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Ammo Magazines: What Different Shapes Mean

Just as with ammo and the firearms themselves, there are magazine shapes that are more popular than others. Caliber, and personal preference, affect the types of magazines you use. 

Weapon type and caliber used to be the primary factors, however, today many manufacturers have designed a magazine type to fit weapons that normally would not accept them. 

There are eight different types of ammo magazines that you can still find in use today: Tubular, box, casket, horizontal, drum, pan, rotary, and helical.

Tubular Magazines 

Tubular magazines are one of the first types of ammo magazines used in repeating rifles, particularly lever-action rifles. These are fixed magazines, meaning they can’t be detached from the weapon, that consist of a tube that holds cartridges that are set end-to-end.  

In most cases, tubular magazines have a spring on one end that pushes the cartridges into the chamber. The magazine is either positioned under the barrel or in the butt-stock. Today, these magazines are used with lever-action rifles, pump-action shotguns, and other firearms that are designed to take soft-pointed, or plastic-tipped bullets. 

Box Magazines 

Box magazines, which can either be fixed or detachable, are the most common magazines found in rifles and handguns.  

These magazines store ammo in a column that is either single-stacked or double-stacked. A single-stack box magazine has the cartridges sitting on top of each other in a straight line, while a double-stack box magazine has the cartridges sitting in two vertical lines that form a zigzag shape. Because of this configuration, a double-stack box magazine is often capable of carrying more rounds. 

At FirearmPricesOnline.com we stock double-stack magazines for Gen 4 and Gen 5 Glock models, including the Glock 17, Glock 19, and Glock 34. 


Casket Magazines 

A casket magazine is considered to be a type of box magazine, but it stacks the cartridges in four columns, allowing it to hold far more rounds than a double-stack magazine. While it’s wider than a standard box magazine, it has the same length. 

There are a number of different firearms that can take these types of magazines, including the AR-15, China’s QCW-05, and Italy’s Spectre M4. 

Horizontal Magazines 

Perhaps the least common type of ammo magazine is the horizontal magazine, which is a horizontally-mounted feeding system that is positioned parallel to the barrel. The magazines have a flush fit with the receiver and before being chambered, the ammo is rotated 90° by a spiral feed ramp. 

In World War I and World War II, there were several different rifles and machine guns that used horizontal magazines, like the FG-42, MP-18, and the M1941 Johnson machine gun. Today, the FN P90 and AR-57 are two types of firearms that you’ll find with a horizontal magazine for its feeding system. 

Drum Magazines

Drum magazines are one of the most well-known shapes of an ammo magazine, likely due to the famous Thompson SubMachine Gun, or Tommy Gun.  

Primarily used for light machine guns, drum magazines have a larger capacity than box magazines but they don’t have the excessive length you find in high-capacity box magazines. The biggest downside of this particular magazine is its weight. 

To work, the drum magazine’s staggered column is pushed by a follower through a curved path. From there, the moving partition forces rounds into an exit slot out of the chamber with a spring. A single-staggered column is pushed by a follower through a curved path. 

A saddle-drum holds 75 rounds that are evenly distributed on each side of the firearm and uses a central feed tower that feeds ammo to the bolt by spring force. When fired, these rounds alternate from each side and prevent the gun from becoming unbalanced. 

Modern firearms like the Ruger Mini-14, AK-47, and the HK MP5 can use drum magazines. In fact, the Ruger Mini-14 can be fitted with a 100-round saddle-drum magazine. 

We carry drum magazines for the SR-25 and M110 semi-automatic sniper rifles and the Saiga-12 semi-automatic shotgun. 

Pan Magazines

While a typical drum magazine stores cartridges parallel to the axis of rotation, pan or disk magazines store cartridges perpendicular to the axis of rotation and are mounted on top of the firearm rather than under it. 

Some of the earliest machine guns, those used in World Wars I and II, like the Lewis gun, the Vickers K machine gun, and the DP-27 used pan magazines. 

Today, the magazine is still used, on a custom-built basis, in the American SAR 180/275. 

Rotary Magazines

Rotary magazines, which can be fixed or detachable, work by using a sprocket that is rotated by a torsion spring. The cartridges are set in between the teeth of the sprocket. A downside of this type of magazine is that they have a low capacity, usually only holding ten rounds or fewer. 

Helical Magazines

The cartridges fed into helical-feed magazines follow a spiral path around an auger-shaped drive member. Interestingly, despite its relatively compact size, helical magazines are a high-capacity magazine. Firearms that feature helical magazines are the Calico M960, PP-19 Bizon, CF-05, and the PP-90M1. 

Last Word

Knowing how to distinguish different types of ammo magazines is important because you’ll know the mechanisms behind the design and determine whether the amount of rounds it can hold is right for you. 

FirearmPricesOnline.com has a great selection of affordable magazines, whether you’re looking for single-stack, double-stack, or drum magazines to fit your handgun, rifle, or shotgun.  

“Maintain your mags”

-Martin Hooper

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