A Detailed Look at the Makarov

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Hand and Steel
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A Detailed Look at the Makarov

Postby Hand and Steel » Tue Jun 28, 2016 11:42 pm

It really is the most interesting gun in the world.
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I do not always carry a blowback pistol, but when I do, I prefer a Makarov.
Stay armed, my friends.


A DETAILED LOOK AT THE MAKAROV

This is a close look at the legendary “Pistolet Makarova” or “PM”, known most commonly simply as the “Makarov”. While the Makarov has been manufactured in several different versions including high capacity guns with double stack magazines, rare stainless models and guns chambered in a variety of calibers including .380 ACP, this post only covers the original configuration chambered in 9x18mm Makarov, as designed by Nikolai Federovich Makarov and adopted by the Russian military in 1951. The Makarov shown in this post is a Bulgarian Makarov manufactured in 1991.

Due to forum guidelines, the Makarov is detailed here in the capacity as a backup gun.

The Makarov pistol is a double action to single action, semi-automatic, all steel handgun chambered for the 9x18mm Makarov cartridge, with a magazine capacity of 8 rounds. The dimensions of the gun are approximately as follows – length is 6.3”, height is 5.9”, barrel length is 3.6”, weight is 1.6 lbs.


Similarities and Differences between the Walther PP/PPK and the Makarov

The Makarov is immediately recognizable as a Walther PP/PPK inspired design to most firearms enthusiasts. While it is in many ways similar to the classic German blowback pistols, it is noticeably more overbuilt and is mechanically simpler. The Walther has 46 parts total, while the Makarov has 27. Unlike the Walther, the Makarov utilizes a magazine release located at the heel of the grip instead of behind the trigger guard. While the Walther’s decocking safety lever is engaged by pushing down, and disengaged by pushing up, the Makarov uses a system that is more familiar to a greater number of shooters – up is safe, down is fire. It also acts as a decocking lever, precluding the option of cocked and locked carry.

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A Bulgarian “Circle 10” Makarov compared to a Walther PPK. The Makarov is somewhat rougher, but is more heavily built.

Both pistols use a very safe rebounding hammer design in which the hammer does not contact the firing pin when it is at rest. The hammer can only move forward enough to reach the firing pin when the trigger is held fulling to the rear – this allows the hammer to move forward, past the “at rest” position, under its forward momentum at the moment of the trigger pull. Neither uses a firing pin block safety.

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Rebounding hammer at rest.

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Rebounding hammer in the forward position.

The Walther is most often seen chambered in .32 ACP with 8 round magazine capacity in the larger PP version and 7 rounds in the smaller PPK, or .380 ACP with 7 rounds in the PP and 6 rounds in the PPK, while the Makarov’s magazines hold slightly more firepower, with 8 rounds of the slightly more powerful 9x18mm Makarov. While the fit and finish is functional on the Makarov, it is masterful on the Walther. Both guns, in their traditional version, have a blue finish.

Nikolai Makarov apparently denied any influence of the design coming from the Walther PP and PPK pistols – while this may seem a rather sleazy move, it becomes somewhat more understandable when consideration is given to the possibility that he was simply trying to avoid persecution. After all, the two Russian martial artists responsible for developing the Red Army’s unarmed combat program were both executed for “failing to recant their Judo” – given such an atmosphere in which anything seen as “unSoviet” could get an individual killed by the government, Makarov’s claim becomes somewhat more understandable.


Disassembly and Reassembly

One of the handiest aspects of the design is how easily it is field stripped for cleaning. The trigger guard is pulled down, set slightly to the side, and the slide can then be removed by pulling back and then up at the rear – the slide will then come off by allowing it to ride forward past the barrel under tension of the recoil spring. The recoil spring can then be removed from the barrel.

Reassembly is effected by placing the recoil spring back over the barrel, and with the trigger guard in the downward position and the hammer cocked, the front of the slide is located around the muzzle, and the slide is pulled all the way to the rearward position, pushed down, and allowed forward under tension of the recoil spring. The trigger guard is then moved back to its normal, upward position.

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Makarov with major components disassembled.

With the slide removed from the frame, the firing pin can also be removed simply by pushing the safety lever up past the “safe” position – this will allow the safety to disengage from the slide, and the firing pin can then exit the channel.

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The pistol’s safety lever, which also serves as a decocker, in the “fire” position.

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Slide, safety lever and firing pin.

The small spring inside the safety lever which engages with the detents on the slide is one of the Makarov’s relatively few weak points – with prolonged use, it can develop significant wear and will eventually need to be replaced. This can be avoided by not using the safety as a decocker, and carrying the gun with the hammer down and the safety disengaged for a double action first shot.

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The inside of the decocking safety lever – notice the small amount of wear on the spring which engages the detents on the slide.

Another quick disassembling component of the Makarov is the extractor. There is a small cutout in the extractor into which a tool, like the pointed end of the factory supplied cleaning rod, can be placed to relieve spring tension on the extractor plunger, allowing the extractor to be removed, followed by the plunger and spring.

