lips or either engagement point.

Inside I found a synthetic anti-tilt follower and base-plate retainer along with a 20.5-inch long spring. A very wide, 1.47 inches, composite baseplate retains the spring and follower while allowing easy stripping. Dimensions are 9.25 inches long, 2.62 inches wide and the body is 1.06 inches thick. Average weight is 7.4 ounces. Finish is matte black and they are marked 7.62x39mm on one side and I.O. Inc. on the other. Being U.S. made, it counts as three 922r compliant parts. The I.O. Inc 7.62x39mm 30-round magazine retails for $19.95.

ProMag 30-round 7.62x39mm

ProMag is yet another U.S. company producing 7.62x39mm magazines for the AK family. They offer polymer "Waffle Pattern" magazines holding 5, 10 and 30 rounds. Like the previous two U.S. models, the ProMag design does not incorporate metal reinforcements in the feed lips or either engagement point.

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The 30-round, magazine features a polymer anti-tilt follower, 17.2-inch long spring and polymer guide and baseplate. Like the I.O. Inc. design, the baseplate itself is fairly wide and noticeably sticks out from the sides of the magazine. Like the other designs the ProMag is easily stripped for cleaning.

Dimensions are 9 inches long, 2.62 inches wide and the body is 1.11 inches thick. Average weight is 6.9 ounces. Each magazine is marked PRO MAG on the left side. Being U.S. made, it counts as three 922r compliant parts. Models are offered in black, tan, and olive for $15 and smoke for $16.25.

Bulgarian 30-round 7.6239mm

Thermold supplied me with a quantity of Bulgarian-produced polymer slab-sided 7.62x39mm AK magazines they are distributing. They featured a good-looking textured matte black finish. Available holding 5, 30 and 40 rounds, they feature steel reinforced feed lips. However, the front and rear engagement points are not reinforced and are merely polymer.

Riding inside the body I found a synthetic anti-tilt follower and baseplate retainer along with a 20-inch long spring. A sheet-metal baseplate retains everything and allows easy stripping.

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Dimensions are 9 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and the body is 1.07 inches thick. Average weight is 7.4 ounces. The magazines bore CAL. 7.62x39 markings on the left side. Like the Com Bloc steel magazines, this model sports a round count hole to indicate when fully loaded.

East German Bakelite 30-round 5.45x39mm

Following the reunification of East and West Germany, huge quantities of East German military hardware were dumped on the surplus market. This included new in the wrap bakelite 5.45x39mm magazines. Extremely distinctive due to their orange color, bakelite magazines were pr6duced by a few countries including the Soviet Union and China.

I still had some kicking around the bunker sealed in plastic, so I tossed them into the fire to see how they performed. These were marked with a 43 code. Magazines of this type feature a synthetic anti-tilt follower and steel baseplate and retainer.

Dimensions are 8.5 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and the body is .95" thick. This model is cut to accept a stripper-clip guide and feature a witness hole to verify full capacity. The feed lips are reinforced with steel and the front and rear engagement points are steel. This type of magazine sports a very smooth finish which reflects light. Weight is 7.7 ounces. Bakelite magazines are encountered in both 30 and 45-round capacities.

Bulgarian Polymer 30-round 5.45x39mm

The last design chosen for abuse was from Bulgaria's famous Arsenal 10 and supplied by K-VAR. A polymer design in 5.45x39mm, the M-74B has a capacity of 30 rounds. A slab-sided design, it features a smooth matte black finish with ribs at the front.

Dimensions are 8.5 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and the body is .99" thick. Weight is just 7.1 ounces. This model features a polymer anti-tilt follower, and steel baseplate and retainer. It is cut to accept a stripper-clip guide and sports a witness hole to verify when fully loaded.

While the body is polymer, it features steel reinforcements in the feed lips. Plus the front engagement point is reinforced with steel and the rear is steel. These magazines sported the number 10 in a double circle on the right and number 2 on the left side. At the time of writing, K-VAR had models holding 10, 30 and 45 rounds. The 30-round model tested here retails for $30.99.

