GUEST POST: A Brief History of the Kalashnikov Magazine Part 1: Metal Magazines

23 aluminum waffle

This is a guest article from our reader Brandon covering the development of metallic magazines for the AK-47 and AKM rifles. Thanks, Brandon!

The venerable Kalashnikov rifle is easily one of the most important small arms in history. Love it or hate it, it’s one of the most prolific firearms in existence and has quite possibly the most colorful and storied history full of variations and production types from various countries and companies. In my opinion, a huge part of the AK’s success and it’s famed reliability is due to it’s magazines, which have just as much a rich and interesting history as the rifle itself. It would be easy to write a thousand page book on just the magazines, their development, production, and use around the world. I have been collecting and learning about Kalashnikov pattern magazines for several years at this point and have amassed a huge quantity of photos and information I’m pleased to share. This article will just scrape the surface of the wealth of information on the magazines and I’m going to do my best to keep it succinct and just cover Russian pattern, focusing mostly on Izhhevsk/Izhmash produced magazines.

Before I get started, I would like to take a moment to thank and recognize my sources and inspirations for all this. First and foremost, Edward McLean for his article, “IDENTIFYING & COLLECTING THE 7.62×39 AK-47/AKM MAGAZINE”, Rob Stott for his beautiful AK photo books which inspired me to begin doing a lot of my own photography, theakforum.com for all the wonderful and helpful individuals who willingly share so much information, and “AK-47: The Grim Reaper” by Frank Iannamico.

 

Anatomy

The AK magazine is designed to go above and beyond in durability. They are arguably the most durable magazines ever produced, but the trade-off in that is weight. While Russian design and production is often derided for being poor quality, I feel that understanding the Kalashnikov magazine can give a new perspective into just how well they manufactured some of their small arms and accessories.

This is a list of terminology for the parts which are important when identifying and referring to AK mags. I’ll also add notes with each on why they are important.

1: Front lug

2: Feed lips

3: Feed lip reinforcement or side plates

4: Rear lug

5: Spine

6: Vertical Ribs

7: Horizontal Ribs

8: Follower

9: Spring

10: Keeper

11: Floorplate

 

1 anatomy_1 2 anatomy_23 feed lips close-up

The magazine bodies are produced in two halves, stamped from sheets of steel. These are then spot welded together along the front and the spine using massive, industrial spot welders which produce very distinct weld patterns which are often used to identify country of origin. The front and rear lugs are machined, heat treated, and then also spot welded to the body. Again, these welds are very useful in determining origin. Feed lip reinforcement plates are added and spot welded to the body, which add strength and also support while in the gun. The magazine actually contacts six points inside the gun, ideally. These are: The front and rear lug, the feed lips against the lower rails, and the reinforcement plates against the stabilizers.

The follower is stamped and spot welded at its seams and the keeper and floorplate are just basic stampings. The magazines were generally proofed or stamped after production, but that varies on country. Typically, you’ll find an arsenal mark or factory stamp and one or more acceptance or inspection stamps. This varies largely as every country had their own methods, but Russia almost always followed this pattern.

Besides being durable enough to literally be a hammer, bottle opener, and various other tools on the battlefield, the magazines had exceptionally strong springs. They are generally double the length of an AR-15 magazine spring. Both 7.62×39 and 5.45×39 use the same length springs with the same number of coils. It could be argued that the AK necessitated a stronger spring for it’s violent operating system. The followers were also no-tilt from the first design and will continue to feed through some pretty nasty abuse. What is obvious is that the magazine is one of the Kalashnikov’s greatest legacies for a myriad of reasons.

4 follower comparison

 

History

With full fledged production of the type 1 AK-47 underway in 1948, the first issue magazine for the Kalashnikov is generally referred to as the slab side due to it’s flat sides. Stamped from 1mm sheet steel, the slab side is a monster of a magazine and very tough. The problem was, they were very heavy, relatively. These began with a blued finish and were later produced with an enameled finish. They feature the Izhevsk arsenal mark on the lower back of the magazine and many inspection proof stamps. Many were serialized to the rifles with which they were issued with electro-pencil and occasionally will have a serial stamped into the magazine.

