By Scott Conti
While enjoying a lovely dinner in Newport, RI with TTAG’s impresario, the conversation drifted to firearm technologies that could still use some improvement. We agreed that the magazine has always been one of the weak points of any semi-auto pistol platform. Feed lips get bent, springs weaken and can rust, schmutz can enter and cause all sorts of long- and short-term problems with functioning and reliability. Anyone who is serious about their carry equipment knows that you need to maintain your mags and should have a spare close at hand. Even then, they screw up occasionally. So what can be done about this state of affairs? . . .
I consider myself an inventor – after a long and torturous career in IT, I started my own prototype machining business. My first products “reinvented” armorer tools for handguns (insert shameless plug here). So RF suggested I take a look at the current state of the art of magazine technology and blue sky how to make it better.
Most magazines for semi-auto pistols are pretty similar – they consist of a body made out of metal or plastic, a baseplate, a follower and a spring. This, of course, means the potential failures are the same.
A cursory search of Google Patents will bring up hundreds of magazine-related filings. Most of the creative minds looking to improve gun feeding seem to focus on changes to the spring. Ram-Line seems to hold the lead in innovative patents to basic magazine technology with several patents that use a spirally wound flat coil spring that winds and unwinds to “pull” the follower up instead of the conventional spring that pushes the follower up. This technology is in common use for .22 rifles in the ubiquitous 30 and 50 round Ruger 10/22 mags.
Among the claims of US Pat #4888899 is that additional capacity is gained by reducing the space needed underneath the rounds for spring compression. In the early 1990′s, Ram-Line produced magazines like these for handguns. I have at least one Sig P226 variation on this theme that will hold 18 rounds. Mine works fine, but the plastic baseplate doesn’t look like it will survive many magazine drops and I don’t normally use it. This drawback can certainly be overcome but there must be the reasons the idea never caught on.
But why limit feeding to springs? Is it possible (or desirable) to use, say pneumatic or hydraulic force to push cartridges up in a mag? Indeed, we find US Patent #4033227 which is hydraulically operated – only it’s for for a “tank with large-calibre firearm.” As expected this uses a telescoping hydraulic cylinder to push the rounds up from below. Could this be adapted and miniaturized to a handgun?
A pneumatic magazine is described in patent application US2007/0215137 A1 – however it is for paintball guns. Could the follower be a piston in a pressurized magazine? The basic implementation problems to overcome with either of these would be the space required for the mechanisms and pressure reservoirs and of course leak-detection and prevention.
What other forces could be used? Other ideas that come to mind – expandable foams or maybe a miniature cable drive. Or how about using magnetic force to propel a follower up the magazine? Magnets are a great source of energy but also have their limitations. Neodymium magnets can to lose their properties over 180F. They also attract all sorts of “ferrous junk” – (run a magnet along the ground outside and see how much stuff sticks to it).
Regardless, US Patent #5074189 describes such a mechanism but it is used for electrically-fired cartridgeless ammunition in a firearm that appears to use magnets for both recoil reduction and to generate the electricity required to fire the cartridge. The description says it has one moving part, no springs, fires at a higher velocity than a conventional handgun and will work in “any environment.” This would appear to be The Perfect Gun. Sign me up! However, it looks like the patent for the cartridge was never actually filed. If a working example of this contraption exists, I’d love to check it out.
Some would say the problem has already been solved…it’s called a “revolver.” A good friend of mine – a self-educated inventor who holds many patents and is now in his 90′s – is still solving problems he has worked on for decades. I don’t expect to solve this one quickly, as many others have worked on this problem for over 100 years and yet we all know most handgun magazines work – and fail - about the same. So what’s your bright idea?