Initial Opinions

I have used steel Com Bloc, East German and Bulgarian Circle 10 magazines for years. I know them to be robust, reliable and trouble-free. The only issues normally encountered would be rust or if the steel magazine body is dented. The downside to the steel Com Bloc magazine is weight. Fully loaded they become fairly heavy at 30 ounces.

Bakelite magazines also reflect light easily. The TAPCO design appeared very beefy and robust. It looked well thought out. The ProMag and I.O. Inc. designs also looked OK. However I preferred the Bulgarian 7.62x39mm to the U.S. designs. My main reservation though was regarding the lack of metal reinforcements where the magazines were locked into the rifle.

Follower tilt and Ease of stripping

To begin this review I checked each design for 'follower tilt. I did this by simply pressing down on the front of the follower with a steel rod. This was.a quick test as none of the designs exhibited the possibility of follower tilt.

Next I checked to see how hard the different designs were to strip for routine maintenance. They all stripped in a similar manner and with the exception of a tight base-plate here and there, no issues were encountered. They all came apart relatively easily.

Rifle Compatibility

Next I broke out a variety of different AK rifles to check fit. It should be understood that internal mag well dimensions can vary quite a bit on commercial semi-automatic AKs. This is especially true if the rifle was originally built to accept single-stack magazines and then had the mag well opened up once imported into the United States.

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It can also vary from receiver type or manufacturer. This is especially true if the receiver was built here in the USA. Actually this can be a real problem. So, for 7.62x39mm, I pulled out one rifle with a Bulgarian milled receiver, a Krebs Custom built on a Russian Saiga, a Century built Yugoslav pattern underfold, an 1.0. Inc. Hellcat and an RPK built from a kit on a U.S.-produced receiver.

The steel Corn Bloc, Bulgarian and ProMag fit all of them, although the ProMag was very tight on both the milled gun and Krebs Custom. The I.O. Inc. mag did not fit into the milled receiver gun. The only rifles I could get the TAPCO to lock into were the I.O. Inc. Hellcat and the kit-built RPK. It would not lock into the milled receiver, Krebs Custom or Century-built Yugoslav underfolder.

The East German and Bulgarian Circle 10 magazines had zero issues in this regard. They inserted easily and locked into place without issue in a number of 5.45x39mm AK-74 pattern rifles.

Existing pouch fit

With some of these mags differing a good bit in shape and size compared to a standard GI mag, the question arose regarding pouches. Would they all fit in existing magazine pouches? If they fit, how hard would they be to extract?

To find out I gathered up a variety of single, double and quad magazine pouches. The steel Corn Bloc, East German, and both Bulgarian designs had zero issues. The ProMag and 1.0. Inc. designs fit, but their overly wide baseplates could catch on a neighboring mag.

This meant if you were trying to withdraw a magazine of this type and its baseplate was beneath its neighbor's it could be a real pain to extract. The same thing could happen with the TAPCO design, given its pronounced ribs.

Function check

Next I hit the range to check each model's baseline reliability. I used an I.O. Inc. Hellcat and Krebs Custom AK-104 in 7.62x39mm and an old Romanian MKII in 5.45x39mm. I selected Wolf Performance Ammunition's Military Classic steel case FMJ load in 7.62x39mm. Wolf offers excellent value for the money and I shoot a ton of their ammunition in a variety of calibers.

For the 5.45x39mm magazines I selected Wolf's 5.45x39mm 60-grain FMJ load and Hornady's new steel case load. Initially 90 rounds were fired through each magazine. During this portion of testing I had no failures of any kind. All seven types fed all 90 rounds without any problems. So we were off to a good start.

Heat test

To check if extreme heat would have any effect on the different designs, samples were heated to 160[degree] F for four hours. Magazines were then removed from the oven, carefully examined, loaded to capacity, fired'and then carefully re-examined. No issues of any kind were encountered.