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The extractor unit bares some similarity to that found on Glock pistols.

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Extractor claw, as seen from the inside of the slide.

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The factory supplied cleaning rod features a tip designed to aid in the removal of the extractor assembly.

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With the slide removed, it becomes evident that the slide release is made from the same piece of metal that forms the ejector.

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The barrel of this Bulgarian Makarov is nicely chrome lined.

A single screw at the rear of the frame is used to hold the stock in place. Care must be taken not to overtighten this screw, or it can interfere with the magazine. The rear end of the cleaning rod can be used as a screwdriver to remove or replace this screw.

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The grip screw and screwdriver end of the cleaning rod.

With the stock removed, it is immediately apparent just how simple the mechanism of the pistol is. The hammer spring is the same piece of metal as the magazine release.

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The Makarov with the stock removed

The magazines disassemble by pushing up against the small section of spring which protrudes through the baseplate, allowing baseplate to slide forward off the magazine tube. The spring and follower can then be removed.

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Like the rest of the pistol, the 8 round magazine is simple and robust.


Grip Options

Most Makarov pistols are seen with traditional Bakelite grips, most of which feature a Soviet star on them. These grips are thin and function, and often feature a lanyard loop. However, they are not necessarily the most comfortable to shoot with.

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This style of standard issue Bakelite stock is commonly seen on military issue and surplus Makarovs. Note the lanyard loop by the heel.

This particular pistol was supplied by Century Arms with an addition black plastic stock with a thumb rest. They are not particularly comfortable, especially if used left handed.

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Black plastic stock with thumb rest – neither comfortable nor aesthetically pleasing.

Not too many aftermarket options exist for Makarov stocks, at least not in North America. However, MarschalGrips does make attractive wood grips for a reasonable price, and Pearce manufactures very affordable, and very functional rubber stocks which are much more comfortable, though slightly thicker, than the common Bakelite and other plastic stocks.

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This pistol is equipped with a Pearce rubber stock – it is my first choice for practical purposes.

At one time, the folks at Makarov.com sold rubber wrap-around stocks they called the “Makawrap”, and even produced several with a clear plastic side panel so that the number of rounds in the magazine could be seen simply by looking at the grip of the pistol. These are long since discontinued.


Holster Options

Many surplus Makarovs are sold with the original holster – the particular Bulgarian gun seen in this post was shipped with a vinyl flap holster with leather fittings. While it is certainly not the best choice for a fast draw, it provides substantial protection for the gun, making it a good option to have if the gun were being carried in a survival situation.

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This surplus flap holster is certainly not a “quick draw” holster, but provides decent protection against the elements.

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Note the loops for carrying the cleaning rod.

Many “universal” style holster are quite satisfactory for use with Makarov pistols. While they might not necessarily be the best for any one purpose, they can often fulfill multiple roles decently well.

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This simple multi-purpose nylon holster has sometimes been used to carry my Makarov inside the waistband as a backup gun when I am hiking and don’t wish to use an IWB holster without additional retention features.

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Most universal shoulder holsters will manage a fit with a Makarov.

For normal concealed carry, there are now many very good options available on the market for the Makarov, though this has not always been the case in North America. Before IWB holsters specifically manufactured for the Makarov were common here, I purchased a Galco holster originally designed for a Bersa Thunder and have found it to be perfectly satisfactory for its intended use. It still sees service on occasion for carrying my Makarov as a back up to a more powerful pistol.

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This Galco inside the waistband model was originally designed for a Bersa Thunder, but works perfectly well with a Makarov.


Functional Performance

Like most quality blowback pistols, I have found the Makarov to be a remarkably accurate pistol. For up close instinctive shooting (without the use of the sights), including hip shooting, accuracy has ranked with the best, which is alone a strong argument in favor of the Makarov. Longer range sighted fire has also proven highly accurate, even with the Makarov’s small blade and notch sights. I do not find the recoil to be harsh at all, though other individuals have been surprised at it. I do not think that anyone with reasonable shooting technique would have a hard time with it, although individuals with smaller or weaker hands may have difficulty in racking the slide.

In terms of reliability, I have found the Makarov to be highly reliable, although there are some considerations to take into account. With good quality full metal jacket rounds, reliability has been top notch, with no failures of any kind over the years. Ammunition from Prvi Partizan and RWS have given good results. While I had not tried them, since I tend to avoid using steel case cartridges in handguns, Wolf and Barnaul both produce steel case 9x18mm rounds in FMJ.

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This Serbian manufactured 93 grain FMJ ammunition from Prvi Partizan is inexpensive but runs well.

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RWS manufactures premier quality rounds for the Makarov pistol. I found them to be nicely made but no more accurate than the Serbian cartridges.

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These Fiocchi rounds surprised me – the heavy lacquer sealing the primers once congealed on the firing pin, preventing it from striking several primers with sufficient force to detonate. I also experienced the only ejection failure (in the form of a stovepipe) I have witnessed with a Makarov using this ammunition. I suggest against its use.