6 slab sides 7 slab side 8 slab side

Around the mid 50’s toward the end of the Type 2 and beginning of the Type 3 AK-47 production, the first, more common, ribbed magazines made their debut. These were stamped from slightly thinner steel and featured the reinforcement ribs on the sides. These feature five vertical ribs, with the outermost two being pressed inward and the middle three press out, and three horizontal ribs at the bottom. The first initial variant of the ribbed magazine is commonly referred to as the back stamp due to it carrying over the slab side’s arsenal mark on the lower back of the mag. These were produced in blued and enameled finishes and also featured plenty of inspection proofs all over.

9 back stamp 10 back stamp 11 back stamp 12 back stamp

At some point in the early 60’s the magazines changed slightly again. The majority of proofs were moved to the spine including the Izhevsk arsenal mark. These are correctly referred to as early spine stamps. The proofs seem to get a bit more predictable during this point and will generally feature a diamond with CB at the top left of the spine, an oval with two numbers or two Cyrillic characters in the middle on the left side of the spine, and the Izhevsk proof under that. Various random Cryllic characters were usually stamped toward the bottom.

13 early spine stamp 14 early spine stamp 15 early spine stamp

Later on, another small change was implemented. The rear most inward rib continues it’s impression at a 90 degree angle as it approaches the feed lip reinforcement plates forming an upside-down L. This is what’s considered the second Euro or second pattern ribs. The magazines stayed basically the same otherwise and these are referred to as late spine stamps.

5 Euro_Rib_Pattern 16 late spine stamp

The final variation of steel magazine produced by Izhevsk is called the side stamp. The arsenal mark was moved to the left side of the magazine. The middle vertical rib ends before the other two and the arsenal mark sits there. The proofs on these are generally minimal and they don’t appear to have been used for long as most examples are in very good condition. There are many size variations of the actual Izhevsk stamp on these and the larger versions are much less common and very sought after by collectors.

17 side stamp 18 side stamp

Now, let’s back track a little. During the early sixties, Izhevsk began experimenting with aluminum magazines to help further reduce weight. They actually produced at least two different variations of aluminum magazines featuring completely aluminum construction aside from the spring. The first variation looked almost identical to the backstamp aside from having feed lip reinforcement plates that curved at the rear instead of being square. These seem to have been produced right along side the steel back stamp magazines for an unknown amount of time.

The following images are courtesy of Jason G:

19 aluminum back stamp 20 aluminum back stamp 21 aluminum back stamp 22 aluminum back stamp

The second is the much beloved aluminum waffle. The aluminum waffles were supposedly produced from 1961-1963. They are very lightweight and feature a waffle reinforcement pattern on the sides from which they derived  their common name. They are also frequently called paratrooper mags. These are some of my favorite mags because they are just a peculiar piece of Kalashnikov history. They feature a large reinforcement area at the front and many, many proofs. These had the arsenal mark on the spine as well which should put their production around the same time as the early spine stamps. In the end, they were deemed too fragile and unfit for issue, so their production life was short.

23 aluminum waffle 24 aluminum waffle 25 aluminum waffle 26 aluminum waffle

All the while Izhevsk is chugging along, it’s sister factory, Tula, begins production right along side. Tula is a smaller factory and most things Kalashnikov coming from there have their own charming characteristics. In some ways the production was a little more crude, but it featured more craftsmanship and uniqueness because of this. Tula cranked up production of the AKM around 1960 or so and began with their own version of the spine stamp and produced both early and late versions. They feature a small star which is the arsenal mark for Tula, not to be confused with the star in circle of North Korea. They produced both early and late spine stamps all with enamel finish. Tula continually mirrored Izhevsk production of magazines throughout most of the time the factory made Kalashnikovs.

Tula steel Tula star

That’s it for part 1, stay tuned for part 2 where we take a look at synthetic magazines for the AK!



