Those new to shooting may have a lot of questions about firearms maintenance — one of those being how often to change springs in their handguns. It is an important question. And I’m happy that new shooters are thinking about keeping their handguns in tip-top order. There are a lot of misconceptions out there concerning spring failure. Most of the misconceptions center around a need for regular to frequent replacements for reasons that range from excessive use to “metal fatigue” from age.
In reality, few modern firearms need regular spring replacement unless they are heavily used or used with large amounts of +P (increased-pressure) ammunition. Springs that are inadvertently stretched out by a gun’s owner during improper assembly/disassembly techniques will also need to be changed more often. Most modern handguns are built to last — hence the abundance of lifetime warranties. If a handgun fails to function, the reason isn’t usually that the springs have failed. But that doesn’t mean attention shouldn’t be paid to them as part of a maintenance routine.
I don’t claim to be a metallurgy expert or even a spring expert, but I can give you advice based on many years of regular shooting experience with a wide variety of handguns.
Handguns use two basic types of operating springs: coil and leaf. Most handguns rely on coil springs for operation, particularly the mainsprings. Mainsprings power hammer operation for both semi-automatic pistols and revolvers.
Colt uses flat mainsprings (also known as hammer springs) in most revolvers. This gives Colt revolvers the legendary trigger feel that is distinctly different than handguns powered by coil mainsprings.
The mainspring isn’t the only spring type used in handguns. The other major handgun springs are recoil springs, magazine springs, firing pin springs, striker springs and trigger springs.
The semi-automatic pistol magazine is the heart of the operating system. There are a number of things that can go wrong with a magazine to turn a pistol into a paperweight. It’s usually not the magazine spring though. This is the spring under the magazine follower that pushes rounds into position to feed into the chamber.
Despite what some may say, leaving a magazine loaded will not lead to spring fatigue. Many pistols can be kept loaded for years with no ill effect. (You should, however, rotate out the ammo.) Most magazine failures I’ve seen were Glock magazines used for many thousands of rounds in our police academy Glock 19s. The plastic followers would erode and chip, failing to hold open on the last shot or causing occasional failures to feed. Once those followers were replaced, everything was back to normal.
My advice regarding magazines and their springs is simple:
- Stick to factory-approved magazines.
- Inspect magazines on a regular basis (especially the plastic followers).
- Make sure no dirt has found its way inside.
- Discard rusty magazines.
- Replace springs as you feel the need based on your own comfort level.
Semi-Auto Pistol Recoil Springs
Recoils springs are a different story due to the violent compression/expansion they are subjected to with each shot. I’ve had to replace two recoil springs on 1911 pistols: a used Kimber 10mm Eclipse and a WWII GI 1911 loaned to the police agency. Both firearms exhibited failure-to-feed issues with FMJ ammo. After replacing the recoil springs, the problem was solved in both. The GI 1911 recoil spring needed to be changed out because of the many rounds of ammo fired through it over many years. The Kimber 10mm recoil spring needed to be changed out because of the high-pressure nature of the 10mm cartridge.
If you fire a lot of +P ammo through your 9mm or .45 (not recommended), you may need to change your recoil spring sooner. The same thing is true if you fire a lot of standard-pressure rounds. It is important to check factory recommendations for recoil spring replacement in your specific firearm. Depending on the gun, there may be recommendations of specific springs to use for the ammo type (standard pressure or +P) being used.
The majority of shooters won’t shoot enough to need to change recoil springs — especially during this ammo shortage. If you are at all concerned, check if there are factory recommendations for changing out the recoil spring based on round count or ammo type and follow those. If you are using light loads, you may need to switch to a weaker spring. Remember, it will take a good amount of time for the average cop or concealed carry permit holder to reach the point where the recoil springs in his or her firearm will weaken or need replacing. This is especially true in a high-quality pistol.
I have never had to replace springs because of failure or weakening in a revolver, regardless of brand. OK, I did change the springs on a Ruger Security Six .357 revolver a number of years ago, but not because of failure. Ruger’s coil springs have always been renowned for strength. The trigger pull on this fine revolver wasn’t as smooth as a Smith or Colt. Because Rugers are so easily disassembled, I decided to install a Wolff Springs Package. For somewhere around $10, it slicked the gun right up. Wolff offers several individual springs and spring packages for a variety of handguns.
Proper maintenance of handguns, especially those kept for defensive purposes, is vital. You can make sure your handguns stay operational by following all factory maintenance recommendations and by keeping them clean and rust-free.
Wolff Springs: GunSprings.com
About Scott W. Wagner
After working undercover in narcotics and liquor investigations, Scott W. Wagner settled down to be a criminal justice professor and police academy commander. He was also a SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader before his current position as patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.