While cheaper brands of JHP exist for the 9x18mm, such as the “Silver Bear” line from Barnaul, my only personal experience with hollow point ammunition for the Makarov has been with Hornady, having used both their 95 grain “Critical Defense” FTX and “Custom” XTP loads. While I did notice that the Critical Defense loads were particularly prone to bullet setback, I think that they represent a solid option for those who choose to keep their Makarovs loaded with hollow point ammunition. The Custom XTPs shot nicely, but I would not consider them as a top choice for defense – the wide meplat of the bullet can cause jams against the feed ramp, which I have witnessed occur on the first round into the chamber. It must be considered that the Makarov, while a highly reliable design, is more prone than some others to “nose diving” rounds – while this is not much of a problem with FMJ ammunition, it can be a source of major concern with hollow point rounds having a wide ogive.

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The Critical Defense line from Hornady proved to feed smoothly and eject reliably. I consider it a valid choice in JHP loads for defense.

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The Custom XTP rounds from Hornady proved to load somewhat less reliably, though they otherwise performed well. They might be a good choice in other pistols of the same caliber.

Note that while some sources claim that it is possible to shoot .380 ACP out of a 9mmMak/9x18mm marked barrel, it is a terrible idea, as the 9x18 actually has an ever so slightly increased diameter. Extreme excessive wear will result. Also note, that while a 9mm/9mmParabellum/9mmLuger/9x19mm cartridge can enter the chamber of the gun, it shouldn't - it is difficult to remove, as it cannot be extracted by pulling the slide back, and should not be shot, unless you plan on the gun blowing up.


The Role of the Makarov

Over the years I have found the Makarov to be quite a versatile handgun. For being a smaller handgun, it is accurate enough to be enjoyable to shoot, and is quite a satisfactory pistol for casual target shooting. For more serious purposes, it also has its place.

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While many pistols with greater firepower and more modern features exist, the Makarov has a long earned reputation as a trustworthy sidearm and is likely to continue to see battlefield use for quite some time.

While I personally prefer firearms chambered for more powerful rounds and holding more of them for use as a primary defensive weapon, I do consider the Makarov to be an extremely good option as a back up weapon. Some may disagree due to its relatively high weight, and prefer lighter weapons incorporating lightweight metal alloys or polymer for use as a back up gun. However, the Makarov is a proven weapon that has been used successfully all over the world for over half a century, and is one I trust more than most smaller handguns.

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Like other Bulgarian firearms, such as this Arcus, this Circle 10 Makarov is rugged and overbuilt.

The Makarov may come into its best light as a smaller handgun option for long term survival. Its low part count, high reliability and durability make it ideally suited for such a role. Those concerned with long term survival under severely deteriorated circumstances would do well to consider the Makarov as another tool to keep in the toolbox, due to its inherent usefulness, ease of maintenance and solid performance.

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The Makarov is a compelling choice as a backup to a more powerful weapon for long term survival.

All in all, I have found the Makarov to be an “old reliable” – it is not a match target pistol, nor does it match the firepower of a .45 or a high capacity 9x19, nor is it subcompact pocket pistol. However, it is rugged, reliable pistol that is well suited to a variety of purposes, and would be a welcome addition to just about anyone’s arsenal for when the lights go out.

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Best regards to all.
"Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives."

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Ohio9
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Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:23 pm

Re: A Detailed Look at the Makarov

Postby Ohio9 » Sat Jul 02, 2016 4:13 am

No double-sided safety = crappy gun as far as I'm concerned. Note to gun makers: Left handed shooters do exist.

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Hand and Steel
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Re: A Detailed Look at the Makarov

Postby Hand and Steel » Mon Jul 04, 2016 12:07 am

Ohio9 wrote:No double-sided safety = crappy gun as far as I'm concerned.

A Makarov doesn't need to be carried with the safety on. I really don't use the safety for anything beyond removing the firing pin.

Ohio9 wrote:Note to gun makers: Left handed shooters do exist.

I think that Baikal and Norinco are the only ones who still manufacture this weapon. I doubt anyone is going to make an ambidextrous Makarov at this point, with so many weapons of similar size chambered in more powerful cartridges around these days.
"Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives."

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Ohio9
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Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:23 pm

Re: A Detailed Look at the Makarov

Postby Ohio9 » Mon Jul 04, 2016 9:45 am

I hate guns without double sided safeties, even if they can be carried safely with the safety off. To me, these guns are like a personal insult. Like the manufacturer is saying "fuck you left handed shooter, you don't exist." I don't like to give them my money even if I can still safely use the gun.

It really amazes me that guns like the Makarov don't have double sided-safeties, because that is a military/police-issue gun. Any military (especially the Russian military) or police organization is going to have a substantial amount of left handed shooters. You would think any gun made to be issued to soldiers or police would be made with universal compatibility in mind.


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