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Tritro29

    I hoped this was touching the subject of the M43 magazines prior to them being standardized for the selected system, rather than after.

    Very nice article. Although Tula is not a “smaller” plant (which is true the productive size of TOZ is small), but it also houses the KPB, which is in many aspects more important than Izhevsk…

    • BrandonAKsALot

      I had to narrow my scope of this somewhat. I always aimed my collection and research toward standard issue mags because they were reasonably attainable.

      I suppose with Tula, I should have said their Kalashnikov production was always smaller. They produced significantly less than Izhmash.

      • Tritro29

        The article is great, no questions about its scope. I will try and patch up my own pre-47 magazine design (which will include a boatload of Russian) “study” and submit it to Nathaniel in order to bridge the gap.

        • BrandonAKsALot

          That would be kick ass. I’ve seen very little about the very early development.

  • Tim

    Wow.

  • Kalash

    Extremely informative. Many thanks.

  • Connor Christensen

    Love it! Thank you for this. Amazing how a seemingly simple magazine can have such a storied history

  • Kevin Harron

    Interesting stuff. Looking forward to the next one.

  • Aono

    Apologies for the random nature of this question, but regarding the “six points of contact,” does anyone know how the PTR-32 fares in this regard?

    • I am not sure. I would like to know.

    • Currie864

      I’m not sure about the points of contact, but the all metal ak mags I have seat very well in my ptr-32 (with the exception on my Chinese 10 rounder that will not even fully fit up into the mag well).

  • MPWS

    In contrary to western magazines, which have stiffening ribs used as cartridge guides, the Russians follow tradition of ribs on the outside. Yet, this does not seem to have negative influence to function.
    I was involved in past in magazine design and I know, I’d make every effort to use ribs on inner side to control precise location of cartridge. I have more confidence to that approach.

    • BrandonAKsALot

      If you look closely, there are two inverted ribs to guide the follower.

  • YZAS

    …makes me want to start necking with one of my Bulgie Circle 10 Waffle Mags

  • Bill

    I don’t have an AK and frankly they don’t interest me much (though I should get and train on one, just because they are so widespread), but kudos for the great nomenclature slides and photos – well done.

    • Nashvone

      Other than basic knowledge, I had no interest in AKs until a friend bought one. It was so fun to shoot I got one for myself.

      • BrandonAKsALot

        I had a major distaste for them at one time too. Then my buddy bought a Saiga 12 and I helped him convert it. That Saiga cost me a lot of money considering I bought tooling for building them and got sucked head first into the AK world.

  • LazyReader

    History of Waffle fries

  • Swarf

    Find six differences.

  • codfilet

    Here’s a question: Will East German AK steel mags fit and function in a Chinese Norinco MAK-90?

    • BrandonAKsALot

      They should.

    • Stephen Paraski

      I picked up a MAK stamped kit for $50 this summer, missing rear trunnion, safety selector and trigger pins, know a source?

      • codfilet

        Not me-I’ve never built a kit.

      • BrandonAKsALot

        Search Google for Poly Technologies parts. You’ll find the Poly tech store.

  • Marvinator

    Where da quad stack at?

  • Marvinator

    Here’s a quad stack. 5.45 from internet

  • Bob

    I have a plastic 40 rounder (modern manufacturer)I was told was for 7.62×39, however it does not fit in my Wasr10. I haven’t looked at it in a while, but as I recall the shoulders were too wide, but it fit 7.62 rounds just fine. Google searches did not help, and I’ve meant to investigate further but haven’t gotten around to it. My questions are: Is it actually for 5.45 and therefore is meant not to fit or is it that my Wasr has too tight a mag well? In case it isn’t clear, I have never had my hands on a 5.45 AK… Unfortunately.

    (I’ve been thinking it must be for 5.45 because the only external difference between the two rounds is at the bullet end, but I’ve been known to make hasty assumptions in the past…)

    • BrandonAKsALot

      If it’s actually a 40 rounder, then it’s 7.62×39. If it has what almost looks like a house over a tear drop, then that’s a commercial Bulgarian mag. There were a few other US manufacturers who made them. Sometimes they may not be up to spec or your mag well may be abnormally tight, or both.

