The AR-15 has often been characterized as “grown-up Lego’s”. The AR owner has a breadth and depth of configuration options that no other shooting platform offers. This diversity makes the platform a maze of component choices which can be confusing for experienced gun builders. Even for small components, like the magazine release, there are multiple choices from which an AR builder must pick.
In this article we:
- Take a look at the often overlooked AR-15 magazine release
- Compare three different (and popular) options for magazine releases
- Provide best practices on choosing the right magazine release for your working goals
The standard magazine release assembly consists of three components:
- Arm and catch (right)
- Activation button (middle)
- Spring (top)
The operation of the magazine release system is a simple one: push the magazine release button and the magazine catch recesses, releasing the magazine. This is a simple side-to-side movement through the body of the lower receiver.
Installation of the unit consists of:
- Installing the catch through the left side of the receiver
- Placing the spring over the threaded arm from the right side
- Screwing the magazine release button onto the threaded arm
While the magazine release may not be the most glamorous of AR-15 components, it is tactically critical. In a tactical situation wearing gloves, try finding and pushing the small button of the magazine release. This is a movement necessary to reload with a fresh magazine to continue a fire-fight. One will quickly understand how critical this component can become. For many competitive and tactical shooters, it is imperative to improve the size and position of the button to reliably engage it.
Tale of 3 Magazine Releases
Three magazine releases were installed and evaluated. The evaluation considered the usages under working, tactical/competitive, and precision shooting scenarios.
First, let’s define the meaning of each scenario better.
For the purpose of this article, the working gun is a utilitarian usage of an AR-15 platform. Hunting is a good example of a working scenario. When hunting, only a moderate amount of magazine changes are required. The magazine changes for the working scenario are not highly critical, nor involve life-or-death situations. However, the environmental conditions can vary greatly in this scenario (temperature, precipitation, etc).
The competitive or tactical gun is one that requires a high volume of magazine changes. More so, the speed of these changes is critical to the outcome. In the case of tactical scenarios, these magazine changes could decide life or death. Environmental conditions will vary greatly, similarly to the working gun scenario.
Finally, the precision shooting scenario has a very low frequency of magazine changes. The gun build must be extremely precise to ensure accuracy. Environmental conditions vary less than working and competitive/tactical scenarios. There is little consequence if the speed and efficiency of the magazine change is affected.
Standard AR-15 Magazine Release
The standard AR-15 magazine release is a rounded rectangle shaped button with knurling across the exposed face and the button is fairly small. When normally installed, it is slightly recessed relative to the receiver. This feature is the standard on all AR-15 and M16 rifles found throughout the world.
This release is easy to install, very reliable and the lowest cost option on any gun. The total cost of the entire assembly currently runs between $6.50 – $8 retail. Manufacturers buying in bulk probably pay less than $4. Installation on a new receiver takes about 30 secs to a minute. On an existing gun, the bolt catch release assembly requires removal. This adds about 5 extra minutes for removal and reinstallation.
- Stock and standard
- Replacement components easy to find
- Recessed so not to snag or catch
- Very reliable and rarely fails
- Hard to find and operate with a gloved hand
- Hard to find at night or in low light
- Not very efficient when many magazine changes need to occur
- Hands/fingers often have to move out of firing position to manipulate
Power Custom Oversized Magazine Release
The “Power Custom Oversized” magazine release is a rounded version of the stock magazine release button. The release has an oversized head and has a longer shaft to ensure it protrudes out from the receiver more. It is designed to be .225″ higher than a standard magazine release, and has 3 times the surface area of a standard button. The operational surface of the magazine button is knurled for traction and bite. Brownells.com indicates it has 24 lines per inch of checkering.
The release is exactly the same as the standard magazine release to install. The total cost of the entire assembly is roughly $19 – $21.
Sounds like a winner, winner chicken dinner, right?
After installing this piece on two different builds, I found any slight, off-centered angle to the pressure on the button caused the unit to bind. If direct pressure along the axis of movement was applied, the unit worked fine. We found that off-axis movement caused the arm to impinge on the receiver, stopping or binding the normal motion. This resulted in a harder than normal pressure required, or a complete failure to release the magazine properly.
The unit was taken apart and reinstalled twice to ensure installation was performed properly. We contacted Power Customs on this issue, and were sent new units to try: the result was the same. After further investigation, it appears the shaft is .10″ too short and does not seat the catch portion fully. This allows the catch part to flex forward/rear in the receiver cut-out as it is engaged. This condition required the removal of the units as they were largely unusable, and clearly unsafe for tactical or self defense purposes.
- Had it worked, it was a nice big button to engage
- Unit caught most of the times it was depressed
- Under tactical/self defense conditions it could result in an unsafe circumstance
- When it worked, the size, extension and shape of the button could have caused it to snag on other equipment
Arredondo Oversized Magazine Release
The Arrendondo Oversized Magazine Release is a rectangular, angled and serrated faced button. It’s 5/8″ x 5/8″ square, with a slight angle back toward the rear of the gun. The angle of the button enables easier for a more natural engagement. This button sells for $28 on Brownells.com.
The release replaces the standard button with a two component button system. You have an inner, polymer button that attaches to the arm like a standard magazine release, and an outer polymer button (the angled component) that screws onto the inner button.
Installing the release button involves the following steps:
- Install a polymer version of a traditional magazine release button. There is a special version provided that has threaded screw holes for the top piece
- Install the top button (angled and bigger) by screwing in two screws
Installation takes about a minute longer than a standard magazine release and is relatively easy to install. The outer button can be removed and the inner button can be used similarly to the normal standard button.
- It is a significant advantage over the standard button when gloved
- It retains a low profile that does not catch on gear, while being easy to access
- Serrations provide solid positive traction
- It is polymer (plastic) – Unsure about durability
- Cost: It is expensive for being made from plastic
- Threaded screws require Loctite or occasional tightening
The AR-Fu of the Magazine Release
As stated earlier, the magazine release is an often overlooked component of AR builds. If (or when) you need to change magazines efficiently, it becomes clear the importance of this component.
The “Power Custom” button was unsafe for any tactical or self defense work. The oversized button does not add much value when factoring in the overall binding concern. Therefore, we do not recommend it, and discourage anyone from installing this component. Though we have communicated the issues with Power Customs extensively, the company indicates they do not feel there is a problem with the unit (we may write up this issue more thoroughly in a future article).
The Arrendondo button is a great button as it lives up to its promise, and it works well. But with the cost of $28 and being polymer material, generally I do not recommend this button for any old build. In fact, I only recommend it for competition or tactical builds. It is polymer and does consist of more components. If you have the money and want to put one on, go for it. If you are a tactical or competitive shooter and need the advantage this button brings, we recommend it.
Interestingly, the general winner is the standard magazine release button. Even though it is smaller, and more recessed, it works. It works consistently, reliably, as well having decades of history working consistently and reliably. It, also, is the best priced unit and is extensively available. Sometimes during gloved shooting, it can be a bit harder to find, but in the end it works.
The AR-Fu is simple:
The standard magazine release button works. Unless you are competing and need that edge, don’t waste your money on any “better” buttons.