The availability of service-type auto loading pistols has changed dramatically over the past few years. No longer is the choice between the 1911 Colt, or the 1935 Hi Power Browning. We have Beretta, Sig/Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Walther, H&K, CZ75, Glock, etc. In spite of the additional choices, the most popular pistol for custom work is still the 1911. The 1911 is a cottage industry of its own, from specialty accessories to gunsmiths who work on nothing else, it is truly the most coddled, pampered, used (and abused) handgun of all time. If you want a custom handgun that will give you the most bang for the buck, the 1911 is the one to choose.
A great many of the modifications performed on the 1911 can be done on other designs. I have customized most of the auto loaders available today, but the fact remains that the 1911 is the most popular. For this reason, this web page addresses the conversion of the 1911, even though the same procedures, with modification, can be performed on most available autos. Contact me if you have a question regarding the suitability of a modification to some other pistol.
Springfield 1911A1 .45 ACP. Our AP I conversion with up-grades, including BoMar sight, Brown grip safety, MGW hammer and sear, Dlask trigger, and a match barrel. An excellent all round pistol, accurate enough to shoot bullseye matches. It is also appropriate for defense, limited IPSC, and hunting if the game is 100 pounds or less. These modifications are very practical and help this great design fulfill 95% of all handgun requirements.RELIABILITY
A service auto must feed, fire, and extract without fail. I adjust spring tension and polish critical surfaces to achieve reliability. Many double action autos are made unreliable by using a "spring kit" to reduce the heavy double action trigger pull. I reduce the mainspring tension slightly, but depend on adjusting other spring tensions and smoothing the action to produce the effect of a lighter double action pull. Considering the 1911, the feed ramp and barrel throat is recut when necessary. Feed surfaces are mirror polished, breech surfaces polished and the extractor adjusted and polished. Pistols which have received a full reliability job are function tested with service ammunition using your magazines. Specify the ammunition you want used.
To be accurate, the service auto must lock and unlock the same each and every shot. Consistency must be maintained from the time the primer fires until the bullet leaves the barrel. While it seldom is, the barrel crown must be concentric to the bore, so that all points of the bullet base exit the barrel at exactly the same time. Otherwise, the bullet will be tipped slightly. Also, the chamber must be concentric with the bore, the leade the correct dimensions and angle, and the headspace minimum for consistent ignition. Good accuracy can be achieved in the 1911 using a commercial Colt barrel, but the headspace will be excessive, and not correctable. For a service pistol, where 2 - 2 ½ inch 25 yard groups are acceptable, the Colt barrel will suffice when a match bushing is fitted, and the lower lugs and barrel tang are built up with weld and refitted.
.40 S&W Browning Hi Power with BoMar rear sight. C&S hammer and trigger help produce an acceptable trigger pull. The Browning is among the most accurate service .40 S&Ws. It can be improved with a Bar Sto match barrel that we can fit for you. The BoMar must be moved forward, as shown. If it is installed to the extreme rear, as 1911 installations, the hammer will strike the sight instead of the firing pin.
If greater accuracy is desired, a custom barrel is called for, one that is not finish chambered until after fitting. The same is true of the other service autos. Almost all can be refitted and produce 2 - 2 ½ inch 25 yard accuracy. But to do better, a custom barrel is usually required due to headspace and often generous chamber leade tolerances. I recommend either Kart or Bar Sto.
Slide tightening improves accuracy of the 1911 somewhat and certainly improves the overall "feel" of the gun. It will reduce group sizes about 15%. I can tighten stainless 1911’s, whether the slide, frame, or both are stainless. The final job will be a little less tight than a blue steel gun.SIGHTS
Purely defensive pistols often have fixed sights. The brand or configuration is a matter of personal choice. The same is true of the aids: dots, inserts, lines, etc. The most important factors regarding fixed sights are correct installation, so they do not move inadvertently, and to be of sufficient size to be seen. Most front sights for the 1911 are 1/8 inch wide for quick acquisition.
Target or sport autos have adjustable sights. I have installed hundreds of Bo-Mar BMCS sights. The adjustments are positive and repeatable. The parts are large enough for durability, yet not so large as to appear out of place, or so heavy as to self-destruct in shooting. I have installed the Bo-Mar on most of the available service autos; some have required slide modification, or special custom bases. Bo-Mars can be fitted to the Gold Cup slide. The original sight cut is filled with weld then the rib grooves recut. It looks like a factory job and is certainly an improvement in sight accuracy and durability.
Optical sights are becoming more popular, whether the electric dot, projected image, or conventional scope. The advantages of accuracy and speed (target and sight on the same optical plane) are the same for handgun as they are for rifle shooters. Most of the sights are frame mounted as opposed to slide mounting. Mount design and material are rapidly changing: every few months something new appears. While a specific mount/sight combination cannot be recommended at this time as the "best", some observations can be made. The obvious first: both mount and sight should be as small and light as performance requirements permit. Mounting holes should be numerous, and the frame dust cover reinforced if at all possible. Less obvious, the frame and slide should be tightened for optimum accuracy. If not, the barrel, slide, and bullet can be pointed in one direction while the frame and sight are pointed in another.
I do custom sight installations on several autos: Bo-Mars on the S&W, Sig/Sauer, CZ75, and Colt Elliason on the Walther PP, PPK, and PPK/S, for example. I take special pride in sight fitting, as with other accessory installations as well. The result is a neat job with no unsightly gaps and satisfied, repeat customers. Some sights require welding or other pistol modifications. Call about your interest.
