Pistol Recoil Springs: The Ultimate Guide Home / Pistol Anatomy / Recoil Spring

Pistol Recoil Springs: The Ultimate Guide

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / July 09 2021

A diagram of an assembled pistol, next to a disassembled slide, barrel, and recoil spring.
If you want to shoot faster or prevent jams, check out your pistol's recoil spring. We'll cover how they work, how you can change them out for better performance, when to replace a pistol recoil spring, alternatives, and whether you should upgrade your pistol's recoil spring.

On This Page:

  1. Basics
  2. Why Does a Good Recoil Spring Matter?
  3. What Makes a Good Recoil Spring?
  4. When to Replace Pistol Recoil Spring?
  5. Recoil Reduction Systems for Performance
  6. Recoil Buffers: Good or Bad?
  7. Recoil Springs and Slide Racking
  8. Should I Upgrade My Recoil Spring?

Basics

When you fire a loaded pistol, the slide recoilsback:

The recoil spring then returns the slide forward:

This process is what reloads the pistol when you fire it.

The recoil spring sits inside the slide,underneath the barrel,and is held in place by a guide rod. Recoil springs come in different weights and types. They affect:
  • Reliablility
  • Recoil sharpness
  • Muzzle rise in recoil

Why Does a Good Recoil Spring Matter?

The right recoil spring prevents jams and improves recoil for faster accurate shots.

What Makes a Good Recoil Spring?

The right spring strength and durability matter most.
Spring strength is measured in weight. So a 20 lb. spring is strong enough to push 20 lb., an 11 lb. spring is strong enough to push 11 lb., etc.

Too Strong

The slide will return with a snap, causing your sights to dip down after each shot instead of returning to the same spot. It's like adding whiplash to your recoil. In extreme cases, the slide won't fully travel back, and your pistol will fail to load itself. You'll get jams.

Too Weak

The recoil will feel snappy coming back, which can be jarring if you don't have excellent grip strength and technique. Even then, it's harder to track the sights in recoil. In extreme cases, the slide will return too slowly for it to load itself. You'll get jams.

See it in action. A weak spring on the left, and a heavy spring on the right:
On the left, the pistol has plenty of time to cycle a new round - reliable, but takes longer to return to target. On the right, the pistol cycles and returns to target faster, but could jam if the shooter's grip or ammo isn't perfect. A better spring weight for that pistol would be 13-14 lb.

See this video for more details:


When to Replace Pistol Recoil Spring?

There are two ways to tell. First, look for issues. The most accurate way:
  1. Your ejected casings fall some distance other than 6-8 ft away from you.
  2. Your pistol fails to feed new rounds after recoil, and you've ruled out bad magazines as the cause.
If that doesn't work for you, replace your recoil spring on every X rounds fired, where X depends on the pistol's use.
Some examples:
  1. 2,000 rounds: Shooting nothing but overpressure (+P, +P+) ammo.
  2. 5,000 rounds: Carry gun.
  3. 10,000-20,000 rounds: Competition gun.
This second method is largely up to you. Some have reported 70k rounds without issues. Unless you're a serious shooter, you probably won't have to replace the recoil spring on your pistol.


Recoil Reduction Systems for Performance

There are a few ways to upgrade your recoil spring:
  • Mechanical recoil reduction system, that replaces your recoil spring and guide rod. It reduces felt recoil and muzzle rise by 3-5%:
    However, these take some tuning to prevent jams. You'll have to experiment with the different recoil springs provided:
    The DPM recoil system replaces the guide rod with a piston-spring system. A standard recoil spring goes over the assembly.
  • Tungsten guide rod, to add weight to the front of the pistol and reduce muzzle rise by 3-5%. More weight in the pistol makes it less comfortable to carry.
    A tungsten guide rod and standard recoil spring. Tungsten is denser and heavier than plastic or steel.

Recoil Buffers: Good or Bad?

A recoil buffer pad on a CZ 75 slide.