Cold test

To check if sub-freezing temperatures would affect the different designs, samples were placed in a freezer and chilled to 0[degree] F for 48 hours. Magazines were then removed from the freezer, carefully examined, loaded to capacity, fired and then carefully re-examined. No issues of any kind were encountered. While 0[degree] F is not considered an extreme cold environment, I would bet few SGN readers will be shooting in colder conditions.

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Chemical Decontamination

A heated bleach solution is utilized to decontaminate personal equipment and weapons after exposure to chemical weapons. To check if this would have a negative effect on these designs, they were exposed to a heated bleach solution. Magazines were immersed in a heated bleach solution and then set out in the sun for six hours. After six hours magazines were inspected, loaded to capacity and fired. No problems of any kind were encountered. After the test-fire magazine were cleaned with a soap and water solution.

Exposure to Diesel and Gasoline

To check if exposure to diesel fuel or gasoline would have a negative effect, magazines were exposed to both. Testing began by submersing magazines in diesel fuel for 30 seconds and then setting in the sun for six hours. Magazines were then inspected, loaded to capacity, fire and then re-examined. No problems of any kind were encountered. Magazines were then cleaned to remove any diesel residue. Next they were exposed to gasoline in an identical manner. Again, no problems of any kind were encountered. Magazines were then cleaned to remove any gasoline residue.

Rear Impact

This particular test was suggested by Marc Krebs of Krebs Custom based upon his own testing and feedback he received from customers. This test was intended to simulate a strike to the rear of the magazine, such as if the rifle was dropped. It was intended to test the engagement points which retained the magazine in the rifle, specifically the rear one. Testing was conducted by striking the rear of the magazine with a rubber mallet using moderate force 10 times.

The steel Corn Bloc, East German and Bulgarian Circle 10 magazines all absorbed these 10 blows without issue. They also absorbed a further 10 fairly heavy blows without issue. The TAPCO magazine failed after three moderate blows. The rear engagement point which the rifle's magazine catch locks against broke off. It then fell out of the rifle and could not be retained by the magazine catch.

The ProMag failed after receiving nine blows in a manner identical to the TAPCO. The Bulgarian 7.62x39mm magazine failed in the same manner as the TAPCO after receiving 10 moderate blows and then an additional three heavy blows.

The I.O. Inc. magazine failed in a similar manner after six blows. However, examination revealed a portion of the engagement surface still intact. This allowed the I.O. Inc. magazine to lock into a rifle and be held securely enough to chamber and fire all 30 rounds.

M35A2 Roll Over

Next, magazines were loaded to capacity and placed on a dirt road topped with light gravel. They were then run over with a M35A2 2.5 ton 6x6 truck. This was to simulate what would happen if a magazine was dropped and it was subsequently run over by a passing military vehicle.

The M35A2 used for this test was equipped with a 10,000 pound PTO winch as well as an S-280 electronics shelter. These two additions raise the gross weight to approximately 15,500 pounds. It rides on 10 standard military non-directional 9.00x20 inch tires. While similar to a test I performed previously on AR mags (11/20/09), it is a bit different. Not only is the truck heavier, but in this test the magazines were driven completely over with not only a front tire but the rear duals as well, at a speed of approximately 5 mph.

After all the magazines had been driven over, each one was examined and test-fired. At first examination, only the ProMag design had failed. The baseplate had crushed and broken, freeing the internal spring. A closer examination revealed the body to be in good order but the follower was also slightly crushed.

By simply reinstalling the internal components and installing a new baseplate, the ProMag was returned to a usable state. It fired 25 of 30 rounds without issue. The deformed follower meant it would not lift the remaining rounds high enough to be picked up.

Subsequent testing also revealed the steel Com Bloc pattern magazine had been .damaged. Although it looked normal, it would only fire 12 rounds. Closer examination revealed the body had been slightly dented, preventing the follower from rising any further in the body.

