Lee Williams has had it with polymer AK mags, and this is his reason:
The mag blew up while sitting unattended in Lee’s safe, and the resulting chaos was waiting for him when he opened it up.
I’m done with polymer AK mags
Posted on April 30, 2015 by Lee Williams
I had a surprise last night when I opened my safe.
The top of a loaded polymer AK mag had broken off for reasons unknown, spraying 28 loaded rounds and bits of plastic all over my safe.
The spring was sticking halfway out of the top of the mag. I found the follower behind an SKS.
We agree that this is an unhappy thing. We don’t agree that all polymer mags are created equal. (Ask any Glock owner who’s tried both Glock mags and the temptingly cheap Korean knock-offs). Even all polymer AK mags.
The Russians were the first to issue a synthetic magazine widely, and in the 1970s began producing polymer magazines with reinforcements in critical areas for the AKM and AK-74 rifles. These are the characteristic orange mags. They’re a good bit heavier than modern polymer mags, a lot heavier than US or Western-style aluminum or even steel mags, but are a lot heavier than thick-sheet Russian AK mags. Ivan’s polymer/steel composite-construction mags are about as durable as the steel mags they replaced (and significantly lighter). Collectors call these “Bakelite” mags, but the material does not appear to be Bakelite at all — it’s some other form of thermosetting; a Finnish article reprinted on a US site, minus most of its original photos unfortunately, says that it’s “fiber-reinforced phenol.” (We wonder if that’s a mistranslation that should have been phenolic instead).
To our disappointment, an unclas tech intel bulletin on the mags that we know was out there, was not available on DTIC. There is an interesting page on the net that lays out various mags for 5.45mm-class weapons, and some of that transfers to the 7.62mm versions. Anyway, we haven’t brought one of these mags to our injection-molding expert friend, but the original kind of feels like urea plastic to us. The Circle-10s are something lighter, maybe even ABS (ordinary polystyrene, like in hard-plastic toys).
The mag that disassembled itself on Lee was indeed a Bulgarian “Circle-10″ mag, a marking associated with Arsenal, and as you can see, it is by design not reinforced, neither with steel lips nor fiber reinforcement.
What makes a mag fail like this? Lee seems to think that the guilty party is leaving the mag loaded for a length of time. We have our doubts about that and would be more inclined to suspect the cumulative effects of age and ultraviolet-ray exposure (plain ordinary sunlight, which it certainly couldn’t have gotten in his safe). But the durability of different AK mags, even different Bulgarian mags, is widely variable.
We also don’t think loading only 28 rounds buys you anything. The difference in pressure is nominal. This goes back at least as far as Vietnam and was a ritual practiced by troops (although, there it was putting 18 rounds in a 20-round magazine) who were neither trained on the rifle nor given a supply of replacement magazines. It was something they did to appease the M16 Gods
The plain ugly fact is that magazines are, by design, expendable items and you need to start thinking of them that way — they’re the toilet-paper of small arms, necessary but not especially durable or reusable. And just like toilet paper, some brands are better than others. Lee, for example, probably should dump all of his circle-10s that are the same age as the one that failed, because their clock is ticking, too. Sorry to be The Bear of Bad News.
In the real world, private owners and armies alike are reluctant to purge their bad magazines because the mags represent a considerable cost — both the sunk cost that was spent on them and is lost for good, and (more germanely) the replacement cost for new mags. It is possible (although not necessarily economical or practical) to repair or overhaul metal, especially steel, magazines, but synthetic materials are harder to repair and rebuild.