      • Bob

        It is kind of weird. Metal mags of various manufacturers fit fine, plastic Tapco ones are tight but fit, but this thing has a rather different profile. I held another mag up to it and the locking lugs are all in the same place, so it looks like it would fit if I ground down the upper edges, though that would affect durability and I would then consider it questionable for anything serious.

    • iksnilol

      How curved is the mag, can we get a pic?

      • Bob

        Unfortunately I am on vacation and am about 1,000 miles away from the magazine in question. I’ve related about all I can remember at this point…

        • iksnilol

          Cause if it is plenty curved, it is 7.62×39, while if it is sorta curved it is 5.45.

          The first picture is of an 40 round 7.62×39 mag. Second if of an AK-74 with 45 rounder and a regular 30 rounder for comparison.

  • jerry young

    I prefer metal mags over plastic, I have metal mags for various hand guns an rifles that are over 40 years old the still work well but have had plastic ones fail after a couple of years of use the feed lips tend to crack causing malfunctions in feeding, my brother in law brought me a rusty old dinged up AK mag that he found while cleaning a building and the darn thing still works, if a plastic mag was subjected to half the abuse you may as well just throw it away, plastic may save weight but does not hold up to the abuse metal can

    • YZAS

      As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. It’s pretty much universally agreed-to that the best AK mag is in fact, steel-reinforced polymer: the Bulgie Circle 10 Waffle mag. It’s nothing short of a tank and lighter than an all-metal mag. The only drawback being of course, the price. But to your point, yes, metal AK Mags are damn durable and are the standard. Polymer Mags – without the proper metal reinforcements – are probably best relegated to being range mags. This includes the new offerings by Magpul, Tapco, etc. If the cost of the Bulgies wigs you out, US Palms aren’t a half-bad substitute. But hey, we’re talking about AK’s here, and I can dig the whole ‘purist’ thing honestly. Just irons and metal mags works. Roll with it.

  • Kovacs Jeno

    Great article!

  • schizuki

    Argh. The possessive is — its —–.

    —- It’s —- is a contraction of “it is.”

    So, “… it’s famed reliability is due to it’s magazines” is equivalent to, “…it is famed reliability is due to it is magazines”

    Teeth-grinding pet peeve. You may all give me an atomic wedgie now.

  • Devil_Doc

    Interesting.. I never thought to look for markings on my mags. 3 of my mags (2-30 rd, 1-20 rd) are 1st euro pattern, and have an M in a circle low on the spine, but no other markings at all. Is this something made for civilian sale only, with no military markings? I have another 30 rd 1st euro pattern that has a rounded over spine, and no markings. Probably civilian sales only?

    • BrandonAKsALot

      The M in a circle is Hungarian. If the other has no shine, which is what I gather, it’s Chinese. The Chinese mostly have 2 horizontal ribs.

      • Devil_Doc

        Yeah, good call on the 2 horizontal ribs. I didn’t even notice.. Thanks for replying.

  • tsh77769

    One way to tell Chinese 7.62×39 mags is that they do not have a proud/prominent/vertical rib/spine on the back. AFAIK they are the only smooth spine steel AK mags.

    • BrandonAKsALot

      They are indeed. Also, most of them have two horizontal ribs instead of three that run all the way to the front of the mag unlike Yugoslavia/Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian mags. The Sino-soviet and transitional are a bit different though.

    • Doom

      Love my Chinese mags, got them for 9$ each from AIM many years ago (well, many for me lol) Probably my nicest mags, at least tied with my Bakelite Russian mags. Yugo BHO mags are ok, pretty rough but never had any failures. Then I have tapco mags, still ok, but I wouldn’t rely on them for anything but range time.

  • Claus Økær Holdt Hansen

    What are the alu waffle “para” mags worth?
    Because I found some in the UK for 74£, and I don’t want to pay more, than what they are worth.

    • That’s about right.. they’re $100. in USofA