What Is a Stovepipe on a Pistol?

by Joe Steel
Proper cartridge ejection is key to semiautomatic fire.

Proper cartridge ejection is key to semiautomatic fire.

A stovepipe is a type of malfunction that occurs when a cartridge case is not ejected fully when a pistol is fired. It gets its name from the fact that sometimes when this happens, the cartridge case is trapped in an upright position with the round portion sticking up, looking like a miniature stovepipe. Always use caution when trying to get a malfunctioning weapon to operate properly again.

Ejection Failure

Normally, a cartridge case will be pulled from the chamber by the extractor mechanism and pushed out through the ejector port. If a stovepipe occurs, the next cartridge will not load into the chamber properly and the shooter will not be able to fire the weapon. A number of factors can cause the weapon to fail to fully eject the cartridge case, including a buildup of lead or carbon. The problem can also result from fouling of the ejector spring or the extractor.

Clearing a Stovepipe

A common method to clear a stovepipe is to sweep the case off with the edge of your hand; however, Dave Spaulding, author of "Handgun Combatives," notes that sometimes a spent cartridge case will be difficult to clear in this fashion because it is sticking out the side of the slide rather than upright. He prefers simply turning the gun on its side and racking the slide, letting gravity take care of the unejected case. He does note that this will also cause the next round that failed to load because of the stovepipe malfunction to eject, but he considers this the safest, most reasonable solution.

About the Author

Joe Steel is a Northwest-based editor, writer and novelist, former news editor of an outdoor weekly. He also was an editor at a Seattle-based political weekly and editor of a monthly business magazine. He has been published in the "Seattle Times," the "Washington Post" and the "Foreign Service Journal," among other publications.

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