Some pistols, like the 2011 and CZ 75 series, come with a rubber or vinyl buffer pad.

What do they do, exactly? They:
  • Add effective recoil spring weight, depending on thickness
  • Change the feel of the recoil
  • Reduce wear on some internal parts

Recoil spring weight

Effective recoil spring weight increases with buffer pad thickness. How? Think of how it is to load that last round in a magazine, compared to the 2nd last. The buffer pre-loads the spring and also compresses it more when the slide is locked back compared to no buffer, or thinner buffers. It makes the slide a bit harder to rack.

Generic CZ 75 recoil springs are made for a 4.6" space, while the Shadow 2 has a 4.9" space. A generic CZ 75 recoil spring functions at a lower weight in a Shadow 2, because that extra space prevents the spring from compressing all the way. A buffer offsets that.

Recoil feel

It can take some shooting to notice it, but using a buffer is like using a dead blow hammer instead of a normal bare steel hammer - less vibration. This probably won't affect your split times, but you may find shooting more pleasant.

Slide stop wear

On a CZ 75 or Shadow 2, a buffer reduces wear on the slide stop, but you don't need it. A heavier recoil spring gets the job done about the same. If your brass extracts 6-8 ft., you won't have excessive wear on that part.

Other points

A set of thick and thin recoil buffers for the CZ Shadow 2.

Buffers wear out. Overall lifetime depends on your loads, but for CZ pistols, thick buffers last around 5-15k rounds, while thin ones lasts 1-2k.

Too thick a buffer prevents the slide from going all the way back and extracting right. The CZ thick buffer is fine on a Shadow 2, but not on a SP-01 or other CZ 75 models, even with a lighter recoil spring.

Any increase to your recoil spring weight affects extraction. If you use a buffer, ensure your brass extracts 6-8 ft. to prevent jams.

If you're still unsure of whether to use a buffer or not, and your gun came with one, try it out and test your extraction. If it's 6-8 ft., keep it in and see if you prefer it. If it's less than 6 ft., remove the buffer. If it's still under 6 ft. (due to low-pressure ammo, or a compensator), use a lighter recoil spring and start over.


Recoil Springs and Slide Racking

Having trouble racking the slide? Reducing the recoil spring weight will help. You can usually reduce it by 2-4 lb. without any major drawbacks. If you want to reduce your spring weight further, adding a compensator will probably require you to reduce the spring weight another 2-4 lb to prevent jams. It costs extra and takes some time to get it working right, but it'll also reduce recoil 25-40%.


Should I Upgrade My Recoil Spring?

The stock recoil spring on your pistol will work great in most cases.
Only change recoil springs when you:
  • Do not get 6-8 ft. of brass extraction with your preferred ammo
    (Reducing the spring weight by 1 lb. adds 1.5-2.0 ft of ejection, and vice versa. If you need 3-4 more ft of ejection, try a spring 2 lb. lighter)
  • Notice your pistol jams with your preferred ammo
  • Have trouble racking the slide
  • Add a compensator or ported barrel to your pistol
  • Change your slide weight for performance
  • Shoot competitively and want to get every bit of performance you can
There are many ways to reduce recoil, and there are better options for the level of hassle.


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References

  1. How to Select the Proper Recoil Spring (2019)
  2. Test: Slow Motion | DPM Triple Spring Mechanical Recoil Reduction System | Glock 17 C Gen 4 (2019)
  3. Recoil Buffers and Competition (2019)
  4. Shadow 2 Recoil Pad (2019)
  5. My Shadow 2 Modifications (2018)
  6. Shadow 2 Buffer - When to Replace? (2018)
  7. How often we need to change springs? (2017)
  8. When to replace recoil spring - and how to know (2017)
  9. When to change recoil spring, main spring Tactical Sport (2015)
  10. Tuning your Pistol for Faster Double Taps with Recoil Springs (2011)
  11. DPM Recoil Reduction System Test Result (2010)


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