.50-caliber Ammo Can Drop Test

This test was intended to simulate a magazine lying on the ground receiving a hard impact. Testing consisted of dropping a .50 cal. ammo can weighing 24.6 pounds onto each loaded magazine placed onto a concrete surface. Distance from the bottom of the ammo can to the ground was 22 inches. This distance was selected as it was the distance from the ground when held at the side of a 6-foot tall individual. 24.6 pounds was selected as it was the weight of a half-full can of .45 ACP ammunition in military packaging. After the impact the magazine was examined and then test-fired if possible.

Initially a test drop was performed at a height of 36 inches onto an empty steel Corn Bloc magazine. The results were not pretty, and the magazine was badly crushed. Changing the height to 22 inches and dropping the ammo can onto a loaded steel Corn Bloc magazine did not change the final results, though. Initial examination revealed the floorplate to be badly crushed. After locking the magazine into a rifle it became apparent the body was also slightly bent, preventing the follower from rising. No rounds were able to feed and no rounds were fired from this magazine.

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While the floorplates were also noticeably bent on the East German, TAPCO and both Bulgarian magazines, they all locked into a rifle and proceeded to fire all 30 rounds without issue.

The ProMag and 1.0. Inc. designs both suffered floor-plate failure. This is due to the wide and easily damaged design of this part. This rendered the magazine unusable, with the spring shooting out. However, simply replacing the floorplate fixed both designs and they both subsequently fired 30 rounds without issue. Retesting both designs in a manner so the can did not land on the floorplate allowed them to absorb the impact and fire all 30 rounds.

8.5 foot drop test

The final test performed was a drop test from a distance of 8.5 feet onto concrete. Normal drop tests are performed from shoulder height onto concrete. However, for this test the height was raised to 8.5 feet. Why this distance? 8.5 feet simulates the distance a magazine would fall if dropped by a soldier standing in the bed of a M35A2 2.5 ton truck.

In order to ensure all the magazines landed exactly alike, they were dropped down a chute of suitable length. Loaded magazines were dropped feed lips down to ensure the full force of the impact was absorbed by the feed lips.

This same test had proven exceptionally hard during previous testing on AR magazines. So I expected it to cause numerous failures with the polymer and composite AK magazines. I was wrong. All of the magazines except one absorbed the impact and proceeded to load and fire all 30 rounds.

The one magazine that failed was the steel Corn Bloc design. While the left feed lip was supported by the top cartridge the right lip was unsupported. The impacted distorted it a noticeable amount. Attempting to lock the magazine into a rifle revealed the top of the magazine was bulged to the point it would not enter the magazine well.

Final thoughts

While I'd never claim this test was comprehensive or scientifically valid due to the small number of magazines available, the results are nonetheless interesting. At the start of the test, I was fully expecting the steel Corn Bloc pattern to come out on top. Although it performed well in some tests, it failed others

In the end, the military issue Bulgarian circle 10 polymer and East German bakelite designs came out on top. They took everything thrown at them with zero failures.

The Bulgarian 7.62x39mm magazine also performed extremely well except with the rear impact test. Then it failed like all of the other designs lacking metal engagement points.

The TAPCO design fared well, but had problems fitting into different rifles. Both the I.O. Inc. and ProMag designs suffered from a baseplate configuration that proved inferior to the others.

Keep in mind this testing was extremely abusive. We ended up destroying some magazines in the process, something writers in the firearms press allegedly never report. Few shooters will ever subject their magazines to this kind of abuse. So draw your only conclusions from the results and choose your magazines accordingly.

Acknowledgments: Much thanks to Josh Newey and Wolf Performance Ammunition for helping to make this article possible.

SOURCES

Hornady

800-338-3220 / www.hornady.com

I.O.Inc.

704-225-8843 / www.ioinc.us

K-VAR

702-364-8880 / www.k-var.com

ProMag

800-438-2547 / www.promagindustries.com

TAPCO

800-544-1445 / www.tapco.com

Thermold

678-353-3292 / www.thermoldmagazines.com

Wolf Performance Ammunition

888-757-9653 / www.wolfammo.com
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Title Annotation:TORTURE-TESTING
Author:Fortier, David M.
Publication:Shotgun News
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Jul 20, 2011
Words:4146
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