Trigger pulls are adjusted to approximately 4 pounds on the 1911 and 4 ¾ pounds on the series 80 Colts. In general pistols with a firing pin lock will have ½ to 1 pound heavier trigger pull due to the compression of the lock spring. When correctly done, the trigger job on a pistol with a firing pin lock or safety (such as Beretta, current S&W service autos, Ruger, etc.) will be as crisp and suitable as the non firing pin safety autos. To detect the differences, a side by side comparison is required.
Light weight triggers (aluminum, plastic, skeletonized, etc.) allow the trigger pulls listed above to be reduced approximately ½ pound. They are strongly recommended in the 1911 design.
The 1911 handling can be improved in several ways. Recovery time can be shortened by recontouring the front strap and using a high grip safety such as the Brown. The front strap and safety modifications allow the gun to sit lower in the hand, reducing muzzle rise in recoil. Checkering the front strap, mainspring housing, and trigger guard reduce slippage during recoil and are a definite aid to accurate, rapid shooting. On a competition gun, the front strap and mainspring housing checkering should be 20 lines per inch and sharp. The trigger guard, a sharp 30 lines per inch. For general use, most will be happier if the 20 line checkering is dulled a little.
If the weak hand fore finger is placed in front of the trigger guard, it should be checkered there. It is also wise to checker under the trigger guard even if the trigger guard front is grasped, for it helps to reduce slippage on the weak hand middle finger. If the front of the trigger guard is not used, then only the underside is beneficial.
Front strap checkering is carried as high as possible to offer maximum controllability. When the front strap is recontoured, the checkering is increased about 20% for even greater control. Besides the 1911’s, I checker Walthers, Browning HiPower, S&W, and CZ75 (and copies). Some must be checkered finer than 20 lines per inch due to thin front straps. Prices will vary and all will cost the same or more than the 1911. If the gun allows, 20 line checkering is the most practical. If 20 line is sharp, it offers the best non-slip surface. Some find it uncomfortable, though, or find that it is ruinous to clothing. The temptation is finer checkering, say 30 line per inch. The problem is, 30 line checkering must be sharp to form a slip resistant surface, while 20 line can be dulled by wire brushing presenting a non-abrading surface that still allows controllable rapid-fire shooting. In spite of the above, 30 line checkering is popular. It certainly looks more "custom" than 20, and even when dulled, 30 does allow good control.
The magazine well should be beveled as a minimum aid in rapid magazine change. Better is a funnel. I build the opening up with weld and contour the funnel without changing the pistol’s dimensions ( ¼" is cut from the bottom of the stocks). The front, sides, and back of the well are increased over factory dimensions, resulting in 150% increase in magazine well opening. Since it is integral with the frame, there is no rattle or unsightly gaps. There are no seams to show because it is welded and not soldered. This is "Joe’s Mag Well", named for Joe Gillispie who helped design and refine this modification. It was one of the first, introduced in 1981, and is now used by 1911 shooters throughout the world. If you are building a deluxe pistol, order "Joe’s Mag Well". It is a class job.
The S&A mag. Funnel works well and can be recommended as a practical, effective way to change magazines in a hurry. Thick bumper pads are needed on the magazines, since it extends ¼" below the frame. There is no funnel in front of the well.
Melting is a term to describe the removal of sharp corners and edges. Areas around the front of the slide or the rear sight particularly benefit from melting, especially when trying to clear a jam. Sharp edges not only hurt the shooter’s hand, they are hard on clothing and holsters as well. When carefully done, melting is not readily apparent. There is no significant difference in appearance, only the gun feels smooth and friendly. If you are having your pistol refinished, melting adds one of those personal touches that befit a custom gun. Melting is very beneficial in allowing the .380 Walthers to be shot with some degree of comfort. These pistols are among the more unpleasant to shoot when the factory ships them out. There are too many sharp edges at the back of the frame and slide. I can help.
When properly done, a performance-improving function can also improve the appearance of a gun; for example, opening and shaping the ejection port or checkering the frame. Certain cosmetic jobs improve performance. Checkering the rear of the slide is primarily for appearance, but it also reduces glare. Heavy, coarse sandblasting has the same effect as checkering and bead blasting, but it doesn’t look "custom". The same is true of ribbing the slide, then serrating or checkering it. On a deluxe gun, checkering/bead blasting is appropriate. On a functional, no frills carry gun, sand blasting is usually the choice.
I will not remove or deactivate any safety. All safeties will operate correctly when the gun is returned. If a gun arrives with safeties that have been removed or made inoperative, they will be returned to factory standards at the owner’s expense.
1911’s are often fitted with larger than factory "combat" or "speed" thumb safeties. Left handed shooters, and IPSC competitors have ambidextrous safeties fitted. Most all do the job that needs to be done, and the choice is strictly personal. When larger than normal safeties are fitted, they are easier to apply or release inadvertently; a consideration when a gun is to be carried.
The duck tail or "beavertail" grip safety is a common modification and increases shooter comfort dramatically. There are two types of fitted grip safeties. Both require frame cutting and can be blended with no sharp corners. The Brown allows the pistol to sit lower in the hand and is most effective in reducing muzzle lift when the front strap is recontoured. The other type (i.e. King, Wilson, Clark, etc.) allows the pistol to sit in the normal position, and like the Brown, sharp corners are removed for maximum shooting comfort. The duck tail shape of both types help guide the hand into correct position during drawing. Most shooters like the straight line recoil of the Brown, while others find the King-type somewhat more comfortable.
No matter which is chosen, I take a great deal of pride in fitting these safeties. They are fitted to hair line precision using Prussian blue and file until they are just right. A considerable portion of Alpha’s revenue has been generated by correcting less than ideal fits performed by those in a hurry. The tang is TIG welded then the safety refitted to the standards the customer had hoped for but did not receive.
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